Catriona

Page 54

The horse was picketed in the

bottom of the ditch to graze, and I was led within, and forth into

the court, and thence into the tumble-down stone hall. Here my

conductors built a brisk fire in the midst of the pavement, for

there was a chill in the night. My hands were loosed, I was set by

the wall in the inner end, and (the Lowlander having produced

provisions) I was given oatmeal bread and a pitcher of French

brandy. This done, I was left once more alone with my three

Highlandmen. They sat close by the fire drinking and talking; the

wind blew in by the breaches, cast about the smoke and flames, and

sang in the tops of the towers; I could hear the sea under the

cliffs, and, my mind being reassured as to my life, and my body and

spirits wearied with the day's employment, I turned upon one side

and slumbered.

I had no means of guessing at what hour I was wakened, only the

moon was down and the fire was low. My feet were now loosed, and I

was carried through the ruins and down the cliff-side by a

precipitous path to where I found a fisher's boat in a haven of the

rocks. This I was had on board of, and we began to put forth from

the shore in a fine starlight

CHAPTER XIV--THE BASS

I had no thought where they were taking me; only looked here and

there for the appearance of a ship; and there ran the while in my

head a word of Ransome's--the TWENTY-POUNDERS. If I were to be

exposed a second time to that same former danger of the

plantations, I judged it must turn ill with me; there was no second

Alan; and no second shipwreck and spare yard to be expected now;

and I saw myself hoe tobacco under the whip's lash. The thought

chilled me; the air was sharp upon the water, the stretchers of the

boat drenched with a cold dew: and I shivered in my place beside

the steersman. This was the dark man whom I have called hitherto

the Lowlander; his name was Dale, ordinarily called Black Andie.

Feeling the thrill of my shiver, he very kindly handed me a rough

jacket full of fish-scales, with which I was glad to cover myself.

"I thank you for this kindness," said I, "and will make so free as

to repay it with a warning. You take a high responsibility in this

affair. You are not like these ignorant, barbarous Highlanders,

but know what the law is and the risks of those that break it."

"I am no just exactly what ye would ca' an extremist for the law,"

says he, "at the best of times; but in this business I act with a

good warranty."

"What are you going to do with me?" I asked.

"Nae harm," said he, "nae harm ava'. Ye'll have strong freens, I'm

thinking. Ye'll be richt eneuch yet."

There began to fall a greyness on the face of the sea; little dabs

of pink and red, like coals of slow fire, came in the east; and at

the same time the geese awakened, and began crying about the top of

the Bass. It is just the one crag of rock, as everybody knows, but

great enough to carve a city from. The sea was extremely little,

but there went a hollow plowter round the base of it. With the

growing of the dawn I could see it clearer and clearer; the

straight crags painted with sea-birds' droppings like a morning

frost, the sloping top of it green with grass, the clan of white

geese that cried about the sides, and the black, broken buildings

of the prison sitting close on the sea's edge.

At the sight the truth came in upon me in a clap.

"It's there you're taking me!" I cried.

"Just to the Bass, mannie," said he: "Whaur the auld saints were

afore ye, and I misdoubt if ye have come so fairly by your

preeson."

"But none dwells there now," I cried; "the place is long a ruin."

"It'll be the mair pleisand a change for the solan geese, then,"

quoth Andie dryly.

The day coming slowly brighter I observed on the bilge, among the

big stones with which fisherfolk ballast their boats, several kegs

and baskets, and a provision of fuel.

Catriona Page 55

Robert Louis Stevenson

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