Catriona

Page 55

All these were discharged

upon the crag. Andie, myself, and my three Highlanders (I call

them mine, although it was the other way about), landed along with

them. The sun was not yet up when the boat moved away again, the

noise of the oars on the thole-pins echoing from the cliffs, and

left us in our singular reclusion:

Andie Dale was the Prefect (as I would jocularly call him) of the

Bass, being at once the shepherd and the gamekeeper of that small

and rich estate. He had to mind the dozen or so of sheep that fed

and fattened on the grass of the sloping part of it, like beasts

grazing the roof of a cathedral. He had charge besides of the

solan geese that roosted in the crags; and from these an

extraordinary income is derived. The young are dainty eating, as

much as two shillings a-piece being a common price, and paid

willingly by epicures; even the grown birds are valuable for their

oil and feathers; and a part of the minister's stipend of North

Berwick is paid to this day in solan geese, which makes it (in some

folks' eyes) a parish to be coveted. To perform these several

businesses, as well as to protect the geese from poachers, Andie

had frequent occasion to sleep and pass days together on the crag;

and we found the man at home there like a farmer in his steading.

Bidding us all shoulder some of the packages, a matter in which I

made haste to bear a hand, he led us in by a looked gate, which was

the only admission to the island, and through the ruins of the

fortress, to the governor's house. There we saw by the ashes in

the chimney and a standing bed-place in one corner, that he made

his usual occupation.

This bed he now offered me to use, saying he supposed I would set

up to be gentry.

"My gentrice has nothing to do with where I lie," said I. "I bless

God I have lain hard ere now, and can do the same again with

thankfulness. While I am here, Mr. Andie, if that be your name, I

will do my part and take my place beside the rest of you; and I ask

you on the other hand to spare me your mockery, which I own I like

ill."

He grumbled a little at this speech, but seemed upon reflection to

approve it. Indeed, he was a long-headed, sensible man, and a good

Whig and Presbyterian; read daily in a pocket Bible, and was both

able and eager to converse seriously on religion, leaning more than

a little towards the Cameronian extremes. His morals were of a

more doubtful colour. I found he was deep in the free trade, and

used the rains of Tantallon for a magazine of smuggled merchandise.

As for a gauger, I do not believe he valued the life of one at

half-a-farthing. But that part of the coast of Lothian is to this

day as wild a place, and the commons there as rough a crew, as any

in Scotland.

One incident of my imprisonment is made memorable by a consequence

it had long after. There was a warship at this time stationed in

the Firth, the Seahorse, Captain Palliser. It chanced she was

cruising in the month of September, plying between Fife and

Lothian, and sounding for sunk dangers. Early one fine morning she

was seen about two miles to east of us, where she lowered a boat,

and seemed to examine the Wildfire Rocks and Satan's Bush, famous

dangers of that coast. And presently after having got her boat

again, she came before the wind and was headed directly for the

Base. This was very troublesome to Andie and the Highlanders; the

whole business of my sequestration was designed for privacy, and

here, with a navy captain perhaps blundering ashore, it looked to

become public enough, if it were nothing worse. I was in a

minority of one, I am no Alan to fall upon so many, and I was far

from sure that a warship was the least likely to improve my

condition. All which considered, I gave Andie my parole of good

behaviour and obedience, and was had briskly to the summit of the

rock, where we all lay down, at the cliff's edge, in different

places of observation and concealment.

Catriona Page 56

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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