Catriona

Page 56

The Seahorse came straight

on till I thought she would have struck, and we (looking giddily

down) could see the ship's company at their quarters and hear the

leadsman singing at the lead. Then she suddenly wore and let fly a

volley of I know not how many great guns. The rock was shaken with

the thunder of the sound, the smoke flowed over our heads, and the

geese rose in number beyond computation or belief. To hear their

screaming and to see the twinkling of their wings, made a most

inimitable curiosity; and I suppose it was after this somewhat

childish pleasure that Captain Palliser had come so near the Bass.

He was to pay dear for it in time. During his approach I had the

opportunity to make a remark upon the rigging of that ship by which

I ever after knew it miles away; and this was a means (under

Providence) of my averting from a friend a great calamity, and

inflicting on Captain Palliser himself a sensible disappointment.

All the time of my stay on the rock we lived well. We had small

ale and brandy, and oatmeal, of which we made our porridge night

and morning. At times a boat came from the Castleton and brought

us a quarter of mutton, for the sheep upon the rock we must not

touch, these being specially fed to market. The geese were

unfortunately out of season, and we let them be. We fished

ourselves, and yet more often made the geese to fish for us:

observing one when he had made a capture and searing him from his

prey ere he had swallowed it.

The strange nature of this place, and the curiosities with which it

abounded, held me busy and amused. Escape being impossible, I was

allowed my entire liberty, and continually explored the surface of

the isle wherever it might support the foot of man. The old garden

of the prison was still to be observed, with flowers and pot-herbs

running wild, and some ripe cherries on a bush. A little lower

stood a chapel or a hermit's cell; who built or dwelt in it, none

may know, and the thought of its age made a ground of many

meditations. The prison, too, where I now bivouacked with Highland

cattle-thieves, was a place full of history, both human and divine.

I thought it strange so many saints and martyrs should have gone by

there so recently, and left not so much as a leaf out of their

Bibles, or a name carved upon the wall, while the rough soldier

lads that mounted guard upon the battlements had filled the

neighbourhood with their mementoes--broken tobacco-pipes for the

most part, and that in a surprising plenty, but also metal buttons

from their coats. There were times when I thought I could have

heard the pious sound of psalms out of the martyr's dungeons, and

seen the soldiers tramp the ramparts with their glinting pipes, and

the dawn rising behind them out of the North Sea.

No doubt it was a good deal Andie and his tales that put these

fancies in my head. He was extraordinarily well acquainted with

the story of the rock in all particulars, down to the names of

private soldiers, his father having served there in that same

capacity. He was gifted besides with a natural genius for

narration, so that the people seemed to speak and the things to be

done before your face. This gift of his and my assiduity to listen

brought us the more close together. I could not honestly deny but

what I liked him; I soon saw that he liked me; and indeed, from the

first I had set myself out to capture his good-will. An odd

circumstance (to be told presently) effected this beyond my

expectation; but even in early days we made a friendly pair to be a

prisoner and his gaoler.

I should trifle with my conscience if I pretended my stay upon the

Bass was wholly disagreeable. It seemed to me a safe place, as

though I was escaped there out of my troubles. No harm was to be

offered me; a material impossibility, rock and the deep sea,

prevented me from fresh attempts; I felt I had my life safe and my

honour safe, and there were times when I allowed myself to gloat on

them like stolen waters.

Catriona Page 57

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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