David Balfour: Second Part

Robert Louis Stevenson

David Balfour: Second Part Page 42

"Every man that comes within waft of my petticoats shall use me so!"

"I will go so far as ask your pardon for the fashion's sake, although I vow I know not why," I replied. "But for these play-acting postures, you can go to others."

"O Davie!" she said. "Not if I was to beg you?"

I bethought me I was fighting with a woman, which is the same as to say a child, and that upon a point entirely formal.

"I think it a bairnly thing," I said, "not worthy in you to ask, or me to render. Yet I will not refuse you, neither," said I; "and the stain, if there be any, rests with yourself." And at that I kneeled fairly down.

"There!" she cried. "There is the proper station, there is where I have been manoeuvring to bring you." And then, suddenly, "Kep,"[21] said she, flung me a folded billet, and ran from the apartment laughing.

The billet had neither place nor date. "Dear Mr. David," it began, "I get your news continually by my cousin, Miss Grant, and it is a pleisand hearing. I am very well, in a good place, among good folk, but necessitated to be quite private, though I am hoping that at long last we may meet again. All your friendships have been told me by my loving cousin, who loves us both. She bids me to send you this writing, and oversees the same. I will be asking you to do all her commands, and rest your affectionate friend, Catriona Macgregor-Drummond. P.S.--Will you not see my cousin, Allardyce?"

I think it not the least brave of my campaigns (as the soldiers say) that I should have done as I was here bidden and gone forthright to the house by Dean. But the old lady was now entirely changed and supple as a glove. By what means Miss Grant had brought this round I could never guess; I am sure at least, she dared not to appear openly in the affair, for her papa was compromised in it pretty deep. It was he, indeed, who had persuaded Catriona to leave, or rather, not to return, to her cousin's, placing her instead with a family of Gregorys, decent people, quite at the Advocate's disposition, and in whom she might have the more confidence because they were of her own clan and family. These kept her private till all was ripe, heated and helped her to attempt her father's rescue, and after she was discharged from prison received her again into the same secrecy. Thus Prestongrange obtained and used his instrument; nor did there leak out the smallest word of his acquaintance with the daughter of James More. There was some whispering, of course, upon the escape of that discredited person; but the Government replied by a show of rigour, one of the cell porters was flogged, the lieutenant of the guard (my poor friend, Duncansby) was broken of his rank, and as for Catriona, all men were well enough pleased that her fault should be passed by in silence.

I could never induce Miss Grant to carry back an answer. "No," she would say, when I persisted, "I am going to keep the big feet out of the platter." This was the more hard to bear, as I was aware she saw my little friend many times in the week, and carried her my news whenever (as she said) I "had behaved myself." At last she treated me to what she called an indulgence, and I thought rather more of a banter. She was certainly a strong, almost a violent friend, to all she liked; chief among whom was a certain frail old gentlewoman, very blind, and very witty, who dwelt in the top of a tall land on a strait close, with a nest of linnets in a cage, and thronged all day with visitors. Miss Grant was very fond to carry me there and put me to entertain her friend with the narrative of my misfortunes; and Miss Tibbie Ramsay (that was her name) was particular kind, and told me a great deal that was worth knowledge of old folks and past affairs in Scotland. I should say that from her chamber window, and not three feet away, such is the straitness of that close, it was possible to look into a barred loophole lighting the stairway of the opposite house.

Here, upon some pretext, Miss Grant left me one day alone with Miss Ramsay. I mind I thought that lady inattentive and like one preoccupied. I was besides yery uncomfortable, for the window, contrary to custom, was left open and the day was cold. All at once the voice of Miss Grant sounded in my ears as from a distance.

"Here, Shaws!" she cried, "keek out of the window and see what I have broughten you."

I think it was the prettiest sight that ever I beheld; the well of the close was all in clear shadow where a man could see distinctly, the walls very black and dingy; and there from the barred loophole I saw two faces smiling across at me--Miss Grant's and Catriona's.

"There!" says Miss Grant, "I wanted her to see you in your braws like the lass of Limekilns. I wanted her to see what I could make of you, when I buckled to the job in earnest!"

It came in my mind she had been more than common particular that day upon my dress: and I think that some of the same care had been bestowed upon Catriona. For so merry and sensible a lady, Miss Grant was certainly wonderful taken up with duds.

"Catriona!" was all I could get out.

As for her, she said nothing in the world, but only waved her hand and smiled to me, and was suddenly carried away again from before the loophole.

The vision was no sooner lost than I ran to the house door, where I found I was locked in; thence back to Miss Ramsay, crying for the key, but might as well have cried upon the castle rock. She had passed her word, she said, and I must be a good lad. It was impossible to burst the door, even if it had been mannerly; it was impossible I should leap from the window, being seven storeys above ground. All I could do was to crane over the close and watch for their reappearance from the stair. It was little to see, being no more than the tops of their two heads each on a ridiculous bobbin of skirts, like to a pair of pincushions. Nor did Catriona so much as look up for a farewell; being prevented (as I heard afterwards) by Miss Grant, who told her folk were never seen to less advantage than from above downward.

On the way home, as soon as I was set free, I upbraided Miss Grant with her cruelty.

"I am sorry you was disappointed," says she demurely. "For my part I was very pleased. You looked better than I dreaded; you looked--if it will not make you vain--a mighty pretty young man when you appeared in the window. You are to remember that she could not see your feet," says she, with the manner of one reassuring me.

"O!" cried I, "leave my feet be, they are no bigger than my neighbor's."

"They are even smaller than some," said she, "but I speak in parables like a Hebrew prophet."

"I marvel little they were sometimes stoned!" says I. "But you miserable girl, how could you do it? Why should you care to tantalise me with a moment?"

"Love is like folk," says she, "it needs some kind of vivers."[22]

"O, Barbara, let me see her properly!" I pleaded. "You can, you see her when you please; let me have half an hour."

"Who is it that is managing this love affair? You? Or me?" she asked, and as I continued to press her with my instances, fell back upon a deadly expedient: that of imitating the tones of my voice when I called on Catriona by name; with which, indeed, she held me in subjection for some days to follow.

There was never the least word heard of the memorial, or none by me. Prestongrange and his grace the Lord President may have heard of it (for what I know) on the deafest sides of their heads; they kept it to themselves, at least; the public was none the wiser; and in course of time, on November 8th, and in the midst of a prodigious storm of wind and rain, poor James of the Glens was duly hanged at Lettermore by Balachulish.

So there was the final upshot of my politics! Innocent men have perished before James, and are like to keep on perishing (in spite of all our wisdom) till the end of time. And till the end of time, young folk (who are not yet used with the duplicity of life and men) will struggle as I did, and make heroical resolves, and take long risks; and the course of events will push them upon the one side and go on like a marching army. James was hanged; and here was I dwelling in the house of Prestongrange, and grateful to him for his fatherly attention.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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