ST. Ives

Page 31

There is my aunt in the road, you see,' and he locked me in again with the indignant hens.

I always smile when I recall that young fellow; and yet, if the reader were to smile also, I should feel ashamed. If my son shall be only like him when he comes to that age, it will be a brave day for me and not a bad one for his country.

At the same time I cannot pretend that I was sorry when his sister succeeded in his place. She brought me a few crusts of bread and a jug of milk, which she had handsomely laced with whisky after the Scottish manner.

'I am so sorry,' she said: 'I dared not bring on anything more. We are so small a family, and my aunt keeps such an eye upon the servants. I have put some whisky in the milk--it is more wholesome so--and with eggs you will be able to make something of a meal. How many eggs will you be wanting to that milk? for I must be taking the others to my aunt--that is my excuse for being here. I should think three or four. Do you know how to beat them? or shall I do it?'

Willing to detain her a while longer in the hen-house, I displayed my bleeding palms; at which she cried aloud.

'My dear Miss Flora, you cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs,' said I; 'and it is no bagatelle to escape from Edinburgh Castle. One of us, I think, was even killed.'

'And you are as white as a rag, too,' she exclaimed, 'and can hardly stand! Here is my shawl, sit down upon it here in the corner, and I will beat your eggs. See, I have brought a fork too; I should have been a good person to take care of Jacobites or Covenanters in old days! You shall have more to eat this evening; Ronald is to bring it you from town. We have money enough, although no food that we can call our own. Ah, if Ronald and I kept house, you should not be lying in this shed! He admires you so much.'

'My dear friend,' said I, 'for God's sake do not embarrass me with more alms. I loved to receive them from that hand, so long as they were needed; but they are so no more, and whatever else I may lack- -and I lack everything--it is not money.' I pulled out my sheaf of notes and detached the top one: it was written for ten pounds, and signed by that very famous individual, Abraham Newlands. 'Oblige me, as you would like me to oblige your brother if the parts were reversed, and take this note for the expenses. I shall need not only food, but clothes.'

'Lay it on the ground,' said she. 'I must not stop my beating.'

'You are not offended?' I exclaimed.

She answered me by a look that was a reward in itself, and seemed to imply the most heavenly offers for the future. There was in it a shadow of reproach, and such warmth of communicative cordiality as left me speechless. I watched her instead till her hens' milk was ready.

'Now,' said she, 'taste that.'

I did so, and swore it was nectar. She collected her eggs and crouched in front of me to watch me eat. There was about this tall young lady at the moment an air of motherliness delicious to behold. I am like the English general, and to this day I still wonder at my moderation.

'What sort of clothes will you be wanting?' said she.

'The clothes of a gentleman,' said I. 'Right or wrong, I think it is the part I am best qualified to play. Mr. St. Ives (for that's to be my name upon the journey) I conceive as rather a theatrical figure, and his make-up should be to match.'

'And yet there is a difficulty,' said she. 'If you got coarse clothes the fit would hardly matter. But the clothes of a fine gentleman--O, it is absolutely necessary that these should fit! And above all, with your'--she paused a moment--'to our ideas somewhat noticeable manners.'

'Alas for my poor manners!' said I. 'But my dear friend Flora, these little noticeabilities are just what mankind has to suffer under. Yourself, you see, you're very noticeable even when you come in a crowd to visit poor prisoners in the Castle.'

I was afraid I should frighten my good angel visitant away, and without the smallest breath of pause went on to add a few directions as to stuffs and colours.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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