ST. Ives

Page 41

'Bad yins,' was Sim's emphatic answer.

All day the dogs were kept unsparingly on the alert, and the drove pushed forward at a very unusual and seemingly unwelcome speed. All day Sim and Candlish, with a more than ordinary expenditure both of snuff and of words, continued to debate the position. It seems that they had recognised two of our neighbours on the road-- one Faa, and another by the name of Gillies. Whether there was an old feud between them still unsettled I could never learn; but Sim and Candlish were prepared for every degree of fraud or violence at their hands. Candlish repeatedly congratulated himself on having left 'the watch at home with the mistress'; and Sim perpetually brandished his cudgel, and cursed his ill-fortune that it should be sprung.

'I willna care a damn to gie the daashed scoon'rel a fair clout wi' it,' he said. 'The daashed thing micht come sindry in ma hand.'

'Well, gentlemen,' said I, 'suppose they do come on, I think we can give a very good account of them.' And I made my piece of holly, Ronald's gift, the value of which I now appreciated, sing about my head.

'Ay, man? Are ye stench?' inquired Sim, with a gleam of approval in his wooden countenance.

The same evening, somewhat wearied with our day-long expedition, we encamped on a little verdant mound, from the midst of which there welled a spring of clear water scarce great enough to wash the hands in. We had made our meal and lain down, but were not yet asleep, when a growl from one of the collies set us on the alert. All three sat up, and on a second impulse all lay down again, but now with our cudgels ready. A man must be an alien and an outlaw, an old soldier and a young man in the bargain, to take adventure easily. With no idea as to the rights of the quarrel or the probable consequences of the encounter, I was as ready to take part with my two drovers, as ever to fall in line on the morning of a battle. Presently there leaped three men out of the heather; we had scarce time to get to our feet before we were assailed; and in a moment each one of us was engaged with an adversary whom the deepening twilight scarce permitted him to see. How the battle sped in other quarters I am in no position to describe. The rogue that fell to my share was exceedingly agile and expert with his weapon; had and held me at a disadvantage from the first assault; forced me to give ground continually, and at last, in mere self- defence, to let him have the point. It struck him in the throat, and he went down like a ninepin and moved no more.

It seemed this was the signal for the engagement to be discontinued. The other combatants separated at once; our foes were suffered, without molestation, to lift up and bear away their fallen comrade; so that I perceived this sort of war to be not wholly without laws of chivalry, and perhaps rather to partake of the character of a tournament than of a battle a outrance. There was no doubt, at least, that I was supposed to have pushed the affair too seriously. Our friends the enemy removed their wounded companion with undisguised consternation; and they were no sooner over the top of the brae, than Sim and Candlish roused up their wearied drove and set forth on a night march.

'I'm thinking Faa's unco bad,' said the one.

'Ay,' said the other, 'he lookit dooms gash.'

'He did that,' said the first.

And their weary silence fell upon them again.

Presently Sim turned to me. 'Ye're unco ready with the stick,' said he.

'Too ready, I'm afraid,' said I. 'I am afraid Mr. Faa (if that be his name) has got his gruel.'

'Weel, I wouldnae wonder,' replied Sim.

'And what is likely to happen?' I inquired.

'Aweel,' said Sim, snuffing profoundly, 'if I were to offer an opeenion, it would not be conscientious. For the plain fac' is, Mr. St. Ivy, that I div not ken. We have had crackit heids--and rowth of them--ere now; and we have had a broken leg or maybe twa; and the like of that we drover bodies make a kind of a practice like to keep among oursel's.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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