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Chapter 20

I CONTINUE TO MOVE IN GOOD SOCIETY


For about exactly two months I remained a guest in Prestongrange's
family, where I bettered my acquaintance with the bench, the bar, and
the flower of Edinburgh company. You are not to suppose my education was
neglected, on the contrary I was kept extremely busy. I studied the
French, so as to be more prepared to go to Leyden; I set myself to the
fencing, and wrought hard, sometimes three hours in the day, with
notable advancement; at the suggestion of my cousin, Pilrig, who was an
apt musician, I was put to a singing class, and by the orders of my Miss
Grant, to one for the dancing, at which. I must say I proved far from
ornamental. However, all were good enough to say it gave me an address a
little more genteel; and there is no question but I learned to manage my
coat skirts and sword with more dexterity, and to stand in a room as
though the same belonged to me. My clothes themselves were all earnestly
re-ordered; and the most trifling circumstance, such as where I should
tie my hair, or the colour of my ribbon, debated among the three misses
like a thing of weight. One way with another, no doubt I was a good deal
improved to look at, and acquired a bit of a modish air that would have
surprised the good folks at Essendean.

The two younger misses were very willing to discuss a point of my
habiliment, because that was in the line of their chief thoughts. I
cannot say that they appeared any other way conscious of my presence;
and though always more than civil, with a kind of heartless cordiality,
could not hide how much I wearied them. As for the aunt, she was a
wonderful still woman; and I think she gave me much the same attention
as she gave the rest of the family, which was little enough. The eldest
daughter and the Advocate himself were thus my principal friends, and
our familiarity was much increased by a pleasure that we took in common.
Before the court met we spent a day or two at the house of Grange,
living very nobly with an open table, and here it was that we three
began to ride out together in the fields, a practice afterwards
maintained in Edinburgh, so far as the Advocate's continual affairs
permitted. When we were put in a good frame by the briskness of the
exercise, the difficulties of the way, or the accidents of bad weather,
my shyness wore entirely off; we forgot that we were strangers, and
speech not being required, it flowed the more naturally on. Then it was
that they had my story from me, bit by bit, from the time that I left
Essendean, with my voyage and battle in the _Covenant_, wanderings in
the heather, etc.; and from the interest they found in my adventures
sprung the circumstance of a jaunt we made a little later on, a day when
the courts were not sitting, and of which I will tell a trifle more at
length.

We took horse early, and passed first by the house of Shaws, where it
stood smokeless in a great field of white frost, for it was yet early in
the day. Here Prestongrange alighted down, gave me his horse, and
proceeded alone to visit my uncle. My heart, I remember, swelled up
bitter within me at the sight of that bare house and the thought of the
old miser sitting chittering within in the cold kitchen.

"There is my home," said I. "And my family."

"Poor David Balfour!" said Miss Grant.

What passed during the visit I have never heard; but it would doubtless
not be very agreeable to Ebenezer; for when the Advocate came forth
again his face was dark.

"I think you will soon be the laird indeed, Mr. Davie," says he, turning
half about with the one foot in the stirrup.

"I will never pretend sorrow," said I; and, to say the truth, during his
absence Miss Grant and I had been embellishing the place in fancy with
plantations, parterres, and a terrace, much as I have since carried out
in fact.

Thence we pushed to the Queensferry, where Rankeillor gave us a good
welcome, being indeed out of the body to receive so great a visitor.
Here the Advocate was so unaffectedly good as to go quite fully over my
affairs, sitting perhaps two hours with the Writer in his study, and
expressing (I was told) a great esteem for myself and concern for my
fortunes. To while this time, Miss Grant and I and young Rankeillor took
boat and passed the Hope to Limekilns. Rankeillor made himself very
ridiculous (and, I thought offensive) with his admiration for the young
lady, and to my wonder (only it is so common a weakness of her sex) she
seemed, if anything, to be a little gratified. One use it had: for when
we were come to the other side, she laid her commands on him to mind the
boat, while she and I passed a little further to the ale-house. This was
her own thought, for she had been taken with my account of Alison
Hastie, and desired to see the lass herself. We found her once more
alone--indeed, I believe her father wrought all day in the fields--and
she curtsied dutifully to the gentry-folk and the beautiful young lady
in the riding coat.

"Is this all the welcome I am to get?" said I, holding out my hand. "And
have you no more memory of old friends?"

"Keep me! wha's this of it?" she cried, and then, "God's truth, it's the
tautit[19] laddie!"

"The very same," says I.

"Mony's the time I've thocht upon you and your freen, and blythe am I to
see in your braws,"[20] she cried. "Though I kent ye were come to your
ain folk by the grand present that ye sent me and that I thank ye for
with a' my heart."

"There," said Miss Grant to me, "run out by with ye, like a good bairn.
I didnae come here to stand and hand a candle; it's her and me that are
to crack."

I suppose she stayed ten minutes in the house, but when she came forth I
observed two things--that her eyes were reddened, and a silver brooch
was gone out of her bosom. This very much affected me.

"I never saw you so well adorned," said I.

"O Davie man, dinna be a pompous gowk!" said she, and was more than
usually sharp to me the remainder of the day.

About candlelight we came home from this excursion.

For a good while I heard nothing further of Catriona: my Miss Grant
remaining quite impenetrable, and stopping my mouth with pleasantries.
At last, one day that she returned from walking and found me alone in
the parlour over my French, I thought there was something unusual in her
looks; the colour heightened, the eyes sparkling high, and a bit of a
smile continually bitten in as she regarded me. She seemed indeed like
the very spirit of mischief, and walking briskly in the room, had soon
involved me in a kind of quarrel over nothing and (at the least) with
nothing intended on my side. I was like Christian in the slough; the
more I tried to clamber out upon the side, the deeper I became involved;
until at last I heard her declare, with a great deal of passion, that
she would take that answer at the hands of none, and I must down upon my
knees for pardon.

The causelessness of all this fuff stirred my own bile. "I have said
nothing you can properly object to," said I, "and as for my knees, that
is an attitude I keep for God."

"And as a goddess I am to be served!" she cried, shaking her brown locks
at me and with a bright colour. "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. He was hanged; and
behold! When I met Mr. Symon in the causeway, I was fain to pull off my
beaver to him like a good little boy before his dominie. He had been
hanged by fraud and violence, and the world wagged along, and there was
not a pennyweight of difference; and the villains of that horrid plot
were decent, kind, respectable fathers of families, who went to kirk and
took the sacrament!

But I had had my view of that detestable business they call politics--I
had seen it from behind, when it is all bones and blackness; and I was
cured for life of any temptations to take part in it again. A plain,
quiet, private path was that which I was ambitious to walk in, when I
might keep my head out of the way of dangers and my conscience out of
the road of temptation. For, upon a retrospect, it appeared I had not
done so grandly, after all; but with the greatest possible amount of big
speech and preparation, had accomplished nothing.

The 25th of the same month, a ship was advertised to sail from Leith;
and I was suddenly recommended to make up my mails for Leyden. To
Prestongrange I could, of course, say nothing; for I had already been a
long while sorning on his house and table. But with his daughter I was
more open, bewailing my fate that I should be sent out of the country,
and assuring her, unless she should bring me to farewell with Catriona,
I would refuse at the last hour.

"Have I not given you my advice?" she asked.

"I know you have," said I, "and I know how much I am beholden to you
already, and that I am bidden to obey your orders. But you must confess
you are something too merry a lass at times to lippen[23] to entirely."

"I will tell you, then," said she. "Be you on board at nine o'clock
forenoon; the ship does not sail before one; keep your boat alongside;
and if you are not pleased with my farewells when I shall send them, you
can come ashore again and seek Katrine for yourself."

Since I could make no more of her, I was fain to be content with this.

The day came round at last when she and I were to separate. We had been
extremely intimate and familiar; I was much in her debt; and what way we
were to part was a thing that put me from my sleep, like the vails I was
to give to the domestic servants. I knew she considered me too backward,
and rather desired to rise in her opinion on that head. Besides which,
after so much affection shown and (I believe) felt upon both sides, it
would have looked cold-like to be anyways stiff. Accordingly, I got my
courage up and my words ready, and the last chance we were like to be
alone, asked pretty boldly to be allowed to salute her in farewell.

"You forget yourself strangely, Mr. Balfour," said she. "I cannot call
to mind that I had given you any right to presume on our acquaintancy."

I stood before her like a stopped clock, and knew not what to think, far
less to say, when of a sudden she cast her arms about my neck and kissed
me with the best will in the world.

"You inimitable bairn!" she cried. "Did you think that I would let us
part like strangers? Because I can never keep my gravity at you five
minutes on end, you must not dream I do not love you very well; I am all
love and laughter, every time I cast an eye on you! And now I will give
you an advice to conclude your education, which you will have need of
before its very long. Never _ask_ women-folk. They're bound to answer
'No'; God never made the lass that could resist the temptation. It's
supposed by divines to be the curse of Eve; because she did not say it
when the devil offered her the apple, her daughters can say nothing
else."

"Since I am so soon to lose my bonny professor," I began.

"This is gallant, indeed," says she curtseying.

"--I would put the one question," I went on; "May I ask a lass to marry
me?"

"You think you could not marry her without?" she asked. "Or else get her
to offer?"

"You see you cannot be serious," said I.

"I shall be very serious in one thing, David," said she. "I shall always
be your friend."

As I got to my horse the next morning, the four ladies were all at the
same window whence we had once looked down on Catriona, and all cried
farewell and waved their pocket napkins as I rode away; one out of the
four I knew was truly sorry; and at the thought of that, and how I had
come to the door three months ago for the first time, sorrow and
gratitude made a confusion in my mind.

Robert Louis Stevenson

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