It was the more easy to be put off, because Alan and I were pretty weary with our day’s ride, and sat not very late after Catriona.
We were soon alone in a chamber where we were to make shift with a single bed. Alan looked on me with a queer smile.
“Ye muckle ass!” said he.
“What do ye mean by that?” I cried.
“Mean? What do I mean? It’s extraordinar, David man,” says he, “that you should be so mortal stupit.”
Again I begged him to speak out.
“Well, it’s this of it,” said he. “I told ye there were the two kinds of women—them that would sell their shifts for ye, and the others. Just you try for yoursel’, my bonny man I But what’s that neepkin at your craig?”
I told him.
“I thocht it was something there about,” said he.
Nor would he say another word though I besieged him long with importunities.
* * * * *
THE LETTER FROM THE SHIP
Daylight showed us how solitary the inn stood. It was plainly hard upon the sea, yet out of all view of it, and beset on every side with scabbit hills of sand. There was, indeed, only one thing in the nature of a prospect, where there stood out over a brae the two sails of a windmill, like an ass’s ears, but with the ass quite hidden. It was strange (after the wind rose, for at first it was dead calm) to see the turning and following of each other of these great sails behind the hillock. Scarce any road came by there; but a number of footways travelled among the bents in all directions up to Mr. Bazin’s door. The truth is, he was a man of many trades, not any one of them honest, and the position of his inn was the best of his livelihood. Smugglers frequented it; political agents and forfeited persons bound across the water came there to await their passages; and I daresay there was worse behind, for a whole family might have been butchered in that house and nobody the wiser.
I slept little and ill. Long ere it was day, I had slipped from beside my bedfellow, and was warming myself at the fire or walking to and fro before the door. Dawn broke mighty sullen; but a little after, sprang up a wind out of the west, which burst the clouds, let through the sun, and set the mill to the turning. There was something of spring in the sunshine, or else it was in my heart; and the appearing of the great sails one after another from behind the hill, diverted me extremely. At times I could hear a creak of the machinery; and by half-past eight of the day, Catriona began to sing in the house. At this I would have cast my hat in the air; and I thought this dreary, desert place was like a paradise.
For all which, as the day drew on and nobody came near, I began to be aware of an uneasiness that I could scarce explain. It seemed there was trouble afoot; the sails of the windmill, as they came up and went down over the hill, were like persons spying; and outside of all fancy, it was surely a strange neighbourhood and house for a young lady to be brought to dwell in.