There began to fall a greyness on the face of the sea; little dabs of pink and like coals of slow fire came in the east; and at the same time the geese awakened, and began crying about the top of the Bass. It is just the one crag of rock, as everybody knows, but great enough to carve a city from. The sea was extremely little, but there went a hollow plowter round the base of it. With the growing of the dawn I could see it clearer and clearer; the straight crags painted with sea-birds’ droppings like a morning frost, the sloping top of it green with grass, the clan of white geese that cried about the sides, and the black, broken buildings of the prison sitting close on the sea’s edge.
At the sight the truth came in upon me in a clap.
“It’s there you’re taking me!” I cried.
“Just to the Bass, mannie,” said he: “whaur the auld sants were afore ye, and I misdoubt if ye have come so fairly by your preeson.”
“But none dwells there now,” I cried; “the place is long a ruin.”
“It’ll be the mair pleisand a change for the solan geese, then,” quoth Andie dryly.
The day coming slowly brighter I observed on the bilge, among the big stones with which fisherfolk ballast their boats, several kegs and baskets, and a provision of fuel. All these were discharged upon the crag. Andie, myself, and my three Highlanders (I call them mine, although it was the other way about), landed along with them. The sun was not yet up when the boat moved away again, the noise of the oars on the thole-pins echoing from the cliffs, and left us in our singular reclusion.
Andie Dale was the Prefect (as I would jocularly call him) of the Bass, being at once the shepherd and the gamekeeper of that small and rich estate. He had to mind the dozen or so of sheep that fed and fattened on the grass of the sloping part of it, like beasts grazing the roof of a cathedral. He had charge besides of the solan geese that roosted in the crags; and from these an extraordinary income is derived. The young are dainty eating, as much as two shillings a-piece being a common price, and paid willingly by epicures; even the grown birds are valuable for their oil and feathers; and a part of the minister’s stipend of North Berwick is paid to this day in solan geese, which makes it (in some folks’ eyes) a parish to be coveted. To perform these several businesses, as well as to protect the geese from poachers, Andie had frequent occasion to sleep and pass days together on the crag; and we found the man at home there like a farmer in his steading. Bidding us all shoulder some of the packages, a matter in which I made haste to bear a hand, he led us in by a locked gate, which was the only admission to the island, and through the ruins of the fortress, to the governor’s house. There we saw, by the ashes in the chimney and a standing bed-place in one corner, that he made his usual occupation.
This bed he now offered me to use, saying he supposed I would set up to be gentry.