"And yet I think shame to be happy too," I went on, "and you here on the road in the black night."
"Where in the great world would I be else?" she cried. "I am thinking I am safest where I am with you."
"I am quite forgiven, then?" I asked.
"Will you not forgive me that time so much as not to take it in your mouth again?" she cried. "There's is nothing in this heart to you but thanks. But I will be honest too," she added, with a kind of suddenness, "and I'll never can forgive that girl."
"Is this Miss Grant again?" said I. "You said yourself she was the best lady in the world."
"So she will be, indeed!" says Catriona. "But I will never forgive her for all that. I will never, never forgive her, and let me hear tell of her no more."
"Well," said I, "this beats all that ever came to my knowledge; and I wonder that you can indulge yourself in such bairnly whims. Here is a young lady that was the best friend in the world to the both of us, that learned us how to dress ourselves, and in a great manner how to behave, as anyone can see that knew us both before and after."
But Catriona stopped square in the midst of the highway.
"It is this way of it," said she. "Either you will go on to speak of her, and I will go back to yon town, and let come of it what God pleases! Or else you will do me that politeness to talk of other things."
I was the most nonplussed person in this world; but I bethought me that she depended altogether on my help, that she was of the frail sex and not so much beyond a child, and it was for me to be wise for the pair of us.
"My dear girl," said I, "I can make neither head nor tails of this; but God forbid that I should do anything to set you on the jee. As for talking of Miss Grant I have no such a mind to it, and I believe it was yourself began it. My only design (if I took you up at all) was for your own improvement, for I hate the very look of injustice. Not that I do not wish you to have a good pride and a nice female delicacy; they become you well; but here you show them to excess."
"Well, then, have you done?" said she.
"I have done," said I.
"A very good thing," said she, and we went on again, but now in silence.
It was an eerie employment to walk in the gross night, beholding only shadows and hearing nought but our own steps. At first, I believe our hearts burned against each other with a deal of enmity; but the darkness and the cold, and the silence, which only the cocks sometimes interrupted, or sometimes the farmyard dogs, had pretty soon brought down our pride to the dust; and for my own particular, I would have jumped at any decent opening for speech.
Before the day peeped, came on a warmish rain, and the frost was all wiped away from among our feet. I took my cloak to her and sought to hap her in the same; she bade me, rather impatiently, to keep it.
"Indeed and I will do no such thing," said I. "Here am I, a great, ugly lad that has seen all kinds of weather, and here are you a tender, pretty maid! My dear, you would not put me to a shame?"
Without more words she let me cover her; which as I was doing in the darkness, I let my hand rest a moment on her shoulder, almost like an embrace.
"You must try to be more patient of your friend," said I.
I thought she seemed to lean the least thing in the world against my bosom, or perhaps it was but fancy.
"There will be no end to your goodness," said she.
And we went on again in silence; but now all was changed; and the happiness that was in my heart was like a fire in a great chimney.
The rain passed ere day; it was but a sloppy morning as we came into the town of Delft. The red gabled houses made a handsome show on either hand of a canal; the servant lassies were out slestering and scrubbing at the very stones upon the public highway; smoke rose from a hundred kitchens; and it came in upon me strongly it was time to break our fasts.
"Catriona," said I, "I believe you have yet a shilling and three baubees?"
"Are you wanting it?" said she, and passed me her purse. "I am wishing it was five pounds! What will you want it for?"
"And what have we been walking for all night, like a pair of waif Egyptians?" says I. "Just because I was robbed of my purse and all I possessed in that unchancy town of Rotterdam. I will tell you of it now, because I think the worst is over, but we have still a good tramp before us till we get to where my money is, and if you would not buy me a piece of bread, I were like to go fasting."
She looked at me with open eyes. By the light of the new day she was all black and pale for weariness, so that my heart smote me for her. But as for her, she broke out laughing.
"My torture! are we beggars then?" she cried. "You too? O, I could have wished for this same thing! And I am glad to buy your breakfast to you. But it would be pleisand if I would have had to dance to get a meal to you! For I believe they are not very well acquainted with our manner of dancing over here, and might be paying for the curiosity of that sight."
I could have kissed her for that word, not with a lover's mind, but in a heat of admiration. For it always warms a man to see a woman brave.
We got a drink of milk from a country wife but new come to the town, and in a baker's, a piece of excellent, hot, sweet-smelling bread, which we ate upon the road as we went on. That road from Delft to the Hague is just five miles of a fine avenue shaded with trees, a canal on the one hand, on the other excellent pastures of cattle. It was pleasant here indeed.
"And now, Davie," said she, "what will you do with me at all events?"
"It is what we have to speak of," said I, "and the sooner yet the better. I can come by money in Leyden; that will be all well. But the trouble is how to dispose of you until your father come. I thought last night you seemed a little sweir to part from me?"
"It will be more than seeming then," said she.
"You are a very young maid," said I, "and I am but a very young callant. This is a great piece of difficulty. What way are we to manage? Unless, indeed, you could pass to be my sister?"
"And what for no?" said she, "if you would let me!"
"I wish you were so, indeed!" I cried. "I would be a fine man if I had such a sister. But the rub is that you are Catriona Drummond."
"And now I will be Catrine Balfour," she said. "And who is to ken? They are all strange folk here."
"If you think that it would do," says I. "I own it troubles me. I would like it very ill, if I advised you at all wrong."
"David, I have no friend here but you," she said.
"The mere truth is, I am too young to be your friend," said I. "I am too young to advise you, or you to be advised. I see not what else we are to do, and yet I ought to warn you."
"I will have no choice left," said she. "My father James More has not used me very well, and it is not the first time. I am cast upon your hands like a sack of barley meal, and have nothing else to think of but your pleasure. If you will have me, good and well. If you will not"--she turned and touched her hand upon my arm--"David, I am afraid," said she.
"No, but I ought to warn you," I began; and then bethought me that I was the bearer of the purse, and it would never do to seem too churlish. "Catriona," said I, "don't misunderstand me: I am just trying to do my duty by you, girl! Here am I going alone to this strange city, to be a solitary student there; and here is this chance arisen that you might dwell with me a bit, and be like my sister: you can surely understand this much, my dear, that I would just love to have you?"
"Well, and here I am," said she. "So that's soon settled."
I know I was in duty bounden to have spoke more plain. I know this was a great blot on my character for which I was lucky that I did not pay more dear. But I minded how easy her delicacy had been startled with a word of kissing her in Barbara's letter; now that she depended on me, how was I to be more bold? Besides, the truth is, I could see no other feasible method to dispose of her.