"If I find you so averse to let me see the lady by herself," said I, "I must suppose you have very good grounds to think me in the right about her unwillingness."
He gabbled some kind of an excuse.
"But all this is very exhausting to both of our tempers," I added, "and I think we would do better to preserve a judicious silence."
The which we did until the girl returned, and I must suppose would have cut a very ridiculous figure, had there been any there to view us.
* * * * *
IN WHICH I AM LEFT ALONE
I opened the door to Catriona and stopped her on the threshold.
"Your father wishes us to take our walk," said I.
She looked to James More, who nodded, and at that, like a trained soldier, she turned to go with me.
We took one of our old ways, where we had gone often together, and been more happy than I can tell of in the past. I came a half a step behind, so that I could watch her unobserved. The knocking of her little shoes upon the way sounded extraordinary pretty and sad; and I thought it a strange moment that I should be so near both ends of it at once, and walk in the midst between two destinies, and could not tell whether I was hearing these steps for the last time, or whether the sound of them was to go in and out with me till death should part us.
She avoided even to look at me, only walked before her, like one who had a guess of what was coming. I saw I must speak soon before my courage was run out, but where to begin I knew not. In this painful situation, when the girl was as good as forced into my arms and had already besought my forbearance, any excess of pressure must have seemed indecent; yet to avoid it wholly would have a very cold-like appearance. Between these extremes I stood helpless, and could have bit my fingers; so that, when at last I managed to speak at all, it may be said I spoke at random.
"Catriona," said I, "I am in a very painful situation; or rather, so we are both; and I would be a good deal obliged to you if you would promise to let me speak through first of all, and not to interrupt till I have done."
She promised me that simply.
"Well," said I, "this that I have got to say is very difficult, and I know very well I have no right to be saying it. After what passed between the two of us last Friday, I have no manner of right. We have got so ravelled up (and all by my fault) that I know very well the least I could do is just to hold my tongue, which was what I intended fully, and there was nothing further from my thoughts than to have troubled you again. But, my dear, it has become merely necessary, and no way by it. You see, this estate of mine has fallen in, which makes me rather a better match; and the--the business would not have quite the same ridiculous-like appearance that it would before. Besides which, it's supposed that our affairs have got so much ravelled up (as I was saying) that it would be better to let them be the way they are. In my view, this part of the thing is vastly exaggerate, and if I were you I would not wear two thoughts on it. Only it's right I should mention the same, because there's no doubt it has some influence on James More. Then I think we were none so unhappy when we dwelt together in this town before. I think we did pretty well together. If you would look back, my dear--"
"I will look neither back nor forward," she interrupted. "Tell me the one thing: this is my father's doing?"
"He approves of it," said I. "He approved that I should ask your hand in marriage," and was going on again with somewhat more of an appeal upon her feelings; but she marked me not, and struck into the midst.
"He told you to!" she cried. "It is no sense denying it, you said yourself that there was nothing farther from your thoughts. He told you to."
"He spoke of it the first, if that is what you mean," I began.
She was walking ever the faster, and looking fair in front of her; but at this she made a little noise in her head, and I thought she would have run.
"Without which," I went on, "after what you said last Friday, I would never have been so troublesome as make the offer. But when he as good as asked me, what was I to do?"
She stopped and turned round upon me.
"Well, it is refused at all events," she cried, "and there will be an end of that."
And she began to walk forward.
"I suppose I could expect no better," said I, "but I think you might try to be a little kind to me for the last end of it. I see not why you should be harsh. I have loved you very well, Catriona--no harm that I should call you so for the last time. I have done the best that I could manage, I am trying the same still, and only vexed that I can do no better. It is a strange thing to me that you can take any pleasure to be hard to me."
"I am not thinking of you," she said, "I am thinking of that man, my father."
"Well, and that way, too!" said I. "I can be of use to you that way, too; I will have to be. It is very needful, my dear, that we should consult about your father; for the way this talk has gone, an angry man will be James More."
She stopped again. "It is because I am disgraced?" she asked.
"That is what he is thinking," I replied, "but I have told you already to make nought of it."
"It will be all one to me," she cried. "I prefer to be disgraced!"
I did not know very well what to answer, and stood silent.
There seemed to be something working in her bosom after that last cry; presently she broke out, "And what is the meaning of all this? Why is all this shame loundered on my head? How could you dare it, David Balfour?"
"My dear," said I, "what else was I to do?"
"I am not your dear," she said, "and I defy you to be calling me these words."
"I am not thinking of my words," said I. "My heart bleeds for you, Miss Drummond. Whatever I may say, be sure you have my pity in your difficult position. But there is just the one thing that I wish you would bear in view, if it was only long enough to discuss it quietly; for there is going to be a collieshangie when we two get home. Take my word for it, it will need the two of us to make this matter end in peace."
"Ay," said she. There sprang a patch of red in either of her cheeks. "Was he for fighting you?" said she.
"Well, he was that," said I.
She gave a dreadful kind of laugh. "At all events, it is complete!" she cried. And then turning on me: "My father and I are a fine pair," she said, "but I am thanking the good God there will be somebody worse than what we are. I am thanking the good God that he has let me see you so. There will never be the girl made that would not scorn you."
I had borne a good deal pretty patiently, but this was over the mark.
"You have no right to speak to me like that," said I. "What have I done but to be good to you, or try to? And here is my repayment! O, it is too much."
She kept looking at me with a hateful smile. "Coward!" said she.
"The word in your throat and in your father's!" I cried. "I have dared him this day already in your interest. I will dare him again, the nasty pole-cat; little I care which of us should fall! Come," said I, "back to the house with us; let us be done with it, let me be done with the whole Hieland crew of you! You will see what you think when I am dead."
She shook her head at me with that same smile I could have struck her for.
"O, smile away!" I cried. "I have seen your bonny father smile on the wrong side this day. Not that I mean he was afraid, of course," I added hastily, "but he preferred the other way of it."
"What is this?" she asked.
"When I offered to draw with him," said I.
"You offered to draw upon James More?" she cried.
"And I did so," said I, "and found him backward enough, or how would we be here?"
"There is a meaning upon this," said she. "What is it you are meaning?"
"He was to make you take me," I replied, "and I would not have it. I said you should be free, and I must speak with you alone; little I supposed it would be such a speaking! 'And what if I refuse?' says he.--'Then it must come to the throat cutting,' says I, 'for I will no more have a husband forced on that young lady than what I would have a wife forced upon myself.' These were my words, they were a friend's words; bonnily have I been paid for them! Now you have refused me of your own clear free will, and there lives no father in the Highlands, or out of them, that can force on this marriage.