'But you are a very idle-minded young gentleman; you must still have your joke, I see: I only hope you will have no cause to regret it.'
'I pray you not to suppose, because I speak lightly, that I do not feel deeply,' said I. 'Your kindness has quite conquered me; I lay myself at your disposition, I beg you to believe, with real tenderness; I pray you to consider me from henceforth as the most devoted of your friends.'
'Well, well,' she said, 'here comes your devoted friend the drover. I'm thinking he will be eager for the road; and I will not be easy myself till I see you well off the premises, and the dishes washed, before my servant-woman wakes. Praise God, we have gotten one that is a treasure at the sleeping!'
The morning was already beginning to be blue in the trees of the garden, and to put to shame the candle by which I had breakfasted. The lady rose from table, and I had no choice but to follow her example. All the time I was beating my brains for any means by which I should be able to get a word apart with Flora, or find the time to write her a billet. The windows had been open while I breakfasted, I suppose to ventilate the room from any traces of my passage there; and, Master Ronald appearing on the front lawn, my ogre leaned forth to address him.
'Ronald,' she said, 'wasn't that Sim that went by the wall?'
I snatched my advantage. Right at her back there was pen, ink, and paper laid out. I wrote: 'I love you'; and before I had time to write more, or so much as to blot what I had written, I was again under the guns of the gold eyeglasses.
'It's time,' she began; and then, as she observed my occupation, 'Umph!' she broke off. 'Ye have something to write?' she demanded.
'Some notes, madam,' said I, bowing with alacrity.
'Notes,' she said; 'or a note?'
'There is doubtless some finesse of the English language that I do not comprehend,' said I.
'I'll contrive, however, to make my meaning very plain to ye, Mosha le Viscount,' she continued. 'I suppose you desire to be considered a gentleman?'
'Can you doubt it, madam?' said I.
'I doubt very much, at least, whether you go to the right way about it,' she said. 'You have come here to me, I cannot very well say how; I think you will admit you owe me some thanks, if it was only for the breakfast I made ye. But what are you to me? A waif young man, not so far to seek for looks and manners, with some English notes in your pocket and a price upon your head. I am a lady; I have been your hostess, with however little will; and I desire that this random acquaintance of yours with my family will cease and determine.'
I believe I must have coloured. 'Madam,' said I, 'the notes are of no importance; and your least pleasure ought certainly to be my law. You have felt, and you have been pleased to express, a doubt of me. I tear them up.' Which you may be sure I did thoroughly.
'There's a good lad!' said the dragon, and immediately led the way to the front lawn.
The brother and sister were both waiting us here, and, as well as I could make out in the imperfect light, bore every appearance of having passed through a rather cruel experience. Ronald seemed ashamed to so much as catch my eye in the presence of his aunt, and was the picture of embarrassment. As for Flora, she had scarce the time to cast me one look before the dragon took her by the arm, and began to march across the garden in the extreme first glimmer of the dawn without exchanging speech. Ronald and I followed in equal silence.
There was a door in that same high wall on the top of which I had sat perched no longer gone than yesterday morning. This the old lady set open with a key; and on the other side we were aware of a rough-looking, thick-set man, leaning with his arms (through which was passed a formidable staff) on a dry-stone dyke. Him the old lady immediately addressed.
'Sim,' said she, 'this is the young gentleman.'
Sim replied with an inarticulate grumble of sound, and a movement of one arm and his head, which did duty for a salutation.