Campbell and my mother, being most devout and most particular women; and I suppose my amazement must have been depicted in my countenance, for Mrs. Ogilvy burst forth suddenly in a fit of laughter.
"Keep me!" she cried, struggling with her mirth, "you have the finest timber face--and you to marry the daughter of a Hieland cateran! Davie, my dear, I think we'll have to make a match of it--if it was just to see the weans. And now," she went on, "there's no manner of service in your daidling here, for the young woman is from home, and it's my fear that the old woman is no suitable companion for your father's son. Forbye that I have nobody but myself to look after my reputation, and have been long enough alone with a sedooctive youth. And come back another day for your saxpence!" she cried after me as I left.
My skirmish with this disconcerting lady gave my thoughts a boldness they had otherwise wanted. For two days the image of Catriona had mixed in all my meditations; she made their background, so that I scarce enjoyed my own company without a glint of her in a corner of my mind. But now she came immediately near; I seemed to touch her, whom I had never touched but the once; I let myself flow out to her in a happy weakness, and looking all about, and before and behind, saw the world like an undesirable desert, where men go as soldiers on a march, following their duty with what constancy they have, and Catriona alone there to offer me some pleasure of my days; I wondered at myself that I could dwell on such considerations in that time of my peril and disgrace; and when I remembered my youth I was ashamed. I had my studies to complete; I had to be called into some useful business; I had yet to take my part of service in a place where all must serve; I had yet to learn, and know, and prove myself a man; and I had so much sense as blush that I should be already tempted with these further-on and holier delights and duties. My education spoke home to me sharply; I was never brought up on sugar biscuits, but on the hard food of the truth. I knew that he was quite unfit to be a husband who was not prepared to be a father also; and for a boy like me to play the father was a mere derision.
When I was in the midst of these thoughts and about half-way back to town I saw a figure coming to meet me, and the trouble of my heart was heightened. It seemed I had everything in the world to say to her, but nothing to say first; and remembering how tongue-tied I had been that morning at the Advocate's, I made sure that I would find myself struck dumb. But when she came up my fears fled away; not even the consciousness of what I had been privately thinking disconcerted me the least; and I found I could talk with her as easily and rationally as I might with Alan.
"O!" she cried, "you have been seeking your sixpence: did you get it?"
I told her no; but now I had met with her my walk was not in vain. "Though I have seen you to-day already," said I, and told her where and when.
"I did not see you," she said. "My eyes are big, but there are better than mine at seeing far. Only I heard singing in the house."
"That was Miss Grant," said I, "the eldest and the bonniest."
"They say they are all beautiful," said she.
"They think the same of you, Miss Drummond," I replied, "and were all crowding to the window to observe you."
"It is a pity about my being so blind," said she, "or I might have seen them too. And you were in the house? You must have been having the fine time with the fine music and the pretty ladies."
"There is just where you are wrong," said I; "for I was as uncouth as a sea-fish upon the brae of a mountain. The truth is that I am better fitted to go about with rudas men than pretty ladies."
"Well, I would think so too, at all events!" said she, at which we both of us laughed.
"It is a strange thing, now," said I. "I am not the least afraid with you, yet I could have run from the Miss Grants. And I was afraid of your cousin too."
"O, I think any man will be afraid of her," she cried. "My father is afraid of her himself."
The name of her father brought me to a stop. I looked at her as she walked by my side; I recalled the man, and the little I knew and the much I guessed of him; and comparing the one with the other, felt like a traitor to be silent.
"Speaking of which," said I, "I met your father no later than this morning."
"Did you?" she cried, with a voice of joy that seemed to mock at me. "You saw James More? You will have spoken with him, then?"
"I did even that," said I.
Then I think things went the worst way for me that was humanly possible. She gave me a look of mere gratitude. "Ah, thank you for that!" says she.
"You thank me for very little," said I, and then stopped. But it seemed when I was holding back so much, something at least had to come out. "I spoke rather ill to him," said I; "I did not like him very much; I spoke him rather ill, and he was angry."
"I think you had little to do then, and less to tell it to his daughter!" she cried out. "But those that do not love and cherish him I will not know."
"I will take the freedom of a word yet," said I, beginning to tremble. "Perhaps neither your father nor I are in the best of good spirits at Prestongrange's. I daresay we both have anxious business there, for it's a dangerous house. I was sorry for him too, and spoke to him the first, if I could but have spoken the wiser. And for one thing, in my opinion, you will soon find that his affairs are mending."
"It will not be through your friendship, I am thinking," said she; "and he is much made up to you for your sorrow."
"Miss Drummond," cried I, "I am alone in this world...."
"And I am not wondering at that," said she.
"O, let me speak!" said I. "I will speak but the once, and then leave you, if you will, for ever. I came this day in the hopes of a kind word that I am sore in want of. I know that what I said must hurt you, and I knew it then. It would have been easy to have spoken smooth, easy to lie to you; can you not think how I was tempted to the same? Cannot you see the truth of my heart shine out?"
"I think here is a great deal of work, Mr. Balfour," said she. "I think we will have met but the once, and will can part like gentle-folk."
"O, let me have one to believe in me!" I pleaded, "I cannae bear it else. The whole world is clanned against me. How am I to go through with my dreadful fate? If there's to be none to believe in me I cannot do it. The man must just die, for I cannot do it."
She had still looked straight in front of her, head in air; but at my words or the tone of my voice she came to a stop. "What is this you say?" she asked. "What are you talking of?"
"It is my testimony which may save an innocent life," said I, "and they will not suffer me to bear it. What would you do yourself? You know what this is, whose father lies in danger. Would you desert the poor soul? They have tried all ways with me. They have sought to bribe me; they offered me hills and valleys. And to-day that sleuth-hound told me how I stood, and to what a length he would go to butcher and disgrace me. I am to be brought in a party to the murder; I am to have held Glenure in talk for money and old clothes; I am to be killed and shamed. If this is the way I am to fall, and me scarce a man--if this is the story to be told of me in all Scotland--if you are to believe it too, and my name is to be nothing but a by-word--Catriona, how can I go through with it? The thing's not possible; it's more than a man has in his heart."
I poured my words out in a whirl, one upon the other; and when I stopped I found her gazing on me with a startled face.
"Glenure! It is the Appin murder," she said softly, but with a very deep surprise.
I had turned back to bear her company, and we were now come near the head of the brae above Dean village. At this word I stepped in front of her like one suddenly distracted.
"For God's sake!" I cried, "for God's sake, what is this that I have done?" and carried my fists to my temples.