"What made me do it? Sure, I am bewitched to say these things!"
"In the name of heaven, what ails you now?" she cried.
"I gave my honour," I groaned, "I gave my honour and now I have broke it. O, Catriona!"
"I am asking you what it is," she said; "was it these things you should not have spoken? And do you think I have no honour, then? or that I am one that would betray a friend? I hold up my right hand to you and swear."
"O, I knew you would be true!" said I. "It's me--it's here. I that stood but this morning and out-faced them, that risked rather to die disgraced upon the gallows than do wrong--and a few hours after I throw my honour away by the roadside in common talk! 'There is one thing clear upon our interview,' says he, 'that I can rely on your pledged word.' Where is my word now? Who could believe me now? You could not believe me. I am clean fallen down; I had best die!" All this I said with a weeping voice, but I had no tears in my body.
"My heart is sore for you," said she, "but be sure you are too nice. I would not believe you, do you say? I would trust you with anything. And these men? I would not be thinking of them! Men who go about to entrap and to destroy you! Fy! this is no time to crouch. Look up! Do you not think I will be admiring you like a great hero of the good--and you a boy not much older than myself? And because you said a word too much in a friend's ear, that would die ere she betrayed you--to make such a matter! It is one thing that we must both forget."
"Catriona," said I, looking at her, hang-dog, "is this true of it? Would ye trust me yet?"
"Will you not believe the tears upon my face?" she cried. "It is the world I am thinking of you, Mr. David Balfour. Let them hang you; I will never forget, I will grow old and still remember you. I think it is great to die so; I will envy you that gallows."
"And maybe all this while I am but a child frighted with bogles," said I. "Maybe they but make a mock of me."
"It is what I must know," she said. "I must hear the whole. The harm is done at all events, and I must hear the whole."
I had sat down on the wayside, where she took a place beside me, and I told her all that matter much as I have written it, my thoughts about her father's dealing being alone omitted.
"Well," she said, when I had finished, "you are a hero, surely, and I never would have thought that same! And I think you are in peril, too. O, Symon Fraser! to think upon that man! For his life and the dirty money, to be dealing in such traffic!" And just then she called out aloud with a queer word that was common with her, and belongs, I believe, to her own language. "My torture!" says she, "look at the sun!"
Indeed, it was already dipping towards the mountains.
She bid me come again soon, gave me her hand, and left me in a turmoil of glad spirits. I delayed to go home to my lodging, for I had a terror of immediate arrest; but got some supper at a change house, and the better part of that night walked by myself in the barley-fields, and had such a sense of Catriona's presence that I seemed to bear her in my arms.
* * * * *
The next day, August 29th, I kept my appointment at the Advocate's in a coat that I had made to my own measure, and was but newly ready.
"Aha," says Prestongrange, "you are very fine to-day; my misses are to have a fine cavalier. Come, I take that kind of you. I take that kind of you, Mr. David. O, we shall do very well yet, and I believe your troubles are nearly at an end."
"You have news for me?" cried I.
"Beyond anticipation," he replied. "Your testimony is after all to be received; and you may go, if you will, in my company to the trial, which is to be held at Inverary, Thursday, 21st proximo."
I was too much amazed to find words.
"In the meanwhile," he continued, "though I will not ask you to renew your pledge, I must caution you strictly to be reticent. To-morrow your precognition must be taken; and outside of that, do you know, I think least said will be soonest mended."
"I shall try to go discreetly," said I. "I believe it is yourself that I must thank for this crowning mercy, and I do thank you gratefully. After yesterday, my lord, this is like the doors of Heaven. I cannot find it in my heart to get the thing believed."
"Ah, but you must try and manage, you must try and manage to believe it," says he, soothing-like, "and I am very glad to hear your acknowledgment of obligation, for I think you may be able to repay me very shortly"--he coughed--"or even now. The matter is much changed. Your testimony, which I shall not trouble you for to-day, will doubtless alter the complexion of the case for all concerned, and this makes it less delicate for me to enter with you on a side issue."
"My lord," I interrupted, "excuse me for interrupting you, but how has this been brought about? The obstacles you told me of on Saturday appeared even to me to be quite insurmountable; how has it been contrived?"
"My dear Mr. David," said he, "it would never do for me to divulge (even to you, as you say) the councils of the Government; and you must content yourself, if you please, with the gross fact."
He smiled upon me like a father as he spoke, playing the while with a new pen; methought it was impossible there could be any shadow of deception in the man: yet when he drew to him a sheet of paper, dipped his pen among the ink, and began again to address me, I was somehow not so certain, and fell instinctively into an attitude of guard.
"There is a point I wish to touch upon," he began. "I purposely left it before upon one side, which need be now no longer necessary. This is not, of course, a part of your examination, which is to follow by another hand; this is a private interest of my own. You say you encountered Breck upon the hill?"
"I did, my lord," said I.
"This was immediately after the murder?"
"Did you speak to him?"
"You had known him before, I think?" says my lord, carelessly.
"I cannot guess your reason for so thinking, my lord," I replied, "but such is the fact."
"And when did you part with him again?" said he.
"I reserve my answer," said I. "The question will be put to me at the assize."
"Mr. Balfour," said he, "will you not understand that all this is without prejudice to yourself? I have promised you life and honour; and, believe me, I can keep my word. You are therefore clear of all anxiety. Alan, it appears, you suppose you can protect; and you talk to me of your gratitude, which I think (if you push me) is not ill-deserved. There are a great many different considerations all pointing the same way; and I will never be persuaded that you could not help us (if you chose) to put salt on Alan's tail."
"My lord," said I, "I give you my word I do not so much as guess where Alan is."
He paused a breath. "Nor how he might be found?" he asked.
I sat before him like a log of wood.
"And so much for your gratitude, Mr. David!" he observed. Again there was a piece of silence. "Well," said he, rising, "I am not fortunate, and we are a couple at cross purposes. Let us speak of it no more; you will receive notice when, where, and by whom we are to take your precognition. And in the meantime, my misses must be waiting you. They will never forgive me if I detain their cavalier."
Into the hands of these graces I was accordingly offered up, and found them dressed beyond what I had thought possible, and looking fair as a posy.
As we went forth from the doors a small circumstance occurred which came afterwards to look extremely big. I heard a whistle sound loud and brief like a signal, and looking all about, spied for one moment the red head of Neil of the Tom, the son of Duncan. The next moment he was gone again, nor could I see so much as the skirt-tail of Catriona, upon whom I naturally supposed him to be then attending.
My three keepers led me out by Bristo and the Bruntsfield Links; whence a path carried us to Hope Park, a beautiful pleasance, laid with gravel-walks, furnished with seats and summer-sheds, and warded by a keeper.