I asked him if I could do him any service.
“There’s a woman at Cramond,” he began timidly. “She might like to ken what had become o’ me. Would ye carry a message?”
I did better, for at Gib’s dictation I composed for her a letter, since he could not write. I wrote it on some blank pages from my pocket which I used for College notes. It was surely the queerest love-letter ever indited, for the most part of it was theology, and the rest was instructions for the disposing of his scanty plenishing. I have forgotten now what I wrote, but I remember that the woman’s name was Alison Steel.
Of A stairhead and A sea-captain.
With the escapade that landed me in the Tolbooth there came an end to the nightmare years of my first youth. A week later I got word that my father was dead of an ague in the Low Countries, and I had to be off post-haste to Auchencairn to see to the ordering of our little estate. We were destined to be bitter poor, what with dues and regalities incident on the passing of the ownership, and I thought it best to leave my mother to farm it, with the help of Robin Gilfillan the grieve, and seek employment which would bring me an honest penny. Her one brother, Andrew Sempill, from whom I was named, was a merchant in Glasgow, the owner of three ships that traded to the Western Seas, and by repute a man of a shrewd and venturesome temper. He was single, too, and I might reasonably look to be his heir; so when a letter came from him offering me a hand in his business, my mother was instant for my going. I was little loath myself, for I saw nothing now to draw me to the profession of the law, which had been my first notion. “Hame’s hame,” runs the proverb, “as the devil said when he found himself in the Court of Session,” and I had lost any desire for that sinister company. Besides, I liked the notion of having to do with ships and far lands; for I was at the age when youth burns fiercely in a lad, and his fancy is as riotous as a poet’s.
Yet the events I have just related had worked a change in my life. They had driven the unthinking child out of me and forced me to reflect on my future. Two things rankled in my soul—a wench’s mocking laughter and the treatment I had got from the dragoon. It was not that I was in love with the black-haired girl; indeed, I think I hated her; but I could not get her face out of my head or her voice out of my ears. She had mocked me, treated me as if I was no more than a foolish servant, and my vanity was raw. I longed to beat down her pride, to make her creep humbly to me, Andrew Garvald, as her only deliverer; and how that should be compassed was the subject of many hot fantasies in my brain. The dragoon, too, had tossed me about like a silly sheep, and my manhood cried out at the recollection. What sort of man was I if any lubberly soldier could venture on such liberties?