“Just that I was black afraid. That made me more feared of being a coward, so I forced myself to yon folly.”
“A very honourable reason,” he said.
“Are you the leader of those men?” I asked. “They looked a scurvy lot. Do you call that a proper occupation for the best blood in Breadalbane?”
It was a silly speech, and I could have bitten my tongue out when I had uttered it. But I was in a vile temper, for the dregs of the negro’s rum still hummed in my blood. His face grew dark, till he looked like the man I had seen the night before.
“I allow no man to slight my race,” he said in a harsh voice.
“It’s the truth whether you like it or not. And you that claimed to be a gentleman! What is it they say about the Highlands?” And I quoted a ribald Glasgow proverb.
What moved me to this insolence I cannot say, I was in the wrong, and I knew it, but I was too much of a child to let go my silly pride.
Ringan got up very quickly and walked three steps. The blackness had gone from his face, and it was puzzled and melancholy.
“There’s a precious lot of the bairn in you, Mr. Garvald,” he said, “and an ugly spice of the Whiggamore. I would have killed another man for half your words, and I’ve got to make you pay for them somehow.” And he knit his brow and pondered.
“I’m ready,” said I, with the best bravado I could muster, though the truth is I was sick at heart. I had forced a quarrel like an ill-mannered boy on the very man whose help I had come to seek. And I saw, too, that I had gone just that bit too far for which no recantation would win pardon.
“What sort of way are you ready?” he asked politely. “You would fight me with your pistols, but you haven’t got them, and this is no a matter that will wait. I could spit you in a jiffy with my sword, but it wouldna be fair. It strikes me that you and me are ill matched. We’re like a shark and a wolf that cannot meet to fight in the same element.”
Then he ran his finger down the buttons of his coat, and his eyes were smiling. “We’ll try the old way that laddies use on the village green. Man, Andrew, I’m going to skelp you, as your mother skelped you when you were a breechless bairn,” And he tossed his coat on the grass.
I could only follow suit, though I was black ashamed at the whole business. I felt the disgrace of my conduct, and most bitterly the disgrace of the penalty.
My arm was too short to make a fighter of me, and I could only strive to close, that I might get the use of my weight and my great strength of neck and shoulder. Ringan danced round me, tapping me lightly on nose and cheek, but hard enough to make the blood flow, I defended myself as best I could, while my temper rose rapidly and made me forget my penitence. Time and again I looked for a chance to slip in, but he was as wary as a fox, and was a yard off before I could get my arm round him.