Presently we rose from table, and Colonel Beverley summoned us to the Green Parlour, where Miss Elspeth was brewing a dish of chocolate, then a newfangled luxury in the dominion. I would fain have made my escape, for if my appearance was unfit for a dining-hall, it was an outrage in a lady’s withdrawing-room. But Doctor Blair came forward to me and shook me warmly by the hand, and was full of gossip about Clydesdale, from which apparently he had been absent these twenty years. “My niece bade me bring you to her,” he said. “She, poor child, is a happy exile, but she has now and then an exile’s longings. A Scots tongue is pleasant in her ear.”
So I perforce had to follow him into a fine room with an oaken floor, whereon lay rich Smyrna rugs and the skins of wild beasts from the wood. There was a prodigious number of soft couches of flowered damask, and little tables inlaid with foreign woods and jeweller’s work. ’Twas well enough for your fine gentleman in his buckled shoes and silk stockings to enter such a place, but for myself, in my coarse boots, I seemed like a colt in a flower garden. The girl sat by a brazier of charcoal, with the scarlet-coated negro at hand doing her commands. She was so busy at the chocolate making that when her uncle said, “Elspeth, I have brought you Mr. Garvald,” she had no hand to give me. She looked up and smiled, and went on with the business, while I stood awkwardly by, the scorn of the assured gentlemen around me.
By and by she spoke: “You and I seem fated to meet in odd places. First it was at Carnwath in the rain, and then at the Cauldstaneslap in a motley company. Then I think it was in the Tolbooth, Mr. Garvald, when you were very gruff to your deliverer. And now we are both exiles, and once more you step in like a bogle out of the night. Will you taste my chocolate?”
She served me first, and I could see how little the favour was to the liking of her little retinue of courtiers. My silken gentleman, whose name was Grey, broke in on us abruptly.
“What is this story, sir, of Indian dangers? You are new to the country, or you would know that it is the old cry of the landless and the lawless. Every out-at-elbows republican makes it a stick to beat His Majesty.”
“Are you a republican, Mr. Garvald?” she asked. “Now that I remember, I have seen you in Whiggamore company.”
“Why, no,” I said. “I do not meddle with politics. I am a merchant, and am well content with any Government that will protect my trade and my person.”
A sudden perversity had taken me to show myself at my most prosaic and unromantic. I think it was the contrast with the glamour of those fine gentlemen. I had neither claim nor desire to be of their company, and to her I could make no pretence.
He laughed scornfully. “Yours is a noble cause,” he said. “But you may sleep peacefully in your bed, sir. Be assured that there are a thousand gentlemen of Virginia whose swords will leap from their scabbards at a breath of peril, on behalf of their women and their homes. And these,” he added, taking snuff from a gold box, “are perhaps as potent spurs to action as the whims of a busybody or the gains of a house-keeping trader.”