“I have behaved like a cub, sir,” and he spoke loud, so that all could hear. “You have taught me a lesson in gentility. Will you give me your hand?”
I could find no words, and dumbly held out my right hand.
“Nay, sir,” he said, “the other, the one that held the trigger. I count it a privilege to hold the hand of a brave man.”
I had been tried too hard, and was all but proving my bravery by weeping like a bairn.
A WILD WAGER.
That July morning in the forest gave me, if not popularity, at any rate peace. I had made good my position. Henceforth the word went out that I was to be let alone. Some of the young men, indeed, showed signs of affecting my society, including that Mr. Kent of Gracedieu who had been stripped by Ringan. The others treated me with courtesy, and I replied with my best manners. Most of them were of a different world to mine, and we could not mix, so ’twas right that our deportment should be that of two dissimilar but amiable nations bowing to each other across a frontier.
All this was a great ease, but it brought one rueful consequence. Elspeth grew cold to me. Women, I suppose, have to condescend, and protect, and pity. When I was an outcast she was ready to shelter me; but now that I was in some degree of favour with others the need for this was gone, and she saw me without illusion in all my angularity and roughness. She must have heard of the duel, and jumped to the conclusion that the quarrel had been about herself, which was not the truth. The notion irked her pride, that her name should ever be brought into the brawls of men. When I passed her in the streets she greeted me coldly, and all friendliness had gone out of her eyes.
* * * * *
My days were so busy that I had little leisure for brooding, but at odd moments I would fall into a deep melancholy. She had lived so constantly in my thoughts that without her no project charmed me. What mattered wealth or fame, I thought, if she did not approve? What availed my striving, if she were not to share in the reward? I was in this mood when I was bidden by Doctor Blair to sup at his house.
I went thither in much trepidation, for I feared a great company, in which I might have no chance of a word from her. But I found only the Governor, who was in a black humour, and disputed every word that fell from the Doctor’s mouth. This turned the meal into one long wrangle, in which the high fundamentals of government in Church and State were debated by two choleric gentlemen. The girl and I had no share in the conversation; indeed, we were clearly out of place: so she could not refuse when I proposed a walk in the garden. The place was all cool and dewy after the scorching day, and the bells of the flowers made the air heavy with fragrance. Somewhere near a man was playing on the flageolet, a light, pretty tune which set her feet tripping.