I asked her bluntly wherein I had offended.
“Offended!” she cried, “Why should I take offence? I see you once in a blue moon. You flatter yourself strangely, Mr. Garvald, if you think you are ever in my thoughts.”
“You are never out of mine,” I said dismally.
At this she laughed, something of the old elfin laughter which I had heard on the wet moors.
“A compliment!” she cried, “To be mixed up eternally with the weights of tobacco and the prices of Flemish lace. You are growing a very pretty courtier, sir.”
“I am no courtier,” I said. “I think brave things of you, though I have not the words to fit them. But one thing I will say to you. Since ever you sang to the boy that once was me your spell has been on my soul. And when I saw you again three months back that spell was changed from the whim of youth to what men call love. Oh, I know well there is no hope for me. I am not fit to tie your shoe-latch. But you have made a fire in my cold life, and you will pardon me if I dare warm my hands. The sun is brighter because of you, and the flowers fairer, and the birds’ song sweeter. Grant me this little boon, that I may think of you. Have no fears that I will pester you with attentions. No priest ever served his goddess with a remoter reverence than mine for you.”
She stopped in an alley of roses and looked me in the face. In the dusk I could not see her eyes.
“Fine words,” she said. “Yet I hear that you have been wrangling over me with Mr. Charles Grey, and exchanging pistol shots. Is that your reverence?”
In a sentence I told her the truth. “They forced my back to the wall,” I said, “and there was no other way. I have never uttered your name to a living soul.”
Was it my fancy that when she spoke again there was a faint accent of disappointment?
“You are an uncomfortable being, Mr. Garvald. It seems you are predestined to keep Virginia from sloth. For myself I am for the roses and the old quiet ways.”
She plucked two flowers, one white and one of deepest crimson.
“I pardon you,” she said, “and for token I will give you a rose. It is red, for that is your turbulent colour. The white flower of peace shall be mine.”
I took the gift, and laid it in my bosom.
* * * * *
Two days later, it being a Monday, I dined with his Excellency at the Governor’s house at Middle Plantation. The place had been built new for my lord Culpepper, since the old mansion at James Town had been burned in Bacon’s rising. The company was mainly of young men, but three ladies—the mistresses of Arlington and Cobwell Manors, and Elspeth in a new saffron gown—varied with their laces the rich coats of the men. I was pleasantly welcomed by everybody. Grey came forward and greeted me, very quiet and civil, and I sat by him throughout the meal. The Governor was in high good humour, and presently had the whole company in the same mood. Of them all, Elspeth was the merriest. She had the quickest wit and the deftest skill in mimicry, and there was that in her laughter which would infect the glummest.