“The last of them as well?” said she.
I knew where we were now; yet I would not lie to her either. “I gave them all without after-thought,” I said, “as I supposed that you would read them. I see no harm in any.”
“I will be differently made,” said she. “I thank God I am differently made. It was not a fit letter to be shown me. It was not fit to be written.”
“I think you are speaking of your own friend, Barbara Grant?” said I.
“There will not be anything as bitter as to lose a fancied friend,” said she, quoting my own expression.
“I think it is sometimes the friendship that was fancied!” I cried. “What kind of justice do you call this, to blame me for some words that a tomfool of a madcap lass has written down upon a piece of paper? You know yourself with what respect I have behaved—and would do always.”
“Yet you would show me that same letter!” says she. “I want no such friends. I can be doing very well, Mr. Balfour, without her—or you.”
“This is your fine gratitude!” says I.
“I am very much obliged to you,” said she. “I will be asking you to take away your—letters.” She seemed to choke upon the word, so that it sounded like an oath.
“You shall never ask twice,” said I; picked up that bundle, walked a little way forward and cast them as far as possible into the sea. For a very little more, I could have cast myself after them.
The rest of the day I walked up and down raging. There were few names so ill but what I gave her them in my own mind before the sun went down. All that I had ever heard of Highland pride seemed quite outdone; that a girl (scarce grown) should resent so trifling an allusion, and that from her next friend, that she had near wearied me with praising of! I had bitter, sharp, hard thoughts of her, like an angry boy’s. If I had kissed her indeed (I thought), perhaps she would have taken it pretty well; and only because it had been written down, and with a spice of jocularity, up she must fuff in this ridiculous passion. It seemed to me there was a want of penetration in the female sex, to make angels weep over the case of the poor men.
We were side by side again at supper, and what a change was there! She was like curdled milk to me; her face was like a wooden doll’s; I could have indifferently smitten her or grovelled at her feet, but she gave me not the least occasion to do either. No sooner the meal done than she betook herself to attend on Mrs. Gebbie, which I think she had a little neglected heretofore. But she was to make up for lost time, and in what remained of the passage was extraordinary assiduous with the old lady, and on deck began to make a great deal more than I thought wise of Captain Sang. Not but what the captain seemed a worthy, fatherly man; but I hated to behold her in the least familiarity with anyone except myself.
Altogether, she was so quick to avoid me, and so constant to keep herself surrounded with others, that I must watch a long while before I could find my opportunity; and after it was found, I made not much of it, as you are now to hear.