She put me from her sharply. “You do not love your friend,” says she. “I could be so happy too, if you would let me!” And then, “O, what will I have done that you should hate me so?”
“Hate you!” cries I, and held her firm. “You blind lass, can you not see a little in my wretched heart? Do you think when I set there, reading in that fool-book that I have just burned and be damned to it, I take ever the least thought of any stricken thing but just yourself? Night after night I could have grat to see you sitting there your lone. And what was I to do? You are here under my honour; would you punish me for that? Is it for that that you would spurn a loving servant?”
At the word, with a small, sudden motion, she clung near to me. I raised her face to mine, I kissed it, and she bowed her brow upon my bosom, clasping me tight. I sat in a mere whirl like a man drunken. Then I heard her voice sound very small and muffled in my clothes.
“Did you kiss her truly?” she asked.
There went through me so great a heave of surprise that I was all shook with it.
“Miss Grant!” I cried, all in a disorder. “Yes, I asked her to kiss me good-bye, the which she did.”
“Ah, well!” said she, “you have kissed me too, at all events.”
At the strangeness and sweetness of that word, I saw where we had fallen; rose, and set her on her feet.
“This will never do,” said I. “This will never, never do. O Catrine, Catrine!” Then there came a pause in which I was debarred from any speaking. And then, “Go away to your bed,” said I. “Go away to your bed and leave me.”
She turned to obey me like a little child, and the next I knew of it, had stopped in the very doorway.
“Good night, Davie!” said she.
“And O, good night, my love!” I cried, with a great outbreak of my soul, and caught her to me again, so that it seemed I must have broken her. The next moment I had thrust her from the room, shut to the door even with violence, and stood alone.
The milk was spilt now, the word was out and the truth told. I had crept like an untrusty man into the poor maid’s affections; she was in my hand like any frail, innocent thing to make or mar; and what weapon of defence was left me? It seemed like a symbol that Heinoccius, my old protection, was now burned. I repented, yet could not find it in my heart to blame myself for that great failure. It seemed not possible to have resisted the boldness of her innocence or that last temptation of her weeping. And all that I had to excuse me did but make my sin appear the greater—it was upon a nature so defenceless, and with such advantages of the position, that I seemed to have practised.
What was to become of us now? It seemed we could no longer dwell in the one place. But where was I to go? or where she? Without either choice or fault of ours, life had conspired to wall us together in that narrow place. I had a wild thought of marrying out of hand; and the next moment put it from me with revolt. She was a child, she could not tell her own heart; I had surprised her weakness, I must never go on to build on that surprisal; I must keep her not only clear of reproach, but free as she had come to me.