Down I sat before the fire, and reflected, and repented, and beat my brains in vain for any means of escape. About two of the morning, there were three red embers left and the house and all the city was asleep, when I was aware of a small sound of weeping in the next room. She thought that I slept, the poor soul; she regretted her weakness—and what perhaps (God help her!) she called her forwardness—and in the dead of the night solaced herself with tears. Tender and bitter feelings, love and penitence and pity struggled in my soul; it seemed I was under bond to heal that weeping.
“O, try to forgive me!” I cried out, “try, try to forgive me. Let us forget it all, let us try if we’ll no can forget it!”
There came no answer, but the sobbing ceased. I stood a long while with my hands still clasped as I had spoken; then the cold of the night laid hold upon me with a shudder, and I think my reason reawakened.
“You can make no hand of this, Davie,” thinks I. “To bed with you like a wise lad, and try if you can sleep. To-morrow you may see your way.”
* * * * *
THE RETURN OF JAMES MORE
I was called on the morrow out of a late and troubled slumber by a knocking on my door, ran to open it, and had almost swooned with the contrariety of my feelings, mostly painful; for on the threshold, in a rough wrapraseal and an extraordinary big laced hat, there stood James More.
I ought to have been glad perhaps without admixture, for there was a sense in which the man came like an answer to prayer. I had been saying till my head was weary that Catriona and I must separate, and looking till my head ached for any possible means of separation. Here were the means come to me upon two legs, and joy was the hindmost of my thoughts. It is to be considered, however, that even if the weight of the future were lifted off me by the man’s arrival, the present heaved up the more black and menacing; so that, as I first stood before him in my shirt and breeches, I believe I took a leaping step backward like a person shot.
“Ah,” said he, “I have found you, Mr. Balfour.” And offered me his large, fine hand, the which (recovering at the same time my post in the doorway, as if with some thought of resistance) I took him by doubtfully. “It is a remarkable circumstance how our affairs appear to intermingle,” he continued. “I am owing you an apology for an unfortunate intrusion upon yours, which I suffered myself to be entrapped into by my confidence in that false-face, Prestongrange; I think shame to own to you that I was ever trusting to a lawyer.” He shrugged his shoulders with a very French air. “But indeed the man is very plausible,” says he. “And now it seems that you have busied yourself handsomely in the matter of my daughter, for whose direction I was remitted to yourself.”