At this the last of my anger oozed all out of me; and I found myself only sick, and sorry, and blank, and wondering at myself. I would have given the world to take back what I had said; but a word once spoken, who can recapture it? I minded me of all Alan’s kindness and courage in the past, how he had helped and cheered and borne with me in our evil days; and then recalled my own insults, and saw that I had lost for ever that doughty friend. At the same time, the sickness that hung upon me seemed to redouble, and the pang in my side was like a sword for sharpness. I thought I must have swooned where I stood.
This it was that gave me a thought. No apology could blot out what I had said; it was needless to think of one, none could cover the offence; but where an apology was vain, a mere cry for help might bring Alan back to my side. I put my pride away from me. “Alan!” I said; “if ye cannae help me, I must just die here.”
He started up sitting, and looked at me.
“It’s true,” said I. “I’m by with it. O, let me get into the bield of a house—I’ll can die there easier.” I had no need to pretend; whether I chose or not, I spoke in a weeping voice that would have melted a heart of stone.
“Can ye walk?” asked Alan.
“No,” said I, “not without help. This last hour my legs have been fainting under me; I’ve a stitch in my side like a red-hot iron; I cannae breathe right. If I die, ye’ll can forgive me, Alan? In my heart, I liked ye fine—even when I was the angriest.”
“Wheesht, wheesht!” cried Alan. “Dinna say that! David man, ye ken—” He shut his mouth upon a sob. “Let me get my arm about ye,” he continued; “that’s the way! Now lean upon me hard. Gude kens where there’s a house! We’re in Balwhidder, too; there should be no want of houses, no, nor friends’ houses here. Do ye gang easier so, Davie?”
“Ay” said I, “I can be doing this way;” and I pressed his arm with my hand.
Again he came near sobbing. “Davie,” said he, “I’m no a right man at all; I have neither sense nor kindness; I could nae remember ye were just a bairn, I couldnae see ye were dying on your feet; Davie, ye’ll have to try and forgive me.”
“O man, let’s say no more about it!” said I. “We’re neither one of us to mend the other—that’s the truth! We must just bear and forbear, man Alan. O, but my stitch is sore! Is there nae house?”
“I’ll find a house to ye, David,” he said, stoutly. “We’ll follow down the burn, where there’s bound to be houses. My poor man, will ye no be better on my back?”
“O, Alan,” says I, “and me a good twelve inches taller?”
“Ye’re no such a thing,” cried Alan, with a start. “There may be a trifling matter of an inch or two; I’m no saying I’m just exactly what ye would call a tall man, whatever; and I dare say,” he added, his voice tailing off in a laughable manner, “now when I come to think of it, I dare say ye’ll be just about right. Ay, it’ll be a foot, or near hand; or may be even mair!”