A FREE LIFE ON THE ROAD
I woke very early, though I had taken kindly to my pillow, as I found by my having an arm round my companion’s neck, and her fingers intertwisted with mine. For awhile I lay looking at her eyes, which had every imaginable light and signification in them; they advised me to lie quiet, they laughed at my wonder, they said, ‘Dear little fellow!’ they flashed as from under a cloud, darkened, flashed out of it, seemed to dip in water and shine, and were sometimes like a view into a forest, sometimes intensely sunny, never quite still. I trusted her, and could have slept again, but the sight of the tent stupefied me; I fancied the sky had fallen, and gasped for air; my head was extremely dizzy too; not one idea in it was kept from wheeling. This confusion of my head flew to my legs when, imitating her, I rose to go forth. In a fit of horror I thought, ’I ‘ve forgotten how to walk!’
Summoning my manful resolution, I made the attempt to step across the children swaddled in matting and straw and old gowns or petticoats. The necessity for doing it with a rush seized me after the first step. I pitched over one little bundle, right on to the figure of a sleeping woman. All she did was to turn round, murmuring, ‘Naughty Jackie.’ My companion pulled me along gravely, and once in the air, with a good breath of it in my chest, I felt tall and strong, and knew what had occurred. The tent where I had slept struck me as more curious than my own circumstances. I lifted my face to the sky; it was just sunrise, beautiful; bits of long and curling cloud brushed any way close on the blue, and rosy and white, deliciously cool; the grass was all grey, our dell in shadow, and the tops of the trees burning, a few birds twittering.
I sucked a blade of grass.
‘I wish it was all water here,’ I said.
‘Come and have a drink and a bathe,’ said my companion.
We went down the dell and over a juniper slope, reminding me of my day at John Salter’s house and the last of dear Heriot. Rather to my shame, my companion beat me at running; she was very swift, and my legs were stiff.
‘Can you swim?’ she asked me.
‘I can row, and swim, and fence, and ride, and fire a pistol,’ I said.
‘Oh, dear,’ said she, after eyeing me enviously. I could see that I had checked a recital of her accomplishments.
We arrived at a clear stream in a gentleman’s park, where grass rolled smooth as sea-water on a fine day, and cows and horses were feeding.
‘I can catch that horse and mount him,’ she said.
I was astonished.
She nodded down for ‘Yes.’
She nodded level for ‘No.’
My respect for her returned. But she could not swim.
‘Only up to my knees,’ she confessed.
‘Have a look at me,’ said I; and I stripped and shot into the water, happy as a fish, and thinking how much nicer it was than champagne. My enjoyment made her so envious that she plucked off her stockings, and came in as far as she dared. I called to her. ‘You’re like a cow,’ and she showed her teeth, bidding me not say that.