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.
‘A cow! a cow!’ I repeated, in my superior pleasure.
She spun out in a breath, ’If you say that, I ’ll run away with every bit of your clothes, and you’ll come out and run about naked, you will.’
‘Now I float,’ was my answer, ‘now I dive’; and when I came up she welcomed me with a big bright grin.
A smart run in the heat dried me. I dressed, finding half my money on the grass. She asked me to give her one of those bits-a shilling. I gave her two, upon which she asked me, invitingly, if ever I tossed. I replied that I never tossed for money; but she had caught a shilling, and I could not resist guessing ‘heads,’ and won; the same with her second shilling. She handed them to me sullenly, sobbing, yet she would not take them back.