Salute to Adventurers
XIV. A Wild Wager
That July morning in the forest gave me, if not popularity, at any rate peace. I had made
good my position. Henceforth the word went out that I was to be let alone. Some of the
young men, indeed, showed signs of affecting my society, including that Mr. Kent of
Gracedieu who had been stripped by Ringan. The others treated me with courtesy, and
I replied with my best manners. Most of them were of a different world to mine, and we
could not mix, so 'twas right that our deportment should be that of two dissimilar but
amiable nations bowing to each other across a frontier.
All this was a great ease, but it brought one rueful consequence. Elspeth grew cold to
me. Women, I suppose, have to condescend, and protect, and pity. When I was an
outcast she was ready to shelter me; but now that I was in some degree of favour with
others the need for this was gone, and she saw me without illusion in all my angularity
and roughness. She must have heard of the duel, and jumped to the conclusion that the
quarrel had been about herself, which was not the truth. The notion irked her pride, that
her name should ever be brought into the brawls of men. When I passed her in the
streets she greeted me coldly, and all friendliness had gone out of her eyes.
* * * * *
My days were so busy that I had little leisure for brooding, but at odd moments I would
fall into a deep melancholy. She had lived so constantly in my thoughts that without her
no project charmed me. What mattered wealth or fame, I thought, if she did not
approve? What availed my striving, if she were not to share in the reward? I was in this
mood when I was bidden by Doctor Blair to sup at his house.
I went thither in much trepidation, for I feared a great company, in which I might have no
chance of a word from her. But I found only the Governor, who was in a black humour,
and disputed every word that fell from the Doctor's mouth. This turned the meal into one
long wrangle, in which the high fundamentals of government in Church and State were
debated by two choleric gentlemen. The girl and I had no share in the conversation;
indeed, we were clearly out of place: so she could not refuse when I proposed a walk in
the garden. The place was all cool and dewy after the scorching day, and the bells of
the flowers made the air heavy with fragrance. Somewhere near a man was playing on
the flageolet, a light, pretty tune which set her feet tripping.
I asked her bluntly wherein I had offended.
"Offended!" she cried, "Why should I take offence? I see you once in a blue moon. You
flatter yourself strangely, Mr. Garvald, if you think you are ever in my thoughts."
"You are never out of mine," I said dismally.