I had a written word for Doig, my lord's private hand that was thought to be in all his secrets, a worthy, little plain man, all fat and snuff and self-sufficiency. Him I found already at his desk and already bedabbled with maccabaw, in the same anteroom where I rencountered with James More. He read the note scrupulously through like a chapter in his Bible.
"H'm," says he, "ye come a wee thing ahint-hand, Mr. Balfour. The bird's flaen, we hae letten her out."
"Miss Drummond is set free?" I cried.
"Achy!" said he. "What would we keep her for, ye ken? To hae made a steer about the bairn would hae pleased naebody."
"And where'll she be now?" says I.
"Gude kens!" says Doig, with a shrug.
"She'll have gone home to Lady Allardyce, I'm thinking," said I.
"That'll be it," said he.
"Then I'll gang there straight," says I.
"But ye'll be for a bite or ye go?" said he.
"Neither bite nor sup," said I. "I had a good waucht of milk in by Ratho."
"Aweel, aweel," says Doig. "But ye'll can leave your horse here and your bags, for it seems we're to have your up-put."
"Na, na," said I. "Tamson's mear would never be the thing for me, this day of all days."
Doig speaking somewhat broad, I had been led by imitation into an accent much more countrified than I was usually careful to affect, a good deal broader indeed than I have written it down; and I was the more ashamed when another voice joined in behind me with a scrap of a ballad:
"Gae saddle me the bonny black, Gae saddle sune and mak' him ready, For I will down the Gatehope-slack, And a' to see my bonny leddy."
The young lady, when I turned to her, stood in a morning gown, and her hands muffled in the same, as if to hold me at a distance. Yet I could not but think there was kindness in the eye with which she saw me.
"My best respects to you, Mistress Grant," said I bowing.
"The like to yourself, Mr. David," she replied, with a deep courtesy, "And I beg to remind you of an old musty saw, that meat and mass never hindered man. The mass I cannot afford you, for we are all good Protestants. But the meat I press on your attention. And I would not wonder but I could find something for your private ear that would be worth the stopping for."
"Mistress Grant," said I, "I believe I am already your debtor for some merry words--and I think they were kind too--on a piece of unsigned paper."
"Unsigned paper?" says she, and made a droll face, which was likewise wondrous beautiful, as of one trying to remember.
"Or else I am the more deceived," I went on. "But to be sure, we shall have the time to speak of these, since your father is so good as to make me for a while your inmate; and the gomeral begs you at this time only for the favour of his liberty."
"You give yourself hard names," said she.
"Mr. Doig and I would be blythe to take harder at your clever pen," says I.
"Once more I have to admire the discretion of all men-folk," she replied. "But if you will not eat, off with you at once; you will be back the sooner, for you go on a fool's errand. Off with you, Mr. David," she continued, opening the door.
"He has lowpen on his bonny grey, He rade the richt gate and the ready; I trow he would neither stint nor stay, Far he was seeking his bonny leddy."
I did not wait to be twice bidden, and did justice to Miss Grant's citation on the way to Dean.
Old Lady Allardyce walked there alone in the garden, in her hat and mutch, and having a silver-mounted staff of some black wood to lean upon. As I alighted from my horse, and drew near to her with congees, I could see the blood come in her face, and her head fling into the air like what I had conceived of empresses.
"What brings you to my poor door?" she cried, speaking high through her nose. "I cannot bar it. The males of my house are dead and buried; I have neither son nor husband to stand in the gate for me; any beggar can pluck me by the baird--and a baird there is, and that's the worst of it yet!" she added, partly to herself.
I was extremely put out at this reception, and the last remark, which seemed like a daft wife's, left me near hand speechless.
"I see I have fallen under your displeasure, ma'am," said I. "Yet I will still be so bold as ask after Mistress Drummond."
She considered me with a burning eye, her lips pressed close together into twenty creases, her hand shaking on her staff. "This cows all!" she cried. "Ye come to me to spier for her! Would God I knew!"
"She is not here?" I cried.
She threw up her chin and made a step and a cry at me, so that I fell back incontinent.
"Out upon your leeing throat!" she cried. "What! ye come and spier at me! She's in jyle, whaur ye took her to--that's all there is to it. And of a' the beings ever I beheld in breeks, to think it should be you! Ye timmer scoun'rel, if I had a male left to my name I would have your jaicket dustit till ye raired."
I thought it not good to delay longer in that place because I remarked her passion to be rising. As I turned to the horse-post she even followed me; and I make no shame to confess that I rode away with the one stirrup on and scrambling for the other.
As I knew no other quarter where I could push my inquiries, there was nothing left me but to return to the Advocate's. I was well received by the four ladies, who were now in company together, and must give the news of Prestongrange and what word went in the west country, at the most inordinate length and with great weariness to myself; while all the time that young lady, with whom I so much desired to be alone again, observed me quizzically and seemed to find pleasure in the sight of my impatience. At last, after I had endured a meal with them, and was come very near the point of appealing for an interview before her aunt, she went and stood by the music case, and picking out a tune, sang to it on a high key--"He that will not when he may, When he will he shall have nay." But this was the end of her rigours, and presently, after making some excuse of which I have no mind, she carried me away in private to her father's library. I should not fail to say that she was dressed to the nines, and appeared extraordinary handsome.
"Now, Mr. David, sit ye down here and let us have a two-handed crack," said she. "For I have much to tell you, and it appears besides that I have been grossly unjust to your good taste."
"In what manner, Mistress Grant?" I asked. "I trust I have never seemed to fail in due respect."
"I will be your surety, Mr. David," said she. "Your respect, whether to yourself or your poor neighbours, has been always and most fortunately beyond imitation. But that is by the question. You got a note from me?" she asked.
"I was so bold as to suppose so upon inference," said I, "and it was kindly thought upon."
"It must have prodigiously surprised you," said she. "But let us begin with the beginning. You have not perhaps forgot a day when you were so kind as to escort three very tedious misses to Hope Park? I have the less cause to forget it myself, because you was so particular obliging as to introduce me to some of the principles of the Latin grammar, a thing which wrote itself profoundly on my gratitude."
"I fear I was sadly pedantical," said I, overcome with confusion at the memory. "You are only to consider I am quite unused with the society of ladies."
"I will say the less about the grammar then," she replied. "But how came you to desert your charge? 'He has thrown her out, overboard, his ain dear Annie!'" she hummed; "and his ain dear Annie and her two sisters had to taigle home by theirselves like a string of green geese! It seems you returned to my papa's, where you showed yourself excessively martial, and then on to realms unknown, with an eye (it appears) to the Bass Rock; solan geese being perhaps more to your mind than bonny lasses."
Through all this raillery there was something indulgent in the lady's eye which made me suppose there might be better coming.
"You take a pleasure to torment me," said I, "and I make a very feckless plaything; but let me ask you to be more merciful.