At this time there is but the one thing that I care to hear of, and that will be news of Catriona."
"Do you call her by that name to her face, Mr. Balfour?" she asked.
"In troth, and I am not very sure," I stammered.
"I would not do so in any case to strangers," said Miss Grant. "And why are you so much immersed in the affairs of this young lady?"
"I heard she was in prison," said I.
"Well, and now you hear that she is out of it," she replied, "and what more would you have? She has no need of any further champion."
"I may have the greater need of her, ma'am," said I.
"Come, this is better!" says Miss Grant. "But look me fairly in the face; am I not bonnier than she?"
"I would be the last to be denying it," said I. "There is not your marrow in all Scotland."
"Well, here you have the pick of the two at your hand, and must needs speak of the other," said she. "This is never the way to please the ladies, Mr. Balfour."
"But, mistress," said I, "there are surely other things besides mere beauty."
"By which I am to understand that I am no better than I should be, perhaps?" she asked.
"By which you will please understand that I am like the cock in the midden in the fable book," said I. "I see the braw jewel--and I like fine to see it too--but I have more need of the pickle corn."
"Bravissimo!" she cried. "There is a word well said at last, and I will reward you for it with my story. That same night of your desertion I came late from a friend's house--where I was excessively admired, whatever you may think of it--and what should I hear but that a lass in a tartan screen desired to speak with me? She had been there an hour or better, said the servant-lass, and she grat in to herself as she sat waiting. I went to her direct; she rose as I came in, and I knew her at a look. 'Grey Eyes!' says I to myself, but was more wise than to let on. You will be Miss Grant at last? she says, rising and looking at me hard and pitiful. Ay, it was true he said, you are bonny at all events.--The way God made me, my dear, I said, but I would be gey and obliged if ye could tell me what brought you here at such a time of the night--Lady, she said, we are kinsfolk, we are both come of the blood of the sons of Alpin.--My dear, I replied, I think no more of Alpin or his sons than what I do of a kale-stock. You have a better argument in these tears upon your bonny face. And at that I was so weakminded as to kiss her, which is what you would like to do dearly, and I wager will never find the courage of. I say it was weakminded of me, for I knew no more of her than the outside; but it was the wisest stroke I could have hit upon. She is a very staunch, brave nature, but I think she has been little used with tenderness; and at that caress (though to say the truth, it was but lightly given) her heart went out to me. I will never betray the secrets of my sex, Mr. Davie; I will never tell you the way she turned me round her thumb, because it is the same she will use to twist yourself. Ay, it is a fine lass! She is as clean as hill well water."
"She is e'en't!" I cried.
"Well, then, she told me her concerns," pursued Miss Grant, "and in what a swither she was in about her papa, and what a taking about yourself, with very little cause, and in what a perplexity she had found herself after you was gone away. And then I minded at long last, says she, that we were kinswomen, and that Mr. David should have given you the name of the bonniest of the bonny, and I was thinking to myself 'If she is so bonny she will be good at all events; and I took up my foot soles out of that. That was when I forgave yourself, Mr. Davie. When you was in my society, you seemed upon hot iron; by all marks, if ever I saw a young man that wanted to be gone, it was yourself, and I and my two sisters were the ladies you were so desirous to be gone from; and now it appeared you had given me some notice in the bygoing, and was so kind as to comment on my attractions! From that hour you may date our friendship, and I began to think with tenderness upon the Latin grammar."
"You will have many hours to rally me in," said I, "and I think besides you do yourself injustice, I think it was Catriona turned your heart in my direction, she is too simple to perceive as you do the stiffness of her friend."
"I would not like to wager upon that, Mr. David," said she. "The lasses have clear eyes. But at least she is your friend entirely, as I was to see. I carried her in to his lordship my papa; and his Advocacy, being in a favourable stage of claret, was so good as to receive the pair of us. Here is Grey Eyes that you have been deaved with these days past, said I, she is come to prove that we spoke true, and I lay the prettiest lass in the three Lothians at your feet--making a papistical reservation of myself. She suited her action to my words; down she went upon her knees to him--I would not like to swear but he saw two of her, which doubtless made her appeal the more irresistible, for you are all a pack of Mahomedans--told him what had passed that night, and how she had withheld her father's man from following of you, and what a case she was in about her father, and what a flutter for yourself; and begged with weeping for the lives of both of you (neither of which was in the slightest danger) till I vow I was proud of my sex because it was done so pretty, and ashamed for it because of the smallness of the occasion. She had not gone far, I assure you, before the Advocate was wholly sober, to see his inmost politics ravelled out by a young lass and discovered to the most unruly of his daughters. But we took him in hand, the pair of us, and brought that matter straight. Properly managed--and that means managed by me--there is no one to compare with my papa."
"He has been a good man to me," said I.
"Well, he was a good man to Katrine, and I was there to see to it," said she.
"And she pled for me!" said I.
"She did that, and very movingly," said Miss Grant. "I would not like to tell you what she said, I find you vain enough already."
"God reward her for it!" cried I.
"With Mr. David Balfour, I suppose?" says she.
"You do me too much injustice at the last!" I cried. "I would tremble to think of her in such hard hands. Do you think I would presume, because she begged my life? She would do that for a new whelped puppy! I have had more than that to set me up, if you but ken'd. She kissed that hand of mine. Ay, but she did. And why? because she thought I was playing a brave part and might be going to my death. It was not for my sake, but I need not be telling that to you that cannot look at me without laughter. It was for the love of what she thought was bravery. I believe there is none but me and poor Prince Charlie had that honour done them. Was this not to make a god of me? and do you not think my heart would quake when I remember it?"
"I do laugh at you a good deal, and a good deal more than is quite civil," said she; "but I will tell you one thing: if you speak to her like that, you have some glimmerings of a chance."
"Me?" I cried, "I would never dare. I can speak to you, Miss Grant, because it's a matter of indifference what ye think of me. But her? no fear!" said I.
"I think you have the largest feet in all broad Scotland," says she.
"Troth, they are no very small," said I, looking down.
"Ah, poor Catriona!" cried Miss Grant.
And I could but stare upon her; for though I now see very well what she was driving at (and perhaps some justification for the same), I was never swift at the uptake in such flimsy talk.
"Ah well, Mr. David," she said, "it goes sore against my conscience, but I see I shall have to be your speaking board. She shall know you came to her straight upon the news of her imprisonment; she shall know you would not pause to eat; and of your conversation she shall hear just so much as I think convenient for a maid of her age and inexperience. Believe me, you will be in that way much better served than you could serve yourself, for I will keep the big feet out of the platter."
"You know where she is, then?" I exclaimed.