'Here is all the town bizzing with a fine piece of work,' she writes, 'and what would make the thing more noted (if it were only known) the malefactor is a protegee of his lordship my papa. I am sure your heart is too much in your duty (if it were nothing else) to have forgotten Grey Eyes. What does she do, but get a broad hat with the flaps open, a long hairy-like man's great-coat, and a big gravatt; kilt her coats up to Gude kens whaur, clap two pair of boot-hose upon her legs, take a pair of clouted brogues in her hand, and off to the Castle? Here she gives herself out to be a soutar in the employ of James More, and gets admitted to his cell, the lieutenant (who seems to have been full of pleasantry) making sport among his soldiers of the soutar's great-coat. Presently they hear disputation and the sound of blows inside. Out flies the cobbler, his coat flying, the flaps of his hat beat about his face, and the lieutenant and his soldiers mock at him as he runs off. They laughed not so hearty the next time they had occasion to visit the cell, and found nobody but a tall, pretty, grey-eyed lass in the female habit! As for the cobbler, he was "over the hills ayont Dumblane," and it's thought that poor Scotland will have to console herself without him. I drank Catriona's health this night in public. Indeed, the whole town admires her; and I think the beaux would wear bits of her garters in their button-holes if they could only get them. I would have gone to visit her in prison too, only I remembered in time I was papa's daughter; so I wrote her a billet instead, which I entrusted to the faithful Doig, and I hope you will admit I can be political when I please. The same faithful gomeral is to despatch this letter by the express along with those of the wiseacres, so that you may hear Tom Fool in company with Solomon. Talking of gomerals, do tell Dauvit Balfour. I would I could see the face of him at the thought of a long-legged lass in such a predicament! to say nothing of the levities of your affectionate daughter, and his respectful friend.' So my rascal signs herself!" continued Prestongrange. "And you see, Mr. David, it is quite true what I tell you, that my daughters regard you with the most affectionate playfulness."
"The gomeral is much obliged," said I.
"And was not this prettily done?" he went on. "Is not this Highland maid a piece of a heroine?"
"I was always sure she had a great heart," said I. "And I wager she guessed nothing.... But I beg your pardon, this is to tread upon forbidden subjects."
"I will go bail she did not," he returned, quite openly. "I will go bail she thought she was flying straight into King George's face."
Remembrance of Catriona, and the thought of her lying in captivity, moved me strangely. I could see that even Prestongrange admired, and could not withhold his lips from smiling when he considered her behaviour. As for Miss Grant, for all her ill habit of mockery, her admiration shone out plain. A kind of a heat came on me.
"I am not your lordship's daughter..." I began.
"That I know of!" he put in smiling.
"I speak like a fool," said I, "or rather I began wrong. It would doubtless be unwise in Mistress Grant to go to her in prison; but for me, I think I would look like a half-hearted friend if I did not fly there instantly."
"So-ho, Mr. David," says he, "I thought that you and I were in a bargain?"
"My lord," I said, "when I made that bargain I was a good deal affected by your goodness, but I'll never can deny that I was moved besides by my own interest. There was self-seeking in my heart, and I think shame of it now. It may be for your lordship's safety to say this fashious Davie Balfour is your friend and housemate. Say it then; I'll never contradict you. But as for your patronage, I give it all back. I ask but the one thing--let me go, and give me a pass to see her in her prison."
He looked at me with a hard eye. "You put the cart before the horse, I think," says he. "That which I had given was a portion of my liking, which your thankless nature does not seem to have remarked. But for my patronage, it is not given, nor (to be exact) is it yet offered." He paused a bit. "And I warn you, you do not know yourself," he added. "Youth is a hasty season; you will think better of all this before a year."
"Well, and I would like to be that kind of youth!" I cried. "I have seen too much of the other party, in these young advocates that fawn upon your lordship and are even at the pains to fawn on me. And I have seen it in the old ones also. They are all for by-ends, the whole clan of them! It's this that makes me seem to misdoubt your lordship's liking. Why would I think that you would like me? But ye told me yourself ye had an interest!"
I stopped at this, confounded that I had run so far; he was observing me with a unfathomable face.
"My lord, I ask your pardon," I resumed. "I have nothing in my chafts but a rough country tongue. I think it would be only decent-like if I would go to see my friend in her captivity; but I'm owing you my life, I'll never forget that; and-if it's for your lordship's good, here I'll stay. That's barely gratitude."
"This might have been reached in fewer words," says Prestongrange, grimly. "It is easy, and it is at times gracious, to say a plain Scots 'ay'."
"Ah, but, my lord, I think ye take me not yet entirely!" cried I. "For your sake, for my life-safe, and the kindness that ye say ye bear to me--for these, I'll consent; but not for any good that might be coming to myself. If I stand aside when this young maid is in her trial, it's a thing I will be noways advantaged by; I will lose by it, I will never gain. I would rather make a shipwreck wholly than to build on that foundation."
He was a minute serious, then smiled. "You mind me of the man with the long nose," said he: "was you to look at the moon by a telescope, you would see David Balfour there! But you shall have your way of it. I will ask at you one service, and then set you free. My clerks are overdriven; be so good as copy me these few pages," says he, visibly swithering among some huge rolls of manuscripts, "and when that is done, I shall bid you God speed! I would never charge myself with Mr. David's conscience; and if you could cast some part of it (as you went by) in a moss hag, you would find yourself to ride much easier without it."
"Perhaps not just entirely in the same direction though, my lord!" says I.
"And you shall have the last word, too!" cries he gaily.
Indeed he had some cause for gaiety, having now found the means to gain his purpose. To lessen the weight of the memorial, or to have a readier answer at his hand, he desired I should appear publicly in the character of his intimate. But if I were to appear with the same publicity as a visitor to Catriona in her prison the world would scarce stint to draw conclusions, and the true nature of James More's escape must become evident to all. This was the little problem I had set him of a sudden, and to which he had so briskly found an answer. I was to be tethered in Glasgow by that job of copying, which in mere outward decency I could not well refuse; and during these hours of my employment Catriona was privately got rid of. I think shame to write of this man that loaded me with so many goodnesses. He was kind to me as any father, yet I ever thought him as false as a cracked bell.
* * * * *
I AM MUCH IN THE HANDS OF THE LADIES
The copying was a weary business, the more so as I perceived very early there was no sort of urgency in the matters treated, and began very early to consider my employment a pretext. I had no sooner finished, than I got to horse, used what remained of daylight to the best purpose, and being at last fairly benighted, slept in a house by Almond-Water side. I was in the saddle again before the day, and the Edinburgh booths were just opening when I clattered in by the West Bow and drew up a smoking horse at my lord Advocate's door.