“Thou art a true hero,” she said, rubbing his nose with the experienced touch of a horsewoman; “and I’ll give thee a chance tonight to show that thou art as loyal as ever.” Her hands were cold with excitement but she managed to buckle the saddle and bridle upon him, while the huge animal stood in restless expectancy anxious to be gone. She drew on the boots without any trouble and slipped the pistols into the holsters.
“I believe thou knowest what I would have of thee,” said Grizel as she led the horse out into the yard and on toward the gateway. Frightened, as he half circled about her in his impatience, she undid the unfastening of the great gates but her strength was not sufficient to swing them open. “Ronald,” she said in despair, “I cannot open the gates!” Ronald turned his head about and looked at her with his beautiful eyes. He seemed to be trying to say, “I can.”
“All right,” said Grizel, as if he had spoken. She mounted the black steed, laughed nervously as she climbed into the saddle. “Now,” she said “go on!” The horse made a dash at the gates, burst them open, and leaped out into the road. He curveted about for a moment, his hoofs striking fire from the cobblestones. Then Grizel turned his head down the Canongate, away from the castle. She knew the point at which she intended to leave the city and toward that point she headed Black Ronald. The horse seemed to know he was doing his old master a service, as he took his monstrous strides forward. Only once did Grizel look backward and then a little shudder, half terror, half remorse, struck her, for she saw her home ablaze with light and heard cries of excitement borne faintly to her on the rushing night wind. They had discovered her flight. Once she thought she heard hoof beats behind her but she knew she could not be overtaken.
Through the streets, now narrow, now broad, now straight, now crooked, dashed Black Ronald and his mistress. Once he nearly ran down a drowsy watchman who stood nodding at a sharp corner but horse and rider were three hundred yards away before the frightened guardian regained his composure and sprang his discordant rattle. Now the houses grew scarcer and presently the battlements of the town wall loomed up ahead and Grizel’s heart sank, for there were lights in the road. She heard shouts and knew she was to be challenged. She firmly set her teeth said a little prayer and leaned far forward upon Black Ronald’s neck. The horse gave a snort of defiance, shied violently away from a soldier who stood by the way and then went through the gateway like a shot. Grizel clung tightly to her saddle bow and urged her steed on. On, on they went down the firm roadway lined on either side by rows of noble oaks- on, on , out into the countryside, where the sweet odor of the heather arose gracious and fragrant to the trembling girl. There was little chance of her taking a wrong path. The road over which the postboy came was the King’s highway, always kept in a state of repair.
She gave herself no time to notice the green upland farms or the stately residences which stood out on either hand in the moonlight. She concentrated her strength and mind on urging her horse forward. She was too excited to form a definite plan and her only clear idea was to meet the postboy before daylight, for she knew it would not be safe to trust too much to her disguise. Now and then a feeling of terror flashed over her and she turned sick with dread; but her firm purpose upheld her. It was almost four in the morning and the wind was blowing chill from the sea when she entered the rolling woodlands about the Tweed. Grizel was shivering with the cold and was so tried that she kept her place in the saddle with difficulty.
“We cannot hold out much longer, Ronald,” she said; “and if we fail, we can never hold up our heads again.” Ronald, the surefooted, stumbled and nearly fell. “It is no use,” sighed Grizel, “we must rest.” She dismounted but it was some moments before her tired limbs could obey her will. Beside the roadway was a ditch filled with running water and Grizel managed to lead Ronald down the incline to its brink and let him drink. She scooped up a little in her hand and moistened her tongue; then, realizing that Ronald must not be allowed to stand still, she, with great difficulty, mounted upon his back again and heartsick, fearful, yet not daring to turn back, coaxed him gently forward.
The moon had set long before this and in the misty east the sky began to blanch with the first gleam of morning. Suddenly, around the curve of the road where it leaves the banks of the Tweed, came a dark object. Grizel’s heart leaped wildly. Thirty seconds later she saw that it was indeed a horseman. He broke into a song:
“The Lord o’ Argyle cam’ wi’ plumes and wi’ spears,
And Monmouth he landed wi’ gay cavaliers!
The pibroch has caa’d every tartan the-gither,
B’thoosans their footsteps a’ pressin’ the heather;
Th’ North and the Sooth sent their bravest ones out,
But a joust wi’ Kirke’s Lambs put them all to the rout.”
By this time, the horseman was so close that Grizel could distinguish objects hanging upon the horse in front of the rider. They were the mailbags! For the first time she realized her weakness and saw how unlikely it was that she would be able to cope with an armed man. The blood rushed to her head and a courage that was the inspiration of the moment took possession of her. She struck Black Ronald a lash with her whip.
“Go!” she said to him shrilly, while her heartbeats hammered in her ears, “Go!”
The astonished and excited horse leaped down the road. As she met the postboy, she drew Black Ronald, with a sudden strength that was born of the danger, back upon his haunches. His huge body blocked the way. “Dismount!” she cried to the other rider. Her voice was hoarse from fright and sounded strangely in her own ears. But a wild courage nerved her and the hand that drew and held the pistol was as firm as a man’s. Black Ronald was rearing wildly, and in grasping the reins tighter, her other hand mechanically altered its position about the pistol.
She had not meant to fire, she had only thought to aim and threaten but suddenly there was a flash of light in the gray atmosphere, a dull reverberation and to the girl’s horrified amazement she saw the horse in front of her stagger and fall heavily to the ground. The rider, thrown from his saddle, was pinned to the earth by his horse and stunned by the fall. Dizzy with pain and confused by the rapidity of the assault he made no effort to draw his weapon. The mailbags had swung by their own momentum quite clear of the horse in its fall and now lay loosely over its back, joined by the heavy strap. It was a painful task for the exhausted girl to dismount but she did so and lifting the cumbersome leathern bags, she threw them over Black Ronald’s neck. It was yet more painful to her tender heart to leave the poor fellow she had injured lying in so pitiable a condition but her father’s life was in danger and that, to her, was of more moment than the postboy’s hurts.
“Heaven forgive me,” she said, bending over him. “I pray this may not be his death!” She clambered over the fallen horse and mounted Ronald, who was calm again. Then she turned his head toward Edinboro’ Town and hurriedly urged him forward. But as she sped away from the scene of the encounter, she kept looking back, with an awestruck face, to the fallen postboy. In the excitement of the meeting and in her one great resolve to obtain her father’s death-warrant, she had lost all thought of the risks she ran or of the injuries she might inflict; and it was with unspeakable relief, therefore, that she at last saw the postboy struggle to his feet and stand gazing after her. “Thank Heaven, he is not killed!” she exclaimed again and again, as she now joyfully pressed Ronald into a gallop. Throughout the homeward journey, Grizel made it a point to urge him to greater speed when nearing a farmhouse, so that there would be less risk of discovery. Once or twice she was accosted by laborers in the field and once by the driver of a cart but their remarks were lost upon the wind as the faithful Ronald thundered on. She didn’t feel the need of sleep, for she had forgotten it in all her excitement but she was greatly exhausted and suffering from the effects of her rough ride.
Soon the smoke in the distance showed Grizel that her native town lay an hour’s journey ahead. She set her teeth and said an encouraging word to the horse. He seemed to understand, for he redoubled his energies. Now the roofs became visible and now, grim and sullen, the turrets of the castle loomed up. Grizel felt a great lump in her throat as she thought of her father in his lonely despair.
She turned Ronald from the road again and cut through a clump of elms. She came out in a few minutes and rode more slowly toward a smaller gate than the one by which she had left the city. A stout soldier looked at her carelessly and then turned to his tankard of ale, after he had noticed the mailbags. Grizel turned into a crooked, narrow street lined on each side with toppling, frowning buildings. She drew rein before a humble house and slipped wearily from her saddle and knocked at the door. An old woman opened the heavy oaken door and Grizel fell into her arms.
“The bags- the mail,” she gasped and fainted. When she recovered consciousness, she found herself on a low, rough bed. The old woman was bending over her. “Losh keep me!” said the dame. “I did no’ ken ye! Ma puir bairnie! Hoo cam’ ye by these?” She pointed to the clothes of Allen.
“The bags?” said Grizel, sitting bolt upright- “Are under the hearth,” said the old woman. “And Ronald?” continued Grizel. “Is in the byre we’ the coos,” said the other with a knowing leer. “Not a soul kens it. Ne’er a body saw ye come.”
Breathlessly Grizel explained all to her old nurse and then sprung off the bed. At her request the old dame locked the door and brought her the bags. By the aid of a sharp knife the pair slashed pen the leathern covering and the enclosed packets fell upon the floor. With trembling hands Grizel fumbled then all over, tossing one after another impatiently aside as she read the addresses. At last she came upon a large one addressed to the governor. With beating heart she hesitated a moment and then tore the packet open with shaking fingers. She easily read the bold handwriting. Suddenly everything swam before her and again she nearly fell into her companion’s arms.
It was too true. What she read was a formal warrant of the King, signed by his majesty, and stamped and sealed with red wax. It ordered the governor to hang Sir John Cochrane of Ochiltree at the Cross in Edinburgh at ten o’clock in the morning, on the third day of the following week. She clutched the paper and hid it in her dress.
The disposition of the rest of the mail was soon decided upon. The old lady’s son Jock- a wild fellow- was to put the sacks on the back of a donkey and turn it loose outside the gates at his earliest opportunity. And then Grizel, clad in some rough garments the old lady procured, slipped out of the house and painfully made her way toward the Canongate.
It was four o’clock in the afternoon when she reached her home. The porter at the gate could scarcely be made to understand that the uncouth figure before him was his young mistress. But a moment later her mother was embracing her, with tears of joy.
All the male friends of Sir John were hastily summoned and Grizel related her adventure and displayed the death warrant of her father. The hated document was consigned to the flames, a consultation was held and that night three of the gentlemen left for London.
The next day, the donkey and the mail-sacks were found by the sentry and some little excitement was occasioned; but when the postboy came in later and related how he had been attacked by six stalwart robbers and how he had slain two of them and was then overpowered and forced to surrender the bags, all wonderment was set at rest.
The Cochrane family passed a week of great anxiety but when it was ended the three friends returned from London with joyful news. The King had listened to their petition and had ordered the removal of Sir John to the Tower of London, until his case could be reconsidered. So to London Sir John went; and after a time the payment of five thousand pounds to some of the King’s advisers secured an absolute pardon. His lands, which had been confiscated, were restored to him; and on his arrival at his Scottish home, he was warmly welcomed by a great concourse of his friends. He thanked them in a speech, taking care, however, not to tell who was so greatly instrumental in making his liberation possible. But we may be sure that he was secretly proud of the pluck and devotion of his daughter Grizel.
Re spect !