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Book of Scottish Story
Grizel Cochrane

Chapter II

At that time horses were used as a mode of conveyance so much more than carriages, that almost every gentle-woman had her own steed, and Miss Cochrane, being a skilful rider, was possessed of a well-managed palfrey, on whose speed and other qualities she had been accustomed to depend. On the morning after she had bid her father farewell, long ere the inhabitants of Edinburgh were astir, she found herself many miles on the road to the Borders. She had taken care to attire herself in a manner which corresponded with the design of passing herself off for a young serving-woman journeying on a borrowed horse to the house of her mother in a distant part of the country ; and by only resting at solitary cottages, where she generally found the family out at work, save perhaps an old woman or some children, she had the good fortune, on the second day after leaving Edinburgh, to reach in safety the abode of her old nurse, who lived on the English side of the Tweed, four miles beyond the town of Berwick. In this woman she knew she could place implicit confidence, and to her, therefore, revealed her secret. She was resolved, she said, to make an attempt to save her father’s life, by stopping the postman, an equestrian like herself, and forcing him to deliver up his bags, in which she expected to find the fatal warrant. Singular as such a determination may appear in a delicate young woman, especially if we consider that she was aware of the arms always carried by the man to whose charge the mail was committed, it is nevertheless an undoubted fact that such was her resolve. In pursuance of this design, she had brought with her a brace of small pistols, together with a horseman’s cloak tied up in a bundle, and hung on the crutch of her saddle; and now borrowed from her nurse the attire of her foster-brother, which, as he was a slight-made lad, fitted her reasonably well.

At that period, all those appliances which at this day accelerate the progress of the traveller were unknown, and the mail from London, which now arrives in about ten hours, took eight days in reaching the Scottish capital. Miss Cochrane thus calculated on a delay of sixteen or seventeen days in the execution of her father’s sentence—a space of time which she deemed amply sufficient to give a fair trial to the treaty set on foot for his liberation. She had, by means which it is unnecessary here to detail, possessed herself of the most minute information with regard to the places at which the postmen rested on their journey, one of which was a small public-house, kept by a widow woman, on the outskirts of the little town of Belford. There the man who received the bag at Durham was accustomed to arrive about six o’clock in the morning, and take a few hours repose before proceeding farther on his journey.* In pursuance of the plan laid down by Miss Cochrane, she arrived at this inn about an hour after the man had composed himself to sleep, in the hope of being able, by the exercise of her wit and dexterity, to ease him of his charge.

Lest it should appear at issue with probability that the postman should thus “take his ease at his inn,” it may be mentioned, as a fact defying all question, that this official, at a period much later, used sometimes to dismount on a muir, near the place here mentioned, and partake of a game at quoits, or other sports which might be proceeding by the wayside.

Having put her horse into the stable, which was a duty that devolved on the guests at this little change-house, from its mistress having no ostler, she entered the only apartment which the house afforded, and demanded refreshment.

"Sit down at the end of that table,” said the old woman, "for the best I have to give you is there already ; and be pleased, my bonnie man, to make as little noise as ye can, for there’s ane asleep in that bed that I like ill to disturb."

Miss Cochrane promised fairly; and after attempting to eat some of the viands, which were the remains of the sleeping man’s meal, she asked for some cold water.

"What!” said the old dame, as she handed it to her; "ye are a water-drinker, are ye? It’s but an ill custom for a change-house.”

"I am aware of that,” replied her guest; "and therefore, when in a public-house, I always pay for it the price of the stronger potation, which I cannot take."

"Indeed!—well, that is but just,” said the landlady; "and I think the more of you for such reasonable conduct.”

"Is the well where you get this water near at hand?” said the young lady; "for if you will take the trouble to bring me some from it, as this is rather warm, it shall be considered in the lawing.”

"It is a good bit off" responded the landlady; "but I cannot refuse to fetch some for such a civil, discreet lad, and will be as quick as I can ; but, for any sake, take care and don’t meddle with these pistols,” she continued, pointing to a pair of pistols on the table, "for they are loaded, and I am always terrified for them. ”

Saying this, she disappeared; and Miss Cochrane, who would have contrived some other errand for her, had the well been near, no sooner saw the door shut, than she passed, with trembling eagerness, and a cautious but rapid step, to the place where the man lay soundly sleeping, in one of those close wooden bedsteads common in the houses of the poor, the door of which was left half open to admit the air, and which she opened still wider in the hope of seeing the mail-bag, and being able to seize upon it. But what was her dismay when she beheld only a part of the integument which contained what she would have sacrificed her life a thousand times to obtain, just peeping out from below the shaggy head and brawny shoulders of its keeper, who lay in such a position upon it as to give not the smallest hope of its extraction without his being aroused from his nap.

A few bitter moments of observation served to convince her that possession of this treasure must be obtained in some other way; and, again closing the door of the bed, she approached the pistols, and having taken them from the holsters, she as quickly as possible drew the loading, which having secreted, she then returned them to their cases, and resumed her seat at the foot of the table. She had barely time to recover from the agitation into which the fear of the man’s awakening during her recent occupation had thrown her, when the old woman returned with the water; and having taken a draught, of which she stood much in need, she settled her account much to her land-lady’s content, by paying for the water the price of a pot of beer. Having then carelessly asked and ascertained how much longer the other guest was likely to continue his sleep, she left the house, and mounting her horse, set off at a trot, in a different direction from that in which she had arrived.

Making a compass of two or three miles, she once more fell into the high road between Belford and Berwick, where she walked her horse gently on, awaiting the coming up of the postman. Though all her faculties were now absorbed in one aim, and the thought of her father’s deliverance still reigned supreme in her mind, yet she could not help occasionally figuring to herself the possibility of her tampering with the pistols being discovered, and their loading replaced, in which case it was more than likely that her life would be the forfeit of the act she meditated. A woman’s fears would still intrude, notwithstanding all her heroism, and the glorious issue which promised to attend the success of her enterprise. When she at length saw and heard the postman advancing behind her, the strong necessity of the case gave her renewed courage; and it was with perfect coolness that, on his coming close up, she civilly saluted him, put her horse into the same pace with his, and rode on for some way in his company. He was a strong, thick-set fellow, with a good-humoured countenance, which did not seem to Miss Cochrane, as she looked anxiously upon it, to savour much of hardy daring. He rode with the mail-bags (for there were two—one containing the letters direct from London, and the other those taken up at the different post-offices on the road) strapped firmly to his saddle in front, close to the holsters. After riding a short distance together, Miss Cochrane deemed it time, as they were nearly half-way between Belford and Berwick, to commence her operations. She therefore rode nearly close to her companion, and said, in a tone of determination,——

"Friend, I have taken a fancy for those mail-bags of yours, and I must have them ; therefore, take my advice, and deliver them up quietly, for I am provided for all hazards. I am mounted, as you see, on a fleet steed; I carry firearms; and, moreover, am allied with those who are stronger, though not bolder than myself. You see yonder wood," she continued, pointing to one at the distance of about a mile, with an accent and air which was meant to carry intimidation with it; "again, I say, take my advice; give me the bags, and speed back the road you came for the present, nor dare to approach that wood for at least two or three hours to come.”

There was in such language from a stripling something so surprising that the man looked on Miss Cochrane for. an instant in silent and unfeigned amazement.

"If you mean, my young master," said he, as soon as he found his tongue, "to make yourself merry at my expense, you are welcome. I am no sour churl to take offence at the idle words of a foolish boy. But if,” he said, taking one of the pistols from the holster, and turning its muzzle towards her, " ye are mad enough to harbour one serious thought of such a matter, I am ready for you. But, methinks, my lad, you seem at an age when robbing a garden or an old woman’s fruit-stall would bent you better, if you must turn thief, than taking his Majesty’s mails upon his own highway, from such a stout man as I am. Be thankful, however, that you have met with one who will not shed blood if he can help it, and sheer off before you provoke me to fire." `

"Nay,” said his young antagonist, "I am not fonder of bloodshed than you are; but if you will not be persuaded, what can I do? for I have told you a truth, ‘that mail I must, and will have’. So now choose, " she continued, as she drew one of the small pistols from under her cloak, and deliberately cocking it, presented it in his face.

"Then your blood be upon your own head,” said the fellow, as he raised his hand, and fired his pistol, which, however, only flashed in the pan. Dashing this weapon to the ground, he lost not a moment in pulling out the other, which he also aimed at his assailant, and fired with the same result. In a transport of rage and disappointment, the man sprung from his horse, and made an attempt to seize her; but by an adroit use of her spurs she eluded his grasp, and placed herself out of his reach. Meanwhile his horse had moved forward some yards, and to see and seize the advantage presented by this circumstance was one and the same to the heroic girl, who, darting towards it, caught the bridle, and having led her prize off about a hundred yards, stopped while she called to the thunderstruck postman to remind him of her advice about the wood. She then put both horses to their speed, and on turning to look at the man she had robbed, had the pleasure of perceiving that her mysterious threat had taken effect, and he was now pursuing his way back to Belford.

Miss Cochrane speedily entered the wood to which she had alluded, and tying the strange horse to a tree, out of all observation from the road, proceeded to unfasten the straps of the mail. By means of a sharp penknife, which set at defiance the appended locks, she was soon mistress of the contents, and with an eager hand broke open the Government dispatches, which were unerringly pointed out to her by their address to the council in Edinburgh, and their imposing weight and broad seals of office. Here she found not only the warrant for her father’s death, but also many other sentences inflicting different degrees of punishment on various delinquents. These, however, it may be readily supposed, she did not then stop to examine ; she contented herself with tearing them into small fragments, and placing them carefully in her bosom.

The intrepid girl now mounted her steed, and rode off, leaving all the private papers as she had found them, imagining—what eventually proved the case—that they would be discovered ere long, from the hints she had thrown out about the wood, and thus reach their proper places of destination. She now made all haste to reach the cottage of her nurse, where, having not only committed to the flames the fragments of the dreaded warrant, but also the other obnoxious papers, she quickly resumed her female garments, and was again, after this manly and daring action, the simple and unassuming Miss Grizel Cochrane. Leaving the cloak and pistols behind her, to be concealed by her nurse, she again mounted her horse, and directed her flight towards Edinburgh, and by avoiding as much as possible the high road, and resting at sequestered cottages, as she had done before (and that only twice for a couple of hours each time), she reached town early in the morning of the next day.

It must now suffice to say that the time gained by the heroic act above related was productive of the end for which it was undertaken, and that Sir John Cochrane was pardoned, at the instigation of the king’s favourite counsellor, who interceded for him in consequence of receiving a bribe of five thousand pounds from the Earl of Dundonald. Of the feelings which on this occasion filled the heart of his courageous and devoted daughter, we cannot speak in adequate terms; and it is perhaps best at any rate to leave them to the imagination of the reader. The state of the times was not such for several years as to make it prudent that her adventure should be publicly known ; but after the Revolution, when the country was at length relieved from persecution and danger, and every man was at liberty to speak of the trials he had undergone, and the expedients by which he had mastered them, her heroism was neither unknown nor unapproved. Miss cochrane afterwards married Mr Ker of Moriston, in the county of Berwick ; and there can be little doubt that she proved equally affectionate and amiable as a wife, as she had already been dutiful and devoted as a daughter. —— Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal.

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