Sir John Cochrane of Ochiltree lay in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh awaiting sentence of death. He had been concerned in the rising under the Earl of Argyll on behalf of the Duke of Monmouth. Monmouth himself was dead, the head of Argyll was to fall under the axe of the common executioner, and there was therefore not much likelihood that a better or a more merciful fate should befall Sir John Cochrane. James II. was vindictive, so far at least as those were concerned who ventured to stand between him and his accession to the throne; and, when Sir John was sentenced to death, the only hope remaining to his friends was to trade on the cupidity of the selfish monarch.
The Heart of Midlothian was a dreary dungeon. Its walls were redolent of terrible memories. Many a gallant man had been imprisoned within them shut out for ever from the kindly association of kinship and friendship, and the free air of heaven; and many more had left its cells only to meet death on the scaffold. That was the fate which stared Sir John Cochrane in the face. His time to live was short, his hopes of reprieve were of the very slightest, and when he received his wife and his family in the dingy corridors beyond which he dared not to stray, he felt that they were paying, him their farewell visits. And they felt it too, for although they were using all the influence within their power to soften the obdurate heart of the monarch, the whole train of experience and of circumstances was against them. Among those who came to see him in the Tolbooth was his daughter Grisell, a girl of about eighteen years of age. From the quiet and the leafy solitudes of Ochiltree she had come up with her mother and her sisters to the Scottish metropolis, there to remain until her father should have expiated his offence on the scaffold. She was a girl of strong, resolute, self-reliant mind and of great ingenuity, and while, with her mother and sisters, she shared in the common grief, she did not partake of the common apathetic despair. While her father lived there was hope. She ransacked her brain for a plan by which he might be carried off from the Tolbooth. But what could a feeble girl do against the guards and the soldiery, against the heavy-doored dungeons and the massive keys, against the barred windows and the solid masonry? Think as she might, she came no nearer a solution of the problem which faced her. She did not despair, however, because of the lions that were in the path; her mind only reverted to other methods by which she hoped to accomplish her end. She knew that friends of her father were at work on his behalf, and that time saved might, in his case, be doubly time gained.
Gaining all the information she could, she learned that the warrant from the Privy Council for her father's execution was expected in Edinburgh in the course of a few days. If that warrant could only be intercepted and secured, what might not be achieved ere another could be obtained? The king was notoriously in need of money, and her great-grand-father, the Earl of Dundonald, was ready to buy" his grandsons freedom at a great ransom. Whatever the idea that had entered her mind, she did not reveal it to her father. She knew how sternly he would resist the incurring of any risk on his behalf by his daughter. He had even refused to see his own son, lest he should be compromised, and that young man, though in was only to be permitted to say farewell on the day preceding the execution. Grisell, therefore, kept her own counsel. As, soon as her plan was, matured, so far as it could be in Edinburgh, she told her father that she would not revisit him for a few days. He pressed her to say why, but she stoutly refused to tell. Realizing that she was pondering a plan for his release, he warned her not to undertake any unnecessary or compromising risks. "I am a Cochrane," was all she replied, as she kissed Sir John and bade him hopeful and. kindly good-bye.
At an early hour the following morning, long before the city was awake, Grisell Cochrane made ready for her project. Rising from bed while the rest of the household was buried in slumber, she attired herself in the garments of a domestic servant. Concealed in her dress a brace of pistols. She opened the stable door and took therefrom one of the horses, a steed of tried mettle, which she led. into the courtyard, and on whose back she sprang with the agility of a trained horsewoman. The sleepy watchman parading the streets wondered at the slim girl mounted on the huge horse at an hour when the good folks were still deep in slumber and the drowsy guards by the city gates, as they let her out into the open country, remarked on the early start of the young serving-woman. Once beyond the confines of the metropolis, she gave the horse his head, nor did she slacken speed until she had left, the crown of St. Giles' and the frowning walls of the castle far behind. She had a long journey to perform a journey which in itself even, and without the exciting, adventures to which she intended it to be the prelude, might well have daunted a stronger frame than that of Grisell Cochrane. Berwick lay faraway, and yet she was going beyond the walls of the grey city of the borders. She plodded steadily on across the country, letting the horse travel at comparative ease and taking care not, to overtax his strength. The miles passed away as she rode through the beautiful country, but she had no eyes for scenery and no mind to enjoy the landscape which stretched itself out in its loveliness all about her. Her mind was wrought between two senses of depression, the one occasioned by the ever present memory of her father lying a prisoner in the Heart of Midlothian, the other lest she should fail, as fail she well might, in the hazardous errand on which she had set out. She spent the night in a hostelry by the wayside, and on the following day rode through Berwick, and reached, the house of her old nurse, four miles beyond the walls of the town, on the English side of the Tweed. The nurse at first failed to recognize in the plainly-clad stranger her former charge, but her sharp eyes soon dispelled the illusion begotten by the homespun garments, and she gave her cordial greeting.
Grisell knew whom to trust, and she made the nurse her confidant, explaining the whole motive and intent of her journey, and, in pursuance of her design, receiving from her a suit of clothes belonging to her foster-brother, who was light and slim of build. When Grisell told her that her object was to intercept the mail and to secure the mail-bags, the nurse trembled for fear; but she knew the young lady too well to waste time in endeavouring to dissuade her from her undertaking.
The post-boy was, due at the little town of Belford, about six o'clock in the morning. It was a long and. arduous duty that was involved in the conveyance of letters from the English to the Scottish capital in those days. There were no fast-running trains careering across the leagues of country at the rate of a mile in the minute, leaving the wilderness of houses, yclept London, behind in the, sunset of a summer evening and crossing the Border ere the sun of the following morning was glinting on the walls of merry Carlisle, but in their place a succession of post-boys, who rode along the King s highways with the letter bags in front of them. In winter they had to wade through the snows and the rushing burns, and all the year round they were on the alert against robbers and highwaymen, who were seldom afraid to run the risk of encounter, even when they knew that the post-boy was heavily armed, and that he had instructions to shoot in his tracks whoever tried to deprive him of his charge, and that even success would, in all probability, result in apprehension and in execution. When Grisell reached Belford the post boy was already there. He was permitted an occasional rest of a few hours duration by the way, at given houses, and when she entered the change-house she saw him lying stretched out on bed sound asleep, with the mail bags beneath his head and his pistols within easy reach. A big, powerful, muscular fellow he was! Such an one as the slim girl could, in fair tussle, have no chance against. To abstract the bags, was an impossibility, and therefore other means must be devised for accomplishing her desperate purpose. So she called the old woman of the hostelry and demanded some refreshment. The hostess pointed to the remains of a meal set on the table, and told her that was all she had to give her. If she could fare on that, she was welcome to fall-to ; "and be pleased," she added, " to make as little noise as you can, for there's one asleep in that bed that I like ill to disturb." Grisell did not need the hint.
She was anxious, above all things at that moment, not to disturb the repose of the slumbering post-boy. It was no easy matter for the young girl to pretend enjoyment of the meal set before her under such circumstances, and she had negotiated but a mouthful or two when she called for a glass of water. The hostess grumbled; it was, she said, but an ill custom for a change-house. "I am aware of that," replied Grisell, "and therefore when in a public-house I always pay for the water the price of the strongest potation, which I cannot take." Such generosity restored her in a moment to the good graces of the hostess. At Grisell's request she proceeded to the well, which was at some distance from the house, in order to procure a supply of the clear cold spring, newly drawn.
No sooner had the old dame turned her back than Grisell turned to business. She would fain have obtained possession of the letter bags, but a glance at their position was sufficient to convince, her that such a thing was impossible. With trembling hand she seized first the one pistol and then the other which the post-boy had laid at hand, and withdrew the charges. Her agitation was great, but she was fortified by the hope of ultimate success; and, steadying her nerves as best she could, she replaced the now harmless weapons in their position, and resumed her seat at the table. And that none too soon; for hardly was she seated ere the door opened, and the hostess reappeared, bearing in her hand the jug of water. Grisell was glad to see both her and the water, and she took a, copious draught of the caller spring This done, she settled her reckoning with prodigal liberality.
Ere she took her departure she asked in a casual way how long the post-boy was in the habit of sleeping, and, having received the information, she repaired to the stable, brought out her horse, and rode off in a southerly direction. This she did so as not to excite suspicion. Once at a sufficient distance from the house, she took a cross road, which, by a circuit reached the highway at a point a mile or two north of Belford, and here she waited the coming of the King's messenger.
The post-boy awoke from his slumber, and having finished what still remained of the viands on the table, and refreshed himself with a tankard of ale, remounted his horse, and resumed his journey. He rode quickly, for then, as of olden time, and as now, the King's business required haste. Reaching a long, lonely stretch of road, he saw in front of him a horseman leisurely jogging northwards. As he made up to him he beheld a young man of somewhat effeminate appearance, but rather inclined to sociality, who bade him good day, and who, for the sake of company, pushed his horse into a fast trot in order to keep pace with that of the mail-carrier. They rode side by side for some time, conversing of things in general, and it was not until they were far removed from the possibility of interference that Grisell, for of course the youthful rider was she, resolved to effect her purpose. She rode closer by his side, and with her eye on the mail bags, one containing the London letters, the other the letters picked up by the way-she addressed him in a tone of great determination. Coming at, once to the point, and she told him that she had taken a great fancy to the mail bags, and that she meant to have them at all hazards.
The post-boy apparently thought she was joking. Drawing one of her pistols, she held it up and bid him look. She was well mounted, she said. She was allied with others who were stronger than she, and therefore the best thing he could do was to hand over the mail bags, and save any unnecessary shedding of blood. As she hinted of her alliance with others, she indicated that they were hidden in a wood not far ahead.
The post-boy looked at her in amazement. He affected to treat her demand as a joke. He warned her of the consequence of interference, if she were in earnest, and, drawing one of his heavy pistols from the holster, he pointed it at her, warning, her at the same time to save the necessity for bloodshed by riding on. Grisell replied that she was no fonder of bloodshed than he, " but," she added, as she set her teeth in grim determination and cocked the pistol which she was holding in her hand, "that mail I must and will have."
Seeing that she was in earnest the post-boy naturally thought to have the first shot, so, steadying his aim for a moment, he fired, full in her face. There was a flash in the pan. With the rapidity of thought he threw the weapon from him, with a muttered curse, and laid his hand on the other pistol. A second aim, a second flash in the pan, and a second curse were the results. A man of some presence of mind and quick in action, he sprang from his horse, his, intention being to seize that of his antagonist and to drag her from her seat. Grisell comprehended the intention at a glance, and was quick to avail herself of her opportunity. The horse carrying the mail bags, well trained, did not seek to make off. Smartly avoiding the rush of the furious messenger, Grisell adroitly led him some distance from his horse and then with quick dash she forced her own steed to where it stood leisurely awaiting the convenience of its master, seized hold of the bridle, and cantered away, leaving the post-boy standing, helplessly on the road. He would have followed if he had dared, but he looked ahead and he saw the wood to which Grisell had pointed when she told him of her confederates ; and not wishing to run any unnecessary risks, he hastened back to Belford there to procure assistance to enable him to cope with the robbers in the seclusion of the glade.
Once in the shelter of the wood, Grisell Cochrane made haste to examine her treasures. The bag containing the correspondence picked up on the road she threw aside, and concentrated her attention on that which contained the letters from London. It was secured by lock and key, but with a sharp pen-knife Grisell cut the bag open and its contents fell to the ground. There was no mistaking the official documents. These were enclosed in huge blue envelopes bearing the Government seal. She scanned them carefully, putting several aside for subsequent examination, until her eyes lighted on a missive addressed to the Council, in Edinburgh. That, she felt, was the document which, she had undergone so much risk to possess. She undid the wrapping and ran her eyes hastily over its contents. These were what she feared they would be. Her father's sentence was confirmed, and the date of his execution fixed for the following week. Her eyes filled with tears as she thought of her captive parent in the grim Tolbooth, but she did not give way to unavailing grief, though the natural reaction had begun to tell. She tore the missive into small pieces and carefully deposited these in her breast. Other letters, dealing with sentences of different kinds to be imposed on incriminated individuals, she treated similarly, and then remounting her horse, she gave him the spur, and the faithful animal bore her back to the cottage of her nurse. Secure from prying eyes, they consigned the fragments to the flames.
The nurse did not require to be pledged to secrecy; she knew how much depended on her silence. While they were busy with the letters the post-boy was organizing a strong party of law-abiding subjects to enable him to cope with the suppositious gang of robbers in the wood, and he lost no unnecessary time in following on the track of the miscreant who had stolen the letter bags. They approached the shelter of the trees cautiously. The post-horse was quietly cropping the grass by the side of the road, and close by him were the remaining London letters strewn on the ground. The provincial correspondence had not in any way been tampered with. Making the best of a bad bargain, the messenger resumed his journey northward, to tell, wherever he went, of the desperate encounter he had had with a ferocious highwayman and of his own heroic, exertions in the exercise of his duty.
Meanwhile Grisell, after a short rest, and in the guise in which she had left Edinburgh, was pursuing her way home again. Anxiety and excitement pressed her on. She would willingly have remained in the saddle all the way from Berwick to the Metropolis, but a sense of kindness and of gratitude to the horse she rode, compelled her to seek two short rests by the way, each of about two hours' duration. She kept off the main road as far as possible, so as not to attract attention, but along the bye-paths she cantered all the day, making steady progress. The sun went down on her, and when the shades gathered in she sought the high way and by the light of the moon she travelled steadily on. When dawn broke on the intrepid girl and the jaded steed, the towers of Edinburgh were in view, and they entered the city and passed along the streets without either hindrance or question. Her mother did not know on what errand Grisell had left home, and had no idea, either of the long ride which she had undertaken, or the desperate risk she had encountered for the sake of her father. Grisell had teen uncommunicative, partly because there was every likelihood she should fail in her errand, partly because, in the event of failure or discovery, she had no mind to implicate others in her rash adventure. For, successful as it proved, it was nevertheless a rash adventure. The penalty she risked was death, and there can be little doubt that, had the post-boy overcome her and handed her over to the authorities, neither her filial affection nor her high breeding would have been sufficient to have saved her from a cruel death.
When her daughter returned Lady Cochrane was transported with delight. For good or evil the deed had been done, and in her mother's ear Grisell poured the story of her ride. Lady Cochrane trembled as she heard, but she recognized that her daughter's courage had given a new lease of hope to the cause of her husband's release. She had faithful friends in Edinburgh, and two or three of those she summoned to her aid. She told them the whole story of Grisell's adventure, and they, prompted by admiration of the conduct of the gallant young lady, and sincerely zealous in their efforts to save Sir John Cochrane from a traitor's doom, consulted together concerning the change in the situation. The result of their consultations was that that very night three or four gentlemen of repute rode off to London in order to purchase Sir John's ransom with yellow gold. Nothing else would now avail, but they built their hopes upon the extravagance and the love of money of the King.
In his dingy little apartment in the Heart of Midlothian Sir John Cochrane still lay. For three or four days he had sadly missed the visits of his daughter Grisell. Where She was he knew not; he only knew she was engaged in an enterprise on his behalf, and he feared for the consequences. He was prepared manfully to face death for his own misdemeanour, but the very thought that she should involve herself was a constant pang which added unspeakable mental torture to his prison life. It was, therefore, with a glad heart that he welcomed Grisell's reappearance, and at least one streak of the dawn of hope lighted up his cell when he learned the steps that were being taken on his behalf. It was a weary, anxious three weeks and more that passed, none the less, ere Sir John's friends returned from London. They had not wasted time by the way. Barring the necessary rests which they took on the road, they made no halt. One series of horses they exchanged for another. They travelled at what was then regarded as a high rate of speed, and they reached London ere the intelligence had come to hand of the robbery of the mail. The Earl of Dundonald lent them the aid of his powerful influence. He himself became security to the King for the sum of £5,000, in return for which Sit. John Cochrane was to have his Majesty's gracious pardon. Other friends backed him out, and in a very few days the Edinburgh travellers were again on the highway and journeying with light hearts and in high spirits to convey to Edinburgh the joyful tidings that the Heart of Midlothian was to open its portals and send forth a freeman-the no longer attainted baronet. And not only was he to have release, but his estates, which had been forfeited, were to be restored to him, and he was to enjoy all the rights and privileges he possessed as a citizen ere he fell under the royal displeasure.
Lady Cochrane and the members of her family counted the days that must elapse ere their friends could return. They hoped, they feared, they despaired they prayed, and they hoped again, in alternate sequence. The days passed all too slowly, though, when gloom possessed them, time seemed to fly on lightning's wings. When they heard the horsemen ride up the Canongate and halt at the door of their house, they looked anxiously forth to descry by their mien the result of their journey. As their friends beheld their careworn and wan faces, they waved their hats triumphantly; and over the mournful dwelling came the transformation scene of perfect happiness. No time was lost in conveying the pardon accorded to Sir John to the Governor of the Castle of Edinburgh, and that official hasted to comply with its terms. The prison doors were thrown back, and nightfall descended upon as happy a family circle as there was in the whole of Scotland.
But there was still a danger. What if Grisell's adventure should come to light? That must be guarded against, and all who were in the most remote degree in the secret were cautioned to observe the strictest secrecy. This they did until three, years had gone. By that time the Stewart race had become expatriated; the Revolution of 1688 was an accomplished fact, and nothing further was to be gained by silence. When once the silent embargo was removed, her deed spread like wild-fire, and Grisell became the heroine of the hour. It was not long ere she her name. Miss Grisell Cochrane became Mrs. Ker of Morriston, in the county of Berwick, and she was as amiable and loving a wife as she had proved to be a dutiful and affectionate daughter. Her father lived to succeed to the, Earldom of Dundonald, and to take his place among the peers of the relm.