Both ladies were within the house; and upon my perceiving them together by the open door, I plucked off my hat and said, “Here was a lad come seeking saxpence,” which I thought might please the dowager.
Catriona ran out to greet me heartily, and, to my surprise, the old lady seemed scarce less forward than herself. I learned long afterwards that she had despatched a horseman by daylight to Rankeillor at the Queensferry, whom she knew to be the doer for Shaws, and had then in her pocket a letter from that good friend of mine, presenting, in the most favourable view, my character and prospects. But had I read it I could scarce have seen more clear in her designs. Maybe I was countryfeed; at least, I was not so much so as she thought; and it was plain enough, even to my homespun wits, that she was bent to hammer up a match between her cousin and a beardless boy that was something of a laird in Lothian.
“Saxpence had better take his broth with us, Catrine,” says she. “Run and tell the lasses.”
And for the little while we were alone was at a good deal of pains to flatter me; always cleverly, always with the appearance of a banter, still calling me Saxpence, but with such a turn that should rather uplift me in my own opinion. When Catriona returned the design became if possible more obvious, and she showed off the girl’s advantages like a horse-couper with a horse. My face flamed that she should think me so obtuse. Now I would fancy the girl was being innocently made a show of, and then I could have beaten the old carline wife with a cudgel; and now, that perhaps these two had set their heads together to entrap me, and at that I sat and gloomed betwixt them like the very image of ill-will. At last the matchmaker had a better device, which was to leave the pair of us alone. When my suspicions are anyway roused it is sometimes a little the wrong side of easy to allay them. But though I knew what breed she was of, and that was a breed of thieves, I could never look in Catriona’s face and disbelieve her.
“I must not ask?” says she, eagerly, the same moment we were left alone.
“Ah, but to-day I can talk with a free conscience,” I replied. “I am lightened of my pledge, and indeed (after what has come and gone since morning) I would not have renewed it were it asked.”
“Tell me,” she said. “My cousin will not be so long.”
So I told her the tale of the lieutenant from the first step to the last of it, making it as mirthful as I could, and, indeed, there was matter of mirth in that absurdity.
“And I think you will be as little fitted for the rudas men as for the pretty ladies, after all!” says she, when I had done. “But what was your father that he could not learn you to draw the sword? It is most ungentle; I have not heard the match of that in anyone.”
“It is most misconvenient at least,” said I; “and I think my father (honest man!) must have been wool-gathering to learn me Latin in the place of it. But you see I do the best I can, and just stand up like Lot’s wife and let them hammer at me.”