“I will speak to the Lord Provost,” said the magistrate, “about Ratcliffe’s business. Mr. Sharpitlaw, you will go with me, and receive instructions — something may be made too out of this story of Butler’s and his unknown gentleman — I know no business any man has to swagger about in the King’s Park, and call himself the devil, to the terror of honest folks, who dinna care to hear mair about the devil than is said from the pulpit on the Sabbath. I cannot think the preacher himsell wad be heading the mob, though the time has been, they hae been as forward in a bruilzie as their neighbours.”
“But these times are lang by,” said Mr. Sharpitlaw. “In my father’s time, there was mair search for silenced ministers about the Bow-head and the Covenant Close, and all the tents of Kedar, as they ca’d the dwellings o’ the godly in those days, than there’s now for thieves and vagabonds in the Laigh Calton and the back o’ the Canongate. But that time’s weel by, an it bide. And if the Bailie will get me directions and authority from the Provost, I’ll speak wi’ Daddie Rat mysell; for I’m thinking I’ll make mair out o’ him than ye’ll do.”
Mr. Sharpitlaw, being necessarily a man of high trust, was accordingly empowered, in the course of the day, to make such arrangements as might seem in the emergency most advantageous for the Good Town. He went to the jail accordingly, and saw Ratcliffe in private.
The relative positions of a police-officer and a professed thief bear a different complexion, according to circumstances. The most obvious simile of a hawk pouncing upon his prey is often least applicable. Sometimes the guardian of justice has the air of a cat watching a mouse, and, while he suspends his purpose of springing upon the pilferer, takes care so to calculate his motions that he shall not get beyond his power. Sometimes, more passive still, he uses the art of fascination ascribed to the rattlesnake, and contents himself with glaring on the victim, through all his devious flutterings; certain that his terror, confusion, and disorder of ideas, will bring him into his jaws at last. The interview between Ratcliffe and Sharpitlaw had an aspect different from all these. They sat for five minutes silent, on opposite sides of a small table, and looked fixedly at each other, with a sharp, knowing, and alert cast of countenance, not unmingled with an inclination to laugh, and resembled more than anything else, two dogs, who, preparing for a game at romps, are seen to couch down, and remain in that posture for a little time, watching each other’s movements, and waiting which shall begin the game.
“So, Mr. Ratcliffe,” said the officer, conceiving it suited his dignity to speak first, “you give up business, I find?”
“Yes, sir,” replied Ratcliffe; “I shall be on that lay nae mair — and I think that will save your folk some trouble, Mr. Sharpitlaw?”
“Which Jock Daigleish” (then finisher of the law2 in the Scottish metropolis) “wad save them as easily,” returned the procurator-fiscal.
“Ay; if I waited in the Tolbooth here to have him fit my cravat — but that’s an idle way o’ speaking, Mr. Sharpitlaw.”