« PreviousContinue »
He spoke with cold politeness, and did not offer his hand, for which consideration she was thankful.
“Will their Majesties see me to-night at so late an hour? ” she queried, eagerly.
“ That I cannot answer; but be assured I will use my utmost power to gratify your desire at the earliest convenient moment.”
A company of the royal guard at this moment crossed the quadrangle, their bright steel breastplates and basinets glistening in the light of half a dozen torches borne by as many common soldiers who preceded the guard, and their heavy armour clanged loudly as they marched across the stone pavement.
Cochrane waited for the guard to pass, and as they did so the officer recognized and saluted him, casting a curious glance backward at the shrinking lady who stood by his side.
“This way, madam,” said Sir Robert, and he preceded her to a large doorway in the west wing of the palace.
THE KING'S FAVOURITES.
“ Within 'twas brilliant all and light,
Lady of the Lake. They were admitted by a porter, who paid obsequious attention to Cochrane. All the attendants whom they encountered on their passage along several corridors and up three staircases to the apartments of Sir Robert, saluted the King's favourite with profound respect. He had the power to make or mar the gentlemen lacqueys, and so they paid court to him on every available occasion, receiving in return, as now, a slight bend of the head or a patronizing glance, according to the rank each personage held in the
royal household, and in the esteem of the great man. Some he passed without the slightest acknowledgment of their presence; but they were only a few whom he suspected of entertaining kindly wishes towards his rivals.
In passing them his visage assumed the cold, inscrutable expression habitual to it; but they were very few who were thus treated, for Sir Robert, in the midst of all his ambitious thoughts, never lost an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the humblest who approached him, prudently calculating that it was impossible to guess from what quarter he might need assistance at important junctures of his career.
Katherine was not used to court; she had indeed rarely mixed with other society than that afforded by the families of her father's kinsfolk; and it was natural that she should experience some sense of awe in finding herself for the first time under the same roof with royalty. This feeling was heightened by the peculiar circumstances in which she was placed, especially by the fact that she was conducted hither by one whom she had so much reason to fear and to dislike,
It was also natural, under the circumstances, that she should be impressed by the evident respect paid to Cochrane; and he, as if desirous of making that impression as deep as possible, seemed to lead her through the most frequented corridors, whilst her cheeks were tingling with shame at being compelled to follow him.
The height of the building was five storeys, and the apartments of Sir Robert Cochrane were on the third floor -a place of honour as well as of some state. They were within convenient reach of the King's own retiring cham
and they had been occupied at one time by the brother of his Majesty, the Earl of Mar. The possession of this dignified habitation was only one of the many favours which Cochrane had obtained from his royal master, to the great scandal and chagrin of the nobles whose rights and privileges had been, as they believed, contumaciously set aside for the advancement of a nameless upstart.
But Cochrane was a man who, whilst he would not court danger, was prepared to brave it to any extent in the accomplishment of his ambitious designs. He saw the frowns with which he was regarded, and the jealousies
entertained towards him by all except those who could stoop to buy his services or to play the sycophant with him. He was indifferent; those who frowned he watched with unwavering eyes, and those who fawned he treated with patronage or submission according to their degree, whilst he lost no opportunity of availing himself of everybody's service to his own gain.
Those who stood in his way, whether of high or low degree, he swept from his path by force of some of the cunning stratagems in which his brain was fertile. He had even been bold enough to assail the position of the royal brothers, Albany and Mar, with what fatal result will presently appear.
Having conducted Katherine into his apartments, he bade ber, in his coldly respectful manner, to consider them as her own in the meanwhile; but he did not acquaint her that they were recognized as his during the residence of the King at the palace.
The chambers consisted of a reception or sitting-roomlarge, and elegantly furnished, with heavy French tapestry covering the walls, and three windows commanded a view of the principal court; next, a small robing-room and a handsomely fitted retiring-room.
The three apartments, and especially the first, were furnished even more luxuriously than when they had been occupied by the King's brother; for one of the prominent peculiarities of Cochrane's character-one made up of so much daring and cunning—was an almost womanish delight in all the refinements of apparel, and of the appartenances of his residence. In this, too, be displayed considerable taste, for his residence in Italy and France, combined with much natural aptitude, had enabled him to catch the trick of adornment, which depends not so much on the lavish expenditure of money, as upon the artistic propriety of arrangement.
The King's own apartments were not more elegant in appearance than these, although they were crowded with articles of fifty times the value. This delicacy of taste was one of Cochrane's chief recommendations in the eyes of the monarch.
In obedience to a signal from Sir Robert, an attendant had followed him, and was now standing at the door awaiting instructions. He was directed to supply the lady with refreshments, and to find some handmaiden who could attend
The man-a tall, dark-featured fellow, named Ross, who had been raised to his present post by Cochrane, and who was consequently devoted to his service-bowed silently and retired.
Katherine, fatigued by her long journey, and somewhat bewildered by her position and by all that was transpiring around her, remained mutely seated, looking wonderingly at the man before whom everybody seemed to bow in submission.
“Whatever you desire, madam,” he said, addressing her, "you have only to demand. There is no wish you can express which will not be instantly gratified, except
“Doubtless," she answered, wearily, “that one is the only wish which I would care to bave gratified."
"Possibly so; for it is the desire to leave these apartments before my return, which cannot be complied with.”
“As I thought,” she said, drily; " but if I am permitted to see the Queen, I shall be satisfied, and you will have kept faith for once.”
"You shall see their Majesties as soon as my poor influence can prevail upon them to grant us an audience. Meanwhile I would commend you to rest, that you may appear to more advantage, when you present your suit.”.
“You are most considerate, sir,” she said, inclining with satirical courtesy.
“I am your servant, madam, for the hour,” he answered, bowing with an excess of politeness, and withdrew noiselessly as a cat, although he still wore his heavy riding-boots
Late as the hour was, Cochrane proceeded immediately to seek an audience with his royal master. He did not delay even to make any change in his dress-a matter in which he knew the King to be somewhat punctilious, and about which he was himself usually most particular.
Booted and spurred and travel-stained as he was, he made his way through the guards and the attendants to the door of the ante-room of the presence-chamber.
The gentleman-usher whom he addressed regarded his
appearance with some amazement, when he desired to be instantly conducted to his Majesty.
“His Majesty has given orders that he is not to be disturbed to-night,” said the usher, with a degree of uneasiness in thus opposing the entrance of the prime favourite.
“Say that it is I, Robert Cochrane, that world speak with him," was the haughty answer.
“ But in that garb ? " hesitated the usher.
“My business will excuse my garb. Do not waste time, sir, for the matter is of pressing import to his Majesty."
The usher bowed and quitted the ante-room, whilst Cochrane, waiting his return, endured the curious scrutiny of the gentlemen attendants without the slightest appearance of discomposure.
The outer one of the two doors which admitted to the King's chamber presently reopened, and the usher beckoned Cochrane to follow him.
Sir Robert, with a subdued smile of satisfaction, immediately obeyed.
The doorway displayed the thickness of the wall, and the two doors were covered with red velvet, so as to deaden all sounds from within. The recess between these doors was large enough to have permitted six men to stand in it close together.
The usher thrust open the inner door, drew aside the heavy velvet hangings, and admitted Sir Robert to the presence of his Majesty.
The door closed, the hangings dropped into their place, and the usher returned to the ante-room, where he was surrounded by his companions, who were curious to learn what his suspicions might be as to the motives of this sudden appearance of the favourite, and his hasty demand for audience. But the usher, a gentleman of years and discretion, was unable to give them any clue to what seemed so singular.
The apartment into which Sir Robert had been admitted was large and square, and was situated in the north-west tower. It was the one usually occupied by his Majesty for the despatch of ordinary business, and for taking his pleasure in the evenings.