Page images
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

his dread of those who approached now-flung the weapon to him.

Gordon sprang to the entrance sword in hand, just in time to encounter Cochrane, whose eyes were glistening with triumph, and at whose back was a detachment of the royal guard.

“Xold there, all of you," cried Lamington, “Advance a step further, and it is at your peril.”

“Stand aside, villain," retorted Cochrane, drawing. “Upon him, gentlemen, in the King's name."

* Cochrane," ejaculated Gordon, "on guard, sir, on guard."

“I strike for the King, and thank Heaven we have arrived in time to rescue him from your murderous hands.”

“ That trick shall not serve you, sir," rejoined Laming, ton with ineffable scorn, for he detected at once the ground which his opponent purposed taking in charging him with an attempt upon the King's life.

Their swords crossed, and the gentlemen of the guard, partly because their leader blocked the entrance, and partly because they had not much inclination to make a general attack upon one man, did not move to prevent the affray.

But his Majesty, as soon as he perceived the real state of affairs, advanced, addressing the combatants authoritatively.

“Put down your weapons, sirs, I command you. What, are private brawls to have vent in our presence? Down with your swords, and be thankful if the present confusion prove excuse enough for the disrespect you show us.”

Cochrane, with a submissive bow, instantly obeyed, but Gordon hesitated, He was too hot to recognize the folly and impolicy of giving vent to the wrath which stirred within him at the sight of his fue, when the King laid his express command upon him to desist. The wrong which this man had done to him and to others seemed too monstrous to be laid aside for a moment: it was like temporizing with the blackest guilt.

So he stood irresolute, his sword still raised, and glancing at the monarch questioningly, as if seeking his permission to renew the assault.

Katherine, with a woman's quickness, perceived the false impression which his conduct was likely to convey to


all, and especially to James. She was by his side, and whispered eagerly

"Obey--obey, for my sake, if not your own. . Your. hesitation will do more to hurt our cause than all the infamy that Cochrane may charge you with.”

Still he hesitated, and the King, who at first observed his insubordination with surprise, now regarded him scowlingly, and with a return of all his worst suspicions concerning him.

The guard had by this time penetrated the chamber, and their torches lit up the dark slimy walls of the vault. They surrounded their master, who, feeling himself secure from danger, and possessed of the power to give his authority effect, forgot the helpless condition in which Lamington had found him. Like all weak natures when suddenly released from trouble, his Majesty thought more of the indignities he had suffered than of those who had relieved him. He remembered in what questionable shape Gordon had appeared, and, overlooking the devotion he had displayed, was ready to vent upon him some of those pangs with which he had been afflicted in his humiliationthe memory of which was still painful to him.

The pause was a brief one.
"How, sir?” ejaculated the King, irritably.

“ Has our misfortune so lowered us in your estimation that you set our plain command at naught? By my faith, there is need for amendment here. You shall learn, sir, that if you have found us in a somewhat awkward dilemma, we have lost none of our power or the humour to punish treason. Something in your manner made us doubt that you could be the traitor you have been represented, albeit your

full warrant for the charge. Our doubts are being cleared, thanks to your own stubbornness. Deliver up your sword, sir, and your affairs shall be dealt with as they merit."

“A prisoner!" exclaimed Lamington, unable to believe that his Majesty could mean to place him so completely at the mercy of his enemy.

The King made a haughty gesture in reply.

Cochrane, with a smile of satisfaction, furtively watched the effect of this new sign of his triumph on the man he hated and, in some respects, feared.

actions gave

The captain of the guard advanced a pace to receive the prisoner's sword. Lamington started back, his eyes glistening with indignation.

“Stay your hands, gentlemen, for by St. Andrew this is no fair duty that is put upon you, although it is the King who orders it." Then, turning towards his Majesty, , “ I came hither, sire, to-night, hoping to render you loyal service; that I did not come with any treacherous thought toward your Grace, your own conscience will bear witness. The high degree of the service I was but now about to give you, you will not be ready to own; but you should know that I would have saved you from the scorn which to-morrow all Scotland will cast upon its King when it learns that he has screened the murderer of his brother from the just retribution which Heaven and law call for.”

The boldness of this speech astounded James, whilst the earnestness with which it was uttered impressed him sufficiently to recall the suspicions with which he had first received Cochrane's tidings of Mar's death. But the scornful reference to the blame which would attach to himself demanded a sharp retort.

“Peace, braggart! Are we not fitting judge of our own honour ?

Still brandishing your weapon in our face? Yield it up at once, or by my soul we shall attaint you

with an attempt upon our royal person.”

Oh, sire, your own heart will tell you that there is no drop of treacherous blood in my veins. To your Grace I surrender my sword,” he said, dropping it at the King's feet, “but to none other. Preserve it, sire, in memory of this night; and when the end comes, which all men who love

you foresee and dread, remember it is the sword that might have saved a throne."

Again the monarch was impressed by the passionate earnestness of his manner, which imparted to the words a tone of prophecy. He peered uneasily at the speaker's face, which was pale, and marked with an expression of regret! But the regret was for his Majesty, not for himself.

“Umph! He looks honest," muttered James to himself; and then glancing quickly at Cochrane, who was surveying the scene with placid content, "and, by my soul,

the other looks less honest than he has ever seemed in my eyes before. But we will scrutinize this matter—we will prove it to the quick, and justice shall be done.”

He nodded to the captain of the guard, who understood that movement as a sign that he was to lead his prisoner away. Having picked up the sword, he turned to him.

During these passages Katherine had remained silent; but she had listened to everything, and she had heard everything with agonized suspense. Once or twice she had attempted to interrupt Gordon, in order to prevent his excitement betraying him into speech that could only have tbe worst consequence.

But when she observed with what content Cochrane was regarding her, she drew herself up and stood proud and calm awaiting the issue, whatever it might be, without any outward symptom of the dismay with which her heart was fluttering

She felt that Lamington was speaking as became a loyal gentleman, and one who had been cruelly misapprehended and wronged. She would not disgrace the love he bore her by any exhibition of a woman's weakness which could only distress him the more, without offering the slightest probability of helping him.

So she stood by his side, her hand resting on his arm; silent, but with a dignity in her bearing and a contempt in her regard of the King's favourite which expressed her testimony to the truth of all her lover said.

There were several amongst the gentlemen of the guard who envied Lamington the position he occupied, not withstanding its peril, and who would have readily changed places with him, if she would have taken the same place by their side with the same devotion.

When he had done speaking those dangerous words of truth to the King, she pressed his arm tightly, and looked in his face with a proud, sad smile that gave him comfort and strength.

Thanks, Katherine, thanks,” he whispered, huskily, whilst he took her hands, clasping them fondly with his own; "you at least understand me--but you will suffer with me. Ay, there is the cruel barb with which yonder wretch can reach my heart. But courage, Kate, courage ; it is better for me that I should die an honourable man,



striving to do loyal service to my King, than to live dishonoured and an exile, even with you to share my fate.” “I will share it, Bertrand, even if it be death; and I

ouder of your love now, when you seem to have sacrificed it and yourself by the rash words you have spoken to his Majesty, than I ever could have been had no cloud darkened our path."

"Brave heart, it is worth enduring their worst spite to know how much you love me, and how worthy you are to be loved.

“Ah, Bertrand, it is in bitter moments such as these that hearts are tried, and mine tells me that you

have acted nobly, although it trembles at the fury of to-morrow. But all is not lost yet, perhaps; the Queen is generous, and the King is just when he is permitted to follow the dictates of his own nature.”

“Expect nothing from him-you have seen how his trust in Cochrane is undisturbed even by the murder of his brother."

Then, if we find no release, no justice, you will fall, knowing that your country honours you, and that the King will sorely rue his own blindness and the wrong he has


done you.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

That gives me little comfort whilst I know that you are left behind defenceless against that knave's snares.

“Not defenceless, whilst I can raise my arm with more than strength enough to carry a poniard home; and not defenceless whilst my brothers live.”

That reference sent a thrill of sickness through Lamington, so that he was almost glad when the captain respectfully touched his arm.

This brief colloquy had taken place during the few moments his Majesty had spent in musing between the dictates of his better nature—which prompted him to release the prisoner and to accept his parole to be in attendance whenever he might be required—and the evil suggestions of his favourite, which counselled no mercy and no confidence.

His Majesty roused himself from his reverie with an impatient “Tush!" and, addressing Cochrane sharply

“ Is the palace clear? May the monarch of Scotland

« PreviousContinue »