« PreviousContinue »
“What will you do with Cochrane ? ” he queried, resting his hand on the earl's wrist and looking up inquisitively at his stern face.
"What would your highness wish to be done with him?"
The prince reflected, whilst his finger mechanically traced the links of the earl's corslet.
“Give me your sword,” he said presently.
Grasping the hilt with both hands, the prince exerted all his strength to raise the heavy sword, his eyes sparkling with enthusiasm the while.
“If I could only hold this up,” he said, slowly, “I would strike the bad man down, and I would help the good man to keep his ground."
“And I would stand by your highness whilst my hand could gripe a weapon. Good night, and pleasant dreams."
Angus hastened to rejoin his companions. He found them all standing before her Majesty, who was seated on a large chair of state, and apparently waiting only for his appearance.
“My lord of Angus,” she said, deliberately, “ the business which you have thrust upon us to night is pot one to be disposed of with the rude haste which you and our other friends seem to desire. The matter concerns our nearest interests, and must be dealt with resolutely, but not with the unbecoming haste which partakes more of the character of vengeance than of justice."
“The penalty of a deed such as this, madam," said Angus, “should be enforced without
kind.” Ay, if you are sure that you have found the guilty
“And we are sure of that."
“Who has seen Mar, and can attest that he has perished as you say T?"
“We have certain tidings of his fate, madam, and we know too much of Cochrane to doubt bis guilt or his object."
“My lords, I fear the little favour which you bear the man has caused you to judge him with more haste than your calmer humours would hold wise.”
“So please your Grace," broke in Lord Gray, "we have
known the man too long not to have had more than time enough to judge of him with all due discretion. I am not one hasty to decide upon a violent action; but I pledge myself and those who are with me that the peace of the country will be endangered if Robert Cochrane is permitted to remain another day at Court-ay, if he is even permitted to live after this niglit's work.”
“Your verdict, my Lord Gray, carries weight with it, and without doubt it is given upon due consideration. But we must act in this affair in open court, and to-morrow that shall be done by his Majesty and yourselves in council.”
“ To-morrow? Why not to-night?” ejaculated Angus.
“Because to-night we have no clear proof that this foul crime has been committed by one who is your avowed enemy; and to-morrow we will know the best and worst. Retire, then, gentlemen, for to-night; and we pledge our royal word that there shall be no let or hindrance to the deliberation and decision of the council to-morrow."
There was a general expression of disappointment on the countenances of the noblemen, who glanced from one to another, dissatisfied, but hesitating what reply should be given to her Majesty's proposal. All felt that by the morning Cochrane would have so wrought upon the King that it would be impossible to obtain his concession to the verdict which they would unanimously pronounce. Nothing but the sincere respect they entertained for the Queen could have prevented them at once repudiating even the short delay for which she asked.
Observing their hesitation she rose to her feet, as if preparatory to dismissing them.
· My lords, I call upon you as leal friends and subjects to yield to my request,” she said, quietly.
Madam, you could not have put our fealty to a severer test,” responded Gray ; “but I for one will prove it at the risk of whatever may hap to-morrow, and I submit to your
Grace's will." The others, although aware of the probability that when the council met they might find themselves stand in the position of the accused instead of the accusers, immediately followed the example Gray had set. All proclaimed their devotion to her Majesty, and their submission to her will, and they slowly retired.
Angus alone remained dourly silent, leaning on the hilt of his long sword. He was the last to move from his position. Starting from what appeared to be a gloomy reverie, he made a stiff salutation, and was about to withdraw, but he stopped, and approached the Queen.
We yield to your Majesty,” he said, somewhat huskily, and with a degree of agitation; “but to-morrow you will regret that you have driven us to it, and to-morrow we shall regret that we obeyed.”
Margaret was not insensible to the probability that the grim prophecy would be fulfilled, but she only said,
“We will pray that the event may prove otherwise, my lord.”
The earl bowed stiffly, and without another word withdrew.
That was the end of the outbreak which had threatened to become so serious. Angus and his companions retired with their followers to their respective lodgings in the town, and they appointed vigilant watches during the night to give them timely warning of any attempted reprisal from the palace. Not one of them felt sure of liberty or life so long as the King remained under the control of his favourites.
But Cochrane was too well pleased to avail himself of the advantage which their unexpected retreat gave him to think of taking offensive steps immediately. He could not guess the reason of their sudden change of policy; and he did not trouble himself much to inquire. It was enough for him that their present conduct would to all appearance confirm the representations he had made to the sovereign. It would be difficult for them to eradicate the first impressions made on the King, and by-and-by there would be opportunity found to retaliate.
He knew that it would be a hopeless venture to deal with the barons collectively; for then even all the power of his Majesty would only stand a chance of victory, and he could not count upon support to the last extremity. But he was satisfied that he could deal with his foes individually, mighty as they were ; and he was content to bide his time. He was pursuing the cautious policy by which James II. had triumphed over the rebellious nobles of his reign.
Meanwhile every circumstance seemed to combine to further his more immediate interests. He already looked forward to the crowning object of, his ambition—the title of the murdered Mar-as almost within his grasp. Next to that object in importance to him, if not equal to it, was the subjugation of Katherine, and that, too, he did not doubt of achieving.
Although apparently enjoying perfect freedom in her position as an attendant on Queen Margaret, she was under the constant surveillance of his spies. Lamington was now a prisoner, and he would take care that the charge against him was so coloured that his escape from the block or the scaffold would be impossible.
And so with all these favouring winds filling his sails he saw a clear course to harbour; for even Katherine inust succumb to the wiles with which he was gradually surrounding her.
It was, therefore, with much secret self-congratulation that he followed James back to his proper apartments, and when Katherine craved permission to return immediately to the Queen with the tidings that his Majesty was safe, Cochrane made no attempt to interrupt her, or to attend her, as she had feared he would.
The relief she experienced from this event would have been considerably decreased if she could have divined that he allowed her to seem free only because he felt so sure of his power over her. She hastened to her generous guardian to make known the plight of Lamington and to crave her assistance in defending and rescuing him.
Cochrane informed his Majesty that his manoeuvre in summoning the soldiers from the town had been successful in driving the rebel barons to flight.
The King was morose and silent; he listened to the explanation without expressing any opinion, and then informed his favourite that he might retire.
Cochrane was slightly perplexed by this humour, but affected not to perceive it, although his dismissal for the night had come sooner than he had expected.
There were several matters upon which he desired to be informed before withdrawing.
“Has your Grace any commands for the morning ?” he asked.
“No instructions regarding the arraignment and execution of the ruffian, Gordon of Lamington ?
"Arraignment and execution ! By my faith, Cochrane, you seem to have judged and condemned the youth without troubling us about a trial.”
“He drew his sword against your gracious person, exclaimed the courtier, with an air of loyal horror; he was at the head of those unruly spirits who forced their way into the palace, and he is the son of an attainted traitor. To those who love your Majesty there can be little hesitation as to the judgment to be pronounced against him.”
“Those who love my Majesty will wait till they know our decision on the subject," was the dry response ; youth had no intent against us, and we have no mind at present to give him either to the block or to the hangman.”
“If your Grace is satisfied of his innocence, I must be silent,” said Cochrane, humbly ; " but there are considerations which should not be overlooked.”
"Nothing shall be overlooked."
“Then your present decision will be altered, sire; for the kindness of your heart must yield to the clearness of your judgment, and that will satisfy you of the necessity to punish this open treason against your government, promptly and unrelentingly.'
“That may be,” said the King, with a movement of his hand, peremptorily closing the interview.
“That shall be," mentally ejaculated Cochrane, as he made a low obeisance and withdrew.