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THE DUNGEON OF THE PALACE.
“Come in, pretty Captain Ogilvie,
And drink of the beer and the wine;
To count till the clock strikes nine.'
“I'll have none of your gold and silver,
Nor none of your white money ;
LAMINGTON was conducted by Captain Murray, and four gentlemen of the guard, to a cell which possessed the appropriate attributes of strength and gloom. The heavy door, which groaned with its own weight in opening; the bare, dark walls, and the narrow slit, high up near the roof, which was the only aperture for the admission of light and air, combined to impress the prisoner with a due sense of his own helplessness.
“I wish we might have offered you better quarters, sir,” said Murray, respectfully; "but a private command, whispered to me by Sir Robert Cochrane, leaves me no option save to treat you with the utmost rigour, as if you had been already condemned."
“He is my enemy,” answered Gordon, indifferently ; and for the present he holds me at advantage. Like enough, he may carry his purpose so far as to afford you an hour's amusement at my execution. If he succeed, so much the happier for himself—if he fail, my turn will come. But to you, captain, I am as much indebted for the wish to use me better, as if you had been permitted to treat me like a royal guest.”
The captain smiled gruefully.
“By St. Andrew! I might construe your thanks otherwise than you mean them, sir; for royal guests, nowadays, fare worst of any, as you ken."
Gordon shrugged his shoulders.
world, since even the nearest kin of the throne is at the mercy
"Hold, hold," interrupted the captain, hastily; "I understand you, and we need have no names.
I spoke enow in bitter sorrow, not in jest. But the nearer the wolf comes to the hearth the closer he is to the guidman's axe.
"Ay; but if the wolf have the axe firm under his claws, the chance is that the guidman himself will be the victim.”
“ Saints guard us from that mischance !” exclaimed the captain. "Can we send you anything to relieve the tedium of your lodgings ? "
“ If you can leave me a light, that is all I care for. Thanks again.”
" You shall have it."
Captain Murray not only provided him with a lantern, but caused a couch to be carried from his own room into the cell for the accommodation of the prisoner, who, without this unusual kindness, would have had to content himself with a stone bench when he might desire to sit or to repose. The generosity of his keeper, however, did not extend farther than the effort to make the cell a degree more endurable. The captain, although he understood the real object of the conspiracy, and sympathized with it, was still attentive to his duty, and saw that the door of the prison was properly secured and guarded.
Despite the gloom of the dungeon, Gordon experienced at first a sense of indifference which puzzled himself. There was no shrinking dread of the morrow, no sharp pangs of doubt, although his fortunes were now brought to a more critical pass than they had ever been before. His life depended on the feather's weight which might turn the King's verdict for or against him; and there could be, he fancied, small question that the influence of the royal minion, Cochrane, would be more than enough to doom him, even if the proofs of his apparently treasonable intents had been more difficult to find than they were.
It was the very desperation of the circumstances which rendered him almost callous to his seemingly inevitable fate. Two thoughts, however, materially aided to produce the extraordinary calmness of which he was conscious.
The first was, that Katherine would be safe under the protection of the Queen, whatever befell him. The second was, that at his trial he would have the opportunity of denouncing Cochrane in open court as a false knave, and the assassin of the Earl of Mar.
“I will dare him to the proof in the lists,” exclaimed the prisoner, pacing his dungeon, eyes kindling and countenance flushed with the excitement of the prospect. “ If he refuse to make good his truth at hazard of his life, ihen his guilt will stand confessed before the court and the world. The King must be satisfied then of the character of the wretch he has trusted."
The passion with which the bare prospect filled him made the gloomy walls of his dungeon light as those of the most luxuriously appointed chamber; and rendered the bolts and bars which confined him of as little account as if the least motion of his finger could have undone them.
He was sharply recalled to the consciousness of his immediate surroundings by the harsh grating of the key in the massive lock, and then by the creaking of the door as it swung slowly open.
He fancied that it was the captain of the guard returning with some new sign of friendliness, and he turned to meet him frankly.
His eyes opened wide with curiosity as be perceived that his visitor was a man whose build differed greatly from that of his good-natured custodian, and that he was closely mufiled in a large black cloak which almost touched his heels. A tall man, whose person was effectually concealed by the cloak. His brow and eyes were almost hidden by his plain, black hat, which he had drawn down for that purpose, until it touched his nose.
The door had closed behind this personage, and he stood near it, quietly examining the prisoner, but making no attempt to speak.
After the first second of simple astonishment Gordon began to be suspicious of his visitor's object. He had heard of such things as of men being found dead in the dungeons to which they had been consigned to await trial, whenever that trial threatened in any way to harm a powerful opponent. He was convinced that Cochrane was capable of adopting a measure of that kind without compunction, if it promised to relieve him of the smallest trouble.
So Gordon was presently speculating upon the probability that the person before him was intended to act as his executioner. The silence of the man and his curious gaze seemed to confirm the suspicion.
If that had been his purpose the fellow was in no hurry to begin the work, for he was motionless as well as silent for several minutes.
"I bear a message to your knightship," said the stranger at length, in a low and, as the hearer fancied, a feigned voice.
“ From whom ?--there are few friends of mine who could obtain admission for you to this place.”
“ The message is from his gracious Majesty, King James."
“ His Grace has a passion for droll servants,” said Lamington, who detected something in the voice which jarred upon his ear, and heightened
the suspicion he had already entertained concerning the man; “but give me the despatch.”
" It is not written.”
your dungeon and to give you safe conduct from the palace.
How, he has sent you to release me ? " exclaimed Lamington, astounded by this remarkable contradiction to all his conjectures.
“Such is his gracious pleasure," said the man, coldly.
“ Heaven shield his Majesty,” cried the relieved prisoner ; “his own kind heart has been for once permitted to obey the dictates of justice and generosity. To-morrow I will thank him in person, and will be ready to answer to the council for anything I may be charged with. Meanwhile, I am grateful to you, sir, as the bearer of the King's message, and crave your forgiveness for the hard thoughts with which I have been regarding you."
The man bowed courteously, but made no movement to open the door, whilst he said
“You cannot understand my conduct, and therefore you are blameless for the misjudgment of your thought."
"I do not understand your answer, sir, further than
that you accept my excuse. On another occasion we may have leisure to exchange explanations. Meanwhile, I will pass out with you at once; for short as my acquaintance with this den has been, I know enough of it to long for more airy quarters. Pass on, sir, if it please you."
“ Your knightship is somewhat hasty.”
“ You have not heard all that I am instructed to repeat.”
“Then, in the saints' name, say it, man, and have done."
When you quit the palace there will be a horse wait. ing for you, and a sum sufficient for your immediate requirements, if you are not already provided in that respect," continued the messenger.
"His Majesty is most considerate," commented Gordon, his former suspicions beginning to revive. " Proceed. I am provided with a steed and money, What further benefit would his Grace confer?"
“He would save you from the certain doom which awaits you here, and which will reach you as surely as the sun will rise to-morrow, if in any obstinate humour you renounce the mercy that is extended to you."
“What does his Grace command ? "
" That you take the horse, ride to the most convenient port from which you may sail in secrecy to France or Germany, and swear by your knightly honour, by your faith in Heaven, that you will not now, or at any time after, seek to communicate with any man or woman in Scotland.”
“ What, is it the command of his Grace that I should fly like a dastard, and remain for ever an outlaw to friends as well as to foes ?”
“It is so; his Majesty is most mercifully disposed toward you, and offers you this means of escape. Go, and there are the prospects of an honourable future open to you; or remain, and be hung like any common malefactor."
Lamington grew pale and red by turns: the indignity which the mere proposal of this wretched course cast upon him was harder to bear than the probability of being consigned to the scaffold. He had difficulty in restraining his