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soldiers had time to say a word, she advanced straight to the captain.
“This is the King's signet, Captain Murray," she said, showing it; "on the authority of it you gave me admission to this place; on the same authority I require you to permit me and my friend to pass freely hence. going to the presence chamber of her Majesty the Queen; and you may follow us thither if it so please you.”
There was an eager flush upon her face, and yet a certain degree of impatient disdain, at the interferences which had arisen, and these combined to make her look more lovely than ever.
The captain was sensible of her beauty. He was, besides, as has already appeared, we hope, a gentleman in every respect, and one kindly disposed towards Lamington. But he was also an officer, stern in his regard for duty. He maintained the strictest discipline amongst those who were under his command, and he was careful to observe the same rectitude in his own conduct which he required from others.
He glanced from his fair challenger to the cloaked figure at her side; and despite the disguise, aided by his knowledge of circumstances, he recognized Gordon.
His eyes opened, and his lips closed tight and hard, whilst his brows contracted.
Katherine perceived the rapid change of countenance, and her heart sank within her. It seemed so hard to be so near the accomplishment of her object and then to fail.
“This is undoubtedly an authority, madam," he said, coldly," which I would be the last to oppose, but
He was interrupted by the heavy tramp of feet on the corridor, and the entrance of a dozen armed men who wore the livery of Sir Robert Cochrane.
At sight of them, Lamington drew back a pace, and clutched desperately at his side where his sword should have been. Then he became suddenly calm, for he noticed the trooper who had been the unlucky cause of their delay, and the consequent failure of their project, holding his halbert carelessly on his shoulder. When the moment for action came he would seize that weapon, and woe to those who attempted to bar his way when armed, and conscious that he fought against the myrmidons of his deadliest foe, and the man who sought to become his assassin.
At the sight of the men Katherine barely restrained a scream, and for an instant she felt that her enterprise was frustrated. She recovered, however, and in very desperation maintained a calm demeanour.
At sight of the men Captain Murray's countenance changed again. The stern expression which it had assumed in the moment when he had felt himself compelled to discharge an important and painful duty, became transformed into an expression of disgust.
Behind Cochrane's men, and keeping purposely in the background, was Ross the spy. At the head of them was Torphichen, the fat little master of fence and terpsichore. This personage advanced to Captain Murray and presented a sealed packet.
“I am directed to relieve you, sir, of the care of your prisoner, Gordon of Lamington, and this is my warrant,” he said, with a salute which displayed all the stereotyped courtesy of the dancing-master.
The captain slowly, and with apparent reluctance, took the packet. But before he broke the seal he glanced at Katherine.
There was a deadly pallor on her face, and she answered his look with one so full of agonized appeal that he paused in the act which would have compelled him at once to deliver Lamington into the hands of his enemy.
She stretched out her hand imploringly.
“That is the King's signet, she said, in a low, tremulous voice.
There was the hesitation of a second in the captain's manner. Then he raised his hat, and bowed with respectful courtesy.
“Pardon me, madam,” he said, kindly, and with a slight huskiness of tone. “Pardon me; I had forgotten that I must obey the sign of his Majesty's authority before attending to any other duty, even if it were not a lady who presented it. Most honourable Master Torphichen, permit this lady and her escort to pass.”
Torphichen, not to be outdone in politeness, made a profound reverence to the dame, and bade his followers stand aside.
The captain respectfully took her hand and led her through the midst of the men, passing by Ross, who stood puzzled and silent, and out to the corridor, Lamington following:
“Heaven bless you, sir,” she said, pressing his hand in earnest gratitude, as he was about to part from her.
“ Saints forgive me,” he muttered in a low tone, and retreated thoughtfully.
Her distress, and the appearance of the royal favourite's myrmidons with the warrant which was too surely the sign of doom for the unfortunate prisoner, had effected the triumph of the worthy captain's good nature over his scrupulous sense of duty. The beauty and sorrow of the lady, and the malice of her persecutor, bad made him do that which no bribe or prospect of personal advantage could have tempted him to do. He was aware that he would probably have to answer for his offence to a severe taskmaster; but that did not disturb him so much as the thought that he had planted a bar sinister on the hitherto unstained shield of his fidelity to whatever trust was imposed on him.
“But it cannot be an unpardonable sin," he reflected uneasily, "to help the unfortunate against the persecution of a knave. Holy Mother, help me. I must take the consequences now.
Katherine and her companion hurried along the corridor in the direction of the Queen's apartments ; but that was not their destination.
Ross, perplexed and curious, sneaked after them, keeping at a safe distance, however.
* When Carmichael came before the King
He fell low down upon his knee;
The Laird of Logie. The captain rejoined Torphichen. The latter received him with a leer.
“Do you know the dame you have just been gallanting ?” said he, looking very sly.
Well, slightly,” answered Murray, with assumed indifference and real discomfort; “she is one of the Queen's damsels."
“Ay, ay, but she is more than that.”
“I believe she is the only creature on the earth our friend Cochrane ever cared for without calculating the precise value of the person to himself in the shape of coin or place."
"Faith, she is a fair-looking dame," answered the captain, relieved; " but I doubt if her fancy tends his way.”
" Therein is the jest. It is said that she is even wed to him by holy church, and still turns her back on him. Wherefore as the rule runs, her coldness makes him blaze the more, and he is as hot in the pursuit of her as he has ever been in the compassing of weightier affairs."
“It would be a pity if she yielded to him.”
She might do worse. He has chances that few men have."
True, true; she might do worse; but her influence might interfere with his projects.”
Hum-perhaps. Who was it went with her but
“An escort, as I understand." The captain again became uncomfortable. “ Some one of her Majesty's followers, I suspect, sent hither to protect her from any chance rudeness on the part of my lads, who are ever too quick, as you know, to forget their manners in their admiration of a bright eye. You know something of that humourmeh, comrade ? Ha, ha! I have heard of many a poor lass who has lost appetite for your
sake." “Well, a man of spirit must be gallant at times—it's his nature," answered the fat little fellow, with much complacency, for he cultivated the repute of being a cavalier in Cupid's ranks; "and I confess that there may bave been some passages
life that have left broken hearts as well as broken heads behind them. But a man cannot marry every dame who chooses to set her heart upon him.”
“Had it been possible, I'll be sworn you would have had a hundred wives, Master Torphichen," commented Murray, laughing with apparent zest in admiration of his gossip, and all the while congratulating himself that this banter was giving the fugitive time to make good his escape.
Having once commenced anything, Captain Murray was not one to leave it half accomplished.
Torphichen, the obese, was flattered by this admiration, and laughed at the boast of his gallantry all the more loudly and gleefully because he had been really the least successful of wooers, and the lie gave him a species of revenge that gratified his vanity in blemishing the reputation of the sex with the same breath that extolled himself.
“Well, well,” he said, leering again, and remembering the object for which he had come hither, we shall have a gossip, captain, anent these affairs when we have more leisure. You have not broken the seal of my warrant yet."
"Ah, that was a neglect; but is there need for so much haste? I bave some rare sack and Burgundy in my chamber that you should know the flavour of. What say
“In faith I like your offer better than the service I am bound on.
Yet there is no such need for haste, either. I can travel an hour later as well as an hour earlier, and in the better humour for your hospitality.”
“Come, then. A cup before you go will give you stomach for the keen night air.”
The master of fence was not proof against this warnı invitation. He left his men to await him in the ward.