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“I have been here for the last balf-hour, sir,” said one of the pages in waiting, "and during that time no stranger bas entered here. But her ladyship came in just now as if she had been masquerading, and there lie the garments she has thrown off.”
Cochrane looked at the cloak and hat, and comprehended the trick which had been played him.
“Where is the knave Gordon ?” he said between his clenched teeth, and grasping her arm with a gripe that made the blood tingle at her finger tips.
"Secure from your malice," she replied, without wincing under the pain of his gripe.
“You know, and you shall tell me where he lies hidden."
'You canuot invent any torture which will force that from me.”
He was sure of it when he looked into her eyes, so clear, so steady, and so scornful. He released her, wheeled about, and quitted the apartment. He cursed the stupidity of Ross, but he consoled himself with the reflection that the fugitive could not be far away when such a decoy as that by which he had been deceived was necessary for his protection.
He retreated quickly, and halted at the foot of the stair which conducted to the roof of the tower. Having explored the opposite extremity of the corridor, posting guards at every point of egress as he went along, he began to ascend to the ramparts.
The staircase was narrow and steep. Lamington had mounted it lightly, and at the top he came to a doorway which gave to the battlements of the palace. There he paused, peering forth cautiously to discover the whereabouts of the sentinel.
The night was gloomy as the fortunes of the man who gazed at it. Big heavy clouds were drifting rapidly athwart the sky, presaging another storm. Occasionally they left clear spaces of deep blue, which reflected a faint light on the earth, at other times there prevailed a darkness in which it became difficult to distinguish objects at only a few yards' distance.
Turrets and ramparts rose in shadowy outline before him, and offered many dark corners in which he might lie concealed, if the search were not too vigilant, and the searchers were not provided with torches. But these were the very conditions
which he could not count; and there was the pressing probability that the watch would detect him before he could reach even a temporary coign of vantage. The drifting clouds cleared a space and permitted him to see the trooper, who guarded that side of the tower, marching slowly away from him with his halberd resting on his shoulder.
Gordon's resolution was promptly taken.
With the celerity of an antelope and the caution of a man whose life is at stake, he followed the sentinel, keeping well under the shadow of the ramparts, so that even had the soldier turned unexpectedly he would not have seen him. The man did not turn, however, and Lamington got close behind him without his presence being suspected.
Then with one bound he had his arms upon the soldier's throat, stifling the cry of alarm which the affrighted fellow tried to utter. Gordon snatched the halberd from his nerveless grasp, and with the butt end of it struck him down insensible.
This noiseless victory gave him an unpremeditated advantage. None of the other sentinels who were silently patrolling the battlements had observed any sound of the brief scuffle. But discovery was imminent whenever they happened to miss their comrade at the points where they were accustomed to meet and interchange the word of assurance that all was right.
Gordon expeditiously removed the man's steel cap, and adjusted it on his own head." Next be unbuckled the belt and removed the jerkin; last he drew off the heavy jackboots, and assumed them himself. They fitted well enough for his purpose, and so he thrust the unconscious trooper close to the rampart, shouldered the halberd, and marched forward in time to meet the next watch.
“All goes well,” he muttered, indistinctly, in reply to the man who saluted him as his comrade.
He wheeled round, and paced slowly back, the other doing the same without heeding the churlish mood in which he had been greeted.
When Gordon halted at the head of the stair, he breathed with something of that sense of relief which one
experiences in having escaped an accident, and he began to balance the probability of being able to pass the main body of the guard undetected. He could risk it if he only knew the watchword. But how was he to learn that? To say that he had forgotten it would attract a degree of attention which must prove fatal to him.
Meanwhile there was the danger of the sentinel whom he had overthrown recovering and giving the alarm.
His reflections were presently interrupted by the sounds of Cochrane and his followers approaching. The crisis of the adventure was at hand; success or failure would depend upon the results of the next few minutes.
One certainty there is,” he muttered, setting his teeth ; “ if he recognizes me, Cochrane's flight downward will be a swift one.
And he cast a grim look towards the ramparts, resolved at the first movement of suspicion to hurl his foe down to the depths below. For once his own luck and that of the royal favourite depended on the same event. If Cochrane failed to identify him bis life would be saved, and Gordon would gain the knowledge of the watchword, which was essential to his escape.
Up sprang the pursuers, Cochrane first, dark and wrathful.
The false sentinel crossed the door with his halberd.
“Who goes there?” he demanded, in a hoarse, gruff voice.
“Hold fast for the King," answered Cochrane, impatiently, thrusting the sentinel aside, and stepping out on the battlement.
He unsuspectingly placed himself between the ramparts and the man whom he pursued with so much rancour.
“Now," thought Gordon, standing within arm's reach, one blow from this halberd or one touch of my hand, and you go to your long reckoning."
The opportunity to settle old scores was indeed so favourable that it was with some difficulty he resisted the temptation to hurl the knave over the walls and take the consequences, wbatever they might be. That would have been a poor as well as a mean retaliation, however, in which,
for an instant's agony, all his crimes would be paid in this world. That was not enough for Lamington-he had been too deeply wronged.
Have you had any strangers with you ? ” queried Cochrane, hurriedly.
“None, so please you, sir, during my watch,” was the response, in the same hoarse voice as before, and with a fair assumption of the respect belonging to the character he represented.
Have you been on guard at the door all the time?”
“ No, sir, I have been patrolling between this and the north tower.” “The knave may have crept up, then, whilst your
back was turned. Advance with the torches, and search all of yov..”
Cochrane set the example. Snatching a torch from the hand of one of his followers, he sped along the ramparts, thrusting the light into every dark corner, and leaving no nook in which a rat could have lain hidden uninvestigated. Tlıc men spread themselves rapidly over the battlements, and left Gordon alone.
“I have got the watchword,” he muttered, joyfully, "and it shall go hard but I will turn it to good account.'
Grasping the halberd firmly, he darted down the stairs, which seemed to have been left to his care as the sentinel.
But when he reached the foot he was suddenly arrested by a couple of stout fellows who wore the Cochrane badge. Where
away so fast, comrade ? ” said one gruffly, and holding him by the arm.
One glance at them, and his scheme was formed.
“ To the ramparts, comrades !-to the ramparts! It is our master's command.”
“Has he found the prisoner, then ? "
" They are close upon him. Away; why stand you questioning me? I am in haste to summon assistance."
His haste and apparent frankness, combined with the probability of his announcement, deceived the men. They burried up to the aid of their master. Gordon sprang
down the staircase to the corridor which gave egress to the square.
His course was arrested again, this time by a couple of troopers, and his nerves were thrilled in brief suspense lest they should discover the faults of his attire.
“ To the ramparts, comrades !” he shouted again. “I go to give the alarm.”
At that instant he heard a shout far up in the tower which, to the men, confirmed his intelligence that their help was needed, but which to Lamington intimated that his stratagem had been discovered. The insensible watch had been found, his senses revived, and he had made the pursuers aware of the mishap which had befallen him.
The troopers who now stayed Gordon released him at once, and they hastened to join the other dupes whilst he dashed out to the square.
With the fleet steps of a stag in full career he crossed to the heavy archway, and there, as he had expected, the guard commanded him to halt.
“Hold fast for the King !”
« Pass on.
Next, to the warder's gate, where the same question and answer were made.
“ You cannot pass the gate until we receive commands,” said the warder.
“I must pass,” answered Lamington, with the boldness of desperation; and happily here the darkness aided his disguise, for as he was obliged to stand longer parleying with the man than he had done with any of the others, the incompleteness of his costume would have been detected had there been light. As it was, the guard only saw the steel cap, jerkin, and halberd of a trooper.
“My orders are plain, comrade, that no living creature is to pass hence till Sir Robert Cochrane himself appears at the gate or sends a warrant under his own hand or the King's."
"But I tell you, it is Sir Robert Cochrane himself who sends me hither. He fears that the prisoner who has escaped has already made his way beyond the bounds of the palace, and I am bidden to speed to the town to raise the alarm there."
“ Have you no token ? "
“What need was there for token when you see what badge I wear ? But refuse, if you please. I am content to bide here—only if the knave make clear away you must answer for it to Sir Robert Cochrane."