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"Nay, if such be his command you must pass," said the man, unwilling to accept the responsibility which was thus forced upon
him. The postern was opened, the drawbridge lowered, and Lamington cleared the outworks with a dozen strides.
As the chains clanked in raising the bridge again, the fugitive beard the loud murmur of his pursuers and knew that they were already in the court, that in a few moments more they would be rushing out upon him in full chase. The hunters were so close at hand that he was uncertain which
way He stood hesitating, listening to the threatening sounds of his enemy's approach—he was like one fascinated by the very imminence of his peril. He dared not seek hiding in the town, for there the search would be hottest, and every other direction seemed to be equal in danger.
He was still near enough to the palace to hear the harsh grating of the portcullis in its socket, as it was raised to give egress to the pursuers.
Then he fled.
"I saw the new moon late yestreen,
Wi' the old moon in her arm;
Sir Patrick Spens. LAMINGTON made straight across fields and morass to the Forth. He procnred a boat and rowed down with the tide to the Leith roadstead, where he found the French sloop Heloise. It was the same vessel which had brought him with the Abbot Panther from France, and by the direction of his lordship it had remained at anchor ready to serve them in such an emergency as the present. The Abbot was already on board, and received Lamington with hearty congratulations ; but he would explain nothing until the fugitive had refreshed mind and body by sleep. Gordon was conducted to a comfortable berth, where, utterly worn out by his exertions and anxiety, he soon slept soundly.
When he wakened he was at first perplexed by the discovery that the gloomy walls of his prison were transformed into a pleasant cabin. But one by one the events of the preceding day and night recurred to him until he bad traced them to the moment when he had stepped on board the sloop.
His meditations were interrupted by the entrance of Panther, who, before replying to Gordon's eager questions, desired to know how he was disposed to bear himself in the matter of the conspiracy to overthrow Cochrane.
“ As the one who wishes to be entrusted with his death. warrant," cried Lamington, excitedly.
The Abbot smiled with the utmost satisfaction at the warmth of his companion.
“I thought your humour would run in that direction," he said, “ but remember that you are pledging yourself now to desperate measures, for nothing less can help us."
“There is no measure so desperate that I will not venture upon it, if it promise me the destruction of Robert Cochrane. I exist only for that purpose now, since this hand, stained with her brother's blood, can never clasp Katherine's as that of my wife.”
His brow darkened, and his head sunk on his breast as he reflected upon the impassable barrier which had arisen between him and the dearest hope of his existence.
“Are you sure that Janfarie is dead ? ” queried Panther, meditatively.
Gordon started at this expression of a doubt, which seemed like the echo of a lingering fancy in his own mind. But he felt that it was a foolish fancy, which could only distract his thoughts from the steadfast pursuance of the one object he had now in view. - She is assured of it," he answ
swered, gloomily, “and I cannot doubt, since it was Nicol Janfarie who gave her the tidings, with such proofs that she who desired as eagerly as myself to discover some loophole of escape from the doom of separation her brother's fate brings upon us could not
“Still she might have been deceived."
“No, for Nicol is an honest youth, who would not for any bribe join so base a league."
“ He, too, might bave been deceived."
“Do not torture me with these surmises. I am too willing to give them lodging in my thought; and to rise into the bright land of hope only to be hurled back to despair would be torture, sharper even than that I now endure. Give me work to do, and the madder the enterprise in which you engage me the readier I will be to undertake it.”
Panther, whose mind was too busy with the political intrigues in which he was involved to give much consideration to the finer sentiments of life, was too generously disposed toward his friend not to feel some sympathy with his passionate anguish.
“I will be silent,” he said, “but I will not forget. Mean. while, such service as you seek is ready for you.”
“Will it help me toward Cochrane ?
Then I am ready."
you are to be employed ?"
“It is work that only a desperate man may do, I understand, and that is enough for me.”
“So desperate that every step you make will be at the points of a thousand swords and halberds.”
“That is what I wish to find. Life is the hazard that I throw, Cochrane's rain is the prize I have to win, whilst death is the grim supervisor of my play."
“If you succeed, your foe will see the failure of the crowning exploit of his career; and a gibbet will reward his ambition and his knavery."
“Quick ! let me begin the task. I am like a man parched whilst standing within sight of water."
“The task is to rescue his highness the Duke of Albany."
“He is still a prisoner in the castle of Edinburgh ? " “Yes, by Cochrane's treachery."
“What fatal influence does the knave possess that he can drive the King, who is so gentle in himself, to such foul dealings with his nearest kin?”
The Abbot shrugged his shoulders deprecatingly,
“His Majesty's gentleness proceeds to the extremity of timidity, and it is by that weakness bis minion rules him. He is obstinate, too, and is unwilling to acknowledge, even to himself, that he has erred in judgment. He knows the unpopularity he has earned by his persistent support of Cochrane and the other parasites who have fastened upon him, and who will destroy him. But he lays the blame on the wrong shoulders; he blames his nobles and the people for their opposition, and he refuses to take the one step which would satisfy them—which would ensure their fidelity and avert rebellion — that is, to remove his favourites.”
Something of that I have observed ; and I have had too sure a proof of his credulity in the continuance of his favour to Cochrane after the fate of Mar, to believe that any measure short of revolution will persuade him that his policy is false and cruel.”
"It is not his Grace's policy ; it is that of his parasites. They know that when the King learns to trust his friends their downfall is fixed. And so the discontent whiah has been with good reason loudly expressed by nobles and commons has been represented to him as the advanced signals of a civil war."
“But can he not see that they are the outcries of a country oppressed by the measures he has imposed at the instigation of greedy satellites ?
“No, he cannot see, for he listens only to those whose business it is to misrepresent everything that may affect their own interests. On the night of Mar's assassination and of your arrest the King dismissed Cochrane with the determination that in the morning he would investigate every detail of the strange transaction, and punish the guilty without mercy. He even suspected his favourite.”
“In the saints' name, then, how did he alter his purpose so completely before the council met ?
“You will see! Early in the morning Cochrane prayed for an audience. He was refused at first; but he knew that his head was in the balance, and he tried with new energy the argument which has served him so well at other emergencies. He declared that his Majesty's throne and life depended on an immediate audience being granted to him."
“And he prevailed ? "
“Ay, unhappily so. He showed the King proofs of a powerful conspiracy to dethrone him, and to place the
crown on Albany's head. His Majesty swore that they might place the crown on the duke's head if it pleased them, but they would have to seek the head in his black kistwhich was equivalent to an order for the instant execution of his brother."
Gracious heaven! what proofs had the villain which could drive his Grace to such extremity ? "
" Letters which had been found in the possession of Mar, and on the unguarded words of which the worst interpretation might easily be put, for they were written chiefly by gentlemen who were smarting under the indignities and wrongs they had suffered at the hands of the royal favourites by the King's permission, if not his sanction. By some accursed agency the tablet containing the list of our friends which I entrusted to you formed one of the proofs, and helped to swell bis Majesty's wrath and alarm.”
“My evil fortune follows me in everything,” muttered Gordon, chagrined that he had contributed in any way to the success of his enemy.
“Well, you must overcome it.' We must not lament
but act; and for that reason I wish you to understand the whole position. When Cochrane had wrought his Majesty into the state of frenzy in which he gave vent to that threat, the knave was sensible of victory, and he pushed it to the utmost."
“In what fashion ? "
“First he obtained an assurance that no blame should be charged to him for the death of Mar, and as a testimony of his master's confidence he was to receive any gift that he might consider sufficient. Then, what think you the ambitious loon demanded ? Why, nothing less than the title of the murdered earl. Ay, and by my soul, the request was granted, although it was agreed that all the properties appertaining to the earldom should revert to the crown, save some trivial effects not worth counting. You see even at that moment of exasperation and terror our gracious monarch did not forget how to make a bargain. He would have made a rare packman if it had not been his ill-luck to be a king. So he gave with one hand the empty title which quite satisfied him who received it, and with the other he grasped all that his dead brother had owned, which consoled him for the new peril he entered upon in reward