« PreviousContinue »
A TRIAL OF SKILL.
« She looked east, and she looked west,
To see what she could spy ;
And to the gate drew nigh.
««You seem to be no gentleman,
You wear your boots so wide :
Lady Margaret. AFTER the first shock of the intimation that the King was to give all the weight of his authority to the purpose to which Cochrane held with a persistency out of all proportion to the object to be gained, as it seemed to her, Katherine endeavoured to compose her thoughts. She strove to direct them away from her own affairs to those of her brother. She could not altogether escape the consciousness that the dismal events which had transpired since she fled from the tower of Johnstone had proved impotent to save her from the fate which she had hoped to elude by her flight; but that consciousness helped to quicken her desire to prevent the final catastrophe of a meeting between Gordon and Nicol, and so strengthened her for the task.
What she was to do when that object was accomplished she did not know. Whether she was to resign herself hopelessly to the destiny against which she had struggled so long, and wbich now seemed more inexorable than ever, or whether she was to accept the last refuge left open to her-death-she had not time to think.
One thing only was clear, that in the mean while she must display no greater opposition to his Majesty's will than by praying the Queen to obtain for her as much delay in the appointment of the ceremony as possible.
The difficulties in the way of communicating with Gordon appeared to be almost insurmountable. Every one in the palace still seemed to be subject to Cochrane, either by fear of his power, or by hope of his aid to advancement. Where, then, could she hope to find a faithful courier ? She was not one to be intimidated by apparent obstacles, and she set to work, determined to hazard everything. First, she examined herself in a mirror, and tried to remove all traces of agitation from her countenance. Having done that she summoned her attendant—or gaoler, as he might have been more fitly designated-Ross, and requested him to permit his niece Mysie to wait upon her, as she was about to prepare for an interview with the Queen.
The man was unusually civil.
“I will send her to yon instantly, madam," he said, humbly; "and if there be any other matter in which my poor services may avail you, I will be proud to obey your commands to the uttermost.”
This address was sufficiently curious, considering the former taciturnity of the man, to attract her attention, and she regarded him with unconcealed surprise.
Observing the effect his words had produced, he hastened to explain.
“You'll no think this odd, my lady, if you please, because, though I may have appeared a wee thing dour heretofore, it has not been wi' my will."
“Thank you, Ross,” she replied, cautiously; "if I should need your assistance, I will remember what you have just said." You will do me great honour, madam;
" and with much apparent subservience he withdrew.
She was much in need of the help this man could afford her; but his sudden proffer of it rendered her suspicious, for it resembled the clumsy effort of a maladroit knave, to win her confidence for his own ends.
Still her need was great, and the very clumsiness of the apparent knavery was an argument in favour of the man's sincerity. He might be deficient in cunning, but his master was too shrewd to permit him to make a proposition so openly as this had been made with any expectation of success.
Thus driven by her extremity to grasp the frailest reed of hope, she sought reasons to justify belief in Ross's good faith, notwithstanding his relation to Cochrane, and the
strongest reason of all was what seemed the clumsiness of the attempt to deceive her. The idea did not occur to her that on this very clumsiness the subtle calculation of the favourite might depend for success.
Her suspicion, however, was not altogether appeased. She saw with what ease this man might relieve her of the difficulty in which she was placed; he could at once secure her a suitable courier, if his position would not permit him to become the courier himself ; and the temptation to trust him was strong in proportion to her anxiety to find any means of achieving her object. But she was shy of every one who owed the remotest allegiance to Cochrane, and she resolved to test the man in some way before placing too much credit on his words.
A timid knock at the door was followed by the entrance of Mysie.
The girl appeared to be ill at ease, and held the corners of her apron with nervous fingers. She hung her head as if in shyness; and when desired to approach, she did so with apparent trepidation, as if afraid.
Katherine was not a little amazed by this behaviour, for the girl, although always respectful, had been previously prompt and self-possessed in obeying any direction. She was still more amazed on observing that Mysie's usually ruddy complexion was now pale, and her eyes showed traces of tears.
“Why, how is this, Mysie ? " she asked, taking the girl's hand kindly; "you have been crying, and you look as timid as if
Mysie interrupted her by a quick gesture of distress, and a glance towards the door, as if she feared that some one might be listening. Then she answered, reservedly
“There's naething wrang wi' me, my lady.”.
Katherine was perplexed; the manner and the words so directly contradicted each other. Lowering her voice, she said
“There is something wrong with you, Mysie. Who has frightened you ? "
The girl looked up as if imploring her not to inquire further, and answered, but without any attempt to lower her voice-indeed, she seemed almost desirous that some mysterious taskmaster should hear her diligently repeat his instruction
“I'm to wait on your ladyship constantly now, and I'm to and come whenever and wherever you may
The restraint was so inexplicable, and yet so marked, that Katherine was at some loss how to deal with the girl. She, however, answered discreetly, as she thought
“I am glad you are to be allowed to remain with me, Mysie, as I shall require your services in many ways.
But this seemed to disturb Mysie more than anything else. Ábruptly she stooped down on her knees, and began to arrange some imperceptible defect in the folds of the lady's
skirt. Then, without raising her head
“ Dinna ask me to do anything that you wouldna like ither folk to ken aboot."
“I will have to ask you to do much that none but my friends know about.”.
“No-no! Dinna ask me, for I can do naething. I'm watched and you're watched on every hand. I'm sent here only to betray you—that is what is wrang wi' me."
“ You must explain what this means. Let us go into the bedchamber.”
“No yet—bide a wee.
Katherine waited. Mysie busied herself about various trivial matters, and by-and-by went out on the pretence of fetching something. She returned in a few minutes, and by a slight movement of her hand indicated that they might retire to the inner apartment now.
Katherine obeyed the signal, and was followed respectfully by Mysie, who left the door of communication open.
“ We båd better have the door that way,” she whispered, so that if any body tries to come in we'll see." Katherine sat down and eyed her companion curiously.
“Now, Mysie, tell me what all this strange conduct means," she said, cautiously, lowering her voice as her attendant had done.
Mysie placed herself in a position which enabled her to command à view of the outer chamber.
"It means, my lady," she answered, agitatedly, “that you have been told you are free to do what you like, just that you may be made to betray yourself, and to decoy your friend to his ruin.”
Katherine was startled by this disclosure, for it gave a very unpleasant explanation to the sudden alteration in her position from that of imprisonment to one of comparative liberty. It showed her that she had been set free in order that she might be made the instrument of destruction to Lamington.
“How do you know this ? ” she queried.
“I wish you wouldna speir," was the constrained response.
“I must ask you, Mysie ; for be the danger what it may to me or those I love, it must be encountered. But if I know what the danger is, and from what quarter to expect it, I would be the abler to cope with it. You will not deny me, then ?
“Have I no said enough in telling you to trust naebody, and to do naething that can bring harm to you or your friends ? ” cried the girl, distressedly. “Well, if you refuse, I must ask
uncle-he offered to assist me.
Mysie cast a quick, terrified look at her mistress, and the desire to help her seemed to be struggling in her mind with the dislike to speak ill of her relative. The former feeling got the best of the struggle.
“I shouldna say ony ill of him," she said, hanging her head, as much abashed as if she had been confessing a fault of her own;
“he has been a guid friend to me; but he is my lord's most faithful man, and to serve him would cheat his nearest kin."
Katherine clasped her hands and eyed the girl piteously, The barriers between her and the object she had at heart seemed to be growing more stupendous every moment.
" He wished to gain my confidence, then, only that he might disclose my secrets to his master ? "
'No, no- dinna trust me either,” cried the girl, tears starting to her eyes; "for that's just what they want you to do.”
“You surely would not betray me?”
“Oh, I dinna ken what I might do," rejoined Mysie, wringing her hands in bewilderment. She was sorely afflicted by her strong wish to help the lady, in spite of her uncle's commands, whilst her sense of the duty she