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"Dinna do that, for ony sake, my lord, for syne I would be nae use to onybody.”
“ There is only one way to save yourself.”
"Oh, I'll be uncommon sensible if that will save me frae your boots and your irons and sic things.”
Well, then, you must give me the letter you have got; and you must guide a small party of my friends to the hiding-place of Lamington. We are only anxious to show him a little courtesy, and to give him the attendance a knight of his position should have.”
Will scratched his head harder than ever, and glanced ruefully at the calm face of the gentleman who made this proposition so quietly, just as if there had been neither falsehood nor treachery connected with it.
“I havena got the letter, as I hae tauld ye,” he said, distressedly; "and as for taking your sodgers to surprise the master-Lamington, I mean I canna do that.”
His lordship tapped on the table with the hilt of a poniard. Two troopers and the officer who had arrested Will appeared instantly to answer to the summons.
“ Take that man,” said Cochrane, with a slow distinct utterance, as if to impress every word on the mind of the person most concerned, and convey him to the castle. Let him be put to the torture until he has given the information required by this despatch; and if he continue obstinate
He paused as if to notice whether or not his words had produced any signs of submission ; but will remained silent and bewildered.
“If he remain obstinate," proceeded the statesman, “under the torture, let him be hung in chains on the public gibbet as a warning to all traitors and knaves.”
Still the man made no sign of repenting his resolution to remain faithful to his chief, and the guard laid hold of him to drag him away. But as they advanced for that purpose one of them trampled on Stark's toes; the dog uttered a sharp whine, and showed its teeth as if about to retaliate or defend its master. The officer was about to strike him when Will stopped him.
“ Dinna harm Stark, ge brute; he canna tell ye ony
secrets, sae ye needna put him in your boots and shoon. Let him be, will ye?'
Cochrane eyed the master of the dog attentively; and then, half amused by the display of affection and by the fancy which it suggested, he said, coldly
"Let the dog be quartered before the rascal's eyes."
Mercy, man, ye wouldna do that," cried Will, becoming excited on Stark's account, although he had remained quiet enough on his own. “What guid will it do ye to harm a dumb brute like that? He's been a true friend and brither and neighbour to me ever since he was a pup nae bigger nor yonr hand-dinna harm the dog."
An impatient gesture of his lordship was the only answer to this extraordinary appeal.
The soldiers began to drag the prisoner away.
“Let the poor dog be,” he cried again, his huge frame shaking with agitation, “and I'll do onything ye want wi' me."
“Where is the letter, then ?” said Cochrane, sharply.
“That's it lying there, if ye maun ken,” answered Will, pointing to the fragments which Stark had gnawed into pulp, so that not one legible character could be deciphered on them.
Cochrane gazed at the useless bits of paper, and although his countenance indicated nothing, he was amazed at the coolness and dexterity with which the half-witted fellow, as Will bad been regarded, had overreached him.
“Very well,” he said presently, "since you have dis. posed of the documert in that manner, it is now of little consequence to any one; but if you wish to keep your
head on your shoulders, you must serve me all the more faithfully in the second matter. Where is Lamington concealed ?"
“There are different places, according to the humour he is in and the chances o' a surprise ; but he leaves a sign at every ane he quits, sae that I may ken whaur to seek
Cochrane turned to the officer.
“ Take twenty of the hardiest troopers of your regiment, and accompany this fellow. He will guide you secretly and surely to the hiding-place of the outlaw, Gordon of Lamington, whom you are to arrest, alive if you can; but
show him no mercy if he resist. Keep close to your guide, and at the first sign of treachery on his part hew him down. Go."
The officer acknowledged his instructions and departed, followed by Muckle Will, who was very glad to escape the terrible presence of his catechiser, even in the company of a man who might on the merest breath of suspicion become his executioner.
When alone, Cochrane vainly endeavoured to make something out of the fragments of Katherine's letter; but Stark had done his work effectually.
“No matter," he ejaculated, disappointedly, "these fragments will suffice to satisfy his Majesty of her attempt to communicate with the rebel. The day shall be appointed before another hour has elapsed, and the ceremony performed with what expedition the churchmen will permit.”
He rose and paced the floor thoughtfully.
“ There shall be no further delay, lest the weightier matters of State interfere, and some hazard--who knows what ?-alter my master's humour. Every obstacle is removed now, save her own perversity, and that must yield too; for she cannot become his bride even were he free and I a prisoner. But his doom is sealed. Yonder knave cannot, supposing he dared attempt it, deceive me. My gallant foeman of Lamington, you may count your hours. Richard Janfarie and the boy Nicol have missed you, but my hand strikes with unerring force."
His cogitations were interrupted by the sudden entrance of his coadjutor, Leonard the smith, to announce the arrival of a courier with secret despatches from England.
The information contained in the despatches was to the effect that a powerful English army was being mustered by command of Edward IV. to invade Scotland, under the combined leadership of the Duke of Gloucester, and Alexander, Duke of Albany, who had been snmmoned from France for that purpose.
THE SECRET DESPATCHES.
“The tidings to our gade Scots king
Came as he sat at dyne,
Drinking the blude-red wine.
Your faes stand on the strand;
Hardyknute. COCHRANE was grievously disturbed by the intelligence conveyed in the secret despatches from England. They intimated that the Duke of Albany laid claim to the throne of Scotland, on the plea that the reigning monarch was a bastard, therefore an usurper, and that he was otherwise unfitted to govern the country in consequence of weakness of intellect.
On these grounds the duke had besought the assistance of the English monarch to place him on the throne. In return for that service he had given his bond to restore the town of Berwick to the English, to acknowledge the suzerainty of their sovereign, to renounce all alliance with France, and to marry one of King Edward's daughters if the Church would permit. The latter event was somewhat improbable, as Albany had been already twice wedded, and both wives were still alive, the first having been divorced. Notwithstanding the nefarious nature of the proposal, Edward IV. received it with satisfaction, for he had been worsted in all former attempts upon the north country, and this seemed to promise the opportunity of conquest which he desired. À force of twenty thousand
was placed under the command of the Duke of Gloucester—the same who soon after became Richard III. —and the army was already on the march northward, accompanied by Albany, who was confident that many of the Scottish Borderers and nobles would flock to his standard as soon as it was unfurled.
These were the tidings which startled Cochrane, and which he had now to communicate to the King. The openly expressed discontent of the nobles, and the no less disaffection of the people, imparted to Albany's invasion a probability of success which indicated extreme peril to the life and government of James, and to all whose fortunes were linked to his.
Cochrane was well aware that he himself would be amongst the first of the victims to the duke's wrath.
The news fell on the King like a thunderbolt; and for several minutes he was overwhelmed with dismay. From the date of the duke's escape he had been restless and misanthropical, anticipating evils on every hand; and now his worst fears seemed about to be realized.
“Ay,” he muttered, disconsolately, and pressing his hand on his brow, “the prediction of the stars is to come true, and the lion is to fall by his own whelps.”
His favourites were standing around him, and the countenance of every one was as gloomy as their master's. None seemed to have any hope to offer him.
“You are dumb, sirs,” exclaimed the monarch, bitterly, and glancing at his attendants as if disposed to blame them for his misfortunes. “You are dumb, and your souls quake. Angus and the rest have deserted me, and doubtless you, too, will fee like the rest when you smell the burning of the house that has sheltered you. Have you no word of counsel or hope to offer us, my Lord of Mar? Or are you, as the one who has received the highest favour from our hands, the first to calculate the means of saving your own head by the help of your
heels ? " Cochrane stood nearest to the King, and he received this outburst of suspicion with genuine agitation. Cold and stern as his nature might be, he was deeply affected by the spectacle of his royal master's despair.
Sire,” he answered, quietly, and there was even dignity in his evident sincerity, "your gracious pleasure has made me what I am; the eminence I have gained is due to your kindness more than to my own deserts. Your gracious pleasure has enabled me to become from a poor man the possessor of wealth enough to insure me ease and comfort
my remaining years in some foreign land if I chose to forget the debt of gratitude I owe your Majesty, and to fly