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cried the master of fence. “I am not the one to cry off from any fair field; but here is a shamble, and we are the lambs to be slaughtered. Retreat, speedy and secret, is our only chance."
“Retreat!” cried Cochrane, scornfully; "you mean desertion of our master, like base churls, who have neither courage nor gratitude. No, by my soul, fly who will, I budge not a step if the whole army rose against my single band.”
“Fine words, my master, and I could speak as fine were I so minded," rejoined Torphichen, gasping as if the atmosphere were stilling him ; " but no man bares his throat willingly to the assassin's knife.”
“If your lordship will listen to me, you shall know whence springs the alarm that makes us debate whether or no it be wise to remain longer in the camp,” said Hommel.
Say it, man, in the devil's name, for it is that I have been trying to discover from you," cried Cochrane, with some show of impatience.
“Then this is it: At midnight there came into the camp a troop of Borderers, two thousand strong at least.”
-So much I know, and count it the better for our master's cause.'
“Ay, but I scarce think you can know that these men acknowledge Gordon of Lamington as their friend and leader.”
Cochrane started, glared wildly at the speaker, and then controlling himself, he said, with forced calmness“ Proceed.
How is it you know them to be his followers ? "
"I did not say his followers, but men pledged to support him against you, and that is much the same. I made it my business to inquire into the affair with what canning I could, so that no alarm or offence might be stirred by my curiosity, and I learned that Lamington had accompanied them to the camp, and only awaited an opportunity to obtain free speech with his Majesty to declare himself openly.”
The Earl of Mar smiled, as if relieved.
“He will not speedily declare himself, then, if he waits for that," he said, significantly.
“Ay, but, my lord, you have not heard all. Soon thereafter a secret council of the nobles and chiefs-most of whom are known to be your foes, and take no trouble to hide it-was convened in the kirk." “ Have
you learned anything of their resolutions ? “Nothing; but the council is still sitting with Angus and Lord Gray as presidents; and as the morning advanced, every man of note in the camp has hastened to join them.”
"My life upon it, I shall know the purpose of their conclave before the day is an hour older.”
“Swords and daggers !” ejaculated Torphichen, “if your lordship is minded to play rashly with your life, so will not I for the best Toledo that ever was tempered.” Remain
you with his Majesty, then, or crawl to some kennel and hide yourself until the storm be over; but I sball not fail to remember how you have borne yourself to-day.”
"I am no braggart and no coward either," blustered the little man, but losing much of his rubicund tint as he spoke; " but I value my neck, although I can bear myself in a fair field as well as the prettiest man among you.
Cochrane turned from him with some show of contempt, which the other did not resent, although he looked furious enough.
“Go you, Leonard, with fifty men, and let Nicol Janfarie, Musgrave, and Fenwick, with their followers, accompany you and conduct my bride to the kirk, where you will find me with the priest ready to proceed with the ceremony. You, Hommel, seek Rogers and the rest of our friends, and remain near the King, that you may be ready to give him timely warning and assistance in the event of any danger."
“ Zounds! I too will stay by bis Majesty,” interpolated Torphichen, “that he may have a trusty hand to protect him to the last.'
The directions which Cochrane issued with the decisive coolness characteristic of him in emergency, were obeyed promptly; every one seeming to be reconciled to the belief that fidelity would be the most advantageous policy in the end.
His lordship remained alone, and the shadow on his visage intimated that his meditations produced many doubts as to the propriety of the next step he was to take. But he roused himself.
“The sooner my weakness or power is proved the better,” he muttered.
He passed from the tent, and mounted a gaily caparisoned horse, which an attendant held in readiness for him. The page carried his helmet, and a squire bore the rest of his armour, as if he had been going forth to battle instead of to his bridal.
His own gallant array and that of the three hundred men who attended him in their bright liveries, and with polished arms glittering in the sunlight, presented an imposing appearance.
The camp was astir; the soldiers were actively engaged furbishing up their arms, preparing their noontide meal, or spending their leisure in games of dice and in athletic contests, which enabled them to display their prowess in friendly rivalry. There was a constant hum, as of a great city-mingled with the clank of arms, and the sound of horses galloping to and fro, their panoplies rattling like many sheepbells. Everywhere bustle and activity of one sort or other prevailed.
But as the brilliant cavalcade of the Earl of Mar passed along, every one paused in his occupation to stare at the procession, and to exchange observations of admiration or contempt. His lordship rode proudly forward, without deigning to observe the friendly or unfriendly regards which marked his progress.
THE COUNCIL IN LAUDER KIRK.
“Lang hast thou harried our peacefu' haulds,
And fattened upon our waes, I trow ;
The kirk stood on the north side of the town, and close to the massive peel or tower called Lauder Fort, which has been since transformed into Thirlestane Castle. The place chosen for the assembly of the disaffected barons and gentlemen was sufficiently retired from the camp to ensure their lordships against any untimely interruption, and the massive walls and doors secured them from eavesdroppers.
Their deliberations chiefly concerned the immediate prospects of the war, and the measures adopted by his Majesty for repelling the invasion. The present inactivity was unanimously condemned as fatal policy; and it was attributed to the same influence which their lordships held accountable for all the current ills of the State—the influence of Cochrane and his companions on the mind of the King
The Abbot Panther, who in disguise had made his way into the camp, and placed himself under the protection of Angus, supplied them with important tidings as to the movements and purposes of the English army; and he urged the council to adopt on the instant such measures as would finally relieve the country of the causes of misgovernment. He averred that the opportunity was offered to them now of displacing the incompetent and knavish adviser of the King, and that if it were missed they deserved to groan under the oppression which had banished so many of them from their places at the court and at the councils of the State.
The assembly was stirred by this address, and one after another of those present cited instances of the tyranny, corruption, and maladministration of justice exercised by the minions of the King. Several hours were occupied by these revelations, and during that time Sir Robert Douglas, of Loch Leven, who kept the door, admitted new-comers who desired to share in the council, until the gathering crowded the kirk.
Throughout it all there was one man who stood near the doorway, with arms folded on his breast, bonnet drawn low on his brow, and his long cloak concealing his person. He had been one of the first to enter the place; he had listened intently to all that passed; but he had not moved or attempted in any way to join in the debate.
He was one who had suffered the worst of wrongs, and the wounds they had inflicted were too deep and fresh for words to give him any relief. He waited the moment of action.
The interest which the proceedings excited in every breast prevented the lapse of time being noted; and hours after the brief darkness of the summer night had given place to sunshine the discussion continued ; for although all were clear as to the evil and the necessity of removing it, they could not so readily agree as to the means by which it was to be removed.
“With your leaves, my lords," said Lord Gray, “I will read you a fable which may help to solve the difficulty in which we now find ourselves placed : There was once a discreet community of mice sorely fashed by the steady persecution of their race by a monstrous big cat. A council of the mice was held -- just as it might be hereand after much debate it was agreed that a bell should be hung round the enemy's neck, in order that they might have timely warning of his approach. The measure was an admirable one, as your lordships can understand, and all were agreed upon its expediency. But, unfortunately, it failed to serve the mice, for not one of them could be found who was bold enough to put the measure in force, and tie the bell to the cat's neck. That is the fable, my lords. I leave you to apply the moral.”
There was profound silence for a few seconds; and then the Earl of Angus stood up, his tall form seeming to tower above all others more than usual, and his stern visage seemed to become grim under the passion wbich moved him. “I read your moral, my lord,
," he said in a loud, resolute tone: "and that what we purpose may not lack execntion, I am he who will bell the cat."
There was a low murmur of satisfaction throughout the assembly, and from that time forth Douglas became known by the cognomen-Bell-the-Cat.
The murmur had scarcely subsided when the door was rudely shaken by the furious blows of some one impatient to obtain entrance.
“Who is there?" demanded Sir Robert Douglas.
“ It is I, the Earl of Mar," was the answer; and a thrill of astonishment passed through the assembly.
“ The fool runs his head into the noose right freely," exclaimed Angus, pressing forward to the entrance ; admit bim.”