Page images
PDF
EPUB

impatiently, "and let us proceed. If his pledge be not enough for you, take mine also.”

"I cannot further object, my lord; your word would suffice for a troop of malefactors.'

“Your compliments smell something of satire ; sauce may be at times too highly flavoured.”

"" The sincerity of my respect must plead my excuse for the high seasoning of my words," was the answer, with the ease of one accustomed to turn even a rebuke into a means of flattery.

His lordship, without affecting to observe the remark, proceeded

“Your claim to the lady has now to be disposed of; and that might have been a more troublesome question to settle than the other, had not your own generosity provided a ready way out of the difficulty. You, madam, shall decide the claims of your suitors.

“Again I crave your lordship's indulgence," interrupted Cochrane; “my claim is that of a husband.”

“Give it what title you will, sir. But before she answers, this lady must understand that I, holding impor. tant office in the Church, do not regard as binding the ceremony through which she seems to have been dragged, and which was performed by a man who forgot the sanctity of his order in the terror of his life. If she decide against you I will not hesitate to declare your marriage void, feeling assured that his holiness the Pope will sanction my decision.”

Cochrane inclined his head slightly to hide the angry flush which rose to his countenance, and which for once he was unable to control. The proceedings had opened so much in his favour that he had counted upon an easy victory: but now the favour seemed to have so completely changed sides that he deemed the judge more than partial to his rival. As, however, he had provided for the decision in the event of its being left to Katherine, according to his apparently frank proposal, he was content to abide the result, watching her narrowly the while.

(69)

CHAPTER XI.

BETWEEN TWO FIRES.

“But fare ye weel, my ae fause love,

That I hae looed sae lang ;
If sets ye chuse another love

And let young Benjie gang.
“ Then Marjorie turned her round about,

The tear blinding her e'e-
I darena, darena let thee in,
But I'll come down to thee."

Young Benjie.
The test which she had feared so much had come at last.
There was no loop-hole of escape from it—she must either
suppress the words she was yearning to speak or hazard
Gordon's life. If she had only had any means to warn

if she had only had the least chance of putting him on his guard against the sudden assault which she knew would be made upon him, and under which he must fall before he had time to place his hand upon his sword—if the least opportunity to shield him had offered itself, she would have spoken outright, and declared how much she hated Cochrane, whilst she denounced his treachery.

But she saw no outlet of this kind from her pitiable position; she must leave Lamington to mistrust her, or she must sacrifice him. She had no other alternative. She felt the gaze of Cochrane fixed upon her; she knew that he understood the struggle of her mind, and that at the least symptom of her intention to defy him, he would give the

bim;

fatal signal.

Come, madam, the matter lies in your hands now," said the Abbot, after a pause, as if he had been waiting for her to speak; "you have heard my verdict as to the bond by which Sir Robert Cochrane claims you as his; but I charge you think well before you speak, for remember that the wishes of your parents demand as deep and earnest consideration from you as your inclination in this affair should have received from them. Say, then, do you persist in your determination, and will you go hence with Lamington?”

She stood mute and motionless, as if she had not heard, but the cruel anguish of the moment was to her more excruciating than if all she had hitherto endured had been concentrated in one bitter blow, and it had fallen now. Her eyes were fixed in terror upon Cochrane, and he stood implacable as fate, confident of victory.

She seemed like one suddenly transformed to stone, and was incapable of speech or motion. But she was painfully sensible of all that was passing around her. She felt that Lamington was gazing upon her, marvelling at her silence. She knew that the Abbot was eyeing her in astonishment, and that all were wondering at her strange manner. Yet she could not break the spell of terror that transfixed her.

“We wait your answer, madam,” said the Abbot, encouragingly, thinking that some modest fear constrained her, “and you may give it freely, for here you are under the protection of the Church."

Still she was silent, and indeed she scarcely heard the words.

“Katherine !” exclaimed Lamington, vague doubts beginning to mingle with his wonder, and affrighting him, “why do you not speak? Is the question so hard to answer ?—nay, you can have but one answer, since you have braved the wrath of kindred and the scorn of unthinking minds for your love's sake. You cannot hesitate to tell them that you will go with me, and with me only."

She made no response yet.

The silence which ensued was like that in which people listen for the last breath of one dying. None but Cochrane and the woman herself knew the meaning of her pause.

The Abbot observed upon whom her eyes were fixed; and authoritatively

“You seem to be in fear, but you have no cause. I gave Cochrane liberty to speak with you, as he urgently desired, before the court was held; but if he has taken advantage of my license to practise upon you by any undue threat to compel your will, he shall find that I have power to protect you in spite of all his art—ay, in spite of the king himself."

The calm dignity of his speech affected her, and she trembled visibly; but still, bewildered by contending emotions and alarmed by the results which depended on her words, whatever they might be, she could not reply.

With mock humility and apparent anxiety to clear himself of all suspicion, Cochrane spoke

"I beseech your lordship, give the lady time. I own that I have warned her of certain issues which depend on her, but I will abide by her decision.”

The latter words were uttered with a significance that only Katherine comprehended.

The Abbot rose to his feet.

“ You have heard what he has said, madam ; I charge you, therefore, answer without more delay-go you with Cochrane, as your kinsfolk would have you, or go you with Lamington, as you seemed inclined ?

She made a hasty movement, and her face flushed as if she were determined at all hazards to declare the true sentiment of her heart; but at the same moment Cochrane bent forward, raising his hand slightly. His change of posture seemed to all except Katherine merely indicative of his anxiety about her determination; but to her it signified that he was ready to call the hidden assassins to their foul work.

The impulse to which she had been about to yield was arrested, her heart seemed to be clasped by a hand of ice, and a moment longer she stood quivering and bewildered. Then wildly she flung herself at the feet of the Abbot, and raising her pallid face she cried in piteous agony

“ My lord, my lord, I cannot go with Lamington.”

Then she bowed her head to the ground as if to hide her shame and anguish.

There was a moment of speechless wonder, during which Cochrane resumed his ordinary position-a smile of satisfaction on his countenance. Lamington was like one stunned by the unexpected nature of her response. Perplexed as he had been by her hesitation, he had not been at all prepared for this blank rejection of his suit. Wholly unsuspicious of the real motive which inspired her words, he was unable to divine the meaning of the sudden change in her regard for him.

“Is this final, madam ? " said the Abbot, much amazed that she should revoke her preference for the man with whom she had taken flight.

His voice roused Gordon.

“ Katherine,” he cried with passionate vehemence, * you do not know what you have said-you have rejected me, Bertrand! Look up, look up, Katherine, and say that we have misunderstood you—say that our ears have been deceived; say that it was not my name you meant to pronounce."

He had sprung to her side, he bent over her, with the great love he bore her shaking his frame, and making his voice tremble, conjuring her to recall her words.

But she did not raise her head. Trembling with the violent emotions which were torturing her, and sustaining herself with the mental exclamation—“It is for his sake -she answered him in a voice half stifled by her sobs

“I cannot go with you."

“Oh, this is some frenzy which has seized her,” he ejaculated wildly ; "or I have been so basely maligned that she has learned to hate me. If that be so (raising himself and fiercely confronting Cochrane), “look you, sir, well to your affairs, for you shall not live to enjoy the triumph you have so treacherously won!”

“We agreed to abide by the lady's decision,” was Cochrane's complacent response.

“It has been forced from her by some cursed trick. I will not believe that she could be of so fickle humour as to turn from me now. Katherine! Katherine! rise and make known to us by what base means these falsehoods have been wrung from you—for they are false—as false to your own heart as they are false to me.”

Low heart-burning sobs were the only response to bis passionate appeal.

He staggered back, his eyes starting in their sockets, his hands clenched desperately. There was no sound in the chamber save her stifled murmurs of distress, but in his ears there was a din as of a thousand fiends shouting in mockery the answer she had given—“I cannot go with

Confused by these weird sounds, dazed by the sudden shock he had received, he could not yet believe that she intended to forsake him. He could find no clue to her sudden change. He could have understood it had she believed him to be the guilty cause of her father's death.

you!

« PreviousContinue »