Page images

place indicated by Mysie as the entrance to the secret passage. She had no definite idea as to what her course was to be; the only thing clear to her was that she must escape from these apartments.

What she was to do after, there would be time enough to consider when she bad overcome the first and chief difficulty of obtaining egress.

She drew aside the tapestry and readily discovered the small dark-coloured door of the secret passage.

Just as she made the discovery, the attendant Ross entered the apartment.

She, however, dropped the tapestry in time to prevent him detecting the nature of her occupation.

The man explained that he had knocked, and had fancied that permission to enter had been given to him. He only desired to know if her ladyship required anything more that night.

"Nothing, thank you; I only desire to be undisturbed." The man bowed respectfully and departed.

She breathed freely again; and instantly resumed her task. She pressed against the door with all her strength; but it was fast, and she could not move it. There was no handle on the door; but there was a keyhole, which rather dismayed her, for it suggested that it was locked in the ordinary way; and without the key it would be impossible for her to open it.

She had expected that, as was usual with doors of this kind, it would be fastened by a spring, the trick of which she had thought might be discovered by careful scrutiny, and the persevering test of every object in which the secret might be hidden.

She peered through the keyhole, and saw nothing save utter darkness. Then she determined to search, thinking that the appearance of the lock might be only intended to deceive any one who tried to penetrate the mystery of the door.

She searched. Half an hour passed, during which her eyes and fingers worked unceasingly; not a nail or seam, not a spot of the door and its framework as large as a finger-point was left untouched.

She won success at last. Pressing her hands against the lintel, she found that the whole side of it moved slightly inward. Another effort, and the cunningly contrived secret


yielded to her perseverance. The lintel moved stiffly, there was a sharp click as of a bolt moving in the lock, and the door opened.

She discovered the first few steps of a narrow, spiral staircase, which looked like the mouth of a dark pit.

Without a moment's hesitation she went back to the table, on which stood several wax tapers, and extinguished them all except one. Carrying the lighted taper in her hand, she began the descent of the staircase, having closed the door behind her. She did not mean to return to Cochrane's apartments, whether she found her way out of the secret passage or not.

The light flickered in the damp, close atmosphere ; and she was obliged to pick her way carefully, for the steps were steep, winding round and round a stone pillar with such rapid gyrations that one unaccustomed to the stairs would have grown giddy, and probably fallen in an attempt to proceed at a quick pace.

Several times a chill draught of wind threatened to extinguish her light. She thought that the bottom of the staircase would never be reached, the descent seemed so long and weary; but the satisfaction of having escaped from the wretched dilemma in which Cochrane had contrived to place her was more than sufficient to give her strength to pursue the advantage she had obtained.

At length she reached a narrow landing-place from which two passages diverged. She was slightly giddy, and without the least consciousness of direction.

She chose the passage to the left, but before she had proceeded more than a dozen paces the light was suddenly extinguished.



“ Then out it spak' her, bonnie Jane,

The youngest o' the three :
O lady, why look ye so sad ?

Come, tell your grief to me.'
“O wherefore should I tell my grief,

Since lax I cannot find ?
I'm far frae a' my kin and friends,
And my love I left behind.'”

Bonnie Baby Livingstone. The darkness was intense, and for a few moments she stood bewildered, and uncertain whether to advance or retreat.

An instant's reflection, however, was sufficient to decide her course. She placed the now useless taper on the ground and advanced, groping her way cautiously.

The progress was slow, and in her excited state it was painfully so. The distance seemed to be considerable, and Katherine fancied that she was traversing the whole length of the building.

At last she reached what seemed to be the end of the passage. But the wall was stone, and all her efforts failed to discover an outlet. She turned back, feeling along the wall, and about six yards from the extremity of the passage she found a door.

At the same moment her ears were suddenly greeted by the dull, muffled sound of voices speaking within. She restrained her breath, and listened with senses quickened to painful acuteness. Gradually the sounds became more distinct; they formed into words, and, with a shudder of alarm, she became aware that Cochrane was one of the speakers.

It was a private door of the King's apartment that she was standing at, and it was the conference of his Majesty and his favourites regarding the ripening conspiracies, in which she was thus accidentally made a participator.

Although the sentences were incomplete on account of the occasional indistinctness of the sounds, she heard

enough to make her aware of the grave danger that threatened Lamington and the Abbot, and to erable her to understand that their friends, Albany and Mar, on whose protection they had been calculating, were to be themselves made prisoners.

She was as much frightened by the manner in which the discovery of the secret had been made, as by the nature of the secret itself. She was as much appalled by her present position as by the observations affecting herself. “She is a silly wench,” Cochrane said,

" and these knaves have deceived her regarding me so that she has learned almost to despise me.

“Have no fear,” answered the King; "she will think better of it when she has learned our decision on the subject”

* Then I will take my leave, sire, and see that your commands are promptly executed.”

At these words Katherine was roused from the sickening stupor which was overcoming her. The reflection that Sir Robert would proceed to his apartments and discover her absence reminded her that the danger she sought to escape was as near as ever.

She retraced her way along the passage ; but now she proceeded with steps quickened by terror. At the foot of the staircase she descried a gleam of light from above, and heard the footsteps of a man.

With no thought save that she was putting distance between her and the pursuer, she darted onward by the passage to the right of the stair.

She had proceeded about thirty paces when, glancing back without halting, she tripped on her dress, stumbled, and fell

. In falling, her hands touched some woodwork, which seemed to yield to them. Springing up, she tried it, and found it was a door, which, having been left unfastened, yielded to her touch.

She drew it open, and, hearing the footsteps behind her, darted out into a broad, dimly lighted corridor.

She did not know which way to turn; but observing a door slightly ajar, she rushed towards it and very un. ceremoniously entered an apartment which presented a spectacle that caused her to halt, panting, timid, and ashamed of the violence of her entry.

The apartment was small, but with a high oaken panelled roof, on which were painted vårious armorial bearings of the royal house, with their numerous quarterings. There was a pale, sad light in the place, and at one end stood a small altar, on which a dozen waxen tapers were burning before a crucifix. This at once indicated the character of the chamber: it was the Royal Oratory, or confessional.

When Katherine entered there were two ladies standing near the door, who regarded her with looks of astonishment. At the altar stood a venerable man in sacerdotal robes, and before him, kneeling on a black velvet cushion with gold tassels, was a lady, so intent in her devotions, that she did not observe the entrance of the intruder.

In front of the lady was a stool covered with red velvet, and bearing the royal arms on its sides. On the stool was placed a cushion similar to that on which she knelt, and upon it lay an open missal. Her hands—white and small almost as those of a child—were clasped, and her eyes were fixed devoutly on the book.

She was of rather diminutive stature, but the bearing of the delicate form was full of dignity and grace. Her features were clearly defined, and of decisive expression, although cast in no massive mould. Her hair was black, and her brow high, square, and marked with certain very faint lines, suggestive of anxious thought. Her eyebrows were high and black; her eyes were of a deep-brown hue, bright, and penetrating; they were eyes capable of expressing the tenderest affection and the sternest wrath, as occasion might arise. Her nose was straight and rather long; her mouth small, and, with the square-cut chin, expressive of much firmness.

Her dress consisted of a brown bodice, ornamented with embroidery of the most intricate design. Beneath this was a dark-blue velvet gown, trimmed with ermine. On her head she wore a coronal of jewels; and round her neck was a string of pearls, supporting a cross.

Katherine was not permitted time to observe all these details. The two ladies who stood near recovered from their surprise and advanced simultaneously, as if with the purpose of bidding her retire.

But before they had spoken a word the door was flung

« PreviousContinue »