At the time appointed the queen was ready: she had suffered so much at Edinburgh that she left it without any regret. Besides, whether to spare her the humiliations of the day before, or to conceal her departure from any partisans who might remain to her, a litter had been made ready. Mary got into it without any resistance, and after two hours' journey she reached Duddington; there a little vessel was waiting for her, which set sail directly she was on board, and next day at dawn she disembarked on the other side of the Firth of Forth in the county of Fife.
Mary halted at Rosythe Castle only just long enough to breakfast, and immediately recommenced her journey; for Lord Lindsay had declared that he wished to reach his destination that same evening. Indeed, as the sun was setting, Mary perceived gilded with his last rays the high towers of Lochleven Castle, situated on an islet in the midst of the lake of the same name.
No doubt the royal prisoner was already expected at Lochleven Castle, for, on reaching the lake side, Lord Lindsay's equerry unfurled his banner, which till then had remained in its case, and waved it from right to left, while his master blew a little hunting bugle which he wore hanging from his neck. A boat immediately put off from the island and came towards the arrivals, set in motion by four vigorous oarsmen, who had soon propelled it across the space which separated it from the bank. Mary silently got into it, and sat down at the stern, while Lord Lindsay and his equerry stood up before her; and as her guide did not seem any more inclined to speak than she was herself to respond, she had plenty of time to examine her future dwelling.
The castle, or rather the fortress of Lochleven, already somewhat gloomy in its situation and architecture, borrowed fresh mournfulness still from the hour at which it appeared to the queen's gaze. It was, so far as she could judge amid the mists rising from the lake, one of those massive structures of the twelfth century which seem, so fast shut up are they, the stone armour of a giant. As she drew near, Mary began to make out the contours of two great round towers, which flanked the corners and gave it the severe character of a state prison. A clump of ancient trees enclosed by a high wall, or rather by a rampart, rose at its north front, and seemed vegetation in stone, and completed the general effect of this gloomy abode, while, on the contrary, the eye wandering from it and passing from islands to islands, lost itself in the west, in the north, and in the south, in the vast plain of Kinross, or stopped southwards at the jagged summits of Ben Lomond, whose farthest slopes died down on the shores of the lake.
Three persons awaited Mary at the castle door: Lady Douglas, William Douglas her son, and a child of twelve who was called Little Douglas, and who was neither a son nor a brother of the inhabitants of the castle, but merely a distant relative. As one can imagine, there were few compliments between Mary and her hosts; and the queen, conducted to her apartment, which was on the first floor, and of which the windows overlooked the lake, was soon left with Mary Seyton, the only one of the four Marys who had been allowed to accompany her.
However, rapid as the interview had been, and short and measured the words exchanged between the prisoner and her gaolers, Mary had had time, together with what she knew of them beforehand, to construct for herself a fairly accurate idea of the new personages who had just mingled in her history.
Lady Lochleven, wife of Lord William Douglas, of whom we have already said a few words at the beginning of this history, was a woman of from fifty-five to sixty years of age, who had been handsome enough in her youth to fix upon herself the glances of King James V, and who had had a son by him, who was this same Murray whom we have already seen figuring so often in Mary's history, and who, although his birth was illegitimate, had always been treated as a brother by the queen.
Lady Lochleven had had a momentary hope, so great was the king's love for her, of becoming his wife, which upon the whole was possible, the family of Mar, from which she was descended, being the equal of the most ancient and the noblest families in Scotland. But, unluckily, perhaps slanderously, certain talk which was circulating among the young noblemen of the time came to James's ears; it was said that together with her royal lover the beautiful favourite had another, whom she had chosen, no doubt from curiosity, from the very lowest class. It was added that this Porterfeld, or Porterfield, was the real father of the child who had already received the name of James Stuart, and whom the king was educating as his son at the monastery of St. Andrews. These rumours, well founded or not, had therefore stopped James V at the moment when, in gratitude to her who had given him a son, he was on the point of raising her to the rank of queen; so that, instead of marrying her himself, he had invited her to choose among the nobles at court; and as she was very handsome, and the king's favour went with the marriage, this choice, which fell on Lord William Douglas of Lochleven, did not meet with any resistance on his part. However, in spite of this direct protection, that James V preserved for her all his life, Lady Douglas could never forget that she had fingered higher fortune; moreover, she had a hatred for the one who, according to herself, had usurped her place, and poor Mary had naturally inherited the profound animosity that Lady Douglas bore to her mother, which had already come to light in the few words that the two women had exchanged. Besides, in ageing, whether from repentance for her errors or from hypocrisy, Lady Douglas had become a prude and a puritan; so that at this time she united with the natural acrimony of her character all the stiffness of the new religion she had adopted.
William Douglas, who was the eldest son of Lord Lochleven, on his mother's side half-brother of Murray, was a man of from thirty-five to thirty-six years of age, athletic, with hard and strongly pronounced features, red-haired like all the younger branch, and who had inherited that paternal hatred that for a century the Douglases cherished against the Stuarts, and which was shown by so many plots, rebellions, and assassinations. According as fortune had favoured or deserted Murray, William Douglas had seen the rays of the fraternal star draw near or away from him; he had then felt that he was living in another's life, and was devoted, body and soul, to him who was his cause of greatness or of abasement. Mary's fall, which must necessarily raise Murray, was thus a source of joy for him, and the Confederate lords could not have chosen better than in confiding the safe-keeping of their prisoner to the instinctive spite of Lady Douglas and to the intelligent hatred of her son.
As to Little Douglas, he was, as we have said, a child of twelve, for some months an orphan, whom the Lochlevens had taken charge of, and whom they made buy the bread they gave him by all sorts of harshness. The result was that the child, proud and spiteful as a Douglas, and knowing, although his fortune was inferior, that his birth was equal to his proud relatives, had little by little changed his early gratitude into lasting and profound hatred: for one used to say that among the Douglases there was an age for loving, but that there was none for hating. It results that, feeling his weakness and isolation, the child was self-contained with strength beyond his years, and, humble and submissive in appearance, only awaited the moment when, a grown-up young man, he could leave Lochleven, and perhaps avenge himself for the proud protection of those who dwelt there. But the feelings that we have just expressed did not extend to all the members of the family: as much as from the bottom of his heart the little Douglas detested William and his mother, so much he loved George, the second of Lady Lochleven's sons, of whom we have not yet spoken, because, being away from the castle when the queen arrived, we have not yet found an opportunity to present him to our readers.
George, who at this time might have been about twenty-five or twenty-six years old, was the second son of Lord Lochleven; but by a singular chance, that his mother's adventurous youth had caused Sir William to interpret amiss, this second son had none of the characteristic features of the Douglases' full cheeks, high colour, large ears, and red hair. The result was that poor George, who, on the contrary, had been given by nature pale cheeks, dark blue eyes, and black hair, had been since coming into the world an object of indifference to his father and of dislike to his elder brother. As to his mother, whether she were indeed in good faith surprised like Lord Douglas at this difference in race, whether she knew the cause and inwardly reproached herself, George had never been, ostensibly at least, the object of a very lively maternal affection; so the young man, followed from his childhood by a fatality that he could not explain, had sprung up like a wild shrub, full of sap and strength, but uncultivated and solitary. Besides, from the time when he was fifteen, one was accustomed to his motiveless absences, which the indifference that everyone bore him made moreover perfectly explicable; from time to time, however, he was seen to reappear at the castle, like those migratory birds which always return to the same place but only stay a moment, then take their way again without one's knowing towards what spot in the world they are directing their flight.
An instinct of misfortune in common had drawn Little Douglas to George. George, seeing the child ill-treated by everyone, had conceived an affection for him, and Little Douglas, feeling himself loved amid the atmosphere of indifference around him, turned with open arms and heart to George: it resulted from this mutual liking that one day, when the child had committed I do not know what fault, and that William Douglas raised the whip he beat his dogs with to strike him, that George, who was sitting on a stone, sad and thoughtful, had immediately sprung up, snatched the whip from his brother's hands and had thrown it far from him. At this insult William had drawn his sword, and George his, so that these two brothers, who had hated one another for twenty years like two enemies, were going to cut one another's throats, when Little Douglas, who had picked up the whip, coming back and kneeling before William, offered him the ignominious weapon, saying,
"Strike, cousin; I have deserved it."
This behaviour of the child had caused some minutes' reflection to the two young men, who, terrified at the crime they were about to commit, had returned their swords to their scabbards and had each gone away in silence. Since this incident the friendship of George and Little Douglas had acquired new strength, and on the child's side it had become veneration.
We dwell upon all these details somewhat at length, perhaps, but no doubt our readers will pardon us when they see the use to be made of them.
This is the family, less George, who, as we have said, was absent at the time of her arrival, into the midst of which the queen had fallen, passing in a moment from the summit of power to the position of a prisoner; for from the day following her arrival Mary saw that it was by such a title she was an inmate of Lochleven Castle. In fact, Lady Douglas presented herself before her as soon as it was morning, and with an embarrassment and dislike ill disguised beneath an appearance of respectful indifference, invited Mary to follow her and take stock of the several parts of the fortress which had been chosen beforehand for her private use. She then made her go through three rooms, of which one was to serve as her bedroom, the second as sitting-room, and the third as ante-chamber; afterwards, leading the way down a spiral staircase, which looked into the great hall of the castle, its only outlet, she had crossed this hall, and had taken Mary into the garden whose trees the queen had seen topping the high walls on her arrival: it was a little square of ground, forming a flower-bed in the midst of which was an artificial fountain. It was entered by a very low door, repeated in the opposite wall; this second door looked on to the lake and, like all the castle doors, whose keys, however, never left the belt or the pillow of William Douglas, it was guarded night and day by a sentinel. This was now the whole domain of her who had possessed the palaces, the plains, and the mountains of an entire kingdom.
Mary, on returning to her room, found breakfast ready, and William Douglas standing near the table he was going to fulfil about the queen the duties of carver and taster.
In spite of their hatred for Mary, the Douglases would have considered it an eternal blemish on their honour if any accident should have befallen the queen while she was dwelling in their castle; and it was in order that the queen herself should not entertain any fear in this respect that William Douglas, in his quality of lord of the manor, had not only desired to carve before the queen, but even to taste first in her presence, all the dishes served to her, as well as the water and the several wines to be brought her. This precaution saddened Mary more than it reassured her; for she understood that, while she stayed in the castle, this ceremony would prevent any intimacy at table. However, it proceeded from too noble an intention for her to impute it as a crime to her hosts: she resigned herself, then, to this company, insupportable as it was to her; only, from that day forward, she so cut short her meals that all the time she was at Lochleven her longest dinners barely lasted more than a quarter of an hour.
Two days after her arrival, Mary, on sitting down to table for breakfast, found on her plate a letter addressed to her which had been put there by William Douglas. Mary recognised Murray's handwriting, and her first feeling was one of joy; for if a ray of hope remained to her, it came from her brother, to whom she had always been perfectly kind, whom from Prior of St. Andrew's she had made an earl in bestowing on him the splendid estates which formed part of the old earldom of Murray, and to whom, which was of more importance, she had since pardoned, or pretended to pardon, the part he had taken in Rizzio's assassination.
Her astonishment was great, then, when, having opened the letter, she found in it bitter reproaches for her conduct, an exhortation to do penance, and an assurance several times repeated that she should never leave her prison. He ended his letter in announcing to her that, in spite of his distaste for public affairs, he had been obliged to accept the regency, which he had done less for his country than for his sister, seeing that it was the sole means he had of standing in the way of the ignominious trial to which the nobles wished to bring her, as author, or at least as chief accomplice, of Darnley's death. This imprisonment was then clearly a great good fortune for her, and she ought to thank Heaven for it, as an alleviation of the fate awaiting her if he had not interceded for her.
This letter was a lightning stroke for Mary: only, as she did not wish to give her enemies the delight of seeing her suffer, she contained her grief, and, turning to William Douglas--
"My lord," said she, "this letter contains news that you doubtless know already, for although we are not children by the same mother, he who writes to me is related to us in the same degree, and will not have desired to write to his sister without writing to his brother at the same time; besides, as a good son, he will have desired to acquaint his mother with the unlooked-for greatness that has befallen him."
"Yes, madam," replied William, "we know since yesterday that, for the welfare of Scotland, my brother has been named regent; and as he is a son as respectful to his mother as he is devoted to his country, we hope that he will repair the evil that for five years favourites of every sort and kind have done to both."
"It is like a good son, and at the same time like a courteous host, to go back no farther into the history of Scotland," replied Mary Stuart, "and not to make the daughter blush for the father's errors; for I have heard say that the evil which your lordship laments was prior to the time to which you assign it, and that King James V. also had formerly favourites, both male and female. It is true that they add that the ones as ill rewarded his friendship as the others his love. In this, if you are ignorant of it, my lord, you can be instructed, if he is still living, by a certain. Porterfeld or Porterfield, I don't know which, understanding these names of the lower classes too ill to retain and pronounce them, but about which, in my stead, your noble mother could give you information."
With these words, Mary Stuart rose, and, leaving William Douglas crimson with rage, she returned into her bedroom, and bolted the door behind her.
All that day Mary did not come down, remaining at her window, from which she at least enjoyed a splendid view over the plains and village of Kinross; but this vast extent only contracted her heart the more, when, bringing her gaze back from the horizon to the castle, she beheld its walls surrounded on all sides by the deep waters of the lake, on whose wide surface a single boat, where Little Douglas was fishing, was rocking like a speck. For some moments Mary's eyes mechanically rested on this child, whom she had already seen upon her arrival, when suddenly a horn sounded from the Kinross side. At the same moment Little Douglas threw away his line, and began to row towards the shore whence the signal had come with skill and strength beyond his years. Mary, who had let her gaze rest on him absently, continued to follow him with her eyes, and saw him make for a spot on the shore so distant that the boat seemed to her at length but an imperceptible speck; but soon it reappeared, growing larger as it approached, and Mary could then observe that it was bringing back to the castle a new passenger, who, having in his turn taken the oars, made the little skiff fly over the tranquil water of the lake, where it left a furrow gleaming in the last rays of the sun. Very soon, flying on with the swiftness of a bird, it was near enough for Mary to see that the skilful and vigorous oarsman was a young man from twenty-five to twenty-six years of age, with long black hair, clad in a close coat of green cloth, and wearing a Highlander's cap, adorned with an eagle's feather; then, as with his back turned to the window he drew nearer, Little Douglas, who was leaning on his shoulder, said a few words which made him turn round towards the queen: immediately Mary, with an instinctive movement rather than with the dread of being an object of idle curiosity, drew back, but not so quickly, however, but that she had been able to see the handsome pale face of the unknown, who, when she returned to the window, had disappeared behind one of the corners of the castle.
Everything is a cause of conjecture to a prisoner: it seemed to Mary that this young man's face was not unknown to her, and that he had seen her already; but though great the care with which she questioned her memory, she could not recall any distinct remembrance, so much so that the queen ended in thinking it the play of her imagination, or that some vague and distinct resemblance had deceived her.
However, in spite of Mary, this idea had taken an important place in her mind: she incessantly saw this little boat skimming the water, and the young man and the child who were in it drawing near her, as if to bring her help. It followed that, although there had been nothing real in all these captive's dreams, she slept that night a calmer sleep than she had yet done since she had been in Lochleven Castle.
Next day, on rising, Mary ran to her window: the weather was fine, and everything seemed to smile on her, the water, the heavens and the earth. But, without being able to account for the restraining motive, she did not want to go down into the ga den before breakfast. When the door opened, 'she turned quickly round: it was, as on the day before, William Douglas, who came to fulfil his duty as taster.
The breakfast was a short and silent one; then, as soon as Douglas had withdrawn, Mary descended in her turn: in crossing the courtyard she saw two horses ready saddled, which pointed to the near departure of a master and a squire. Was it the young man with the black hair already setting out again? This is what Mary did not dare or did not wish to ask. She consequently went her way, and entered the garden: at the first glance she took it in in its full extent; it was deserted.
Mary walked there a moment; then, soon tiring of the promenade, she went up again to her room: in passing back through the courtyard she had noticed that the horses were no longer there. Directly she returned into her apartment, she went then to the window to see if she could discover anything upon the lake to guide her in her conjectures: a boat was in fact receding, and in this boat were the two horses and the two horsemen; one was William Douglas, the other a simple squire from the house.
Mary continued watching the boat until it had touched the shore. Arrived there, the two horsemen got out, disembarked their horses, and went away at full gallop, taking the same road by which the queen had come; so that, as the horses were prepared for a long journey, Mary thought that William Douglas was going to Edinburgh. As to the boat, scarcely had it landed its two passengers on the opposite shore than it returned towards the castle.
At that moment Mary Seyton announced to the queen that Lady Douglas was asking permission to visit her.
It was the second time, after long hatred on Lady Douglas's part and contemptuous indifference on the queen's, that the two women were face to face; therefore the queen, with that instinctive impulse of coquetry which urges women, in whatever situation they find themselves, to desire to be beautiful, above all for women, made a sign to Mary Seyton, and, going to a little mirror fastened to the wall in a heavy Gothic frame, she arranged her curls, and readjusted the lace of her collar; then; having seated herself in the pose most favourable to her, in a great arm-chair, the only one in her sitting-room, she said smilingly to Mary Seyton that she might admit Lady Douglas, who was immediately introduced.
Mary's expectation was not disappointed: Lady Douglas, in spite of her hatred for James Vs daughter, and mistress of herself as she thought she as, could not prevent herself from showing by a movement of surprise the impression that this marvelous beauty was making on her: she thought she should find Mary crushed by her unhappiness, pallid from her fatigues, humbled by captivity, and she saw hers calm, lovely, and haughty as usual. Mary perceived the effect that she was producing, and addressing herself with an ironical smile partly to Mary Seyton, who was leaning on the back of her chair, and partly to her who was paying her this unforeseen visit,
"We are fortunate to-day," said she, "for we are going as it seems to enjoy the society of our good hostess, whom we thank besides for having kindly maintained with us the empty ceremony of announcing herself--a ceremony with which, having the keys of our apartment, she could have dispensed."
"If my presence is inconvenient to your grace," replied Lady Lochleven, "I am all the more sorry for it, as circumstances will oblige me to impose it twice daily, at least during the absence of my son, who is summoned to Edinburgh by the regent; this is of what I came to inform your grace, not with the empty ceremonial of the court, but with the consideration which Lady Lochleven owes to everyone who has received hospitality in her castle."
"Our good hostess mistakes our intention," Mary answered, with affected good-nature; "and the regent himself can bear witness to the pleasure we have always had in bringing nearer to us the persons who can recall to us, even indirectly, our well-beloved father, James V. It will be therefore unjustly that Lady Douglas will interpret in a manner disagreeable to herself our surprise at seeing her; and the hospitality that she offers us so obligingly does not promise us, in spite of her goodwill, sufficient distractions that we should deprive ourselves of those that her visits cannot fail to procure us."
"Unfortunately, madam," replied Lady Lochleven, whom Mary was keeping standing before her, "whatever pleasure I myself derive from these visits, I shall be obliged to deprive myself of, except at the times I have mentioned. I am now too old to bear fatigue, and I have, always been too proud to endure sarcasms."
"Really, Seyton," cried Mary, seeming to recollect herself, "we had not dreamed that Lady Lochleven, having won her right to a stool at the court of the king my father, would have need to preserve it in the prison of the queen his daughter. Bring forward a seat, Seyton, that we be not deprived so soon, and by a failure of memory on our part, of our gracious hostess's company; or even," went on Mary, rising and pointing out her own seat to Lady Lochleven, who was making a motion to withdraw, "if a stool does not suit you, my lady, take this easy-chair: you will not be the first member of your family to sit in my place."
At this last allusion, which recalled to her Murray's usurpation, Lady Lochleven was no doubt about to make some exceedingly bitter reply, when the young man with the dark hair appeared on the threshold, without being announced, and, advancing towards Lady Lochleven, without saluting Mary--
"Madam," said he, bowing to the former, "the boat which took my brother has just returned, and one of the men in it is charged with a pressing charge that Lord William forgot to make to you himself."
Then, saluting the old lady with the same respect, he immediately went out of the room, without even glancing at the queen, who, hurt by this impertinence, turned round to Mary Seyton, and, with her usual calm--
"What have they told us, Seyton, of injurious rumours which were spread about our worthy hostess apropos of a child with a pale face and dark hair? If this child, as I have every reason to believe, has become the young man who just went out of the room, I am ready to affirm to all the incredulous that he is a true Douglas, if not for courage, of which we cannot judge, then for insolence, of which he has just given us proofs. Let us return, darling," continued the queen, leaning on Mary Seyton's arm; "for our good hostess, out of courtesy, might think herself obliged to keep us company longer, while we know that she is impatiently awaited elsewhere."
With these words, Mary went into her bedroom; while the old lady, still quite stunned with the shower of sarcasms that the queen had rained on her, withdrew, murmuring, "Yes, yes, he is a Douglas, and with God's help he will prove it, I hope."
The queen had had strength as long as she was sustained by her enemy's presence, but scarcely was she alone than she sank into a chair, and no longer having any witness of her weakness than Mary Seyton, burst into tears. Indeed, she had just been cruelly wounded: till then no man had come near her who had not paid homage either to the majesty of her rank or to the beauty of her countenance. But precisely he, on whom she had reckoned, without knowing why, with instinctive hopes, insulted her at one and the same time in her double pride of queen and woman: thus she remained shut up till evening.
At dinner-time, just as Lady Lochleven had informed Mary, she ascended to the queen's apartment, in her dress of honour, and preceding four servants who were carrying the several dishes composing the prisoner's repast, and who, in their turn, were followed by the old castle steward, having, as on days of great ceremony, his gold chain round his neck and his ivory stick in his hand. The servants' placed the dishes on the table, and waited in silence for the moment when it should please the queen to come out of her room; but at this moment the door opened, and in place of the queen Mary Seyton appeared.
"Madam," said she on entering, "her grace was indisposed during the day, and will take nothing this evening; it will be useless, then, for you to wait longer."
"Permit me to hope," replied Lady Lochleven, "that she will change her decision; in any case, see me perform my office."
At these words, a servant handed Lady Lochleven bread and salt on a silver salver, while the old steward, who, in the absence of William Douglas, fulfilled the duties of carver, served to her on a plate of the same metal a morsel from each of the dishes that had been brought; then, this transaction ended.
"So the queen will not appear to-day?" Lady Lochleven inquired.
"It is her Majesty's resolve," replied Mary Seyton.
"Our presence is then needless," said the old lady; "but in any case the table is served, and if her grace should have need of anything else, she would have but to name it."
With these words, Lady Lochleven, with the same stiffness and the same dignity with which she had come, withdrew, followed by her four servants and her steward.
As Lady Lochleven had foreseen, the queen, yielding to the entreaties of Mary Seyton, came out of her room at last, towards eight o'clock in the evening, sat down to table, and, served by the only maid of honour left her, ate a little; then, getting up, she went to the window.
It was one of those magnificent summer evenings on which the whole of nature seems making holiday: the sky was studded with stars, which were reflected in the lake, and in their midst, like a more fiery star, the flame of the chafing-dish shone, burning at the stern of a little boat: the queen, by the gleam of the light it shed, perceived George Douglas and Little Douglas, who were fishing. However great her wish to profit by this fine evening to breathe the pure night air, the sight of this young man who had so grossly insulted her this very day made such a keen impression on her that she shut her window directly, and, retiring into her room, went to bed, and made her companion in captivity read several prayers aloud; then, not being able to sleep, so greatly was she agitated, she rose, and throwing on a mantle went again to the window the boat had disappeared.
Mary spent part of the night gazing into the immensity of the heavens, or into the depths of the lake; but in spite of the nature of the thoughts agitating her, she none the less found very great physical alleviation in contact with this pure air and in contemplation of this peaceful and silent night: thus she awoke next day calmer and more resigned. Unfortunately, the sight of Lady Lochleven, who presented herself at breakfast-time, to fulfil her duties as taster, brought back her irritability. Perhaps, however, things would have gone on smoothly if Lady Lochleven, instead of remaining standing by the sideboard, had withdrawn after having tasted the various dishes of the courses; but this insisting on remaining throughout the meal, which was at bottom a mark of respect, seemed to the queen unbearable tyranny.
"Darling," said she, speaking to Mary Seyton, "have you already forgotten that our good hostess complained yesterday of the fatigue she felt inn standing? Bring her, then, one of the two stools which compose our royal furniture, and take care that it is not the one with the leg broken". "If the furniture of Lochleven Castle is in such bad condition, madam," the old lady replied, "it is the fault of the kings of Scotland: the poor Douglases for nearly a century have had such a small part of their sovereigns' favour, that they have not been able to keep up the splendour of their ancestors to the level of that of private individuals, and because there was in Scotland a certain musician, as I am informed, who spent their income for a whole year in one month."
"Those who know how to take so well, my lady," the queen answered, "have no need of being given to: it seems to me the Douglases have lost nothing by waiting, and there is not a younger son of this noble family who might not aspire to the highest alliances; it is truly vexatious that our sister the queen of England has taken a vow of virginity; as is stated."
"Or rather," interrupted Lady Lochleven, "that the Queen of Scotland is not a widow by her third husband. But," continued the old lady, pretending to recollect herself, "I do not say that to reproach your grace. Catholics look upon marriage as a sacrament, and on this head receive it as often as they can."
"This, then," returned Mary, "is the difference between them and the Huguenots; for they, not having the same respect for it, think it is allowed them to dispense with it in certain circumstances."
At this terrible sarcasm Lady Lochleven took a step towards Mary Stuart, holding in her hand the knife which she had just been using to cut off a piece of meat brought her to taste; but the queen rose up with so great a calm and with such majesty, that either from involuntary respect or shame of her first impulse, she let fall the weapon she was holding, and not finding anything sufficiently strong in reply to express her feelings, she signed to the servants to follow her, and went out of the apartment with all the dignity that anger permitted her to summon to her aid.
Scarcely had Lady Lochleven left the room than the queen sat down again, joyful and triumphant at the victory she had just gained, and ate with a better appetite than she had yet done since she was a prisoner, while Mary Seyton deplored in a low tone and with all possible respect this fatal gift of repartee that Mary had received, and which, with her beauty, was one of the causes of all her misfortunes; but the queen did nothing but laugh at all her observations, saying she was curious to see the figure her good hostess would cut at dinnertime.
After breakfast, the queen went down into the garden: her satisfied pride had restored some of her cheerfulness, so much so that, seeing, while crossing the hall, a mandolin lying forgotten on a chair, she told Mary Seyton to take it, to see, she said, if she could recall her old talent. In reality the queen was one of the best musicians of the time, and played admirably, says Brantome, on the lute and viol d'amour, an instrument much resembling the mandolin.
Mary Seyton obeyed.
Arrived in the garden, the queen sat down in the deepest shade, and there, having tuned her instrument, she at first drew from it lively and light tones, which soon darkened little by little, at the same time that her countenance assumed a hue of deep melancholy. Mary Seyton looked at her with uneasiness, although for a long time she had been used to these sudden changes in her mistress's humour, and she was about to ask the reason of this gloomy veil suddenly spread over her face, when, regulating her harmonies, Mary began to sing in a low voice, and as if for herself alone, the following verses:--
"Caverns, meadows, plains and mounts, Lands of tree and stone, Rivers, rivulets and founts, By which I stray alone, Bewailing as I go, With tears that overflow, Sing will I The miserable woe That bids me grieve and sigh.
Ay, but what is here to lend Ear to my lament? What is here can comprehend My dull discontent? Neither grass nor reed, Nor the ripples heed, Flowing by, While the stream with speed Hastens from my eye.
Vainly does my wounded heart Hope, alas, to heal; Seeking, to allay its smart, Things that cannot feel. Better should my pain Bitterly complain, Crying shrill, To thee who dost constrain My spirit to such ill.
Goddess, who shalt never die, List to what I say; Thou who makest me to lie Weak beneath thy sway, If my life must know Ending at thy blow, Cruellest! Own it perished so But at thy behest.
Lo! my face may all men see Slowly pine and fade, E'en as ice doth melt and flee Near a furnace laid. Yet the burning ray Wasting me away Passion's glow, Wakens no display Of pity for my woe.
Yet does every neighbour tree, Every rocky wall, This my sorrow know and see; So, in brief, doth all Nature know aright This my sorry plight; Thou alone Takest thy delight To hear me cry and moan.
But if it be thy will, To see tormented still Wretched me, Then let my woful ill Immortal be."
This last verse died away as if the queen were exhausted, and at the same time the mandolin slipped from her hands, and would have fallen to the ground had not Mary Seyton thrown herself on her knees and prevented it. The young girl remained thus at her mistress's feet for some time, gazing at her silently, and as she saw that she was losing herself more and more in gloomy reverie--
"Have those lines brought back to your Majesty some sad remembrance?" she asked hesitatingly.
"Oh, yes," answered the queen; "they reminded me of the unfortunate being who composed them."
"And may I, without indiscretion, inquire of your grace who is their author?"
"Alas! he was a noble, brave, and handsome young man, with a faithful heart and a hot head, who would defend me to-day, if I had defended him then; but his boldness seemed to me rashness, and his fault a crime. What was to be done? I did not love him. Poor Chatelard! I was very cruel to him."
"But you did not prosecute him, it was your brother; you did not condemn him, the judges did."
"Yes, yes; I know that he too was Murray's victim, and that is no doubt the reason that I am calling him to mind just now. But I was able to pardon him, Mary, and I was inflexible; I let ascend the scaffold a man whose only crime was in loving me too well; and now I am astonished and complain of being abandoned by everyone. Listen, darling, there is one thing that terrifies me: it is, that when I search within myself I find that I have not only deserved my fate, but even that God did not punish me severely enough."
"What strange thoughts for your grace!" cried Mary; "and see where those unlucky lines which returned to your mind have led you, the very day when you were beginning to recover a little of your cheerfulness."
"Alas!" replied the queen, shaking her head and uttering a deep sigh, "for six years very few days have passed that I have not repeated those lines to myself, although it may be for the first time to-day that I repeat them aloud. He was a Frenchman too, Mary: they have exiled from me, taken or killed all who came to me from France. Do you remember that vessel which was swallowed up before our eyes when we came out of Calais harbour? I exclaimed then that it was a sad omen: you all wanted to reassure me. Well, who was right, now, you or I?"
The queen was in one of those fits of sadness for which tears are the sole remedy; so Mary Seyton, perceiving that not only would every consolation be vain, but also unreasonable, far from continuing to react against her mistress's melancholy, fully agreed with her: it followed that the queen, who was suffocating, began to weep, and that her tears brought her comfort; then little by little she regained self-control, and this crisis passed as usual, leaving her firmer and more resolute than ever, so that when she went up to her room again it was impossible to read the slightest alteration in her countenance.
The dinner-hour was approaching, and Mary, who in the morning was looking forward impatiently to the enjoyment of her triumph over Lady Lochleven, now saw her advance with uneasiness: the mere idea of again facing this woman, whose pride one was always obliged to oppose with insolence, was, after the moral fatigues of the day, a fresh weariness. So she decided not to appear for dinner, as on the day before: she was all the more glad she had taken this resolution, that this time it was not Lady Lochleven who came to fulfil the duties enjoined on a member of the family to make the queen easy, but George Douglas, whom his mother in her displeasure at the morning scene sent to replace her. Thus, when Mary Seyton told the queen that she saw the young man with dark hair cross the courtyard on his way to her, Mary still further congratulated herself on her decision; for this young man's insolence had wounded her more deeply than all his mother's haughty insults. The queen was not a little astonished, then, when in a few minutes Mary Seyton returned and informed her that George Douglas, having sent away the servants, desired the honour of speaking to her on a matter of importance. At first the queen refused; but Mary Seyton told her that the young man's air and manner this time were so different from what she had seen two days before, that she thought her mistress would be wrong to refuse his request.
The queen rose then, and with the pride and majesty habitual to her, entered the adjoining room, and, having taken three steps, stopped with a disdainful air, waiting for George to address her.
Mary Seyton had spoken truly: George Douglas was now another man. To-day he seemed to be as respectful and timid as the preceding day he had seemed haughty and proud. He, in his turn, made a step towards the queen; but seeing Mary Seyton standing behind her--
"Madam," said he, "I wished to speak with your Majesty alone: shall I not obtain this favour?"
"Mary Seyton is not a stranger to me, Sir: she is my sister, my friend; she is more than all that, she is my companion in captivity."
"And by all these claims, madam, I have the utmost veneration for her; but what I have to tell you cannot be heard by other ears than yours. Thus, madam, as the opportunity furnished now may perhaps never present itself again, in the name of what is dearest to you, grant me what I ask."
There was such a tone of respectful prayer in George's voice that Mary turned to the young girl, and, making her a friendly sign with her hand--
"Go, then, darling," said she; "but be easy, you will lose nothing by not hearing. Go."
Mary Seyton withdrew; the queen smilingly looked after her, till the door was shut; then, turning to George--
"Now, sir," said she, "we are alone, speak."
But George, instead of replying, advanced to the queen, and, kneeling on one knee, drew from his breast a paper which he presented to her. Mary took it with amazement, unfolded it, glancing at Douglas, who remained in the same posture, and read as follows:
We, earls, lords, and barons, in consideration that our queen is detained at Lochleven, and that her faithful subjects cannot have access to her person; seeing, on the other hand, that our duty pledges us to provide for her safety, promise and swear to employ all reasonable means which will depend on us to set her at liberty again on conditions compatible with the honour of her Majesty, the welfare of the kingdom, and even with the safety of those who keep her in prison, provided that they consent to give her up; that if they refuse, we declare that we are prepared to make use of ourselves, our children, our friends, our servants, our vassals, our goods, our persons, and our lives, to restore her to liberty, to procure the safety of the prince, and to co-operate in punishing the late king's murderers. If we are assailed for this intent, whether as a body or in private, we promise to defend ourselves, and to aid one another, under pain of infamy and perjury. So may God help us.
"Given with our own hands at Dumbarton,
"St. Andrews, Argyll, Huntly, Arbroath, Galloway, Ross, Fleming, Herries, Stirling, Kilwinning, Hamilton, and Saint-Clair, Knight."
"And Seyton!" cried Mary, "among all these signatures, I do not see that of my faithful Seyton."
Douglas, still kneeling, drew from his breast a second paper, and presented it to the queen with the same marks of respect. It contained only these few words:
"Trust George Douglas; for your Majesty has no more devoted friend in the entire kingdom. "SEYTON."Mary lowered her eyes to Douglas with an expression which was hers only; then, giving him her hand to raise him--
"Ah!" said she, with a sigh more of joy than of sadness, "now I see that God, in spite of my faults, has not yet abandoned me. But how is it, in this castle, that you, a Douglas.... oh! it is incredible!"
"Madam," replied George, "seven years have passed since I saw you in France for the first time, and for seven years I have loved you". Mary moved; but Douglas put forth his hand and shook his head with an air of such profound sadness, that she understood that she might hear what the young man had to say. He continued: "Reassure yourself, madam; I should never have made this confession if, while explaining my conduct to you, this confession would not have given you greater confidence in me. Yes, for seven years I have loved you, but as one loves a star that one can never reach, a madonna to whom one can only pray; for seven years I have followed you everywhere without you ever having paid attention to me, without my saying a word or making a gesture to attract your notice. I was on the knight of Mevillon's galley when you crossed to Scotland; I was among the regent's soldiers when you beat Huntly; I was in the escort which accompanied you when you went to see the sick king at Glasgow; I reached Edinburgh an hour after you had left it for Lochleven; and then it seemed to me that my mission was revealed to me for the first time, and that this love for which till then, I had reproached myself as a crime, was on the contrary a favour from God. I learned that the lords were assembled at Dumbarton: I flew thither. I pledged my name, I pledged my honour, I pledged my life; and I obtained from them, thanks to the facility I had for coming into this fortress, the happiness of bringing you the paper they have just signed. Now, madam, forget all I have told you, except the assurance of my devotion and respect: forget that I am near you; I am used to not being seen: only, if you have need of my life, make a sign; for seven years my life has been yours."
"Alas!" replied Mary, "I was complaining this morning of no longer being loved, and I ought to complain, on the contrary, that I am still loved; for the love that I inspire is fatal and mortal. Look back, Douglas, and count the tombs that, young as I am, I have already left on my path--Francis II, Chatelard, Rizzio, Darnley.... Oh to attach one's self to my fortunes more than love is needed now heroism and devotion are requisite so much the more that, as you have said, Douglas, it is love without any possible reward. Do you understand?"
"Oh, madam, madam," answered Douglas, "is it not reward beyond my deserts to see you daily, to cherish the hope that liberty will be restored to you through me, and to have at least, if I do not give it you, the certainty of dying in your sight?"
"Poor young man!" murmured Mary, her eyes raised to heaven, as if she were reading there beforehand the fate awaiting her new defender.
"Happy Douglas, on the contrary," cried George, seizing the queen's hand and kissing it with perhaps still more respect than love, "happy Douglas! for in obtaining a sigh from your Majesty he has already obtained more than he hoped."
"And upon what have you decided with my friends?" said the queen, raising Douglas, who till then had remained on his knees before her.
"Nothing yet," George replied; "for we scarcely had time to see one another. Your escape, impossible without me, is difficult even with me; and your Majesty has seen that I was obliged publicly to fail in respect, to obtain from my mother the confidence which gives me the good fortune of seeing you to-day: if this confidence on my mother's or my brother's part ever extends to giving up to me the castle keys, then you are saved! Let your Majesty not be surprised at anything, then: in the presence of others, I shall ever be always a Douglas, that is an enemy; and except your life be in danger, madam, I shall not utter a word, I shall not make a gesture which might betray the faith that I have sworn you; but, on your side, let your grace know well, that present or absent, whether I am silent or speak, whether I act or remain inert, all will be in appearance only, save my devotion. Only," continued Douglas, approaching the window and showing to the queen a little house on Kinross hill,--"only, look every evening in that direction, madam, and so long as you see a light shine there, your friends will be keeping watch for you, and you need not lose hope."
"Thanks, Douglas, thanks," said the queen; "it does one good to meet with a heart like yours from time to time--oh! thanks."
"And now, madam," replied the young man, "I must leave your Majesty; to remain longer with you would be to raise suspicions, and a single doubt of me, think of it well, madam, and that light which is your sole beacon is extinguished, and all returns into night."
With these words, Douglas bowed more respectfully than he had yet done, and withdrew, leaving Mary full of hope, and still more full of pride; for this time the homage that she had just received was certainly for the woman and not for the queen.
As the queen had told him, Mary Seyton was informed of everything, even the love of Douglas, and, the two women impatiently awaited the evening to see if the promised star would shine on the horizon. Their hope was not in vain: at the appointed time the beacon was lit. The queen trembled with joy, for it was the confirmation of her hopes, and her companion could not tear her from the window, where she remained with her gaze fastened on the little house in Kinross. At last she yielded to Mary Seyton's prayers, and consented to go to bed; but twice in the night she rose noiselessly to go to the window: the light was always shining, and was not extinguished till dawn, with its sisters the stars.
Next day, at breakfast, George announced to the queen the return of his brother, William Douglas: he arrived the same evening; as to himself, George, he had to leave Lochleven next morning, to confer with the nobles who had signed the declaration, and who had immediately separated to raise troops in their several counties. The queen could not attempt to good purpose any escape but at a time when she would be sure of gathering round her an army strong enough to hold the country; as to him, Douglas, one was so used to his silent disappearances and to his unexpected returns, that there was no reason to fear that his departure would inspire any suspicion.
All passed as George had said: in the evening the sound of a bugle announced the arrival of William Douglas; he had with him Lord Ruthven, the son of him who had assassinated Rizzio, and who, exiled with Morton after the murder, died in England of the sickness with which he was already attacked the day of the terrible catastrophe in which we have seen him take such a large share. He preceded by one day Lord Lindsay of Byres and Sir Robert Melville, brother of Mary's former ambassador to Elizabeth: all three were charged with a mission from the regent to the queen.
On the following day everything fell back into the usual routine, and William Douglas reassumed his duties as carver. Breakfast passed without Mary's having learned anything of George's departure or Ruthven's arrival. On rising from the table she went to her window: scarcely was she there than she heard the sound of a horn echoing on the shores of the lake, and saw a little troop of horsemen halt, while waiting for the boat to came and take those who were going to the castle.
The distance was too great for Mary to recognise any of the visitors; but it was clear, from the signs of intelligence exchanged between the little troop and the inhabitants of the fortress, that the newcomers were her enemies. This was a reason why the queen, in her uneasiness, should not lose sight for a moment of the boat which was going to fetch them. She saw only two men get into it; and immediately it put off again for the castle.
As the boat drew nearer, Mary's presentiments changed to real fears, for in one of the men coming towards her she thought she made out Lord Lindsay of Byres, the same who, a week before, had brought her to her prison. It was indeed he himself, as usual in a steel helmet without a visor, which allowed one to see his coarse face designed to express strong passions, and his long black beard with grey hairs here and there, which covered his chest: his person was protected, as if it were in time of war, with his faithful suit of armour, formerly polished and well gilded, but which, exposed without ceasing to rain and mist, was now eaten up with rust; he had slung on his back, much as one slings a quiver, a broadsword, so heavy that it took two hands to manage it, and so long that while the hilt reached the left shoulder the point reached the right spur: in a word, he was still the same soldier, brave to rashness but brutal to insolence, recognising nothing but right and force, and always ready to use force when he believed himself in the right.
The queen was so much taken up with the sight of Lord Lindsay of Byres, that it was only just as the boat reached the shore that she glanced at his companion and recognised Robert Melville: this was some consolation, for, whatever might happen, she knew that she should find in him if not ostensible at least secret sympathy. Besides, his dress, by which one could have judged him equally with Lord Lindsay, was a perfect contrast to his companion's. It consisted of a black velvet doublet, with a cap and a feather of the same hue fastened to it with a gold clasp; his only weapon, offensive or defensive, was a little sword, which he seemed to wear rather as a sign of his rank than for attack or defence. As to his features and his manners, they were in harmony with this peaceful appearance: his pale countenance expressed both acuteness and intelligence; his quick eye was mild, and his voice insinuating; his figure slight and a little bent by habit rather than by years, since he was but forty-five at this time, indicated an easy and conciliatory character.
However, the presence of this man of peace, who seemed entrusted with watching over the demon of war, could not reassure the queen, and as to get to the landing-place, in front of the great door of the castle, the boat had just disappeared behind the corner of a tower, she told Mary Seyton to go down that she might try to learn what cause brought Lord Lindsay to Lochleven, well knowing that with the force of character with which she was endowed, she need know this cause but a few minutes beforehand, whatever it might be, to give her countenance that calm and that majesty which she had always found to influence her enemies.
Left alone, Mary let her glance stray back to the little house in Kinross, her sole hope; but the distance was too great to distinguish anything; besides, its shutters remained closed all day, and seemed to open only in the evening, like the clouds, which, having covered the sky for a whole morning, scatter at last to reveal to the lost sailor a solitary star. She had remained no less motionless, her gaze always fixed on the same object, when she was drawn from this mute contemplation by the step of Mary Seyton.
"Well, darling?" asked the queen, turning round.
"Your Majesty is not mistaken," replied the messenger: "it really was Sir Robert Melville and Lord Lindsay; but there came yesterday with Sir William Douglas a third ambassador, whose name, I am afraid, will be still more odious to your Majesty than either of the two I have just pronounced."
"You deceive yourself, Mary," the queen answered: "neither the name of Melville nor that of Lindsay is odious to me. Melville's, on the contrary, is, in my present circumstances, one of those which I have most pleasure in hearing; as to Lord Lindsay's, it is doubtless not agreeable to me, but it is none the less an honourable name, always borne by men rough and wild, it is true, but incapable of treachery. Tell me, then, what is this name, Mary; for you see I am calm and prepared."
"Alas! madam," returned Mary, "calm and prepared as you may be, collect all your strength, not merely to hear this name uttered, but also to receive in a few minutes the man who bears it; for this name is that of Lord Ruthven."
Mary Seyton had spoken truly, and this name had a terrible influence upon the queen; for scarcely had it escaped the young girl's lips than Mary Stuart uttered a cry, and turning pale, as if she were about to faint, caught hold of the window-ledge.
Mary Seyton, frightened at the effect produced by this fatal name, immediately sprang to support the queen; but she, stretching one hand towards her, while she laid the other on her heart--
"It is nothing," said she; "I shall be better in a moment. Yes, Mary, yes, as you said, it is a fatal name and mingled with one of my most bloody memories. What such men are coming to ask of me must be dreadful indeed. But no matter, I shall soon be ready to receive my brother's ambassadors, for doubtless they are sent in his name. You, darling, prevent their entering, for I must have some minutes to myself: you know me; it will not take me long."
With these words the queen withdrew with a firm step to her bedchamber.
Mary Seyton was left alone, admiring that strength of character which made of Mary Stuart, in all other respects so completely woman-like, a man in the hour of danger. She immediately went to the door to close it with the wooden bar that one passed between two iron rings, but the bar had been taken away, so that there was no means of fastening the door from within. In a moment she heard someone coming up the stairs, and guessing from the heavy, echoing step that this must be Lord Lindsay, she looked round her once again to see if she could find something to replace the bar, and finding nothing within reach, she passed her arm through the rings, resolved to let it be broken rather than allow anyone to approach her mistress before it suited her. Indeed, hardly had those who were coming up reached the landing than someone knocked violently, and a harsh voice cried:
"Come, come, open the door; open directly."
"And by what right," said Mary Seyton, "am I ordered thus insolently to open the Queen of Scotland's door?"
"By the right of the ambassador of the regent to enter everywhere in his name. I am Lord Lindsay, and I am come to speak to Lady Mary Stuart."
"To be an ambassador," answered Mary Seyton, "is not to be exempted from having oneself announced in visiting a woman, and much more a queen; and if this ambassador is, as he says, Lord Lindsay, he will await his sovereign's leisure, as every Scottish noble would do in his place."
"By St. Andrew!" cried Lord Lindsay, "open, or I will break in the door."
"Do nothing to it, my lord, I entreat you," said another voice, which Mary recognised as Meville's. "Let us rather wait for Lord Ruthven, who is not yet ready."
"Upon my soul," cried Lindsay, shaking the door, "I shall not wait a second". Then, seeing that it resisted, "Why did you tell me, then, you scamp," Lindsay went on, speaking to the steward, "that the bar had been removed?
"It is true," replied he.
"Then," returned Lindsay, "with what is this silly wench securing the door?"
"With my arm, my lord, which I have passed through the rings, as a Douglas did for King James I, at a time when Douglases had dark hair instead of red, and were faithful instead of being traitors."
"Since you know your history so well," replied Lindsay, in a rage," you should remember that that weak barrier did not hinder Graham, that Catherine Douglas's arm was broken like a willow wand, and that James I was killed like a dog."
"But you, my lord," responded the courageous young girl, "ought also to know the ballad that is still sung in our time--
"'Now, on Robert Gra'am, The king's destroyer, shame! To Robert Graham cling Shame, who destroyed our king.'"
"Mary," cried the queen, who had overheard this altercation from her bedroom,--"Mary, I command you to open the door directly: do you hear?"
Mary obeyed, and Lord Lindsay entered, followed by Melville, who walked behind him, with slow steps and bent head. Arrived in the middle of the second room, Lord Lindsay stopped, and, looking round him--
"Well, where is she, then?" he asked; "and has she not already kept us waiting long enough outside, without making us wait again inside? Or does she imagine that, despite these walls and these bars, she is always queen?"
"Patience, my lord," murmured Sir Robert: "you see that Lord Ruthven has not come yet, and since we can do nothing without him, let us wait."
"Let wait who will," replied Lindsay, inflamed with anger; "but it will not be I, and wherever she may be, I shall go and seek her."
With these words, he made some steps towards Mary Stuart's bedroom; but at the same moment the queen opened the door, without seeming moved either at the visit or at the insolence of the visitors, and so lovely and so full of majesty, that each, even Lindsay himself, was silent at her appearance, and, as if in obedience to a higher power, bowed respectfully before her.
"I fear I have kept you waiting, my lord," said the queen, without replying to the ambassador's salutation otherwise than by a slight inclination of the head; "but a woman does not like to receive even enemies without having spent a few minutes over her toilet. It is true that men are less tenacious of ceremony," added she, throwing a significant glance at Lord Lindsay's rusty armour and soiled and pierced doublet. "Good day, Melville," she continued, without paying attention to some words of excuse stammered by Lindsay; "be welcome in my prison, as you were in my palace; for I believe you as devoted to the one as to the other".
Then, turning to Lindsay, who was looking interrogatively at the door, impatient as he was for Ruthven to come--
"You have there, my lord," said she, pointing to the sword he carried over his shoulder, "a faithful companion, though it is a little heavy: did you expect, in coming here, to find enemies against whom to employ it? In the contrary case, it is a strange ornament for a lady's presence. But no matter, my lord, I, am too much of a Stuart to fear the sight of a sword, even if it were naked, I warn you."
"It is not out of place here, madam," replied Lindsay, bringing it forward and leaning his elbow on its cross hilt, "for it is an old acquaintance of your family."
"Your ancestors, my lord, were brave and loyal enough for me not to refuse to believe what you tell me. Besides, such a good blade must have rendered them good service."
"Yes, madam, yes, surely it has done so, but that kind of service that kings do not forgive. He for whom it was made was Archibald Bell-the-Cat, and he girded himself with it the day when, to justify his name, he went to seize in the very tent of King James III, your grandfather, his un worthy favourites, Cochran, Hummel, Leonard, and Torpichen, whom he hanged on Louder Bridge with the halters of his soldiers' horses. It was also with this sword that he slew at one blow, in the lists, Spens of Kilspindie, who had insulted him in the presence of King James IV, counting on the protection his master accorded him, and which did not guard him against it any more than his shield, which it split in two. At his master's death, which took place two years after the defeat of Flodden, on whose battlefield he left his two sons and two hundred warriors of the name of Douglas, it passed into the hands of the Earl of Angus, who drew it from the scabbard when he drove the Hamiltons out of Edinburgh, and that so quickly and completely that the affair was called the 'sweeping of the streets.' Finally, your father James V saw it glisten in the fight of the bridge over the Tweed, when Buccleuch, stirred up by him, wanted to snatch him from the guardianship of the Douglases, and when eighty warriors of the name of Scott remained on the battlefield."
"But," said the queen, "how is it that this weapon, after such exploits, has not remained as a trophy in the Douglas family? No doubt the Earl of Angus required a great occasion to decide him to-renounce in your favour this modern Excalibur". [History of Scotland, by Sir Walter Scott.--"The Abbott": historical part.]
"Yes, no doubt, madam, it was upon a great occasion," replied Lindsay, in spite of the imploring signs made by Melville, "and this will have at least the advantage of the others, in being sufficiently recent for you to remember. It was ten days ago, on the battlefield of Carberry Hill, madam, when the infamous Bothwell had the audacity to make a public challenge in which he defied to single combat whomsoever would dare to maintain that he was not innocent of the murder of the king your husband. I made him answer then, I the third, that he was an assassin. And as he refused to fight with the two others under the pretext that they were only barons, I presented myself in my turn, I who am earl and lord. It was on that occasion that the noble Earl of Morton gave me this good sword to fight him to the death. So that, if he had been a little more presumptuous or a little less cowardly, dogs and vultures would be eating at this moment the pieces that, with the help of this good sword, I should have carved for them from that traitor's carcass."
At these words, Mary Seyton and Robert Melville looked at each other in terror, for the events that they recalled were so recent that they were, so to speak, still living in the queen's heart; but the queen, with incredible impassibility and a smile of contempt on her lips--
"It is easy, my lord," said she, "to vanquish an enemy who does not appear in the lists; however, believe me, if Mary had inherited the Stuarts' sword as she has inherited their sceptre, your sword, long as it is, would yet have seemed to you too short. But as you have only to relate to us now, my lord, what you intended doing, and not what you have done, think it fit that I bring you back to something of more reality; for I do not suppose you have given yourself the trouble to come here purely and simply to add a chapter to the little treatise Des Rodomontades Espagnolles by M. de Brantome."
"You are right, madam," replied Lindsay, reddening with anger, "and you would already know the object of our mission if Lord Ruthven did not so ridiculously keep us waiting. But," added he, "have patience; the matter will not be long now, for here he is."
Indeed, at that moment they heard steps mounting the staircase and approaching the room, and at the sound of these steps, the queen, who had borne with such firmness Lindsay's insults, grew so perceptibly paler, that Melville, who did not take his eyes off her,--put out his hand towards the arm-chair as if to push it towards her; but the queen made a sign that she had no need of it, and gazed at the door with apparent calm. Lord Ruthven appeared; it was the first time that she had seen the son since Rizzio had been assassinated by the father.
Lord Ruthven was both a warrior and a statesman, and at this moment his dress savoured of the two professions: it consisted of a close coat of embroidered buff leather, elegant enough to be worn as a court undress, and on which, if need were, one could buckle a cuirass, for battle: like his father, he was pale; like his father, he was to die young, and, even more than his father, his countenance wore that ill-omened melancholy by which fortune-tellers recognise those who are to die a violent death.
Lord Ruthven united in himself the polished dignity of a courtier and the inflexible character of a minister; but quite resolved as he was to obtain from Mary Stuart, even if it were by violence, what he had come to demand in the regent's name, he none the less made her, on entering, a cold but respectful greeting, to which the queen responded with a courtesy; then the steward drew up to the empty arm-chair a heavy table on which had been prepared everything necessary for writing, and at a sign from the two lords he went out, leaving the queen and her companion alone with the three ambassadors. Then the queen, seeing that this table and this arm-chair were put ready for her, sat down; and after a moment, herself breaking this silence more gloomy than any word could have been--
"My lords," said she, "you see that I wait: can it be that this message which you have to communicate to me is so terrible that two soldiers as renowned as Lord Lindsay and Lord Ruthven hesitate at the moment of transmitting it?"
"Madam," answered Ruthven, "I am not of a family, as you know, which ever hesitates to perform a duty, painful as it may be; besides, we hope that your captivity has prepared you to hear what we have to tell you on the part of the Secret Council."
"The Secret Council!" said the queen. "Instituted by me, by what right does it act without me? No matter, I am waiting for this message: I suppose it is a petition to implore my mercy for the men who have dared to reach to a power that I hold only from God."
"Madam," replied Ruthven, who appeared to have undertaken the painful role of spokesman, while Lindsay, mute and impatient, fidgeted with the hilt of his long sword, "it is distressing to me to have to undeceive you on this point: it is not your mercy that I come to ask; it is, on the contrary, the pardon of the Secret Council that I come to offer you."
"To me, my lord, to me!" cried Mary: "subjects offer pardon to their queen! Oh! it is such a new and wonderful thing, that my amazement outweighs my indignation, and that I beg you to continue, instead of stopping you there, as perhaps I ought to do."
"And I obey you so much the more willingly, madam," went on Ruthven imperturbably, "that this pardon is only granted on certain conditions, stated in these documents, destined to re-establish the tranquillity of the State, so cruelly compromised by the errors that they are going to repair."
"And shall I be permitted, my lord, to read these documents, or must I, allured by my confidence in those who present them to me, sign them with my eyes shut?"
"No, madam," Ruthven returned; "the Secret Council desire, on the contrary, that you acquaint yourself with them, for you must sign them freely."
"Read me these documents, my lord; for such a reading is, I think, included in the strange duties you have accepted."
Lord Ruthven took one of the two papers that he had in his hand, and read with the impassiveness of his usual voice the following:
"Summoned from my tenderest youth to the government of the kingdom and to the crown of Scotland, I have carefully attended to the administration; but I have experienced so much fatigue and trouble that I no longer find my mind free enough nor my strength great enough to support the burden of affairs of State: accordingly, and as Divine favour has granted us a son whom we desire to see during our lifetime bear the crown which he has acquired by right of birth, we have resolved to abdicate, and we abdicate in his favour, by these presents, freely and voluntarily, all our rights to the crown and to the government of Scotland, desiring that he may immediately ascend the throne, as if he were called to it by our natural death, and not as the effect of our own will; and that our present abdication may have a more complete and solemn effect, and that no one should put forward the claim of ignorance, we give full powers to our trusty and faithful cousins, the lords Lindsay of Byres and William Ruthven, to appear in our name before the nobility, the clergy, and the burgesses of Scotland, of whom they will convoke an assembly at Stirling, and to there renounce, publicly and solemnly, on our part, all our claims to the crown and to the government of Scotland.There was a moment's silence after this reading, then
"Signed freely and as the testimony of one of our last royal wishes, in our castle of Lochleven, the ___ June 1567". (The date was left blank.)
"Did you hear, madam?" asked Ruthven.
"Yes," replied Mary Stuart,--"yes, I have heard rebellious words that I have not understood, and I thought that my ears, that one has tried to accustom for some time to a strange language, still deceived me, and that I have thought for your honour, my lord William Ruthven, and my lord Lindsay of Byres."
"Madam," answered Lindsay, out of patience at having kept silence so long, "our honour has nothing to do with the opinion of a woman who has so ill known how to watch over her own."
"My lord!" said Melville, risking a word.
"Let him speak, Robert," returned the queen. "We have in our conscience armour as well tempered as that with which Lord Lindsay is so prudently covered, although, to the shame of justice, we no longer have a sword. Continue, my lord," the queen went on, turning to Lord Ruthven: "is this all that my subjects require of me? A date and a signature? Ah! doubtless it is too little; and this second paper, which you have kept in order to proceed by degrees, probably contains some demand more difficult to grant than that of yielding to a child scarcely a year old a crown which belongs to me by birthright, and to abandon my sceptre to take a distaff."
"This other paper," replied Ruthven, without letting himself be intimidated by the tone of bitter irony adopted by the queen, "is the deed by which your Grace confirms the decision of the Secret Council which has named your beloved brother, the Earl of Murray, regent of the kingdom."
"Indeed!" said Mary. "The Secret Council thinks it needs my confirmation to an act of such slight importance? And my beloved brother, to bear it without remorse, needs that it should be I who add a fresh title to those of Earl of Mar and of Murray that I have already bestowed upon him? But one cannot desire anything more respectful and touching than all this, and I should be very wrong to complain. My lords," continued the queen, rising and changing her tone, "return to those who have sent you, and tell them that to such demands Mary Stuart has no answer to give."
"Take care, madam," responded Ruthven; "for I have told you it is only on these conditions that your pardon can be granted you."
"And if I refuse this generous pardon," asked Mary, "what will happen?"
"I cannot pronounce beforehand, madam; but your Grace has enough knowledge of the laws, and above all of the history of Scotland and England, to know that murder and adultery are crimes for which more than one queen has been punished with death."
"And upon what proofs could such a charge be founded, my lord? Pardon my persistence, which takes up your precious time; but I am sufficiently interested in the matter to be permitted such a question."
"The proof, madam?" returned Ruthven. "There is but one, I know; but that one is unexceptionable: it is the precipitate marriage of the widow of the assassinated with the chief assassin, and the letters which have been handed over to us by James Balfour, which prove that the guilty persons had united their adulterous hearts before it was permitted them to unite their bloody hands."
"My lord," cried the queen, "do you forget a certain repast given in an Edinburgh tavern, by this same Bothwell, to those same noblemen who treat him to-day as an adulterer and a murderer; do you forget that at the end of that meal, and on the same table at which it had been given, a paper was signed to invite that same woman, to whom to-day you make the haste of her new wedding a crime, to leave off a widow's mourning to reassume a marriage robe? for if you have forgotten it, my lords, which would do no more honour to your sobriety than to your memory, I undertake to show it to you, I who have preserved it; and perhaps if we search well we shall find among the signatures the names of Lindsay of Byres and William Ruthven. O noble Lord Herries," cried Mary, "loyal James Melville, you alone were right then, when you threw yourselves at my feet, entreating me not to conclude this marriage, which, I see it clearly to-day, was only a trap set for an ignorant woman by perfidious advisers or disloyal lords."
"Madam," cried Ruthven, in spite of his cold impassivity beginning to lose command of himself, while Lindsay was giving still more noisy and less equivocal signs of impatience, "madam, all these discussions are beside our aim: I beg you to return to it, then, and inform us if, your life and honour guaranteed, you consent to abdicate the crown of Scotland."
"And what safeguard should I have that the promises you here make me will be kept?"
"Our word, madam," proudly replied Ruthven.
"Your word, my lord, is a very feeble pledge to offer, when one so quickly forgets one's signature: have you not some trifle to add to it, to make me a little easier than I should be with it alone?"
"Enough, Ruthven, enough," cried Lindsay. "Do you not see that for an hour this woman answers our proposals only by insults?"
"Yes, let us go," said Ruthven; "and thank yourself only, madam, for the day when the thread breaks which holds the sword suspended over your head."
"My lords," cried Melville, "my lords, in Heaven's name, a little patience, and forgive something to her who, accustomed to command, is today forced to obey."
"Very well," said Lindsay, turning round, "stay with her, then, and try to obtain by your smooth words what is refused to our frank and loyal demand. In a quarter of an hour we shall return: let the answer be ready in a quarter of an hour!"
With these words, the two noblemen went out, leaving Melville with the queen; and one could count their footsteps, from the noise that Lindsay's great sword made, in resounding on each step of the staircase.
Scarcely were they alone than Melville threw himself at the queen's feet.
"Madam," said he, "you remarked just now that Lord Herries and my brother had given your Majesty advice that you repented not having followed; well, madam, reflect on that I in my turn give you; for it is more important than the other, for you will regret with still more bitterness not having listened to it. Ah! you do not know what may happen, you are ignorant of what your brother is capable."
"It seems to me, however," returned the queen, "that he has just instructed me on that head: what more will he do than he has done already? A public trial! Oh! it is all I ask: let me only plead my cause, and we shall see what judges will dare to condemn me."
"But that is what they will take good care not to do, madam; for they would be mad to do it when they keep you here in this isolated castle, in the care of your enemies, having no witness but God, who avenges crime, but who does not prevent it. Recollect, madam, what Machiavelli has said, 'A king's tomb is never far from his prison.' You come of a family in which one dies young, madam, and almost always of a sudden death: two of your ancestors perished by steel, and one by poison."
"Oh, if my death were sudden and easy," cried Mary, "yes, I should accept it as an expiation for my faults; for if I am proud when I compare myself with others, Melville, I am humble when I judge myself. I am unjustly accused of being an accomplice of Darnley's death, but I am justly condemned for having married Bothwell."
"Time presses, madam; time presses," cried Melville, looking at the sand, which, placed on the table, was marking the time. "They are coming back, they will be here in a minute; and this time you must give them an answer. Listen, madam, and at least profit by your situation as much as you can. You are alone here with one woman, without friends, without protection, without power: an abdication signed at such a juncture will never appear to your people to have been freely given, but will always pass as having been torn from you by force; and if need be, madam, if the day comes when such a solemn declaration is worth something, well, then you will have two witnesses of the violence done you: the one will be Mary Seyton, and the other," he added in a low voice and looking uneasily about him,--"the other will be Robert Melville."
Hardly had he finished speaking when the footsteps of the two nobles were again heard on the staircase, returning even before the quarter of an hour had elapsed; a moment afterwards the door opened, and Ruthven appeared, while over his shoulder was seen Lindsay's head.
"Madam," said Ruthven, "we have returned. Has your Grace decided? We come for your answer."
"Yes," said Lindsay, pushing aside Ruthven, who stood in his way, and advancing to the table,--"yes, an answer, clear, precise, positive, and without dissimulation."
"You are exacting, my lord," said the queen: "you would scarcely have the right to expect that from me if I were in full liberty on the other side of the lake and surrounded with a faithful escort; but between these walls, behind these bars, in the depths of this fortress, I shall not tell you that I sign voluntarily, lest you should not believe it. But no matter, you want my signature; well, I am going to give it to you. Melville, pass me the pen."
"But I hope," said Lord Ruthven, "that your Grace is not counting on using your present position one day in argument to protest against what you are going to do?"
The queen had already stooped to write, she had already set her hand to the paper, when Ruthven spoke to her. But scarcely had he done so, than she rose up proudly, and letting fall the pen, "My lord," said she, "what you asked of me just now was but an abdication pure and simple, and I was going to sign it. But if to this abdication is joined this marginal note, then I renounce of my own accord, and as judging myself unworthy, the throne of Scotland. I would not do it for the three united crowns that I have been robbed of in turn."
"Take care, madam," cried Lord Lindsay, seizing the queen's wrist with his steel gauntlet and squeezing it with all his angry strength--"take care, for our patience is at an end, and we could easily end by breaking what would not bend."
The queen remained standing, and although a violent flush had passed like a flame over her countenance, she did not utter a word, and did not move: her eyes only were fixed with such a great expression of contempt on those of the rough baron, that he, ashamed of the passion that had carried him away, let go the hand he had seized and took a step back. Then raising her sleeve and showing the violet marks made on her arm by Lord Lindsay's steel gauntlet,
"This is what I expected, my lords," said she, "and nothing prevents me any longer from signing; yes, I freely abdicate the throne and crown of Scotland, and there is the proof that my will has not been forced."
With these words, she took the pen and rapidly signed the two documents, held them out to Lord Ruthven, and bowing with great dignity, withdrew slowly into her room, accompanied by Mary Seyton. Ruthven looked after her, and when she had disappeared, "It doesn't matter," he said; "she has signed, and although the means you employed, Lindsay, may be obsolete enough in diplomacy, it is not the less efficacious, it seems."
"No joking, Ruthven," said Lindsay; "for she is a noble creature, and if I had dared, I should have thrown myself at her feet to ask her forgiveness."
"There is still time," replied Ruthven, "and Mary, in her present situation, will not be severe upon you: perhaps she has resolved to appeal to the judgment of God to prove her innocence, and in that case a champion such as you might well change the face of things."
"Do not joke, Ruthven," Lindsay answered a second time, with more violence than the first; "for if I were as well convinced of her innocence as I am of her crime, I tell you that no one should touch a hair of her head, not even the regent."
"The devil! my lord," said Ruthven. "I did not know you were so sensitive to a gentle voice and a tearful eye; you know the story of Achilles' lance, which healed with its rust the wounds it made with its edge: do likewise my lord, do likewise."
"Enough, Ruthven, enough," replied Lindsay; "you are like a corselet of Milan steel, which is three times as bright as the steel armour of Glasgow, but which is at the same time thrice as hard: we know one another, Ruthven, so an end to railleries or threats; enough, believe me, enough."
And after these words, Lord Lindsay went out first, followed by Ruthven and Melville, the first with his head high and affecting an air of insolent indifference, and the second, sad, his brow bent, and not even trying to disguise the painful impression which this scene had made on him.' ["History of Scotland, by Sir Walter Scott.--'The Abbott": historical part.]
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