The queen came out of her room only in the evening, to take her place at the window which looked over the lake: at the usual time she saw the light which was henceforth her sole hope shine in the little house in Kinross; for a whole long month she had no other consolation than seeing it, every night, fixed and faithful.
At last, at the end of this time, and as she was beginning to despair of seeing George Douglas again, one morning, on opening the window, she uttered a cry. Mary Seyton ran to her, and the queen, without having strength to speak, showed her in the middle of the lake the tiny boat at anchor, and in the boat Little Douglas and George, who were absorbed in fishing, their favourite amusement. The young man had arrived the day before, and as everyone was accustomed to his unexpected returns, the sentinel had not even blown the horn, and the queen had not known that at last a friend had come.
However, she was three days yet without seeing this friend otherwise than she had just done-that is, on the lake. It is true that from morning till evening he did not leave that spot, from which he could view the queen's windows and the queen herself, when, to gaze at a wider horizon, she leaned her face against the bars. At last, on the morning of the fourth day, the queen was awakened by a great noise of dogs and horns: she immediately ran to the window, for to a prisoner everything is an event, and she saw William Douglas, who was embarking with a pack of hounds and some huntsmen. In fact, making a truce, for a day, with his gaoler's duties, to enjoy a pleasure more in harmony with his rank and birth, he was going to hunt in the woods which cover the last ridge of Ben Lomond, and which, ever sinking, die down on the banks of the lake.
The queen trembled with delight, for she hoped that Lady Lochleven would maintain her ill-will, and that then George would replace his brother: this hope was not disappointed. At the usual time the queen heard the footsteps of those who were bringing her her breakfast; the door opened, and she saw George Douglas enter, preceded by the servants who were carrying the dishes. George barely bowed; but the queen, warned by him not to be surprised at anything, returned him his greeting with a disdainful air; then the servants performed their task and went out, as they were accustomed.
"At last," said the queen, "you are back again, then."
George motioned with his finger, went to the door to listen if all the servants had really gone away, and if no one had remained to spy. Then, returning more at ease, and bowing respectfully--
"Yes, madam," returned he; "and, Heaven be thanked, I bring good news."
"Oh, tell me quickly!" cried the queen; "for staying in this castle is hell. You knew that they came, did you not, and that they made me sign an abdication?"
"Yes, madam," replied Douglas; "but we also knew that your signature had been obtained from you by violence alone, and our devotion to your Majesty is increased thereby, if possible."
"But, after all, what have you done?"
"The Seytons and the Hamiltons, who are, as your Majesty knows, your most faithful servants,"--Mary turned round, smiling, and put out her hand to Mary Seyton,--"have already," continued George, "assembled their troops, who keep themselves in readiness for the first signal; but as they alone would not be sufficiently numerous to hold the country, we shall make our way directly to Dumbarton, whose governor is ours, and which by its position and its strength can hold out long enough against all the regent's troops to give to the faithful hearts remaining to you time to come and join us."
"Yes, yes," said the queen; "I see clearly what we shall do once we get out of this; but how are we to get out?"
"That is the occasion, madam," replied Douglas, "for which your Majesty must call to your aid that courage of which you have given such great proofs."
"If I have need only of courage and coolness," replied the queen, "be easy; neither the one nor the other will fail me."
"Here is a file," said George, giving Mary Seyton that instrument which he judged unworthy to touch the queen's hands, "and this evening I shall bring your Majesty cords to construct a ladder. You will cut through one of the bars of this window, it is only at a height of twenty feet; I shall come up to you, as much to try it as to support you; one of the garrison is in my pay, he will give us passage by the door it is his duty to guard, and you will be free."
"And when will that be?" cried the queen.
"We must wait for two things, madam," replied Douglas: "the first, to collect at Kinross an escort sufficient for your Majesty's safety; the second, that the turn for night watch of Thomas Warden should happen to be at an isolated door that we can reach without being seen."
"And how will you know that? Do you stay at the castle, then?"
"Alas! no, madam," replied George; "at the castle I am a useless and even a dangerous fried for you, while once beyond the lake I can serve you in an effectual manner."
"And how will you know when Warden's turn to mount guard has come?"
"The weathercock in the north tower, instead of turning in the wind with the others, will remain fixed against it."
"But I, how shall I be warned?"
"Everything is already provided for on that side: the light which shines each night in the little house in Kinross incessantly tells you that your friends keep watch for you; but when you would like to know if the hour of your deliverance approaches or recedes, in your turn place a light in this window. The other will immediately disappear; then, placing your hand on your breast, count your heartbeats: if you reach the number twenty without the light reappearing, nothing is yet settled; if you only reach ten, the moment approaches; if the light does not leave you time to count beyond five, your escape is fixed for the following night; if it reappears no more, it is fixed for the same evening; then the owl's cry, repeated thrice in the courtyard, will be the signal; let down the ladder when you hear it".
"Oh, Douglas," cried the queen, "you alone could foresee and calculate everything thus. Thank you, thank you a hundred times!" And she gave him her hand to kiss.
A vivid red flushed the young man's cheeks; but almost directly mastering his emotion, he kneeled down, and, restraining the expression of that love of which he had once spoken to the queen, while promising her never more to speak of it, he took the hand that Mary extended, and kissed it with such respect that no one could have seen in this action anything but the homage of devotion and fidelity.
Then, having bowed to the queen, he went out, that a longer stay with her should not give rise to any suspicions.
At the dinner-hour Douglas brought, as he had said, a parcel of cord. It was not enough, but when evening came Mary Seyton was to unroll it and let fall the end from the window, and George would fasten the remainder to it: the thing was done as arranged, and without any mishap, an hour after the hunters had returned.
The following day George left the castle.
The queen and Mary Seyton lost no time in setting about the rope ladder, and it was finished on the third day. The same evening, the queen in her impatience, and rather to assure herself of her partisans' vigilance than in the hope that the time of her deliverance was so near, brought her lamp to the window: immediately, and as George Douglas had told her, the light in the little house at Kinross disappeared: the queen then laid her hand on her heart and counted up to twenty-two; then the light reappeared; they were ready for everything, but nothing was yet settled. For a week the queen thus questioned the light and her heart-beats without their number changing; at last, on the eighth day, she counted only as far as ten; at the eleventh the light reappeared.
The queen believed herself mistaken: she did not dare to hope what this announced. She withdrew the lamp; then, at the end of a quarter of an hour, showed it again: her unknown correspondent understood. with his usual intelligence that a fresh trial was required of him, and the light in the little house disappeared in its turn. Mary again questioned the pulsations of her heart, and, fast as it leaped, before the twelfth beat the propitious star was shining on the horizon: there was no longer any doubt; everything was settled.
Mary could not sleep all night: this persistency of her partisans inspired her with gratitude to the point of tears. The day came, and the queen several times questioned her companion to assure herself that it was not all a dream; at every sound it seemed to her that the scheme on which her liberty hung was discovered, and when, at breakfast and at dinner time, William Douglas entered as usual, she hardly dared look at him, for fear of reading on his face the announcement that all was lost.
In the evening the queen again questioned the light: it made the same answer; nothing had altered; the beacon was always one of hope.
For four days it thus continued to indicate that the moment of escape was at hand; on the evening of the fifth, before the queen had counted five beats, the light reappeared: the queen leaned upon Mary Seyton; she was nearly fainting, between dread and 'delight. Her escape was fixed for the next evening.
The queen tried once more, and obtained the same reply: there was no longer a doubt; everything was ready except the prisoner's courage, for it failed her for a moment, and if Mary Seyton had not drawn up a seat in time, she would have fallen prone; but, the first moment over, she collected herself as usual, and was stronger and more resolute than ever.
Till midnight the queen remained at the window, her eyes fixed on that star of good omen: at last Mary Seyton persuaded her to go to bed, offering, if she had no wish to sleep, to read her some verses by M. Ronsard, or some chapters from the Mer des Histoires; but Mary had no desire now for any profane reading, and had her Hours read, making the responses as she would have done if she had been present at a mass said by a Catholic priest: towards dawn, however, she grew drowsy, and as Mary Seyton, for her part, was dropping with fatigue, she fell asleep directly in the arm-chair at the head of the queen's bed.
Next day she awoke, feeling that someone was tapping her on the shoulder: it was the queen, who had already arisen.
"Come and see, darling," said she,--"come and see the fine day that God is giving us. Oh! how alive is Nature! How happy I shall be to be once more free among those plains and mountains! Decidedly, Heaven is on our side."
"Madam," replied Mary, "I would rather see the weather less fine: it would promise us a darker night; and consider, what we need is darkness, not light."
"Listen," said the queen; "it is by this we are going to see if God is indeed for us; if the weather remains as it is, yes, you are right, He abandons us; but if it clouds over, oh! then, darling, this will be a certain proof of His protection, will it not?"
Mary Seyton smiled, nodding that she adopted her mistress's superstition; then the queen, incapable of remaining idle in her great preoccupation of mind, collected the few jewels that she had preserved, enclosed them in a casket, got ready for the evening a black dress, in order to be still better hidden in the darkness: and, these preparations made, she sat down again at the window, ceaselessly carrying her eyes from the lake to the little house in Kinross, shut up and dumb as usual.
The dinner-hour arrived: the queen was so happy that she received William Douglas with more goodwill than was her wont, and it was with difficulty she remained seated during the time the meal lasted; but she restrained herself, and William Douglas withdrew, without seeming to have noticed her agitation.
Scarcely had he gone than Mary ran to the window; she had need of air, and her gaze devoured in advance those wide horizons which she was about to cross anew; it seemed to her that once at liberty she would never shut herself up in a palace again, but would wander about the countryside continually: then, amid all these tremors of delight, from time to time she felt unexpectedly heavy at heart. She then turned round to Mary Seyton, trying to fortify her strength with hers, and the young girl kept up her hopes, but rather from duty than from conviction.
But slow as they seemed to the queen, the hours yet passed: towards the afternoon some clouds floated across the blue sky; the queen remarked upon them joyfully to her companion; Mary Seyton congratulated her upon them, not on account of the imaginary omen that the queen sought in them, but because of the real importance that the weather should be cloudy, that darkness might aid them in their flight. While the two prisoners were watching the billowy, moving vapours, the hour of dinner arrived; but it was half an hour of constraint and dissimulation, the more painful that, no doubt in return for the sort of goodwill shown him by the queen in the morning, William Douglas thought himself obliged, in his turn, to accompany his duties with fitting compliments, which compelled the queen to take a more active part in the conversation than her preoccupation allowed her; but William Douglas did not seem in any way to observe this absence of mind, and all passed as at breakfast.
Directly he had gone the queen ran to the window: the few clouds which were chasing one another in the sky an hour before had thickened and spread, and--all the blue was blotted out, to give place to a hue dull and leaden as pewter. Mary Stuart's presentiments were thus realised: as to the little house in Kinross, which one could still make out in the dusk, it remained shut up, and seemed deserted.
Night fell: the light shone as usual; the queen signalled, it disappeared. Mary Stuart waited in vain; everything remained in darkness: the escape was for the same evening. The queen heard eight o'clock, nine o'clock, and ten o'clock strike successively. At ten o'clock the sentinels were relieved; Mary Stuart heard the patrols pass beneath her windows, the steps of the watch recede: then all returned to silence. Half an hour passed away thus; suddenly the owl's cry resounded thrice, the queen recognised George Douglas's signal: the supreme moment had come.
In these circumstances the queen found all her strength revive: she signed to Mary Seyton to take away the bar and to fix the rope ladder, while, putting out the lamp, she felt her way into the bedroom to seek the casket which contained her few remaining jewels. When she came back, George Douglas was already in the room.
"All goes well, madam," said he. "Your friends await you on the other side of the lake, Thomas Warden watches at the postern, and God has sent us a dark night."
The queen, without replying, gave him her hand. George bent his knee and carried this hand to his lips; but on touching it, he felt it cold and trembling.
"Madam," said he, "in Heaven's name summon all your courage, and do not let yourself be downcast at such a moment."
"Our Lady-of-Good-Help," murmured Seyton, "come to our aid!"
"Summon to you the spirit of the kings your ancestors," responded George, "for at this moment it is not the resignation of a Christian that you require, but the strength and resolution of a queen"
"Oh, Douglas! Douglas," cried Mary mournfully, "a fortune-teller predicted to me that I should die in prison and by a violent death: has not the hour of the prediction arrived?"
"Perhaps," George said, "but it is better to die as a queen than to live in this ancient castle calumniated and a prisoner."
"You are right, George," the queen answered; "but for a woman the first step is everything: forgive me". Then, after a moment's pause, "Come," said she; "I am ready."
George immediately went to the window, secured the ladder again and more firmly, then getting up on to the sill and holding to the bars with one hand, he stretched out the other to the queen, who, as resolute as she had been timid a moment before, mounted on a stool, and had already set one foot on the window-ledge, when suddenly the cry, "Who goes there?" rang out at the foot of the tower. The queen sprang quickly back, partly instinctively and partly pushed by George, who, on the contrary, leaned out of the window to see whence came this cry, which, twice again renewed, remained twice unanswered, and was immediately followed by a report and the flash of a firearm: at the same moment the sentinel on duty on the tower blew his bugle, another set going the alarm bell, and the cries, "To arms, to arms!" and "Treason, treason!" resounded throughout the castle.
"Yes, yes, treason, treason!" cried George Douglas, leaping down into the room. "Yes, the infamous Warden has betrayed us!" Then, advancing to Mary, cold and motionless as a statue, "Courage, madam," said he, "courage! Whatever happens, a friend yet remains for you in the castle; it is Little Douglas."
Scarcely had he finished speaking when the door of the queen's apartment opened, and William Douglas and Lady Lochleven, preceded by servants carrying torches and armed soldiers, appeared on the threshold: the room was immediately filled with people and light.
"Mother," said William Douglas, pointing to his brother standing before Mary Stuart and protecting her with his body, "do you believe me now? Look!"
The old lady was for a moment speechless; then finding a word at last, and taking a step forward--
"Speak, George Douglas," cried she, "speak, and clear yourself at once of the charge which weighs on your honour; say but these words, 'A Douglas was never faithless to his trust,' and I believe you".
"Yes, mother," answered William, "a Douglas!... but he--he is not a Douglas."
"May God grant my old age the strength needed to bear on the part of one of my sons such a misfortune, and on the part of the other such an injury!" exclaimed Lady Lochleven. "O woman born under a fatal star," she went on, addressing the queen, "when will you cease to be, in the Devil's hands, an instrument of perdition and death to all who approach you? O ancient house of Lochleven, cursed be the hour when this enchantress crossed thy threshold!"
"Do not say that, mother, do not say that," cried George; "blessed be, on the contrary, the moment which proves that, if there are Douglases who no longer remember what they owe to their sovereigns, there are others who have never forgotten it."
"Douglas! Douglas!" murmured Mary Stuart, "did I not tell you?"
"And I, madam," said George, "what did I reply then? That it was an honour and a duty to every faithful subject of your Majesty to die for you."
"Well, die, then!" cried William Douglas, springing on his brother with raised sword, while he, leaping back, drew his, and with a movement quick as thought and eager as hatred defended himself. But at the same moment Mary Stuart darted between the two young people.
"Not another step, Lord Douglas," said she. "Sheathe your sword, George, or if you use it, let be to go hence, and against everyone but your b other. I still have need of your life; take care of it."
"My life, like my arm and my honour, is at your service, madam, and from the moment you command it I shall preserve it for you."
With these words, rushing to the door with a violence and resolve which prevented anyone's stopping him--
"Back!" cried he to the domestics who were barring the passage; "make way for the young master of Douglas, or woe to you!".
"Stop him!" cried William. "Seize him, dead or alive! Fire upon him! Kill him like a dog!"
Two or three soldiers, not daring to disobey William, pretended to pursue his brother. Then some gunshots were heard, and a voice crying that George Douglas had just thrown himself into the lake.
"And has he then escaped?" cried William.
Mary Stuart breathed again; the old lady raised her hands to Heaven.
"Yes, yes," murmured William,--"yes, thank Heaven for your son's flight; for his flight covers our entire house with shame; counting from this hour, we shall be looked upon as the accomplices of his treason."
"Have pity on me, William!" cried Lady Lochleven, wringing her hands. "Have compassion o your old mother! See you not that I am dying?"
With these words, she fell backwards, pale and tottering; the steward and a servant supported er in their arms.
"I believe, my lord," said Mary Seyton, coming forward, "that your mother has as much need of attention just now as the queen has need of repose: do you not consider it is time for you to withdraw?"
"Yes, yes," said William, "to give you time to spin fresh webs, I suppose, and to seek what fresh flies you can take in them? It is well, go on with your work; but you have just seen that it is not easy to deceive William Douglas. Play your game, I shall play mine". Then turning to the servants, "Go out, all of you," said he; "and you, mother, come."
The servants and the soldiers obeyed; then William Douglas went out last, supporting Lady Lochleven, and the queen heard him shut behind him and double-lock the two doors of her prison.
Scarcely was Mary alone, and certain that she was no longer seen or heard, than all her strength deserted her, and, sinking into an arm-chair, she burst out sobbing.
Indeed, all her courage had been needed to sustain her so far, and the sight of her enemies alone had given her this courage; but hardly had they gone than her situation appeared before her in all its fatal hardship. Dethroned, a prisoner, without another fiend in this impregnable castle than a child to whom she had scarce given attention, and who was the sole and last thread attaching her past hopes to her hopes for the future, what remained to Mary Stuart of her two thrones and her double power? Her name, that was all; her, name with which, free, she had doubtless stirred Scotland, but which little by little was about to be effaced in the hearts of her adherents, and which during her lifetime oblivion was to cover perhaps as with a shroud. Such an idea was insupportable to a soul as lofty as Mary Stuart's, and to an organisation which, like that of the flowers, has need, before everything, of air, light, and sun.
Fortunately there remained to her the best beloved of her four Marys, who, always devoted and consoling, hastened to succour and comfort her; but this time it was no easy matter, and the queen let her act and speak without answering her otherwise than with sobs and tears; when suddenly, looking through the window to which she had drawn up her mistress's armchair--
"The light!" cried she, "madam, the light!"
At the same time she raised the queen, and with arm outstretched from the window, she showed her the beacon, the eternal symbol of hope, relighted in the midst of this dark night on Kinross hill: there was no mistake possible, not a star was shining in the sky.
"Lord God, I give Thee thanks," said the queen, falling on her knees and raising her arms to heaven with a gesture of gratitude: "Douglas has escaped, and my friends still keep watch."
Then, after a fervent prayer, which restored to her a little strength, the queen re-entered her room, and, tired out by her varied successive emotions, she slept an uneasy, agitated sleep, over which the indefatigable Mary Seyton kept watch till daybreak.
As William Douglas had said, from this time forward the queen was a prisoner indeed, and permission to go down into the garden was no longer granted but under the surveillance of two soldiers; but this annoyance seemed to her so unbearable that she preferred to give up the recreation, which, surrounded with such conditions, became a torture. So she shut herself up in her apartments, finding a certain bitter and haughty pleasure in the very excess of her misfortune.
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