A week after the events we have related, as nine o'clock in the evening had just sounded from the castle bell, and the queen and Mary Seyton were sitting at a table where they were working at their tapestry, a stone thrown from the courtyard passed through the window bars, broke a pane of glass, and fell into the room. The queen's first idea was to believe it accidental or an insult; but Mary Seyton, turning round, noticed that the stone was wrapped up in a paper: she immediately picked it up. The paper was a letter from George Douglas, conceived in these terms:
"You have commanded me to live, madam: I have obeyed, and your Majesty has been able to tell, from the Kinross light, that your servants continue to watch over you. However, not to raise suspicion, the soldiers collected for that fatal night dispersed at dawn, and will not gather again till a fresh attempt makes their presence necessary. But, alas! to renew this attempt now, when your Majesty's gaolers are on their guard, would be your ruin. Let them take every precaution, then, madam; let them sleep in security, while we, we, in our devotion, shall go on watching.
"Patience and courage!"
"Brave and loyal heart!" cried Mary, "more constantly devoted to misfortune than others are to prosperity! Yes, I shall have patience and courage, and so long as that light shines I shall still believe in liberty."
This letter restored to the queen all her former courage: she had means of communication with George through Little Douglas; for no doubt it was he who had thrown that stone. She hastened, in her turn, to write a letter to George, in which she both charged him to express her gratitude to all the lords who had signed the protestation; and begged them, in the name of the fidelity they had sworn to her, not to cool in their devotion, promising them, for her part, to await the result with that patience and courage they asked of her.
The queen was not mistaken: next day, as she was at her window, Little Douglas came to play at the foot of the tower, and, without raising his head, stopped just beneath her to dig a trap to catch birds. The queen looked to see if she were observed, and assured that that part of the courtyard was deserted, she let fall the stone wrapped in her letter: at first she feared to have made a serious error; for Little Douglas did not even turn at the noise, and it was only after a moment, during which the prisoner's heart was torn with frightful anxiety, that indifferently, and as if he were looking for something else, the child laid his hand on the stone, and without hurrying, without raising his head, without indeed giving any sign of intelligence to her who had thrown it, he put the letter in his pocket, finishing the work he had begun with the greatest calm, and showing the queen, by this coolness beyond his years, what reliance she could place in him.
From that moment the queen regained fresh hope; but days, weeks, months passed without bringing any change in her situation: winter came; the prisoner saw snow spread over the plains and mountains, and the lake afforded her, if she had only been able to pass the door, a firm road to gain the other bank; but no letter came during all this time to bring her the consoling news that they were busy about her deliverance; the faithful light alone announced to her every evening that a friend was keeping watch.
Soon nature awoke from her death-sleep: some forward sun-rays broke through the clouds of this sombre sky of Scotland; the snow melted, the lake broke its ice-crust, the first buds opened, the green turf reappeared; everything came out of its prison at the joyous approach of spring, and it was a great grief to Mary to see that she alone was condemned to an eternal winter.
At last; one evening, she thought she observed in the motions of the light that something fresh was happening: she had so often questioned this poor flickering star, and she had so often let it count her heart-beats more than twenty times, that to spare herself the pain of disappointment, for a long time she had no longer interrogated it; however, she resolved to make one last attempt, and, almost hopeless, she put her light near the window, and immediately took it away; still, faithful to the signal, the other disappeared at the same moment, and reappeared at the eleventh heart-beat of the queen. At the same time, by a strange coincidence, a stone passing through the window fell at Mary Seyton's feet. It was, like the first, wrapped in a letter from George: the queen took it from her companion's hands, opened it, and read:
"The moment draws near; your adherents are assembled; summon all your courage."
"To-morrow, at eleven o'clock in the evening, drop a cord from your window, and draw up the packet that will be fastened to it."
There remained in the queen's apartments the rope over and above what had served for the ladder taken away by the guards the evening of the frustrated escape: next day, at the appointed hour, the two prisoners shut up the lamp in the bedroom, so that no light should betray them, and Mary Seyton, approaching the window, let down the cord. After a minute, she felt from its movements that something was being attached to it. Mary Seyton pulled, and a rather bulky parcel appeared at the bars, which it could not pass on account of its size. Then the queen came to her companion's aid. The parcel was untied, and its contents, separately, got through easily. The two prisoners carried them into the bedroom, and, barricaded within, commenced an inventory. There were two complete suits of men's clothes in the Douglas livery. The queen was at a loss, when she saw a letter fastened to the collar of one of the two coats. Eager to know the meaning of this enigma, she immediately opened it, and read as follows:
"It is only by dint of audacity that her Majesty can recover her liberty: let her Majesty read this letter, then, and punctually follow, if she deign to adopt them, the instructions she will find therein.
"In the daytime the keys of the castle do not leave the belt of the old steward; when curfew is rung and he has made his rounds to make sure that all the doors are fast shut, he gives them up to William Douglas, who, if he stays up, fastens them to his sword-belt, or, if he sleeps, puts them under his pillow. For five months, Little Douglas, whom everyone is accustomed to see working at the armourer's forge of the castle, has been employed in making some keys like enough to the others, once they are substituted for them, for William to be deceived. Yesterday Little Douglas finished the last.
"On the first favourable opportunity that her Majesty will know to be about to present itself, by carefully questioning the light each day, Little Douglas will exchange the false keys for the true, will enter the queen's room, and will find her dressed, as well as Miss Mary Seyton, in their men's clothing, and he will go before them to lead them, by the way which offers the best chances for their escape; a boat will be prepared and will await them.
"Till then, every evening, as much to accustom themselves to these new costumes as to give them an appearance of having been worn, her Majesty and Miss Mary Seyton will dress themselves in the suits, which they must keep on from nine o'clock till midnight. Besides, it is possible that, without having had time to warn them, their young guide may suddenly come to seek them: it is urgent, then, that he find them ready.
"The garments ought to fit perfectly her Majesty and her companion, the measure having been taken on Miss Mary Fleming and Miss Mary Livingston, who are exactly their size.
"One cannot too strongly recommend her Majesty to summon to her aid on the supreme occasion the coolness and courage of which she has given such frequent proofs at other times."
The two prisoners were astounded at the boldness of this plan: at first they looked at one another in consternation, for success seemed impossible. They none the less made trial of their disguise: as George had said, it fitted each of them as if they had been measured for it.
Every evening the queen questioned the light, as George had urged, and that for a whole long month, during which each evening the queen and Mary Seyton, although the light gave no fresh tidings, arrayed themselves in their men's clothes, as had been arranged, so that they both acquired such practice that they became as familiar to them as those of their own sex.
At last, the 2nd May, 1568, the queen was awakened by the blowing of a horn: uneasy as to what it announced, she slipped on a cloak and ran to the window, where Mary Seyton joined her directly. A rather numerous band of horsemen had halted on the side of the lake, displaying the Douglas pennon, and three boats were rowing together and vying with each other to fetch the new arrivals.
This event caused the queen dismay: in her situation the least change in the castle routine was to be feared, for it might upset all the concerted plans. This apprehension redoubled when, on the boats drawing near, the queen recognised in the elder Lord Douglas, the husband of Lady Lochleven, and the father of William and George. The venerable knight, who was Keeper of the Marches in the north, was coming to visit his ancient manor, in which he had not set foot for three years.
It was an event for Lochleven; and, some minutes after the arrival of the boats, Mary Stuart heard the old steward's footsteps mounting the stairs: he came to announce his master's arrival to the queen, and, as it must needs be a time of rejoicing to all the castle inhabitants when its master returned, he came to invite the queen to the dinner in celebration of the event: whether instinctively or from distaste, the queen declined.
All day long the bell and the bugle resounded: Lord Douglas, like a true feudal lord, travelled with the retinue of a prince. One saw nothing but new soldiers and servants passing and repassing beneath the queen's windows: the footmen and horsemen were wearing, moreover, a livery similar to that which the queen and Mary Seyton had received.
Mary awaited the night with impatience. The day before, she had questioned her light, and it had informed her as usual, in reappearing at her eleventh or twelfth heart-beat, that the moment of escape was near; but she greatly feared that Lord Douglas's arrival might have upset everything, and that this evening's signal could only announce a postponement. But hardly had she seen the light shine than she placed her lamp in the window; the other disappeared directly, and Mary Stuart, with terrible anxiety, began to question it. This anxiety increased when she had counted more than fifteen beats. Then she stopped, cast down, her eyes mechanically fixed on the spot where the light had been. But her astonishment was great when, at the end of a few minutes, she did not see it reappear, and when, half an hour having elapsed, everything remained in darkness. The queen then renewed her signal, but obtained no response: the escape was for the same evening.
The queen and Mary Seyton were so little expecting this issue, that, contrary to their custom, they had not put on their men's clothes that evening. They immediately flew to the queen's bed-chamber, bolted the door behind them, and began to dress.
They had hardly finished their hurried toilette when they heard a key turn in the lock: they immediately blew out the lamp. Light steps approached the door. The two women leaned one against the other; for they both were near falling. Someone tapped gently. The queen asked who was there, and Little Douglas's voice answered in the two first lines of an old ballad--
"Douglas, Douglas, Tender and true."
Mary opened, directly: it was the watchword agreed upon with George Douglas.
The child was without a light. He stretched out his hand and encountered the queen's: in the starlight, Mary Stuart saw him kneel down; then she felt the imprint of his lips on her fingers.
"Is your Majesty ready to follow me?" he asked in a low tone, rising.
"Yes, my child," the queen answered: "it is for this evening, then?"
"With your Majesty's permission, yes, it is for this evening."
"Is everything ready?"
"What are we to do?"
"Follow me everywhere."
"My God! my God!" cried Mary Stuart, "have pity on us!" Then, having breathed a short prayer in a low voice, while Mary Seyton was taking the casket in which were the queen's jewels, "I am ready," said she: "and you, darling?"
"I also," replied Mary Seyton.
"Come, then," said Little Douglas.
The two prisoners followed the child; the queen going first, and Mary Seyton after. Their youthful guide carefully shut again the door behind him, so that if a warder happened to pass he would see nothing; then he began to descend the winding stair. Half-way down, the noise of the feast reached them, a mingling of shouts of laughter, the confusion of voices, and the clinking of glasses. The queen placed her hand on her young guide's shoulder.
"Where are you leading us?" she asked him with terror.
"Out of the castle," replied the child.
"But we shall have to pass through the great hall?"
"Without a doubt; and that is exactly what George foresaw. Among the footmen, whose livery your Majesty is wearing, no one will recognise you."
"My God! my God!" the queen murmured, leaning against the wall.
"Courage, madam," said Mary Seyton in a low voice, "or we are lost."
"You are right," returned the queen; "let us go". And they started again still led by their guide.
At the foot of the stair he stopped, and giving the queen a stone pitcher full of wine--
"Set this jug on your right shoulder, madam," said he; "it will hide your face from the guests, and your Majesty will give rise to less suspicion if carrying something. You, Miss Mary, give me that casket, and put on your head this basket of bread. Now, that's right: do you feel you have strength?"
"Yes," said the queen.
"Yes," said Mary Seyton.
"Then follow me."
The child went on his way, and after a few steps the fugitives found themselves in a kind of antechamber to the great hall, from which proceeded noise and light. Several servants were occupied there with different duties; not one paid attention to them, and that a little reassured the queen. Besides, there was no longer any drawing back: Little Douglas had just entered the great hall.
The guests, seated on both sides of a long table ranged according to the rank of those assembled at it, were beginning dessert, and consequently had reached the gayest moment of the repast. Moreover, the hall was so large that the lamps and candles which lighted it, multiplied as they were, left in the most favourable half-light both sides of the apartment, in which fifteen or twenty servants were coming and going. The queen and Mary Seyton mingled with this crowd, which was too much occupied to notice them, and without stopping, without slackening, without looking back, they crossed the whole length of the hall, reached the other door, and found themselves in the vestibule corresponding to the one they had passed through on coming in. The queen set down her jug there, Mary Seyton her basket, and both, still led by the child, entered a corridor at the end of which they found themselves in the courtyard. A patrol was passing at the moment, but he took no notice of them.
The child made his way towards the garden, still followed by the two women. There, for no little while, it was necessary to try which of all the keys opened the door; it--was a time of inexpressible anxiety. At last the key turned in the lock, the door opened; the queen and Mary Seyton rushed into the garden. The child closed the door behind them.
About two-thirds of the way across, Little Douglas held out his hand as a sign to them to stop; then, putting down the casket and the keys on the ground, he placed his hands together, and blowing into them, thrice imitated the owl's cry so well that it was impossible to believe that a human voice was uttering the sounds; then, picking up the casket and the keys, he kept on his way on tiptoe and with an attentive ear. On getting near the wall, they again stopped, and after a moment's anxious waiting they heard a groan, then something like the sound of a falling body. Some seconds later the owl's cry was--answered by a tu-whit-tu-whoo.
"It is over," Little Douglas said calmly; "come."
"What is over?" asked the queen; "and what is that groan we heard?"
"There was a sentry at the door on to the lake," the child answered, "but he is no longer there."
The queen felt her heart's blood grow cold, at the same tine that a chilly sweat broke out to the roots of her hair; for she perfectly understood: an unfortunate being had just lost his life on her account. Tottering, she leaned on Mary Seyton, who herself felt her strength giving way. Meanwhile Little Douglas was trying the keys: the second opened the door.
"And the queen?" said in a low voice a man who was waiting on the other side of the wall.
"She is following me," replied the child.
George Douglas, for it was he, sprang into the garden, and, taking the queen's arm on one side and Mary Seyton's on the other, he hurried them away quickly to the lake-side. When passing through the doorway Mary Stuart could not help throwing an uneasy look about her, and it seemed to her that a shapeless object was lying at the bottom of the wall, and as she was shuddering all over.
"Do not pity him," said George in a low voice, "for it is a judgment from heaven. That man was the infamous Warden who betrayed us."
"Alas!" said the queen, "guilty as he was, he is none the less dead on my account."
"When it concerned your safety, madam, was one to haggle over drops of that base blood? But silence! This way, William, this way; let us keep along the wall, whose shadow hides us. The boat is within twenty steps, and we are saved."
With these words, George hurried on the two women still more quickly, and all four, without having been detected, reached the banks of the lake. 'As Douglas had said, a little boat was waiting; and, on seeing the fugitives approach, four rowers, couched along its bottom, rose, and one of them, springing to land, pulled the chain, so that the queen and Mary Seyton could get in. Douglas seated them at the prow, the child placed himself at the rudder, and George, with a kick, pushed off the boat, which began to glide over the lake.
"And now," said he, "we are really saved; for they might as well pursue a sea swallow on Solway Firth as try to reach us. Row, children, row; never mind if they hear us: the main thing is to get into the open."
"Who goes there?" cried a voice above, from the castle terrace.
"Row, row," said Douglas, placing himself in front of the queen.
"The boat! the boat!" cried the same voice; "bring to the boat!" Then, seeing that it continued to recede, "Treason! treason!" cried the sentinel. "To arms!"
At the same moment a flash lit up the lake; the report of a firearm was heard, and a ball passed, whistling. The queen uttered a little cry, although she had run no danger, George, as we have said, having placed himself in front of her, quite protecting her with his body.
The alarm bell now rang, and all the castle lights were seen moving and glancing about, as if distracted, in the rooms.
"Courage, children!" said Douglas. "Row as if your lives depended on each stroke of the oar; for ere five minutes the skiff will be out after us."
"That won't be so easy for them as you think, George," said Little Douglas; "for I shut all the doors behind me, and some time will elapse before the keys that I have left there open them. As to these," added he, showing those he had so skilfully abstracted, "I resign them to the Kelpie, the genie of the lake, and I nominate him porter of Lochleven Castle."
The discharge of a small piece of artillery answered William's joke; but as the night was too dark for one to aim to such a distance as that already between the castle and the boat, the ball ricochetted at twenty paces from the fugitives, while the report died away in echo after echo. Then Douglas drew his pistol from his belt, and, warning the ladies to have no fear, he fired in the air, not to answer by idle bravado the castle cannonade, but to give notice to a troop of faithful friends, who were waiting for them on the other shore of the lake, that the queen had escaped. Immediately, in spite of the danger of being so near Kinross, cries of joy resounded on the bank, and William having turned the rudder, the boat made for land at the spot whence they had been heard. Douglas then gave his hand to the queen, who sprang lightly ashore, and who, falling on her knees, immediately began to give thanks to God for her happy deliverance.
On rising, the queen found herself surrounded by her most faithful servants--Hamilton, Herries, and Seyton, Mary's father. Light-headed with joy, the queen extended her hands to them, thanking them with broken words, which expressed her intoxication and her gratitude better than the choicest phrases could have done, when suddenly, turning round, she perceived George Douglas, alone and melancholy. Then, going to him and taking him by the hand--
"My lords," said she, presenting George to them, and pointing to William, "behold my two deliverers: behold those to whom, as long as I live, I shall preserve gratitude of which nothing will ever acquit me."
"Madam," said Douglas, "each of us has only done what he ought, and he who has risked most is the happiest. But if your Majesty will believe me, you will not lose a moment in needless words."
"Douglas is right," said Lord Seyton. "To horse! to horse!"
Immediately, and while four couriers set out in four different directions to announce to the queen's friends her happy escape, they brought her a horse saddled for her, which she mounted with her usual skill; then the little troop, which, composed of about twenty persons, was escorting the future destiny of Scotland, keeping away from the village of Kinross, to which the castle firing had doubtless given the alarm, took at a gallop the road to Seyton's castle, where was already a garrison large enough to defend the queen from a sudden attack.
The queen journeyed all night, accompanied on one side by Douglas, on the other by Lord Seyton; then, at daybreak, they stopped at the gate of the castle of West Niddrie, belonging to Lord Seyton, as we have said, and situated in West Lothian. Douglas sprang from his horse to offer his hand to Mary Stuart; but Lord Seyton claimed his privilege as master of the house. The queen consoled Douglas with a glance, and entered the fortress.
"Madam," said Lord Seyton, leading her into a room prepared for her for nine months, "your Majesty must have need of repose, after the fatigue and the emotions you have gone through since yesterday morning; you may sleep here in peace, and disquiet yourself for nothing: any noise you may hear will be made by a reinforcement of friends which we are expecting. As to our enemies, your Majesty has nothing to fear from them so long as you inhabit the castle of a Seyton."
The queen again thanked all her deliverers, gave her hand to Douglas to kiss one last time, kissed Little William on the forehead, and named him her favourite page for the future; then, profiting by the advice given her, entered her room where Mary Seyton, to the exclusion of every other woman, claimed the privilege of performing about her the duties with which she had been charged during their eleven months' captivity in Lochleven Castle.
On opening her eyes, Mary Stuart thought she had had one of those dreams so gainful to prisoners, when waking they see again the bolts on their doors and the bars on their windows. So the queen, unable to believe the evidence of her senses, ran, half dressed, to the window. The courtyard was filled with soldiers, and these soldiers all friends who had hastened at the news of her escape; she recognised the banners of her faithful friends, the Seytons, the Arbroaths, the Herries, and the Hamiltons, and scarcely had she been seen at the window than all these banners bent before her, with the shouts a hundred times repeated of "Long live Mary of Scotland! Long live our queen!" Then, without giving heed to the disarray of her toilet, lovely and chaste with her emotion and her happiness, she greeted them in her turn, her eyes full of tears; but this time they were tears of joy. However, the queen recollected that she was barely covered, and blushing at having allowed herself to be thus carried away in her ecstasy, she abruptly drew back, quite rosy with confusion.
Then she had an instant's womanly fright: she had fled from Lochleven Castle in the Douglas livery, and without either the leisure or the opportunity for taking women's clothes with her. But she could not remain attired as a man; so she explained her uneasiness to Mary Seyton, who responded by opening the closets in the queen's room. They were furnished, not only with robes, the measure for which, like that of the suit, had been taken from Mary Fleming, but also with all the necessaries for a woman's toilet. The queen was astonished: it was like being in a fairy castle.
"Mignonne," said she, looking one after another at the robes, all the stuffs of which were chosen with exquisite taste, "I knew your father was a brave and loyal knight, but I did not think him so learned in the matter of the toilet. We shall name him groom of the wardrobe."
"Alas! madam," smilingly replied Mary Seyton, "you are not mistaken: my father has had everything in the castle furbished up to the last corselet, sharpened to the last sword, unfurled to the last banner; but my father, ready as he is to die for your Majesty, would not have dreamed for an instant of offering you anything but his roof to rest under, or his cloak to cover you. It is Douglas again who has foreseen everything, prepared everything--everything even to Rosabelle, your Majesty's favourite steed, which is impatiently awaiting in the stable the moment when, mounted on her, your Majesty will make your triumphal re-entry into Edinburgh."
"And how has he been able to get her back again?" Mary asked. "I thought that in the division of my spoils Rosabelle had fallen to the fair Alice, my brother's favourite sultana?"
"Yes, yes," said Mary Seyton, "it was so; and as her value was known, she was kept under lock and key by an army of grooms; but Douglas is the man of miracles, and, as I have told you, Rosabelle awaits your Majesty."
"Noble Douglas!" murmured the queen, with eyes full of tears; then, as if speaking to herself, "And this is precisely one of those devotions that we can never repay. The others will be happy with honours, places, money; but to Douglas what matter all these things?"
"Come, madam, come," said Mary Seyton, "God takes on Himself the debts of kings; He will reward Douglas. As to your Majesty, reflect that they are waiting dinner for you. I hope," added she, smiling, "that you will not affront my father as you did Lord Douglas yesterday in refusing to partake of his feast on his fortunate home-coming."
"And luck has come to me for it, I hope," replied Mary. "But you are right, darling: no more sad thoughts; we will consider when we have indeed become queen again what we can do for Douglas."
The queen dressed and went down. As Mary Seyton had told her, the chief noblemen of her party, already gathered round her, were waiting for her in the great hall of the castle. Her arrival was greeted with acclamations of the liveliest enthusiasm, and she sat down to table, with Lord Seyton on her right hand, Douglas on her left, and behind her Little William, who the same day was beginning his duties as page.
Next morning the queen was awakened by the sound of trumpets and bugles: it had been decided the day before that she should set out that day for Hamilton, where reinforcements were looked for. The queen donned an elegant riding-habit, and soon, mounted on Rosabelle, appeared amid her defenders. The shouts of joy redoubled: her beauty, her grace, and her courage were admired by everyone. Mary Stuart became her own self once more, and she felt spring up in her again the power of fascination she had always exercised on those who came near her. Everyone was in good humour, and the happiest of all was perhaps Little William, who for the first time in his life had such a fine dress and such a fine horse.
Two or three thousand men were awaiting the queen at Hamilton, which she reached the same evening; and during the night following her arrival the troops increased to six thousand. The 2nd of May she was a prisoner, without another friend but a child in her prison, without other means of communication with her adherents than the flickering and uncertain light of a lamp, and three days afterwards--that is to say, between the Sunday and the Wednesday--she found herself not only free, but also at the head of a powerful confederacy, which counted at its head nine earls, eight peers, nine bishops, and a number of barons and nobles renowned among the bravest of Scotland.
The advice of the most judicious among those about the queen was to shut herself up in the strong castle of Dumbarton, which, being impregnable, would give all her adherents time to assemble together, distant and scattered as they were: accordingly, the guidance of the troops who were to conduct the queen to that town was entrusted to the Earl of Argyll, and the 11th of May she took the road with an army of nearly ten thousand men.
Murray was at Glasgow when he heard of the queen's escape: the place was strong; he decided to hold it, and summoned to him his bravest and most devoted partisans. Kirkcaldy of Grange, Morton, Lindsay of Byres, Lord Lochleven, and William Douglas hastened to him, and six thousand of the best troops in the kingdom gathered round them, while Lord Ruthven in the counties of Berwick and Angus raised levies with which to join them.
The 13th May, Morton occupied from daybreak the village of Langside, through which the queen must pass to get to Dumbarton. The news of the occupation reached the queen as the two armies were yet seven miles apart. Mary's first instinct was to escape an engagement: she remembered her last battle at Carberry Hill, at the end of which she had been separated from Bothwell and brought to Edinburgh; so she expressed aloud this opinion, which was supported by George Douglas, who, in black armour, without other arms, had continued at the queen's side.
"Avoid an engagement!" cried Lord Seyton, not daring to answer his sovereign, and replying to George as if this opinion had originated with him. "We could do it, perhaps, if we were one to ten; but we shall certainly not do so when we are three to two. You speak a strange tongue, my young master," continued he, with some contempt; "and you forget, it seems to me, that you are a Douglas and that you speak to a Seyton."
"My lord," returned George calmly, "when we only hazard the lives of Douglases and Seytons, you will find me, I hope, as ready to fight as you, be it one to ten, be it three to two; but we are now answerable for an existence dearer to Scotland than that of all the Seytons and all the Douglases. My advice is then to avoid battle."
"Battle! battle!" cried all the chieftains.
"You hear, madam?" said Lord Seyton to Mary Stuart: "I believe that to wish to act against such unanimity would be dangerous. In Scotland, madam, there is an ancient proverb which has it that 'there is most prudence in courage.'"
"But have you not heard that the regent has taken up an advantageous position?" the queen said.
"The greyhound hunts the hare on the hillside as well as in the plain," replied Seyton: "we will drive him out, wherever he is."
"Let it be as you desire, then, my lords. It shall not be said that Mary Stuart returned to the scabbard the sword her defenders had drawn for her."
Then, turning round to Douglas
"George," she said to him, "choose a guard of twenty men for me, and take command of them: you will not quit me."
George bent low in obedience, chose twenty from among the bravest men, placed the queen in their midst, and put himself at their head; then the troops, which had halted, received the order to continue their road. In two hours' time the advance guard was in sight of the enemy; it halted, and the rest of the army rejoined it.
The queen's troops then found themselves parallel with the city of Glasgow, and the heights which rose in front of them were already occupied by a force above which floated, as above that of Mary, the royal banners of Scotland, On the other side, and on the opposite slope, stretched the village of Langside, encircled with enclosures and gardens. The road which led to it, and which followed all the variations of the ground, narrowed at one place in such a way that two men could hardly pass abreast, then, farther on, lost itself in a ravine, beyond which it reappeared, then branched into two, of which one climbed to the village of Langside, while the other led to Glasgow.
On seeing the lie of the ground, the Earl of Argyll immediately comprehended the importance of occupying this village, and, turning to Lord Seyton, he ordered him to gallop off and try to arrive there before the enemy, who doubtless, having made the same observation as the commander of the royal forces, was setting in motion at that very moment a considerable body of cavalry.
Lord Seyton called up his men directly, but while he was ranging them round his banner, Lord Arbroath drew his sword, and approaching the Earl of Argyll--
"My lord," said he, "you do me a wrong in charging Lord Seyton to seize that post: as commander of the vanguard, it is to me this honour belongs. Allow me, then, to use my privilege in claiming it."
"It is I who received the order to seize it; I will seize it!" cried Seyton.
"Perhaps," returned Lord Arbroath, "but not before me!"
"Before you and before every Hamilton in the world!" exclaimed Seyton, putting his horse to the gallop and rushing down into the hollow road--
"Saint Bennet! and forward!"
"Come, my faithful kinsmen!" cried Lord Arbroath, dashing forward on his side with the same object; "come, my men-at-arms! For God and the queen!"
The two troops precipitated themselves immediately in disorder and ran against one another in the narrow way, where, as we have said, two men could hardly pass abreast. There was a terrible collision there, and the conflict began among friends who should have been united against the enemy. Finally, the two troops, leaving behind them some corpses stifled in the press, or even killed by their companions, passed through the defile pell-mell and were lost sight of in the ravine. But during this struggle Seyton and Arbroath had lost precious time, and the detachment sent by Murray, which had taken the road by Glasgow, had reached the village beforehand; it was now necessary not to take it, but to retake it.
Argyll saw that the whole day's struggle would be concentrated there, and, understanding more and more the importance of the village, immediately put himself at the head of the body of his army, commanding a rearguard of two thousand men to remain there and await further orders to take part in the fighting. But whether the captain who commanded them had ill understood, or whether he was eager to distinguish himself in the eyes of the queen, scarcely had Argyll vanished into the ravine, at the end of which the struggle had already commenced between Kirkcaldy of Grange and Morton on the one side, and on the other between Arbroath and Seyton, than, without regarding the cries of Mary Stuart, he set off in his turn at a gallop, leaving the queen without other guard than the little escort of twenty men which Douglas had chosen for her. Douglas sighed.
"Alas!" said the queen, hearing him, "I am not a soldier, but there it seems to me is a battle very badly begun."
"What is to be done?" replied Douglas. "We are every one of us infatuated, from first to last, and all these men are behaving to-day like madmen or children."
"Victory! victory!" said the queen; "the enemy is retreating, fighting. I see the banners of Seyton and Arbroath floating near the first houses in the village. Oh! my brave lords," cried she, clapping her hands. "Victory! victory!"
But she stopped suddenly on perceiving a body of the enemy's army advancing to charge the victors in flank.
"It is nothing, it is nothing," said Douglas; "so long as there is only cavalry we have nothing much to fear, and besides the Earl of Argyll will fall in in time to aid them."
"George," said Little William.
"Well?" asked Douglas.
"Don't you see?" the child went on, stretching out his arms towards the enemy's force, which was coming on at a gallop.
"Each horseman carries a footman armed with an arquebuse behind him, so that the troop is twice as numerous as it appears."
"That's true; upon my soul, the child has good sight. Let someone go at once full gallop and take news of this to the Earl or Argyll."
"I! I!" cried Little William. "I saw them first; it is my right to bear the tidings."
"Go, then, my child," said Douglas; "and may God preserve thee!"
The child flew, quick as lightning, not hearing or feigning not to hear the queen, who was recalling him. He was seen to cross the gorge and plunge into the hollow road at the moment when Argyll was debouching at the end and coming to the aid of Seyton and Arbroath. Meanwhile, the enemy's detachment had dismounted its infantry, which, immediately formed up, was scattering on the sides of the ravine by paths impracticable for horses.
"William will come too late!" cried Douglas, "or even, should he arrive in time, the news is now useless to them. Oh madmen, madmen that we are! This is how we have always lost all our battles!"
"Is the battle lost, then?" demanded Mary, growing pale.
"No, madam, no," cried Douglas; "Heaven be thanked, not yet; but through too great haste we have begun badly."
"And William?" said Mary Stuart.
"He is now serving his apprenticeship in arms; for, if I am not mistaken, he must be at this moment at the very spot where those marksmen are making such quick firing."
"Poor child!" cried the queen; "if ill should befall him, I shall never console myself."
"Alas! madam," replied Douglas, "I greatly fear that his first battle is his last, and that everything is already over for him; for, unless I mistake, there is his horse returning riderless."
"Oh, my God! my God!" said the queen, weeping, and raising her hands to heaven, "it is then decreed that I should be fatal to all around me!"
George was not deceived: it was William's horse coming back without his young master and covered with blood.
"Madam," said Douglas, "we are ill placed here; let us gain that hillock on which is the Castle of Crookstone: from thence we shall survey the whole battlefield."
"No, not there! not there!" said the queen in terror: "within that castle I came to spend the first days of my marriage with Darnley; it will bring me misfortune."
"Well, beneath that yew-tree, then," said George, pointing to another slight rise near the first; "but it is important for us to lose no detail of this engagement. Everything depends perhaps for your Majesty on an ill-judged manoeuvre or a lost moment."
"Guide me, then," the queen said; "for, as for me, I no longer see it. Each report of that terrible cannonade echoes to the depths of my heart."
However well placed as was this eminence for overlooking from its summit the whole battlefield, the reiterated discharge of cannon and musketry covered it with such a cloud of smoke that it was impossible to make out from it anything but masses lost amid a murderous fog. At last, when an hour had passed in this desperate conflict, through the skirts of this sea of smoke the fugitives were seen to emerge and disperse in all directions, followed by the victors. Only, at that distance, it was impossible to make out who had gained or lost the battle, and the banners, which on both sides displayed the Scottish arms, could in no way clear up this confusion.
At that moment there was seen coming down from the Glasgow hillsides all the remaining reserve of Murray's army; it was coming at full speed to engage in the fighting; but this manoeuvre might equally well have for its object the support of defeated friends as to complete the rout of the enemy. However, soon there was no longer any doubt; for this reserve charged the fugitives, amid whom it spread fresh confusion. The queen's army was beaten. At the same time, three or four horsemen appeared on the hither side of the ravine, advancing at a gallop. Douglas recognised them as enemies.
"Fly, madam," cried George, "fly without loss of a second; for those who are coming upon us are followed by others. Gain the road, while I go to check them. And you," added he, addressing the escort, "be killed to the last man rather than let them take your queen."
"George! George!" cried the queen, motionless, and as if riveted to the spot.
But George had already dashed away with all his horse's speed, and as he was splendidly mounted, he flew across the space with lightning rapidity, and reached the gorge before the enemy. There he stopped, put his lance in rest, and alone against five bravely awaited the encounter.
As to the queen, she had no desire to go; but, on the contrary, as if turned to stone, she remained in the same place, her eyes fastened on this combat which was taking place at scarcely five hundred paces from her. Suddenly, glancing at her enemies, she saw that one of them bore in the middle of his shield a bleeding heart, the Douglas arms. Then she uttered a cry of pain, and drooping her head--
"Douglas against Douglas; brother against brother!" she murmured: "it only wanted this last blow."
"Madam, madam," cried her escort, "there is not an instant to lose: the young master of Douglas cannot hold out long thus alone against five; let us fly! let us fly!" And two of them taking the queen's horse by the bridle, put it to the gallop, at the moment when George, after having beaten down two of his enemies and wounded a third, was thrown down in his turn in the dust, thrust to the heart by a lance-head. The queen groaned on seeing him fall; then, as if he alone had detained her, and as if he being killed she had no interest in anything else, she put Rosabelle to the gallop, and as she and her troop were splendidly mounted, they had soon lost sight of the battlefield.
She fled thus for sixty miles, without taking any rest, and without ceasing to weep or to sigh: at last, having traversed the counties of Renfrew and Ayr, she reached the Abbey of Dundrennan, in Galloway, and certain of being, for the time at least, sheltered from every danger, she gave the order to stop. The prior respectfully received her at the gate of the convent.
"I bring you misfortune and ruin, father," said the queen, alighting from her horse.
"They are welcome," replied the prior, "since they come accompanied by duty."
The queen gave Rosabelle to the care of one of the men-at-arms who had accompanied her, and leaning on Mary Seyton, who had not left her for a moment, and on Lord Herries, who had rejoined her on the road, she entered the convent.
Lord Herries had not concealed her position from Mary Stuart: the day had been completely lost, and with the day, at least for the present, all hope of reascending the throne of Scotland. There remained but three courses for the queen to take to withdraw into France, Spain or England. On the advice of Lord Herries, which accorded with her own feeling, she decided upon the last; and that same night she wrote this double missive in verse and in prose to Elizabeth:
"MY DEAR SISTER,--I have often enough begged you to receive my tempest-tossed vessel into your haven during the storm. If at this pass she finds a safe harbour there, I shall cast anchor there for ever: otherwise the bark is in God's keeping, for she is ready and caulked for defence on her voyage against all storms. I have dealt openly with you, and still do so: do not take it in bad part if I write thus; it is not in defiance of you, as it appears, for in everything I rely on your friendship."
"This sonnet accompanied the letter:--
"One thought alone brings danger and delight; Bitter and sweet change places in my heart, With doubt, and then with hope, it takes its part, Till peace and rest alike are put to flight.
Therefore, dear sister, if this card pursue That keen desire by which I am oppressed, To see you, 'tis because I live distressed, Unless some swift and sweet result ensue.
Beheld I have my ship compelled by fate To seek the open sea, when close to port, And calmest days break into storm and gale; Wherefore full grieved and fearful is my state, Not for your sake, but since, in evil sort, Fortune so oft snaps strongest rope and sail."
Elizabeth trembled with joy at receiving this double letter; for the eight years that her enmity had been daily increasing to Mary Stuart, she had followed her with her eyes continually, as a wolf might a gazelle; at last the gazelle sought refuge in the wolf's den. Elizabeth had never hoped as much: she immediately despatched an order to the Sheriff of Cumberland to make known to Mary that she was ready to receive her. One morning a bugle was heard blowing on the sea-shore: it was Queen Elizabeth's envoy come to fetch Queen Mary Stuart.
Then arose great entreaties to the fugitive not to trust herself thus to a rival in power, glory, and beauty; but the poor dispossessed queen was full of confidence in her she called her good sister, and believed herself going, free and rid of care, to take at Elizabeth's court the place due to her rank and her misfortunes: thus she persisted, in spite of all that could be said. In our time, we have seen the same infatuation seize another royal fugitive, who like Mary Stuart confided himself to the generosity of his enemy England: like Mary Stuart, he was cruelly punished for his confidence, and found in the deadly climate of St. Helena the scaffold of Fotheringay.
Mary Stuart set out on her journey, then, with her little following. Arrived at the shore of Solway Firth, she found there the Warden of the English Marches: he was a gentleman named Lowther, who received the queen with the greatest respect, but who gave her to understand that he could not permit more than three of her women to accompany her. Mary Seyton immediately claimed her privilege: the queen held out to her her hand.
"Alas! mignonne," said she, "but it might well be another's turn: you have already suffered enough for me and with me."
But Mary, unable to reply, clung to her hand, making a sign with her head that nothing in the world should part her from her mistress. Then all who had accompanied the queen renewed their entreaties that she should not persist in this fatal resolve, and when she was already a third of the way along the plank placed for her to enter the skiff, the Prior of Dundrennan, who had offered Mary Stuart such dangerous and touching hospitality, entered the water up to his knees, to try to detain her; but all was useless: the queen had made up her mind.
At that, moment Lowther approached her. "Madam," said he, "accept anew my regrets that I cannot offer a warm welcome in England to all who would wish to follow you there; but our queen has given us positive orders, and we must carry them out. May I be permitted to remind your Majesty that the tide serves?"
"Positive orders!" cried the prior. "Do you hear, madam? Oh! you are lost if you quit this shore! Back, while there is yet time! Back; madam, in Heaven's name! To me, sir knights, to me!" he cried, turning to Lord Herries and the other lords who had accompanied Mary Stuart; "do not allow your queen to abandon you, were it needful to struggle with her and the English at the same time. Hold her back, my lords, in Heaven's name! withhold her!"
"What means this violence, sir priest?" said the Warden of the Marches. "I came here at your queen's express command; she is free to return to you, and there is no need to have recourse to force for that". Then, addressing the queen--
"Madam," said he, "do you consent to follow me into England in full liberty of choice? Answer, I entreat you; for my honour demands that the whole world should be aware that you have followed me freely."
"Sir," replied Mary Stuart, "I ask your pardon, in the name of this worthy servant of God and his queen, for what he may have said of offence to you. Freely I leave Scotland and place myself in your hands, trusting that I shall be free either to remain in England with my royal sister, or to return to France to my worthy relatives". Then, turning to the priest, "Your blessing, father, and God protect you!"
"Alas! alas!" murmured the abbot, obeying the queen, "it is not we who are in need of God's protection, but rather you, my daughter. May the blessing of a poor priest turn aside from you the misfortunes I foresee! Go, and may it be with you as the Lord has ordained in His wisdom and in His mercy!"
Then the queen gave her hand to the sheriff, who conducted her to the skiff, followed by Mary Seyton and two other women only. The sails were immediately unfurled, and the little vessel began to recede from the shores of Galloway, to make her way towards those of Cumberland. So long as it could be seen, they who had accompanied the queen lingered on the beach, waving her signs of adieu, which, standing on the deck of the shallop which was bearing her, away, she returned with her handkerchief. Finally, the boat disappeared, and all burst into lamentations or into sobbing. They were right, for the good Prior of Dundrennan's presentiments were only too true, and they had seen Mary Stuart for the last time.
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