Part 1 out of 7
The Historical Nights' Entertainment
by Rafael Sabatini
In approaching "The Historical Nights' Entertainment" I set myself
the task of reconstructing, in the fullest possible detail and
with all the colour available from surviving records, a group of
more or less famous events. I would select for my purpose those
which were in themselves bizarre and resulting from the interplay
of human passions, and whilst relating each of these events in the
form of a story, I would compel that story scrupulously to follow
the actual, recorded facts without owing anything to fiction, and
I would draw upon my imagination, if at all, merely as one might
employ colour to fill in the outlines which history leaves grey,
taking care that my colour should be as true to nature as possible.
For dialogue I would depend upon such scraps of actual speech as
were chronicled in each case, amplifying it by translating into
terms of speech the paraphrases of contemporary chroniclers.
Such was the task I set myself. I am aware that it has been
attempted once or twice already, beginning, perhaps, with the
"Crimes Celebres" of Alexandre Dumas. I am not aware that the
attempt has ever succeeded. This is not to say that I claim
success in the essays that follow. How nearly I may have
approached success -judged by the standard I had set myself - how
far I may have fallen short, my readers will discern. I am
conscious, however, of having in the main dutifully resisted the
temptation to take the easier road, to break away from restricting
fact for the sake of achieving a more intriguing narrative. In one
instance, however, I have quite deliberately failed, and in some
others I have permitted myself certain speculations to resolve
mysteries of which no explanation has been discovered. Of these it
is necessary that I should make a full confession.
My deliberate failure is "The Night of Nuptials." I discovered an
allusion to the case of Charles the Bold and Sapphira Danvelt in
Macaulay's "History of England" - quoted from an old number of the
"Spectator" - whilst I was working upon the case of Lady Alice Lisle.
There a similar episode is mentioned as being related of Colonel
Kirke, but discredited because known for a story that has a trick
of springing up to attach itself to unscrupulous captains. I set
out to track it to its source, and having found its first appearance
to be in connection with Charles the Bold's German captain Rhynsault,
I attempted to reconstruct the event as it might have happened,
setting it at least in surroundings of solid fact.
My most flagrant speculation occurs in "The Night of Hate." But in
defence of it I can honestly say that it is at least no more flagrant
than the speculations on this subject that have become enshrined in
history as facts. In other words, I claim for my reconstruction of
the circumstances attending the mysterious death of Giovanni Borgia,
Duke of Gandia, that it no more lacks historical authority than do
any other of the explanatory narratives adopted by history to assign
the guilt to Gandia's brother, Cesare Borgia.
In the "Cambridge Modern History" our most authoritative writers on
this epoch have definitely pronounced that there is no evidence
acceptable to historians to support the view current for four
centuries that Cesare Borgia was the murderer.
Elsewhere I have dealt with this at length. Here let it suffice to
say that it was not until nine months after the deed that the name
of Cesare Borgia was first associated with it; that public opinion
had in the mean time assigned the guilt to a half-dozen others in
succession; that no motive for the crime is discoverable in the case
of Cesare; that the motives advanced will not bear examination, and
that they bear on the face of them the stamp of having been put
forward hastily to support an accusation unscrupulously political in
purpose; that the first men accused by the popular voice were the
Cardinal Vice-Chancellor Ascanio Sforza and his nephew Giovanni
Sforza, Tyrant of Pesaro; and, finally, that in Matarazzo's
"Chronicles of Perugia" there is a fairly detailed account of how
the murder was perpetrated by the latter.
Matarazzo, I confess, is worthy of no more credit than any other of
the contemporary reporters of common gossip. But at least he is
worthy of no less. And it is undeniable that in Sforza's case a
strong motive for the murder was not lacking.
My narrative in "The Night of Hate" is admittedly a purely
theoretical account of the crime. But it is closely based upon all
the known facts of incidence and of character; and if there is
nothing in the surviving records that will absolutely support it,
neither is there anything that can absolutely refute it.
In "The Night of Masquerade" I am guilty of quite arbitrarily
discovering a reason to explain the mystery of Baron Bjelke's sudden
change from the devoted friend and servant of Gustavus III of Sweden
into his most bitter enemy. That speculation is quite indefensible,
although affording a possible explanation of that mystery. In the
case of "The Night of Kirk o' Field," on the other hand, I do not
think any apology is necessary for my reconstruction of the precise
manner in which Darnley met his death. The event has long been
looked upon as one of the mysteries of history - the mystery lying
in the fact that whilst the house at Kirk o' Field was destroyed by
an explosion, Darnley's body was found at some distance away,
together with that of his page, bearing every evidence of death by
strangulation. The explanation I adopt seems to me to owe little
In the story of Antonio Perez - "The Night of Betrayal" - I have
permitted myself fewer liberties with actual facts than might appear.
I have closely followed his own "Relacion," which, whilst admittedly
a piece of special pleading, must remain the most authoritative
document of the events with which it deals. All that I have done
has been to reverse the values as Perez presents them, throwing the
personal elements into higher relief than the political ones, and
laying particular stress upon the matter of his relations with the
Princess of Eboli. "The Night of Betrayal" is presented in the form
of a story within a story. Of the containing story let me say that
whilst to some extent it is fictitious, it is by no means entirely so.
There is enough to justify most of it in the "Relaciori" itself.
The exceptions mentioned being made, I hope it may be found that I
have adhered rigorously to my purpose of owing nothing to invention
in my attempt to flesh and clothe these few bones of history.
I should add, perhaps, that where authorities differ as to motives,
where there is a conflict of evidence as to the facts themselves,
or where the facts admit of more than one interpretation, I have
permitted myself to be selective, and confined myself to a point
of view adopted at the outset.
LONDON, August, I9I7
I. THE NIGHT OF HOLYROOD
The Murder of David Rizzio
II. THE NIGHT OF KIRK O' FIELD
The Murder of Darnley
III. THE NIGHT OF BETRAYAL
Antonio Perez and Philip II of Spain
IV. THE NIGHT OF CHARITY
The Case of the Lady Alice Lisle
V. THE NIGHT OF MASSACRE
The Story of the Saint Bartholomew
VI. THE NIGHT OF WITCHCRAFT
Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan
VII. THE NIGHT OF GEMS
The Affaire of the Queen's Necklace
VIII. THE NIGHT OF TERROR
The Drownings at Nantes under Carrier
IX. THE NIGHT OF NUPTIALS
Charles the Bold and Sapphira Danvelt
X. THE NIGHT OF STRANGLERS
Giovanna of Naples and Andreas of Hungary
XI. THE NIGHT OF HATE
The Murder of the Duke of Gandia
XII. THE NIGHT OF ESCAPE
Casanova's Escape from the Piombi
XIII. THE NIGHT OF MASQUERADE
The Assassination of Gustavus III of Sweden
THE HISTORICAL NIGHTS' ENTERTAINMENT
I. THE NIGHT OF HOLYROOD
The Murder of David Rizzio
The tragedy of my Lord Darnley's life lay in the fact that he was
a man born out of his proper station - a clown destined to kingship
by the accident of birth and fortune. By the blood royal flowing
in his veins, he could, failing others, have claimed succession to
both the English and the Scottish thrones, whilst by his marriage
with Mary Stuart he made a definite attempt to possess himself of
that of Scotland.
The Queen of Scots, enamoured for a season of the clean-limbed grace
and almost feminine beauty ("ladyfaced," Melville had called him
once) of this "long lad of nineteen" who came a-wooing her, had soon
discovered, in matrimony, his vain, debauched, shiftless, and
cowardly nature. She had married him in July of 1565, and by
Michaelmas she had come to know him for just a lovely husk of a man,
empty of heart or brain; and the knowledge transmuted affection into
Her natural brother, the Earl of Murray, had opposed the marriage,
chiefly upon the grounds that Darnley was a Catholic, and with
Argyll, Chatellerault, Glencairn, and a host of other Protestant
lords, had risen in arms against his sovereign and her consort. But
Mary had chased her rebel brother and his fellows over the border
into England, and by this very action, taken for the sake of her
worthless husband, she sowed the first seeds of discord between
herself and him. It happened that stout service had been rendered
her in this affair by the arrogant border ruffian, the Earl of
Bothwell. Partly to reward him, partly because of the confidence
with which he inspired her, she bestowed upon him the office of
Lieutenant-General of the East, Middle, and West Marches - an office
which Darnley had sought for his father, Lennox. That was the first
and last concerted action of the royal couple. Estrangement grew
thereafter between them, and, in a measure, as it grew so did
Darnley's kingship, hardly established as yet - for the Queen had
still to redeem her pre-nuptial promise to confer upon him the crown
matrimonial - begin to dwindle.
At first it had been "the King and Queen," or "His Majesty and Hers";
but by Christmas - five months after the wedding - Darnley was known
simply as "the Queen's husband," and in all documents the Queen's
name now took precedence of his, whilst coins bearing their two
heads, and the legend "Hen. et Maria," were called in and substituted
by a new coinage relegating him to the second place.
Deeply affronted, and seeking anywhere but in himself and his own
shortcomings the cause of the Queen's now manifest hostility, he
presently conceived that he had found it in the influence exerted
upon her by the Seigneur Davie - that Piedmontese, David Rizzio,
who had come to the Scottish Court some four years ago as a
starveling minstrel in the train of Monsieur de Morette, the
ambassador of Savoy.
It was Rizzio's skill upon the rebec that had first attracted Mary's
attention. Later he had become her secretary for French affairs
and the young Queen, reared amid the elegancies of the Court of
France, grew attached to him as to a fellow-exile in the uncouth
and turbulent land over which a harsh destiny ordained that she
should rule. Using his opportunities and his subtle Italian
intelligence, he had advanced so rapidly that soon there was no man
in Scotland who stood higher with the Queen. When Maitland of
Lethington was dismissed under suspicion of favouring the exiled
Protestant lords, the Seigneur Davie succeeded him as her secretary;
and now that Morton was under the same suspicion, it was openly said
that the Seigneur Davie would be made chancellor in his stead.
Thus the Seigneur Davie was become the most powerful man in Scotland,
and it is not to be dreamt that a dour, stiff-necked nobility would
suffer it without demur. They intrigued against him, putting it
abroad, amongst other things, that this foreign upstart was an
emissary, of the Pope's, scheming to overthrow the Protestant
religion in Scotland. But in the duel that followed their blunt
Scotch wits were no match for his Italian subtlety. Intrigue as
they might his power remained unshaken. And then, at last it began
to be whispered that he owed his high favour with the beautiful
young Queen to other than his secretarial abilities, so that Bedford
wrote to Cecil:
"What countenance the Queen shows David I will not write, for the
honour due to the person of a queen."
This bruit found credit - indeed, there have been ever since those
who have believed it - and, as it spread, it reached the ears of
Darnley. Because it afforded him an explanation of the Queen's
hostility, since he was without the introspection that would have
discovered the true explanation in his own shortcomings, he flung
it as so much fuel upon the seething fires of his rancour, and
became the most implacable of those who sought the ruin of Rizzio.
He sent for Ruthven, the friend of Murray and the exiled lords -
exiled, remember, on Darnley's own account - and offered to procure
the reinstatement of those outlaws if they would avenge his honour
and make him King of Scots in something more than name.
Ruthven, sick of a mortal illness, having risen from a bed of pain
to come in answer to that summons, listened dourly to the frothing
speeches of that silly, lovely boy.
"No doubt you'll be right about yon fellow Davie," he agreed
sombrely, and purposely he added things that must have outraged
Darnley's every feeling as king and as husband. Then he stated the
terms on which Darnley might count upon his aid.
"Early next month Parliament is to meet over the business of a Bill
of Attainder against Murray and his friends, declaring them by their
rebellion to have forfeited life, land, and goods. Ye can see the
power with her o' this foreign fiddler, that it drives her so to
attaint her own brother. Murray has ever hated Davie, knowing too
much of what lies 'twixt the Queen and him to her dishonour, and
Master Davie thinks so to make an end of Murray and his hatred."
Darnley clenched teeth and hands, tortured by the craftily
"What then? What is to do?" he cried,
Ruthven told him bluntly.
"That Bill must never pass. Parliament must never meet to pass it.
You are Her Grace's husband and King of Scots."
"In name!" sneered Darnley bitterly.
"The name will serve," said Ruthven. "In that name ye'll sign me a
bond of formal remission to Murray and his friends for all their
actions and quarrels, permitting their safe return to Scotland, and
charging the lieges to convoy them safely. Do that and leave the
rest to us."
If Darnley hesitated at all, it was not because he perceived the
irony of the situation - that he himself, in secret opposition to
the Queen, should sign the pardon of those who had rebelled against
her precisely because she had taken him to husband. He hesitated
because indecision was inherent in his nature.
"And then?" he asked at last.
Ruthven's blood-injected eyes considered him stonily out of a livid,
"Then, whether you reign with her or without her, reign you shall
as King o' Scots. I pledge myself to that, and I pledge those
others, so that we have the bond."
Darnley sat down to sign the death warrant of the Seigneur Davie.
It was the night of Saturday, the 9th of March,
A fire of pine logs burned fragrantly on the hearth of the small
closet adjoining the Queen's chamber, suffusing it with a sense of
comfort, the greater by contrast with the cheerlessness out of doors,
where an easterly wind swept down from Arthur's Seat and moaned its
dismal way over a snowclad world.
The lovely, golden-headed young queen supped with a little company
of intimates: her natural sister, the Countess of Argyll, the
Commendator of Holyrood, Beaton, the Master of the Household, Arthur
Erskine, the Captain of the Guard, and one other - that, David Rizzio,
who from an errant minstrel had risen to this perilous eminence, a
man of a swarthy, ill-favoured countenance redeemed by the
intelligence that glowed in his dark eyes, and of a body so slight
and fragile as to seem almost misshapen. His age was not above
thirty, yet indifferent health, early privation, and misfortune had
so set their mark upon him that he had all the appearance of a man
of fifty. He was dressed with sombre magnificence, and a jewel of
great price smouldered upon the middle finger of one of his slender,
Supper was at an end. The Queen lounged on a long seat over against
the tapestried wall. The Countess of Argyll, in a tall chair on the
Queen's left, sat with elbows on the table watching the Seigneur
Davie's fine fingers as they plucked softly at the strings of a
long-necked lute. The talk, which, intimate and untrammelled, had
lately been of the child of which Her Majesty was to be delivered
some three months hence, was flagging now, and it was to fill the
gap that Rizzio had taken up the lute.
His harsh countenance was transfigured as he caressed the strings,
his soul absorbed in the theme of his inspiration. Very softly -
indeed, no more than tentatively as yet - he was beginning one of
those wistful airs in which his spirit survives in Scotland to this
day, when suddenly the expectant hush was broken by a clash of
curtain-rings. The tapestries that masked the door had been swept
aside, and on the threshold, unheralded, stood the tall, stripling
figure of the young King.
Darnley's appearance abruptly scattered the Italian's inspiration.
The melody broke off sharply on the single loud note of a string
too rudely plucked.
That and the silence that followed it irked them all, conveying a
sense that here something had been broken which never could be made
Darnley shuffled forward. His handsome face was pale save for the
two burning spots upon his cheekbones, and his eyes glittered
feveredly. He had been drinking, so much was clear; and that he
should seek the Queen thus, who so seldom sought her sober, angered
those intimates who had come to share her well-founded dislike of
him. King though he might be in name, into such contempt was he
fallen that not one of them rose in deference, whilst Mary herself
watched his approach with hostile, mistrusting eyes.
"What is it, my lord?" she asked him coldly, as he flung himself
down on the settle beside her.
He leered at her, put an arm about her waist, pulled her to him,
and kissed her oafishly.
None stirred. All eyes were upon them, and all faces blank. After
all, he was the King and she his wife. And then upon the silence,
ominous as the very steps of doom, came a ponderous, clanking tread
from the ante-room beyond. Again the curtains were thrust aside,
and the Countess of Argyll uttered a gasp of sudden fear at the
grim spectre she beheld there. It was a figure armed as for a
tourney, in gleaming steel from head to foot, girt with a sword,
the right hand resting upon the hilt of the heavy dagger in the
girdle. The helmet's vizor was raised, revealing the ghastly face
of Ruthven - so ghastly that it must have seemed the face of a dead
man but for the blazing life in the eyes that scanned the company.
Those questing eyes went round the table, settled upon Rizzio, and
seemed horribly to smile.
Startled, disquieted by this apparition, the Queen half rose,
Darnley's hindering arm still flung about her waist.
"What's this?" she cried, her voice sharp.
And then, as if she guessed intuitively what it might portend, she
considered her husband with pale-faced contempt.
"Judas!" she called him, flung away from his detaining arm, and
stood forth to confront that man in steel. "What seek ye here, my
lord - and in this guise?" was her angry challenge.
Ruthven's burning eyes fell away before her glance. He clanked
forward a step or two, flung out a mailed arm, and with a hand that
shook pointed to the Seigneur Davie, who stood blankly watching him.
"I seek yon man," he said gruffly. "Let him come forth."
"He is here by my will," she told him, her anger mounting. "And so
are not you - for which you shall be made to answer."
Then to Darnley, who sat hunched on the settle:
"What does this mean, sir?" she demanded.
"Why - how should I know? Why - why, nothing," he faltered foolishly.
"Pray God that you are right," said she, "for your own sake. And
you," she continued, addressing Ruthven again and waving a hand in
imperious dismissal, "be you gone, and wait until I send for you,
which I promise you shall be right soon."
If she divined some of the evil of their purpose, if any fear
assailed her, yet she betrayed nothing of it. She was finely
But Ruthven, sullen and menacing, stood his ground.
"Let yon man come forth," he repeated. "He has been here ower lang."
"Over long?" she echoed, betrayed by her quick resentment.
"Aye, ower lang for the good o' Scotland and your husband," was the
Erskine, of her guards, leapt to his feet.
"Will you begone, sir?" he cried; and after him came Beaton and the
Commendator, both echoing the captain's threatening question.
A smile overspread Ruthven's livid face. The heavy dagger flashed
from his belt.
"My affair is not with any o' ye, but if ye thrust yersels too close
upon my notice - "
The Queen stepped clear of the table to intervene, lest violence
should be done here in her presence. Rizzio, who had risen, stood
now beside her, watching all with a white, startled face. And then,
before more could be said, the curtains were torn away and half a
score of men, whose approach had passed unnoticed, poured into the
room. First came Morton, the Chancellor, who was to be dispossessed
of the great seal in Rizzio's favour. After him followed the brutal
Lindsay of the Byres, Kerr of Faudonside, black-browed Brunston,
red-headed Douglas, and a half-dozen others.
Confusion ensued; the three men of the Queen's household were
instantly surrounded and overpowered. In the brief, sharp struggle
the table was overturned, and all would have been in darkness but
that as the table went over the Countess of Argyll had snatched up
the candle-branch, and stood now holding it aloft to light that
extraordinary scene. Rizzio, to whom the sight of Morton had been
as the removal of his last illusion, flung himself upon his knees
before the Queen. Frail and feeble of body, and never a man of his
hands, he was hopelessly unequal to the occasion.
"Justice, madame!" he cried. "Faites justice! Sauvez ma vie!"
Fearlessly, she stepped between him and the advancing horde of
murderers, making of her body a buckler for his protection. White
of face, with heaving bosom and eyes like two glowing sapphires, she
"Back, on your lives!" she bade them.
But they were lost to all sense of reverence, even to all sense of
decency, in their blind rage against this foreign upstart who had
trampled their Scottish vanity in the dust. George Douglas, without
regard for her condition either as queen or woman - and a woman
almost upon the threshold of motherhood - clapped a pistol to her
breast and roughly bade her stand aside.
Undaunted, she looked at him with eyes that froze his trigger-finger,
whilst behind her Rizzio grovelled in his terror, clutching her
petticoat. Thus, until suddenly she was seized about the waist and
half dragged, half-lifted aside by Darnley, who at the same time
spurned Rizzio forward with his foot.
The murderers swooped down upon their prey. Kerr of Faudonside
flung a noose about his body, and drew it tight with a jerk that
pulled the secretary from his knees. Then he and Morton took the
rope between them, and so dragged their victim across the room
towards the door. He struggled blindly as he went, vainly
clutching first at an overset chair, then at a leg of the table,
and screeching piteously the while to the Queen to save him. And
Mary, trembling with passion, herself struggling in the arms of
Darnley, flung an angry warning after them.
"If Davie's blood be spilt, it shall be dear blood to some of you!
Remember that, sirs!"
But they were beyond control by now, hounds unleashed upon the
quarry of their hate. Out of her presence Morton and Douglas
dragged him, the rest of the baying pack going after them. They
dragged him, screeching still, across the ante-chamber to the head
of the great stairs, and there they fell on him all together, and
so wildly that they wounded one another in their fury to rend him
into pieces. The tattered body, gushing blood from six-and-fifty
wounds, was hurled from top to bottom of the stairs, with a
gold-hilted dagger - Darnley's, in token of his participation in
the deed - still sticking in his breast.
Ruthven stood forward from the group, his reeking poniard clutched
in his right hand, a grin distorting his ghastly, vulturine face.
Then he stalked back alone into the royal presence, dragging his
feet a little, like a man who is weary.
He found the room much as he had left it, save that the Queen had
sunk back to her seat on the settle, and Darnley was now standing
over her, whilst her people were still hemmed about by his own men.
Without a "by your leave," he flung himself into a chair and called
hoarsely for a cup of wine.
Mary's white face frowned at him across the room.
"You shall yet drink the wine that I shall pour you for this night's
work, my lord, and for this insolence! Who gave you leave to sit
He waved a hand as if to dismiss the matter. It may have seemed to
him frivolous to dwell upon such a trifle amid so much.
"It's no' frae lack o' respect, Your Grace," he growled, "but frae
lack o' strength. I am ill, and I should ha' been abed but for what
was here to do."
"Ah!" She looked at him with cold repugnance. "What have you done
He shrugged, yet his eyes quailed before her own.
"He'll be out yonder," he answered, grimly evasive; and he took the
wine one of his followers proffered him.
"Go see," she bade the Countess.
And the Countess, setting the candle-branch upon the buffet, went
out, none attempting to hinder her.
Then, with narrowed eyes, the Queen watched Ruthven while he drank.
"It will be for the sake of Murray and his friends that you do this,"
she said slowly. "Tell me, my lord, what great kindness is there
between Murray and you that, to save him from forfeiture, you run
the risk of being forfeited with him?"
"What I have done," he said, "I have done for others, and under a
bond that shall hold me scatheless."
"Under a bond?" said she, and now she looked up at Darnley, standing
ever at her side. "And was the bond yours, my lord?"
"Mme?" He started back. "I know naught of it."
But as he moved she saw something else. She leaned forward, pointing
to the empty sheath at his girdle.
"Where is your dagger, my lord?" she asked him sharply.
"My dagger? Ha! How should I know?"
"But I shall know!" she threatened, as if she were not virtually a
prisoner in the hands of these violent men who had invaded her
palace and dragged Rizzio from her side. "I shall not rest until
The Countess came in, white to the lips, bearing in her eyes
something of the horror she had beheld.
"What is it?" Mary asked her, her voice suddenly hushed and
"Madame-he is dead! Murdered!" she announced.
The Queen looked at her, her face of marble. Then her voice came
hushed and tense:
"Are - you sure?"
"Myself I saw his body, madame."
There was a long pause. A low moan escaped the Queen, and her
lovely eyes were filled with tears; slowly these coursed down her
cheeks. Something compelling in her grief hushed every voice, and
the craven husband at her side shivered as her glance fell upon him
"And is it so?" she said at length, considering him. She dried her
eyes. "Then farewell tears; I must study revenge." She rose as if
with labour, and standing, clung a moment to the table's edge. A
moment she looked at Ruthven, who sat glooming there, dagger in one
hand and empty wine-cup in the other; then her glance passed on,
and came to rest balefully on Darnley's face. "You have had your
will, my lord," she said, "but consider well what I now say.
Consider and remember. I shall never rest until I give you as sore
a heart as I have presently."
That said she staggered forward. The Countess hastened to her, and
leaning upon her arm, Mary passed through the little door of the
closet into her chamber.
That night the common bell was rung, and Edinburgh roused in alarm.
Bothwell, Huntly, Atholl, and others who were at Holyrood when
Rizzio was murdered, finding it impossible to go to the Queen's
assistance, and fearing to share the secretary's fate - for the
palace was a-swarm with the murderers' men-at-arms - had escaped
by one of the windows. The alarm they spread in Edinburgh brought
the provost and townsmen in arms to the palace by torchlight,
demanding to see the Queen, and refusing to depart until Darnley
had shown himself and assured them that all was well with the Queen
and with himself. And what time Darnley gave them this reassurance
from a window of her room, Mary herself stood pale and taut amid
the brutal horde that on this alarm had violated the privacy of her
chamber, while the ruffianly Red Douglas flashed his dagger before
her eyes, swearing that if she made a sound they would cut her into
When at last they withdrew and left her to herself, they left her
no illusions as to her true condition. She was a prisoner in her
own palace. The ante-rooms and courts were thronged with the
soldiers of Morton and Ruthven, the palace itself was hemmed about,
and none might come or go save at the good pleasure of the murderers.
At last Darnley grasped the authority he had coveted. He dictated
forthwith a proclamation which was read next morning at Edinburgh
Market Cross - commanding that the nobles who had assembled in
Edinburgh to compose the Parliament that was to pass the Bill of
Attainder should quit the city within three hours, under pain of
treason and forfeiture.
And meanwhile, with poor Rizzio's last cry of "justice!" still
ringing in her ears, Mary sat alone in her chamber, studying revenge
as she had promised. So that life be spared her, justice, she vowed,
should be done - punishment not only for that barbarous deed, but
for the very manner of the doing of it, for all the insult to which
she had been subjected, for the monstrous violence done her feelings
and her very person, for the present detention and peril of which
she was full conscious.
Her anger was the more intense because she never permitted it to
diffuse itself over the several offenders. Ruthven, who had
insulted her so grossly; Douglas, who had offered her personal
violence; the Laird of Faudonside, Morton, and all the others who
held her now a helpless prisoner, she hew for no more than the
instruments of Darnley. It was against Darnley that all her rage
was concentrated. She recalled in those bitter hours all that she
had suffered at his vile hands, and swore that at whatever cost to
herself he should yield a full atonement.
He sought her in the morning emboldened by the sovereign power he
was usurping confident that now that he showed himself master of
the situation she would not repine over what was done beyond recall,
but would submit to the inevitable, be reconciled with him, and
grant him, perforce - supported as he now was by the rebellious
lords - the crown matrimonial and the full kingly power he coveted.
But her reception of him broke that confidence into shards.
"You have done me such a Wrong," she told him in a voice of cold
hatred, that neither the recollection of our early friendship, nor
all the hope you can give me of the future, could ever make me
forget it. Jamais! Jamais je n'oublierai!" she added, and upon
that she dismissed him so imperiously that he went at once.
She sought a way to deal with him, groped blindly for it, being as
yet but half informed of what was taking place; and whilst she
groped, the thing she sought was suddenly thrust into her land.
Mary Beaton, one of the few attendants left her, brought her word
later that day that the Earl of Murray, with Rothes and some other
of the exiled lords, was in the palace. The news brought revelation.
It flooded with light the tragic happening of the night before,
showed her how Darnley was building himself a party in the state.
It did more than that. She recalled the erstwhile mutual hatred
and mistrust of Murray and Darnley, and saw how it might serve her
in this emergency.
Instantly she summoned Murray to her presence with the message that
she welcomed his return. Yet, despite that message, he hardly
expected - considering what lay between them - the reception that
awaited him at her hands.
She rose to receive him, her lovely eyes suffused ,with tears. She
embraced him, kissed him, and then, nestling to him, as if for
comfort, her cheek against his bearded face, she allowed her tears
to flow unchecked.
"I am punished," she sobbed - "oh, I am punished! Had I kept you
at home, Murray, you would never have suffered men to entreat me as
I have been entreated."
Holding her to hint, he could but pat her shoulder, soothing her,
utterly taken aback, and deeply moved, too, by this display of an
affection for him that he had never hitherto suspected in her.
"Ah, mon Dieu, Jamie, how welcome you are to one in my sorrow!"
she continued. "It is the fault of others that you have been so
long out of the country. I but require of you that you be a good
subject to me, and you shall never find me other to you than you
And he, shaken to the depths of his selfish soul by her tears, her
clinging caresses, and her protestations of affection, answered
with an oath and a sob that no better or more loyal and devoted
subject than himself could all Scotland yield her.
"And, as for this killing of Davie," he ended vehemently, "I swear
by my soul's salvation that I have had no part in it, nor any
knowledge of it until my return!"
"I know - I know!" she moaned. "Should I make you welcome, else?
Be my friend, Jamie; be my friend!"
He swore it readily, for he was very greedy of power, and saw the
door of his return to it opening wider than he could have hoped.
Then he spoke of Darnley, begging her to receive him, and hear what
he might have to say, protesting that the King swore that he had
not desired the murder, and that the lords had carried the matter
out of his hands and much beyond all that he had intended.
Because it suited her deep purpose, Mary consented, feigning to be
persuaded. She had realized that before she could deal with
Darnley, and the rebel lords who held her a prisoner, she must first
win free from Holyrood.
Darnley came. He was sullen now, mindful of his recent treatment,
and in fear - notwithstanding Murray's reassurance - of further
similar rebuffs. She announced herself ready to hear what he might
have to say, and she listened attentively while he spoke, her elbow
on the carved arm of her chair, her chin in her hand. When he had
done, she sat long in thought, gazing out through the window at the
grey March sky. At length she turned and looked at him.
"Do you pretend, my lord, to regret for what has passed?" she
"You tempt me to hypocrisy," he said. "Yet I will be frank as at
an Easter shrift. Since that fellow Davie fell into credit and
familiarity with Your Majesty, you no longer treated me nor
entertained me after your wonted fashion, nor would you ever bear
me company save this Davie were the third. Can I pretend, then,
to regret that one who deprived me of what I prized most highly
upon earth should have been removed? I cannot. Yet I can and do
proclaim my innocence of any part or share in the deed that has
She lowered her eyes an instant, then raised them again to meet
"You had commerce with these traitor lords," she reminded him. "It
is by your decree that they are returned from exile. What was your
aim in this?"
"To win back the things of which this fellow Davie had robbed me,
a share in the ruling and the crown matrimonial that was my right,
yet which you denied me. That and no more. I had not intended
that Davie should be slain. I had not measured the depth of their
hatred of that upstart knave. You see that I am frank with you."
"Aye, and I believe you," she lied slowly, considering him as she
spoke. And he drew a breath of relief, suspecting nothing of her
deep guile. "And do you know why I believe you? Because you are
"Madame!" he cried.
She rose, magnificently contemptuous.
"Must I prove it? You say that the crown matrimonial which I denied
you is to be conferred on you by these lawless men? Believing that,
you signed their pardon and recall from exile. Ha! You do not see,
my lord, that you are no more than their tool, their cat's-paw. You
do not see that they use you but for their ends, and that when they
have done with you, they will serve you as they served poor Davie?
No, you see none of that, which is why I call you a fool, that need
a woman's wit to open wide your eyes."
She was so vehement that she forced upon his dull wits some of the
convictions she pretended were her own. Yet, resisting those
convictions, he cried out that she was at fault.
"At fault?" She laughed. "Let my memory inform your judgment. When
these lords, with Murray at their head, protested against our
marriage, in what terms did they frame their protest? They
complained that I had set over them without consulting them one who
had no title to it, whether by lineal descent of blood, by nature,
or by consent of the Estates. Consider that! They added, remember
- I repeat to you the very words they wrote and published - that
while they deemed it their duty to endure under me, they deemed it
intolerable to suffer under you."
She was flushed, and her eyes gleamed with excitement. She clutched
his sleeve, and brought her face close to his own, looked deep and
compellingly into his eyes as she continued:
"Such was their proclamation, and they took arms against me to
enforce it, to pull you down from the place to which I had raised
you out of the dust. Yet you can forget it, and in your purblind
folly turn to these very men to right the wrongs you fancy I have
done you. Do you think that men, holding you in such esteem as
that, can keep any sort of faith with you? Do you think these are
the men who are likely to fortify and maintain your title to the
crown? Ask yourself, and answer for yourself."
He was white to the lips. As much by her vehement pretence of
sincerity as by the apparently irrefragable logic of her arguments,
she forced conviction upon him. This brought a loathly fear in its
train, and the gates of his heart stood ever wide to fear. He
stepped aside to a chair, and sank into it, looking at her with
dilating eyes - a fool confronted with the likely fruits of his
"Then - then - why did they proffer me their help? How can they
achieve their ends this way?"
"How? Do you still ask? Do you not see what a blind tool you
have been in their crafty hands? In name at least you are king,
and your signature is binding upon my subjects. Have you not
brought them back from exile by one royal decree, whilst by another
you have dispersed the Parliament that was assembled to attaint
them of treason?"
She stepped close up to him, and bending ,over him as he sat there,
crushed by realization, she lowered her voice.
"Pray God, my lord, that all their purpose with you is not yet
complete, else in their hands I do not think your life is to be
valued at an apple-paring. You go the ways poor Davie went."
He sank his handsome head to his hands, and covered his face. A
while he sat huddled there, she watching him with gleaming, crafty
eyes. At length he rallied. He looked up, tossing back the auburn
hair from his white brow, still fighting, though weakly, against
persuasion. "It is not possible," he, cried. "They could not!
They could not!"
She laughed, betwixt bitterness and sadness.
"Trust to that," she bade him. "Yet look well at matters as they
are already. I am a prisoner here in these men's hands. They will
not let me go until their full purpose is accomplished - perhaps,"
she added wistfully, "perhaps not even then."
"Ah, not that!" he cried out.
"Even that," she answered firmly. "But," and again she grew
vehement, "is it less so with you? Are you less a prisoner than I?
D'ye think you will be suffered to come and go at will?" She saw
the increase of fear in him, and then she struck boldly, setting
all upon the gamble of a guess. "I am kept here until I shall have
been brought to such a state that I will add my signature to your
own and so pardon one and all for what is done."
His sudden start, the sudden quickening of his glance told her how
shrewdly she had struck home. Fearlessly, then, sure of herself,
she continued. "To that end they use you. When you shall have
served it you will but cumber them. When they shall have used
you to procure their security from me, then they will deal with
you as they have ever sought to deal with you - so that you trouble
them no more. Ali, at last you understand!"
He came to his feet, his brow gleaming with sweat, his slender
hands nervously interlocked.
"Oh, God!" he cried in a stifled voice.
"Aye, you are in a trap, my lord. Yourself you've sprung it."
And now you behold him broken by the terror she had so cunningly
evoked. He flung himself upon his knees before her, and with
upturned face and hands that caught and clawed at her own, he
implored her pardon for the wrong that in his folly he had done
her in taking sides with her enemies.
She dissembled under a mask of gentleness the loathing that his
cowardice aroused in her.
"My enemies?" she echoed wistfully. "Say rather your own enemies.
It was their enmity to you that drove them into exile. In your
rashness you have recalled them, whilst at the same time you have
so bound my hands that I cannot now help you if I would."
"You can, Mary," he cried, "or else no one can. Withhold the pardon
they will presently be seeking of you. Refuse to sign any remission
of their deed."
"And leave them to force you to sign it, and so destroy us both,"
He ranted then, invoking the saints of heaven, and imploring her
in their name - she who was so wise and strong - to discover some
way out of this tangle in which his madness had enmeshed them.
"What way is there short of flight?" she asked him. "And how are
we to fly who are imprisoned here you as well as myself? Alas,
Darnley, I fear our lives will end by paying the price of your
Thus she played upon his terrors, so that he would not be
dismissed until she had promised that she would consider and seek
some means of saving him, enjoining him meanwhile to keep strict
watch upon himself and see that he betrayed nothing of his
She left him to the chastening of a sleepless night, then sent for
him betimes on Monday morning, and bade him repair to the lords
and tell them that realizing herself a prisoner in their hands she
was disposed to make terms with them. She would grant them pardon
for what was done if on their side they undertook to be loyal
henceforth and allowed her to resume her liberty.
The message startled him. But the smile with which she followed
it was reassuring.
"There is something else you are to do," she said, "if we are to
turn the tables on these traitorous gentlemen. Listen." And she
added matter that begat fresh hope in Darnley's despairing soul.
He kissed her hands, lowly now and obedient as a hound that had
been whipped to heel, and went below to bear her message to the
Morton and Ruthven heard him out, but betrayed no eagerness to
seize the opportunity.
"All this is but words that we hear," growled Ruthven , who lay
stretched upon a couch, grimly suffering from the disease that
was, slowly eating up his life.
"She is guileful as the serpent," Morton added, "being bred up in
the Court of France. She will make you follow her will and desire,
but she will not so lead us. We hold her fast, and we do not let
her go without some good security of what shall follow."
"What security will satisfy you?" quoth Darnley.
Murray and Lindsay came in as he was speaking, and Morton told them
of the message that Darnley had brought. Murray moved heavily
across to a window-seat, and sat down. He cleared a windowpane with
his hand, and looked out upon the wintry landscape as if the matter
had no interest for him. But Lindsay echoed what the other twain
had said already.
"We want a deal more than promises that need not be kept," he said.
Darnley looked from one to the other of them, seeing in their
uncompromising attitude a confirmation of what the Queen had told
him, and noting, too - as at another time he might not have noted
- their utter lack of deference to himself, their King.
"Sirs," he said, "I vow you wrong Her Majesty. I will stake my
life upon her honour."
"Why, so you may," sneered Ruthven, "but you'll not stake ours."
"Take what security you please, and I will subscribe it."
"Aye, but will the Queen?" wondered Morton.
"She will. I have her word for it."
It took them the whole of that day to consider the terms of the
articles that would satisfy them. Towards evening the document
was ready, and Morton and Ruthven representing all, accompanied by
Murray, and introduced by Darnley, came to the chamber to which Her
Majesty was confined by the guard they had set upon her.
She sat as if in state awaiting them, very lovely and very tearful,
knowing that woman's greatest strength is in her weakness, that
tears would serve her best by presenting her as if broken to their
In outward submission they knelt before her to make the pretence
of suing for the pardon which they extorted by force of arms and
duress. When each in his turn had made the brief pleading oration
he had prepared, she dried her eyes and controlled herself by
"My lords," she said, in a voice that quivered and broke on every
other word, "when have ye ever found me blood-thirsty, or greedy
of your lands or goods that you must use me so, and take such means
with me? Ye have set my authority at naught, and wrought sedition
in this realm. Yet I forgive you all, that by this clemency I may
move you to a better love and loyalty. I desire that all that is
passed may be buried in oblivion, so that you swear to me that in
the future you will stand my friends and serve me faithfully, who
am but a weak woman, and sorely need stout men to be my friends."
For a moment her utterance was checked by sobs. Then she controlled
herself again by an effort so piteous to behold that even the
flinty-hearted Ruthven was moved to some compassion.
"Forgive this weakness in me, who am very weak, for very soon I am
to be brought to bed as you well know, and I am in no case to offer
resistance to any. I have no more to say, my lords. Since you
promise on your side that you will put all disloyalty behind you,
I pledge myself to remit and pardon all those that were banished
for their share in the late rising, and likewise to pardon those
that were concerned in the killing of Seigneur Davie. All this
shall be as if it had never been. I pray you, my lords, make your
own security in what sort you best please, and I will subscribe it."
Morton proffered her the document they had prepared. She conned
it slowly, what time they watched her, pausing ever and anon to
brush aside the tears that blurred her vision. At last she nodded
her lovely golden head.
"It is very well," she said. "All is here as I would have it be
between us." And she turned to Darnley. "Give me pen and ink,
Darnley dipped a quill and handed it to her. She set the
parchment on the little pulpit at her side. Then, as she bent to
sign, the pen fluttered from her fingers, and with a deep,
shuddering sigh she sank back in her chair, her eyes closed, her
face piteously white.
"The Queen is faint!" cried Murray, springing forward.
But she rallied instantly, smiling upon them wanly.
"It is naught; it is past," she said. But even as she spoke she
put a hand to her brow. "I am something dizzy. My condition - "
She faltered on a trembling note of appeal that increased their
compassion, and aroused in them a shame of their own harshness.
"Leave this security with me. I will subscribe it in the morning
- indeed, as soon as I am sufficiently recovered."
They rose from their knees at her bidding, and Morton in the name
of all professed himself full satisfied, and deplored the affliction
they had caused her, for which in the future they should make her
"I thank you," she answered simply. "You have leave to go."
They departed well satisfied; and, counting the matter at an end,
they quitted the palace and rode to their various lodgings in
Edinburgh town, Murray going with Morton.
Anon to Maitland of Lethington, who had remained behind, came one
of the Queen's women to summon him to her presence. He found her
disposing herself for bed, and was received by her with tearful
"Sir," she said, "one of the conditions upon which I consented to
the will of their lordships was that an immediate term should be
set to the insulting state of imprisonment in which I am kept here.
Yet men-at-arms still guard the very door of my chamber, and my
very attendants are hindered in their comings and goings. Do you
call this keeping faith with me? Have I not granted all the
requests of the lords?"
Lethington, perceiving the justice of what she urged, withdrew
shamed and confused at once to remedy the matter by removing the
guards from the passage and the stairs and elsewhere, leaving none
but those who paced outside the palace.
It was a rashness he was bitterly to repent him on the morrow, when
it was discovered that in the night Mary had not only escaped, but
had taken Darnley with her. Accompanied by him and a few attendants,
she had executed the plan in which earlier that day she had secured
her scared husband's cooperation. At midnight they had made their
way along the now unguarded corridors, and descended to the vaults
of the palace, whence a secret passage communicated with the chapel.
Through this and across the graveyard where lay the newly buried
body of the Siegneur Davie - almost across the very grave itself
which stood near the chapel door they had won to the horses waiting
by Darnley's orders in the open. And they had ridden so hard that
by five o'clock of that Tuesday morning they were in Dunbar.
In vain did the alarmed lords send a message after her to demand
her signature of the security upon which she had duped them into
Within a week they were in full flight before the army at the head
of which the prisoner who had slipped through their hands was
returning to destroy them. Too late did they perceive the arts by
which she had fooled them, and seduced the shallow Darnley to
II. THE NIGHT OF KIRK O' FIELD
The Murder of Darnley
Perhaps one of the greatest mistakes of a lifetime in which mistakes
were plentiful was the hesitancy of the Queen of Scots in executing
upon her husband Darnley the prompt vengeance she had sworn for the
murder of David Rizzio.
When Rizzio was slain, and she herself held captive by the murderers
in her Palace of Holyrood, whilst Darnley ruled as king, she had
simulated belief in her husband's innocence that she might use him
for her vengeful ends.
She had played so craftily upon his cowardly nature as to convince
him that Morton, Ruthven, and the other traitor lords with whom he
had leagued himself were at heart his own implacable enemies; that
they pretended friendship for him to make a tool of him, and that
when he had served their turn they would destroy him.
In his consequent terror he had betrayed his associates, assisting
her to trick them by a promise to sign an act of oblivion for what
was done. Trusting to this the lords had relaxed their vigilance,
whereupon, accompanied by Darnley, she had escaped by night from
Hope tempering at first the rage and chagrin in the hearts of the
lords she had duped, they had sent a messenger to her at Dunbar to
request of her the fulfilment of her promise to sign the document
of their security.
But Mary put off the messenger, and whilst the army she had summoned
was hastily assembling, she used her craft to divide the rebels
To her natural brother, the Earl of Murray, to Argyll, and to all
those who had been exiled for their rebellion at the time of her
marriage - and who knew not where they stood in the present turn of
events, since one of the objects of the murder had been to procure
their reinstatement - she sent an offer of complete pardon, on
condition that they should at once dissociate themselves from those
concerned in the death of the Seigneur Davie.
These terms they accepted thankfully, as well they might. Thereupon,
finding themselves abandoned by all men - even by Darnley in whose
service they had engaged in the murder - Morton, Ruthven, and their
associates scattered and fled.
By the end of that month of March, Morton, Ruthven, Lindsay of the
Byres, George Douglas, and some sixty others were denounced as
rebels with forfeiture of life and goods, while one Thomas Scott,
who had been in command of the guards that had kept Her Majesty
prisoner at Holyrood, was hanged, drawn, and quartered at the
News of this reached the fugitives to increase their desperate rage.
But what drove the iron into the soul of the arch-murderer Ruthven
was Darnley's solemn public declaration denying all knowledge of or
complicity in Rizzio's assassination; nor did it soothe his fury to
know that all Scotland rang with contemptuous laughter at that
impudent and cowardly perjury. From his sick-bed at Newcastle,
whereon some six weeks later he was to breathe his last, the
forsaken wretch replied to it by sending the Queen the bond to
which he had demanded Darnley's signature before embarking upon
It was a damning document. There above the plain signature and seal
of the King was the admission, not merely of complicity, but that
the thing was done by his express will and command, that the
responsibility was his own, and that he would hold the doers
scatheless from all consequences.
Mary could scarcely have hoped to be able to confront her worthless
husband with so complete a proof of his duplicity and baseness.
She sent for him, confounded him with the sight of that appalling
bond, made an end to the amity which for her own ends she had
pretended, and drove him out of her presence with a fury before
which he dared not linger.
You see him, then, crushed under his load of mortification,
realizing at last how he had been duped on every hand, first by the
lords for their own purpose, and then by the Queen for hers. Her
contempt of him was now so manifest that it spread to all who served
him - for she made it plain that who showed him friendship earned
her deep displeasure - so that he was forced to withdraw from a
Court where his life was become impossible. For a while he wandered
up and down a land where every door was shut in his face, where
every man of whatsoever party, traitor or true, despised him alike.
In the end, he took himself off to his father, Lennox, and at
Glasgow he sought what amusement he could with his dogs and his
hawks, and such odd vulgar rustic love-affairs as came his way.
It was in allowing him thus to go his ways, in leaving her vengeance
- indeed, her justice - but half accomplished, that lay the
greatest of the Queen's mistakes. Better for her had she taken
with Darnley the direct way that was her right. Better for her,
if acting strongly then, she had banished or hanged him for his
part in the treason that had inspired the murder of Rizzio.
Unfortunately, a factor that served to quicken her abhorrence of
him served also to set a curb of caution upon the satisfaction
This factor that came so inopportunely into her life was her regard
for the arrogant, unscrupulous Earl of Bothwell. Her hand was
stayed by fear that men should say that for Bothwell's sake she had
rid herself of a husband become troublesome. That Bothwell had
been her friend in the hour when she had needed friends, and knew
not whom she might trust; that by his masterfulness he seemed a
man upon whom a woman might lean with confidence, may account for
the beginnings of the extraordinary influence he came so swiftly
to exercise over her, and the passion he awakened in her to such a
degree that she was unable to dissemble it.
Her regard for him, the more flagrant by contrast with her contempt
for Darnley, is betrayed in the will she made before her confinement
in the following June. Whilst to Darnley she bequeathed nothing but
the red-enamelled diamond ring with which he had married her - "It
was with this that I was married," she wrote almost contemptuously.
"I leave it to the King who gave it me" - she appointed Bothwell to
the tutelage of her child in the event of her not surviving it, and
to the government of the realm.
The King came to visit her during her convalescence, and was scowled
upon by Murray and Argyll, who were at Holyrood, and most of all by
Bothwell, whose arrogance by now was such that he was become the
best-hated man in Scotland. The Queen received him very coldly,
whilst using Bothwell more than cordially in his very presence, so
that he departed again in a deeper humiliation than before.
Then before the end of July there was her sudden visit to Bothwell
at Alloa, which gave rise to so much scandal. Hearing of it,
Darnley followed in a vain attempt to assert his rights as king and
husband, only to be flouted and dismissed with the conviction that
his life was no longer safe in Scotland, and that he had best cross
the Border. Yet, to his undoing, detained perhaps by the overweening
pride that is usually part of a fool's equipment, he did not act
upon that wise resolve. He returned instead to his hawking and his
hunting, and was seldom seen at Court thereafter.
Even when in the following October, Mary lay at the point of death
at Jedburgh, Darnley came but to stay a day, and left her again
without any assurance that she would recover. But then the facts
of her illness, and how it had been contracted, were not such as to
encourage kindness in him, even had he been inclined to kindness.
Bothwell had taken three wounds in a Border affray some weeks
before, and Mary, hearing of this and that he lay in grievous case
at Hermitage, had ridden thither in her fond solicitude - a distance
of thirty miles - and back again in the same day, thus contracting
a chill which had brought her to the very gates of death.
Darnley had not only heard of this, but he had found Bothwell at
Jedburgh, whither he had been borne in a litter, when in his turn
he had heard of how it was with Mary; and Bothwell had treated him
with more than the contempt which all men now showed him, but which
from none could wound him so deeply as from this man whom rumour
accounted Mary's lover.
Matters between husband and wife were thus come to a pass in which
they could not continue, as all men saw, and as she herself
confessed at Craigrnillar, whither she repaired, still weak in body,
towards the end of November.
Over a great fire that blazed in a vast chamber of the castle she
sat sick at heart and shivering, for all that her wasted body was
swathed in a long cloak of deepest purple reversed with ermine. Her
face was thin and of a transparent pallor, her eyes great pools of
wistfulness amid the shadows which her illness had set about them.
"I do wish I could be dead!" she sighed.
Bothwell's eyes narrowed. He was leaning on the back of her tall
chair, a long, virile figure with a hawk-nosed, bearded face that
was sternly handsome. He thrust back the crisp dark hair that
clustered about his brow, and fetched a sigh.
"It was never my own death I wished when a man stood in my road to
aught I craved," he said, lowering his voice, for Maitland of
Lethington - now restored to his secretaryship - was writing at a
table across the room, and my Lord of Argyll was leaning over him.
She looked up at him suddenly, her eyes startled.
"What devil's counsel do you whisper?" she asked him. And when he
would have answered, she raised a hand. "No," she said. "Not that
"There is another," said Bothwell coolly. He moved, came round,
and stood squarely upon the hearth, his back to the fire,
confronting her, nor did he further trouble to lower his voice.
"We have considered it already."
"What have you considered?"
Her voice was strained; fear and excitement blended in her face.
"How the shackles that fetter you might be broken. Be not alarmed.
It was the virtuous Murray himself propounded it to Argyll and
Lethington - for the good of Scotland and yourself." A sneer
flitted across his tanned face. "Let them speak for themselves."
He raised his voice and called to them across the room.
They came at once, and the four made an odd group as they stood
there in the firelit gloom of that November day - the lovely young
Queen, so frail and wistful in her high-backed chair; the stalwart,
arrogant Bothwell, magnificent in a doublet of peach-coloured velvet
that tapered to a golden girdle; Argyll, portly and sober in a rich
suit of black; and Maitland of Lethington, lean and crafty of face,
in a long furred gown that flapped about his bony shanks.
It was to Lethington that Bothwell addressed himself.
"Her Grace is in a mood to hear how the Gordian knot of her marriage
might be unravelled," said he, grimly ironic.
Lethington raised his eyebrows, licked his thin lips, and rubbed his
bony hands one in the other.
"Unravelled?" he echoed with wondering stress. "Unravelled? Ha!"
His dark eyes flashed round at them. "Better adopt Alexander's plan,
and cut it. 'Twill be more complete, and - and final."
"No, no!" she cried. "I will not have you shed his blood."
"He himself was none so tender where another was concerned,"
Bothwell reminded her - as if the memory of Rizzio were dear to him.
"What he may have done does not weigh upon my conscience," was her
"He might," put in Argyll, "be convicted of treason for having
consented to Your Grace's retention in ward at Holyrood after
She considered an instant, then shook her head.
"It is too late. It should have been done long since. Now men
will say that it is but a pretext to be rid of him." She looked up
at Bothwell, who remained standing immediately before her, between
her and the fire. "You said that my Lord of Murray had discussed
this matter. Was it in such terms as these?"
Bothwell laughed silently at the thought of the sly Murray rendering
himself a party to anything so direct and desperate. It was
Lethington who answered her.
"My Lord Murray was for a divorce. That would set Your Grace free,
and it might be obtained, he said, by tearing up the Pope's bull of
dispensation that permitted the marriage. Yet, madame, although
Lord Murray would himself go no further, I have no cause to doubt
that were other means concerted, he would be content to look through
Her mind, however, did not seem to follow his speech beyond the
matter of the divorce. A faint flush of eagerness stirred in her
"Ah, yes!" she cried. "I, too, have thought of that - of this
divorce. And God knows I do not want for grounds. And it could be
obtained, you say, by tearing up this papal bull?"
"The marriage could be proclaimed void thereafter," Argyll explained.
She looked past Bothwell into the fire, and took her chin in her
"Yes," she said slowly, musingly, and again, "yes. That were a
way. That is the way." And then suddenly she looked up, and they
saw doubt and dread in her eyes. "But in that case - what of my
"Aye!" said Lethington grimly. He shrugged his narrow shoulders,
parted his hands, and brought them together again. "That's the
obstacle, as we perceived. It would imperil his succession."
"It would make a bastard of him, you mean?" she cried, demanding
the full expansion of their thoughts.
"Indeed it would do no less," the secretary assented.
"So that," said Bothwell, softly, "we come back to Alexander's
method. What the fingers may not unravel, the knife can sever."
She shivered, and drew her furred cloak the more closely about her.
Lethington leaned forward. He spoke in kindly, soothing accents.
"Let us guide this matter among us, madame," he murmured, "and we'll
find means to rid Your Grace of this young fool, without hurt to
your honour or prejudice to your son. And the Earl of Murray will
look the other way, provided you pardon Morton and his friends for
the killing they did in Darnley's service."
She looked from one to the other of them, scanning each face in
turn. Then her eyes returned to a contemplation of the flaming
logs, and she spoke very softly.
"Do nothing by which a spot might be laid on my honour or
conscience," she said, with an odd deliberateness that seemed to
insist upon the strictly literal meaning of her words. "Rather I
pray you let the matter rest until God remedy it."
Lethington looked at the other two, the other two looked at him.
He rubbed his hands softly.
"Trust to us, madame," he answered. "We will so guide the matter
that Your Grace shall see nothing but what is good and approved
She committed herself to no reply, and so they were content to
take their answer from her silence. They went in quest of Huntly
and Sir James Balfour, and the five of them entered into a bond
for the destruction of him whom they named "the young fool and
proud tiranne," to be engaged in when Mary should have pardoned
Morton and his fellow-conspirators.
It was not until Christmas Eve that she signed this pardon of some
seventy fugitives, proscribed for their participation in the Rizzio
murder, towards whom she had hitherto shown herself so implacable.
The world saw in this no more than a deed of clemency and charity
befitting the solemn festival of good-will. But the five who had
entered into that bond at Craigmillar Castle beheld in it more
accurately the fulfilment of her part of the suggested bargain,
the price she paid in advance to be rid of Darnley, the sign of
her full agreement that the knot which might not be unravelled
should be cut.
On that same day Her Grace went with Bothwell to Lord Drummond's,
where they abode for the best part of a week, and thence they
went on together to Tullibardine, the rash and open intimacy
between them giving nourishment to scandal.
At the same time Darnley quitted Stirling, where he had lately been
living in miserable conditions, ignored by the nobles, and even
stinted in his necessary expenses, deprived of his ordinary servants,
and his silver replaced by pewter. The miserable youth reached
Glasgow deadly sick. He had been taken ill on the way, and the
inevitable rumour was spread that he had been poisoned. Later, when
it became known that his once lovely countenance was now blotched
and disfigured, it was realized that his illness was no more than
the inevitable result of the debauched life he led.
Conceiving himself on the point of death, Darnley wrote piteously
to the Queen; but she ignored his letters until she learnt that his
condition was improving, when at last (on January 29th) she went to
visit him at Glasgow. It may well be that she nourished some hope
that nature would resolve the matter for her, and remove the need
for such desperate measures as had been concerted. But seeing him
likely to recover, two things became necessary, to bring him to the
place that was suitable for the fulfilment of her designs, and to
simulate reconciliation with him, and even renewed and tender
affection, so that none might hereafter charge her with complicity
in what should follow.
I hope that in this I do her memory no injustice. It is thus that
I read the sequel, nor can I read it in any other way.
She found him abed, with a piece of taffeta over his face to hide
its disfigurement, and she was so moved - as it seemed - by his
condition, that she fell on her knees beside him, and wept in the
presence of her attendants and his own; confessing penitence if
anything she had done in the past could have contributed to their
estrangement. Thus reconciliation followed, and she used him
tenderly, grew solicitous concerning him, and vowed that as soon
as he could be moved, he must be taken to surroundings more
salubrious and more befitting the dignity of his station.
Gladly then he agreed to return with her to Holyrood.
"Not to Holyrood," she said. "At least, not until your health is
mended, lest you should carry thither infection dangerous to your
"Whither then?" he asked her, and when she mentioned Craigmillar,
he started up in bed, so that the taffeta slipped from his face,
and it was with difficulty that she dissembled the loathing with
which the sight of its pustules inspired her.
"Craigmillar!" he cried. "Then what I was told is true."
"What were you told?" quoth she, staring at him, brows knit, her
A rumour had filtered through to him of the Craigmillar bond. He
had been told that a letter drawn up there had been presented to
her for her signature, which she had refused. Thus much he told
her, adding that he could not believe that she would do him any
hurt; and yet why did she desire to bear him to Craigmillar?
"You have been told lies," she answered him. "I saw no such letter;
I subscribed none, nor was ever asked to subscribe any," which
indeed was literally true. "To this I swear. As for your going to
Craigmillar, you shall go whithersoever you please, yourself."
He sank back on his pillows, and his trembling subsided.
"I believe thee, Mary. I believe thou'ld never do me any harm," he
repeated, "and if any other would," he added on a bombastic note,
"they shall buy it dear, unless they take me sleeping. But I'll
never to Craigmillar."
"I have said you shall go where you please," she assured him again.
"There is the house at Kirk o' Field. It has a fine garden, and is
in a position that is deemed the healthiest about Edinburgh. I need
good air; good air and baths have been prescribed me to cleanse me
of this plague. Kirk o' Field will serve, if it be your pleasure."
She gave a ready consent, dispatched messengers ahead to prepare
the house, and to take from Holyrood certain furnishings that should
improve the interior, and render it as fitting as possible a
dwelling for a king.
Some days later they set out, his misgivings quieted by the
tenderness which she now showed him - particularly when witnesses
were at hand.
It was a tenderness that grew steadily during those twelve days in
which he lay in convalescence in the house at Kirk o' Field; she
was playful and coquettish with him as a maid with her lover, so
that nothing was talked of but the completeness of this
reconciliation, and the hope that it would lead to a peace within
the realm that would be a benefit to all. Yet many there were who
marvelled at it, wondering whether the waywardness and caprice of
woman could account for so sudden a change from hatred to affection.
Darnley was lodged on the upper floor, in a room comfortably
furnished from the palace. It was hung with six pieces of tapestry,
and the floor was partly covered by an Eastern carpet. It contained,
besides the handsome bed - which once had belonged to the Queen's
mother - a couple of high chairs in purple velvet, a little table
with a green velvet cover, and some cushions in red. By the side
of the bed stood the specially prepared bath that was part of the
cure which Darnley was undergoing. It had for its incongruous lid
a door that had been lifted from its hinges.
Immediately underneath was a room that had been prepared for the
Queen, with a little bed of yellow and green damask, and a furred
coverlet. The windows looked out upon the close, and the door
opened upon the passage leading to the garden.
Here the Queen slept on several of those nights of early February,
for indeed she was more often at Kirk o' Field than at Holy-rood,
and when she was not bearing Darnley company in his chamber, and
beguiling the tedium of his illness, she was to be seen walking in
the garden with Lady Reres, and from his bed he could hear her
sometimes singing as she sauntered there.
Never since the ephemeral season of their courtship had she been
on such fond terms with him, and all his fears of hostile designs
entertained against him by her immediate followers were stilled at
last. Yet not for long. Into his fool's paradise came Lord Robert
of Holyrood, with a warning that flung him into a sweat of panic.
The conspirators had hired a few trusted assistants to help them
carry out their plans, and a rumour had got abroad - in the
unaccountable way of rumours - that there was danger to the King.
It was of this rumour that Lord Robert brought him word, telling
him bluntly that unless he escaped quickly from this place, he would
leave his life there. Yet when Darnley had repeated this to the
Queen, and the Queen indignantly had sent for Lord Robert and
demanded to know his meaning, his lordship denied that he had
uttered any such warning, protested that his words must have been
misunderstood - that they referred solely to the King's condition,
which demanded, he thought, different treatment and healthier air.
Knowing not what to believe, Darnley's uneasiness abode with him.
Yet, trusting Mary, and feeling secure so long as she was by his
side, he became more and more insistent upon her presence, more
and more fretful in her absence. It was to quiet him that she
consented to sleep as often as might be at Kirk o' Field. She
slept there on the Wednesday of that week, and again on Friday,
and she was to have done so yet again on that fateful Sunday,
February 9th, but that her servant Sebastien - one who had
accompanied her from France, and for whom she had a deep affection
- was that day married, and Her Majesty had promised to be present
at the masque that night at Holyrood, in honour of his nuptials.
Nevertheless, she did not utterly neglect her husband on that
account. She rode to Kirk o' Field early in the evening,
accompanied by Bothwell, Huntly, Argyll, and some others; and
leaving the lords at cards below to while away the time, she
repaired to Darnley, and sat beside his bed, soothing a spirit
oddly perturbed, as if with some premonition of what was brewing.
"Ye'll not leave me the night," he begged her once.
"Alas," she said, "I must! Sebastien is being wed, and I have
promised to be present."
He sighed and shifted uneasily.
"Soon I shall be well, and then these foolish humours will cease to
haunt me. But just now I cannot bear you from my sight. When you
are with me I am at peace. I know that all is well. But when you
go I am filled with fears, lying helpless here."
"What should you fear?" she asked him.
"The hate that I know is alive against me."
"You are casting shadows to affright yourself," said she.
"What's that?" he cried, half raising himself in sudden alarm.
>From the room below came faintly a sound of footsteps, accompanied
by a noise as of something being trundled.
"It will be my servants in my room - putting it to rights."
"To what purpose since you do not sleep there tonight?" he asked.
He raised his voice and called his page.
"Why, what will you do?" she asked him, steadying her own alarm.
He answered her by bidding the youth who had entered go see what
was doing in the room below. The lad departed, and had he done his
errand faithfully, he would have found Bothwell's followers, Hay
and Hepburn, and the Queen's man, Nicholas Hubert better known as
French Paris - emptying a keg of gunpowder on the floor immediately
under the King's bed. But it happened that in the passage he came
suddenly face to face with the splendid figure of Bothwell, cloaked
and hatted, and Bothwell asked him whither he went.
The boy told him.
"It is nothing," Bothwell said. "They are moving Her Grace's bed
in accordance with her wishes."
And the lad, overborne by that commanding figure which so effectively
blocked his path, chose the line of lesser resistance. He went back
to bear the King that message as if for himself he had seen what my
Lord Bothwell had but told him.
Darnley was pacified by the assurance, and the lad withdrew.
"Did I not tell you how it was?" quoth Mary. "Is not my word enough?"
"Forgive the doubt," Darnley begged her. "Indeed, there was no
doubt of you, who have shown me so much charity in my affliction."
He sighed, and looked at her with melancholy eyes.
"I would the past had been other than it has been between you and
me," he said. "I was too young for kingship, I think. In my green
youth I listened to false counsellors, and was quick to jealousy
and the follies it begets. Then, when you cast me out and I
wandered friendless, a devil took possession of me. Yet, if you
will but consent to bury all the past into oblivion, I will make
amends, and you shall find me worthier hereafter."
She rose, white to the lips, her bosom heaving under her long cloak.
She turned aside and stepped to the window. She stood there, peering
out into the gloom of the close, her knees trembling under her.
"Why do you not answer me?" he cried.
"What answer do you need?" she said, and her voice shook. "Are you
not answered already?" And then, breathlessly, she added: "It is
time to go, I think."
They heard a heavy step upon the stairs and the clank of a sword
against the rails. The door opened, and Bothwell, wrapped in his
scarlet cloak, stood bending his tall shoulders under the low lintel.
His gleaming eyes, so oddly mocking in their glance, for all that
his face was set, fell upon Darnley, and with their look flung him
into an inward state of blending fear and rage.
"Your Grace," said Bothwell's deep voice, "it is close upon midnight."
He came no more than in time; it needed the sight of him with its
reminder of all that he meant to her to sustain a purpose that was
being sapped by pity.
"Very well," she said. "I come."
Bothwell stood aside to give her egress and to invite it. But the
King delayed her.
"A moment - a word!" he begged, and to Bothwell: "Give us leave
Yet, King though he might be, there was no ready obedience from the
arrogant Border lord, her lover. It was to Mary that Bothwell
looked for commands, nor stirred until she signed to him to go. And
even then he went no farther than the other side of the door, so
that he might be close at hand to fortify her should any weakness
assail her now in this supreme hour.
Darnley struggled up in bed, caught her hand, and pulled her to him.
"Do not leave me, Mary. Do not leave me!" he implored her.
"Why, what is this?" she cried, but her voice lacked steadiness.
"Would you have me disappoint poor Sebastien, who loves me?"
"I see. Sebastien is more to you than I?"
"Now this is folly. Sebastien is my faithful servant."
"And am I less? Do you not believe that my one aim henceforth will
be to serve you and faithfully? Oh, forgive this weakness. I am
full of evil foreboding to-night. Go, then, if go you must, but
give me at least some assurance of your love, some pledge of it in
earnest that you will come again to-morrow nor part from me again."
She looked into the white, piteous young face that had once been so
lovely, and her soul faltered. It needed the knowledge that
Bothwell waited just beyond the door, that he could overhear what
was being said, to strengthen her fearfully in her tragic purpose.
She has been censured most for what next she did. Murray himself
spoke of it afterwards as the worst part of the business. But it
is possible that she was concerned only at the moment to put an end
to a scene that was unnerving her, and that she took the readiest
means to it.
She drew a ring from her finger and slipped it on to one of his.
"Be this the pledge, then," she said; "and so content and rest
With that she broke from him, white and scared, and reached the door.
Yet with her hand upon the latch she paused. Looking at him she saw
that he was smiling, and perhaps horror of her betrayal of him
overwhelmed her. It must be that she then desired to warn him, yet
with Bothwell within earshot she realized that any warning must
precipitate the tragedy, with direst consequences to Bothwell and
To conquer her weakness, she thought of David Rizzio, whom Darnley
had murdered almost at her feet, and whom this night was to avenge.
She thought of the Judas part that he had played in that affair,
and sought persuasion that it was fitting he should now be paid in
kind. Yet, very woman that she was, failing to find any such
persuasion, she found instead in the very thought of Rizzio the
very means to convey her warning.
Standing tense and white by the door, regarding him with dilating
eyes, she spoke her last words to him.
"It would be just about this time last year that Davie was slain,"
she said, and on that passed out to the waiting Bothwell.
Once on the stairs she paused and set a hand upon the shoulder of
the stalwart Borderer.
"Must it be? Oh, must it be?" she whispered fearfully.
She caught the flash of his eyes in the half gloom as he leaned
over her, his arm about her waist drawing her to him.
"Is it not just? Is it not full merited?" he asked her.
"And yet I would that we did not profit by it," she complained.
"Shall we pity him on that account?" he asked, and laughed softly
and shortly. "Come away," he added abruptly. "They wait for you!"
And so, by the suasion of his arm and his imperious will, she was
swept onward along the road of her destiny.
Outside the horses were ready. There was a little group of
gentlemen to escort her, and half a dozen servants with lighted
torches, whilst Lady Reres was in waiting. A man stood forward to
assist her to mount, his face and hands so blackened by gunpowder
that for a moment she failed to recognize him. She laughed
nervously when he named himself.
"Lord, Paris, how begrimed you are!" she cried; and, mounting,
rode away towards Holyrood with her torchbearers and attendants.
In the room above, Darnley lay considering her last words. He
turned them over in his thoughts, assured by the tone she had
used and how she had looked that they contained some message.
"It would be just about this time last year that Davie was slain."
In themselves, those words were not strictly accurate. It wanted
yet a month to the anniversary of Rizzio's death. And why, at
parting, should she have reminded him of that which she had agreed
should be forgotten? Instantly came the answer that she sought to
warn him that retribution was impending. He thought again of the
rumours that he had heard of a bond signed at Craigmillar; he
recalled Lord Robert's warning to him, afterwards denied.
He recalled her words to himself at the time of Rizzio's death:
"Consider well what I now say. Consider and remember. I shall
never rest until I give you as sore a heart as I have presently."
And further, he remembered her cry at once agonized and fiercely
vengeful: "Jamais, jamais je n'oublierai."
His terrors mounted swiftly, to be quieted again at last when he
looked at the ring she had put upon his finger in pledge of her
renewed affection. The past was dead and buried, surely. Though
danger might threaten, she would guard him against it, setting her
love about him like a panoply of steel. When she came to-morrow,
he would question her closely, and she should be more frank and
open with him, and tell him all. Meanwhile, he would take his
precautions for to-night.
He sent his page to make fast all doors. The youth went and did
as he was bidden, with the exception of the door that led to the
garden. It had no bolts, and the key was missing; yet, seeing
his master's nervous, excited state, he forbore from any mention
of that circumstance when presently he returned to him.
Darnley requested a book of Psalms, that he might read himself to
sleep. The page dozed in a chair, and so the hours passed; and at
last the King himself fell into a light slumber. Out of this he
started suddenly at a little before two o'clock, and sat upright
in bed, alarmed without knowing why, listening with straining ears
and throbbing pulses.
He caught a repetition of the sound that had aroused him, a sound
akin to that which had drawn his attention earlier, when Mary had
been with him. It came up faintly from the room immediately beneath:
her room. Some one was moving there, he thought. Then, as he
continued to listen, all became quiet again, save his fears, which
would not be quieted. He extinguished the light, slipped from the
bed, and, crossing to the window, peered out into the close that
was faintly illumined by a moon in its first quarter. A shadow
moved, he thought. He watched with increasing panic for
confirmation, and presently saw that he had been right. Not one,
but several shadows were shifting there among the trees. Shadows
of men, they were, and as he peered, he saw one that went running
from the house across the lawn and joined the others, now clustered
together in a group. What could be their purpose here? In the
silence, he seemed to hear again the echo of Mary's last words to
"It would be just about this time last year that Davie was slain."
In terror, he groped his way to the chair where the page slept and
shook the lad vigorously.
"Afoot, boy!" he said, in a hoarse whisper. He had meant to shout
it, but his voice failed him, his windpipe clutched by panic.
"Afoot - we are beset by enemies!"
At once the youth was wide awake, and together the King just in his
shirt as he was - they made their way from the room in the dark,
groping their way, and so reached the windows at the back. Darnley
opened one of these very softly, then sent the boy back for a sheet.
Making this fast, they descended by it to the garden, and started
towards the wall, intending to climb it, that they might reach the
The boy led the way, and the King followed, his teeth chattering
as much from the cold as from the terror that possessed him. And
then, quite suddenly, without the least warning, the ground, it
seemed to them, heaved under their feet, and they were flung
violently forward on their faces. A great blaze rent the darkness
of the night, accompanied by the thunders of an explosion so
terrific that it seemed as if the whole world must have been
shattered by it.
For some instants the King and his page lay half stunned where they
had fallen, and well might it have been for them had they so
continued. But Darnley, recovering, staggered to his feet, pulling
the boy up with him and supporting him. Then, as he began to move,
he heard a soft whistle in the gloom behind him. Over his shoulder
he looked towards the house, to behold a great, smoking gap now
yawning in it. Through this gap he caught a glimpse of shadowy men
moving in the close beyond, and he realized that he had been seen.
The white shirt he wore had betrayed his presence to them.
With a stifled scream, he began to run towards the wall, the page
staggering after him. Behind them now came the clank and thud of
a score of overtaking feet. Soon they were surrounded. The King
turned this way and that, desperately seeking a way out of the
murderous human ring that fenced them round.
"What d'ye seek? What d'ye seek?" he screeched, in a pitiful
attempt to question with authority.
A tall man in a trailing cloak advanced and seized him.
"We seek thee, fool!" said the voice of Bothwell.
The kingliness that he had never known how to wear becomingly now
fell from him utterly.
"Mercy - mercy!" he cried.
"Such mercy as you had on David Rizzio!" answered the Border lord.
Darnley fell on his knees and sought to embrace the murderer's legs.
Bothwell stooped over him, seized the wretched man's shirt, and
pulled it from his shivering body; then, flinging the sleeves about
the royal neck, slipped one over the other and drew them tight,
nor relaxed his hold until the young man's struggles had entirely
Four days later, Mary went to visit the body of her husband in the
chapel of Holyrood House, whither it had been conveyed, and there,
as a contemporary tells us, she looked upon it long, "not only
without grief, but with greedy eyes." Thereafter it was buried
secretly in the night by Rizzio's side, so that murderer and victim
lay at peace together in the end.
III. THE NIGHT OF BETRAYAL
Antonio Perez and Philip II of Spain
You a Spaniard of Spain?" had been her taunt, dry and contemptuous.
"I do not believe it."
And upon that she had put spur to the great black horse that bore her
and had ridden off along the precipitous road by the river.
After her he had flung his answer on a note of laughter, bitter and
cynical as the laughter of the damned, laughter that expressed all
things but mirth.
"Oh, a Spaniard of Spain, indeed, Madame la Marquise. Very much a
Spaniard of Spain, I assure you."
The great black horse and the woman in red flashed round a bend of
the rocky road and were eclipsed by a clump of larches. The man
leaned heavily upon his ebony cane, sighed wearily, and grew
thoughtful. Then, with a laugh and a shrug, he sat down in the
shade of the firs that bordered the road. Behind him, crowning the
heights, loomed the brown castle built by Gaston Phoebus, Count of
Foix, two hundred years ago, and the Tower of Montauzet, its walls
scarred by the shots of the rebellious Biscayans. Below him,
nourished by the snows that were dissolving under the sunshine of
early spring, sped the tumbling river; beyond this spread pasture
and arable land to the distant hills, and beyond those stood the
gigantic sharp-summited wall of the Pyrenees, its long ridge
dominated by the cloven cone of the snow clad Pic du Midi. There
was in the sight of that great barrier, at once natural and
political, a sense of security for this fugitive from the perils
and the hatreds that lurked in Spain beyond. Here in Bearn he was
a king's guest, enjoying the hospitality of the great Castle of Pau,
safe from the vindictive persecution of the mean tyrant who ruled
in Spain. And here, at last, he was at peace, or would have been
but for the thought of this woman - this Marquise de Chantenac - who
had gone to such lengths in her endeavours to soften his exile that
her ultimate object could never have been in doubt to a coxcomb,
though it was in some doubt to Antonio Perez, who had been cured
for all time of Coxcombry by suffering and misfortune, to say
nothing of increasing age. It was when he bethought him of that
age of his that he was chiefly intrigued by the amazing ardour of
this great lady of Bearn. A dozen years ago - before misfortune
overtook him - he would have accepted her flagrant wooing as a
proper tribute. For then he had been the handsome, wealthy, witty,
profligate Secretary of State to His Catholic Majesty King Philip II,
with a power in Spain second only to the King's, and sometimes even
greater. In those days he would have welcomed her as her endowments
merited. She was radiantly lovely, in the very noontide of her
resplendent youth, the well-born widow of a gentleman of Bearn. And
it would not have lain within the strength or inclinations of Antonio
Perez, as he once had been, to have resisted the temptation that she
offered. Ever avid of pleasure, he had denied himself no single cup
of it that favouring Fortune had proffered him. It was, indeed,
because of this that he was fallen from his high estate; it was a
woman who had pulled him down in ruin, tumbling with him to her doom.
She, poor soul, was dead at last, which was the best that any lover
could have wished her. But he lived on, embittered, vengeful, with
gall in his veins instead of blood. He was the pale, faded shadow
of that arrogant, reckless, joyous Antonio Perez beloved of Fortune.
He was fifty, gaunt, hollow-eyed, and grey, half crippled by torture,
sickly from long years of incarceration.
What, he asked himself, sitting there, his eyes upon the eternal
snows of the barrier that shut out his past, was there left in him
to awaken love in such a woman as Madame de Chantenac? Was it that
his tribulations stirred her pity, or that the fame of him which
rang through Europe shed upon his withering frame some of the
transfiguring radiance of romance?
It marked, indeed, the change in him that he should pause to
question, whose erstwhile habit had been blindly to accept the good