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 to speculation.
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, 1917
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 contempt.
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 administered poison.
"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, gleaming face.
"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, delicate hands.
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 whole again.
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 tempered steel.
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 brutal answer.
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 confronted them.
"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 before me?"
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 with Davie?"
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 I know!"
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 faltering.
"Madame-he is dead! Murdered!" she announced.
The Queen looked at her, her face of marble. Then her voice came hushed and tense:
"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 once more.
"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 collops.
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 deserve."
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 challenged him.
"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 removed him."
She lowered her eyes an instant, then raised them again to meet his own.
"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 a fool."
"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 folly.
"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," she answered.
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 folly."
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 thoughts.
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 lords.
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 will.
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 obvious effort.
"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, my lord."
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 their amends.
"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 upbraidings.
"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 counting prematurely.
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 betray them.
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 Holyrood.
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 against themselves.
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 Market Cross.
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 the business.
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 of it.
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 way."
"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 answer.
"He might," put in Argyll, "be convicted of treason for having consented to Your Grace's retention in ward at Holyrood after Rizzio's murder."
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 his fingers."
Her mind, however, did not seem to follow his speech beyond the matter of the divorce. A faint flush of eagerness stirred in her pale cheeks.
"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 hand.
"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 son?"
"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 by Parliament."
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 little son."
"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 face blank.
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. "Listen!"
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 apart, sir!"
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 yourself."
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 herself.
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 him:
"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 open.
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 ceased.
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.