The Abbot, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Thirty-Fifth.

It is a time of danger, not of revel,

When churchmen turn to masquers.

The Spanish Father.

The enterprise of Roland Graeme appeared to prosper. A trinket or two, of which the work did not surpass the substance, (for the materials were silver, supplied by the Queen,) were judiciously presented to those most likely to be inquisitive into the labours of the forge and anvil, which they thus were induced to reckon profitable to others and harmless in itself. Openly, the page was seen working about such trifles. In private, he forged a number of keys resembling so nearly in weight and in form those which were presented every evening to the Lady Lochleven, that, on a slight inspection, it would have been difficult to perceive the difference. He brought them to the dark rusty colour by the use of salt and water; and, in the triumph of his art, presented them at length to Queen Mary in her presence-chamber, about an hour before the tolling of the curfew. She looked at them with pleasure, but at the same time with doubt. —“I allow,” she said, “that the Lady Lochleven’s eyes, which are not of the clearest, may be well deceived, could we pass those keys on her in place of the real implements of her tyranny. But how is this to be done, and which of my little court dare attempt this tour de jongleur with any chance of success? Could we but engage her in some earnest matter of argument — but those which I hold with her, always have been of a kind which make her grasp her keys the faster, as if she said to herself — Here I hold what sets me above your taunts and reproaches — And even for her liberty, Mary Stuart could not stoop to speak the proud heretic fair. — What shall we do? Shall Lady Fleming try her eloquence in describing the last new head-tire from Paris? — alas! the good dame has not changed the fashion of her head-gear since Pinkie-field for aught that I know. Shall my mignóne Catherine sing to her one of those touching airs, which draw the very souls out of me and Roland Graeme? — Alas! Dame Margaret Douglas would rather hear a Huguenot psalm of Clement Marrot, sung to the tune of Reveillez vous, belle endormie. — Cousins and liege counsellors, what is to be done, for our wits are really astray in this matter? — Must our man-at-arms and the champion of our body, Roland Graeme, manfully assault the old lady, and take the keys from her par voie du fait?

“Nay! with your Grace’s permission.” said Roland, “I do not doubt being able to manage the matter with more discretion; for though, in your Grace’s service, I do not fear —”

“A host of old women,” interrupted Catherine, “each armed with rock and spindle, yet he has no fancy for pikes and partisans, which might rise at the cry of Help! a Douglas, a Douglas!

“They that do not fear fair ladies’ tongues,” continued the page, “need dread nothing else. — But, gracious Liege, I am well-nigh satisfied that I could pass the exchange of these keys on the Lady Lochleven; but I dread the sentinel who is now planted nightly in the garden, which, by necessity, we must traverse.”

“Our last advices from our friends on the shore have promised us assistance in that matter,” replied the Queen.

“And is your Grace well assured of the fidelity and watchfulness of those without?”

“For their fidelity, I will answer with my life, and for their vigilance, I will answer with my life — I will give thee instant proof, my faithful Roland, that they are ingenuous and trusty as thyself. Come hither — Nay, Catherine, attend us; we carry not so deft a page into our private chamber alone. Make fast the door of the parlour, Fleming, and warn us if you hear the least step — or stay, go thou to the door, Catherine,” (in a whisper, “thy ears and thy wits are both sharper.)— Good Fleming, attend us thyself”—(and again she whispered, “her reverend presence will be as safe a watch on Roland as thine can — so be not jealous, mignone.”)

Thus speaking, they were lighted by the Lady Fleming into the Queen’s bedroom, a small apartment enlightened by a projecting window.

“Look from that window, Roland,” she said; “see you amongst the several lights which begin to kindle, and to glimmer palely through the gray of the evening from the village of Kinross-seest thou, I say, one solitary spark apart from the others, and nearer it seems to the verge of the water? — It is no brighter at this distance than the torch of the poor glowworm, and yet, my good youth, that light is more dear to Mary Stuart, than every star that twinkles in the blue vault of heaven. By that signal, I know that more than one true heart is plotting my deliverance; and without that consciousness, and the hope of freedom it gives me, I had long since stooped to my fate, and died of a broken heart. Plan after plan has been formed and abandoned, but still the light glimmers; and while it glimmers, my hope lives. — Oh! how many evenings have I sat musing in despair over our ruined schemes, and scarce hoping that I should again see that blessed signal; when it has suddenly kindled, and, like the lights of Saint Elmo in a tempest, brought hope and consolation, where there, was only dejection and despair!”

“If I mistake not,” answered Roland, “the candle shines from the house of Blinkhoolie, the mail-gardener.”

“Thou hast a good eye,” said the Queen; “it is there where my trusty lieges — God and the saints pour blessings on them! — hold consultation for my deliverance. The voice of a wretched captive would die on these blue waters, long ere it could mingle in their councils; and yet I can hold communication — I will confide the whole to thee — I am about to ask those faithful friends if the moment for the great attempt is nigh. — Place the lamp in the window, Fleming.”

She obeyed, and immediately withdrew it. No sooner had she done so, than the light in the cottage of the gardener disappeared.

“Now count,” said Queen Mary, “for my heart beats so thick that I cannot count myself.”

The Lady Fleming began deliberately to count one, two, three, and when she had arrived at ten, the light on the shore showed its pale twinkle.

“Now, our Lady be praised!” said the Queen; “it was but two nights since, that the absence of the light remained while I could tell thirty. The hour of deliverance approaches. May God bless those who labour in it with such truth to me! — alas! with such hazard to themselves — and bless you, too, my children! — Come, we must to the audience-chamber again. Our absence might excite suspicion, should they serve supper.”

They returned to the presence-chamber, and the evening concluded as usual.

The next morning, at dinner-time, an unusual incident occurred. While Lady Douglas of Lochleven performed her daily duty of assistant and taster at the Queen’s table, she was told a man-at-arms had arrived, recommended by her son, but without any letter or other token than what he brought by word of mouth.

“Hath he given you that token?” demanded the Lady.

“He reserved it, as I think, for your Ladyship’s ear,” replied Randal.

“He doth well,” said the Lady; “tell him to wait in the hall — But no — with your permission, madam,” (to the Queen) “let him attend me here.”

“Since you are pleased to receive your domestics in my presence,” said the Queen, “I cannot choose —”

“My infirmities must plead my excuse, madam,” replied the Lady; “the life I must lead here ill suits with the years which have passed over my head, and compels me to waive ceremonial.”

“Oh, my good Lady,” replied the Queen, “I would there were nought in this your castle more strongly compulsive than the cobweb chains of ceremony; but bolts and bars are harder matters to contend with.”

As she spoke, the person announced by Randal entered the room, and Roland Graeme at once recognized in him the Abbot Ambrosius.

“What is your name, good fellow?” said the Lady.

“Edward Glendinning,” answered the Abbot, with a suitable reverence.

“Art thou of the blood of the Knight of Avenel?” said the Lady of Lochleven.

“Ay, madam, and that nearly,” replied the pretended soldier.

“It is likely enough,” said the Lady, “for the Knight is the son of his own good works, and has risen from obscure lineage to his present high rank in the Estate — But he is of sure truth and approved worth, and his kinsman is welcome to us. You hold, unquestionably, the true faith?”

“Do not doubt of it, madam,” said the disguised churchman.

“Hast thou a token to me from Sir William Douglas?” said the Lady.

“I have, madam,” replied he; “but it must be said in private.”

“Thou art right,” said the Lady, moving towards the recess of a window; “say in what does it consist?”

“In the words of an old bard,” replied the Abbot.

“Repeat them,” answered the Lady; and he uttered, in a low tone, the lines from an old poem, called The Howlet —

“O Douglas! Douglas!

Tender and true.”

“Trusty Sir John Holland!” 41 said the Lady Douglas, apostrophizing the poet, “a kinder heart never inspired a rhyme, and the Douglas’s honour was ever on thy heart-string! We receive you among our followers, Glendinning — But, Randal, see that he keep the outer ward only, till we shall hear more touching him from our son. — Thou fearest not the night air. Glendinning?”

“In the cause of the Lady before whom I stand, I fear nothing, madam,” answered the disguised Abbot.

“Our garrison, then, is stronger by one trustworthy soldier,” said the matron —“Go to the buttery, and let them make much of thee.”

When the Lady Lochleven had retired, the Queen said to Roland Graeme, who was now almost constantly in her company, “I spy comfort in that stranger’s countenance; I know not why it should be so, but I am well persuaded he is a friend.”

“Your Grace’s penetration does not deceive you,” answered the page; and he informed her that the Abbot of St. Mary’s himself played the part of the newly arrived soldier.

The Queen crossed herself and looked upwards. “Unworthy sinner that I am,” she said, “that for my sake a man so holy, and so high in spiritual office, should wear the garb of a base sworder, and run the risk of dying the death of a traitor!”

“Heaven will protect its own servant, madam,” said Catherine Seyton; “his aid would bring a blessing on our undertaking, were it not already blest for its own sake.”

“What I admire in my spiritual father,” said Roland, “was the steady front with which he looked on me, without giving the least sign of former acquaintance. I did not think the like was possible, since I have ceased to believe that Henry was the same person with Catherine.”

“But marked you not how astuciously the good father,” said the Queen, “eluded the questions of the woman Lochleven, telling her the very truth, which yet she received not as such?”

Roland thought in his heart, that when the truth was spoken for the purpose of deceiving, it was little better than a lie in disguise. But it was no time to agitate such questions of conscience.

“And now for the signal from the shore,” exclaimed Catherine; “my bosom tells me we shall see this night two lights instead of one gleam from that garden of Eden — And then, Roland, do you play your part manfully, and we will dance on the greensward like midnight fairies!”

Catherine’s conjecture misgave not, nor deceived her. In the evening two beams twinkled from the cottage, instead of one; and the page heard, with beating heart, that the new retainer was ordered to stand sentinel on the outside of the castle. When he intimated this news to the Queen, she held her hand out to him — he knelt, and when he raised it to his lips in all dutiful homage, he found it was damp and cold as marble. “For God’s sake, madam, droop not now — sink not now!”

“Call upon our Lady, my Liege,” said the Lady Fleming —“call upon your tutelar saint.”

“Call the spirits of the hundred kings you are descended from,” exclaimed the page; “in this hour of need, the resolution of a monarch were worth the aid of a hundred saints.”

“Oh! Roland Graeme,” said Mary, in a tone of deep despondency, “be true to me — many have been false to me. Alas! I have not always been true to myself. My mind misgives me that I shall die in bondage, and that this bold attempt will cost all our lives. It was foretold me by a soothsayer in France, that I should die in prison, and by a violent death, and here comes the hour — Oh, would to God it found me prepared!”

“Madam,” said Catherine Seyton, “remember you are a Queen. Better we all died in bravely attempting to gain our freedom, than remained here to be poisoned, as men rid them of the noxious vermin that haunt old houses.”

“You are right, Catherine,” said the Queen; “and Mary will bear her like herself. But alas! your young and buoyant spirit can ill spell the causes which have broken mine. Forgive me, my children, and farewell for a while — I will prepare both mind and body for this awful venture.”

They separated, till again called together by the tolling of the curfew. The Queen appeared grave, but firm and resolved; the Lady Fleming, with the art of an experienced courtier, knew perfectly how to disguise her inward tremors; Catherine’s eye was fired, as if with the boldness of the project, and the half smile which dwelt upon her beautiful mouth seemed to contemn all the risk and all the consequences of discovery; Roland, who felt how much success depended on his own address and boldness, summoned together his whole presence of mind, and if he found his spirits flag for a moment, cast his eye upon Catherine, whom he thought he had never seen look so beautiful. —“I may be foiled,” he thought, “but with this reward in prospect, they must bring the devil to aid them ere they cross me.” Thus resolved, he stood like a greyhound in the slips, with hand, heart, and eye intent upon making and seizing opportunity for the execution of their project.

The keys had, with the wonted ceremonial, been presented to the Lady Lochleven. She stood with her back to the casement, which, like that of the Queen’s apartment, commanded a view of Kinross, with the church, which stands at some distance from the town, and nearer to the lake, then connected with the town by straggling cottages. With her back to this casement, then, and her face to the table, on which the keys lay for an instant while she tasted the various dishes which were placed there, stood the Lady of Lochleven, more provokingly intent than usual — so at least it seemed to her prisoners — upon the huge and heavy bunch of iron, the implements of their restraint. Just when, having finished her ceremony as taster of the Queen’s table, she was about to take up the keys, the page, who stood beside her, and had handed her the dishes in succession, looked sideways to the churchyard, and exclaimed he saw corpse-candles in the churchyard. The Lady of Lochleven was not without a touch, though a slight one, of the superstitions of the time; the fate of her sons made her alive to omens, and a corpse-light, as it was called, in the family burial-place boded death. She turned her head towards the casement — saw a distant glimmering — forgot her charge for one second, and in that second were lost the whole fruits of her former vigilance. The page held the forged keys under his cloak, and with great dexterity exchanged them for the real ones. His utmost address could not prevent a slight clash as he took up the latter bunch. “Who touches the keys?” said the Lady; and while the page answered that the sleeve of his cloak had stirred them, she looked round, possessed herself of the bunch which now occupied the place of the genuine keys, and again turned to gaze on the supposed corpse-candles.

“I hold these gleams,” she said, after a moment’s consideration, “to come, not from the churchyard, but from the hut of the old gardener Blinkhoolie. I wonder what thrift that churl drives, that of late he hath ever had light in his house till the night grew deep. I thought him an industrious, peaceful man — If he turns resetter of idle companions and night-walkers, the place must be rid of him.”

“He may work his baskets perchance,” said the page, desirous to stop the train of her suspicion.

“Or nets, may he not?” answered the Lady.

“Ay, madam,” said Roland, “for trout and salmon.”

“Or for fools and knaves,” replied the Lady: “but this shall be looked after tomorrow. — I wish your Grace and your company a good evening. — Randal, attend us.” And Randal, who waited in the antechamber after having surrendered his bunch of keys, gave his escort to his mistress as usual, while, leaving the Queen’s apartments, she retired to her own.

“To-morrow” said the page, rubbing his hands with glee as he repeated the Lady’s last words, “fools look tomorrow, and wise folk use to-night. — May I pray you, my gracious Liege, to retire for one half hour, until all the castle is composed to rest? I must go and rub with oil these blessed implements of our freedom. Courage and constancy, and all will go well, provided our friends on the shore fail not to send the boat you spoke of.”

“Fear them not,” said Catherine, “they are true as steel — if our dear mistress do but maintain her noble and royal courage.”42

“Doubt not me, Catherine,” replied the Queen; “a while since I was overborne, but I have recalled the spirit of my earlier and more sprightly days, when I used to accompany my armed nobles, and wish to be myself a man, to know what life it was to be in the fields with sword and buckler, jack, and knapscap.”

“Oh, the lark lives not a gayer life, nor sings a lighter and gayer song than the merry soldier,” answered Catherine. “Your Grace shall be in the midst of them soon, and the look of such a liege Sovereign will make each of your host worth three in the hour of need:— but I must to my task.”

“We have but brief time,” said Queen Mary; “one of the two lights in the cottage is extinguished — that shows the boat is put off.”

“They will row very slow,” said the page, “or kent where depth permits, to avoid noise. — To our several tasks — I will communicate with the good Father.”

At the dead hour of midnight, when all was silent in the castle, the page put the key into the lock of the wicket which opened into the garden, and which was at the bottom of a staircase which descended from the Queen’s apartment. “Now, turn smooth and softly, thou good bolt,” said he, “if ever oil softened rust!” and his precautions had been so effectual, that the bolt revolved with little or no sound of resistance. He ventured not to cross the threshold, but exchanging a word with the disguised Abbot, asked if the boat were ready?

“This half hour,” said the sentinel. “She lies beneath the wall, too close under the islet to be seen by the warder, but I fear she will hardly escape his notice in putting off again.”

“The darkness,” said the page, “and our profound silence, may take her off unobserved, as she came in. Hildebrand has the watch on the tower — a heavy-headed knave, who holds a can of ale to be the best headpiece upon a night-watch. He sleeps, for a wager.”

“Then bring the Queen,” said the Abbot, “and I will call Henry Seyton to assist them to the boat.”

On tiptoe, with noiseless step and suppressed breath, trembling at every rustle of their own apparel, one after another the fair prisoners glided down the winding stair, under the guidance of Roland Graeme, and were received at the wicket-gate by Henry Seyton and the churchman. The former seemed instantly to take upon himself the whole direction of the enterprise. “My Lord Abbot,” he said, “give my sister your arm — I will conduct the Queen — and that youth will have the honour to guide Lady Fleming.”

This was no time to dispute the arrangement, although it was not that which Roland Graeme would have chosen. Catherine Seyton, who well knew the garden path, tripped on before like a sylph, rather leading the Abbot than receiving assistance — the Queen, her native spirit prevailing over female fear, and a thousand painful reflections, moved steadily forward, by the assistance of Henry Seyton — while the Lady Fleming, encumbered with her fears and her helplessness Roland Graeme, who followed in the rear, and who bore under the other arm a packet of necessaries belonging to the Queen. The door of the garden, which communicated with the shore of the islet, yielded to one of the keys of which Roland had possessed himself, although not until he had tried several — a moment of anxious terror and expectation. The ladies were then partly led, partly carried, to the side of the lake, where a boat with six rowers attended them, the men couched along the bottom to secure them from observation. Henry Seyton placed the Queen in the stern; the Abbot offered to assist Catherine, but she was seated by the Queen’s side before he could utter his proffer of help; and Roland Graeme was just lifting Lady Fleming over the boat-side, when a thought suddenly occurred to him, and exclaiming, “Forgotten, forgotten! wait for me but one half-minute,” he replaced on the shore the helpless Lady of the bed-chamber, threw the Queen’s packet into the boat, and sped back through the garden with the noiseless speed of a bird on the wing.

“By Heaven, he is false at last!” said Seyton; “I ever feared it!”

“He is as true,” said Catherine, “as Heaven itself, and that I will maintain.”

“Be silent, minion,” said her brother, “for shame, if not for fear — Fellows, put off, and row for your lives!”

“Help me, help me on board!” said the deserted Lady Fleming, and that louder than prudence warranted.

“Put off — put off!” cried Henry Seyton; “leave all behind, so the Queen is safe.”

“Will you permit this, madam?” said Catherine, imploringly; “you leave your deliverer to death.”

“I will not,” said the Queen. —“Seyton I command you to stay at every risk.”

“Pardon me, madam, if I disobey,” said the intractable young man; and with one hand lifting in Lady Fleming, he began himself to push off the boat.

She was two fathoms’ length from the shore, and the rowers were getting her head round, when Roland Graeme, arriving, bounded from the beach, and attained the boat, overturning Seyton, on whom he lighted. The youth swore a deep but suppressed oath, and stopping Graeme as he stepped towards the stern, said, “Your place is not with high-born dames — keep at the head and trim the vessel — Now give way — give way — Row, for God and the Queen!”

The rowers obeyed, and began to pull vigorously.

“Why did ye not muffle the oars?” said Roland Graeme; “the dash must awaken the sentinel — Row, lads, and get out of reach of shot; for had not old Hildebrand, the warder, supped upon poppy-porridge, this whispering must have waked him.”

“It was all thine own delay,” said Seyton; “thou shalt reckon, with me hereafter for that and other matters.”

But Roland’s apprehension was verified too instantly to permit him to reply. The sentinel, whose slumbering had withstood the whispering, was alarmed by the dash of the oars. His challenge was instantly heard. “A boat —— a boat! — bring to, or I shoot!” And, as they continued to ply their oars, he called aloud, “Treason! treason!” rung the bell of the castle, and discharged his harquebuss at the boat. The ladies crowded on each other like startled wild foul, at the flash and report of the piece, while the men urged the rowers to the utmost speed. They heard more than one ball whiz along the surface of the lake, at no great distance from their little bark; and from the lights, which glanced like meteors from window to window, it was evident the whole castle was alarmed, and their escape discovered.

“Pull!” again exclaimed Seyton; “stretch to your oars, or I will spur you to the task with my dagger — they will launch a boat immediately.”

“That is cared for,” said Roland; “I locked gate and wicket on them when I went back, and no boat will stir from the island this night, if doors of good oak and bolts of iron can keep men within stone-walls. — And now I resign my office of porter of Lochleven, and give the keys to the Kelpie’s keeping.”

As the heavy keys plunged in the lake, the Abbot — who till then had been repeating his prayers, exclaimed, “Now, bless thee, my son! for thy ready prudence puts shame on us all.”43

“I knew,” said Mary, drawing her breath more freely, as they were now out of reach of the musketry —“I knew my squire’s truth, promptitude, and sagacity. — I must have him my dear friends — with my no less true knights, Douglas and Seyton — but where, then, is Douglas?”

“Here, madam,” answered the deep and melancholy voice of the boatman who sat next her, and who acted as steersman.

“Alas! was it you who stretched your body before me,” said the Queen, “when the balls were raining around us?”

“Believe you,” said he, in a low tone, “that Douglas would have resigned to any one the chance of protecting his Queen’s life with his own?”

The dialogue was here interrupted by a shot or two from one of those small pieces of artillery called falconets, then used in defending castles. The shot was too vague to have any effect, but the broader flash, the deeper sound, the louder return which was made by the midnight echoes of Bennarty, terrified and imposed silence on the liberated prisoners. The boat was alongside of a rude quay or landing place, running out from a garden of considerable extent, ere any of them again attempted to speak. They landed, and while the Abbot returned thanks aloud to Heaven — which had thus far favoured their enterprise, Douglas enjoyed the best reward of his desperate undertaking, in conducting the Queen to the house of the gardener.

Yet, not unmindful of Roland Graeme even in that moment of terror and exhaustion, Mary expressly commanded Seyton to give his assistance to Fleming, while Catherine voluntarily, and without bidding, took the arm of the page. Seyton presently resigned Lady Fleming to the care of the Abbot, alleging, he must look after their horses; and his attendants, disencumbering themselves of their boat-cloaks, hastened to assist him.

While Mary spent in the gardener’s cottage the few minutes which were necessary to prepare the steeds for their departure, she perceived, in a corner, the old man to whom the garden belonged, and called him to approach. He came as it were with reluctance.

“How, brother,” said the Abbot, “so slow to welcome thy royal Queen and mistress to liberty and to her kingdom!”

The old man, thus admonished, came forward, and, in good terms of speech, gave her Grace joy of her deliverance. The Queen returned him thanks in the most gracious manner, and added, “It will remain to us to offer some immediate reward for your fidelity, for we wot well your house has been long the refuge in which our trusty servants have met to concert measures for our freedom.” So saying, she offered gold, and added, “We will consider your services more fully hereafter.”

“Kneel, brother,” said the Abbot, “kneel instantly, and thank her Grace’s kindness,”

“Good brother, that wert once a few steps under me, and art still many years younger,” replied the gardener, pettishly, “let me do mine acknowledgments in my own way. Queens have knelt to me ere now, and in truth my knees are too old and stiff to bend even to this lovely-faced lady. May it please your Grace, if your Grace’s servants have occupied my house, so that I could not call it mine own — if they have trodden down my flowers in the zeal of their midnight comings and goings, and destroyed the hope of the fruit season, by bringing their war-horses into my garden, I do but crave of your Grace in requital, that you will choose your residence as far from me as possible. I am an old man who would willingly creep to my grave as easily as I can, in peace, good-will, and quiet labour.”

“I promise you fairly, good man,” said the Queen, “I will not make yonder castle my residence again, if I can help it. But let me press on you this money — it will make some amends for the havoc we have made in your little garden and orchard.”

“I thank your Grace, but it will make me not the least amends,” said the old man. “The ruined labours of a whole year are not so easily replaced to him who has perchance but that one year to live; and besides, they tell me I must leave this place and become a wanderer in mine old age — I that have nothing on earth saving these fruit-trees, and a few old parchments and family secrets not worth knowing. As for gold, if I had loved it, I might have remained Lord Abbot of St. Mary’s — and yet, I wot not — for, if Abbot Boniface be but the poor peasant Blinkhoolie, his successor, the Abbot Ambrosius, is still transmuted for the worse into the guise of a sword-and-buckler-man.”

“Is this indeed the Abbot Boniface of whom I have heard?” said the Queen. “It is indeed I who should have bent the knee for your blessing, good Father.”

“Bend no knee to me, Lady! The blessing of an old man, who is no longer an Abbot, go with you over dale and down — I hear the trampling of your horses.”

“Farewell, Father,” said the Queen. “When we are once more seated at Holyrood, we will neither forget thee nor thine injured garden.”

“Forget us both,” said the Ex-Abbot Boniface, “and may God be with you!”

As they hurried out of the house, they heard the old man talking and muttering to himself, as he hastily drew bolt and bar behind them.

“The revenge of the Douglasses will reach the poor old man,” said the Queen. “God help me, I ruin every one whom I approach!”

“His safety is cared for,” said Seyton; “he must not remain here, but will be privately conducted to a place of greater security. But I would your Grace were in the saddle. — To horse! to horse!”

The party of Seyton and of Douglas were increased to about ten by those attendants who had remained with the horses. The Queen and her ladies, with all the rest who came from the boat, were instantly mounted; and holding aloof from the village, which was already alarmed by the firing from the castle, with Douglas acting as their guide, they soon reached the open ground and began to ride as fast as was consistent with keeping together in good order.

41 Sir John Holland’s poem of the Howlet is known to collectors by the beautiful edition presented to the Bannatyne Club, by Mr. David Laing.

42 In the dangerous expedition to Aberdeenshire, Randolph, the English Ambassador, gives Cecil the following account of Queen Mary’s demeanour:—

“In all those garbulles, I assure your honour, I never saw the Queen merrier, never dismayed; nor never thought I that stomache to be in her that I find. She repented nothing but, when the Lords and others, at Inverness, came in the morning from the watches, that she was not a man, to know what life it was to lye all night in the fields, or to walk upon the causeway with a jack and a knaps-cap, a Glasgow buckler, and a broadsword.”— Randolph to Cecil, September 18, 1562.

The writer of the above letter seems to have felt the same impression which Catherine Seyton, in the text, considered as proper to the Queen’s presence among her armed subjects.

“Though we neither thought nor looked for other than on that day to have fought or never-what desperate blows would not have been given, when every man should have fought in the sight of so noble a Queen, and so many fair ladies, our enemies to have taken them from us, and we to save our honours, not to be reft of them, your honour can easily judge.”— The same to the same, September 24, 1562.

43 It is well known that the escape of Queen Mary from Lochleven was effected by George Douglas, the youngest brother of Sir William Douglas, the lord of the castle; but the minute circumstances of the event have been a good deal confused, owing to two agents having been concerned in it who bore the same name. It has been always supposed that George Douglas was induced to abet Mary’s escape by the ambitions hope that, by such service, he might merit her hand. But his purpose was discovered by his brother Sir William, and he was expelled from the castle. He continued, notwithstanding, to hover in the neighbourhood, and maintain a correspondence with the royal prisoner and others in the fortress.

If we believe the English ambassador Drury, the Queen was grateful to George Douglas, and even proposed a marriage with him; a scheme which could hardly be serious, since she was still the wife of Bothwell, but which, if suggested at all, might be with a purpose of gratifying the Regent Murray’s ambition, and propitiating his favour; since he was, it must be remembered, the brother uterine of George Douglas, for whom such high honour was said to be designed.

The proposal, if seriously made, was treated as inadmissible, and Mary again resumed her purpose of escape. Her failure in her first attempt has some picturesque particulars, which might have been advantageously introduced in fictitious narrative. Drury sends Cecil the following account of the matter:—

“But after, upon the 25th of the last, (April 1567,) she interprised an escape, and was the rather near effect, through her accustomed long lying in bed all the morning. The manner of it was thus: there cometh in to her the laundress early as other times before she was wanted, and the Queen according to such a secret practice putteth on her the hood of the laundress, and so with the fardel of clothes and the muffler upon her face, passeth, out and entereth the boat to pass the Loch; which, after some space, one of them that rowed said merrily, ‘Let us see what manner of dame this is,’ and therewith offered to pull down her muffler, which to defend, she put up her hands, which they spied to be very fair and white; wherewith they entered into suspicion whom she was, beginning to wonder at her enterprise. Whereat she was little dismayed, but charged them, upon danger of their lives, to row her over to the shore, which they nothing regarded, but eftsoons rowed her back again, promising her it should be secreted, and especially from the lord of the house, under whose guard she lyeth. It seemeth she knew her refuge, and — where to have found it if she had once landed; for there did, and yet do linger, at a little village called Kinross, hard at the Loch side, the same George Douglas, one Sempel and one Beton, the which two were sometime her trusty servants, and, as yet appeareth, they mind her no less affection.”— Bishop Keith’s History of the Affairs of Church and State in Scotland, p. 490.

Notwithstanding this disappointment, little spoke of by historians, Mary renewed her attempts to escape. There was in the Castle of Lochleven a lad, named William Douglas, some relation probably of the baron, and about eighteen years old. This youth proved as accessible to Queen Mary’s prayers and promises, as was the brother of his patron, George Douglas, from whom this William must be carefully kept distinct. It was young William who played the part commonly assigned to his superior, George, stealing the keys of the castle from the table on which they lay, while his lord was at supper. He let the Queen and a waiting woman out of the apartment where they were secured, and out of the tower itself, embarked with them in a small skiff, and rowed them to the shore. To prevent instant pursuit, he, for precaution’s sake, locked the iron grated door of the tower, and threw the keys into the lake. They found George Douglas and the Queen’s servant, Beton, waiting for them, and Lord Seyton and James Hamilton of Orbeiston in attendance, at the head of a party of faithful followers, with whom they fled to Niddrie Castle, and from thence to Hamilton.

In narrating this romantic story, both history and tradition confuse the two Douglasses together, and confer on George the successful execution of the escape from the castle, the merit of which belongs, in reality, to the boy called William, or, more frequently, the Little Douglas, either from his youth or his slight stature. The reader will observe, that in the romance, the part of the Little Douglas has been assigned to Roland Graeme. In another case, it would be tedious to point out in a work of amusement such minute points of historical fact; but the general interest taken in the fate of Queen Mary, renders every thing of consequence which connects itself with her misfortunes.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00