The Prelude


The words were still echoing in Mary’s ears as she rode through the night. Her hair had escaped from beneath her hood; the wind tore at it, tossing it this way and that with as little respect as she herself had been treated so recently in her capital city of Edinburgh. Beneath her cloak her gown was in shreds; she herself had torn it from her shoulders in a frenzy of despair as she had stood at the window of the Provost’s house while the mob shouted below. She could still see their cruel faces, the red glow from the torches reflected in their eyes, while they shouted: “Burn the adulteress!”

Not one friend among them, she had thought. Is there no one in this cruel and barbarous land to help me?

Maitland of Lethington had walked shamefacedly on the other side of the road. He was the husband of her dear Mary Fleming who, with Mary Beaton, Mary Livingstone and Mary Seton had been one of her four devoted Marys, those who had shared their childhood with her. She had cried for help to Maitland but even he had passed by.

So there was no one. Bothwell had fled. She dared not think of Bothwell, for that would reawaken more turbulent emotions. Where was he now, the man who had taken her by force, the man who had arrogantly linked his life with hers, to her degradation and destruction? Yet would she have cared about that if he were with her now?

But if he were with her now her enemies would not have dared to treat her thus. She would not be riding through the darkness, their prisoner.

Surely Moray, her half-brother, would come to her rescue. Where was Moray? Where there was no trouble! Could it be accidental that always where there was trouble Moray was not. He is after all my brother, she thought; whatever happens he must always remember that.

But she was too tired for thought; she was exhausted by fear and rage, by despair . . . yes and even hunger; she had forgotten when she had last eaten; she had not thought of food since before Carberry Hill, that decisive battle which had brought her to this state. She had been exultant before the battle, believing that she must be victorious because Bothwell was at her side. But even he, magnificently virile as he was, could not fight an army when his own followers—and hers—had deserted to the enemy. There had been nothing but disaster since Darnley’s death and, because it was generally believed that she had played a part in his murder, it was easy enough to turn her army against her. Yet she had been confident because Bothwell had been with her; brave, defiant, cruel, he was ruthless and unfaithful; all knew it, and she herself had reluctantly and most bitterly learned it, but there was not a braver man on either side of the Border, not a braver man on Earth.

He obsessed her as he had ever since, with his Borderer’s audacity, he had forced his way into her apartment and committed rape—“the rape of the Queen.”

“Leave him,” they had said. “He shall go free if you will return with us to Edinburgh.”

And like a fool she had believed them, although he had not.

She would remember that last fierce embrace as long as she lived, for there would never be another like him.

“Fool!” he had cried. He had treated her as a Queen only on State occasions; in private she was a foolish woman completely under his domination. “Don’t you see they want only to separate us so that they may more easily destroy you. Leap onto your horse. We’ll escape them yet. We’ll go to Dunbar . . . together.”

“No!” she had cried, although she had longed to ride with him. They would have killed him. They longed to kill them both. They had offered her his life if she would deliver herself into their hands that they might inflict that which was more bitter than death: the humiliation, the degradation which they were forcing her to suffer now.

So she had parted from him. He had escaped to . . . she knew not where; and for her there had been the terrible journey to the Provost’s house, the night of horror there, in the room which looked on the street; and placed outside her window was that hideous banner on which was depicted the murdered Darnley and her little son James—hers and Darnley’s—kneeling as he prayed “Judge and revenge my cause, O Lord!” And all through the night the mob roared for her destruction like wild beasts roaring for their prey.

In the morning she had followed the fearful walk to Holyrood House, the banner held before her, the mob pressing close.

That was the very depth of despair. There could be nothing more horrifying than that which she had already suffered. But perhaps there could be.

On she rode, the prisoner of those grim and silent men . . . to what destination?



IN THE CASTLE OF LOCHLEVEN which was built on an island in the middle of the loch an exciting expectancy prevailed.

All through the day, the serving men and maids had been aware that they must prepare for an important visitor, and rumor had seeped through to them that this was none other than the captive Queen. Ears were strained for the sounds of arrival; eyes continually turned to the strip of water which separated the island from the mainland on which could be seen the roofs of the houses of Kinross. She would embark there and the boat was ready, waiting for her.

The castellan of the castle, Sir William Douglas, was uneasy; he did not relish the responsibility which had been given him; he foresaw trouble. Yet it was a commission which he dared not refuse; he should, he supposed, have been grateful because his half-brother, James Stuart, Earl of Moray, would wish him to be the Queen’s jailor. Yet he knew that a tense and stormy period lay before him. Wherever Mary Stuart was, there was trouble; it was hardly likely that Lochleven would escape it.

Now he was waiting for her arrival which surely could not long be delayed; and he decided that once more he must impress upon his mother the importance of the task which had been given them; and for this reason he made his way to her apartments.

He found her seated at a window; like most people in the castle she was gazing out across the lake, and with her was William’s younger brother George.

Margaret Douglas looked eagerly at her elder son as he entered. He noticed with a twinge of jealousy that she looked younger than she had before they had received the news. He knew the reason; it was because, by keeping the Queen a prisoner at Lochleven, she would be serving Moray. Why had he felt the need to warn her of the importance of this duty when all that she did for Moray she would do well?

“Is there news?” she asked, and the animation on her beautiful, though aging face, was startling.

William shook his head.

“I trust all will be well. Jamie will expect us to do our duty.”

“We shall do it, have no fear of that,” William replied. He might have reminded her that Moray—now that the Queen was a captive—was the most influential man in Scotland, that before long he would be the ruler of Scotland, which was what he had always intended to be. If one hoped to live in peace in Scotland, one must obey Moray; he, William Douglas, castellan of Lochleven since the death of his father, Sir Robert Douglas, would have been prepared to do that even if Moray had not been his half-brother, and his mother’s bastard.

“Jamie will expect us to do this duty well,” went on Margaret Douglas complacently.

Young George clenched his hands in disgust; he was eighteen, romantic, and chivalrous and could not bear to contemplate his mother’s dishonor.

As for Margaret she was unaware of any dishonor, for in her opinion there was nothing but honor in bearing the bastard of a King. Often she delighted in Jamie’s resemblance to his father. She had not been the only woman to catch the roving eye of James V of Scotland and to offer the world living proof of what had passed between them. To her he had been faithful for a while and she would never forget that. She had been jealous of the others. How she had hated Euphemia Elphinstone when he had borne the King her son Robert; not that Robert was the only one. James was a King who could be gay and melancholy, and when he was gay he was very gay; there had been numerous known bastards, and even James did not know how many unknown ones. Yet, she thought wistfully, all the Stuart charm was his and to have known it was to have drunk deep of pleasure. There were no regrets. And when she looked at her Jamie—James Stuart who had been Earl of Mar and was now Earl of Moray—how could she refrain from thinking what a cruel fate it was that had made him the bastard, and that giddy girl, Mary Stuart, the King’s only legitimate heir? Jamie resented it—oh how bitterly. But perhaps now the bitterness was less acute.

She smiled. It was ironical that Mary should now be in the hands of one who had been her father’s mistress and who would do everything in her power to further the aims of her own son. It was rough justice of a sort. Sometimes she believed that her clever fox of a Jamie had all along intended that something like this should happen.

“And the silly giddy girl deserves her fate,” she said aloud. “Something like this was bound to happen sooner or later.”

“She is a brave woman. She was not afraid to venture onto the battlefield with her army at Carberry Hill.” That was young George, and as he spoke his face flushed. He wondered why he had spoken; he should have known better and kept his thoughts to himself. He did not share the opinions of the others. The Queen was a beautiful woman in distress. His half-brother, the bastard, who should surely shame his mother every time she thought of him, was a ruthless man. George knew whose side he himself was on. But it was foolish of course to say so before his brother and mother.