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Scotland's Book of Romance
Chapter XVIII. "Dreamthorp"

The Man from Sutherland - A Cottage at Gargunnock - Twilight in the Vale of Menteith - Forward to Bannockburn - The Old House at Larbert - The Shepherd in Falkirk - Through the Gap in the Roman Wall - A Night Attack - Dusk in Linlithgow Palace Grounds - I Sleep in "Dreamthorp" - The Murder of the Regent.

SO confused are the old boundaries in this district that I was not certain whether I had entered Stirlingshire or was still in the county of Perth. I believe there is a little island of Perthshire soil tucked away by itself in Stirlingshire, and they say that the dividing-line runs through the minister's garden at Kippen, so that while his dinner is cooked in Perthshire he eats it in the county of Stirling. The present road beside the Forth was made within living memory, and the old road followed by the Prince's army lay several hundreds of yards up on the hillside on my right. I made for Leckie House, where the Prince arrived on the afternoon of Friday 13th September and was entertained to a banquet which George Moir had prepared for him. Unfortunately, Moir himself was not there to give him a welcome. Word of his intentions to entertain the Prince had leaked out, and on the previous night he had been seized by the dragoons and imprisoned in the castle at Stirling, so his wife (the owner of Leckie House) presided at the table. From there the Prince wrote to the city of Glasgow ordering it to provide the sum of 15,000 and all available weapons for his use. Andrew Cochrane, the Provost, would no doubt have made haste to comply, but information came through to him that it was Edinburgh and not Glasgow the Prince was making for, and he decided to ignore the letter. From Leckie the old house is now used as quarters for estate workers-Charles marched eastward to Touch, where his army encamped for the night. Touch House belonged to a member of the ancient family of Seton of Abercorn, the hereditary armour-bearers of the king in Scotland, and the present representative is Sir Alexander Hay Seton, Bart., whose tapestries I had admired at the monastery in Fort Augustus the week before. [It was Sir Alexander's father, Sir Bruce Gordon Seton, who compiled The Prisoners of the Forty-five.]

Darkness was beginning to fall when I reached the hamlet of Gargunnock on the hillside, and I wondered if there was such a thing as an inn at that small place. On the road, I stopped a man and enquired about accommodation. When he told me there was only a public-house in Gargunnock, and he doubted if the landlord could put me up for the night, I asked if he knew of a cottage where I could find a lodging.

He thought for a moment. "I won't see you stretched out beside the dyke," he said in his deep pleasing voice. "There's a spare bed in my house, and you're welcome to it."

Without another word, he led me to a small whitewashed cottage, with thick walls, tiny windows, and a red-tiled roof. The kettle was boiling on the kitchen grate, and the man spoke quietly to his wife in Gaelic. I could not help interrupting ; I had been certain, when he first spoke to me, that he had a Gaelic tongue. "Yes," he said, "I'm from Assynt in Sutherland." His wife hurried to the door. "Come in ; you are very welcome; everything is poor; we didna expect a visitor, but you can have what we've got."

Taking off my pack, I sat down beside the kitchen fire. The welcome of these people had been so spontaneous that I found it difficult to tell them of my gratitude. The woman infused the tea, and put the tea-pot in front of the grate, then shook out a white table-cloth and spread it on the table. I watched her as she set down a plate of home-baked scones and a loaf of bread, some butter, cheese, honey, and homemade gooseberry jam. "The village shop is shut," she said, with a little sigh, "and we have no meat in the house." I told her I wanted no meat when there were scones like those on the table, and I asked her if she also had come from Assynt.

"No, I am a Cameron from Rannoch," she replied, "but we have lived in many places." She began to tell me how her husband's work had taken them far afield. He had been with Lord Cowdray on construction work in his early days, and had helped to build the Bakerloo Tube in London. Later, he had worked on the West Highland Railway; and at this point the man himself leaned forward and asked if I knew a certain famous Scottish preacher. "I gave him his first job on the railway," he said. "It was near Fort William. He was working his way through college. I saw by his hands he wasn't used to rough work, and I got him a job in the office. Ah, he was a fine lad, and a fine Gaelic student ..."

I asked my host if he had ever lived near the Border.

"I do not like the Borderer," he said emphatically. "He's hard and dour, and takes a lot of knowing. I get on better with the English, much better. Yes, I like the English-they are a friendly people-and, man, I like the Cockney. I would go back to London tomorrow if I could get a job there. They say an English husband and a Highland wife is a good mixture." He laughed quietly. "But not the other way round!.. I've been out of a job for nearly six months, but I've heard of something in Lanarkshire, so we may not be in Gargunnock long . . . My son lives near here - he herds five hundred sheep on the Touch Hills, and he'll miss us if we go. The wife helps to make clothes for his children."

During the meal, he told me about the old basket-makers of Gargunnock. The War killed the industry, and it has never been revived. They made creels for fishwives, and a regular supply went out each year to farmers for the potatoes. Each basket took three quarters of an hour to make, and oak or ash brushwood was used. At first it had been cut from the neighbouring woods, but later some men of the village would go to Loch Lomond and send back supplies by the truckload. One old man living in a small cottage left over a thousand pounds when he died-every penny of it earned at the basket-making. Now-a-days, Gargunnock is a happy little community, mostly of retired people, and the only work to be had is on the farms. Although it was almost dark by the time we had finished our meal, I went with my host a little way along the road and looked down at the lights that twinkled here and there in the Vale of Menteith. Beyond the strath lay Aberfoyle, where Rob Roy lived, and north of it is the little town of Callander between a mountain and a loch. My host spoke, not without emotion, about his young days in Sutherland, and he repeated some of the stories his father had told him, stories that were continued for an hour beside the kitchen fire; and at nine o'clock my candle was lit, and I was taken into my low-ceilinged bedroom. It was very simple, with linoleum on the floor, but everything had a fresh smell, and the sheets were clean and fragrant. I opened the tiny window and looked out on the peace of the village street and tried to picture the Highlanders marching down that slope on the evening of Friday 13th September 1745 on their way to the Touch Hills and the house of the Setons where the Prince slept. But the imagination can be a perverse thing, and the present moment was too vivid for fancy to play freely. A man passed slowly in the darkness; I could smell his tobacco smoke. Perhaps he was the minister out for a last stroll before turning in, perhaps the schoolmaster. A puppy whimpered in a back garden; and high on the lonely hills a bird called, and then there was silence. One after another, the lights in the village street went out, until the candle on the chair by my bedside was the only thing that broke the darkness. When at last I got into bed and extinguished the candle, I could hear my host and hostess stirring in the kitchen; they were moving quietly so that I should not be disturbed. But I could see no slit of light below the door, and I thought they must have been going to bed in frugal darkness. Perhaps the embers of the fire gave them light enough.

Next morning, as I walked down the tree-lined road to Cambusbarron, I passed Touch House in its wooded ravine. It was not yet nine o'clock, an hour at which it would have been a trifle bold to call upon strangers, so I left unvisited the house where the Prince was entertained by Lady Seton. The army encamped on the moor ; and in his journal, Duncan Macgregor tells how Locheil and Glencarnoch were sitting at breakfast next morning when they heard a gun being fired on the hill. Glencarnoch amiably taunted Locheil with the remark that, as like as not, it was a Cameron killing sheep. Locheil retorted that if any sheep were being shot, it was the work of the Macgregors; and at this, Glencarnoch laid a hundred guineas it was the Camerons. The two men rushed out of the house, each swearing that if any of his own people were guilty there would be trouble. To Locheil's disgust, a Cameron passed with a dead sheep on his back, and Locheil fired at him point-blank, bringing down the raider with a bullet in the shoulder. This story may not be true, but we have Lord George Murray's word for it that many a sheep was taken in this district.

If the hungry Highlanders looked upon the property of the Lowlander as something Providence had thoughtfully put in their way, I wonder how some of the Border clans or the Englishmen would have behaved if they had been marching triumphantly into the North.

The castle of Stirling is a brave sight on a fine autumn morning, and so is the Wallace Monument on its hillside of pine trees. I was tempted to go off my road to climb up to its high crown of stone, from which I had been told one can have a view that takes in Ben Lomond, Ben Venue, Ben Ledi, Ben More, and Ben Vorlich, and nearly a dozen battlefields ; but I decided to push on before the heat of the day made the road like the floor of an oven, and came at ten o'clock to St. Ninian's.

In marching by this way, the Highlanders had been too far south for the guns of Stirling Castle to find a mark with accuracy, but General Blakeney let them have a round or two, and managed to drop a shot near enough to the Prince for several chroniclers to record the incident afterwards. The Highlanders did not pass through the present village of Bannockburn, but bore to the west of it and halted near the ground. where Robert Bruce had lain with his army on the day before Bannockburn was fought. The Prince had ordered food to be purchased in Stirling and the country round about, and the Highlanders were given a good meal. At Bannockburn House, which is near the road, Charles himself was entertained by Sir Hugh Paterson, a brother-in-law of the Earl of Mar who had made such a mess of things in 'Fifteen. Sir Hugh's niece was the plain-faced Clementina Walkinshaw who seven years afterwards became the Prince's mistress and shared some of his long exile, but it was not on this visit that he met her. At dinner, word came that Gardiner's dragoons, which had bolted from the Ford of Frew, were now encamped at Linlithgow; and hastily finishing his meal, the Prince hurried on in the hope of meeting them next day.

Flat farmland lay around me. On the right I could see the end of the Kilsyth Hills, on the north the Ochils were dappled in sunlight and shadow; and after eating the food I had bought in St. Ninian's, I got a lift on a lorry which took me past Torwood through a strip of countryside where Wallace and his men had lurked for many a day and night. Back on the main road it was dull going, but I, can remember how my heart was uplifted on the outskirts of Larbert when I left the lorry and saw on my right a beautiful old grey house high above the road. I believe it is now an industrial school, and I wish I knew who built it and something of the folk who lived there. It sat like a gracious old woman among a crowd of cocktail-drinking bright young things who are neither so bright nor so young as they hope to appear, and I recalled the house with pleasure, for I had once spent a happy month in Larbert: happy because a boy can be happy almost anywhere if, as Stevenson says, he has something craggy to break his mind upon. Ever since, I have carried with me the picture of a dusty little bustling town, with the sky at night incarnadined by the blast-furnaces of Carron; and as I went through it now on foot, I was taken back to those days when I played cricket upon the manse glebe and spent the evenings writing stories of preposterous adventure. With the shadow of a sigh, I left the town behind me; and passing through a grim place with the lovely name of Camelon, I came to Falkirk.

In Falkirk I lingered for as few minutes as possible. At the first glance, the only thing I liked about the place was the causeway-stones of its streets. I tried to assure myself that if I remained until morning in this unpicturesque town, an adventure would befall me more wonderful than any in the Arabian Nights. But it was no use. I disliked the look of the place as heartily as on second thoughts I began to like the manners of the people, and their honest Scots faces, and the strong deliberate accent of their speech. I remembered that Falkirk used to be famous for its trysts, to which cattle and sheep and ponies were brought down from the North every month of the summer, and were taken south on the old drove roads over the hills. But the only hint I got of Falkirk's ancient glory was the sight of a harassed shepherd trying to drive a couple of sheep down the street. I think a herd of antelopes might have given him less trouble; for they dived among the traffic, ducked between the legs of horses, and stared with startled eyes into the radiators of motor-cars. The shepherd's face was red with shame as he dodged back and forward like a fast rugby three-quarter; and his dog, who looked as though he would never hold up his head again, was almost frantic with despair. The incident closed for me when the shepherd dashed round a corner after one of the sheep, while a fat citizen of Falkirk drove the other out of a shop door hooting and waving his bowler-hat. After the man had replaced his hat and recovered his dignity, I asked him the way to Callendar House.

Callendar House, to which the Prince came on the evening of Saturday 14th September, belonged to the Earl of Kilmarnock. It had previously been the Earl of Linlithgow's, but after the Rising of 'Fifteen he had been attainted and his estates forfeited to the crown. The York Buildings Company had bought the property, but the tenants refused to pay their rent, and with a helpless gesture the Company had transferred it on a long lease to Lord. Kilmarnock, whose wife had the first claim on it. If Kilmarnock had sat tight during the 'Forty-five, the estate would have come to him for good, but he followed his Prince, was captured at Culloden, and beheaded on the Tower Hill n London. Nearly forty years afterwards, the York Buildings Company put the place up for auction. William Forbes, the coppersmith, intended to bid up to 100,000, and at the "roup" it was knocked down to him for 80,000. The auctioneer turned to him and said: "Who are you? I must have a bank reference." At this, the coppersmith whipped out a bank-note for 100,000, and to the consternation of he auctioneer blandly asked for 20,000 change. Forbes, who had a curious sense of humour, had got his bank to print the note specially for the occasion. He had made a fortune when the Government began to sheathe the bottoms of naval ships in copper; but like the York Buildings Company, he found the tenants difficult to deal with, and one day he had a row with a Local minister about the rent of a park. The minister was forced to give in, but he had his revenge upon the Laird by preaching for several Sundays from the text, 'Alexander the coppersmith hath done me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works." Whatever the Lord may have thought of the coppersmith, there is still a Forbes at Callendar House.

I walked up the avenue through a gap in the Roman wall that Lollius Urbicus built in the second century to link up the old forts of Agricola. This rampart was made of turf upon a foundation of stone, but from Falkirk to the point where it finishes at Carriden it was of earth strengthened with clay. It was twenty feet high, with a wide ditch on the north side and a military road on the south. The old forts were roughly two miles apart, and their position determined the line of the wall; if these forts had never been built, Urbicus in some places would have chosen a different route. Again and again the Romans retired from their strongholds in Scotland, until they finally left at the beginning of the fifth century; and while a library of books has been written about their occupation, to my mind one of the most interesting things that has been established is that, from the founding of the line of forts in the first century to the departure of the Romans in the fifth, the longest time they had a continuous hold upon the country was little more than half the lifetime of a man. North Britain did not see much of the grandeur that was Rome.

In Callendar House I was permitted to look at the room where the Prince slept ; then I was taken down a great staircase on the south and led to the old wing of the house, and a door was opened in silence. I wonder if Charles himself visited the apartment which Queen Mary of Scots is said to have occupied when she came to a baptism in the Linlithgow family : perhaps his mind was too full of the immediate future to think then about the Queen whose memory he revered. When the Earl of Kilmarnock received him on that Saturday night he told Charles that Gardiner's dragoons were encamped between the Avon bridge and the town of Linlithgow. Kilmarnock had deserted from the dragoons, so his information could be relied upon. The Prince decided to make a night attack. He pretended to go to bed so that news of his intention would not leak out; and an hour or two later, he slipped away to meet Lord George Murray, who was waiting for him with Locheil and four other Highland chiefs and a thousand picked men. Linlithgow Bridge, where Gardiner had encamped, was four miles distant; the Prince knew it would be strongly held, so he made for a ford a mile and a half up the river near the home of his aide-de-camp, Macleod, of Muiravonside. His object was to cross the Avon, descend on the right bank, and surprise Gardiner on the flank ; but to his disappointment he learned on reaching Muiravonside that the dragoons had cleared out at dusk and were by this time far beyond striking distance.

Day had already broken when the Prince marched into Linlithgow and took possession of the town. I myself would have liked to enter it romantically at that brisk hour of the morning when a man's mind is clear and his body is at the apex of its daily strength ; but in fact I reached it an hour before sunset, feeling neither brisk nor romantic, with a raging thirst and a hunger like a wolf's.

Linlithgow - the old "Dreamthorp" of Alexander Smith-is a town where a man may comfortably compose his soul : a good substantial Scottish place with some of the peculiar dignity which you catch a glimpse of now and then in capital cities and in towns where there used to be a royal residence. I knew nothing about the hotels in Linlithgow and chose one because it stood beside the Well of St. Michael, which had the friendly inscription, "St. Michael is kinde to strangers." The hotel folk were certainly kinde to me, and after a bath I sat at a window that looked down into the street, and ate an excellently cooked meal and drank a pint of claret. I was alone in the little dining-room, with its white table-cloths, bright glasses, and the Victorian sideboard of polished mahogany; and I was glad there was no stranger on that Saturday evening to distract me. Linlithgow is a town charged with memories of the Royal Stewarts, and it was with the Stewarts, my thoughts were occupied that evening. A stranger when he comes to this town naturally turns first of all to the Palace, and the maid who attended to me at dinner told me I would not be able to see it until Monday : which meant that I would not see it at all, for I hoped to leave on the morrow. But after I had finished my meal and had dipped into a book she brought me with the compliments of the proprietress - one of the best books of local history I have ever encountered - I began to wonder whether there was some way of getting into the Palace grounds without knocking up the keeper.

There is, but tell it not in Gath or to the Office of Works. At the risk of being sent about my business, I walked through an open gateway in the east of the town, followed a short avenue, climbed a fence, crossed a stream by stepping stones, and found myself looking up at the Palace walls, black against the last glow of daylight in the sky. I went slowly round to the loch (which I found difficult to believe was 150 feet above sea-level) and watched the swans and geese and wildduck feeding. Was it possible that the eyes of Stewart kings had looked upon the ancestors of those swans : and had they been fed by the hands of Mary Queen of Scots? The twilight was cold and grey on the water, and I could see the lights of houses in the distance. I was glad I had ventured to come at this hour, for so often the stark light of day makes it difficult to evoke the spirit of a place which one has tried to picture tenderly. On this site (as one may read in the book by Dr. Ferguson) there had stood the wooden manor-house of David I, that "sair sanct for the croon," and in the fifteenth century the first James built a palace of stone and roofed it with tiles from Dundee. The second James spent part of his honeymoon here, and kept a boat on the loch with a man to catch fish and eels for the royal table; and the third James and his queen used it as a sanctuary against the plague that in 1474 was decimating Scotland. The fourth James spent many busy days here, hunting and hawking; attending to the gardens and the bees; visiting his "harness mill" where coats-of-mail were made; studying foreign languages in the evening; discussing "the fifth essence in nature" with learned alchemists over quaichs of aqua vitae ; and bleeding sick people with leeches, a curious hobby for a king. At night he listened to the music of Italian minstrels; the players of Linlithgow performed before him ; and often he would finish the day with a game "at the cards, dice, or the tables," at which he was fond of a flutter, or so one would gather from his treasurer's accounts. For years, he spent every Easter and Christmas at the Palace, and an Abbot of Unreason led the fun and games from St. Nicholas' Eve until Twelfth Day. Much " drink silver" he gave to the workmen who were making the place fit for his young queen, whose jointure-house it was to be. When he brought her as a bride, so much gear did she require that it took eighteen carts to carry it from Holyroodhouse, and no queen of Scotland had ever been received at Linlithgow with greater joy than Margaret Tudor. This generous king-he was as open-handed as his father had been stingy-scattered money in the town ; he was received with an acclamation always, and the children kissed his hand in the streets. But ten years later, the clouds were gathering. From Linlithgow, Margaret wrote to her brother Henry VIII that she was in anxiety about her husband's state of mind, for she saw war coming. England was preparing to fight France, and she was afraid James would join in the conflict. She pleaded , with her husband to ignore the appeals of the Queen of France, Anne de Bretagne, who had flattered him by proxy and called him her "chosen knight." Margaret told him she had dreamt of coming disaster, and the ghost that appeared before him at his prayers in St. Michael's Church with words of warning was perhaps a ghost of her own devising, while the voice he heard at midnight after he had joined his army on the Burghmuir at Edinburgh may have proceeded from the lips of the same substantial wraith. But if these were Margaret's efforts to stop him, they failed, and James marched south to Flodden, while she waited in her bower above the palace walls for news of the battle.

But it is with Queen Mary of Scots that the Palace will always be associated. Mary kindles the imagination even of those who call her an immoral harridan. On the 8th day of December 1542, she was born in an upper room six or seven days before her father, James V, died in despair at Falkland. In Linlithgow, she spent the early months of her life, and after she returned from France it became her half-way house when she travelled between Edinburgh and Stirling. At Linlithgow Bridge, a little west of the Palace, she was abducted (willingly or otherwise) by Bothwell, and from that day she never again set foot in her Palace courtyard. Her son, the unpopular James VI, stayed often at Linlithgow : sometimes he came to sulk after the folk of Edinburgh had shown him how little they respected him, and once he came to fulminate and to declare that he would raze Edinburgh to the ground and scatter salt upon its ruins. Here, he had some of his many ructions with the nobility and the clergy ; but after he had scrambled eagerly upon the throne of England, and remained away for fourteen years, his return was made the excuse for a tremendous civic spree. He was met at the east gate of the town by a huge plaster lion, in the belly of which crouched the local schoolmaster, and through the open jaws the man spouted a poem to the " thrice royal Sire," a poem of acclamation which ends with the gorgeous lines:

. . . then, king of men,
The king of beasts speaks to thee from his den,
Who, though he now enclosed be in plaster,
When he was free, was Lithgow's wise schoolmaster.

Nearly a century and a quarter later, the great-great grandson of King James VI, was given a reception no less warm, although it was unrehearsed. So great was the excitement when Prince Charles arrived on a Sunday morning that the minister decided to hold no service in the church. The Provost, John Bucknay, was a Jacobite, as his father had been before him, but he was one of those canny Jacobites who slipped away to leave his womenfolk to salute the Prince in tartan and white cockades. Mrs. Glen Gordon was the tenant of the Palace at the time, and the fountain in the courtyard was flowing with wine. But few of that cheering crowd allowed their excitement to carry them to the point of joining the Jacobite army which had marched through the town and encamped near Magdalens ; and as soon as farewells were exchanged in the afternoon, the Whigs in the town sent a messenger to Edinburgh with news that the Prince was on his way to the capital. Many claims were hastily put before the magistrates demanding compensation for the meal, the cows and the sheep which (it was alleged) the Young Pretender's rapscallions had lifted, and one ventures to hope that those claims were carefully investigated: from what we know of the men who were called the Twenty-seven Gods of Linlithgow, they probably were.

Four and a half months later, the Palace was in flames. The Butcher Cumberland's soldiers on their northward march bivouacked there, and the straw they left behind caught alight. When he saw the smoke rising from the courtyard, Provost Bucknay is said to have shrugged his shoulders and remarked that those who kindled the fire had better put it out. So ended as a royal residence this Palace of the Stewarts : broken like their broken hopes.

I walked slowly round the building. The darkness had drawn down; lights were among the trees; the only sound I could hear was the voice of a whaup on the edge of the loch. Above me were the black, windows of the Palace where, on many a night such as this, the Stewarts had stood and looked out of their heavy-lidded eyes upon the darkening countryside: it did not need much imagination to picture their ghosts among the walls. Retracing my steps, I splashed across the burn, and made my way back to the little hotel in the main street of the town.

I had promised myself a visit to Torphichen and the Priory of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem; I had promised myself a view of many things in and about Linlithgow. But next morning I was eager to get on my way; and after breakfast, I decided to be content with a glimpse of St. Michael's Church, which stands within a stone's throw of the Palace. It is among the finest pre-Reformation parish churches in Scotland, and was probably built by James IV upon the ruins of the "great church" which Edward I of England had used as a storehouse for the provisions of his invading army. It was a borough church in those days, and the magistrates claimed the right of controlling the clergy. They kept an eye upon the behaviour of the priest, told him the hours at which he was to perform the services, gave orders even about the number of candles for the altar and the way he was to robe himself. Indeed, one would gather from the entries in the Liber Curiae (quoted by Dr. Ferguson) that the Bishop of the Diocese had little to say in the parish so long as "the Twenty-seven Gods" were in control; and at the time of the Reformation when the people in the parish joined in the tornado of iconoclasm that swept over Scotland, the "Gods" devised a wily scheme by which they retained the endowments in their own hands. In the seventeenth century, the church was made hideous with galleries and pews; the tradesmen of the town were given their own seats ; and the incorporation of tailors, anxious to outdo their rivals, went so far as to decorate their gallery with a pair of shears and a smoothing-iron. In the same century, the church was divided into two by a wall, so that the "Resolutioners" (the Presbyterian royalists) could worship God untainted by their brethren, the Protesters, who worshipped at the other end. The church fell into disrepair, and at the time of the 'Forty-five it was a dirty untidy place with a great part of the floor broken up. That to-day it is one of the loveliest examples of Gothic workmanship to be seen in Scotland is due to the great Dr. Ferguson who spent his life restoring some of its lost beauty. I had a talk with the beadle, and when he spoke about all that "the Doctor" had done, tears came into his eyes. "Dr. Ferguson died too soon," he said. "We need a fine, oak roof in the church-what you see is but painted plaster. One day, perhaps, Dr. Ferguson's work will be finished, but I'm thinking it will be a long time yet."

It was the beadle who suggested that I ought to have a glance at the spot, a few yards down the street, where the half-brother of Mary Queen of Scots was assassinated: the crime, brilliantly conceived and daringly carried out, reminds one of a scene in a modern shocker.

After Mary's flight to England, Moray became Regent of the kingdom, but Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh - whose life Moray had spared on the scaffold after Langside - decided that Scotland would be better without him. That Hamilton's wife had been turned out of her house by Moray's friends, and sent to wander unclothed in the snow of a winter's night, used to be given as the motive for the murder, but the story is apocryphal. According to his lights, Hamilton, in planning Moray's death, was being loyal to his queen and to his own family.

The street where the murder took place is narrow now, but in the sixteenth century it was not much wider than an alley, and this made Hamilton's task easier. He got into an empty house where the Sheriff court-house now stands, and took the lintel from the door in the dyke behind it, so that afterwards he could get away on horseback without delay. Then he blocked the lane with thorn bushes to hold up the pursuit. On the floor of the front room, he placed a large feather-bed, so that his footsteps would be noiseless. To conceal his shadow, he hung the room with black drapery, and cut a hole below the lattice for his musket, which he loaded with four bullets.

The Regent Moray left his lodging, some way down the street, and began to ride through the press of people that had collected to watch him set out for Edinburgh. When he came opposite the house, Hamilton fired. A bullet passed through the Regent's body, killing the horse of the man on his left, and he was helped back to his lodging, to die during the night. Meantime, Hamilton had rushed to the back door of the house, leaped on his horse, and escaped.

When the news was taken to Queen Mary, she was eager to reward him with a pension out of her French income. In France, he was received as a tremendous fellow-a champion among assassins-and his admirers selected a French general as his next victim, but he declined the honour. Far from helping Queen Mary's cause in Scotland, the murder of the Regent Moray drove the wedge of dissension deeper into the nation, and gave Queen Elizabeth a chance to continue playing the double game at which she was so adroit: a game that ended a few minutes after ten o'clock on a February morning in 1587 upon a black-draped scaffold built beside the hearth, where a fire of logs was blazing, in the great hall of Fotheringhay Castle.

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