Read CHAPTER I - I RIDE DOWN TO HADDON of Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall, free online book, by Charles Major, on

Since I play no mean part in the events of this chronicle, a few words concerning my own history previous to the opening of the story I am about to tell you will surely not be amiss, and they may help you to a better understanding of my narrative.

To begin with an unimportant fact unimportant, that is, to you my name is Malcolm Francois de Lorraine Vernon. My father was cousin-german to Sir George Vernon, at and near whose home, Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, occurred the events which will furnish my theme.

Of the ancient lineage of the house of Vernon I need not speak. You already know that the family is one of the oldest in England, and while it is not of the highest nobility, it is quite gentle and noble enough to please those who bear its honored name. My mother boasted nobler blood than that of the Vernons. She was of the princely French house of Guise a niece and ward to the Great Duke, for whose sake I was named.

My father, being a younger brother, sought adventure in the land of France, where his handsome person and engaging manner won the smiles of Dame Fortune and my mother at one and the same cast. In due time I was born, and upon the day following that great event my father died. On the day of his burial my poor mother, unable to find in me either compensation or consolation for the loss of her child’s father, also died, of a broken heart, it was said. But God was right, as usual, in taking my parents; for I should have brought them no happiness, unless perchance they could have moulded my life to a better form than it has had a doubtful chance, since our great virtues and our chief faults are born and die with us. My faults, alas! have been many and great. In my youth I knew but one virtue: to love my friend; and that was strong within me. How fortunate for us it would be if we could begin our life in wisdom and end it in simplicity, instead of the reverse which now obtains!

I remained with my granduncle, the Great Duke, and was brought up amid the fighting, vice, and piety of his sumptuous court. I was trained to arms, and at an early age became Esquire in Waiting to his Grace of Guise. Most of my days between my fifteenth and twenty-fifth years were spent in the wars. At the age of twenty-five I returned to the chateau, there to reside as my uncle’s representative, and to endure the ennui of peace. At the chateau I found a fair, tall girl, fifteen years of age: Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, soon afterward Queen of France and rightful heiress to the English throne. The ennui of peace, did I say? Soon I had no fear of its depressing effect, for Mary Stuart was one of those women near whose fascinations peace does not thrive. When I found her at the chateau, my martial ardor lost its warmth. Another sort of flame took up its home in my heart, and no power could have turned me to the wars again.

Ah! what a gay, delightful life, tinctured with bitterness, we led in the grand old chateau, and looking back at it how heartless, godless, and empty it seems. Do not from these words conclude that I am a fanatic, nor that I shall pour into your ears a ranter’s tale; for cant is more to be despised even than godlessness; but during the period of my life of which I shall write I learned but what I learned I shall in due time tell you.

While at the court of Guise I, like many another man, conceived for Mary Stuart a passion which lay heavy upon my heart for many years. Sweethearts I had by the scores, but she held my longings from all of them until I felt the touch of a pure woman’s love, and then but again I am going beyond my story.

I did not doubt, nor do I hesitate to say, that my passion was returned by Mary with a fervor which she felt for no other lover; but she was a queen, and I, compared with her, was nobody. For this difference of rank I have since had good cause to be thankful. Great beauty is diffusive in its tendency. Like the sun, it cannot shine for one alone. Still, it burns and dazzles the one as if it shone for him and for no other; and he who basks in its rays need have no fear of the ennui of peace.

The time came when I tasted the unutterable bitterness of Mary’s marriage to a simpering fool, Francis II., whom she loathed, notwithstanding absurd stories of their sweet courtship and love.

After her marriage to Francis, Mary became hard and callous of heart, and all the world knows her sad history. The stories of Darnley, Rizzio, and Bothwell will be rich morsels, I suppose, for the morbid minds of men and women so long as books are read and scandal is loved.

Ah, well, that was long ago; so long ago that now as I write it seems but a shadow upon the horizon of time.

And so it happened that Francis died, and when the queen went back to Scotland to ascend her native throne, I went with her, and mothlike hovered near the blaze that burned but did not warm me.

Then in the course of time came the Darnley tragedy. I saw Rizzio killed. Gods! what a scene for hell was that! Then followed the Bothwell disgrace, the queen’s imprisonment at Lochleven, and my own flight from Scotland to save my head.

You will hear of Mary again in this history, and still clinging to her you will find that same strange fatality which during all her life brought evils upon her that were infectious to her friends and wrought their ruin.

One evening, in the autumn of the year 1567, I was sitting moodily before my fire in the town of Dundee, brooding over Mary’s disgraceful liaison with Bothwell. I had solemnly resolved that I would see her never again, and that I would turn my back upon the evil life I had led for so many years, and would seek to acquire that quiescence of nature which is necessary to an endurable old age. A tumultuous soul in the breast of an old man breeds torture, but age, with the heart at rest, I have found is the best season of life.

In the midst of my gloomy thoughts and good resolves my friend, Sir Thomas Douglas, entered my room without warning and in great agitation.

“Are you alone?” he asked hurriedly, in a low voice.

“Save for your welcome presence, Sir Thomas,” I answered, offering my hand.

“The queen has been seized,” he whispered, “and warrants for high treason have been issued against many of her friends you among the number. Officers are now coming to serve the writ. I rode hither in all haste to warn you. Lose not a moment, but flee for your life. The Earl of Murray will be made regent to-morrow.”

“My servant? My horse?” I responded.

“Do not wait. Go at once. I shall try to send a horse for you to Craig’s ferry. If I fail, cross the firth without one. Here is a purse. The queen sends it to you. Go! Go!”

I acted upon the advice, of Sir Thomas and hurried into the street, snatching up my hat, cloak, and sword as I went. Night had fallen, and darkness and rain, which at first I was inclined to curse, proved to be my friends. I sought the back streets and alleys and walked rapidly toward the west gates of the city. Upon arriving at the gates I found them closed. I aroused the warden, and with the artful argument of gold had almost persuaded him to let me pass. My evident eagerness was my undoing, for in the hope of obtaining more gold the warden delayed opening the gates till two men approached on horseback, and, dismounting, demanded my surrender.

I laughed and said: “Two against one! Gentlemen, I am caught.” I then drew my sword as if to offer it to them. My action threw the men off their guard, and when I said, “Here it is,” I gave it to the one standing near me, but I gave it to him point first and in the heart.

It was a terrible thing to do, and bordered so closely on a broken parole that I was troubled in conscience. I had not, however, given my parole, nor had I surrendered; and if I had done so if a man may take another’s life in self-defence, may he not lie to save himself?

The other man shot at me with his fusil, but missed. He then drew his sword; but he was no match for me, and soon I left him sprawling on the ground, dead or alive, I knew not which.

At the time of which I write I was thirty-five years of age, and since my fifteenth birthday my occupations had been arms and the ladies two arts requiring constant use if one would remain expert in their practice.

I escaped, and ran along the wall to a deep breach which had been left unrepaired. Over the sharp rocks I clambered, and at the risk of breaking my neck I jumped off the wall into the moat, which was almost dry. Dawn was breaking when I found a place to ascend from the moat, and I hastened to the fields and forests, where all day and all night long I wandered without food or drink. Two hours before sunrise next morning I reached Craig’s Ferry. The horse sent by Douglas awaited me, but the ferry-master had been prohibited from carrying passengers across the firth, and I could not take the horse in a small boat. In truth, I was in great alarm lest I should be unable to cross, but I walked up the Tay a short distance, and found a fisherman, who agreed to take me over in his frail craft. Hardly had we started when another boat put out from shore in pursuit of us. We made all sail, but our pursuers overtook us when we were within half a furlong of the south bank, and as there were four men in the other boat, all armed with fusils, I peaceably stepped into their craft and handed my sword to their captain.

I seated myself on one of the thwarts well forward in the boat. By my side was a heavy iron boat-hook. I had noticed that all the occupants of the boat, except the fisherman who sailed her, wore armor; and when I saw the boat-hook, a diabolical thought entered my mind and I immediately acted upon its suggestion. Noiselessly I grasped the hook, and with its point pried loose a board in the bottom of the boat, first having removed my boots, cloak, and doublet. When the board was loosened I pressed my heel against it with all the force I could muster, and through an opening six inches broad and four feet long came a flood of water that swamped the boat before one could utter twenty words. I heard a cry from one of the men: “The dog has scuttled the boat. Shoot him!” At the same instant the blaze and noise of two fusils broke the still blackness of the night, but I was overboard and the powder and lead were wasted. The next moment the boat sank in ten fathoms of water, and with it went the men in armor. I hope the fisherman saved himself. I have often wondered if even the law of self-preservation justified my act. It is an awful thing to inflict death, but it is worse to endure it, and I feel sure that I am foolish to allow my conscience to trouble me for the sake of those who would have led me back to the scaffold.

I fear you will think that six dead men in less than as many pages make a record of bloodshed giving promise of terrible things to come, but I am glad I can reassure you on that point. Although there may be some good fighting ahead of us, I believe the last man has been killed of whom I shall chronicle the last, that is, in fight or battle.

In truth, the history which you are about to read is not my own. It is the story of a beautiful, wilful girl, who was madly in love with the one man in all the world whom she should have avoided as girls are wont to be. This perverse tendency, philosophers tell us, is owing to the fact that the unattainable is strangely alluring to womankind. I, being a man, shall not, of course, dwell upon the foibles of my own sex. It were a foolish candor.

As I said, there will be some good fighting ahead of us, for love and battle usually go together. One must have warm, rich blood to do either well; and, save religion, there is no source more fruitful of quarrels and death than that passion which is the source of life.

You, of course, know without the telling, that I reached land safely after I scuttled the boat, else I should not be writing this forty years afterwards.

The sun had risen when I waded ashore. I was swordless, coatless, hatless, and bootless; but I carried a well-filled purse in my belt. Up to that time I had given no thought to my ultimate destination; but being for the moment safe, I pondered the question and determined to make my way to Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, where I was sure a warm welcome would await me from my cousin, Sir George Vernon. How I found a peasant’s cottage, purchased a poor horse and a few coarse garments, and how in the disguise of a peasant I rode southward to the English border, avoiding the cities and the main highways, might interest you; but I am eager to come to my story, and I will not tell you of my perilous journey.

One frosty morning, after many hairbreadth escapes, I found myself well within the English border, and turned my horse’s head toward the city of Carlisle. There I purchased a fine charger. I bought clothing fit for a gentleman, a new sword, a hand-fusil, a breastplate, and a steel-lined cap, and feeling once again like a man rather than like a half-drowned rat, I turned southward for Derbyshire and Haddon Hall.

When I left Scotland I had no fear of meeting danger in England; but at Carlisle I learned that Elizabeth held no favor toward Scottish refugees. I also learned that the direct road from Carlisle to Haddon, by way of Buxton, was infested with English spies who were on the watch for friends of the deposed Scottish queen. Several Scotchmen had been arrested, and it was the general opinion that upon one pretext or another they would be hanged. I therefore chose a circuitous road leading to the town of Derby, which lay south of Haddon at a distance of six or seven leagues. It would be safer for me to arrive at Haddon travelling from the south than from the north. Thus, after many days, I rode into Derby-town and stabled my horse at the Royal Arms.

I called for supper, and while I was waiting for my joint of beef a stranger entered the room and gave his orders in a free, offhand manner that stamped him a person of quality.

The night outside was cold. While the stranger and I sat before the fire we caught its infectious warmth, and when he showed a disposition to talk, I gladly fell in with his humor. Soon we were filling our glasses from the same bowl of punch, and we seemed to be on good terms with each other. But when God breathed into the human body a part of himself, by some mischance He permitted the devil to slip into the tongue and loosen it. My tongue, which ordinarily was fairly well behaved, upon this occasion quickly brought me into trouble.

I told you that the stranger and I seemed to be upon good terms. And so we were until I, forgetting for the moment Elizabeth’s hatred of Mary’s friends, and hoping to learn the stranger’s name and quality, said:

“My name is Vernon Sir Malcolm Vernon, knight by the hand of Queen Mary of Scotland and of France.” This remark, of course, required that my companion should in return make known his name and degree; but in place of so doing he at once drew away from me and sat in silence. I was older than he, and it had seemed to me quite proper and right that I should make the first advance. But instantly after I had spoken I regretted my words. I remembered not only my danger, being a Scottish refugee, but I also bethought me that I had betrayed myself. Aside from those causes of uneasiness, the stranger’s conduct was an insult which I was in duty bound not to overlook. Neither was I inclined to do so, for I loved to fight. In truth, I loved all things evil.

“I regret, sir,” said I, after a moment or two of embarrassing silence, “having imparted information that seems to annoy you. The Vernons, whom you may not know, are your equals in blood, it matters not who you are.”

“I know of the Vernons,” he replied coldly, “and I well know that they are of good blood and lineage. As for wealth, I am told Sir George could easily buy the estates of any six men in Derbyshire.”

“You know Sir George?” I asked despite myself.

“I do not know him, I am glad to say,” returned the stranger.

“By God, sir, you shall answer-”

“At your pleasure, Sir Malcolm.”

“My pleasure is now,” I retorted eagerly.

I threw off my doublet and pushed the table and chairs against the wall to make room for the fight; but the stranger, who had not drawn his sword, said:

“I have eaten nothing since morning, and I am as hungry as a wolf. I would prefer to fight after supper; but if you insist ”

“I do insist,” I replied. “Perhaps you will not care for supper when I have ”

“That may be true,” he interrupted; “but before we begin I think it right to tell you, without at all meaning to boast of my skill, that I can kill you if I wish to do so. Therefore you must see that the result of our fight will be disagreeable to you in any case. You will die, or you will owe me your life.”

His cool impertinence angered me beyond endurance. He to speak of killing me, one of the best swordsmen in France, where the art of sword-play is really an art! The English are but bunglers with a gentleman’s blade, and should restrict themselves to pike and quarterstaff.

“Results be damned!” I answered. “I can kill you if I wish.” Then it occurred to me that I really did not wish to kill the handsome young fellow toward whom I felt an irresistible attraction.

I continued: “But I prefer that you should owe me your life. I do not wish to kill you. Guard!”

My opponent did not lift his sword, but smilingly said:

“Then why do you insist upon fighting? I certainly do not wish to kill you. In truth, I would be inclined to like you if you were not a Vernon.”

“Damn your insolence! Guard! or I will run you through where you stand,” I answered angrily.

“But why do we fight?” insisted the stubborn fellow, with a coolness that showed he was not one whit in fear of me.

“You should know,” I replied, dropping my sword-point to the floor, and forgetting for the moment the cause of our quarrel. “I I do not.”

“Then let us not fight,” he answered, “until we have discovered the matter of our disagreement.”

At this remark neither of us could resist smiling. I had not fought since months before, save for a moment at the gates of Dundee, and I was loath to miss the opportunity, so I remained in thought during the space of half a minute and remembered our cause of war.

“Oh! I recall the reason for our fighting,” I replied, “and a good one it was. You offered affront to the name of Sir George Vernon, and insultingly refused me the courtesy of your name after I had done you the honor to tell you mine.”

“I did not tell you my name,” replied the stranger, “because I believed you would not care to hear it; and I said I was glad not to know Sir George Vernon because because he is my father’s enemy. I am Sir John Manners. My father is Lord Rutland.”

Then it was my turn to recede. “You certainly are right. I do not care to hear your name.”

I put my sword in its scabbard and drew the table back to its former place. Sir John stood in hesitation for a moment or two, and then said:

“Sir Malcolm, may we not declare a truce for to-night? There is nothing personal in the enmity between us.”

“Nothing,” I answered, staring at the fire, half regretful that we bore each other enmity at all.

“You hate me, or believe you do,” said Manners, “because your father’s cousin hates my father; and I try to make myself believe that I hate you because my father hates your father’s cousin. Are we not both mistaken?”

I was quick to anger and to fight, but no man’s heart was more sensitive than mine to the fair touch of a kind word.

“I am not mistaken, Sir John, when I say that I do not hate you,” I answered.

“Nor do I hate you, Sir Malcolm. Will you give me your hand?”

“Gladly,” I responded, and I offered my hand to the enemy of my house.

“Landlord,” I cried, “bring us two bottles of your best sack. The best in the house, mind you.”

After our amicable understanding, Sir John and myself were very comfortable together, and when the sack and roast beef, for which the Royal Arms was justly famous, were brought in, we sat down to an enjoyable meal.

After supper Sir John lighted a small roll or stick made from the leaves of tobacco. The stick was called a cigarro, and I, proud not to be behind him in new-fashioned, gentlemanly accomplishments, called to the landlord for a pipe. Manners interrupted me when I gave the order and offered me a cigarro which I gladly accepted.

Despite my effort to reassure myself, I could not quite throw off a feeling of uneasiness whenever I thought of the manner in which I had betrayed to Sir John the fact that I was a friend to Mary Stuart. I knew that treachery was not native to English blood, and my knowledge of mankind had told me that the vice could not live in Sir John Manners’s heart. But he had told me of his residence at the court of Elizabeth, and I feared trouble might come to me from the possession of so dangerous a piece of knowledge by an enemy of my house.

I did not speak my thoughts upon the matter, and we sat the evening through discussing many subjects. We warmed toward each other and became quite confidential. I feel ashamed when I admit that one of my many sins was an excessive indulgence in wine. While I was not a drunkard, I was given to my cups sometimes in a degree both dangerous and disgraceful; and during the evening of which I have just spoken I talked to Sir John with a freedom that afterward made me blush, although my indiscretion brought me no greater trouble.

My outburst of confidence was prompted by Sir John’s voluntary assurance that I need fear nothing from having told him that I was a friend of Queen Mary. The Scottish queen’s name had been mentioned, and Sir John had said

“I take it, Sir Malcolm, that you are newly arrived in England, and I feel sure you will accept the advice I am about to offer in the kindly spirit in which it is meant. I deem it unsafe for you to speak of Queen Mary’s friendship in the open manner you have used toward me. Her friends are not welcome visitors to England, and I fear evil will befall those who come to us as refugees. You need have no fear that I will betray you. Your secret is safe with me. I will give you hostage. I also am Queen Mary’s friend. I would not, of course, favor her against the interest of our own queen. To Elizabeth I am and always shall be loyal; but the unfortunate Scottish queen has my sympathy in her troubles, and I should be glad to help her. I hear she is most beautiful and gentle in person.”

Thus you see the influence of Mary’s beauty reached from Edinburgh to London. A few months only were to pass till this conversation was to be recalled by each of us, and the baneful influence of Mary’s beauty upon all whom it touched was to be shown more fatally than had appeared even in my own case. In truth, my reason for speaking so fully concerning the, Scottish queen and myself will be apparent to you in good time.

When we were about to part for the night, I asked Sir John, “What road do you travel to-morrow?”

“I am going to Rutland Castle by way of Rowsley,” he answered.

“I, too, travel by Rowsley to Haddon Hall. Shall we not extend our truce over the morrow and ride together as far as Rowsley?” I asked.

“I shall be glad to make the truce perpetual,” he replied laughingly.

“So shall I,” was my response.

Thus we sealed our compact and knitted out of the warp and woof of enmity a friendship which became a great joy and a sweet grief to each of us.

That night I lay for hours thinking of the past and wondering about the future. I had tasted the sweets all flavored with bitterness of court life. Women, wine, gambling, and fighting had given me the best of all the evils they had to offer. Was I now to drop that valorous life, which men so ardently seek, and was I to take up a browsing, kinelike existence at Haddon Hall, there to drone away my remaining days in fat’ning, peace, and quietude? I could not answer my own question, but this I knew: that Sir George Vernon was held in high esteem by Elizabeth, and I felt that his house was, perhaps, the only spot in England where my head could safely lie. I also had other plans concerning Sir George and his household which I regret to say I imparted to Sir John in the sack-prompted outpouring of my confidence. The plans of which I shall now speak had been growing in favor with me for several months previous to my enforced departure from Scotland, and that event had almost determined me to adopt them. Almost, I say, for when I approached Haddon Hall I wavered in my resolution.

At the time when I had last visited Sir George at Haddon, his daughter Dorothy Sir George called her Doll was a slipshod girl of twelve. She was exceedingly plain, and gave promise of always so remaining. Sir George, who had no son, was anxious that his vast estates should remain in the Vernon name. He had upon the occasion of my last visit intimated to me that when Doll should become old enough to marry, and I, perchance, had had my fill of knocking about the world, a marriage might be brought about between us which would enable him to leave his estates to his daughter and still to retain the much-loved Vernon name for his descendants.

Owing to Doll’s rusty red hair, slim shanks, and freckled face, the proposition had not struck me with favor, yet to please Sir George I had feigned acquiescence, and had said that when the time should come, we would talk it over. Before my flight from Scotland I had often thought of Sir George’s proposition made six or seven years before. My love for Mary Stuart had dimmed the light of other beauties in my eyes, and I had never married. For many months before my flight, however, I had not been permitted to bask in the light of Mary’s smiles to the extent of my wishes. Younger men, among them Darnley, who was but eighteen years of age, were preferred to me, and I had begun to consider the advisability of an orderly retreat from the Scottish court before my lustre should be entirely dimmed. It is said that a man is young so long as he is strong, and I was strong as in the days of my youth. My cheeks were fresh, my eyes were bright, and my hair was red as when I was twenty, and without a thread of gray. Stills my temperament was more exacting and serious, and the thought of becoming settled for life, or rather for old age and death, was growing in favor with me. With that thought came always a suggestion of slim, freckled Dorothy and Sir George’s offer. She held out to me wealth and position, a peaceful home for my old age, and a grave with a pompous, pious epitaph at Bakewell church, in death.

When I was compelled to leave Scotland, circumstances forced me to a decision, and my resolution was quickly taken. I would go to Derbyshire and would marry Dorothy. I did not expect ever again to feel great love for a woman. The fuse, I thought, had burned out when I loved Mary Stuart. One woman, I believed, was like another to me, and Dorothy would answer as well as any for my wife. I could and would be kind to her, and that alone in time would make me fond. It is true, my affection would be of a fashion more comfortable than exciting; but who, having passed his galloping youth, will contemn the joys that come from making others happy? I believe there is no person, past the age of forty, at all given to pondering the whys of life, who will gainsay that the joy we give to others is our chief source of happiness. Why, then, should not a wise man, through purely selfish motives, begin early to cultivate the gentle art of giving joy?

But the fates were to work out the destinies of Dorothy and myself without our assistance. Self-willed, arrogant creatures are those same fates, but they save us a deal of trouble by assuming our responsibilities.