Nigel Tranter: Lord and Master

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Nigel Tranter Lord and Master
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    Lord and Master
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Nigel Tranter

Lord and Master


WAS the Master of Gray a devil incarnate? The historians say so. They unanimously portray him in colours so odious that, to find his parallel as a master of unprincipled statecraft, we must search amongst the Machiavellian politicians of Italy'. He was, we read, 'a young man of singular beauty and no scruples'. Again, 'He carried a heart as black and treacherous as any in that profligate age.' And so on.

Yet he was admittedly the most successful and remarkable Scottish adventurer of his adventurous age – the age of Mary, Queen of Scots, of Elizabeth, and of James the Sixth; of Reformation Scotland, the Huguenot Wars and the Spanish Armada, in all of which he had his finger. Moreover, he was accepted to be the handsomest man of his day – it was said, of all Europe – as well as one of the most fascinating, talented and witty. None, apparently, could withstand his charm – and though it is claimed that he betrayed everyone with whom he had any dealings, the same folk continued to trust him to the end.

What sort of a man could this be? What lies behind a man like that? Could so black a traitor be yet a lover of beauty, a notable poet and one of the- closest friends of the noble Sir Philip Sidney? Or have the historians all missed something? Was the Master of Gray as black as he was painted – or even blacker?

What follows here is no more than a novel. Mere fiction. One writer's notion of Patrick Gray as he might have been; one man's attempt to clothe the bare bones of history with warm human flesh, however erring. In the process many liberties have been ' taken with historical characters – and to a much lesser extent with dates. Probably I have been less than fair to Chancellor Maitland, for instance, an able man and apparently more honest than most

I have invented the important character of David Gray, the Master's illegitimate half-brother, in order to provide the necessary reporter close enough to highlight and interpret the latter's extraordinary career – so much of which, of course, must have taken place in secret assignations and behind locked doors, many of them bedroom ones!

Castle Huntly still stands, high on its rock, frowning out over the fertile Carse of Gowrie. It is perhaps no more than poetic if ironic justice that it now serves the purpose of a house of correction for young men who have strayed from the broader paths of virtue – and been caught.


Aberlady 1960

Chapter One

THE two young men were boys enough still to have chosen to await the summons to the great Lord Gray out of doors and in a favourite haunt of their childhood days – a narrow grassy platform or terrace before a little cave in the cliff-face, a sunny, south-feeing, secure place, divided by a steep and narrow little ravine from the fierce and sombre towering castle that challenged earth and sky from its taller soaring rock opposite. Here, always, they had found their own castle, where they could watch the comings and goings to that other arrogant pile, close enough to see all that was to be seen, and to be hailed when required, distant enough to be out of the way and, when necessary, hidden in the cave – which was equipped with its own secret stairway, like the many within the thick walls of Castle Huntly itself, out at the back by a climbing earthy passage, up into the bushes and trees that crowned their cliff, and away. They had come here almost automatically, and without discussing the matter, when they heard from Rob Powrie the steward that my lord of Gray was not yet back from Dundee town, though expected at any time – and was expecting to see them when he did come. If this repairing to their cave and ledge was a harking back to childhood custom, it did not strike either of them that way.

For young men they were, even though for the taller slender one it was actually only his sixteenth birthday. The other was six months older, though frequently he seemed the younger. Young men matured early in the Scotland of King Jamie Sixth -and as well that they dip, since so few achieved any length of years, what with one thing and another. The King himself, of course, was but eight years old, and his unhappy and beautiful mother Mary was already six years a prisoner of Elizabeth of England, at thirty-two – which all had something to do with it. The youths passed their time of waiting differently – as indeed they did most things differently, despite the closeness of their friendship. Patrick, the slender one, paced back and forth along the little grassy terrace – but not in any caged or heavy fashion; in fact he skipped lightly, almost danced, every now and again in his pacing, in tune with a song that he sang, a song with a catchy jigging air and words that were almost as grossly indecent as they were dangerously sacrilegious, while he twanged at an imaginary lute with long delicate lingers and laughed and grimaced and gestured the while, at David, at the soaring sinister castle opposite, at all the wide-spreading green levels of the Carse of Gowrie and the blue estuary of the Tay that lay below their cliffs. Patrick Gray was like that, a born appreciate of life.

His companion, a stocky plain-faced youth, with level grey eyes where the other's were dancing and dark, sat hunched at the mouth of the cave, and, stubborn chin on hand, stared out across the fair carselands and over the sparkling firth beyond to the green hills of Fife. He did not join in any of the ribald verses of Patrick's song, nor even tap the toe of his worn and scuffed shoe to the lilt of it He was not sulking, nor surly, however heavy his expression might seem in comparison with that of the gay and ebullient Patrick; merely thoughtful, quiet, reserved His heavy brows and jutting chin perhaps did David Gray some small injustice.

Each very much in his own way was awaiting the fateful summons, on which, neither required to be told, so much depended.

'He takes a plaguey time – eh, Davy?' the younger interrupted – not his jigging but his singing – to remark. He laughed. 'No doubt the old lecher requires to fortify himself – with a sleep, perhaps – after the exhausting facilities of Dundee! I have heard that the Provost's wife is exceeding sportive – despite her bulk. Tiring, it may be, for a man of his years!' They had observed my Lord Gray's return from the town, with a small cavalcade, fully half-an-hour previously.

'Houts, Patrick man – what way is that to speak of your own father!' the other protested. 'My lord was in Dundee on the business of the Kirk, did not Rob Powrie say'

'And you think that the two ploys wouldna mix? God's Body, Davy- and you living in godly Reformed St Andrews these past two years! Faith, man – the holier the occasion, the fiercer the grapple!'

David Gray considered his companion with his level gaze, and said nothing. He had a great gift for silence, that young man – of which no-one was likely to accuse the other.

Patrick laughed again, tossing back the dark curling hair that framed his delicately handsome features, and resumed his song – only now he inserted the name of Patrick Lord Gray into the lewder parts of the ballad in place of the late lamented Cardinal Archbishop David Beaton, of notable memory. And the refrain he changed from 'Iram Coram Dago' to 'Frown, Davy, Frown-on!'

Even if he did not laugh in sympathy, the other did not frown. Few people ever frowned on Patrick Gray – or if they did, not for long. He was much too good to look at for frowns, and his own scintillating and unfailing good humour, barbed as it generally might be, was apt to be infectious. Beautiful, Patrick had been called, in face and in figure, but there was a quality in both which saved that beauty from the taint of effeminacy. From waving black hair and high noble brows above flashing brilliant eyes, a straight finely-chiselled nose over a smiling mouth whose sweetness was balanced by a firm and so far beardless pointed chin, down past a body that was as lithe and slender and graceful as a rapier blade, to those neat dancing feet, Patrick, Master of Gray, was all shapely comely fascination and charm – and knew it. A pretty boy, yes – but a deal more than that Not a few had found that out, of both sexes, for he was as good as a honeypot to men and women alike. It was all, perhaps, just a little hard on his brother David

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