Abroad with Mark Twain and Eugene Field/Eugene Field and Northern Lore


While in London Eugene Field was always talking about the Orkney Islands, the dreariest, foggiest, most uninteresting patches of land in the wet you want to see. He had discovered somehow that Queen Mary of Scots had created that brute Bothwell, duke of Orkney, a title reserved for members of the reigning family. Hence her bestowal of the title helped to emphasize still more the hatred of the nobles against her husband. He chewed the matter over for a month, then one rainy afternoon, at the Cafe Royal, he got it off his chest.

"I want to go to the Orkney Islands to find traces of Bothwell and perhaps get a new angle on that fearless lass—as fearless as she was vindictive—Mary. When the Queen was taken prisoner, Bothwell made for the Orkneys and chose one of the smaller islands to assemble a piratical navy. Instead of stealing queens, he meant to steal goods and chattels of merchantmen passing the Northern Seas and the Channel. He had been a pirate before Mary took him up and was a robber baron by birth. Wonder if his remains rest in the Orkneys or at the bottom of the sea."

"He was buried in some small Danish seaboard town and in a church at that."

"Perhaps he died in the odor of sanctity," laughed Gene; "that would make it only the more interesting. Anyhow from the Orkneys I can easily get to Denmark and from there I can almost swim over to Sweden. I want to dig deep into Northern lore—there are unexplored tons of it, full of the most sublime poetry, and when I return to America and have time to look over my notes, there will be something doing, I promise you, my boy."

Returning to Bothwell. Field asked:

"By the way, I read somewhere that Mary was divorced from Bothwell while in English captivity."

"If you can get hold of the Vatican records about that divorce," I answered, "the fortune of your book amongst scholars is made. What do you suppose was the cause of the divorce granted by the Roman Court?"

"Why, the murder of Mary's second husband, the Earl of Darnley, at which she and Bothwell had connived."


"Or the fact that Bothwell was a Protestant, a heretic."

"Wrong again."

"Then because Bothwell was still the husband of Ann Thorssen when he married the Queen."

"Wrong the third time. The divorce was granted on evidence that Bothwell had intercourse with Mary before marriage."

One of these Northern lore stories Field wrote for a little book of Christmas tales, but having been unable to carry out his intention as above set forth, the yarn was of small account. It lacked local color and the naturalness that made most of his stories so delightful.