In the June of 1857 MacGregor had met Miss Madeleine Nicholson, a lady-in-waiting at Holyrood Palace and the daughter of Sir Henry Hawkins Nicholson. King Charles, always keen to impress visiting dignitaries with Scotland’s culture and learning, frequently called on MacGregor to provide literary entertainments. MacGregor’s journal shows that he found these duties onerous and undignified, but he could scarcely refuse the king. It was at a function for the Rajah of Shantipore that MacGregor first met Madeleine Nicholson and, despite the age difference – he was then forty-six, an old man by the standards of his times, she twenty-one – the attraction between them was immediate and courtship and marriage soon followed. Immediately after their wedding, Madeleine (now Lady Madeleine) joined MacGregor at Arbinger Abbey in Tweeddale, but frequent and lengthy visits to her friends and relatives back in Edenborough suggest life at Arbinger did not wholly agree with her. Even today, Tweeddale is a rural and isolated place and with her new husband chained to his writing desk or away promoting his work, it is not surprising if Lady Madeleine found it difficult to adjust to her new position.
Nevertheless, she was soon with child and MacGregor writes in his journal of his joy and hopes, hopes that were dashed in October 1858 when Lady Madeleine died in childbirth, along with the son she was carrying.
Following Madeleine’s death, MacGregor spurned Edenborough and the Royal Court and all but his most trusted friends and retired to Arbinger. Abandoning a part-written novel, The Young Man of Lochnagar, for two years he wrote only his personal journals and what he later called ‘Black Books’, all of which he subsequently destroyed and whose content can only be guessed at from the vague, cryptic notes in his journals. To friends and admirers the ‘Bard of Tweeddale’ seemed permanently silenced.