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    Chapter 11

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    Chapter 12
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    QUEEN MARY'S PRESENCE CHAMBER.

    The storm that followed on the instalment of the Lady Arbell at Sheffield was the precursor of many more. Her grandmother did sufficiently awake to the danger of alarming the jealousy of Queen Elizabeth to submit to leave her in the ordinary chambers of the children of the house, and to exact no extraordinary marks of respect towards the unconscious infant; but there was no abatement in the Countess's firm belief that an English-born, English-bred child, would have more right to the crown than any "foreign princes," as she contemptuously termed the Scottish Queen and her son.

    Moreover, in her two years' intercourse with the elder Countess of Lennox, who was a gentle-tempered but commonplace woman, she had adopted to the full that unfortunate princess's entire belief in the guilt of Queen Mary, and entertained no doubt that she had been the murderer of Darnley. Old Lady Lennox had seen no real evidence, and merely believed what she was told by her lord, whose impeachment of Bothwell had been baffled by the Queen in a most suspicious manner. Conversations with this lady had entirely changed Lady Shrewsbury from the friendly hostess of her illustrious captive, to be her enemy and persecutor, partly as being convinced of her guilt, partly as regarding her as an obstacle in the path of little Arbell to the throne. So she not only refused to pay her respects as usual to "that murtheress," but she insisted that her husband should tighten the bonds of restraint, and cut off all indulgences.

    The Countess was one of the women to whom argument and reason are impossible, and who was entirely swayed by her predilections, as well as of so imperious a nature as to brook no opposition, and to be almost always able to sweep every one along with her.

    Her own sons always were of her mind, and her daughters might fret and chafe, but were sure to take part with her against every one else outside the Cavendish family. The idea of being kinsfolk to the future Queen excited them all, and even Mary forgot her offence about the cradle, and her jealousy of Bess, and ranked herself against her stepfather, influencing her husband, Gilbert, on whom the unfortunate Earl had hitherto leant. On his refusal to persecute his unfortunate captive beyond the orders from the Court, Bess of Hardwicke, emboldened by the support she had gathered from her children, passionately declared that it could only be because he was himself in love with the murtheress. Lord Shrewsbury could not help laughing a little at the absurdity of the idea, whereupon my lady rose up in virtuous indignation, calling her sons and daughters to follow her.

    All that night, lights might have been seen flitting about at the Manor-house, and early in the morning bugles sounded to horse. A huge procession, consisting of the Countess herself, and all her sons and daughters then at Sheffield, little Lady Arbell, and the whole of their attendants, swept out of the gates of the park on the way to Hardwicke. When Richard Talbot went up to fulfil his duties as gentleman porter at the lodge the courts seemed well-nigh deserted, and a messenger summoned him at once to the Earl, whom he found in his bed-chamber in his morning gown terribly perturbed.

    "For Heaven's sake send for your wife, Richard Talbot!" he said. "It is her Majesty's charge that some of mine household, or I myself, see this unhappy Queen of Scots each day for not less than two hours, as you well know. My lady has broken away, and all her daughters, on this accursed fancy--yea, and Gilbert too, Gilbert whom I always looked to to stand by me; I have no one to send. If I go and attend upon her alone, as I have done a thousand times to my sorrow, it will but give colour to the monstrous tale; but if your good wife, an honourable lady of the Hardwicke kin, against whom none ever breathed a word, will go and give the daily attendance, then can not the Queen herself find fault, and my wife's heated fancy can coin nothing suspicious. You must all come up, and lodge here in the Manor-house till this tempest be overpast. Oh, Richard, Richard! will it last out my life? My very children are turned against me. Go you down and fetch your good Susan, and take order for bringing up your children and gear. Benthall shall take your turn at the lodge. What are you tarrying for? Do you doubt whether your wife have rank enough to wait on the Queen? She should have been a knight's lady long ago, but that I deemed you would be glad to be quit of herald's fees; your service and estate have merited it, and I will crave license by to-day's courier from her Majesty to lay knighthood on your shoulder."

    "That was not what I thought of, my Lord, though I humbly thank you, and would be whatever was best for your Lordship's service, though, if it would serve you as well, I would rather be squire than knight; but I was bethinking me how we should bestow our small family. We have a young damsel at an age not to be left to herself."

    "The black-browed maid--I recollect her. Let her e'en follow her mother. Queen Mary likes a young face, and is kindly disposed to little maids. She taught Bess Pierrepoint to speak French and work with her needle, and I cannot see that she did the lass any harm, nay, she is the only one of them all that can rule her tongue to give a soft answer if things go not after her will, and a maid might learn worse things. Besides, your wife will be there to look after the maiden, so you need have no fears. And for your sons, they will be at school, and can eat with us."

    Richard's doubts being thus silenced he could not but bring his wife to his lord's rescue, though he well knew that Susan would be greatly disturbed on all accounts, and indeed he found her deep in the ironing that followed the great spring wash, and her housewifely mind was as much exercised as to the effects of her desertion, as was her maternal prudence at the plunge which her unconscious adopted child was about to make. However, there was no denying the request, backed as it was by her husband, looking at her proudly, and declaring she was by general consent the only discreet woman in Sheffield. She was very sorry for the Earl's perplexity, and had a loyal pity for the Countess's vexation and folly, and she was consoled by the assurance that she would have a free time between dinner and supper to go home and attend to her wash, and finish her preparations. Cis, who had been left in a state of great curiosity, to continue compounding pickle while the mother was called away, was summoned, to don her holiday kirtle, for she was to join in attendance on the Queen of Scots while Lady Shrewsbury and her daughters were absent.

    It was unmixed delight to the girl, and she was not long in fresh- binding up her hair--black with a little rust-coloured tinge--under her stiff little cap, smoothing down the front, which was alone visible, putting on the well-stiffened ruff with the dainty little lace edge and close-fitting tucker, and then the gray home-spun kirtle, with the puffs at the top of the tight sleeves, and the slashes into which she had persuaded mother to insert some old pink satin, for was not she sixteen now, and almost a woman? There was a pink breast-knot to match, and Humfrey's owch just above it, gray stockings, home-spun and worked with elaborate pink clocks, but knitted by Cis herself; and a pair of shoes with pink roses to match were put into a bag, to be assumed when she arrived at the lodge. Out of this simple finery beamed a face, bright in spite of the straight, almost bushy, black brows. There was a light of youth, joy, and intelligence, about her gray eyes which made them sparkle all the more under their dark setting, and though her complexion had no brilliancy, only the clearness of health, and her features would not endure criticism, there was a wonderful lively sweetness about her fresh, innocent young mouth; and she had a tall lithe figure, surpassing that of her stepmother. She would have been a sonsie Border lass in appearance but for the remarkable carriage of her small head and shoulders, which was assuredly derived from her royal ancestry, and indeed her air and manner of walking were such that Diccon had more than once accused her of sailing about ambling like the Queen of Scots, an accusation which she hotly denied. Her hands bad likewise a slender form and fine texture, such as none of the ladies of the houses of Talbot or Hardwicke could rival, but she was on the whole viewed as far from being a beauty. The taste of the day was altogether for light, sandy-haired, small-featured women, like Queen Elizabeth or her namesake of Hardwicke, so that Cis was looked on as a sort of crow, and her supposed parents were pitied for having so ill-favoured a daughter, so unlike all their families, except one black-a-vised Talbot grandmother, whose portrait had been discovered on a pedigree.

    Much did Susan marvel what impression the daughter would make on the true mother as they jogged up on their sober ponies through the long avenues, whose branches were beginning to wear the purple shades of coming spring.

    Lord Shrewsbury himself met them in front of the lodge, where, in spite of all his dignity, he had evidently been impatiently awaiting them. He thanked Susan for coming, as if he had not had a right to order, gave her his ungloved hand when she had dismounted, then at the single doorway of the lodge caused his gentleman to go through the form of requesting admission for himself and Mistress Talbot, his dear kinswoman, to the presence of the Queen. It was a ceremony daily observed as an acknowledgment of Mary's royalty, and the Earl was far too courteous ever to omit it.

    Queen Mary's willingness to admit him was notified by Sir Andrew Melville, a tall, worn man, with the typical Scottish countenance and a keen steadfast gray eye. He marshalled the trio up a circular staircase, made as easy as possible, but necessarily narrow, since it wound up through a brick turret at the corner, to the third and uppermost story of the lodge.

    There, however, was a very handsome anteroom, with tapestry hangings, a richly moulded ceiling, and wide carved stone chimneypiece, where a bright fire was burning, around which sat several Scottish and French gentlemen, who rose at the Earl's entrance. Another wide doorway with a tapestry curtain over the folding leaves led to the presence chamber, and Sir Andrew announced in as full style as if he had been marshalling an English ambassador to the Court of Holyrood, the most high and mighty Earl of Shrewsbury. The room was full of March sunshine, and a great wood fire blazed on the hearth. Part of the floor was carpeted, and overhung with a canopy, proceeding from the tapestried wall, and here was a cross-legged velvet chair on which sat Queen Mary. This was all that Cis saw at first, while the Earl advanced, knelt on one step of the dais, with bared head, exchanging greetings with the Queen. He then added, that his wife, the Countess, and her daughter, having been called away from Sheffield, he would entreat her Grace to accept for a few days in their stead the attendance of his good kinswoman, Mrs. Talbot, and her daughter, Mistress Cicely.

    Mary graciously intimated her consent, and extended her hand for each to kiss as they knelt in turn on the step; Susan either fancied, or really saw a wonderful likeness in that taper hand to the little one whose stitches she had so often guided. Cis, on her part, felt the thrill of girlhood in the actual touch of the subject of her dreams. She stood, scarcely hearing what passed, but taking in, from under her black brows, all the surroundings, and recognising the persons from her former glimpses, and from Antony Babington's descriptions. The presence chamber was ample for the suite of the Queen, which had been reduced on every fresh suspicion. There was in it, besides the Queen's four ladies, an elderly one, with a close black silk hood-- Jean Kennedy, or Mrs. Kennett as the English called her; another, a thin slight figure, with a worn face, as if a great sorrow had passed over her, making her look older than her mistress, was the Queen's last remaining Mary, otherwise Mrs. Seaton. The gossip of Sheffield had not failed to tell how the chamberlain, Beatoun, had been her suitor, and she had half consented to accept him when he was sent on a mission to France, and there died. The dark-complexioned bright- eyed little lady, on a smaller scale than the rest, was Marie de Courcelles, who, like the two others, had been the Queen's companion in all her adventures; and the fourth, younger and prettier than the rest, was already known to Cis and her mother, since she was the Barbara Mowbray who was affianced to Gilbert Curll, the Queen's Scottish secretary, recently taken into her service. Both these were Protestants, and, like the Bridgefield family, attended service in the castle chapel. They were all at work, as was likewise their royal lady, to whom the girl, with the youthful coyness that halts in the fulfilment of its dreams, did not at first raise her eyes, having first taken in all the ladies, the several portions of one great coverlet which they were all embroidering in separate pieces, and the gentleman who was reading aloud to them from a large book placed on a desk at which he was standing.

    When she did look up, as the Queen was graciously requesting her mother to be seated, and the Earl excusing himself from remaining longer, her first impression was one of disappointment. Either the Queen of Scots was less lovely seen leisurely close at hand than Antony Babington and Cis's own fancy had painted her, or the last two or three years had lessened her charms, as well they might, for she had struggled and suffered much in the interval, had undergone many bitter disappointments, and had besides endured much from rheumatism every winter, indeed, even now she could not ride, and could only go out in a carriage in the park on the finest days, looking forward to her annual visit to Buxton to set her up for the summer. Her face was longer and more pointed than in former days, her complexion had faded, or perhaps in these private moments it had not been worth while to enhance it; though there was no carelessness in the general attire, the black velvet gown, and delicate lace of the cap, and open ruff always characteristic of her. The small curls of hair at her temples had their auburn tint softened by far more white than suited one who was only just over forty, but the delicate pencilling of the eyebrows was as marked as ever; and the eyes, on whose colour no one ever agreed, melted and sparkled as of old. Cis had heard debates as to their hue, and furtively tried to form her own opinion, but could not decide on anything but that they had a dark effect, and a wonderful power of expression, seeming to look at every one at once, and to rebuke, encourage, plead, or smile, from moment to moment. The slight cast in one of them really added to their force of expression rather than detracted from their beauty, and the delicate lips were ready to second the glances with wondrous smiles. Cis had not felt the magic of her mere presence five minutes without being convinced that Antony Babington was right; the Lord Treasurer and all the rest utterly wrong, and that she beheld the most innocent and persecuted of princesses.

    Meantime, all due formalities having been gone through, Lord Shrewsbury bowed himself out backwards with a dexterity that Cis breathlessly admired in one so stately and so stiff, forgetting that he had daily practice in the art. Then Queen Mary courteously entreated her visitors to be seated, near herself, asking with a smile if this were not the little maiden who had queened it so prettily in the brake some few years since. Cis blushed and drew back her head with a pretty gesture of dignified shyness as Susan made answer for her that she was the same.

    "I should have known it," said the Queen, smiling, "by the port of her head alone. 'Tis strange," she said, musing, "that maiden hath the bearing of head and neck that I have never seen save in my own mother, the saints rest her soul, and in her sisters, and which we always held to be their inheritance from the blood of Charlemagne."

    "Your grace does her too much honour," Susan contrived to say, thankful that no less remote resemblance had been detected.

    "It was a sad farce when they tried to repeat your pretty comedy with the chief performer omitted," proceeded the Queen, directing her words to the girl, but the mother replied for her.

    "Your Grace will pardon me, I could not permit her to play in public, before all the menie of the castle."

    "Madame is a discreet and prudent mother," said the Queen. "The mistake was in repeating the representation at all, not in abstaining from appearing in it. I should be very sorry that this young lady should have been concerned in a spectacle a la comtesse."

    There was something in the intonation of "this young lady" that won Cis's heart on the spot, something in the concluding words that hurt Susan's faithful loyalty towards her kinswoman, in spite of the compliment to herself. However Mary did not pursue the subject, perceiving with ready tact that it was distasteful, and proceeded to ask Dame Susan's opinion of her work, which was intended as a gift to her good aunt, the Abbess of Soissons. How strangely the name fell upon Susan's ear. It was a pale blue satin coverlet, worked in large separate squares, innumerable shields and heraldic devices of Lorraine, Bourbon, France, Scotland, etc., round the border, and beautiful meandering patterns of branches, with natural flowers and leaves growing from them covering the whole with a fascinating regular irregularity. Cis could not repress an exclamation of delight, which brought the most charming glance of the winning eyes upon her. There was stitchery here that she did not understand, but when she looked at some of the flowers, she could not help uttering the sentiment that the eyes of the daisies were not as mother could make them.

    So, as a great favour, Queen Mary entreated to be shown Mrs. Talbot's mode of dealing with the eyes of the daisies. No, her good Seaton would not learn so well as she should; Madame must come and sit by her and show her. Meantime here was her poor little Bijou whimpering to be taken on her lap. Would not he find a comforter in sweet Mistress--ah, what was her name?

    "We named her Cicely, so please your Grace," said Susan, unable to help blushing.

    "Cecile, a fair name. Ah! so the poor Antoine called her. I see my Bijou has found a friend in you, Mistress Cecile--as the girl's idle hands were only too happy to caress the pretty little shivering Italian greyhound rather than to be busy with a needle. "Do you ever hear of that young Babington, your playfellow?" she added.

    "No, madam," said Cis, looking up, "he hath never been here!"

    "I thought not," said Queen Mary, sighing. "Take heed to manifest no pity for me, maiden, if you should ever chance to be inspired with it for a poor worn-out old prisoner. It is the sure sentence of misfortune and banishment."

    "In his sex, madam," here put in Marie de Courcelles. "If it were so in ours, woe to some of us."

    "That is true, my dear friends," said Mary, her eyes glistening with dew. "It is the women who are the most fearless, the most faithful, and whom the saints therefore shield."

    "Alas, there are some who are faithful but who are not shielded!"

    It was merely a soft low murmur, but the tender-hearted Queen had caught it, and rising impulsively, crossed the room and gathered Mary Seaton's hands into hers, no longer the queen but the loving friend of equal years, soothing her in a low fond voice, and presently sending her to the inner chamber to compose herself. Then as the Queen returned slowly to her seat it would be seen how lame she was from rheumatism. Mrs. Kennedy hurried to assist her, with a nurse- like word of remonstrance, to which she replied with a bewitching look of sweetness that she could not but forget her aches and pains when she saw her dear Mary Seaton in trouble.

    Most politely she then asked whether her visitors would object to listening to the conclusion of her day's portion of reading. There was no refusing, of course, though, as Susan glanced at the reader and knew him to be strongly suspected of being in Holy Orders conferred abroad, she had her fears for her child's Protestant principles. The book, however, proved to be a translation of St. Austin on the Psalms, and, of course, she could detect nothing that she disapproved, even if Cis had not been far too much absorbed by the little dog and its mistress to have any comprehending ears for theology. Queen Mary confidentially observed as much to her after the reading, having, no doubt, detected her uneasy glance.

    "You need not fear for your child, madam," she said; "St. Augustine is respected by your own Queen and her Bishops. At the readings with which my good Mr. Belton favours me, I take care to have nothing you Protestants dispute when I know it." She added, smiling, "Heaven knows that I have endeavoured to understand your faith, and many a minister has argued with me. I have done my best to comprehend them, but they agreed in nothing but in their abuse of the Pope. At least so it seemed to my poor weak mind. But you are satisfied, madam, I see it in your calm eyes and gentle voice. If I see much of you, I shall learn to think well of your religion."

    Susan made an obeisance without answering. She had heard Sir Gilbert Talbot say, "If she tries to persuade you that you can convert her, be sure that she means mischief," but she could not bear to believe it anything but a libel while the sweet sad face was gazing into hers.

    Queen Mary changed the subject by asking a few questions about the Countess's sudden departure. There was a sort of guarded irony suppressed in her tone--she was evidently feeling her way with the stranger, and when she found that Susan would only own to causes Lord Shrewsbury had adduced on the spur of the moment, she was much too wary to continue the examination, though Susan could not help thinking that she knew full well the disturbance which had taken place.

    A short walk on the roof above followed. The sun was shining brilliantly, and lame as she was, the Queen's strong craving for free air led her to climb her stairs and creep to and fro on Sir Andrew Melville's arm, gazing out over the noble prospect of the park close below, divided by the winding vales of the three rivers, which could be traced up into the woods and the moors beyond, purple with spring freshness and glory. Mary made her visitors point out Bridgefield, and asked questions about all that could be seen of the house and pleasance, which, in truth, was little enough, but she contrived to set Cis off into a girl's chatter about her home occupations, and would not let her be hushed.

    "You little know the good it does a captive to take part, only in fancy, in a free harmless life," returned Mary, with the wistful look that made her eyes so pathetic. "There is no refreshment to me like a child's prattle."

    Susan's heart smote her as she thought of the true relations in which these two stood to one another, and she forbore from further interference; but she greatly rejoiced when the great bell of the castle gave notice of noon, and of her own release. When Queen Mary's dinner was served, the Talbot ladies in attendance left her and repaired to the general family meal in the hall.
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