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    Chapter 15

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    Chapter 16
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    MOTHER AND CHILD.

    Cicely was well enough the next day to leave her room and come out on the summer's evening to enjoy the novel spectacle of Trowle Madame, in which she burned to participate, so soon as her shoulder should be well. It was with a foreboding heart that her adopted mother fell with her into the rear of the suite who were attending Queen Mary, as she went downstairs to walk on the lawn, and sit under a canopy whence she could watch either that game, or the shooting at the butts which was being carried on a little farther off.

    "So, our bonnie maiden," said Mary, brightening as she caught sight of the young girl, "thou art come forth once more to rejoice mine eyes, a sight for sair een, as they say in Scotland," and she kissed the fresh cheeks with a tenderness that gave Susan a strange pang. Then she asked kindly after the hurt, and bade Cis sit at her feet, while she watched a match in archery between some of the younger attendants, now and then laying a caressing hand upon the slender figure.

    "Little one," she said, "I would fain have thee to share my pillow. I have had no young bed-fellow since Bess Pierrepoint left us. Wilt thou stoop to come and cheer the poor old caged bird?"

    "Oh, madam, how gladly will I do so if I may!" cried Cicely, delighted.

    "We will take good care of her, Mistress Talbot," said Mary, "and deliver her up to you whole and sain in the morning," and there was a quivering playfulness in her voice.

    "Your Grace is the mistress," answered Susan, with a sadness not quite controlled.

    "Ah! you mock me, madam. Would that I were!" returned the Queen. "It is my Lord's consent that we must ask. How say you, my Lord, may I have this maiden for my warder at night?"

    Lord Shrewsbury was far from seeing any objection, and the promise was given that Cis should repair to the Queen's chamber for at least that night. She was full of excitement at the prospect.

    "Why look you so sadly at me, sweet mother?" she cried, as Susan made ready her hair, and assisted her in all the arrangements for which her shoulder was still too stiff; "you do not fear that they will hurt my arm?"

    "No, truly, my child. They have tender and skilful hands."

    "May be they will tell me the story of my parents," said Cis; "but you need never doubt me, mother. Though I were to prove to be ever so great a lady, no one could ever be mine own mother like you!"

    "Scarcely in love, my child," said Susan, as she wrapped the little figure in a loose gown, and gave her such a kiss as parents seldom permitted themselves, in the fear of "cockering" their children, which was considered to be a most reprehensible practice. Nor could she refrain from closely pressing Cicely's hand as they passed through the corridor to the Queen's apartments, gave the word to the two yeomen who were on guard for the night at the head of the stairs, and tapped at the outmost door of the royal suite of rooms. It was opened by a French valet; but Mrs. Kennedy instantly advanced, took the maiden by the hand, and with a significant smile said: "Gramercy, madam, we will take unco gude tent of the lassie. A fair gude nicht to ye." And Mrs. Talbot felt, as she put the little hand into that of the nurse, and saw the door shut on them, as if she had virtually given up her daughter, and, oh! was it for her good?

    Cis was led into the bedchamber, bright with wax tapers, though the sky was not yet dark. She heard a sound as of closing and locking double doors, while some one drew back a crimson, gold-edged velvet curtain, which she had seen several times, and which it was whispered concealed the shrine where Queen Mary performed her devotions. She had just risen from before it, at the sound of Cis's entrance, and two of her ladies, Mary Seaton and Marie de Courcelles, seemed to have been kneeling with her. She was made ready for bed, with a dark-blue velvet gown corded round her, and her hair, now very gray, braided beneath a little round cap, but a square of soft cambric drapery had been thrown over her head, so as to form a perfectly graceful veil, and shelter the features that were aging. Indeed, when Queen Mary wore the exquisite smile that now lit up her face as she held out her arms, no one ever paused to think what those lineaments really were. She held out her arms as Cis advanced bashfully, and said: "Welcome, my sweet bed-fellow, my little Scot-- one more loyal subject come to me in my bondage."

    Cis's impulse was to put a knee to the ground and kiss the hands that received her. "Thou art our patient," continued Mary. "I will see thee in bed ere I settle myself there." The bed was a tall, large, carved erection, with sweeping green and silver curtains, and a huge bank of lace-bordered pillows. A flight of low steps facilitated the ascent; and Cis, passive in this new scene, was made to throw off her dressing-gown and climb up.

    "And now," said the Queen, "let me see the poor little shoulder that hath suffered so much."

    "My arm is still bound, madam," said Cis. But she was not listened to; and Mrs. Kennedy, much to her discomfiture, turned back her under-garment. The marks were, in fact, so placed as to be entirely out of her own view, and Mrs. Susan had kept them from the knowledge or remark of any one. They were also high enough up to be quite clear from the bandages, and thus she was amazed to hear the exclamation, "There! sooth enough."

    "Monsieur Gorion could swear to them instantly."

    "What is it? Oh, what is it, madam?" cried Cis, affrighted; "is there anything on my back? No plague spot, I hope;" and her eyes grew round with terror.

    The Queen laughed. "No plague spot, sweet one, save, perhaps, in the eyes of you Protestants, but to me they are a gladsome sight--a token I never hoped to see."

    And the bewildered girl felt a pair of soft lips kiss each mark in turn, and then the covering was quickly and caressingly restored, and Mary added, "Lie down, my child, and now to bed, to bed, my maids. Patent the lights." Then, making the sign of the cross, as Cis had seen poor Antony Babington do, the Queen, just as all the lights save one were extinguished, was divested of her wrapper and veil, and took her place beside Cis on the pillows. The two Maries left the chamber, and Jean Kennedy disposed herself on a pallet at the foot of the bed.

    "And so," said the Queen, in a low voice, tender, but with a sort of banter, "she thought she had the plague spot on her little white shoulders. Didst thou really not know what marks thou bearest, little one?"

    "No, madam," said Cis. "Is it what I have felt with my fingers?"

    "Listen, child," said Mary. "Art thou at thine ease; thy poor shoulder resting well? There, then, give me thine hand, and I will tell thee a tale. There was a lonely castle in a lake, grim, cold, and northerly; and thither there was brought by angry men a captive woman. They had dealt with her strangely and subtilly; they had laid on her the guilt of the crimes themselves had wrought; and when she clung to the one man whom at least she thought honest, they had forced and driven her into wedding him, only that all the world might cry out upon her, forsake her, and deliver her up into those cruel hands."

    There was something irresistibly pathetic in Mary's voice, and the maiden lay gazing at her with swimming eyes.

    "Thou dost pity that poor lady, sweet one? There was little pity for her then! She had looked her last on her lad--bairn; ay, and they had said she had striven to poison him, and they were breeding him up to loathe the very name of his mother; yea, and to hate and persecute the Church of his father and his mother both. And so it was, that the lady vowed that if another babe was granted to her, sprung of that last strange miserable wedlock, these foes of hers should have no part in it, nor knowledge of its very existence, but that it should be bred up beyond their ken--safe out of their reach. Ah! child; good Nurse Kennedy can best tell thee how the jealous eyes and ears were disconcerted, and in secrecy and sorrow that birth took place."

    Cis's heart was beating too fast for speech, but there was a tight close pressure of the hand that Mary had placed within hers.

    "The poor mother," went on the Queen in a low trembling voice, "durst have scarce one hour's joy of her first and only daughter, ere the trusty Gorion took the little one from her, to be nursed in a hut on the other side of the lake. There," continued Mary, forgetting the third person, "I hoped to have joined her, so soon as I was afoot again. The faithful lavender lent me her garments, and I was already in the boat, but the men-at-arms were rude and would have pulled down my muffler; I raised my hand to protect myself, and it was all too white. They had not let me stain it, because the dye would not befit a washerwoman. So there was I dragged back to ward again, and all our plans overthrown. And it seemed safer and meeter to put my little one out of reach of all my foes, even if it were far away from her mother's aching heart. Not one more embrace could I be granted, but my good chaplain Ross--whom the saints rest--baptized her in secret, and Gorion had set two marks on the soft flesh, which he said could never be blotted out in after years, and then her father's clanswoman, Alison Hepburn, undertook to carry her to France, with a letter of mine bound up in her swathing clothes, committing her to the charge of my good aunt, the Abbess of Soissons, in utter secrecy, until better days should come. Alas! I thought them not so far off. I deemed that were I once beyond the clutches of Morton, Ruthven, and the rest, the loyal would rally once more round my standard, and my crown would be mine own, mine enemies and those of my Church beneath my feet. Little did I guess that my escape would only be to see them slain and routed, and that when I threw myself on the hospitality of my cousin, her tender mercies would prove such as I have found them. 'Libera me, Dominie, libera me.'"

    Cis began dimly to understand, but she was still too much awed to make any demonstration, save a convulsive pressure of the Queen's hand, and the murmuring of the Latin prayer distressed her.

    Presently Mary resumed. "Long, long did I hope my little one was safely sheltered from all my troubles in the dear old cloisters of Soissons, and that it was caution in my good aunt the abbess that prevented my hearing of her; but through my faithful servants, my Lord Flemyng, who had been charged to speed her from Scotland, at length let me know that the ship in which she sailed, the Bride of Dunbar, had been never heard of more, and was thought to have been cast away in a tempest that raged two days after she quitted Dunbar. And I--I shed some tears, but I could well believe that the innocent babe had been safely welcomed among the saints, and I could not grieve that she was, as I thought, spared from the doom that rests upon the race of Stewart. Till one week back, I gave thanks for that child of sorrow as cradled in Paradise."

    Then followed a pause, and then Cis said in a low trembling voice, "And it was from the wreck of the Bride of Dunbar that I was taken?"

    "Thou hast said it, child! My bairn, my bonnie bairn!" and the girl was absorbed in a passionate embrace and strained convulsively to a bosom which heaved with the sobs of tempestuous emotion, and the caresses were redoubled upon her again and again with increasing fervour that almost frightened her.

    "Speak to me! Speak to me! Let me hear my child's voice."

    "Oh, madam--"

    "Call me mother! Never have I heard that sound from my child's lips. I have borne two children, two living children, only to be stripped of both. Speak, child--let me hear thee."

    Cis contrived to say "Mother, my mother," but scarcely with effusion. It was all so strange, and she could not help feeling as if Susan were the mother she knew and was at ease with. All this was much too like a dream, from which she longed to awake. And there was Mrs. Kennedy too, rising up and crying quite indignantly--"Mother indeed! Is that all thou hast to say, as though it were a task under the rod, when thou art owned for her own bairn by the fairest and most ill- used queen in Christendom? Out on thee! Have the Southron loons chilled thine heart and made thee no leal to thine ain mother that hath hungered for thee?"

    The angry tones, and her sense of her own shortcomings, could only make Cis burst into tears.

    "Hush, hush, nurse! thou shalt not chide my new-found bairn. She will learn to ken us better in time if they will leave her with us," said Mary. "There, there; greet not so sair, mine ain. I ask thee not to share my sorrows and my woes. That Heaven forefend. I ask thee but to come from time to time and cheer my nights, and lie on my weary bosom to still its ache and yearning, and let me feel that I have indeed a child."

    "Oh, mother, mother!" Cis cried again in a stifled voice, as one who could not utter her feelings, but not in the cold dry tone that had called forth Mrs. Kennedy's wrath. "Pardon me, I know not--I cannot say what I would. But oh! I would do anything for--for your Grace."

    "All that I would ask of thee is to hold thy peace and keep our counsel. Be Cicely Talbot by day as ever. Only at night be mine--my child, my Bride, for so wast thou named after our Scottish patroness. It was a relic of her sandals that was hung about thy neck, and her ship in which thou didst sail; and lo, she heard and guarded thee, and not merely saved thee from death, but provided thee a happy joyous home and well-nurtured childhood. We must render her our thanks, my child. Beata Brigitta, ora pro nobis."

    "It was the good God Almighty who saved me, madam," said Cis bluntly.

    "Alack! I forgot that yonder good lady could not fail to rear thee in the outer darkness of her heresy; but thou wilt come back to us, my ain wee thing! Heaven forbid that I should deny Whose Hand it was that saved thee, but it was at the blessed Bride's intercession. No doubt she reserved for me, who had turned to her in my distress, this precious consolation! But I will not vex thy little heart with debate this first night. To be mother and child is enough for us. What art thou pondering?"

    "Only, madam, who was it that told your Grace that I was a stranger?"

    "The marks, bairnie, the marks," said Mary. "They told their own tale to good Nurse Jeanie; ay, and to Gorion, whom we blamed for his cruelty in branding my poor little lammie."

    "Ah! but," said Cicely, "did not yonder woman with the beads and bracelets bid him look?"

    If it had been lighter, Cicely would have seen that the Queen was not pleased at the inquiry, but she only heard the answer from Jean's bed, "Hout no, I wad she knew nought of thae brands. How should she?"

    "Nay," said Cicely, "she--no, it was Tibbott the huckster-woman told me long ago that I was not what I seemed, and that I came from the north--I cannot understand! Were they the same?"

    "The bairn kens too much," said Jean. "Dinna ye deave her Grace with your speirings, my lammie. Ye'll have to learn to keep a quiet sough, and to see mickle ye canna understand here."

    "Silence her not, good nurse," said the Queen, "it imports us to know this matter. What saidst thou of Tibbott?"

    "She was the woman who got Antony Babington into trouble," explained Cicely. "I deemed her a witch, for she would hint strange things concerning me, but my father always believed she was a kinsman of his, who was concerned in the Rising of the North, and who, he said, had seen me brought in to Hull from the wreck."

    "Ay?" said the Queen, as a sign to her to continue.

    "And meseemed," added Cicely timidly, "that the strange woman at Tideswell who talked of beads and bracelets minded me of Tibbott, though she was younger, and had not her grizzled brows; but father says that cannot be, for Master Cuthbert Langston is beyond seas at Paris."

    "Soh! that is well," returned Mary, in a tone of relief. "See, child. That Langston of whom you speak was a true friend of mine. He has done much for me under many disguises, and at the time of thy birth he lived as a merchant at Hull, trading with Scotland. Thus it may have become known to him that the babe he had seen rescued from the wreck was one who had been embarked at Dunbar. But no more doth he know. The secret of thy birth, my poor bairn, was entrusted to none save a few of those about me, and all of those who are still living thou hast already seen. Lord Flemyng, who put thee on board, believed thee the child of James Hepburn of Lillieburn, the archer, and of my poor Mary Stewart, a kinswoman of mine ain; and it was in that belief doubtless that he, or Tibbott, as thou call'st him, would have spoken with thee."

    "But the woman at Tideswell," said Cis, who was getting bewildered-- "Diccon said that she spake to Master Gorion."

    "That did she, and pointed thee out to him. It is true. She is another faithful friend of mine, and no doubt she had the secret from him. But no more questions, child. Enough that we sleep in each other's arms."

    It was a strange night. Cis was more conscious of wonder, excitement, and a certain exultation, than of actual affection. She had not been bred up so as to hunger and crave for love. Indeed she had been treated with more tenderness and indulgence than was usual with people's own daughters, and her adopted parents had absorbed her undoubting love and respect.

    Queen Mary's fervent caresses were at least as embarrassing as they were gratifying, because she did not know what response to make, and the novelty and wonder of the situation were absolutely distressing.

    They would have been more so but for the Queen's tact. She soon saw that she was overwhelming the girl, and that time must be given for her to become accustomed to the idea. So, saying tenderly something about rest, she lay quietly, leaving Cis, as she supposed, to sleep. This, however, was impossible to the girl, except in snatches which made her have to prove to herself again and again that it was not all a dream. The last of these wakenings was by daylight, as full as the heavy curtains would admit, and she looked up into a face that was watching her with such tender wistfulness that it drew from her perforce the word "Mother."

    "Ah! that is the tone with the true ring in it. I thank thee and I bless thee, my bairn," said Mary, making over her the sign of the cross, at which the maiden winced as at an incantation. Then she added, "My little maid, we must be up and stirring. Mind, no word of all this. Thou art Cicely Talbot by day, as ever, and only my child, my Bride, mine ain wee thing, my princess by night. Canst keep counsel?"

    "Surely, madam," said Cis, "I have known for five years that I was a foundling on the wreck, and I never uttered a word."

    Mary smiled. "This is either a very simple child or a very canny one," she said to Jean Kennedy. "Either she sees no boast in being of royal blood, or she deems that to have the mother she has found is worse than the being the nameless foundling."

    "Oh! madam, mother, not so! I meant but that I had held my tongue when I had something to tell!"

    "Let thy secrecy stand thee in good stead, child," said the Queen. "Remember that did the bruit once get abroad, thou wouldest assuredly be torn from me, to be mewed up where the English Queen could hinder thee from ever wedding living man. Ay, and it might bring the head of thy foster-father to the block, if he were thought to have concealed the matter. I fear me thou art too young for such a weighty secret."

    "I am seventeen years old, madam," returned Cis, with dignity; "I have kept the other secret since I was twelve."

    "Then thou wilt, I trust, have the wisdom not to take the princess on thee, nor to give any suspicion that we are more to one another than the caged bird and the bright linnet that comes to sing on the bars of her cage. Only, child, thou must get from Master Talbot these tokens that I hear of. Hast seen them?"

    "Never, madam; indeed I knew not of them."

    "I need them not to know thee for mine own, but it is not well that they should be in stranger hands. Thou canst say--But hush, we must be mum for the present."

    For it became necessary to admit the Queen's morning draught of spiced milk, borne in by one of her suite who had to remain uninitiated; and from that moment no more confidences could be exchanged, until the time that Cis had to leave the Queen's chamber to join the rest of the household in the daily prayers offered in the chapel. Her dress and hair had, according to promise, been carefully attended to, but she was only finished and completed just in time to join her adopted parents on the way down the stairs. She knelt in the hall for their blessing--an action as regular and as mechanical as the morning kiss and greeting now are between parent and child; but there was something in her face that made Susan say to herself, "She knows all."

    They could not speak to one another till not only matins but breakfast were ended, and then--after the somewhat solid meal--the ladies had to put on their out-of-door gear to attend Queen Mary in her daily exercise. The dress was not much, high summer as it was, only a loose veil over the stiff cap, and a fan in the gloved hand to act as parasol. However the retirement gave Cicely an interval in which to say, "O mother, she has told me," and as Susan sat holding out her arms, the adopted child threw herself on her knees, hiding her face on that bosom where she had found comfort all her life, and where, her emotion at last finding full outlet, she sobbed without knowing why for some moments, till she started nervously at the entrance of Richard, saying, "The Queen is asking for you both. But how now? Is all told?"

    "Ay," whispered his wife.

    "So! And why these tears? Tell me, my maid, was not she good to thee? Doth she seek to take thee into her own keeping?"

    "Oh no, sir, no," said Cis, still kneeling against the motherly knee and struggling with her sobs. "No one is to guess. I am to be Cicely Talbot all the same, till better days come to her."

    "The safer and the happier for thee, child. Here are two honest hearts that will not cast thee off, even if, as I suspect, yonder lady would fain be quit of thee."

    "Oh no!" burst from Cicely, then, shocked at having committed the offence of interrupting him, she added, "Dear sir, I crave your pardon, but, indeed, she is all fondness and love."

    "Then what means this passion?" he asked, looking from one to the other.

    "It means only that the child's senses and spirits are overcome," said Susan, "and that she scarce knows how to take this discovery. Is it not so, sweetheart?"

    "Oh, sweet mother, yes in sooth. You will ever be mother to me indeed!"

    "Well said, little maid!" said Richard. "Thou mightest search the world over and never hap upon such another."

    "But she oweth duty to the true mother," said Susan, with her hand on the girl's neck.

    "We wot well of that," answered her husband, "and I trow the first is to be secret."

    "Yea, sir," said Cis, recovering herself, "none save the very few who tended her, the Queen at Lochleven, know who I verily am. Such as were aware of the babe being put on board ship at Dunbar, thought me the daughter of a Scottish archer, a Hepburn, and she, the Queen my mother, would, have me pass as such to those who needs must know I am not myself."

    "Trust her for making a double web when a single one would do," muttered Richard, but so that the girl could not hear.

    "There is no need for any to know at present," said Susan hastily, moved perhaps by the same dislike to deception; "but ah, there's that fortune-telling woman."

    Cis, proud of her secret information, here explained that Tibbott was indeed Cuthbert Langston, but not the person whose password was "beads and bracelets," and that both alike could know no more than the story of the Scottish archer and his young wife, but they were here interrupted by the appearance of Diccon, who had been sent by my Lord himself to hasten them at the instance of the Queen. Master Richard sent the boy on with his mother, saying he would wait and bring Cis, as she had still to compose her hair and coif, which had become somewhat disordered.

    "My maiden," he said, gravely, "I have somewhat to say unto thee. Thou art in a stranger case than any woman of thy years between the four seas; nay, it may be in Christendom. It is woeful hard for thee not to be a traitor through mere lapse of tongue to thine own mother, or else to thy Queen. So I tell thee this once for all. See as little, hear as little, and, above all, say as little as thou canst."

    "Not to mother?" asked Cis.

    "No, not to her, above all not to me, and, my girl, pray God daily to keep thee true and loyal, and guard thee and the rest of us from snares. Now have with thee. We may tarry no longer!"

    All went as usual for the rest of the day, so that the last night was like a dream, until it became plain that Cicely was again to share the royal apartment.

    "Ah, I have thirsted for this hour!" said Mary, holding out her arms and drawing her daughter to her bosom. "Thou art a canny lassie, mine ain wee thing. None could have guessed from thy bearing that there was aught betwixt us."

    "In sooth, madam," said the girl, "it seems that I am two maidens in one--Cis Talbot by day, and Bride of Scotland by night."

    "That is well! Be all Cis Talbot by day. When there is need to dissemble, believe in thine own feigning. 'Tis for want of that art that these clumsy Southrons make themselves but a laughing-stock whenever they have a secret."

    Cis did not understand the maxim, and submitted in silence to some caresses before she said, "My father will give your Grace the tokens when we return."

    "Thy father, child?"

    "I crave your pardon, madam, it comes too trippingly to my tongue thus to term Master Talbot."

    "So much the better. Thy tongue must not lose the trick. I did but feel a moment's fear lest thou hadst not been guarded enough with yonder sailor man, and had let him infer over much."

    "O, surely, madam, you never meant me to withhold the truth from father and mother," cried Cis, in astonishment and dismay.

    "Tush! silly maid!" said the Queen, really angered. "Father and mother, forsooth! Now shall we have a fresh coil! I should have known better than to have trusted thy word."

    "Never would I have given my word to deceive them," cried Cis, hotly.

    "Lassie!" exclaimed Jean Kennedy, "ye forget to whom ye speak."

    "Nay," said Mary, recovering herself, or rather seeing how best to punish, "'tis the poor bairn who will be the sufferer. Our state cannot be worse than it is already, save that I shall lose her presence, but it pities me to think of her."

    "The secret is safe with them," repeated Cis. "O madam, none are to be trusted like them."

    "Tell me not," said the Queen. "The sailor's blundering loyalty will not suffer him to hold his tongue. I would lay my two lost crowns that he is down on his honest knees before my Lord craving pardon for having unwittingly fostered one of the viper brood. Then, via! off goes a post--boots and spurs are no doubt already on--and by and by comes Knollys, or Garey, or Walsingham, to bear off the perilous maiden to walk in Queen Bess's train, and have her ears boxed when her Majesty is out of humour, or when she gets weary of dressing St. Katherine's hair, and weds the man of her choice, she begins to taste of prison walls, and is a captive for the rest of her days."

    Cis was reduced to tears, and assurances that if the Queen would only broach the subject to Master Richard, she would perceive that he regarded as sacred, secrets that were not his own; and to show that he meant no betrayal, she repeated his advice as to seeing, hearing, and saying as little as possible.

    "Wholesome counsel!" said Mary. "Cheer thee, lassie mine, I will credit whatever thou wilt of this foster-father of thine until I see it disproved; and for the good lady his wife, she hath more inward, if less outward, grace than any dame of the mastiff brood which guards our prison court! I should have warned thee that they were not excepted from those who may deem thee my poor Mary's child."

    Cicely did not bethink herself that, in point of fact, she had not communicated her royal birth to her adopted parents, but that it had been assumed between them, as, indeed, they had not mentioned their previous knowledge. Mary presently proceeded--"After all, we may not have to lay too heavy a burden on their discretion. Better days are coming. One day shall our faithful lieges open the way to freedom and royalty, and thou shalt have whatever boon thou wouldst ask, even were it pardon for my Lady Shrewsbury."

    "There is one question I would fain ask, Madam mother: Doth my real father yet live? The Earl of--"

    Jean Kennedy made a sound of indignant warning and consternation, cutting her short in dismay; but the Queen gripped her hand tightly for some moments, and then said: "'Tis not a thing to speir of me, child, of me, the most woefully deceived and forlorn of ladies. Never have I seen nor heard from him since the parting at Carbery Hill, when he left me to bear the brunt! Folk say that he took ship for the north. Believe him dead, child. So were it best for us both; but never name him to me more."

    Jean Kennedy knew, though the girl did not, what these words conveyed. If Bothwell no longer lived, there would be no need to declare the marriage null and void, and thus sacrifice his daughter's position; but supposing him to be in existence, Mary had already shown herself resolved to cancel the very irregular bonds which had united them,--a most easy matter for a member of her Church, since they had been married by a Reformed minister, and Bothwell had a living wife at the time. Of all this Cicely was absolutely ignorant, and was soon eagerly listening as the Queen spoke of her hopes of speedy deliverance. "My son, my Jamie, is working for me!" she said. "Nay, dost not ken what is in view for me?"

    "No, madam, my good father, Master Richard, I mean, never tells aught that he hears in my Lord's closet."

    "That is to assure me of his discretion, I trow! but this is no secret! No treason against our well-beloved cousin Bess! Oh no! But thy brother, mine ain lad-bairn, hath come to years of manhood, and hath shaken himself free of the fetters of Knox and Morton and Buchanan, and all their clamjamfrie. The Stewart lion hath been too strong for them. The puir laddie hath true men about him, at last,-- the Master of Gray, as they call him, and Esme Stewart of Aubigny, a Scot polished as the French know how to brighten Scottish steel. Nor will the lad bide that his mother should pine longer in durance. He yearns for her, and hath writ to her and to Elizabeth offering her a share in his throne. Poor laddie, what would be outrecuidance in another is but duteousness in him. What will he say when we bring him a sister as well as a mother? They tell me that he is an unco scholar, but uncouth in his speech and manners, and how should it be otherwise with no woman near him save my old Lady Mar? We shall have to take him in hand to teach him fair courtesy."

    "Sure he will be an old pupil!" said Cis, "if he be more than two years my elder."

    "Never fear, if we can find a winsome young bride for him, trust mother, wife, and sister for moulding him to kingly bearing. We will make our home in Stirling or Linlithgow, we two, and leave Holyrood to him. I have seen too much there ever to thole the sight of those chambers, far less of the High Street of Edinburgh; but Stirling, bonnie Stirling, ay, I would fain ride a hawking there once more. Methinks a Highland breeze would put life and youth into me again. There's a little chamber opening into mine, where I will bestow thee, my Lady Bride of Scotland, for so long as I may keep thee. Ah! it will not be for long. They will be seeking thee, my brave courtly faithful kindred of Lorraine, and Scottish nobles and English lords will vie for this little hand of thine, where courses the royal blood of both realms."

    "So please you, madam, my mother--"

    "Eh? What is it? Who is it? I deemed that yonder honourable dame had kept thee from all the frolics and foibles of the poor old profession. Fear not to tell me, little one. Remember thine own mother hath a heart for such matters. I guess already. C'etait un beau garcon, ce pauvre Antoine."

    "Oh no, madam," exclaimed Cicely. "When the sailor Goatley disclosed that I was no child of my father's, of Master Richard I mean, and was a nameless creature belonging to no one, Humfrey Talbot stood forth and pledged himself to wed me so soon as we were old enough."

    "And what said the squire and dame?"

    "That I should then be indeed their daughter."

    "And hath the contract gone no farther?"

    "No, madam. He hath been to the North with Captain Frobisher, and since that to the Western Main, and we look for his return even now."

    "How long is it since this pledge, as thou callest it, was given?"

    "Five years next Lammas tide, madam."

    "Was it by ring or token?"

    "No, madam. Our mother said we were too young, but Humfrey meant it with all his heart."

    "Humfrey! That was the urchin who must needs traverse the correspondence through the seeming Tibbott, and so got Antony removed from about us. A stout lubberly Yorkshire lad, fed on beef and pudding, a true Talbot, a mere English bull-dog who will have lost all the little breeding he had, while committing spulzie and piracy at sea on his Catholic Majesty's ships. Bah, mon enfant, I am glad of it. Had he been a graceful young courtly page like the poor Antony, it might have been a little difficult, but a great English carle like that, whom thou hast not seen for five years--" She made a gesture with her graceful hands as if casting away a piece of thistledown.

    "Humfrey is my very good--my very good brother, madam," cried Cicely, casting about for words to defend him, and not seizing the most appropriate.

    "Brother, quotha? Yea, and as good brother he shall be to thee, and welcome, so long as thou art Cis Talbot by day--but no more, child. Princesses mate not with Yorkshire esquires. When the Lady Bride takes her place in the halls of her forefathers, she will be the property of Scotland, and her hand will be sought by princes. Ah, lassie! let it not grieve thee. One thing thy mother can tell thee from her own experience. There is more bliss in mating with our equals, by the choice of others, than in following our own wild will. Thou gazest at me in wonder, but verily my happy days were with my gentle young king--and so will thine be, I pray the saints happier and more enduring than ever were mine. Nothing has ever lasted with me but captivity, O libera me."

    And in the murmured repetition the mother fell asleep, and the daughter, who had slumbered little the night before, could not but likewise drop into the world of soothing oblivion, though with a dull feeling of aching and yearning towards the friendly kindly Humfrey, yet with a certain exultation in the fate that seemed to be carrying her on inevitably beyond his reach.
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