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    Chapter 34

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    Chapter 35
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    FOTHERINGHAY.

    "Is this my last journey?" said Queen Mary, with a strange, sad smile, as she took her seat in the heavy lumbering coach which had been appointed for her conveyance from Chartley, her rheumatism having set in too severely to permit her to ride.

    "Say not so; your Grace has weathered many a storm before," said Marie de Courcelles. "This one will also pass over."

    "Ah, my good Marie, never before have I felt this foreboding and sinking of the heart. I have always hoped before, but I have exhausted the casket of Pandora. Even hope is flown!"

    Jean Kennedy tried to say something of "Darkest before dawn."

    "The dawn, it may be, of the eternal day," said the Queen. "Nay, my friends, the most welcome tidings that could greet me would be that my weary bondage was over for ever, and that I should wreck no more gallant hearts. What, mignonne, art thou weeping? There will be freedom again for thee when that day comes."

    "O madam, I want not freedom at such a price!" And yet Cicely had never recovered her looks since those seventeen days at Tickhill. She still looked white and thin, and her dark eyebrows lay in a heavy line, seldom lifted by the merry looks and smiles that used to flash over her face. Life had begun to press its weight upon her, and day after day, as Humfrey watched her across the chapel, and exchanged a word or two with her while crossing the yard, had he grieved at her altered mien; and vexed himself with wondering whether she had after all loved Babington, and were mourning for him.

    Truly, even without the passion of love, there had been much to shock and appal a young heart in the fate of the playfellow of her childhood, the suitor of her youth. It was the first death among those she had known intimately, and even her small knowledge of the cause made her feel miserable and almost guilty, for had not poor Antony plotted for her mother, and had not she been held out to him as a delusive inducement? Moreover, she felt the burden of a deep, pitying love and admiration not wholly joined with perfect trust and reliance. She had been from the first startled by untruths and concealments. There was mystery all round her, and the future was dark. There were terrible forebodings for her mother; and if she looked beyond for herself, only uncertainty and fear of being commanded to follow Marie de Courcelles to a foreign court, perhaps to a convent; while she yearned with an almost sick longing for home and kind Mrs. Talbot's motherly tenderness and trustworthiness, and the very renunciation of Humfrey that she had spoken so easily, had made her aware of his full worth, and wakened in her a longing for the right to rest on his stout arm and faithful heart. To look across at him and know him near often seemed her best support, and was she to be cut off from him for ever? The devotions of the Queen, though she had been deprived of her almoner had been much increased of late as one preparing for death; and with them were associated all her household of the Roman Catholic faith, leaving out Cicely and the two Mrs. Curlls. The long oft-repeated Latin orisons, such as the penitential Psalms, would certainly have been wearisome to the girl, but it gave her a pang to be pointedly excluded as one who had no part nor lot with her mother. Perhaps this was done by calculation, in order to incline her to embrace her mother's faith; and the time was not spent very pleasantly, as she had nothing but needlework to occupy her, and no society save that of the sisters Curll. Barbara's spirits were greatly depressed by the loss of her infant and anxiety for her husband. His evidence might be life or death to the Queen, and his betrayal of her confidence, or his being tortured for his fidelity, were terrible alternatives for his wife's imagination. It was hard to say whether she were more sorry or glad when, on leaving Chartley, she was forbidden to continue her attendance on the Queen, and set free to follow him to London. The poor lady knew nothing, and dreaded everything. She could not help discussing her anxieties when alone with Cicely, thus rendering perceptible more and more of the ramifications of plot and intrigue--past and present--at which she herself only guessed a part. Assuredly the finding herself a princess, and sharing the captivity of a queen, had not proved so like a chapter of the Morte d'Arthur as it had seemed to Cicely at Buxton.

    It was as unlike as was riding a white palfrey through a forest, guided by knights in armour, to the being packed with all the ladies into a heavy jolting conveyance, guarded before and behind by armed servants and yeomen, among whom Humfrey's form could only now and then be detected.

    The Queen had chosen her seat where she could best look out from the scant amount of window. She gazed at the harvest-fields full of sheaves, the orchards laden with ruddy apples, the trees assuming their autumn tints, with lingering eyes, as of one who foreboded that these sights of earth were passing from her.

    Two nights were spent on the road, one at Leicester; and on the fourth day, the captain in charge of the castle for the governor Sir William Fitzwilliam, who had come to escort and receive her, came to the carriage window and bade her look up. "This is Periho Lane," he said, "whence your Grace may have the first sight of the poor house which is to have the honour of receiving you."

    "Perio! I perish," repeated Mary; "an ominous road."

    The place showed itself to be of immense strength. The hollow sound caused by rolling over a drawbridge was twice heard, and the carriage crossed two courts before stopping at the foot of a broad flight of stone steps, where stood Sir William Fitzwilliam and Sir Amias Paulett ready to hand out the Queen.

    A few stone steps were mounted, then an enormous hall had to be traversed. The little procession had formed in pairs, and Humfrey was able to give his hand to Cicely and walk with her along the vast space, on which many windows emblazoned with coats of arms shed their light--the western ones full of the bright September sunshine. One of these, emblazoned with the royal shield in crimson mantlings, cast a blood-red stain on the white stone pavement. Mary, who was walking first, holding by the arm of Sir Andrew Melville, paused, shuddered, pointed, and said, "See, Andrew, there will my blood be shed."

    "Madam, madam! speak not thus. By the help of the saints you will yet win through your troubles."

    "Ay, Andrew, but only by one fate;" and she looked upwards.

    Her faithful followers could not but notice that there was no eager assurance that no ill was intended her, such as they had often heard from Shrewsbury and Sadler.

    Cicely looked at Humfrey with widely-opened eyes, and the half- breathed question, "What does it mean?"

    He shook his head gravely and said, "I cannot tell," but he could not keep his manner from betraying that he expected the worst.

    Meanwhile Mary was conducted on to her apartments, up a stair as usual, and forming another side of the inner court at right angles to the Hall. There was no reason to complain of these, Mary's furniture having as usual been sent forward with her inferior servants, and arranged by them. She was weary, and sat down at once on her chair, and as soon as Paulett had gone through his usual formalities with even more than his wonted stiffness, and had left her, she said, "I see what we are come here for. It is that yonder hall may be the place of my death."

    Cheering assurances and deprecations of evil augury were poured on her, but she put them aside, saying, "Nay, my friends, trow you not that I rejoice in the close of my weary captivity?"

    She resumed her usual habits very calmly, as far as her increased rheumatism would permit, and showed anxiety that a large piece of embroidery should be completed, and thus about a fortnight passed. Then came the first token of the future. Sir Amias Paulett, Sir Walter Mildmay, and a notary, sought her presence and presented her with a letter from Queen Elizabeth, informing her that there were heavy accusations against her, and that as she was residing under the protection of the laws of England, she must be tried by those laws, and must make answer to the commissioners appointed for the purpose. Mary put on all her queenly dignity, and declared that she would never condescend to answer as a subject of the Queen of England, but would only consent to refer their differences to a tribunal of foreign princes. As to her being under the protection of English law, she had come to England of her own free will, and had been kept there a prisoner ever since, so that she did not consider herself protected by the law of England.

    Meanwhile fresh noblemen commissioned to sit on the trial arrived day by day. There was trampling of horses and jingling of equipments, and the captive suite daily heard reports of fresh arrivals, and saw glimpses of new colours and badges flitting across the court, while conferences were held with Mary in the hope of inducing her to submit to the English jurisdiction. She was sorely perplexed, seeing as she did that to persist in her absolute refusal to be bound by English law would be prejudicial to her claim to the English crown, and being also assured by Burghley that if she refused to plead the trial would still take place, and she would be sentenced in her absence. Her spirit rose at this threat, and she answered disdainfully, but it worked with her none the less when the treasurer had left her.

    "Oh," she cried that night, "would but Elizabeth be content to let me resign my rights to my son, making them secure to him, and then let me retire to some convent in Lorraine, or in Germany, or wherever she would, so would I never trouble her more!"

    "Will you not write this to her?" asked Cicely.

    "What would be the use of it, child? They would tamper with the letter, pledging me to what I never would undertake. I know how they can cut and garble, add and take away! Never have they let me see or speak to her as woman to woman. All I have said or done has been coloured."

    "Mother, I would that I could go to her; Humfrey has seen and spoken to her, why should not I?"

    "Thou, poor silly maid! They would drive Cis Talbot away with scorn, and as to Bride Hepburn, why, she would but run into all her mother's dangers."

    "It might be done, and if so I will do it," said Cicely, clasping her hands together.

    "No, child, say no more. My worn-out old life is not worth the risk of thy young freedom. But I love thee for it, mine ain bairnie, mon enfant a moi. If thy brother had thy spirit, child--"

    "I hate the thought of him! Call him not my brother!" cried Cicely hotly. "If he were worth one brass farthing he would have unfurled the Scottish lion long ago, and ridden across the Border to deliver his mother."

    "And how many do you think would have followed that same lion?" said Mary, sadly.

    "Then he should have come alone with his good horse and his good sword!"

    "To lose both crowns, if not life! No, no, lassie; he is a pawky chiel, as they say in the north, and cares not to risk aught for the mother he hath never seen, and of whom he hath been taught to believe strange tales."

    The more the Queen said in excuse for the indifference of her son, the stronger was the purpose that grew up in the heart of the daughter, while fresh commissioners arrived every day, and further conversations were held with the Queen. Lord Shrewsbury was known to be summoned, and Cicely spent half her time in watching for some well-known face, in the hope that he might bring her good foster- father in his train. More than once she declared that she saw a cap or sleeve with the well-beloved silver dog, when it turned out to be a wyvern or the royal lion himself. Queen Mary even laughed at her for thinking her mastiff had gone on his hind legs when she once even imagined him in the Warwick Bear and ragged staff.

    At last, however, all unexpectedly, while the Queen was in conference with Hatton, there came a message by the steward of the household, that Master Richard Talbot had arrived, and that permission had been granted by Sir Amias for him to speak with Mistress Cicely. She sprang up joyously, but Mrs. Kennedy demurred.

    "Set him up!" quoth she. "My certie, things are come to a pretty pass that any one's permission save her Majesty's should be speired for one of her women, and I wonder that you, my mistress, should be the last to think of her honour!"

    "O Mrs. Kennedy, dear Mrs. Jean," entreated Cicely, "hinder me not. If I wait till I can ask her, I may lose my sole hope of speaking with him. I know she would not be displeased, and it imports, indeed it imports."

    "Come, Mrs. Kennett," said the steward, who by no means shared his master's sourness, "if it were a young gallant that craved to see thy fair mistress, I could see why you should doubt, but being her father and brother, there can surely be no objection."

    "The young lady knows what I mean," said the old gentlewoman with great dignity, "but if she will answer it to the Queen--"

    "I will, I will," cried Cicely, whose colour had risen with eagerness, and she was immediately marshalled by the steward beyond the door that closed in the royal captive's suite of apartments to a gallery. At the door of communication three yeomen were always placed under an officer. Humfrey was one of those who took turns to command this guard, but he was not now on duty. He was, however, standing beside his father awaiting Cicely's coming.

    Eagerly she moved up to Master Richard, bent her knee for his blessing, and raised her face for his paternal kiss with the same fond gladness as if she had been his daughter in truth. He took one hand, and Humfrey the other, and they followed the steward, who had promised to procure them a private interview, so difficult a matter, in the fulness of the castle, that he had no place to offer them save the deep embrasure of a great oriel window at the end of the gallery. They would be seen there, but there was no fear of their being heard without their own consent, and till the chapel bell rang for evening prayers and sermon there would be no interruption. And as Cicely found herself seated between Master Richard and the window, with Humfrey opposite, she was sensible of a repose and bien etre she had not felt since she quitted Bridgefield. She had already heard on the way that all was well there, and that my Lord was not come, though named in the commission as being Earl Marshal of England, sending his kinsman of Bridgefield in his stead with letters of excuse.

    "In sooth he cannot bear to come and sit in judgment on one he hath known so long and closely," said Richard; "but he hath bidden me to come hither and remain so as to bring him a full report of all."

    "How doth my Lady Countess take that?" asked Humfrey.

    "I question whether the Countess would let him go if he wished it. She is altogether changed in mind, and come round to her first love for this Lady, declaring that it is all her Lord's fault that the custody was taken from them, and that she could and would have hindered all this."

    "That may be so," said Humfrey. "If all be true that is whispered, there have been dealings which would not have been possible at Sheffield."

    "So it may be. In any wise my Lady is bitterly grieved, and they send for thy mother every second day to pacify her."

    "Dear mother!" murmured Cis; "when shall I see her again?"

    "I would that she had thee for a little space, my wench," said Richard; "thou hast lost thy round ruddy cheeks. Hast been sick?"

    "Nay, sir, save as we all are--sick at heart! But all seems well now you are here. Tell me of little Ned. Is he as good scholar as ever?"

    "Verily he is. We intend by God's blessing to bring him up for the ministry. I hope in another year to take him to Cambridge. Thy mother is knitting his hosen of gray and black already."

    Other questions and answers followed about Bridgefield tidings, which still evidently touched Cicely as closely as if she had been a born Talbot. There was a kind of rest in dwelling on these before coming to the sadder, more pressing concern of her other life. It was not till the slow striking of the Castle clock warned them that they had less than an hour to spend together that they came to closer matters, and Richard transferred to Cicely those last sad messages to her Queen, which he had undertaken for Babington and Tichborne.

    "The Queen hath shed many tears for them," she said, "and hath writ to the French and Spanish ambassadors to have masses said for them. Poor Antony! Did he send no word to me, dear father?"

    The man being dead, Mr. Talbot saw no objection to telling her how he had said he had never loved any other, though he had been false to that love.

    "Ah, poor Antony!" said Cis, with her grave simplicity. "But it would not have been right for me to be a hindrance to the marriage of one who could never have me."

    "While he loved you it would," said Humfrey hastily. "Yea," as she lifted up her eyes to him, "it would so, as my father will tell you, because he could not truly love that other woman."

    Richard smiled sadly, and could not but assent to his son's honest truth and faith.

    "Then," said Cis, with the, same straightforwardness, sprung of their old fraternal intercourse, "you must quit all love for me save a brother's, Humfrey; for my Queen mother made me give her my word on my duty never to wed you."

    "I know," returned Humfrey calmly. "I have known all that these two years; but what has that to do with my love?"

    "Come, come, children," said Richard, hardening himself though his eyes were moist; "I did not come here to hear you two discourse like the folks in a pastoral! We may not waste time. Tell me, child, if thou be not forbidden, hath she any purpose for thee?"

    "O sir, I fear that what she would most desire is to bestow me abroad with some of her kindred of Lorraine. But I mean to strive hard against it, and pray her earnestly. And, father, I have one great purpose. She saith that these cruel statesmen, who are all below in this castle, have hindered Queen Elizabeth from ever truly hearing and knowing all, and from speaking with her as woman to woman. Father, I will go to London, I will make my way to the Queen, and when she hears who I am--of her own blood and kindred--she must listen to me; and I will tell her what my mother Queen really is, and how cruelly she has been played upon, and entreat of her to see her face to face and talk with her, and judge whether she can have done all she is accused of."

    "Thou art a brave maiden, Cis," exclaimed Humfrey with deep feeling.

    "Will you take me, sir?" said Cicely, looking up to Master Richard.

    "Child, I cannot say at once. It is a perilous purpose, and requires much to be thought over."

    "But you will aid me?" she said earnestly.

    "If it be thy duty, woe be to me if I gainsay thee," said Richard; "but there is no need to decide as yet. We must await the issue of this trial, if the trial ever take place."

    "Will Cavendish saith," put in Humfrey, "that a trial there will be of some sort, whether the Lady consent to plead or not."

    "Until that is ended we can do nothing," said his father. "Meantime, Cicely child, we shall be here at hand, and be sure that I will not be slack to aid thee in what may be thy duty as a daughter. So rest thee in that, my wench, and pray that we may be led to know the right."

    And Richard spoke as a man of high moral courage in making this promise, well knowing that it might involve himself in great danger. The worst that could befall Cicely might be imprisonment, and a life of constraint, jealously watched; but his own long concealment of her birth might easily be construed into treason, and the horrible consequences of such an accusation were only too fresh in his memory. Yet, as he said afterwards to his son, "There was no forbidding the maiden to do her utmost for her own mother, neither was there any letting her run the risk alone."

    To which Humfrey heartily responded.

    "The Queen may forbid her, or the purpose may pass away," added Richard, "or it may be clearly useless and impossible to make the attempt; but I cannot as a Christian man strive to dissuade her from doing what she can. And as thou saidst, Humfrey, she is changed. She hath borne her modestly and discreetly, ay and truly, through all. The childishness is gone out of her, and I mark no lightness of purpose in her."

    On that afternoon Queen Mary announced that she had yielded to Hatton's representations so far as to consent to appear before the Commissioners, provided her protest against the proceedings were put on record.

    "Nay, blame me not, good Melville," she said. "I am wearied out with their arguments. What matters it how they do the deed on which they are bent? It was an ill thing when King Harry the Eighth brought in this fashion of forcing the law to give a colour to his will! In the good old times, the blow came without being first baited by one and another, and made a spectacle to all men, in the name of justice, forsooth!"

    Mary Seaton faltered something of her Majesty's innocence shining out like the light of day.

    "Flatter not thyself so far, ma mie," said Mary. "Were mine innocence clearer than the sun they would blacken it. All that can come of this same trial is that I may speak to posterity, if they stifle my voice here, and so be known to have died a martyr to my faith. Get we to our prayers, girls, rather than feed on vain hopes. De profundis clamavi."
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