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    Chapter 39

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    Chapter 40
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    THE FETTERLOCK COURT.

    People did not pity themselves so much for suspense when, instead of receiving an answer in less than an hour, they had to wait for it for weeks if not months. Mrs. Talbot might be anxious at Bridgefield, and her son at Fotheringhay, and poor Queen Mary, whose life hung in the balance, more heartsick with what old writers well named 'wanhope' than any of them; but they had to live on, and rise morning after morning without expecting any intelligence, unable to do anything but pray for those who might be in perils unknown.

    After the strain and effort of her trial, Mary had become very ill, and kept her bed for many days. Humfrey continued to fulfil his daily duties as commander of the guards set upon her, but he seldom saw or spoke with any of her attendants, as Sir Andrew Melville, whom he knew the best of them, had on some suspicion been separated from his mistress and confined in another part of the Castle.

    Sir Amias Paulett, too, was sick with gout and anxiety, and was much relieved when Sir Drew Drury was sent to his assistance. The new warder was a more courteous and easy-mannered person, and did not fret himself or the prisoner with precautions like his colleague; and on Sir Amias's reiterated complaint that the guards were not numerous enough, he had brought down five fresh men, hired in London, fellows used to all sorts of weapons, and at home in military discipline; but, as Humfrey soon perceived, at home likewise in the license of camps, and most incongruous companions for the simple village bumpkins, and the precise retainers who had hitherto formed the garrison. He did his best to keep order, but marvelled how Sir Amias would view their excesses when he should come forth again from his sick chamber.

    The Queen was better, though still lame; and on a fine November noontide she obtained, by earnest entreaty, permission to gratify her longing for free air by taking a turn in what was called the Fetterlock Court, from the Yorkist badge of the falcon and fetterlock carved profusely on the decorations. This was the inmost strength of the castle, on the highest ground, an octagon court, with the keep closing one side of it, and the others surrounded with huge massive walls, shutting in a greensward with a well. There was a broad commodious terrace in the thickness of the walls, intended as a station whence the defenders could shoot between the battlements, but in time of peace forming a pleasant promenade sheltered from the wind, and catching on its northern side the meridian rays of this Martinmas summer day, so that physician as well as jailer consented to permit the captive there to take the air.

    "Some watch there must be," said Paulett anxiously, when his colleague reported the consent he had given.

    "It will suffice, then," said Sir Drew Drury, "if the officer of the guard--Talbot call you him?--stands at the angle of the court, so as to keep her in his view. He is a well-nurtured youth, and will not vex her."

    "Let him have the guard within call," said Paulett, and to this Drury assented, perhaps with a little amusement at the restless precautions of the invalid.

    Accordingly, Humfrey took up his station, as unobtrusively as he could, at the corner of the terrace, and presently, through a doorway at the other end saw the Queen, hooded and cloaked, come forth, leaning heavily on the arm of Dr. Bourgoin, and attended by the two Maries and the two elder ladies. She moved slowly, and paused every few steps, gazing round her, inhaling the fresh air and enjoying the sunshine, or speaking a caressing word to little Bijou, who leaped about, and barked, and whined with delight at having her out of doors again. There was a seat in the wall, and her ladies spread cushions and cloaks for her to sit on it, warmed as it was by the sun; and there she rested, watching a starling running about on the turf, his gold-bespangled green plumage glistening. She hardly spoke; she seemed to be making the most of the repose of the fair calm day. Humfrey would not intrude by making her sensible of his presence, but he watched her from his station, wondering within himself if she cared for the peril to which she had exposed the daughter so dear to him.

    Such were his thoughts when an angry bark from Bijou warned him to be on the alert. A man--ay, one of the new men-at-arms--was springing up the ramp leading to the summit of the wall almost immediately in front of the little group. There was a gleam of steel in his hand. With one long ringing whistle, Humfrey bounded from his place, and at the moment when the ruffian was on the point of assailing the Queen, he caught him with one hand by the collar, with the other tried to master the arm that held the weapon. It was a sharp struggle, for the fellow was a trained soldier in the full strength of manhood, and Humfrey was a youth of twenty-three, and unarmed. They went down together, rolling on the ground before Mary's chair; but in another moment Humfrey was the uppermost. He had his knee on the fellow's chest, and held aloft, though in a bleeding hand, the dagger wrenched from him. The victory had been won in a few seconds, before the two men, whom his whistle had brought, had time to rush forward. They were ready now to throw themselves on the assailant. "Hold!" cried Humfrey, speaking for the first time. "Hurt him not! Hold him fast till I have him to Sir Amias!"

    Each had an arm of the fallen man, and Humfrey rose to meet the eyes of the Queen sparkling, as she cried, "Bravely, bravely done, sir! We thank you. Though it be but the poor remnant of a worthless life that you have saved, we thank you. The sight of your manhood has gladdened us."

    Humfrey bowed low, and at the same time there was a cry among the ladies that he was bleeding. It was only his hand, as he showed them. The dagger had been drawn across the palm before he could capture it. The kerchiefs were instantly brought forward to bind it up, Dr. Bourgoin saying that it ought to have Master Gorion's attention.

    "I may not wait for that, sir," said Humfrey. "I must carry this villain at once to Sir Amias and report on the affair."

    "Nay, but you will come again to be tended," said the Queen, while Dr. Bourgoin fastened the knot of the temporary bandage. "Ah! and is it Humfrey Talbot to whom I owe my life? There is one who will thank thee for it more than even I. But come back. Gorion must treat that hand, and then you will tell me what you have heard of her."

    "Naught, alas, madam," said Humfrey with an expressive shake of the head, but ere he turned away Mary extended her hand to him, and as he bent his knee to kiss it she laid the other kindly on his dark curled head and said, "God bless thee, brave youth."

    She was escorted to the door nearest to her apartments, and as she sank back on her day bed she could not help murmuring to Mary Seaton, "A brave laddie. Would that he had one drop of princely blood."

    "The Talbot blood is not amiss," said the lady.

    "True; and were it but mine own Scottish royalty that were in question I should see naught amiss, but with this English right that hath been the bane of us all, what can their love bring the poor children save woe?"

    Meantime Humfrey was conducting his prisoner to Sir Amias Paulett. The man was a bronzed, tough-looking ruffian, with an air of having seen service, and a certain foreign touch in his accent. He glanced somewhat contemptuously at his captor, and said; "Neatly done, sir; I marvel if you'll get any thanks."

    "What mean you?" said Humfrey sharply, but the fellow only shrugged his shoulders. The whole affair had been so noiseless, that Humfrey brought the first intelligence when he was admitted to the sick chamber, where Sir Amias sat in a large chair by the fire. He had left his prisoner guarded by two men at the door. "How now! What is it?" cried Paulett at first sight of his bandaged hand. "Is she safe?"

    "Even so, sir, and untouched," said Humfrey.

    "Thanks be to God!" he exclaimed. "This is what I feared. Who was it?"

    "One of the new men-at-arms from London--Peter Pierson he called himself, and said he had served in the Netherlands."

    And after a few further words of explanation, Humfrey called in the prisoner and his guards, and before his face gave an account of his attempt upon the helpless Queen.

    "Godless and murderous villain!" said Paulett, "what hast thou to say for thyself that I should not hang thee from the highest tower?"

    "Naught that will hinder you, worshipful seignior," returned the man with a sneer. "In sooth I see no great odds between taking life with a dagger and with an axe, save that fewer folk are regaled with the spectacle."

    "Wretch," said Paulett, "wouldst thou confound private murder with the open judgment of God and man?"

    "Judgment hath been pronounced," said the fellow, "but it needs not to dispute the matter. Only if this honest youth had not come blundering in and cut his fingers in the fray, your captive would have been quietly rid of all her troubles, and I should have had my reward from certain great folk you wot of. Ay," as Sir Amias turned still yellower, "you take my meaning, sir."

    "Take him away," said Paulett, collecting himself; "he would cloak his crime by accusing others of his desperate wickedness."

    "Where, sir?" inquired Humfrey.

    Sir Amias would have preferred hanging the fellow without inquiry, but as Fotheringhay was not under martial law, he ordered him off to the dungeons for the present, while the nearest justice of the peace was sent for. The knight bade Humfrey remain while the prisoner was walked off under due guard, and made a few more inquiries, adding, with a sigh, "You must double the guard, Master Talbot, and get rid of all those London rogues--sons of Belial are they all, and I'll have none for whom I cannot answer--for I fear me 'tis all too true what the fellow says."

    "Who would set him on?"

    "That I may not say. But would you believe it, Humfrey Talbot, I have been blamed--ay, rated like a hound, for that I will not lend myself to a privy murder."

    "Verily, sir?"

    "Verily, and indeed, young man. 'Tis the part of a loyal subject, they say, to spare her Majesty's womanish feelings and her hatred of bloodshed, and this lady having been condemned, to take her off secretly so as to save the Queen the pain and heart-searchings of signing the warrant. You credit me not, sir, but I have the letter-- to my sorrow and shame."

    No wonder that the poor, precise, hard-hearted, but religious and high-principled man was laid up with a fit of the gout, after receiving the shameful letter which he described, which is still extant, signed by Walsingham and Davison.

    "Strange loyalty," said Humfrey.

    "And too much after the Spanish sort for an English Protestant," said Sir Amias. "I made answer that I would lay down my life to guard this unhappy woman to undergo the justice that is to be done upon her, but murder her, or allow her to be slain in my hands, I neither can nor will, so help me Heaven, as a true though sinful man."

    "Amen," said Humfrey.

    "And no small cause of thanks have I that in you, young sir, I have one who may be trusted for faith as well as courage, and I need not say discretion."

    As he spoke, Sir Drew Drury, who had been out riding, returned, anxious to hear the details of this strange event. Sir Amias could not leave his room. Sir Drew accompanied Humfrey to the Queen's apartments to hear her account and that of her attendants. It was given with praises of the young gentleman which put him to the blush, and Sir Drew then gave permission for his hurt to be treated by Maitre Gorion, and left him in the antechamber for the purpose.

    Sir Amias would perhaps have done more wisely if he had not detained Humfrey from seeing the criminal guarded to his prison. For Sir Drew Drury, going from the Queen's presence to interrogate the fellow before sending for a magistrate, found the cell empty. It had been the turn of duty of one of the new London men-at-arms, and he had been placed as sentry at the door by the sergeant--the stupidest and trustiest of fellows--who stood gaping in utter amazement when he found that sentry and prisoner were both alike missing.

    On the whole, the two warders agreed that it would be wiser to hush up the matter. When Mary heard that the man had escaped, she quietly said, "I understand. They know how to do such things better abroad."

    Things returned to their usual state except that Humfrey had permission to go daily to have his hand attended to by M. Gorion, and the Queen never let pass this opportunity of speaking to him, though the very first time she ascertained that he knew as little as she did of the proceedings of his father and Cicely.

    Now, for the first time, did Humfrey understand the charm that had captivated Babington, and that even his father confessed. Ailing, aging, and suffering as she was, and in daily expectation of her sentence of death, there was still something more wonderfully winning about her, a sweet pathetic cheerfulness, kindness, and resignation, that filled his heart with devotion to her. And then she spoke of Cicely, the rarest and greatest delight that he could enjoy. She evidently regarded him with favour, if not affection, because he loved the maiden whom she could not but deny to him. Would he not do anything for her? Ay, anything consistent with duty. And there came a twinge which startled him. Was she making him value duty less? Never. Besides, how few days he could see her. His hand was healing all too fast, and what might not come any day from London? Was Queen Mary's last conquest to be that of Humfrey Talbot?
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