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    Chapter 40

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    Chapter 41
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    THE SENTENCE.

    The tragedies of the stage compress themselves into a few hours, but the tragedies of real life are of slow and heavy march, and the heart-sickness of delay and hope and dread alike deferred is one of their chief trials.

    Humfrey's hurt was quite well, but as he was at once trusted by his superiors, and acceptable to the captive, he was employed in many of those lesser communications between her and her keepers, for which the two knights did not feel it necessary to harass her with their presence. His post, for half the twenty-four hours, was on guard in the gallery outside her anteroom door; but he often knocked and was admitted as bearer of some message to her or her household; and equally often was called in to hear her requests, and sometimes he could not help believing because it pleased her to see him, even if there were nothing to tell her.

    Nor was there anything known until the 19th of November, when the sound of horses' feet in large numbers, and the blast of bugles, announced the arrival of a numerous party. When marshalled into the ordinary dining-hall, they proved to be Lord Buckhurst, a dignified- looking nobleman, who bore a sad and grave countenance full of presage, with Mr. Beale, the Clerk of the Council, and two or three other officials and secretaries, among whom Humfrey perceived the inevitable Will Cavendish.

    The two old comrades quickly sought each other out, Will observing, "So here you are still, Humfrey. We are like to see the end of a long story."

    "How so?" asked Humfrey, with a thrill of horror, "is she sentenced?"

    "By the Commissioners, all excepting my Lord Zouch, and by both houses of Parliament! We are come down to announce it to her. I'll have you into the presence-chamber if I can prevail. It will be a noteworthy thing to see how the daughter of a hundred kings brooks such a sentence."

    "Hath no one spoken for her?" asked Humfrey, thinking at least as much of Cicely as of the victim.

    "The King of Scots hath sent an ambassage," returned Cavendish, "but when I say 'tis the Master of Gray, you know what that means. King James may be urgent to save his mother--nay, he hath written more sharply and shrewishly than ever he did before; but as for this Gray, whatever he may say openly, we know that he has whispered to the Queen, 'The dead don't bite.'"

    "The villain!"

    "That may be, so far as he himself is concerned, but the counsel is canny, like the false Scot himself. What's this I hear, Humfrey, that you have been playing the champion, and getting wounded in the defence?"

    "A mere nothing," said Humfrey, opening his hand, however, to show the mark. "I did but get my palm scored in hindering a villainous man-at-arms from slaying the poor lady."

    "Yea, well are thy race named Talbot!" said Cavendish. "Sturdy watch-dogs are ye all, with never a notion that sometimes it may be for the good of all parties to look the other way."

    "If you mean that I am to stand by and see a helpless woman--"

    "Hush! my good friend," said Will, holding up his hand. "I know thy breed far too well to mean any such thing. Moreover, thy precisian governor, old Paulett there, hath repelled, like instigations of Satan, more hints than one that pain might be saved to one queen and publicity to the other, if he would have taken a leaf from Don Philip's book, and permitted the lady to be dealt with secretly. Had he given an ear to the matter six months back, it would have spared poor Antony."

    "Speak not thus, Will," said Humfrey, "or thou wilt make me believe thee a worse man than thou art, only for the sake of showing me how thou art versed in state policy. Tell me, instead, if thou hast seen my father."

    "Thy father? yea, verily, and I have a packet for thee from him. It is in my mails, and I will give it thee anon. He is come on a bootless errand! As long as my mother and my sister Mall are both living, he might as well try to bring two catamounts together without hisses and scratches."

    "Where is he lying?" asked Humfrey.

    "In Shrewsbury House, after the family wont, and Gilbert makes him welcome enough, but Mall is angered with him for not lodging his daughter there likewise! I tell her he is afraid lest she should get hold of the wench, and work up a fresh web of tales against this lady, like those which did so much damage before. 'Twould be rare if she made out that Gravity himself, in the person of old Paulett, had been entranced by her."

    "Peace with thy gibes," said Humfrey impatiently, "and tell me where my sister is."

    "Where thinkest thou? Of all strange places in the world, he hath bestowed her with Madame de Salmonnet, the wife of one of the French Ambassador's following, to perfect her French, as he saith. Canst thou conceive wherefore he doth it? Hath he any marriage in view for her? Mall tried to find out, but he is secret. Tell me, Numps, what is it?"

    "If he be secret, must not I be the same?" said Humfrey, laughing.

    "Nay, thou owest me some return for all that I have told thee."

    "Marry, Will, that is more like a maiden than a statesman! But be content, comrade, I know no more than thou what purposes there may be anent my sister's marriage," he added. "Only if thou canst give me my father's letter, I should be beholden to thee."

    They were interrupted, however, by a summons to Humfrey, who was to go to the apartments of the Queen of Scots, to bear the information that in the space of half an hour the Lord Buckhurst and Master Beale would do themselves the honour of speaking with her.

    "So," muttered Cavendish to himself as Humfrey went up the stairs, "there is then some secret. I marvel what it bodes! Did not that crafty villain Langston utter some sort of warning which I spurned, knowing the Bridgefield trustiness and good faith? This wench hath been mightily favoured by the lady. I must see to it."

    Meantime Humfrey had been admitted to Queen Mary's room, where she sat as usual at her needlework. "You bring me tidings, my friend," she said, as he bent his knee before her. "Methought I heard a fresh stir in the Castle; who is arrived?"

    "The Lord Buckhurst, so please your Grace, and Master Beale. They crave an audience of your Grace in half an hour's time."

    "Yea, and I can well guess wherefore," said the Queen. "Well, Fiat voluntas tua! Buckhurst? he is kinsman of Elizabeth on the Boleyn side, methinks! She would do me grace, you see, my masters, by sending me such tidings by her cousin. They cannot hurt me! I am far past that! So let us have no tears, my lassies, but receive them right royally, as befits a message from one sovereign to another! Remember, it is not before my Lord Buckhurst and Master Beale that we sit, but before all posterities for evermore, who will hear of Mary Stewart and her wrongs. Tell them I am ready, sir. Nay but, my son," she added, with a very different tone of the tender woman instead of the outraged sovereign, "I see thou hast news for me. Is it of the child?"

    "Even so, madam. I wot little yet, but what I know is hopeful. She is with Madame de Salmonnet, wife of one of the suite of the French Ambassador."

    "Ah! that speaketh much," said Mary, smiling, "more than you know, young man. Salmonnet is sprung of a Scottish archer, Jockie of the salmon net, whereof they made in France M. de Salmonnet. Chateauneuf must have owned her, and put her under the protection of the Embassy. Hast thou had a letter from thy father?"

    "I am told that one is among Will Cavendish's mails, madam, and I hope to have it anon."

    "These men have all unawares brought with them that which may well bear me up through whatever may be coming."

    A second message arrived from Lord Buckhurst himself, to say how grieved he was to be the bearer of heavy tidings, and to say that he would not presume to intrude on her Majesty's presence until she would notify to him that she was ready to receive him.

    "They have become courteous," said Mary. "But why should we dally? The sooner this is over, the better."

    The gentlemen were then admitted: Lord Buckhurst grave, sad, stately, and courteous; Sir Annas Paulett, as usual, grim and wooden in his puritanical stiffness; Sir Drew Drury keeping in the background as one grieved; and Mr. Beale, who had already often harassed the Queen before, eager, forward, and peremptory, as one whose exultation could hardly be repressed by respect for his superior, Lord Buckhurst.

    Bending low before her, this nobleman craved her pardon for that which it was his duty to execute; and having kissed her hand, in token of her personal forgiveness, he bade Mr. Beale read the papers.

    The Clerk of the Council stood forth almost without obeisance, till it was absolutely compelled from him by Buckhurst. He read aloud the details of the judgment, that Mary had been found guilty by the Commission, of conspiracy against the kingdom, and the life of the Queen, with the sentence from the High Court of Parliament that she was to die by being beheaded.

    Mary listened with unmoved countenance, only she stood up and made solemn protest against the authority and power of the Commission either to try or condemn her. Beale was about to reply, but Lord Buckhurst checked him, telling him it was simply his business to record the protest; and then adding that he was charged to warn her to put away all hopes of mercy, and to prepare for death. This, he said, was on behalf of his Queen, who implored her to disburthen her conscience by a full confession. "It is not her work," added Buckhurst; "the sentence is not hers, but this thing is required by her people, inasmuch as her life can never be safe while your Grace lives, nor can her religion remain in any security."

    Mary's demeanour had hitherto been resolute. Here a brightness and look of thankful joy came over her, as she raised her eyes to Heaven and joined her hands, saying, "I thank you, my lord; you have made it all gladness to me, by declaring me to be an instrument in the cause of my religion, for which, unworthy as I am, I shall rejoice to shed my blood."

    "Saint and martyr, indeed!" broke out Paulett. "That is fine! when you are dying for plotting treason and murder!"

    "Nay, sir," gently returned Mary, "I am not so presumptuous as to call myself saint or martyr; but though you have power over my body, you have none over my soul, nor can you prevent me from hoping that by the mercy of Him who died for me, my blood and life may be accepted by Him, as offerings freely made for His Church."

    She then begged for the restoration of her Almoner De Preaux. She was told that the request would be referred to the Queen, but that she should have the attendance of an English Bishop and Dean. Paulett was so angered at the manner in which she had met the doom, that he began to threaten her that she would be denied all that could serve to her idolatries.

    "Yea, verily," said she calmly, "I am aware that the English have never been noted for mercy."

    Lord Buckhurst succeeded in getting the knight away without any more bitter replies. Humfrey and Cavendish had, of course, to leave the room in their train, and as it was the hour of guard for the former, he had to take up his station and wait with what patience he could until it should please Master William to carry him the packet. He opened it eagerly, standing close beneath the little lamp that illuminated his post, to read it: but after all, it was somewhat disappointing, for Mr. Talbot did not feel that absolute confidence in the consciences of gentlemen-in-place which would make him certain of that of Master Cavendish, supposing any notion should arise that Cicely's presence in London could have any purpose connected with the prisoner.

    "To my dear son Humfrey, greeting--

    "I do you to wit that we are here safely arrived in London, though we were forced by stress of weather to tarry seven days in Hull, at the house of good Master Heatherthwayte, where we received good and hospitable entertainment. The voyage was a fair one, and the old Mastiff is as brave a little vessel as ever she was wont to be; but thy poor sister lay abed all the time, and was right glad when we came into smooth water. We have presented the letters to those whom we came to seek, and so far matters have gone with us more towardly than I had expected. There are those who knew Cicely's mother at her years who say there is a strange likeness between them, and who therefore received her the more favourably. I am lying at present at Shrewsbury House, where my young Lord makes me welcome, but it hath been judged meet that thy sister should lodge with the good Madame de Salmonnet, a lady of Scottish birth, who is wife to one of the secretaries of M. de Chateauneuf, the French Ambassador, but who was bred in the convent of Soissons. She is a virtuous and honourable lady, and hath taken charge of thy sister while we remain in London. For the purpose for which we came, it goeth forward, and those who should know assure me that we do not lose time here. Diccon commendeth himself to thee; he is well in health, and hath much improved in all his exercises. Mistress Curll is lodging nigh unto the Strand, in hopes of being permitted to see her husband; but that hath not yet been granted to her, although she is assured that he is well in health, and like ere long to be set free, as well as Monsieur Nau.

    "We came to London the day after the Parliament had pronounced sentence upon the Lady at Fotheringhay. I promise you there was ringing of bells and firing of cannon, and lighting of bonfires, so that we deemed that there must have been some great defeat of the Spaniards in the Low Countries; and when we were told it was for joy that the Parliament had declared the Queen of Scots guilty of death, my poor Cicely had well-nigh swooned to think that there could be such joy for the doom of one poor sick lady. There hath been a petition to the Queen that the sentence may be carried out, and she hath answered in a dubious and uncertain manner, which leaves ground for hope; and the King of Scots hath written pressingly and sent the Master of Gray to speak in his mother's behalf; also M. de Chateauneuf hath both urged mercy on the Queen, and so written to France that King Henry is sending an Ambassador Extraordinary, M. de Bellievre, to intercede for her.

    "I send these presents by favour of Master Cavendish, who will tell thee more than I have here space to set down, and can assure thee that nothing hasty is like to be done in the business on which he hath come down with these gentlemen. And so no more at present from thy loving father,

    "Richard Talbot."

    Humfrey had to gather what he could from this letter, but he had no opportunity of speech with the prisoner on the remainder of that day, nor on the next, until after Lord Buckhurst and his followers had left Fotheringhay, bearing with them a long and most touching letter from the prisoner to Queen Elizabeth.

    On that day, Paulett worked himself up to the strange idea that it was for the good of the unfortunate prisoner's soul, and an act of duty to his own sovereign, to march into the prison chamber and announce to Queen Mary that being a dead woman in the eye of the law, no royal state could be permitted her, in token of which he commanded her servants to remove the canopy over her chair. They all flatly refused to touch it, and the women began to cry "Out upon him," for being cowardly enough to insult their mistress, and she calmly said, "Sir, you may do as you please. My royal state comes from God, and is not yours to give or take away. I shall die a Queen, whatever you may do by such law as robbers in a forest might use with a righteous judge."

    Intensely angered, Sir Amias came, hobbling and stumbling out to the door, pale with rage, and called on Talbot to come and bring his men to tear down the rag of vanity in which this contumacious woman put her trust.

    "The men are your servants, sir," said Humfrey, with a flush on his cheek and his teeth set; "I am here to guard the Queen of Scots, not to insult her."

    "How, sirrah? Do you know to whom you speak? Have you not sworn obedience to me?"

    "In all things within my commission, sir; but this is as much beyond it, as I believe it to be beyond yours."

    "Insolent, disloyal varlet! You are under ward till I can account with and discharge you. To your chamber!"

    Humfrey could but walk away, grieved that his power of bearing intelligence or alleviation to the prisoner had been forfeited, and that he should probably not even take leave of her. Was she to be left to all the insults that the malice of her persecutor could devise? Yet it was not exactly malice. Paulett would have guarded her life from assassination with his own, though chiefly for his own sake, and, as he said, for that of "saving his poor posterity from so foul a blot;" but he could not bear, as he told Sir Drew Drury, to see the Popish, bloodthirsty woman sit queening it so calmly; and when he tore down her cloth of state, and sat down in her presence with his hat on, he did not so much intend to pain the woman, Mary, as to express the triumph of Elizabeth and of her religion. Humfrey believed his service over, and began to occupy himself with putting his clothes together, while considering whether to seek his father in London or to go home. After about an hour, he was summoned to the hall, where he expected to have found Sir Amias Paulett ready to give him his discharge. He found, however, only Sir Drew Drury, who thus accosted him--"Young man, you had better return to your duty. Sir Amias is willing to overlook what passed this morning."

    "I thank you, sir, but I am not aware of having done aught to need forgiveness," said Humfrey.

    "Come, come, my fair youth, stand not on these points. 'Tis true my good colleague hath an excess of zeal, and I could wish he could have found it in his heart to leave the poor lady these marks of dignity that hurt no one. I would have no hand in it, and I am glad thou wouldst not. He knoweth that he had no power to require such service of thee. He will say no more, and I trust that neither wilt thou; for it would not be well to change warders at this time. Another might not be so acceptable to the poor lady, and I would fain save her all that I can."

    Humfrey bowed, and thanked "him of milder mood," nor was any further notice taken of this hasty dismissal.

    When next he had to enter the Queen's apartments, the absence of all the tokens of her royal rank was to him truly a shock, accustomed as he had been, from his earliest childhood, to connect them with her, and knowing what their removal signified.

    Mary, who was writing, looked up as, with cap in hand, he presented himself on one knee, his head bowed lower than ever before, perhaps to hide the tear that had sprung to his eye at sight of her pale, patient countenance.

    "How now, sir?" she said. "This obeisance is out of place to one already dead in law. Don your bonnet. There is no queen here for an Englishman."

    "Ah! madam, suffer me. My reverence cannot but be greater than ever," faltered Humfrey from his very heart, his words lost in the kiss he printed on the hand she granted him.

    Mary bent "her gray discrowned head," crowned in his eyes as the Queen of Sorrows, and said to Marie de Courcelles, who stood behind her, "Is it not true, ma mie, that our griefs have this make-weight, namely, that they prove to us whose are the souls whose generosity is above all price! And what saith thy good father, my Humfrey?"

    He had not ventured on bringing the letter into the apartments, but he repeated most of the substance of it, without, however, greatly raising the hopes of the Queen, though she was gratified that her cause was not neglected either by her son or by her brother-in-law.

    "They, and above all my poor maid, will be comforted to have done their utmost," she said; "but I scarcely care that they should prevail. As I have written to my cousin Elizabeth, I am beholden to her for ending my long captivity, and above all for conferring on me the blessings and glories of one who dies for her faith, all unworthy as I am!" and she clasped her hands, while a rapt expression came upon her countenance.

    Her chief desire seemed to be that neither Cicely nor her foster- father should run into danger on her account, and she much regretted that she had not been able to impress upon Humfrey messages to that effect before he wrote in answer to his father, sending his letter by Cavendish.

    "Thou wilt not write again?" she asked.

    "I doubt its being safe," said Humfrey. "I durst not speak openly even in the scroll I sent yesterday."

    Then Mary recurred to the power which he possessed of visiting Sir Andrew Melville and the Almoner, the Abbe de Preaux, who were shut up in the Fetterlock tower and court, and requested him to take a billet which she had written to the latter. The request came like a blow to the young man. "With permission--" he began.

    "I tell thee," said Mary, "this concerns naught but mine own soul. It is nothing to the State, but all and everything to me, a dying woman."

    "Ah, madam! Let me but obtain consent."

    "What! go to Paulett that he may have occasion to blaspheme my faith and insult me!" said the Queen, offended.

    "I should go to Sir Drew Drury, who is of another mould," said Humfrey--

    "But who dares not lift a finger to cross his fellow," said Mary, leaning back resignedly.

    "And this is the young gentleman's love for your Grace!" exclaimed Jean Kennedy.

    "Nay, madam," said Humfrey, stung to the quick, "but I am sworn!"

    "Let him alone, Nurse Jeanie!" said Mary. "He is like the rest of the English. They know not how to distinguish between the spirit and the letter! I understand it all, though I had thought for a moment that in him there was a love for me and mine that would perceive that I could ask nothing that could damage his honour or his good faith. I--who had almost a mother's love and trust in him."

    "Madam," cried Humfrey, "you know I would lay down my life for you, but I cannot break my trust."

    "Your trust, fule laddie!" exclaimed Mrs. Kennedy. "Ane wad think the Queen speired of ye to carry a letter to Mendoza to burn and slay, instead of a bit scart of the pen to ask the good father for his prayers, or the like! But you are all alike; ye will not stir a hand to aid her poor soul."

    "Pardon me, madam," entreated Humfrey. "The matter is, not what the letter may bear, but how my oath binds me! I may not be the bearer of aught in writing from this chamber. 'Twas the very reason I would not bring in my father's letter. Madam, say but you pardon me."

    "Of course I pardon you," returned Mary coldly. "I have so much to pardon that I can well forgive the lukewarmness and precision that are so bred in your nature that you cannot help them. I pardon injuries, and I may well try to pardon disappointments. Fare you well, Mr. Talbot; may your fidelity have its reward from Sir Amias Paulett."

    Humfrey was obliged to quit the apartment, cruelly wounded, sometimes wondering whether he had really acted on a harsh selfish punctilio in cutting off the dying woman from the consolations of religion, and thus taking part with the persecutors, while his heart bled for her. Sometimes it seemed to him as if he had been on the point of earning her consent to his marriage with her daughter, and had thrown it away, and at other moments a horror came over him lest he was being beguiled as poor Antony had been before him. And if he let his faith slip, how should he meet his father again? Yet his affection for the Queen repelled this idea like a cruel injury, while, day by day, it was renewed pain and grief to be treated by her with the gentlest and most studied courtesy, but no longer as almost one of her own inner circle of friends and confidants.

    And as Sir Andrew Melville was in a few days more restored to her service, he was far less often required to bear messages, or do little services in the prison apartments, and he felt himself excluded, and cut off from the intimacy that had been very sweet, and even a little hopeful to him.
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