Unknown to history a st.., p.34

Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland, page 34

 

Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland
 



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  CHAPTER XXXIV.

  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 beenappointed for her conveyance from Chartley, her rheumatism having setin too severely to permit her to ride.

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

  "Ah, my good Marie, never before have I felt this foreboding andsinking of the heart. I have always hoped before, but I have exhaustedthe 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, myfriends, the most welcome tidings that could greet me would be that myweary bondage was over for ever, and that I should wreck no moregallant hearts. What, mignonne, art thou weeping? There will befreedom again for thee when that day comes."

  "O madam, I want not freedom at such a price!" And yet Cicely hadnever recovered her looks since those seventeen days at Tickhill. Shestill 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 herface. 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 twowith her while crossing the yard, had he grieved at her altered mien;and vexed himself with wondering whether she had after all lovedBabington, and were mourning for him.

  Truly, even without the passion of love, there had been much to shockand 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 hadknown intimately, and even her small knowledge of the cause made herfeel miserable and almost guilty, for had not poor Antony plotted forher mother, and had not she been held out to him as a delusiveinducement? Moreover, she felt the burden of a deep, pitying love andadmiration not wholly joined with perfect trust and reliance. She hadbeen from the first startled by untruths and concealments. There wasmystery all round her, and the future was dark. There were terribleforebodings for her mother; and if she looked beyond for herself, onlyuncertainty and fear of being commanded to follow Marie de Courcellesto a foreign court, perhaps to a convent; while she yearned with analmost sick longing for home and kind Mrs. Talbot's motherly tendernessand trustworthiness, and the very renunciation of Humfrey that she hadspoken so easily, had made her aware of his full worth, and wakened inher a longing for the right to rest on his stout arm and faithfulheart. To look across at him and know him near often seemed her bestsupport, and was she to be cut off from him for ever? The devotions ofthe Queen, though she had been deprived of her almoner had been muchincreased of late as one preparing for death; and with them wereassociated all her household of the Roman Catholic faith, leaving outCicely and the two Mrs. Curlls. The long oft-repeated Latin orisons,such as the penitential Psalms, would certainly have been wearisome tothe girl, but it gave her a pang to be pointedly excluded as one whohad no part nor lot with her mother. Perhaps this was done bycalculation, in order to incline her to embrace her mother's faith; andthe time was not spent very pleasantly, as she had nothing butneedlework to occupy her, and no society save that of the sistersCurll. Barbara's spirits were greatly depressed by the loss of herinfant and anxiety for her husband. His evidence might be life ordeath to the Queen, and his betrayal of her confidence, or his beingtortured for his fidelity, were terrible alternatives for his wife'simagination. It was hard to say whether she were more sorry or gladwhen, on leaving Chartley, she was forbidden to continue her attendanceon the Queen, and set free to follow him to London. The poor lady knewnothing, and dreaded everything. She could not help discussing heranxieties when alone with Cicely, thus rendering perceptible more andmore of the ramifications of plot and intrigue--past and present--atwhich she herself only guessed a part. Assuredly the finding herself aprincess, and sharing the captivity of a queen, had not proved so likea 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, guidedby knights in armour, to the being packed with all the ladies into aheavy jolting conveyance, guarded before and behind by armed servantsand yeomen, among whom Humfrey's form could only now and then bedetected.

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

  Two nights were spent on the road, one at Leicester; and on the fourthday, the captain in charge of the castle for the governor Sir WilliamFitzwilliam, who had come to escort and receive her, came to thecarriage 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 isto 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 soundcaused by rolling over a drawbridge was twice heard, and the carriagecrossed two courts before stopping at the foot of a broad flight ofstone steps, where stood Sir William Fitzwilliam and Sir Amias Paulettready to hand out the Queen.

  A few stone steps were mounted, then an enormous hall had to betraversed. The little procession had formed in pairs, and Humfrey wasable to give his hand to Cicely and walk with her along the vast space,on which many windows emblazoned with coats of arms shed theirlight--the western ones full of the bright September sunshine. One ofthese, emblazoned with the royal shield in crimson mantlings, cast ablood-red stain on the white stone pavement. Mary, who was walkingfirst, 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 yetwin 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 eagerassurance that no ill was intended her, such as they had often heardfrom Shrewsbury and Sadler.

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

  He shook his head gravely and said, "I cannot tell," but he could notkeep 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 theHall. There was no reason to complain of these, Mary's furniturehaving as usual been sent forward with her inferior servants, andarranged 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 evenmore than his wonted stiffness, and had left her, she said, "I see whatwe are come here for. It is that yonder hall may be the place of mydeath."

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

  She resumed her usual habits very calmly, as far as her increasedrheumatism would permit, and showed anxiety that a large piece ofembroidery should be completed, and thus about a fortnight passed. Thencame the first token of the future. Sir Amias Paulett, Sir WalterMildmay, and a notary, sought her presence and presented her with aletter from Queen Elizabeth, informing her that there were heavyaccusations against her, and that as she was residing under theprotection of the laws of England, she must be tried by those laws, andmust make answer to the commissioners appointed for the purpose. Maryput on all her queenly dignity, and declared that she would nevercondescend to answer as a subject of the Queen of England, but wouldonly consent to refer their differences to a tribunal of foreignprinces. As to her being under the protection of English law, she hadcome to England of her own free will, and had been kept there aprisoner eve
r since, so that she did not consider herself protected bythe law of England.

  Meanwhile fresh noblemen commissioned to sit on the trial arrived dayby day. There was trampling of horses and jingling of equipments, andthe captive suite daily heard reports of fresh arrivals, and sawglimpses of new colours and badges flitting across the court, whileconferences were held with Mary in the hope of inducing her to submitto the English jurisdiction. She was sorely perplexed, seeing as shedid that to persist in her absolute refusal to be bound by English lawwould be prejudicial to her claim to the English crown, and being alsoassured by Burghley that if she refused to plead the trial would stilltake place, and she would be sentenced in her absence. Her spirit roseat this threat, and she answered disdainfully, but it worked with hernone the less when the treasurer had left her.

  "Oh," she cried that night, "would but Elizabeth be content to let meresign my rights to my son, making them secure to him, and then let meretire to some convent in Lorraine, or in Germany, or wherever shewould, 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 theletter, pledging me to what I never would undertake. I know how theycan cut and garble, add and take away! Never have they let me see orspeak to her as woman to woman. All I have said or done has beencoloured."

  "Mother, I would that I could go to her; Humfrey has seen and spoken toher, 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'sdangers."

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

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

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

  "And how many do you think would have followed that same lion?" saidMary, 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 pawkychiel, as they say in the north, and cares not to risk aught for themother he hath never seen, and of whom he hath been taught to believestrange tales."

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

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

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

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

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

  "The young lady knows what I mean," said the old gentlewoman with greatdignity, "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 thatclosed in the royal captive's suite of apartments to a gallery. At thedoor of communication three yeomen were always placed under an officer.Humfrey was one of those who took turns to command this guard, but hewas not now on duty. He was, however, standing beside his fatherawaiting 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 gladnessas if she had been his daughter in truth. He took one hand, andHumfrey the other, and they followed the steward, who had promised toprocure them a private interview, so difficult a matter, in the fulnessof the castle, that he had no place to offer them save the deepembrasure of a great oriel window at the end of the gallery. They wouldbe seen there, but there was no fear of their being heard without theirown consent, and till the chapel bell rang for evening prayers andsermon there would be no interruption. And as Cicely found herselfseated between Master Richard and the window, with Humfrey opposite,she was sensible of a repose and bien etre she had not felt since shequitted Bridgefield. She had already heard on the way that all waswell there, and that my Lord was not come, though named in thecommission as being Earl Marshal of England, sending his kinsman ofBridgefield in his stead with letters of excuse.

  "In sooth he cannot bear to come and sit in judgment on one he hathknown so long and closely," said Richard; "but he hath bidden me tocome 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. Sheis altogether changed in mind, and come round to her first love forthis Lady, declaring that it is all her Lord's fault that the custodywas taken from them, and that she could and would have hindered allthis."

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

  "So it may be. In any wise my Lady is bitterly grieved, and they sendfor 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 nowyou 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 theministry. I hope in another year to take him to Cambridge. Thy motheris knitting his hosen of gray and black already."

  Other questions and answers followed about Bridgefield tidings, whichstill evidently touched Cicely as closely as if she had been a bornTalbot. There was a kind of rest in dwelling on these before coming tothe sadder, more pressing concern of her other life. It was not tillthe slow striking of the Castle clock warned them that they had lessthan an hour to spend together that they came to closer matters, andRichard 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 tothe French and Spanish ambassadors to have masses said for them. PoorAntony! Did he send no word to me, dear father?"

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

  "Ah, poor Antony!" said Cis, with her grave simplicity. "But it wouldnot have been right for me to be a hindrance to the marriage of one whocould never have me."

  "While he loved you it would," said Humfrey hastily. "Yea," as shelifted up her eyes to him, "it w
ould 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 honesttruth and faith.

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

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

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

  "O sir, I fear that what she would most desire is to bestow me abroadwith some of her kindred of Lorraine. But I mean to strive hardagainst it, and pray her earnestly. And, father, I have one greatpurpose. She saith that these cruel statesmen, who are all below inthis castle, have hindered Queen Elizabeth from ever truly hearing andknowing all, and from speaking with her as woman to woman. Father, Iwill go to London, I will make my way to the Queen, and when she hearswho I am--of her own blood and kindred--she must listen to me; and Iwill tell her what my mother Queen really is, and how cruelly she hasbeen played upon, and entreat of her to see her face to face and talkwith 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 requiresmuch 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; "butthere is no need to decide as yet. We must await the issue of thistrial, if the trial ever take place."

  "Will Cavendish saith," put in Humfrey, "that a trial there will be ofsome 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 beslack to aid thee in what may be thy duty as a daughter. So rest theein 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 thispromise, well knowing that it might involve himself in great danger.The worst that could befall Cicely might be imprisonment, and a life ofconstraint, jealously watched; but his own long concealment of herbirth might easily be construed into treason, and the horribleconsequences of such an accusation were only too fresh in his memory.Yet, as he said afterwards to his son, "There was no forbidding themaiden to do her utmost for her own mother, neither was there anyletting her run the risk alone."

  To which Humfrey heartily responded.

  "The Queen may forbid her, or the purpose may pass away," addedRichard, "or it may be clearly useless and impossible to make theattempt; but I cannot as a Christian man strive to dissuade her fromdoing what she can. And as thou saidst, Humfrey, she is changed. Shehath borne her modestly and discreetly, ay and truly, through all. Thechildishness is gone out of her, and I mark no lightness of purpose inher."

  On that afternoon Queen Mary announced that she had yielded to Hatton'srepresentations so far as to consent to appear before theCommissioners, provided her protest against the proceedings were put onrecord.

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

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

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

 

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