Unknown to history a st.., p.43

Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland, page 43


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

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  "Yea, madam, they are gone! They stole away at once, and are far onthe way to Fotheringhay, with these same conditions." So spokeDavison, under-secretary, Walsingham being still indisposed.

  "And therefore will I see whether the Queen of Scots will ratify them,ere I go farther in the matter," returned Elizabeth.

  "She will ratify them without question," said the Secretary,ironically, "seeing that to escape into the hands of one of yourMajesty's enemies is just what she desires."

  "She leaves her daughter as a pledge."

  "Yea, a piece of tinsel to delude your Majesty."

  Elizabeth swore an oath that there was truth in every word and gestureof the maiden.

  "The poor wench may believe all she said herself," said Davison. "Nay,she is as much deluded as the rest, and so is that honest, dull-patedsailor, Talbot. If your Majesty will permit me to call in a fellow Ihave here, I can make all plain."

  "Who is he? You know I cannot abide those foul carrion rascals youmake use of," said Elizabeth, with an air of disgust.

  "This man is gentleman born. Villain he may be, but there is naught tooffend your Majesty in him. He is one Langston, a kinsman of thisTalbot's; and having once been a Papist, but now having seen the errorof his ways, he did good service in the unwinding of the late horribleplot."

  "Well, if no other way will serve you but I must hear the fellow, havehim in."

  A neatly-dressed, small, elderly man, entirely arrayed in black, wascalled in, and knelt most humbly before the Queen. Being bidden totell what he knew respecting the lady who had appeared before the Queenthe day before, calling herself Bride Hepburn, he returned for answerthat he believed it to be verily her name, but that she was thedaughter of a man who had fled to France, and become an archer of theScottish guard.

  He told how he had been at Hull when the infant had been saved from thewreck, and brought home to Mistress Susan Talbot, who left the placethe next day, and had, he understood, bred up the child as her own. Hehimself, being then, as he confessed, led astray by the delusions ofPopery, had much commerce with the Queen's party, and had learnt fromsome of the garrison of Dunfermline that the child on board the lostship was the offspring of this same Hepburn, and of one of Queen Mary'smany namesake kindred, who had died in childbirth at Lochleven. Andnow Langston professed bitterly to regret what he had done when, in hisdisguise at Buxton, he had made known to some of Mary's suite that thesupposed Cicely Talbot was of their country and kindred. She had beenimmediately made a great favourite by the Queen of Scots, and theattendants all knew who she really was, though she still went by thename of Talbot. He imagined that the Queen of Scots, whose charms werenot so imperishable as those which dazzled his eyes at this moment,wanted a fresh bait for her victims, since she herself was growing old,and thus had actually succeeded in binding Babington to her service,though even then the girl was puffed up with notions of her ownimportance and had flouted him. And now, all other hope havingvanished, Queen Mary's last and ablest resource had been to possess thepoor maiden with an idea of being actually her own child, and then towork on her filial obedience to offer herself as a hostage, whom Maryherself could without scruple leave to her fate, so soon as she wasready to head an army of invaders.

  Davison further added that the Secretary Nau could corroborate thatBride Hepburn was known to the suite as a kinswoman of the Queen, andthat Mr. Cavendish, clerk to Sir Francis Walsingham, knew thatBabington had been suitor to the young lady, and had crossed swordswith young Talbot on her account.

  Elizabeth listened, and made no comment at the time, save that shesharply questioned Langston; but his tale was perfectly coherent, andas it threw the onus of the deception entirely on Mary, it did notconflict either with the sincerity evident in both Cicely and herfoster-father, or with the credentials supplied by the Queen of Scots.Of the ciphered letter, and of the monograms, Elizabeth had neverheard, though, if she had asked for further proof, they would have beenbrought forward.

  She heard all, dismissed Langston, and with some petulance bade Davisonlikewise begone, being aware that her ministers meant her to draw themoral that she had involved herself in difficulties by holding aprivate audience of the French Ambassadors without their knowledge orpresence. It may be that the very sense of having been touchedexasperated her the more. She paced up and down the room restlessly,and her ladies heard her muttering--"That she should cheat me thus! Ihave pitied her often; I will pity her no more! To breed up that poorchild to be palmed on me! I will make an end of it; I can endure thisno longer! These tossings to and fro are more than I can bear, and allfor one who is false, false, false, false! My brain will bear no more.Hap what hap, an end must be made of it. She or I, she or I must die;and which is best for England and the faith? That girl had well-nighmade me pity her, and it was all a vile cheat!"

  Thus it was that Elizabeth sent for Davison, and bade him bring thewarrant with him.

  And thus it was that in the midst of dinner in the hall, on the Sunday,the 5th of February, the meine of the Castle were startled by thearrival of Mr. Beale, the Clerk of the Council, always a bird ofsinister omen, and accompanied by a still more alarming figure a strongburly man clad in black velvet from head to foot. Every one knew whohe was, and a thrill of dismay, that what had been so long expected hadcome at last, went through all who saw him pass through the hall. SirAmias was summoned from table, and remained in conference with the twoarrivals all through evening chapel time--an event in itselfextraordinary enough to excite general anxiety. It was Humfrey's turnto be on guard, and he had not long taken his station before he wascalled into the Queen's apartments, where she sat at the foot of herbed, in a large chair with a small table before her. No one was withher but her two mediciners, Bourgoin and Gorion.

  "Here," she said, "is the list our good Doctor has writ of the herbs herequires for my threatened attack of rheumatism."

  "I will endeavour, with Sir Amias's permission, to seek them in thepark," said Humfrey.

  "But tell me," said Mary, fixing her clear eyes upon him, "tell metruly. Is there not a surer and more lasting cure for all my ills inpreparation? Who was it who arrived to-night?"

  "Madame," said Humfrey, bowing his head low as he knelt on one knee,"it was Mr. Beale."

  "Ay, and who besides?"

  "Madam, I heard no name, but"--as she waited for him to speak further,he uttered in a choked voice--"it was one clad in black."

  "I perceive," said Mary, looking up with a smile. "A more effectualDoctor than you, my good Bourgoin. I thank my God and my cousinElizabeth for giving me the martyr's hope at the close of the mostmournful life that ever woman lived. Nay, leave me not as yet, goodHumfrey. I have somewhat to say unto thee. I have a charge for thee."Something in her tone led him to look up earnestly in her face. "Thoulovest my child, I think," she added.

  The young man's voice was scarcely heard, and he only said, "Yea,madam;" but there was an intensity in the tone and eyes which went toher heart.

  "Thou dost not speak, but thou canst do. Wilt thou take her, Humfrey,and with her, all the inheritance of peril and sorrow that dogs ourunhappy race?"

  "Oh"--and there was a mighty sob that almost cut off his voice--"Mylife is already hers, and would be spent in her service wherever,whatever she was."

  "I guessed it," said the Queen, letting her hand rest on his shoulder."And for her thou wilt endure, if needful, suspicion, danger, exile?"

  "They will be welcome, so I may shield her."

  "I trust thee," she said, and she took his firm strong hand into herown white wasted one. "But will thy father consent? Thou art hiseldest son and heir."

  "He loves her like his own daughter. My brother may have the lands."

  "'Tis strange," said Mary, "that in wedding a princess, 'tis no crown,no kingdom, that is set before thee, only the loss of thine owninheritance. For now that the poor child has made herself known toElizabeth, there will be
no safety for her between these seas. I haveconsidered it well. I had thought of sending her abroad with my Frenchservants, and making her known to my kindred there. That would havebeen well if she could have accepted the true faith, or if--if herheart had not been thine; but to have sent her as she is would onlyexpose her to persecution, and she hath not the mounting spirit thatwould cast aside love for the sake of rising. She lived too long withthy mother to be aught save a homely Cis. I would have made a princessof her, but it passes my powers. Nay, the question is, whether it mayyet be possible to prevent the Queen from laying hands on her."

  "My father is still here," said Humfrey, "and I deem not that anyorders have come respecting her. Might not he crave permission to takeher home, that is, if she will leave your Grace?"

  "I will lay my commands on her! It is well thought of," said theQueen. "How soon canst thou have speech with him?"

  "He is very like to come to my post," said Humfrey, "and then we canwalk the gallery and talk unheard."

  "It is well. Let him make his demand, and I will have her ready todepart as early as may be to-morrow morn. Bourgoin, I would ask theeto call the maiden hither."

  Cicely appeared from the apartment where she had been sitting with theother ladies.

  "Child," said the Queen, as she came in, "is thy mind set on wedding anarchduke?"

  "Marriage is not for me, madam," said Cicely, perplexed and shaken bythis strange address and by Humfrey's presence.

  "Nay, didst not once tell me of a betrothal now many years ago? Whatwouldst say if thine own mother were to ratify it?"

  "Ah! madam," said Cicely, blushing crimson however, "but I pledgedmyself never to wed save with Queen Elizabeth's consent."

  "On one condition," said the Queen. "But if that condition were notobserved by the other party--"

  "How--what, mother!" exclaimed Cicely, with a scream. "There is nofear--Humfrey, have you heard aught?"

  "Nothing is certain," said Mary, calmly. "I ask thee not to break thyword. I ask thee, if thou wert free to marry, if thou wouldst be anAustrian or Lorraine duchess, or content thee with an honest Englishyouth whose plighted word is more precious to him than gold."

  "O mother, how can you ask?" said Cicely, dropping down, and hiding herface in the Queen's lap.

  "Then, Humfrey Talbot, I give her to thee, my child, my Bride ofScotland. Thou wilt guard her, and shield her, and for thine own sakeas well as hers, save her from the wrath and jealousy of Elizabeth.Hark, hark! Rise, my child. They are presenting arms. We shall havePaulett in anon to convey my rere-supper."

  They had only just time to compose themselves before Paulett came in,looking, as they all thought, grimmer and more starched than ever, andnot well pleased to find Humfrey there, but the Queen was equal to theoccasion.

  "Here is Dr. Bourgoin's list of the herbs that he needs to ease myaches," she said. "Master Talbot is so good as to say that, beingproperly instructed, he will go in search of them."

  "They will not be needed," said Paulett, but he spoke no farther to theQueen. Outside, however, he said to Humfrey, "Young man, you do notwell to waste the Sabbath evening in converse with that blinded woman;"and meeting Mr. Talbot himself on the stair, he said, "You are going inquest of your son, sir. You would do wisely to admonish him that hewill bring himself into suspicion, if not worse, by loitering amid thesnares and wiles of the woman whom wrath is even now overtaking."

  Richard found his son pacing the gallery, almost choked with agitation,and with the endeavour to conceal it from the two stolid, heavy yeomenwho dozed behind the screen. Not till he had reached the extreme enddid Humfrey master his voice enough to utter in his father's ear, "Shehas given her to me!"

  Richard could not answer for a moment, then he said, "I fear me it willbe thy ruin, Humfrey."

  "Not ruin in love or faithfulness," said the youth. "Father, you knowI should everywhere have followed her and watched over her, even to thedeath, even if she could never have been mine."

  "I trow thou wouldst," said Richard.

  "Nor would you have it otherwise--your child, your only daughter, to beleft unguarded."

  "Nay, I know not that I would," said Richard. "I cannot but care forthe poor maid like mine own, and I would not have thee lesstrue-hearted, Humfrey, even though it cost thee thine home, and us oureldest son."

  "You have Diccon and Ned," said Humfrey. And then he told what hadpassed, and his father observed that Beale had evidently no knowledgeof Cicely's conference with the Queen, and apparently no orders toseize her. It had oozed out that a commission had been sent to fivenoblemen to come and superintend the execution, since Sir Amias Pauletthad again refused to let it take place without witnesses, and Richardundertook to apply at once to Sir Amias for permission to remove hisdaughter, on the ground of saving her tender youth from the shock.

  "Then," said he, "I will leave a token at Nottingham where I have takenher; whether home or at once to Hull. If I leave Brown Roundle at theinn for thee, then come home; but if it be White Blossom, then come toHull. It will be best that thou dost not know while here, and I cannotgo direct to Hull, because the fens at this season may not be fit forriding. Heatherthwayte will need no proofs to convince him that she isnot thy sister, and can wed you at once, and you will also be able toembark in case there be any endeavour to arrest her."

  "Taking service in Holland," said Humfrey, "until there may be safetyin returning to England."

  Richard sighed. The risk and sacrifice were great, and it was to himlike the loss of two children, but the die was cast; Humfrey nevercould be other than Cicely's devoted champion and guardian, and it wasbetter that it should be as her husband. So he repaired to Sir Amias,and told him that he desired not to expose his daughter's tender yearsand feeble spirits to the sight of the Queen's death, and claimedpermission to take her away with him the next day, saying that thepermission of the Queen had already been granted through his son, whomhe would gladly also take with him.

  Paulett hemmed and hawed. He thought it a great error in Mr. Talbot toavoid letting his daughter be edified by a spectacle that might go farto moderate the contagion of intercourse with so obstinate a Papist anddeceiver. Being of pitiless mould himself, he was incapable ofappreciating Richard's observation that compassion would only increaseher devotion to the unfortunate lady. He would not, or could not, partwith Humfrey. He said that there would be such a turmoil and concoursethat the services of the captain of his yeomen would be indispensable,but that he himself, and all the rest, would be free on the Thursday atlatest.

  Mr. Talbot's desire to be away was a surprise to him, for he was indifficulties how, even in that enormous hall, to dispose of all whoclaimed by right or by favour to witness what he called the tardyfulfilment of judgment. Yet though he thought it a weakness, he didnot refuse, and ere night Mr. Talbot was able to send formal word thatthe horses would be ready for Mistress Cicely at break of day the nextmorning.

  The message was transmitted through the ladies as the Queen sat writingat her table, and she at once gave orders to Elizabeth Curll to preparethe cloak bag with necessaries for the journey.

  Cicely cried out, "O madam my mother, do not send me from you!"

  "There is no help for it, little one. It is the only hope of safety orhappiness for thee."

  "But I pledged myself to await Queen Elizabeth's reply here!"

  "She has replied," said Mary.

  "How?" cried Cicely. "Methought your letter confirming mine offers hadnot yet been sent."

  "It hath not, but she hath made known to me that she rejects thy terms,my poor maid."

  "Is there then no hope?" said the girl, under her breath, which cameshort with dismay.

  "Hope! yea," said Mary, with a ray of brightness on her face, "but notearthly hope. That is over, and I am more at rest and peace than I canremember to have been since I was a babe at my mother's knee. But,little one, I must preserve thee for thine Humfrey and for happiness,and so thou must be gone ere the
hounds be on thy track."

  "Never, mother, I cannot leave you. You bid no one else to go!" saidCis, clinging to her with a face bathed in tears.

  "No one else is imperilled by remaining as thy bold venture hasimperilled thee, my sweet maid. Think, child, how fears for thee woulddisturb my spirit, when I would fain commune only with Heaven. Seestthou not that to lose thy dear presence for the few days left to mewill be far better for me than to be rent with anxiety for thee, and itmay be to see thee snatched from me by these stern, harsh men?"

  "To quit you now! It is unnatural! I cannot."

  "You will go, child. As Queen and as mother alike, I lay my commandson you. Let not the last, almost the only commands I ever gave thee betransgressed, and waste not these last hours in a vain strife."

  She spoke with an authority against which Cis had no appeal, save byholding her hand tight and covering it with kisses and tears. Marypresently released her hand and went on writing, giving her a littletime to restrain her agony of bitter weeping. The first words spokenwere, "I shall not name thee in my will, nor recommend thee to thybrother. It would only bring on thee suspicion and danger. Here,however, is a letter giving full evidence of thy birth, and mentioningthe various witnesses who can attest it. I shall leave the like withMelville, but it will be for thy happiness and safety if it never seethe light. Should thy brother die without heirs, then it might be thyduty to come forward and stretch out thy hand for these two crowns,which have more thorns than jewels in them. Alas! would that I coulddare to hope they might be exchanged for a crown of stars! But liedown on the bed, my bairnie. I have much still to do, and thou hast along journey before thee."

  Cicely would fain have resisted, but was forced to obey, thoughprotesting that she should not sleep; and she lay awake for a long timewatching the Queen writing, until unawares slumber overpowered hereyes. When she awoke, the Queen was standing over her saying, "It istime thou wert astir, little one!"

  "Oh! and have I lost all these hours of you?" cried Cicely, as hersenses awoke to the remembrance of the situation of affairs. "Mother,why did you not let me watch with you?"

  Mary only smiled and kissed her brow. The time went by in thepreparations, in all of which the Queen took an active part. Her moneyand jewels had been restored to her by Elizabeth's orders during herdaughter's absence, and she had put twenty gold pieces in the silkenand pearl purse which she always used. "More I may not give thee," shesaid. "I know not whether I shall be able to give my poor faithfulservants enough to carry them to their homes. This thou must have toprovide thee. And for my jewels, they should be all thine by right,but the more valuable ones, which bear tokens, might only bring theeunder suspicion, poor child."

  She wished Cicely to choose among them, but the poor girl had no heartfor choice, and the Queen herself put in her hand a small casecontaining a few which were unobtrusive, yet well known to her, andamong them a ring with the Hepburn arms, given by Bothwell. She alsoshowed her a gold chain which she meant to give to Humfrey. In thismanner time passed, till a message came in that Master Richard Talbotwas ready.

  "Who brought it?" asked the Queen, and when she heard that it wasHumfrey himself who was at the door, she bade him be called in.

  "Children," she said, "we were interrupted last night. Let me see yougive your betrothal kiss, and bless you."

  "One word, my mother," said Cicely. "Humfrey will not bear me ill-willif I say that while there can still be any hope that Queen Elizabethwill accept me for her prisoner in your stead, I neither can nor oughtto wed him."

  "Thou mayst safely accept the condition, my son," said Mary.

  "Then if these messengers should come to conduct my mother abroad, andto take me as her hostage, Humfrey will know where to find me."

  "Yea, thou art a good child to the last, my little one," said Mary.

  "You promise, Humfrey?" said Cicely.

  "I do," he said, knowing as well as the Queen how little chance therewas that he would be called on to fulfil it, but feeling that the agonyof the parting was thus in some degree softened to Cicely.

  Mary gave the betrothal ring to Humfrey, and she laid her hands ontheir clasped ones. "My daughter and my son," she said, "I leave youmy blessing. If filial love and unshaken truth can bring downblessings from above, they will be yours. Think of your mother intimes to come as one who hath erred, but suffered and repented. Ifyour Church permits you, pray often for her. Remember, when you hearher blamed, that in the glare of courts, she had none to breed her upin godly fear and simple truth like your good mother at Bridgefield,but that she learnt to think what you view in the light of deadly sinas the mere lawful instruments of government, above all for the weaker.Condemn her not utterly, but pray, pray with all your hearts that herGod and Saviour will accept her penitence, and unite her sufferingswith those of her Lord, since He has done her the grace of letting herdie in part for His Church. Now," she added, kissing each brow, andthen holding her daughter in her embrace, "take her away, Humfrey, andlet me turn my soul from all earthly loves and cares!"

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