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The Queen

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The Ride








It was a wondrous morning. The dew still lay on the grass of the
meadows, over which they had just ridden to reach the thicket of the
forest, in whose trees resounded the melodious voices of blithe birds.
Then they rode along the banks of a babbling forest stream, and spied
the deer that came forth into the glade on the other side, as if they
wanted, like the queen and her train, to listen to the song of the birds
and the murmuring of the fountains. Catharine felt a nameless, blissful
pleasure swell her bosom. She was to-day no more the queen, surrounded
by perils and foes; no more the wife of an unloved, tyrannical husband;
not the queen trammelled with the shackles of etiquette. She was a free,
happy woman, who, in presageful, blissful trepidation, smiled at
the future, and said to each minute, "Stay, stay, for thou art so
beautiful!"

It was a sweet, dreamy happiness, the happiness of that hour. With
glad heart, Catharine would have given her crown for it, could she have
prolonged this hour to an eternity.

He was at her side--he of whom John Heywood had said, that he was among
her most trustful and trusty friends. He was there; and even if she did
not dare to look at him often, often to speak to him, yet she felt his
presence, she perceived the glowing beams of his eyes, which rested on
her with consuming fire. Nobody could observe them. For the court rode
behind them, and before them and around them was naught but Nature
breathing and smiling with joy, naught but heaven and God.

She had forgotten however that she was not quite alone, and that
while Thomas Seymour rode on her left, on her right was Princess
Elizabeth--that young girl of fourteen years--that child, who, however,
under the fire of suffering and the storms of adversity, was early
forced to precocious bloom, and whose heart, by the tears and experience
of her unhappy childhood, had acquired an early ripeness. Elizabeth,
a child in years, had already all the strength and warmth of a woman's
feelings. Elizabeth, the disowned and disinherited princess, had
inherited her father's pride and ambition; and when she looked on the
queen, and perceived that little crown wrought on her velvet cap in
diamond embroidery, she felt in her bosom a sharp pang, and remembered,
with feelings of bitter grief, that this crown was destined never
to adorn her head, since the king, by solemn act of Parliament, had
excluded her from the succession to the throne. [Footnote: Tytler,
p. 340] But for a few weeks this pain had been more gentle, and less
burning. Another feeling had silenced it. Elizabeth who was never to be
queen or sovereign--Elizabeth might be a wife at least. Since she
was denied a crown, they should at least allow her instead a wife's
happiness; they should not grudge her the privilege of twining in her
hair a crown of myrtle.

She had been early taught to ever have a clear consciousness of all her
feelings; nor had she now shrunk from reading the depths of her heart
with steady and sure eye.

She knew that she loved, and that Thomas Seymour was the man whom she
loved.

But the earl? Did he love her in return? Did he understand the child's
heart? Had he, beneath the childish face, already recognized the
passionate, proud woman? Had he guessed the secrets of this soul, at
once so maidenly and chaste, and yet so passionate and energetic?

Thomas Seymour never betrayed a secret, and what he had, it may be, read
in the eyes of the princess, and what he had, perhaps, spoken to her in
the quiet shady walks of Hampton Court, or in the long, dark corridors
of Whitehall, was known to no one save those two. For Elizabeth had a
strong, masculine soul; she needed no confidant to share her secrets;
and Thomas Seymour had feared even, like the immortal hair-dresser of
King Midas, to dig a hole and utter his secret therein; for he knew very
well that, if the reed grew up and repeated his words, he might, for
these words, lay his head on the block.

Poor Elizabeth! She did not even suspect the earl's secret and her own
were not, however, the same; she did not suspect that Thomas Seymour,
if he guessed her secret, might, perhaps, avail himself of it to make
thereof a brilliant foil for his own secret.

He had, like her, ever before his eyes the diamond crown on the head of
the young queen, and he had noticed well how old and feeble the king had
become of late.

As he now rode by the side of the two princesses, he felt his heart
swell with a proud joy, and bold and ambitious schemes alone occupied
his soul.

The two women understood nothing of this. They were both too much
occupied with their own thoughts; and while Catharine's eyes swept with
beaming look the landscape far and wide, the brow of the princess was
slightly clouded, and her sharp eye rested with a fixed and watchful
gaze on Thomas Seymour.

She had noticed the impassioned look which he had now and then fastened
on the queen. The slight, scarcely perceptible tremor of his voice, when
he spoke, had not escaped her.

Princess Elizabeth was jealous; she felt the first torturing motions of
that horrible disease which she had inherited from her father, and in
the feverish paroxysms of which the king had sent two of his wives to
the scaffold.

She was jealous, but not of the queen; much more, she dreamed not that
the queen might share and return Seymour's love. It never came into
her mind to accuse the queen of an understanding with the earl. She
was jealous only of the looks which he directed toward the queen; and
because she was watching those looks, she could not at the same time
read the eyes of her young stepmother also; she could not see the gentle
flames which, kindled by the fire of his looks, glowed in hers.

Thomas Seymour had seen them, and had he now been alone with Catharine,
he would have thrown himself at her feet and confided to her all the
deep and dangerous secrets that he had so long harbored in his breast;
he would have left to her the choice of bringing him to the block, or of
accepting the love which he consecrated to her.

But there, behind them, were the spying, all-observing, all-surmising
courtiers; there was the Princess Elizabeth, who, had he ventured to
speak to the queen, would have conjectured from his manner the words
which she could not understand; for love sees so clearly, and jealousy
has such keen ears!

Catharine suspected nothing of the thoughts of her companions. She alone
was happy; she alone gave herself up with full soul to the enjoyment of
the moment. She drew in with intense delight the pure air; she drank in
the odor of the meadow blossoms; she listened with thirsty ear to the
murmuring song which the wind wafted to her from the boughs of the
trees. Her wishes extended not beyond the hour; she rested in the full
enjoyment of the presence of her beloved. He was there--what needed she
more to make her happy?

Her wishes extended not beyond this hour. She was only conscious how
delightful it was thus to be at her beloved's side, to breathe the same
air, to see the same sun, the same flowers on which his eyes rested, and
on which their glances at least might meet in kisses which were denied
to their lips.

But as they thus rode along, silent and meditative, each occupied with
his own thoughts, there came the assistance for which Thomas Seymour had
prayed, fluttering along in the shape of a fly.

At first this fly sported and buzzed about the nose of the fiery,
proud beast which the queen rode; and as no one noticed it, it was
not disturbed by Hector's tossing of his mane, but crept securely and
quietly to the top of the noble courser's head, pausing a little here
and there, and sinking his sting into the horse's flesh, so that he
reared and began loudly to neigh.

But Catharine was a bold and dexterous rider, and the proud spirit of
her horse only afforded her delight, and gave the master of horse an
opportunity to praise her skill and coolness.

Catharine received with a sweet smile the encomiums of her beloved.
But the fly kept creeping on, and, impelled by a diabolic delight, now
penetrated the horse's ear. The poor, tormented animal made a spring
forward. This spring, instead of freeing him from his enemy, made him
penetrate the ear still farther, and sink his sting still deeper into
the soft fleshy part of the same.

Stung by the maddening pain, the horse cast off all control, and,
heedless of bridle and scorning the bit, dashed forward in a furious
run--forward over the meadow swift as an arrow, resistless as the
lightning.

"On, on, to the queen's rescue!" thundered the master of horse, and with
mad haste, away flew he also over the meadow.

"To the help of the queen!" repeated Princess Elizabeth, and she
likewise spurred her horse and hurried forward, accompanied by the whole
suite.

But what is the speed of a horse ever so swift, but yet in his senses,
compared with the raving madness of a crazy courser, that, despising all
subjection, and mocking at the bridle, dashes ahead, foaming with the
sense of freedom and unrestraint, uncontrollable as the surge lashed by
the storm!

Already far behind them lay the meadows, far behind them the avenues
leading through the woods, and over brooks and ditches, over meadows and
wastes, Hector was dashing on.

The queen still sat firmly in the saddle; her cheeks were colorless; her
lips trembled; but her eye was still bright and clear. She had not yet
lost her presence of mind; she was perfectly conscious of her danger.
The din of screaming, screeching voices, which she heard at first, had
long since died away in silence behind her. An immense solitude, the
deep silence of the grave, was around her.

Naught was heard save the panting and snorting of the horse; naught but
the crash and clatter of his hoofs. Suddenly, however, this sound
seemed to find an echo. It was repeated over yonder. There was the same
snorting and panting; there was the same resounding trampling of hoofs.
And now, oh, now, struck on Catharine's car the sound of a voice only
too well loved, and made her scream aloud with delight and desire.

But this cry frightened anew the enraged animal. For a moment, exhausted
and panting, he had slackened in his mad race; now he sprang forward
with renewed energy; now he flew on as if impelled by the wings of the
wind. But ever nearer and nearer sounded the loved voice ever nearer the
tramp of his horse.

They were now upon a large plain, shut in on all sides by woods. While
the queen's horse circled the plain in a wide circuit, Seymour's,
obedient to the rein, sped directly across it, and was close behind the
queen.

"Only a moment more! Only hold your arms firmly around the animal's
neck, that the shock may not hurl you off, when I lay hold of the rein!"
shouted Seymour, and he set his spurs into his horse's flanks, so that
he sprang forward with a wild cry.

This cry roused Hector to new fury. Panting for breath, he shot forward
with fearful leaps, now straight into the thicket of the woods.

"I hear his voice no more," murmured Catharine. And at length overcome
with anxiety and the dizzy race, and worn out with her exertions, she
closed her eyes; her senses appeared to be about leaving her.

But at this moment, a firm hand seized with iron grasp the rein of her
horse, so that he bowed his head, shaking, trembling, and almost ashame,
as the horse had found his lord and master.

"Saved! I am saved!" faltered Catharine, and breathless, scarcely in her
senses, she leaned her head on Seymour's shoulder.

He lifted her gently from the saddle, and placed her on the soft
moss beneath an ancient oak. Then he tied the horses to a bough, and
Catharine, trembling and faint, sank on her knees to rest after such
violent exertion.





Next: The Declaration

Previous: The King's Fool



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