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.





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