A Venture





"Mother, dear mother, do but listen to me."



"I must listen, child, when thou callest me so from your heart; but it

is of no use, my poor little one. They have referred the matter to the

Star Chamber, that they may settle it there with closed doors and no

forms of law. Thou couldst do nothing! And could I trust thee to go

wandering to London, like a maiden in a ballad, all alone?"



"Nay, madam, I should not go alone. My father, I mean Mr. Talbot,

would take me."



"Come, bairnie, that is presuming overmuch on the good man's kindness."



"I do not speak without warrant, madam. I told him what I longed to

do, and he said it might be my duty, and if it were so, he would not

gainsay me; but that he could not let me go alone, and would go with

me. And he can get access for me to the Queen. He has seen her

himself, and so has Humfrey; and Diccon is a gentleman pensioner."



"There have been ventures enough for me already," said Mary. "I will

bring no more faithful heads into peril."



"Then will you not consent, mother? He will quit the castle to-morrow,

and I am to see him in the morning and give him an answer. If you would

let me go, he would crave license to take me home, saying that I look

paler than my wont."



"And so thou dost, child. If I could be sure of ever seeing thee

again, I should have proposed thy going home to good Mistress Susan's

tendance for a little space. But it is not to be thought of. I could

not risk thee, or any honest loving heart, on so desperate a stake as

mine! I love thee, mine ain, true, leal lassie, all the more, and I

honour him; but it may not be! Ask me no more."



Mary was here interrupted by a request from Sir Christopher Hatton for

one of the many harassing interviews that beset her during the days

following the trial, when judgment was withheld, according to the

express command of the vacillating Elizabeth, and the case remitted to

the Star Chamber. Lord Burghley considered this hesitation to be the

effect of judicial blindness--so utterly had hatred and fear of the

future shut his eyes to all sense of justice and fair play.



Cicely felt all youth's disappointment in the rejection of its grand

schemes. But to her surprise at night Mary addressed her again, "My

daughter, did that true-hearted foster-father of thine speak in sooth?"



"He never doth otherwise," returned Cicely.



"For," said her mother, "I have thought of a way of gaining thee access

to the Queen, far less perilous to him, and less likely to fail. I

will give thee letters to M. De Chateauneuf, the French Ambassador,

whom I have known in old times, with full credentials. It might be well

to have with thee those that I left with Mistress Talbot. Then he will

gain thee admittance, and work for thee as one sent from France, and

protected by the rights of the Embassy. Thus, Master Richard need

never appear in the matter at all, and at any rate thou wouldst be

secure. Chateauneuf would find means of sending thee abroad if

needful."



"Oh! I would return to you, madam my mother, or wait for you in London."



"That must be as the wills above decree," said Mary sadly. "It is

folly in me, but I cannot help grasping at the one hope held out to me.

There is that within me that will hope and strive to the end, though I

am using my one precious jewel to weight the line I am casting across

the gulf. At least they cannot do thee great harm, my good child."



The Queen sat up half the night writing letters, one to Elizabeth, one

to Chateauneuf, and another to the Duchess of Lorraine, which Cis was

to deliver in case of her being sent over to the Continent. But the

Queen committed the conduct of the whole affair to M. De Chateauneuf,

since she could completely trust his discretion and regard for her;

and, moreover, it was possible that the face of affairs might undergo

some great alteration before Cicely could reach London. Mr. Talbot

must necessarily go home first, being bound to do so by his commission

to the Earl. "And, hark thee," said the Queen, "what becomes of the

young gallant?"



"I have not heard, madam," said Cicely, not liking the tone.



"If my desires still have any effect," said Mary, "he will stay here. I

will not have my damosel errant squired by a youth under

five-and-twenty."



"I promised you, madam, and he wots it," said Cicely, with spirit.



"He wots it, doth he?" said the Queen, in rather a provoking voice.

"No, no, mignonne; with all respect to their honour and discretion, we

do not put flint and steel together, when we do not wish to kindle a

fire. Nay, little one, I meant not to vex thee, when thou art doing

one of the noblest deeds daughter ever did for mother, and for a mother

who sent thee away from her, and whom thou hast scarce known for more

than two years!"



Cicely was sure to see her foster-father after morning prayers on the

way from the chapel across the inner court. Here she was able to tell

him of the Queen's consent, over which he looked grave, having secretly

persuaded himself that Mary would think the venture too great, and not

hopeful enough to be made. He could not, however, wonder that the

unfortunate lady should catch at the least hope of preserving her life;

and she had dragged too many down in the whirlpool to leave room for

wonder that she should consent to peril her own daughter therein.

Moreover, he would have the present pleasure of taking her home with

him to his Susan, and who could say what would happen in the meantime?



"Thou hast counted the cost?" he said.



"Yea, sir," Cis answered, as the young always do; adding, "the Queen

saith that if we commit all to the French Ambassador, M. De

Chateauneuf, who is her very good friend, he will save you from any

peril."



"Hm! I had rather be beholden to no Frenchman," muttered Richard, "but

we will see, we will see. I must now to Paulett to obtain consent to

take thee with me. Thou art pale and changed enough indeed to need a

blast of Hallamshire air, my poor maid."



So Master Richard betook him to the knight, a man of many charges, and

made known that finding his daughter somewhat puling and sickly, he

wished having, as she told him, the consent of the Queen of Scots, to

take her home with him for a time.



"You do well, Mr. Talbot," said Sir Amias. "In sooth, I have only

marvelled that a pious and godly man like you should have consented to

let her abide so long, at her tender age, among these papistical,

idolatrous, and bloodthirsty women."



"I think not that she hath taken harm," said Richard.



"I have done my poor best; I have removed the priest of Baal," said the

knight; "I have caused godly ministers constantly to preach sound

doctrine in the ears of all who would hearken; and I have uplifted my

testimony whensoever it was possible. But it is not well to expose the

young to touching the accursed thing, and this lady hath shown herself

greatly affected to your daughter, so that she might easily be seduced

from the truth. Yet, sir, bethink you is it well to remove the maiden

from witnessing that which will be a warning for ever of the judgment

that falleth on conspiracy and idolatry?"



"You deem the matter so certain?" said Richard.



"Beyond a doubt, sir. This lady will never leave these walls alive.

There can be no peace for England nor safety for our blessed and

gracious Queen while she lives. Her guilt is certain; and as Mr.

Secretary said to me last night, he and the Lord Treasurer are

determined that for no legal quibbles, nor scruples of mercy from our

ever-pitiful Queen, shall she now escape. Her Majesty, however her

womanish heart may doubt now, will rejoice when the deed is done.

Methinks I showed you the letter she did me the honour to write,

thanking me for the part I took in conveying the lady suddenly to

Tixall."



Richard had already read that letter three times, so he avowed his

knowledge of it.



"You will not remove your son likewise?" added Sir Amias. "He hath an

acquaintance with this lady's people, which is useful in one so

thoroughly to be trusted; and moreover, he will not be tampered with.

For, sir, I am never without dread of some attempt being made to deal

with this lady privily, in which case I should be the one to bear all

the blame. Wherefore I have made request to have another honourable

gentleman joined with me in this painful wardship."



Richard had no desire to remove his son. He shared Queen Mary's

feelings on the inexpediency of Humfrey forming part of the escort of

the young lady, and thought it was better for both to see as little of

one another as possible.



Sir Amias accordingly, on his morning visit of inspection, intimated to

the Queen that Mr. Talbot wished his daughter to return home with him

for the recovery of her health. He spoke as if the whole suite were at

his own disposal, and Mary resented it in her dignified manner.



"The young lady hath already requested license from us," she said, "and

we have granted it. She will return when her health is fully restored."



Sir Amias had forbearance enough not to hint that unless the return

were speedy, she would scarcely find the Queen there, and the matter

was settled. Master Richard would not depart until after dinner, when

other gentlemen were going, and this would enable Cicely to make up her

mails, and there would still be time to ride a stage before dark. Her

own horse was in the stables, and her goods would be bestowed in cloak

bags on the saddles of the grooms who had accompanied Mr. Talbot; for,

small as was the estate of Bridgefield, for safety's sake he could not

have gone on so long an expedition without a sufficient guard.



The intervening time was spent by the Queen in instructing her daughter

how to act in various contingencies. If it were possible to the French

Ambassador to present her as freshly come from the Soissons convent,

where she was to have been reared, it would save Mr. Talbot from all

risk; but the Queen doubted whether she could support the character, so

English was her air, though there were Scottish and English nuns at

Soissons, and still more at Louvaine and Douay, who might have

brought her up.



"I cannot feign, madam," said Cicely, alarmed. "Oh, I hope I need only

speak truth!" and her tone sounded much more like a confession of

incapacity than a moral objection, and so it was received: "Poor child,

I know thou canst not act a part, and thy return to the honest mastiffs

will not further thee in it; but I have bidden Chateauneuf to do what

he can for thee--and after all the eyes will not be very critical."



If there still was time, Cicely was to endeavour first of all to obtain

of Elizabeth that Mary might be brought to London to see her, and be

judged before Parliament with full means of defence. If this were no

longer possible, Cicely might attempt to expose Walsingham's

contrivance; but this would probably be too dangerous. Chateauneuf

must judge. Or, as another alternative, Queen Mary gave Cicely the

ring already shown at the trial, and with that as her pledge, a solemn

offer was to be made on her behalf to retire into a convent in Austria,

or in one of the Roman Catholic cantons of Switzerland, out of the

reach of Spain and France, and there take the veil, resigning all her

rights to her son. All her money had been taken away, but she told

Cicely she had given orders to Chateauneuf to supply from her French

dowry all that might be needed for the expenses that must be incurred.



Now that the matter was becoming so real, Cicely's heart quailed a

little. Castles in the air that look heroic at the first glance would

not so remain did not they show themselves terrible at a nearer

approach, and the maiden wondered, whether Queen Elizabeth would be

much more formidable than my Lady Countess in a rage!



And what would become of herself? Would she be detained in the bondage

in which the poor sisters of the Grey blood had been kept? Or would her

mother carry her off to these strange lands?.... It was all strange,

and the very boldness of her offer, since it had been thus accepted,

made her feel helpless and passive in the grasp of the powers that her

simple wish had set moving.



The letters were sewn up in the most ingenious manner in her dress by

Mary Seaton, in case any search should be made; but the only woman Sir

Amias would be able to employ in such a matter was purblind and

helpless, and they trusted much to his implicit faith in the Talbots.



There was only just time to complete her preparations before she was

summoned; and with an almost convulsive embrace from her mother, and

whispered benedictions from Jean Kennedy, she left the dreary walls of

Fotheringhay.



Humfrey rode with them through the Chase. Both he and Cicely were very

silent. When the time came for parting, Cicely said, as she laid her

hand in his, "Dear brother, for my sake do all thou canst for her with

honour."



"That will I," said Humfrey. "Would that I were going with thee,

Cicely!"



"So would not I," she returned; "for then there would be one true heart

the less to watch over her."



"Come, daughter!" said Richard, who had engaged one of the gentlemen in

conversation so as to leave them to themselves. "We must be jogging.

Fare thee well, my son, till such time as thy duties permit thee to

follow us."





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