Hunting Down The Deer





Humfrey had been sworn in of the service of the Queen, and had been put

in charge of the guard mustered at Chartley for about ten days, during

which he seldom saw Cicely, and wondered much not to have heard from

home: when a stag-hunt was arranged to take place at the neighbouring

park of Tickhill or Tixall, belonging to Sir Walter Ashton.



The chase always invigorated Queen Mary, and she came down in cheerful

spirits, with Cicely and Mary Seaton as her attendants, and with the

two secretaries, Nau and Curll, heading the other attendants.



"Now," she said to Cicely, "shall I see this swain, or this brother of

thine, who hath done us such good service, and I promise you there will

be more in my greeting than will meet Sir Amias's ear."



But to Cicely's disappointment Humfrey was not among the horsemen

mustered at the door to attend and guard the Queen.



"My little maid's eye is seeking for her brother," said Mary, as Sir

Amias advanced to assist her to her horse.



"He hath another charge which will keep him at home," replied Paulett,

somewhat gruffly, and they rode on.



It was a beautiful day in early August, the trees in full foliage, the

fields seen here and there through them assuming their amber harvest

tints, the twin spires of Lichfield rising in the distance, the park

and forest ground through which the little hunting-party rode rich with

purple heather, illuminated here and there with a bright yellow spike

or star, and the rapid motion of her brisk palfrey animated the Queen.

She began to hope that Humfrey had after all brought a false alarm, and

that either he had been mistaken or that Langston was deceiving the

Council itself, and though Sir Amias Paulett's close proximity held her

silent, those who knew her best saw that her indomitably buoyant

spirits were rising, and she hummed to herself the refrain of a gay

French hunting-song, with the more zest perhaps that her warder held

himself trebly upright, stiff and solemn under it, as one who thought

such lively times equally unbefitting a lady, a queen, and a captive.

So at least Cis imagined as she watched them, little guessing that

there might be deeper reasons of compassion and something like

compunction to add to the gravity of the old knight's face.



As they came in sight of the gate of Tickhill Park, they became aware

of a company whose steel caps and shouldered arquebuses did not look

like those of huntsmen. Mary bounded in her saddle, she looked round

at her little suite with a glance of exultation in her eye, which said

as plainly as words, "My brave friends, the hour has come!" and she

quickened her steed, expecting, no doubt, that she might have to

outride Sir Amias in order to join them.



One gentleman came forward from the rest. He held a parchment in his

hand, and as soon as he was alongside of the Queen thus read:--



"Mary, late Queen of Scots and Queen Dowager of France, I, Thomas

Gorges, attaint thee of high treason and of compassing the life of our

most Gracious Majesty Queen Elizabeth, in company with Antony

Babington, John Ballard, Chidiock Tichborne, Robert Barnwell, and

others."



Mary held up her hands, and raised her eyes to Heaven, and a protest

was on her lips, but Gorges cut it short with, "It skills not denying

it, madam. The proofs are in our hands. I have orders to conduct you

to Tickhill, while seals are put on your effects."



"That there may be proofs of your own making," said the Queen, with

dignity. "I have experience of that mode of judgment. So, Sir Amias

Paulett, the chase you lured me to was truly of a poor hunted doe whom

you think you have run down at last. A worthy chase indeed, and of

long continuance!"



"I do but obey my orders, madam," said Paulett, gloomily.



"Oh ay, and so does the sleuth-hound," said Mary.



"Your Grace must be pleased to ride on with me," said Mr. Gorges,

laying his hand on her bridle.



"What are you doing with those gentlemen?" cried Mary, sharply reining

in her horse, as she saw Nau and Curll surrounded by the armed men.



"They will be dealt with after her Majesty's pleasure," returned

Paulett.



Mary dropped her rein and threw up her hands with a gesture of despair,

but as Gorges was leading her away, she turned on her saddle, and

raised her voice to call out, "Farewell, my true and faithful servants!

Betide what may, your mistress will remember you in her prayers.

Curll, we will take care of your wife."



And she waved her hand to them as they were made, with a strong guard,

to ride off in the direction of Lichfield. All the way to Tickhill,

whither she was conducted with Gorges and Paulett on either side of her

horse, Cis could hear her pleading for consideration for poor Barbara

Curll, for whose sake she forgot her own dignity and became a suppliant.



Sir Walter Ashton, a dull heavy-looking country gentleman of burly form

and ruddy countenance, stood at his door, and somewhat clownishly

offered his services to hand her from her horse.



She submitted passively till she had reached the upper chamber which

had been prepared for her, and there, turning on the three gentlemen,

demanded the meaning of this treatment.



"You will soon know, madam," said Paulett. "I am sorry that thus it

should be."



"Thus!" repeated Mary, scornfully. "What means this?"



"It means, madam," said Gorges, a ruder man of less feeling even than

Paulett, "that your practices with recusants and seminary priests have

been detected. The traitors are in the Counter, and will shortly be

brought to judgment for the evil purposes which have been frustrated by

the mercy of Heaven."



"It is well if treason against my good sister's person have been

detected and frustrated," said Mary; "but how doth that concern me?"



"That, madam, the papers at Chartley will show," returned Gorges.

"Meantime you will remain here, till her Majesty's pleasure be known."



"Where, then, are my women and my servants?" inquired the Queen.



"Your Grace will be attended by the servants of Sir Walter Ashton."



"Gentlemen, this is not seemly," said Mary, the colour coming hotly

into her face. "I know it is not the will of my cousin, the Queen of

England, that I should remain here without any woman to attend me, nor

any change of garments. You are exceeding your commission, and she

shall hear of it."



Sir Amias Paulett here laid his hand on Gorges' arm, and after

exchanging a few words with him, said--



"Madam, this young lady, Mistress Talbot, being simple, and of a loyal

house, may remain with you for the present. For the rest, seals are

put on all your effects at Chartley, and nothing can be removed from

thence, but what is needful will be supplied by my Lady Ashton. I bid

your Grace farewell, craving your pardon for what may have been hasty

in this."



Mary stood in the centre of the floor, full of her own peculiar injured

dignity, not answering, but making a low ironical reverence. Mary

Seaton fell on her knees, clung to the Queen's dress, and declared that

while she lived, she would not leave her mistress.



"Endure this also, ma mie," said the Queen, in French. "Give them no

excuse for using violence. They would not scruple--" and as a

demonstration to hinder French-speaking was made by the gentlemen,

"Fear not for me, I shall not be alone."



"I understand your Grace and obey," said Mary Seaton, rising, with a

certain bitterness in her tone, which made Mary say-- "Ah! why must

jealousy mar the fondest affection? Remember, it is their choice, not

mine, my Seaton, friend of my youth. Bear my loving greetings to all.

And take care of poor Barbara!"



"Madam, there must be no private messages," said Paulett.



"I send no messages save what you yourself may hear, sir," replied the

Queen. "My greetings to my faithful servants, and my entreaty that all

care and tenderness may be shown to Mrs. Curll."



"I will bear them, madam," said the knight, "and so I commend you to

God's keeping, praying that He may send you repentance. Believe me,

madam, I am sorry that this has been put upon me."



To this Mary only replied by a gesture of dismissal. The three

gentlemen drew back, a key grated in the lock, and the mother and

daughter were left alone.



To Cicely it was a terrible hopeless sound, and even to her mother it

was a lower depth of wretchedness. She had been practically a captive

for nearly twenty years. She had been insulted, watched, guarded,

coerced, but never in this manner locked up before.



She clasped her hands together, dropped on her knees at the table that

stood by her, and hid her face. So she continued till she was roused

by the sound of Cicely's sobs. Frightened and oppressed, and new to

all terror and sorrow, the girl had followed her example in kneeling,

but the very attempt to pray brought on a fit of weeping, and the

endeavour to restrain what might disturb the Queen only rendered the

sobs more choking and strangling, till at last Mary heard, and coming

towards her, sat down on the floor, gathered her into her arms, and

kissing her forehead, said, "Poor bairnie, and did she weep for her

mother? Have the sorrows of her house come on her?"



"O mother, I could not help it! I meant to have comforted you," said

Cicely, between her sobs.



"And so thou dost, my child. Unwittingly they have left me that which

was most precious to me."



There was consolation in the fondness of the loving embrace, at least

to such sorrows as those of the maiden; and Queen Mary had an

inalienable power of charming the will and affections of those in

contact with her, so that insensibly there came into Cicely's heart a

sense that, so far from weeping, she should rejoice at being the one

creature left to console her mother.



"And," she said by and by, looking up with a smile, "they must go to

the bottom of the old well to find anything."



"Hush, lassie. Never speak above thy breath in a prison till thou

know'st whether walls have ears. And, apropos, let us examine what

sort of a prison they have given us this time."



So saying Mary rose, and leaning on her daughter's arm, proceeded to

explore her new abode. Like her apartment at the Lodge, it was at the

top of the house, a fashion not uncommon when it was desirable to make

the lower regions defensible; but, whereas she had always hitherto been

placed in the castles of the highest nobility, she was now in that of a

country knight of no great wealth or refinement, and, moreover, taken

by surprise.



So the plenishing was of the simplest. The walls were covered with

tapestry so faded that the pattern could hardly be detected. The

hearth yawned dark and dull, and by it stood one chair with a

moth-eaten cushion. A heavy oaken table and two forms were in the

middle of the room, and there was the dreary, fusty smell of want of

habitation. The Queen, whose instincts for fresh air were always a

distress to her ladies, sprang to the mullioned window, but the heavy

lattice defied all her efforts.



"Let us see the rest of our dominions," she said, turning to a door,

which led to a still more gloomy bedroom, where the only articles of

furniture were a great carved bed, with curtains of some undefined dark

colour, and an oaken chest. The window was a mere slit, and even more

impracticable than that of the outer room. However, this did not seem

to horrify Mary so much as it did her daughter. "They cannot mean to

keep us here long," she said; "perhaps only for the day, while they

make their search--their unsuccessful search--thanks to--we know whom,

little one."



"I hope so! How could we sleep there?" said Cicely, looking with a

shudder at the bed.



"Tush! I have seen worse in Scotland, mignonne, ay and when I was

welcomed as liege lady, not as a captive. I have slept in a box like a

coffin with one side open, and I have likewise slept on a plaidie on

the braw purple blossoms of freshly pulled heather! Nay, the very

thought makes this chamber doubly mouldy and stifling! Let the old

knight beware. If he open not his window I shall break it! Soft. Here

he comes."



Sir Walter Ashton appeared, louting low, looking half-dogged,

half-sheepish, and escorting two heavy-footed, blue-coated serving-men,

who proceeded to lay the cloth, which at least had the merit of being

perfectly clean and white. Two more brought in covered silver dishes,

one of which contained a Yorkshire pudding, the other a piece of

roast-beef, apparently calculated to satisfy five hungry men. A flagon

of sack, a tankard of ale, a dish of apples, and a large loaf of bread,

completed the meal; at which the Queen and Cicely, accustomed daily to

a first table of sixteen dishes and a second of nine, compounded by her

Grace's own French cooks and pantlers, looked with a certain amused

dismay, as Sir Walter, standing by the table, produced a dagger from a

sheath at his belt, and took up with it first a mouthful of the

pudding, then cut off a corner of the beef, finished off some of the

bread, and having swallowed these, as well as a draught of each of the

liquors, said, "Good and sound meats, not tampered with, as I hereby

testify. You take us suddenly, madam; but I thank Heaven, none ever

found us unprovided. Will it please you to fall to? Your woman can

eat after you."



Mary's courtesy was unfailing, and though she felt all a Frenchwoman's

disgust at the roast-beef of old England, she said, "We are too close

companions not to eat together, and I fear she will be the best

trencher comrade, for, sir, I am a woman sick and sorrowful, and have

little stomach for meat."



As Sir Walter carved a huge red piece from the ribs, she could not help

shrinking back from it, so that he said with some affront, "You need

not be queasy, madam, it was cut from a home-fed bullock, only killed

three days since, and as prime a beast as any in Stafford."



"Ah! yea, sir. It is not the fault of the beef, but of my feebleness.

Mistress Talbot will do it reason. But I, methinks I could eat better

were the windows opened."



But Sir Walter replied that these windows were not of the new-fangled

sort, made to open, that honest men might get rheums, and foolish maids

prate therefrom. So there was no hope in that direction. He really

seemed to be less ungracious than utterly clownish, dull, and untaught,

and extremely shy and embarrassed with his prisoner.



Cicely poured out some wine, and persuaded her to dip some bread in,

which, with an apple, was all she could taste. However, the fare,

though less nicely served than by good Mrs. Susan, was not so alien to

Cicely, and she was of an age and constitution to be made hungry by

anxiety and trouble, so that--encouraged by the Queen whenever she

would have desisted--she ended by demolishing a reasonable amount.



Sir Walter stood all the time, looking on moodily and stolidly, with

his cap in his hand. The Queen tried to talk to him, and make

inquiries of him, but he had probably steeled himself to her

blandishments, for nothing but gruff monosyllables could be extracted

from him, except when he finally asked what she would be pleased to

have for supper.



"Mine own cook and pantler have hitherto provided for me. They would

save your household the charge, sir," said Mary, "and I would be at

charges for them."



"Madam, I can bear the charge in the Queen's service. Your black guard

are under ward. And if not, no French jackanapes shall ever brew his

messes in my kitchen! Command honest English fare, madam, and if it

be within my compass, you shall have it. No one shall be stinted in

Walter Ashton's house; but I'll not away with any of your outlandish

kickshaws. Come, what say you to eggs and bacon, madam?"



"As you will, sir," replied Mary, listlessly. And Sir Walter, opening

the door, shouted to his serving-man, who speedily removed the meal, he

going last and making his clumsy reverence at the door, which he locked

behind him.



"So," said Mary, "I descend! I have had the statesman, the earl, the

courtly knight, the pedantic Huguenot, for my warders. Now am I come

to the clown. Soon will it be the dungeon and the headsman."



"O dear madam mother, speak not thus," cried Cicely. "Remember they

can find nothing against you."



"They can make what they cannot find, my poor child. If they thirst

for my blood, it will cost them little to forge a plea. Ah, lassie!

there have been times when nothing but my cousin Elizabeth's

conscience, or her pity, stood between me and doom. If she be brought

to think that I have compassed her death, why then there is naught for

it but to lay my head on the same pillow as Norfolk and More and holy

Fisher, and many another beside. Well, be it so! I shall die a martyr

for the Holy Church, and thus may I atone by God's mercy for my many

sins! Yea, I offer myself a sacrifice," she said, folding her hands

and looking upward with a light on her face. "O do Thou accept it, and

let my sufferings purge away my many misdeeds, and render it a pure and

acceptable offering unto Thee. Child, child," she added, turning to

Cicely, "would that thou wert of my faith, then couldst thou pray for

me."



"O mother, mother, I can do that. I do pray for thee."



And hand in hand with tears often rising, they knelt while Mary

repeated in broken voice the Miserere.





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