My Lady's Remorse





"And have you brought her back again! O my lass! my lass!" cried

Mistress Susan, surprised and delighted out of her usual staid

composure, as, going out to greet her husband, an unexpected figure was

seen by his side, and Cicely sprang into her arms as if they were truly

a haven of rest.



Susan looked over her head, even in the midst of the embrace, with the

eyes of one hungering for her first-born son, but her husband shook his

head. "No, mother, we have not brought thee the boy. Thou must

content thyself with her thou hast here for a little space."



"I hope it bodes not ill," said Susan.



"It bodes," said Richard, "that I have brought thee back a good

daughter with a pair of pale cheeks, which must be speedily coloured

anew in our northern breezes."



"Ah, how sweet to be here at home," cried Cicely, turning round in

rapturous greeting to all the serving men and women, and all the dogs.

"We want only the boys! Where is Ned?"



Their arrival having been unannounced, Ned was with Master Sniggius,

whose foremost scholar he now was, and who kept him much later than the

other lads to prepare him for Cambridge; but it was the return to this

tender foster-mother that seemed such extreme bliss to Cicely. All was

most unlike her reluctant return two years previously, when nothing but

her inbred courtesy and natural sweetness of disposition had prevented

her from being contemptuous of the country home. Now every stone,

every leaf, seemed precious to her, and she showed herself, even as she

ascended the steps to the hall, determined not to be the guest but the

daughter. There was a little movement on the parents' part, as if they

bore in mind that she came as a princess; but she flew to draw up

Master Richard's chair, and put his wife's beside it, nor would she

sit, till they had prayed her to do so; and it was all done with such a

graceful bearing, the noble carriage of her head had become so much

more remarkable, and a sweet readiness and responsiveness of manner had

so grown upon her, that Susan looked at her in wondering admiration, as

something more her own and yet less her own than ever, tracing in her

for the first time some of the charms of the Queen of Scots.



All the household hovered about in delight, and confidences could not

be exchanged just then: the travellers had to eat and drink, and they

were only just beginning to do so when Ned came home. He was of

slighter make than his brothers, and had a more scholarly aspect: but

his voice made itself heard before him. "Is it true? Is it true that

my father is come? And our Cis too? Ha!" and he rushed in, hardly

giving himself time for the respectful greeting to his father, before

he fell upon Cis with undoubting brotherly delight.



"Is Humfrey come?" he asked as soon as he could take breath. "No? I

thought 'twas too good to be all true."



"How did you hear?"



"Hob the hunter brought up word that the Queen's head was off. What?"

as Cicely gave a start and little scream. "Is it not so?"



"No, indeed, boy," said his father. "What put that folly into his

head?"



"Because he saw, or thought he saw, Humfrey and Cis riding home with

you, sir, and so thought all was over with the Queen of Scots. My

Lady, they say, had one of her shrieking fits, and my Lord sent down to

ask whether I knew aught; and when he found that I did not, would have

me go home at once to bid you come up immediately to the Manor; and

before I had gotten out Dapple, there comes another message to say

that, in as brief space as it will take to saddle them, there will be

beasts here to bring up you and my mother and Cis, to tell my Lady

Countess all that has befallen."



Cis's countenance so changed that kind Susan said, "I will make thine

excuses to my Lady. Thou art weary and ill at ease, and I cannot have

thee set forth at once again."



"The Queen would never have sent such sudden and hasty orders," said

Cicely. "Mother, can you not stay with me?--I have so much to say to

you, and my time is short."



The Talbots were, however, too much accustomed to obedience to the

peremptory commands of their feudal chiefs to venture on such

disobedience. Susan's proposal had been a great piece of audacity, on

which she would hardly have ventured but for her consciousness that the

maiden was no Talbot at all.



Yet to Cis the dear company of her mother Susan, even in the Countess's

society, seemed too precious to be resigned, and she had likewise been

told that Lady Shrewsbury's mind had greatly changed towards Mary, and

that since the irritation of the captive's presence had been removed,

she remembered only the happier and kindlier portion of their past

intercourse. There had been plenty of quarrels with her husband, but

none so desperate as before, and at this present time the Earl and

Countess were united against the surviving sons, who, with Gilbert at

their head, were making large demands on them. Cicely felt grateful to

the Earl for his absence from Fotheringhay, and, though disappointed of

her peaceful home evening, declared she would come up to the Lodge

rather than lose sight of "mother." The stable people, more

considerate than their Lord and Lady, proved to have sent a horse

litter for the conveyance of the ladies called out on the wet dark

October evening, and here it was that Cis could enjoy her first

precious moment of privacy with one for whom she had so long yearned.

Susan rejoiced in the heavy lumbering conveyance as a luxury, sparing

the maiden's fatigue, and she was commencing some inquiries into the

indisposition which had procured this holiday, when Cicely broke in, "O

mother, nothing aileth me. It is not for that cause--but oh! mother, I

am to go to see Queen Elizabeth, and strive with her for her--for my

mother's life and freedom."



"Thou! poor little maid. Doth thy father--what am I saying? Doth my

husband know?"



"Oh yes. He will take me. He saith it is my duty."



"Then it must be well," said Susan in an altered voice on hearing this.

"From whom came the proposal?"



"I made it," said Cicely in a low, feeble voice on the verge of tears.

"Oh, dear mother, thou wilt not tell any one how faint of heart I am?

I did mean it in sooth, but I never guessed how dreadful it would grow

now I am pledged to it."



"Thou art pledged, then, and canst not falter?"



"Never," said Cicely; "I would not that any should know it, not even my

father; but mother, mother, I could not help telling you. You will let

no one guess? I know it is unworthy, but--"



"Not unworthy to fear, my poor child, so long as thou dost not waver."



"It is, it is unworthy of my lineage. My mother queen would say so,"

cried Cis, drawing herself up.



"Giving way would be unworthy," said Susan, "but turn thou to thy God,

my child, and He will give thee strength to carry through whatever is

the duty of a faithful daughter towards this poor lady; and my husband,

thou sayest, holds that so it is?"



"Yea, madam; he craved license to take me home, since I have truly

often been ailing since those dreadful days at Tixall, and he hath

promised to go to London with me."



"And is this to be done in thine own true name?" asked Susan, trembling

somewhat at the risk to her husband, as well as to the maiden.



"I trow that it is," said Cis, "but the matter is to be put into the

hands of M. de Chateauneuf, the French Ambassador. I have a letter

here," laying her hand on her bosom, "which, the Queen declares, will

thoroughly prove to him who I am, and if I go as under his protection,

none can do my father any harm."



Susan hoped so, but she trusted to understand all better from her

husband, though her heart failed her as much as, or even perhaps more

than, did that of poor little Cis. Master Richard had sped on before

their tardy conveyance, and had had time to give the heads of his

intelligence before they reached the Manor house, and when they were

conducted to my Lady's chamber, they saw him, by the light of a large

fire, standing before the Earl and Countess, cap in hand, much as a

groom or gamekeeper would now stand before his master and mistress.



The Earl, however, rose to receive the ladies; but the Countess, no

great observer of ceremony towards other people, whatever she might

exact from them towards herself, cried out, "Come hither, come hither,

Cicely Talbot, and tell me how it fares with the poor lady," and as the

maiden came forward in the dim light-- "Ha! What! Is't she?" she

cried, with a sudden start. "On my faith, what has she done to thee?

Thou art as like her as the foal to the mare."



This exclamation disconcerted the visitors, but luckily for them the

Earl laughed and declared that he could see no resemblance in Mistress

Cicely's dark brows to the arched ones of the Queen of Scots, to which

his wife replied testily, "Who said there was? The maid need not be

uplifted, for there's nothing alike between them, only she hath caught

the trick of her bearing so as to startle me in the dark, my head

running on the poor lady. I could have sworn 'twas she coming in, as

she was when she first came to our care fifteen years agone. Pray

Heaven she may not haunt the place! How fareth she in health, wench?"



"Well, madam, save when the rheumatic pains take her," said Cicely.



"And still of good courage?"



"That, madam, nothing can daunt."



Seats, though only joint stools, were given to the ladies, but Susan

found herself no longer trembling at the effects of the Countess's

insolence upon Cicely, who seemed to accept it all as a matter of

course, and almost of indifference, though replying readily and with a

gentle grace, most unlike her childish petulance.



Many close inquiries from the Earl and Countess were answered by

Richard and the young lady, until they had a tolerably clear idea of

the situation. The Countess wept bitterly, and to Cicely's great

amazement began bemoaning herself that she was not still the poor

lady's keeper. It was a shame to put her where there were no women to

feel for her. Lady Shrewsbury had apparently forgotten that no one had

been so virulent against the Queen as herself.



And when it was impossible to deny that things looked extremely ill,

and that Burghley and Walsingham seemed resolved not to let slip this

opportunity of ridding themselves of the prisoner, my Lady burst out

with, "Ah! there it is! She will die, and my promise is broken, and

she will haunt me to my dying day, all along of that venomous toad and

spiteful viper, Mary Talbot."



A passionate fit of weeping succeeded, mingled with vituperations of

her daughter Mary, far more than of herself, and amid it all, during

Susan's endeavours at soothing, Cicely gathered that the cause of the

Countess's despair was that in the time of her friendship and amity,

she had uttered an assurance that the Queen need not fear death, as she

would contrive means of safety. And on her own ground, in her own

Castle or Lodge, there could be little doubt that she would have been

able to have done so. The Earl, indeed, shook his head, but repented,

for she laughed at him half angrily, half hysterically, for thinking he

could have prevented anything that she was set upon.



And now she said and fully believed that the misunderstanding which had

resulted in the removal of the prisoner had been entirely due to the

slanders and deceits of her own daughter Mary, and her husband Gilbert,

with whom she was at this time on the worst of terms. And thus she

laid on them the blame of the Queen's death (if that was really

decreed), but though she outwardly blamed every creature save herself,

such agony of mind, and even terror, proved that in very truth there

must have been the conviction at the bottom of her heart that it was

her own fault.



The Earl had beckoned away Master Richard, both glad to escape; but

Cicely had to remain, and filled with compassion for one whom she had

always regarded previously as an enemy, she could not help saying,

"Dear madam, take comfort; I am going to bear a petition to the Queen's

Majesty from the captive lady, and if she will hear me all will yet be

well."



"How! What? How! Thou little moppet! Knows she what she says, Susan

Talbot?"



Susan made answer that she had had time to hear no particulars yet, but

that Cicely averred that she was going with her father's consent,

whereupon Richard was immediately summoned back to explain.



The Earl and Countess could hardly believe that he should have

consented that his daughter should be thus employed, and he had to

excuse himself with what he could not help feeling were only half

truths.



"The poor lady," he said, "is denied all power of sending word or

letter to the Queen save through those whom she views as her enemies,

and therefore she longed earnestly either to see her Majesty, or to

hold communication with her through one whom she knoweth to be both

simple and her own friend."



"Yea," said the Countess, "I could well have done this for her could I

but have had speech with her. Or she might have sent Bess Pierrepoint,

who surely would have been a more fitting messenger."



"Save that she hath not had access to the Queen of Scots of late," said

Richard.



"Yea, and her father would scarcely be willing to risk the Queen's

displeasure," said the Earl.



"Art thou ready to abide it, Master Richard?" said the Countess,

"though after all it could do you little harm." And her tone marked

the infinite distance she placed between him and Sir Henry Pierrepoint,

the husband of her daughter.



"That is true, madam," said Richard, "and moreover, I cannot reconcile

it to my conscience to debar the poor lady from any possible opening of

safety."



"Thou art a good man, Richard," said the Earl, and therewith both he

and the Countess became extremely, nay, almost inconveniently, desirous

to forward the petitioner on her way. To listen to them that night,

they would have had her go as an emissary of the house of Shrewsbury,

and only the previous quarrel with Lord Talbot and his wife prevented

them from proposing that she should be led to the foot of the throne by

Gilbert himself.



Cicely began to be somewhat alarmed at plans that would disconcert all

the instructions she had received, and only her old habits of respect

kept her silent when she thought Master Richard not ready enough to

refuse all these offers.



At last he succeeded in obtaining license to depart, and no sooner was

Cicely again shut up with Mistress Susan in the litter than she

exclaimed, "Now will it be most hard to carry out the Queen's orders

that I should go first to the French Ambassador. I would that my Lady

Countess would not think naught can succeed without her meddling."



"Thou shouldst have let father tell thy purpose in his own way," said

Susan.



"Ah! mother, I am an indiscreet simpleton, not fit for such a work as I

have taken in hand," said poor Cis. "Here hath my foolish tongue

traversed it already!"



"Fear not," said Susan, as one who well knew the nature of her

kinswoman; "belike she will have cooled to-morrow, all the more because

father said naught to the nayward."



Susan was uneasy enough herself, and very desirous to hear all from her

husband in private. And that night he told her that he had very little

hope of the intercession being availing. He believed that the

Treasurer and Secretary were absolutely determined on Mary's death, and

would sooner or later force consent from the Queen; but there was the

possibility that Elizabeth's feelings might be so far stirred that on a

sudden impulse she might set Mary at liberty, and place her beyond

their reach.



"And hap what may," he said, "when a daughter offereth to do her utmost

for a mother in peril of death, what right have I to hinder her?"



"May God guard the duteous!" said Susan. "But oh! husband, is she

worthy, for whom the child is thus to lead you into peril?"



"She is her mother," repeated Richard. "Had I erred--"



"Which you never could do," broke in the wife.



"I am a sinful man," said he.



"Yea, but there are deeds you never could have done."



"By God's grace I trust not; but hear me out, wife. Mine errors, nay,

my crimes, would not do away with the duty owed to me by my sons. How,

then, should any sins of this poor Queen withhold her daughter from

rendering her all the succour in her power? And thou, thou thyself,

Susan, hast taken her for thine own too long to endure to let her

undertake the matter alone and unaided."



"She would not attempt it thus," said Susan.



"I cannot tell; but I should thus be guilty of foiling her in a brave

and filial purpose."



"And yet thou dost hold her poor mother a guilty woman?"



"Said I so? Nay, Susan, I am as dubious as ever I was on that head."



"After hearing the trial?"



"A word in thine ear, my discreet wife. The trial convinced me far

more that place makes honest men act like cruel knaves than of aught

else."



"Then thou holdest her innocent?"



"I said not so. I have known too long how she lives by the weaving of

webs. I know not how it is, but these great folks seem not to deem

that truth in word and deed is a part of their religion. For my part,

I should distrust whatever godliness did not lead to truth, but a plain

man never knows where to have them. That she and poor Antony Babington

were in league to bring hither the Spaniards and restore the Pope, I

have no manner of doubt on the word of both, but then they deem

it--Heaven help them--a virtuous act; and it might be lawful in her,

seeing that she has always called herself a free sovereign unjustly

detained. What he stuck at and she denies, is the purpose of murdering

the Queen's Majesty."



"Sure that was the head and front of the poor young man's offending."



"So it was, but not until he had been urged thereto by his priests, and

had obtained her consent in a letter. Heaven forgive me if I misjudge

any one, but my belief is this--that the letters, whereof only the

deciphered copies were shown, did not quit the hands of either the one

or the other, such as we heard them at Fotheringhay. So poor Babington

said, so saith the Queen of Scots, demanding vehemently to have them

read in her presence before Nau and Curll, who could testify to them.

Cis deemeth that the true letter from Babington is in a packet which,

on learning from Humfrey his suspicion that there was treachery, the

Queen gave her, and she threw down a well at Chartley."



"That was pity."



"Say not so, for had the original letter been seized, it would only

have been treated in the same manner as the copy, and never allowed to

reach Queen Elizabeth."



"I am glad poor Cicely's mother can stand clear of that guilt," said

Susan. "I served her too long, and received too much gentle treatment

from her, to brook the thought that she could be so far left to

herself."



"Mind you, dame," said Richard, "I am not wholly convinced that she was

not aware that her friends would in some way or other bring about the

Queen's death, and that she would scarce have visited it very harshly,

but she is far too wise--ay, and too tender-hearted, to have entered

into the matter beforehand. So I think her not wholly guiltless,

though the wrongs she hath suffered have been so great that I would do

whatever was not disloyal to mine own Queen to aid her to obtain

justice."



"You are doing much, much indeed," said Susan; "and all this time you

have told me nothing of my son, save what all might hear. How fares

he? is his heart still set on this poor maid?"



"And ever will be," said his father. "His is not an outspoken babbling

love like poor Master Nau, who they say was so inspired at finding

himself in the same city with Bess Pierrepoint that he could talk of

nothing else, and seemed to have no thought of his own danger or his

Queen's. No, but he hath told me that he will give up all to serve

her, without hope of requital; for her mother hath made her forswear

him, and though she be not always on his tongue, he will do so, if I

mistake not his steadfastness."



Susan sighed, but she knew that the love, that had begun when the

lonely boy hailed the shipwrecked infant as his little sister, was of a

calm, but unquenchable nature, were it for weal or woe. She could not

but be thankful that the express mandate of both the parents had

withheld her son from sharing the danger which was serious enough even

for her husband's prudence and coolness of head.



By the morning, as she had predicted, the ardour of the Earl and

Countess had considerably slackened; and though still willing to

forward the petitioner on her way, they did not wish their names to

appear in the matter.



They did, however, make an important offer. The Mastiff was newly come

into harbour at Hull, and they offered Richard the use of her as a

conveyance. He gladly accepted it. The saving of expense was a great

object; for he was most unwilling to use Queen Mary's order on the

French Ambassador, and he likewise deemed it possible that such a means

of evasion might be very useful.



The Mastiff was sometimes used by some of the Talbot family on journeys

to London, and had a tolerably commodious cabin, according to the

notions of the time; and though it was late in the year, and poor Cis

was likely to be wretched enough on the voyage, the additional security

was worth having, and Cicely would be under the care of Goatley's wife,

who made all the voyages with her husband. The Earl likewise charged

Richard Talbot with letters and messages of conciliation to his son

Gilbert, whose estrangement was a great grief to him, arising as it did

entirely from the quarrels of the two wives, mother and daughter. He

even charged his kinsman with the proposal to give up Sheffield to Lord

and Lady Talbot and retire to Wingfield rather than continue at enmity.

Mr. Talbot knew the parties too well to have much hope of prevailing,

or producing permanent peace; but the commission was welcome, as it

would give a satisfactory pretext for his presence in London.



A few days were spent at Bridgefield, Cicely making herself the most

loving, helpful, and charming of daughters, and really basking in the

peaceful atmosphere of Susan's presence; and then,--with many prayers

and blessings from that good lady,--they set forth for Hull, taking

with them two servants besides poor Babington's man Gillingham, whose

superior intelligence and knowledge of London would make him useful,

though there was a dark brooding look about him that made Richard

always dread some act of revenge on his part toward his master's foes.





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