The Fetterlock Court

People did not pity themselves so much for suspense when, instead of

receiving an answer in less than an hour, they had to wait for it for

weeks if not months. Mrs. Talbot might be anxious at Bridgefield, and

her son at Fotheringhay, and poor Queen Mary, whose life hung in the

balance, more heartsick with what old writers well named 'wanhope' than

any of them; but they had to live on, and rise morning after morning

without expecting any intelligence, unable to do anything but pray for

those who might be in perils unknown.

After the strain and effort of her trial, Mary had become very ill, and

kept her bed for many days. Humfrey continued to fulfil his daily

duties as commander of the guards set upon her, but he seldom saw or

spoke with any of her attendants, as Sir Andrew Melville, whom he knew

the best of them, had on some suspicion been separated from his

mistress and confined in another part of the Castle.

Sir Amias Paulett, too, was sick with gout and anxiety, and was much

relieved when Sir Drew Drury was sent to his assistance. The new

warder was a more courteous and easy-mannered person, and did not fret

himself or the prisoner with precautions like his colleague; and on Sir

Amias's reiterated complaint that the guards were not numerous enough,

he had brought down five fresh men, hired in London, fellows used to

all sorts of weapons, and at home in military discipline; but, as

Humfrey soon perceived, at home likewise in the license of camps, and

most incongruous companions for the simple village bumpkins, and the

precise retainers who had hitherto formed the garrison. He did his

best to keep order, but marvelled how Sir Amias would view their

excesses when he should come forth again from his sick chamber.

The Queen was better, though still lame; and on a fine November

noontide she obtained, by earnest entreaty, permission to gratify her

longing for free air by taking a turn in what was called the Fetterlock

Court, from the Yorkist badge of the falcon and fetterlock carved

profusely on the decorations. This was the inmost strength of the

castle, on the highest ground, an octagon court, with the keep closing

one side of it, and the others surrounded with huge massive walls,

shutting in a greensward with a well. There was a broad commodious

terrace in the thickness of the walls, intended as a station whence the

defenders could shoot between the battlements, but in time of peace

forming a pleasant promenade sheltered from the wind, and catching on

its northern side the meridian rays of this Martinmas summer day, so

that physician as well as jailer consented to permit the captive there

to take the air.

"Some watch there must be," said Paulett anxiously, when his colleague

reported the consent he had given.

"It will suffice, then," said Sir Drew Drury, "if the officer of the

guard--Talbot call you him?--stands at the angle of the court, so as to

keep her in his view. He is a well-nurtured youth, and will not vex


"Let him have the guard within call," said Paulett, and to this Drury

assented, perhaps with a little amusement at the restless precautions

of the invalid.

Accordingly, Humfrey took up his station, as unobtrusively as he could,

at the corner of the terrace, and presently, through a doorway at the

other end saw the Queen, hooded and cloaked, come forth, leaning

heavily on the arm of Dr. Bourgoin, and attended by the two Maries and

the two elder ladies. She moved slowly, and paused every few steps,

gazing round her, inhaling the fresh air and enjoying the sunshine, or

speaking a caressing word to little Bijou, who leaped about, and

barked, and whined with delight at having her out of doors again.

There was a seat in the wall, and her ladies spread cushions and cloaks

for her to sit on it, warmed as it was by the sun; and there she

rested, watching a starling running about on the turf, his

gold-bespangled green plumage glistening. She hardly spoke; she seemed

to be making the most of the repose of the fair calm day. Humfrey would

not intrude by making her sensible of his presence, but he watched her

from his station, wondering within himself if she cared for the peril

to which she had exposed the daughter so dear to him.

Such were his thoughts when an angry bark from Bijou warned him to be

on the alert. A man--ay, one of the new men-at-arms--was springing up

the ramp leading to the summit of the wall almost immediately in front

of the little group. There was a gleam of steel in his hand. With one

long ringing whistle, Humfrey bounded from his place, and at the moment

when the ruffian was on the point of assailing the Queen, he caught him

with one hand by the collar, with the other tried to master the arm

that held the weapon. It was a sharp struggle, for the fellow was a

trained soldier in the full strength of manhood, and Humfrey was a

youth of twenty-three, and unarmed. They went down together, rolling

on the ground before Mary's chair; but in another moment Humfrey was

the uppermost. He had his knee on the fellow's chest, and held aloft,

though in a bleeding hand, the dagger wrenched from him. The victory

had been won in a few seconds, before the two men, whom his whistle had

brought, had time to rush forward. They were ready now to throw

themselves on the assailant. "Hold!" cried Humfrey, speaking for the

first time. "Hurt him not! Hold him fast till I have him to Sir


Each had an arm of the fallen man, and Humfrey rose to meet the eyes of

the Queen sparkling, as she cried, "Bravely, bravely done, sir! We

thank you. Though it be but the poor remnant of a worthless life that

you have saved, we thank you. The sight of your manhood has gladdened


Humfrey bowed low, and at the same time there was a cry among the

ladies that he was bleeding. It was only his hand, as he showed them.

The dagger had been drawn across the palm before he could capture it.

The kerchiefs were instantly brought forward to bind it up, Dr.

Bourgoin saying that it ought to have Master Gorion's attention.

"I may not wait for that, sir," said Humfrey. "I must carry this

villain at once to Sir Amias and report on the affair."

"Nay, but you will come again to be tended," said the Queen, while Dr.

Bourgoin fastened the knot of the temporary bandage. "Ah! and is it

Humfrey Talbot to whom I owe my life? There is one who will thank thee

for it more than even I. But come back. Gorion must treat that hand,

and then you will tell me what you have heard of her."

"Naught, alas, madam," said Humfrey with an expressive shake of the

head, but ere he turned away Mary extended her hand to him, and as he

bent his knee to kiss it she laid the other kindly on his dark curled

head and said, "God bless thee, brave youth."

She was escorted to the door nearest to her apartments, and as she sank

back on her day bed she could not help murmuring to Mary Seaton, "A

brave laddie. Would that he had one drop of princely blood."

"The Talbot blood is not amiss," said the lady.

"True; and were it but mine own Scottish royalty that were in question

I should see naught amiss, but with this English right that hath been

the bane of us all, what can their love bring the poor children save


Meantime Humfrey was conducting his prisoner to Sir Amias Paulett. The

man was a bronzed, tough-looking ruffian, with an air of having seen

service, and a certain foreign touch in his accent. He glanced

somewhat contemptuously at his captor, and said; "Neatly done, sir; I

marvel if you'll get any thanks."

"What mean you?" said Humfrey sharply, but the fellow only shrugged his

shoulders. The whole affair had been so noiseless, that Humfrey

brought the first intelligence when he was admitted to the sick

chamber, where Sir Amias sat in a large chair by the fire. He had left

his prisoner guarded by two men at the door. "How now! What is it?"

cried Paulett at first sight of his bandaged hand. "Is she safe?"

"Even so, sir, and untouched," said Humfrey.

"Thanks be to God!" he exclaimed. "This is what I feared. Who was it?"

"One of the new men-at-arms from London--Peter Pierson he called

himself, and said he had served in the Netherlands."

And after a few further words of explanation, Humfrey called in the

prisoner and his guards, and before his face gave an account of his

attempt upon the helpless Queen.

"Godless and murderous villain!" said Paulett, "what hast thou to say

for thyself that I should not hang thee from the highest tower?"

"Naught that will hinder you, worshipful seignior," returned the man

with a sneer. "In sooth I see no great odds between taking life with a

dagger and with an axe, save that fewer folk are regaled with the


"Wretch," said Paulett, "wouldst thou confound private murder with the

open judgment of God and man?"

"Judgment hath been pronounced," said the fellow, "but it needs not to

dispute the matter. Only if this honest youth had not come blundering

in and cut his fingers in the fray, your captive would have been

quietly rid of all her troubles, and I should have had my reward from

certain great folk you wot of. Ay," as Sir Amias turned still

yellower, "you take my meaning, sir."

"Take him away," said Paulett, collecting himself; "he would cloak his

crime by accusing others of his desperate wickedness."

"Where, sir?" inquired Humfrey.

Sir Amias would have preferred hanging the fellow without inquiry, but

as Fotheringhay was not under martial law, he ordered him off to the

dungeons for the present, while the nearest justice of the peace was

sent for. The knight bade Humfrey remain while the prisoner was walked

off under due guard, and made a few more inquiries, adding, with a

sigh, "You must double the guard, Master Talbot, and get rid of all

those London rogues--sons of Belial are they all, and I'll have none

for whom I cannot answer--for I fear me 'tis all too true what the

fellow says."

"Who would set him on?"

"That I may not say. But would you believe it, Humfrey Talbot, I have

been blamed--ay, rated like a hound, for that I will not lend myself to

a privy murder."

"Verily, sir?"

"Verily, and indeed, young man. 'Tis the part of a loyal subject, they

say, to spare her Majesty's womanish feelings and her hatred of

bloodshed, and this lady having been condemned, to take her off

secretly so as to save the Queen the pain and heart-searchings of

signing the warrant. You credit me not, sir, but I have the letter--to

my sorrow and shame."

No wonder that the poor, precise, hard-hearted, but religious and

high-principled man was laid up with a fit of the gout, after receiving

the shameful letter which he described, which is still extant, signed

by Walsingham and Davison.

"Strange loyalty," said Humfrey.

"And too much after the Spanish sort for an English Protestant," said

Sir Amias. "I made answer that I would lay down my life to guard this

unhappy woman to undergo the justice that is to be done upon her, but

murder her, or allow her to be slain in my hands, I neither can nor

will, so help me Heaven, as a true though sinful man."

"Amen," said Humfrey.

"And no small cause of thanks have I that in you, young sir, I have one

who may be trusted for faith as well as courage, and I need not say


As he spoke, Sir Drew Drury, who had been out riding, returned, anxious

to hear the details of this strange event. Sir Amias could not leave

his room. Sir Drew accompanied Humfrey to the Queen's apartments to

hear her account and that of her attendants. It was given with praises

of the young gentleman which put him to the blush, and Sir Drew then

gave permission for his hurt to be treated by Maitre Gorion, and left

him in the antechamber for the purpose.

Sir Amias would perhaps have done more wisely if he had not detained

Humfrey from seeing the criminal guarded to his prison. For Sir Drew

Drury, going from the Queen's presence to interrogate the fellow before

sending for a magistrate, found the cell empty. It had been the turn

of duty of one of the new London men-at-arms, and he had been placed as

sentry at the door by the sergeant--the stupidest and trustiest of

fellows--who stood gaping in utter amazement when he found that sentry

and prisoner were both alike missing.

On the whole, the two warders agreed that it would be wiser to hush up

the matter. When Mary heard that the man had escaped, she quietly

said, "I understand. They know how to do such things better abroad."

Things returned to their usual state except that Humfrey had permission

to go daily to have his hand attended to by M. Gorion, and the Queen

never let pass this opportunity of speaking to him, though the very

first time she ascertained that he knew as little as she did of the

proceedings of his father and Cicely.

Now, for the first time, did Humfrey understand the charm that had

captivated Babington, and that even his father confessed. Ailing,

aging, and suffering as she was, and in daily expectation of her

sentence of death, there was still something more wonderfully winning

about her, a sweet pathetic cheerfulness, kindness, and resignation,

that filled his heart with devotion to her. And then she spoke of

Cicely, the rarest and greatest delight that he could enjoy. She

evidently regarded him with favour, if not affection, because he loved

the maiden whom she could not but deny to him. Would he not do

anything for her? Ay, anything consistent with duty. And there came a

twinge which startled him. Was she making him value duty less? Never.

Besides, how few days he could see her. His hand was healing all too

fast, and what might not come any day from London? Was Queen Mary's

last conquest to be that of Humfrey Talbot?

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