Queen Mary's Presence Chamber

The storm that followed on the instalment of the Lady Arbell at

Sheffield was the precursor of many more. Her grandmother did

sufficiently awake to the danger of alarming the jealousy of Queen

Elizabeth to submit to leave her in the ordinary chambers of the

children of the house, and to exact no extraordinary marks of respect

towards the unconscious infant; but there was no abatement in the

Countess's firm belief that
an English-born, English-bred child, would

have more right to the crown than any "foreign princes," as she

contemptuously termed the Scottish Queen and her son.

Moreover, in her two years' intercourse with the elder Countess of

Lennox, who was a gentle-tempered but commonplace woman, she had

adopted to the full that unfortunate princess's entire belief in the

guilt of Queen Mary, and entertained no doubt that she had been the

murderer of Darnley. Old Lady Lennox had seen no real evidence, and

merely believed what she was told by her lord, whose impeachment of

Bothwell had been baffled by the Queen in a most suspicious manner.

Conversations with this lady had entirely changed Lady Shrewsbury from

the friendly hostess of her illustrious captive, to be her enemy and

persecutor, partly as being convinced of her guilt, partly as regarding

her as an obstacle in the path of little Arbell to the throne. So she

not only refused to pay her respects as usual to "that murtheress," but

she insisted that her husband should tighten the bonds of restraint,

and cut off all indulgences.

The Countess was one of the women to whom argument and reason are

impossible, and who was entirely swayed by her predilections, as well

as of so imperious a nature as to brook no opposition, and to be almost

always able to sweep every one along with her.

Her own sons always were of her mind, and her daughters might fret and

chafe, but were sure to take part with her against every one else

outside the Cavendish family. The idea of being kinsfolk to the future

Queen excited them all, and even Mary forgot her offence about the

cradle, and her jealousy of Bess, and ranked herself against her

stepfather, influencing her husband, Gilbert, on whom the unfortunate

Earl had hitherto leant. On his refusal to persecute his unfortunate

captive beyond the orders from the Court, Bess of Hardwicke, emboldened

by the support she had gathered from her children, passionately

declared that it could only be because he was himself in love with the

murtheress. Lord Shrewsbury could not help laughing a little at the

absurdity of the idea, whereupon my lady rose up in virtuous

indignation, calling her sons and daughters to follow her.

All that night, lights might have been seen flitting about at the

Manor-house, and early in the morning bugles sounded to horse. A huge

procession, consisting of the Countess herself, and all her sons and

daughters then at Sheffield, little Lady Arbell, and the whole of their

attendants, swept out of the gates of the park on the way to Hardwicke.

When Richard Talbot went up to fulfil his duties as gentleman porter at

the lodge the courts seemed well-nigh deserted, and a messenger

summoned him at once to the Earl, whom he found in his bed-chamber in

his morning gown terribly perturbed.

"For Heaven's sake send for your wife, Richard Talbot!" he said. "It is

her Majesty's charge that some of mine household, or I myself, see this

unhappy Queen of Scots each day for not less than two hours, as you

well know. My lady has broken away, and all her daughters, on this

accursed fancy--yea, and Gilbert too, Gilbert whom I always looked to

to stand by me; I have no one to send. If I go and attend upon her

alone, as I have done a thousand times to my sorrow, it will but give

colour to the monstrous tale; but if your good wife, an honourable lady

of the Hardwicke kin, against whom none ever breathed a word, will go

and give the daily attendance, then can not the Queen herself find

fault, and my wife's heated fancy can coin nothing suspicious. You

must all come up, and lodge here in the Manor-house till this tempest

be overpast. Oh, Richard, Richard! will it last out my life? My very

children are turned against me. Go you down and fetch your good Susan,

and take order for bringing up your children and gear. Benthall shall

take your turn at the lodge. What are you tarrying for? Do you doubt

whether your wife have rank enough to wait on the Queen? She should

have been a knight's lady long ago, but that I deemed you would be glad

to be quit of herald's fees; your service and estate have merited it,

and I will crave license by to-day's courier from her Majesty to lay

knighthood on your shoulder."

"That was not what I thought of, my Lord, though I humbly thank you,

and would be whatever was best for your Lordship's service, though, if

it would serve you as well, I would rather be squire than knight; but I

was bethinking me how we should bestow our small family. We have a

young damsel at an age not to be left to herself."

"The black-browed maid--I recollect her. Let her e'en follow her

mother. Queen Mary likes a young face, and is kindly disposed to

little maids. She taught Bess Pierrepoint to speak French and work

with her needle, and I cannot see that she did the lass any harm, nay,

she is the only one of them all that can rule her tongue to give a soft

answer if things go not after her will, and a maid might learn worse

things. Besides, your wife will be there to look after the maiden, so

you need have no fears. And for your sons, they will be at school, and

can eat with us."

Richard's doubts being thus silenced he could not but bring his wife to

his lord's rescue, though he well knew that Susan would be greatly

disturbed on all accounts, and indeed he found her deep in the ironing

that followed the great spring wash, and her housewifely mind was as

much exercised as to the effects of her desertion, as was her maternal

prudence at the plunge which her unconscious adopted child was about to

make. However, there was no denying the request, backed as it was by

her husband, looking at her proudly, and declaring she was by general

consent the only discreet woman in Sheffield. She was very sorry for

the Earl's perplexity, and had a loyal pity for the Countess's vexation

and folly, and she was consoled by the assurance that she would have a

free time between dinner and supper to go home and attend to her wash,

and finish her preparations. Cis, who had been left in a state of

great curiosity, to continue compounding pickle while the mother was

called away, was summoned, to don her holiday kirtle, for she was to

join in attendance on the Queen of Scots while Lady Shrewsbury and her

daughters were absent.

It was unmixed delight to the girl, and she was not long in

fresh-binding up her hair--black with a little rust-coloured

tinge--under her stiff little cap, smoothing down the front, which was

alone visible, putting on the well-stiffened ruff with the dainty

little lace edge and close-fitting tucker, and then the gray home-spun

kirtle, with the puffs at the top of the tight sleeves, and the slashes

into which she had persuaded mother to insert some old pink satin, for

was not she sixteen now, and almost a woman? There was a pink

breast-knot to match, and Humfrey's owch just above it, gray stockings,

home-spun and worked with elaborate pink clocks, but knitted by Cis

herself; and a pair of shoes with pink roses to match were put into a

bag, to be assumed when she arrived at the lodge. Out of this simple

finery beamed a face, bright in spite of the straight, almost bushy,

black brows. There was a light of youth, joy, and intelligence, about

her gray eyes which made them sparkle all the more under their dark

setting, and though her complexion had no brilliancy, only the

clearness of health, and her features would not endure criticism, there

was a wonderful lively sweetness about her fresh, innocent young mouth;

and she had a tall lithe figure, surpassing that of her stepmother.

She would have been a sonsie Border lass in appearance but for the

remarkable carriage of her small head and shoulders, which was

assuredly derived from her royal ancestry, and indeed her air and

manner of walking were such that Diccon had more than once accused her

of sailing about ambling like the Queen of Scots, an accusation which

she hotly denied. Her hands bad likewise a slender form and fine

texture, such as none of the ladies of the houses of Talbot or

Hardwicke could rival, but she was on the whole viewed as far from

being a beauty. The taste of the day was altogether for light,

sandy-haired, small-featured women, like Queen Elizabeth or her

namesake of Hardwicke, so that Cis was looked on as a sort of crow, and

her supposed parents were pitied for having so ill-favoured a daughter,

so unlike all their families, except one black-a-vised Talbot

grandmother, whose portrait had been discovered on a pedigree.

Much did Susan marvel what impression the daughter would make on the

true mother as they jogged up on their sober ponies through the long

avenues, whose branches were beginning to wear the purple shades of

coming spring.

Lord Shrewsbury himself met them in front of the lodge, where, in spite

of all his dignity, he had evidently been impatiently awaiting them.

He thanked Susan for coming, as if he had not had a right to order,

gave her his ungloved hand when she had dismounted, then at the single

doorway of the lodge caused his gentleman to go through the form of

requesting admission for himself and Mistress Talbot, his dear

kinswoman, to the presence of the Queen. It was a ceremony daily

observed as an acknowledgment of Mary's royalty, and the Earl was far

too courteous ever to omit it.

Queen Mary's willingness to admit him was notified by Sir Andrew

Melville, a tall, worn man, with the typical Scottish countenance and a

keen steadfast gray eye. He marshalled the trio up a circular

staircase, made as easy as possible, but necessarily narrow, since it

wound up through a brick turret at the corner, to the third and

uppermost story of the lodge.

There, however, was a very handsome anteroom, with tapestry hangings, a

richly moulded ceiling, and wide carved stone chimneypiece, where a

bright fire was burning, around which sat several Scottish and French

gentlemen, who rose at the Earl's entrance. Another wide doorway with

a tapestry curtain over the folding leaves led to the presence chamber,

and Sir Andrew announced in as full style as if he had been marshalling

an English ambassador to the Court of Holyrood, the most high and

mighty Earl of Shrewsbury. The room was full of March sunshine, and a

great wood fire blazed on the hearth. Part of the floor was carpeted,

and overhung with a canopy, proceeding from the tapestried wall, and

here was a cross-legged velvet chair on which sat Queen Mary. This was

all that Cis saw at first, while the Earl advanced, knelt on one step

of the dais, with bared head, exchanging greetings with the Queen. He

then added, that his wife, the Countess, and her daughter, having been

called away from Sheffield, he would entreat her Grace to accept for a

few days in their stead the attendance of his good kinswoman, Mrs.

Talbot, and her daughter, Mistress Cicely.

Mary graciously intimated her consent, and extended her hand for each

to kiss as they knelt in turn on the step; Susan either fancied, or

really saw a wonderful likeness in that taper hand to the little one

whose stitches she had so often guided. Cis, on her part, felt the

thrill of girlhood in the actual touch of the subject of her dreams.

She stood, scarcely hearing what passed, but taking in, from under her

black brows, all the surroundings, and recognising the persons from her

former glimpses, and from Antony Babington's descriptions. The presence

chamber was ample for the suite of the Queen, which had been reduced on

every fresh suspicion. There was in it, besides the Queen's four

ladies, an elderly one, with a close black silk hood--Jean Kennedy, or

Mrs. Kennett as the English called her; another, a thin slight figure,

with a worn face, as if a great sorrow had passed over her, making her

look older than her mistress, was the Queen's last remaining Mary,

otherwise Mrs. Seaton. The gossip of Sheffield had not failed to tell

how the chamberlain, Beatoun, had been her suitor, and she had half

consented to accept him when he was sent on a mission to France, and

there died. The dark-complexioned bright-eyed little lady, on a

smaller scale than the rest, was Marie de Courcelles, who, like the two

others, had been the Queen's companion in all her adventures; and the

fourth, younger and prettier than the rest, was already known to Cis

and her mother, since she was the Barbara Mowbray who was affianced to

Gilbert Curll, the Queen's Scottish secretary, recently taken into her

service. Both these were Protestants, and, like the Bridgefield

family, attended service in the castle chapel. They were all at work,

as was likewise their royal lady, to whom the girl, with the youthful

coyness that halts in the fulfilment of its dreams, did not at first

raise her eyes, having first taken in all the ladies, the several

portions of one great coverlet which they were all embroidering in

separate pieces, and the gentleman who was reading aloud to them from a

large book placed on a desk at which he was standing.

When she did look up, as the Queen was graciously requesting her mother

to be seated, and the Earl excusing himself from remaining longer, her

first impression was one of disappointment. Either the Queen of Scots

was less lovely seen leisurely close at hand than Antony Babington and

Cis's own fancy had painted her, or the last two or three years had

lessened her charms, as well they might, for she had struggled and

suffered much in the interval, had undergone many bitter

disappointments, and had besides endured much from rheumatism every

winter, indeed, even now she could not ride, and could only go out in a

carriage in the park on the finest days, looking forward to her annual

visit to Buxton to set her up for the summer. Her face was longer and

more pointed than in former days, her complexion had faded, or perhaps

in these private moments it had not been worth while to enhance it;

though there was no carelessness in the general attire, the black

velvet gown, and delicate lace of the cap, and open ruff always

characteristic of her. The small curls of hair at her temples had

their auburn tint softened by far more white than suited one who was

only just over forty, but the delicate pencilling of the eyebrows was

as marked as ever; and the eyes, on whose colour no one ever agreed,

melted and sparkled as of old. Cis had heard debates as to their hue,

and furtively tried to form her own opinion, but could not decide on

anything but that they had a dark effect, and a wonderful power of

expression, seeming to look at every one at once, and to rebuke,

encourage, plead, or smile, from moment to moment. The slight cast in

one of them really added to their force of expression rather than

detracted from their beauty, and the delicate lips were ready to second

the glances with wondrous smiles. Cis had not felt the magic of her

mere presence five minutes without being convinced that Antony

Babington was right; the Lord Treasurer and all the rest utterly wrong,

and that she beheld the most innocent and persecuted of princesses.

Meantime, all due formalities having been gone through, Lord Shrewsbury

bowed himself out backwards with a dexterity that Cis breathlessly

admired in one so stately and so stiff, forgetting that he had daily

practice in the art. Then Queen Mary courteously entreated her

visitors to be seated, near herself, asking with a smile if this were

not the little maiden who had queened it so prettily in the brake some

few years since. Cis blushed and drew back her head with a pretty

gesture of dignified shyness as Susan made answer for her that she was

the same.

"I should have known it," said the Queen, smiling, "by the port of her

head alone. 'Tis strange," she said, musing, "that maiden hath the

bearing of head and neck that I have never seen save in my own mother,

the saints rest her soul, and in her sisters, and which we always held

to be their inheritance from the blood of Charlemagne."

"Your grace does her too much honour," Susan contrived to say, thankful

that no less remote resemblance had been detected.

"It was a sad farce when they tried to repeat your pretty comedy with

the chief performer omitted," proceeded the Queen, directing her words

to the girl, but the mother replied for her.

"Your Grace will pardon me, I could not permit her to play in public,

before all the menie of the castle."

"Madame is a discreet and prudent mother," said the Queen. "The

mistake was in repeating the representation at all, not in abstaining

from appearing in it. I should be very sorry that this young lady

should have been concerned in a spectacle a la comtesse."

There was something in the intonation of "this young lady" that won

Cis's heart on the spot, something in the concluding words that hurt

Susan's faithful loyalty towards her kinswoman, in spite of the

compliment to herself. However Mary did not pursue the subject,

perceiving with ready tact that it was distasteful, and proceeded to

ask Dame Susan's opinion of her work, which was intended as a gift to

her good aunt, the Abbess of Soissons. How strangely the name fell

upon Susan's ear. It was a pale blue satin coverlet, worked in large

separate squares, innumerable shields and heraldic devices of Lorraine,

Bourbon, France, Scotland, etc., round the border, and beautiful

meandering patterns of branches, with natural flowers and leaves

growing from them covering the whole with a fascinating regular

irregularity. Cis could not repress an exclamation of delight, which

brought the most charming glance of the winning eyes upon her. There

was stitchery here that she did not understand, but when she looked at

some of the flowers, she could not help uttering the sentiment that the

eyes of the daisies were not as mother could make them.

So, as a great favour, Queen Mary entreated to be shown Mrs. Talbot's

mode of dealing with the eyes of the daisies. No, her good Seaton

would not learn so well as she should; Madame must come and sit by her

and show her. Meantime here was her poor little Bijou whimpering to be

taken on her lap. Would not he find a comforter in sweet Mistress--ah,

what was her name?

"We named her Cicely, so please your Grace," said Susan, unable to help


"Cecile, a fair name. Ah! so the poor Antoine called her. I see my

Bijou has found a friend in you, Mistress Cecile"--as the girl's idle

hands were only too happy to caress the pretty little shivering Italian

greyhound rather than to be busy with a needle. "Do you ever hear of

that young Babington, your playfellow?" she added.

"No, madam," said Cis, looking up, "he hath never been here!"

"I thought not," said Queen Mary, sighing. "Take heed to manifest no

pity for me, maiden, if you should ever chance to be inspired with it

for a poor worn-out old prisoner. It is the sure sentence of

misfortune and banishment."

"In his sex, madam," here put in Marie de Courcelles. "If it were so

in ours, woe to some of us."

"That is true, my dear friends," said Mary, her eyes glistening with

dew. "It is the women who are the most fearless, the most faithful,

and whom the saints therefore shield."

"Alas, there are some who are faithful but who are not shielded!"

It was merely a soft low murmur, but the tender-hearted Queen had

caught it, and rising impulsively, crossed the room and gathered Mary

Seaton's hands into hers, no longer the queen but the loving friend of

equal years, soothing her in a low fond voice, and presently sending

her to the inner chamber to compose herself. Then as the Queen

returned slowly to her seat it would be seen how lame she was from

rheumatism. Mrs. Kennedy hurried to assist her, with a nurse-like word

of remonstrance, to which she replied with a bewitching look of

sweetness that she could not but forget her aches and pains when she

saw her dear Mary Seaton in trouble.

Most politely she then asked whether her visitors would object to

listening to the conclusion of her day's portion of reading. There was

no refusing, of course, though, as Susan glanced at the reader and knew

him to be strongly suspected of being in Holy Orders conferred abroad,

she had her fears for her child's Protestant principles. The book,

however, proved to be a translation of St. Austin on the Psalms, and,

of course, she could detect nothing that she disapproved, even if Cis

had not been far too much absorbed by the little dog and its mistress

to have any comprehending ears for theology. Queen Mary confidentially

observed as much to her after the reading, having, no doubt, detected

her uneasy glance.

"You need not fear for your child, madam," she said; "St. Augustine is

respected by your own Queen and her Bishops. At the readings with

which my good Mr. Belton favours me, I take care to have nothing you

Protestants dispute when I know it." She added, smiling, "Heaven knows

that I have endeavoured to understand your faith, and many a minister

has argued with me. I have done my best to comprehend them, but they

agreed in nothing but in their abuse of the Pope. At least so it

seemed to my poor weak mind. But you are satisfied, madam, I see it in

your calm eyes and gentle voice. If I see much of you, I shall learn

to think well of your religion."

Susan made an obeisance without answering. She had heard Sir Gilbert

Talbot say, "If she tries to persuade you that you can convert her, be

sure that she means mischief," but she could not bear to believe it

anything but a libel while the sweet sad face was gazing into hers.

Queen Mary changed the subject by asking a few questions about the

Countess's sudden departure. There was a sort of guarded irony

suppressed in her tone--she was evidently feeling her way with the

stranger, and when she found that Susan would only own to causes Lord

Shrewsbury had adduced on the spur of the moment, she was much too wary

to continue the examination, though Susan could not help thinking that

she knew full well the disturbance which had taken place.

A short walk on the roof above followed. The sun was shining

brilliantly, and lame as she was, the Queen's strong craving for free

air led her to climb her stairs and creep to and fro on Sir Andrew

Melville's arm, gazing out over the noble prospect of the park close

below, divided by the winding vales of the three rivers, which could be

traced up into the woods and the moors beyond, purple with spring

freshness and glory. Mary made her visitors point out Bridgefield, and

asked questions about all that could be seen of the house and

pleasance, which, in truth, was little enough, but she contrived to set

Cis off into a girl's chatter about her home occupations, and would not

let her be hushed.

"You little know the good it does a captive to take part, only in

fancy, in a free harmless life," returned Mary, with the wistful look

that made her eyes so pathetic. "There is no refreshment to me like a

child's prattle."

Susan's heart smote her as she thought of the true relations in which

these two stood to one another, and she forbore from further

interference; but she greatly rejoiced when the great bell of the

castle gave notice of noon, and of her own release. When Queen Mary's

dinner was served, the Talbot ladies in attendance left her and

repaired to the general family meal in the hall.