Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/The anglers of the Dove - Part 3
THE ANGLERS OF THE DOVE.
BY HARRIET MARTINEAU.
CHAPTER V. THE SICK MAN AND HIS COMFORTER.
The Earl of Shrewsbury was lying on a couch near an open window of his chamber at the Hall at Buxton when the Countess entered the apartment with the family physician.
“Bess,” said the Earl, “you have not been telling the doctor that I am better?”
“Yes, I have,” she replied; “or, if you are not better, you will be presently. You do not feel it yet, perhaps; but where is there such an air as this of Buxton? And there are the waters, too! Who could help being better here?”
“I do not like the air,” replied the sick man; “and this sunshine makes me faint; and I am worse with every draught of the waters.”
The physician gently closed half the shutter, and applied himself to the patient’s pulse.
“I am not better, Doctor, am I?”
“You are not. It takes time to deal with an attack like yours.”
“How much time?” inquired the Countess.
“That depends on various circumstances, Madam. One of those circumstances is ease of mind. The more leisure his Lordship has to be ill, the sooner he will get well.”
“Shall I give him more of the water?—another draught in the middle of the afternoon?”
“I should be rather disposed to omit the water altogether for a few days.”
“Thank you, Doctor!” said the patient, fervently.
“What, then, instead of it?” asked the lady.
“The medicine I ordered yesterday will suffice, Madam, till—"
“Thank you, Doctor,” the patient repeated.
“I would try entire repose,” the physician observed; “rest and quiet, in this fine air. His Lordship should not be troubled with business, or with cares of any kind.”
“That is impossible,” said both the sick man and his wife.
“It would be the best wisdom,” the physician insisted. “If his Lordship could lie here, and think of nothing, and sleep when able, I should hope to see him on his horse again in two or three weeks.”
The Earl sighed: the Countess exclaimed. The physician repeated his words, adding that patience was, in some cases, the best physic.
“And the hardest to get,” the Earl observed. “If money could buy it—”
The physician remarked, cheerfully, that he saw a good deal of it in dwellings where there was no money to spend in physic.
The Countess offered several suggestions; and some of them, in regard to diet, were agreed to: but the physician was not to be moved from his decision that repose of body and mind was the essential thing.
When the Countess returned from her consultation with him in the next room, she declared that another physician must be called in. The Doctor was a very good man; but he was slow. He wanted energy; and he could not excite the energies of his patients. He did not understand the necessity of some cases.
“He does not see, as perhaps I do,” said the Earl, “that something has happened to irritate you with my illness. Is it so, Bess?”
“If it be, he ought to have discovered it before you did.”
“Discovered it!” exclaimed the Earl, raising himself suddenly. “Bess, where is her Grace? Tell me at once!”
“Her Grace is writing her letters in her own apartment.”
The Earl sank back on his pillows, the pulsation of his ruff showing his agitation.
“Her Grace may well be trusted in my care,” the Countess observed. “I am no lax guardian of such a charge: and perhaps she may be better watched when you are here than when you are by her side.”
The Earl gently remarked that, in the sense in which his lady spoke, this was no doubt true: but that it should never be forgotten that one chief method of keeping their charge safe was to render her situation as easy as possible. Every little irritation was an incitement to her to desire to place herself in other hands. After any little ruffle with her hostess, she would naturally have many thoughts of the past, and every present trouble would sink deep.
“O yes!” said the Countess. “I know very well how she sits and broods over trifles.”
“So would’st thou, Bess, if any one made a caged bird of thee.”
“I do not deny it: but no cage should hold me long. Ay, I say so, though I have just boasted of my power to hold her. The truth is, there is but one Bess of Hardwick; and, gaolor or prisoner, Bess will always have her own way.”
“In things possible,” the Earl interposed. “Even Bess of Hardwick cannot make her husband well at pleasure. You smile. You are thinking that you would be well in a trice if you were the patient.”
“Perhaps I am,” she said. Then she startled her husband by flying to the window on hearing the tramp of horses, and shouting to the grooms. She quickly drew in her head, and observed that she must hasten away. Her Grace chose to ride nearly an hour earlier than usual this afternoon; and there was only a moment to equip and attend her.
“Hasten, then,” said the Earl. “But tell me in one word whether anything is wrong. What did you mean about ‘the necessity of the case’? Is there any new necessity?”
“I suppose you will fret more if I keep it from you,” said Bess, drawing from her bosom a large letter with a large seal.
The colour left the sick man’s face as he read the address. “From the Queen!” he said. “And already opened? How is this?”
“I read it, to see whether it was necessary for you to be troubled with fresh orders,” declared Bess, hardily.
“Go, now,” said her husband, sternly. “And come to me as soon as her Grace shall be again within her apartment. Remember!”
“I shall not waken you if you are asleep.”
“I shall not be asleep.”
“You will have enough to think about for the rest of the day,” said the unflinching wife. “Perhaps that letter will set you on your horse again sooner than the Doctor imagines.”
Instead of infusing vigour into the sick man, the letter prostrated him. He could have no attendant present while he read; and he did not afterwards touch the bell which was beside his couch. He would have died sooner than let any one see the tears trickling down his hot cheek.
“These women are so hard!” he thought to himself, as his excuse to himself: “the one Bess and the other! Between them I have need of all my manhood; and I am but poor in manhood while this fever wastes me.”
The letter was in the handwriting of Lord Shrewsbury’s old friend, Mr. Secretary Cecil; but the style showed that it was in fact from the Queen. The Queen was surprised to hear that Lord Shrewsbury was now, or had lately been, at Buxton, for the benefit of the waters, whereof no intimation had reached her Majesty from himself. If he were out of health, her Majesty must be satisfied as to what order had been taken for the due custody and entertainment of the Queen of Scots. Two things lay near the heart of her Majesty. The first was that the Queen of Scots should lack no honourable and gracious attendance which could be given to any queen. The other was that the report still grew louder and more frequent about the needless opportunity afforded to her Grace of Scotland for troubling the peace of the realm, which it lay with his Lordship of Shrewsbury to see was not so disturbed. The resort to her Grace was not less frequent than before the last warning sent to the Earl, but only more cunning; and the plots of the strangers were so many throughout the country that there was no assurance who might or might not be drawn into them. The Earl, as trusted beyond any other of her Majesty’s subjects, ought to feel the weight of the honour of the Queen’s confidence, and to act as if her wishes were known to him by the power of his devotion to her. By that state of his mind he must now be aware that he must in no wise meditate a retreat from his charge: but, if his sickness were real, and such as the vigour of his duty and affection to his sovereign could not at once dismiss, he must dispatch a summons without delay to Sir Francis Knollys, who understood her Majesty’s pleasure in regard to her Grace of Scotland; and Sir Francis Knollys, neglecting all other affairs, would act as her Grace’s host till such time as Lord Shrewsbury should be able to renew his unremitting attendance.
It was a bitter pill: but the Earl had got over his grievances, and recovered a composed countenance before his wife reappeared.
“When did this letter arrive, Bess?”
“No matter when. Sick men should not count the hours.”
“No trifling, Bess!” And he stretched his hand to the bell. She would not compel him to question his page, but acknowledged that the royal messenger had arrived thirty hours before. She declared that if her husband was chafed, so was she. Sir Francis Knollys knew the duty of the Queen’s gaoler; and he would assuredly step into the Earl’s shoes, and win the Queen’s confidence. His idea of the proper treatment of such a prisoner was sensible,—was, in fact, the same as her own, and—
“Yes,” the Earl observed: “and between you, you will chafe the bird to burst its cage, or, failing that, her own heart: and then what am I to say to the Queen? Knollys drove her Grace hard at Carlisle with reasons why she ought to be deposed—”
“And good reasons they were,” the Countess observed.
“Good or bad, will she not remember them when his name is announced? It is enough to make her dare any way of escape rather than meet him.”
“That is the reason why I have not sent for him,” said Bess, complacently.
“By which wilfulness you have adventured the more fatal displeasure of our own Queen. Bess, these caprices of yours must have an end. I must rule my own affairs, and keep my own honour.”
“You must not be ill, then,” the Countess decided.
Now, however, she sate by in silence while her husband summoned his page, gave orders to the chief gentleman in attendance about finding Sir Francis Knollys, and wrote a line in a trembling hand, as credentials for the bearer of his message, Sir Henry Bayes, whom he charged to bring Sir Francis Knollys hither, without excuse or delay.
“I suppose I must not speak,” the Countess observed.
“To what purpose?”
“To advise that Knollys, who is probably still at York, should rather repair to Sheffield Park, to meet her Grace, whom I would myself conduct thither by the time he could arrive.” Seeing her husband’s perplexed look, she added: “There are reasons, as Sir Henry is aware, for such a course.”
After a moment’s reflection, the Earl repeated his former directions to his envoy, and dismissed him with a compliment on his ability to ride fast.
“Stay, Bess,” he said, as she was about to leave the room,—perhaps to impose her own orders on Sir Henry. “Bess!” And his tone was irresistible: “sit down here, and tell me these reasons of yours. I will answer to the Doctor. I must hear these reasons,—all of them, and this moment.”
His wife remarked on his being quite strong enough for business, after all; and he did not inform her that he chose to do it now, because his senses might fail him before the morning.
“First, where is her Grace, now?”
“‘Where is her Grace now?’ For the fifth time this day, I tell you her Grace is safe. Stay! would you like to see her? Nay, I did not say that she should see you, untrimmed and uncomely as at this moment. But let us try.” And she so arranged a mirror, fixed outside the window, as that the Earl could command a portion of one of the garden walks, on which Mary of Scotland presently appeared, pacing slowly, and followed by two of her ladies. The Earl observed that she looked not otherwise than in health, but very thoughtful.
“That is because she supposes herself unseen,” said the Countess. “When I am present, she assumes an air of carelessness quite unnecessary in the widow of two or three husbands. She is in surprising spirits just now.”
“And she an exiled mother, and a deprived queen!” observed the Earl, as his eyes were fixed on the mirror. As the group passed out of sight, he desired his wife to raise the frame a little, that he might catch another glimpse. She did so, but too quickly and too far, so that a gleam of reflected sunshine caught the attention of the group below. Her Grace looked up, to see herself watched from the window by her hostess. She stopped in her walk, and inquired after the Earl. Her voice was musical as ever; but there was something in her tone which jarred on his feelings.
“I know what that tone of ceremony means,” he said. “She feels that she must wear a mask everywhere but in her bed.”
“And at confession,” said the Countess. “Pray do not forget the comfort she has in her priests and her parasites: and they may not be very few. My opinion is, that any man or woman who lives a life of plots, should think it no hardship to wear a mask every day and all day long. O, yes! she is plotting again. The Queen must have reason for saying what that letter says: and if she were herself as suspicious as we hear she has grown, we have cause enough for doubts of this dreary guest of ours. She ought to be removed from this place at once. I care not whether to Chartley, or Wingfield, or Tutbury,—no, not to Tutbury, yet—or to Sheffield Park. I said Sheffield Park, because it is nearest to Knollys,—if you will put him into your own place. ‘What has gone wrong here at Buxton?’ It is difficult to say exactly what: but the universal remark is that the baths were never so frequented before.”
“It would be strange if it were otherwise, with a captive queen drinking the waters,” the Earl observed.
“She drinks them at home here of necessity,” the Countess answered. “I am thankful that I persisted in having the waters led hither as I did.”
The Earl, ill as he was, smiled at this, being aware that the water lost much of its quality by the process. He would not have smiled if he had been fully aware of the impression made on strangers by his wife’s harshness in refusing to the Queen the permission to drink the water at the spring.
“Her Grace has as many wiles as a hunted bird,” the Countess observed; on which her husband remarked, in a low voice, that nothing was more natural.
“On one pretence or another,” the wife continued, “she passes through the assemblage at the baths almost every day. It chafes me to be dragged there against my will,—the very servants knowing that I would prevent it if I could. But there is more in it than that conflict of female wills which you pretend to smile at. I see faces in the assemblage which I should not see if her Grace were elsewhere—”
“That is probably the case with two-thirds of them, Bess.”
“Yes; but I mean, plainly speaking, that not only have I seen Felton here these three days—”
“And Felton’s friend?”
“That is of course: he and Stansbury are inseparable.”
“Stansbury will not wreck the world; he is harmless enough.”
“Very likely. But they hang about the Hall: and I cannot help fancying they have some way of passing letters. The gravest thing, however, is that the man who used to haunt our river at Tutbury is here also.”
“He who stayed at Tutbury after we left it?”
“Yes; the very innocent stranger, as you supposed him on that account. I have more to tell you of him. But, bless me! you change colour with a word.”
“Go on; who is he?” the Earl said, faintly. “Speak at once, Bess, I insist.”
“But I am not certain yet. In two or three days I shall know; but—if I am not mistaken, it is the man himself!”
“The Duke himself! Unless my instinct deceives me. But you know I never saw him but once.”
“Such an adventure is too audacious.”
“Nay, but,” said the Countess, “he did not appear at Tutbury at any time or place where he was likely to be seen by you: and he has arrived here only since your illness was noised abroad.”
The sick man tried whether he could not rouse his strength to walk,—to sit up. If he could have mounted his horse for one half-hour, he might satisfy himself whether the Duke of Norfolk was haunting Mary of Scotland. But it was in vain. He could not hold up his head. Whether to send a messenger to Cecil or the Queen was the question. If the alarm was well founded, it was a sort of treason to conceal it for a single hour: and if it was a mistake, Elizabeth would never cease to taunt her servants with it. The Earl was persuaded to wait one day,—not unwillingly, as he shrank from disclosing his weak condition to his sovereign. The Countess resolved to make out in that time whether the stranger was to be feared or no.
CHAPTER VI.—GOING TO THE FAIR AT CHEE TOR.
It would be a sufficient excuse to his sovereign for one day’s delay, the Countess told her husband, that the occasion was favourable for observation of any strangers who might hang about the train of her Grace of Scotland. There was to be a wool fair held at Chee Tor, five miles off: the whole country round would be assembled,—some for business in the fair, and others for pleasure after it. Except in the track of Queen Elizabeth’s journeys, such assemblages were never seen as at these fairs; for the commercial business of the kingdom was mainly transacted there; at them there were trials of skill with the national weapons: and by means of them were the popular sports preserved as the sovereign was known to desire. If her Grace of Scotland should be disposed to visit the scene, the suspected stranger would be present; and the demeanour of other suspected strangers could be profitably watched. In meditating how to identify the Duke of Norfolk, if it should be he, the Countess bethought herself that Gadbury, the architect, had been employed by the Duke, in restoring one of his mansions. She sent a swift messenger to Hardwick, where Gadbury was: and Gadbury rode the greater part of the night to attend the Countess’s orders at her rising.
The Countess had not gone to rest, for her husband’s fever ran so high that she would not leave him. The physician himself had not prevailed with her to deliver the patient to his charge. It was as undesirable that the sick man should, in a moment of wandering, speak of Norfolk to the physician as to any page or serving man; perhaps more so. When the Earl dropped asleep after daylight, she also closed her eyes; but, before she bad slept half-an-hour, she was informed that her architect was below, awaiting her commands. She summoned him to the ante-chamber, and told him that if it was hard upon him to compel him to ride for the greater part of the day after a watchful night, she was herself under the same hardship. It was the pleasure of her Grace of Scotland to visit the fair to-day,—a spectacle indeed which a foreign princess ought to see; the Earl could not himself attend her; a friend who would take his place might not arrive in time; and she herself must play the part of both lord and lady. She explained that it might be long before she and her architect could have so good an opportunity of consulting about a market-house which had been talked of as the Earl’s gift to the good people who resorted to the fair; and she had therefore sent for him. On pretence of learning how much he had done professionally in this kind of edifice, she made out that he had personally known several noblemen who were more or less interested about Mary of Scotland; and that he had had frequent interviews with the Duke of Norfolk, not more than six years before.
Her Grace was entirely gracious about taking this long ride. She lamented the monotony of the life her ladies led, and smiled upon any project for their amusement. It was a splendid August day. The heat of the sunshine on the open hills was tempered by a pleasant breeze: and wherever the Buxton people looked out there were trains of country people, with their packhorses making their way in the direction of the fair. When her Grace mounted her horse, glances passed among the bystanders, for they had never seen her so beautiful. Her colour was high; her eyes, if not sparkling, were full of life and sensibility, and her bearing had none of the languor which had become almost habitual to her. Ordinary observers made the remark that her Grace was possibly as well pleased at the diversion as any of her ladies could be; indeed, she was young enough, though so often a widow, to relish a festival day. Closer watchers saw that her mind was full, as well as her spirits gay. The expression of her countenance told of something very unlike levity within.
When the first ascent out of the valley was passed, the stiffness of the cavalcade was relaxed. The bells of the packhorses, far and near, seemed to exhilarate the ladies; and yet more cheerful were they when the breeze brought the clang of church bells. Every church in Derbyshire sent out its bell music on occasions of public holiday. When the party reached the moorland, there was the bleating of innumerable sheep; and the foreign ladies were told that there were, within the county, as many as twenty thousand in a single flock. There was a great deal to be related of the popular discontent about enclosures, and of the endeavours of the clergy and the great landlords to convince the yeomen that by an enclosure they might each save the labour of a shepherd, and secure the manuring of the arable land. The question of the concentration of the sheep, and the better care of the fleece thus practicable, or of their dispersion over the hills and moors, whereby a regiment of shepherds was required, seemed to interest Mary of Scotland. She observed on the great extent of moorland in her own kingdom, and on the chances of increasing the production of wool. When Felton and Stansbury joined the cavalcade by a bridle path in the hills, her Grace summoned them to her side, as Derbyshire men, to give her information. While they were deep in the ostensible discussion of wool and grazing as against tillage,—a subject on which Bishop Latimer was quoted without any appearance of horror, the Lady Bess exchanged a few words with her chief man at arms. Here were two papists added already to her Grace’s train: it must be looked to that the number did not increase too far.
There seemed to be no reason to apprehend any difficulty. When the cavalcade paused on any ridge to survey the scenery, there were none but country people in sight. Country gentlemen there were, jogging on towards the fair; but they seemed to know nothing of the presence of any stray princess in their county. Most of them were unaware of the existence of any rival to their own Queen; and the rest had not heard of Mary’s arrival in England. For fourteen years to come they would hear more and more of her; but as yet there had not been time. It was only by means of these fairs that they heard any news beyond the rural incidents of their own parish. They were aware that the country had been growing prosperous under the rule of Queen Bess; and they would willingly have done anything in her service that could be proposed: but they had everything to learn of the politics of the case: and if told, at the moment when her Grace of Scotland turned her horse on the ridge, that that lady called herself, and was called by her train of foreigners, the Queen of England, as well as France and Scotland, they would have stared at her as much for her odd impertinence as they now did for her strange beauty.
At the fair all imaginable articles of ordinary consumption were sold retail, on the spot where the Earl had thoughts of erecting a market-house. The Countess seemed to forget the presence of her guest while conferring with her architect on the subject. She allowed the whole party to sit waiting in the hot sunshine,—their horses irritated by the flies, and their ears assailed by all the din of the fair. This was not all pre-occupation. She desired to observe who would venture to address the queen, and whether any attempt would be made to withdraw from her vigilance. Nothing of the sort happened. There was some ridicule perhaps of the Countess herself, which the queen did not repress. As for the rest, the gentlemen brought fruit and whey to the ladies, and busied themselves in learning whether the games promised much amusement. When the Countess rejoined the party, she made some approach to an apology for having kept them waiting. If she had seemed to neglect the convenience of her mounted guests, she said, it was for the sake of people who had to go on foot,—and some of them barefoot; and who had to bear not only the heat of the sun in August, but the winter blast, and the snowdrift, and the autumn rains. Fewer of them would be lost in the hill-fogs, perhaps, when there should be a market-house with a bell in it;—a bell which should be to the shepherds round like the shore-beacon to the mariner in stormy nights. Her Grace smiled upon the apology, and at once took an interest in the market-house,—putting Gadbury’s wits to flight as she, reputed a witch on that account, was apt to do, as often as she addressed herself to any stranger. To be accosted by a queen was not altogether a new thing to the architect. He had been called to attend his own sovereign when she rode through the streets of Norwich, and to the rising grounds made famous to that generation by Kett’s rebellion. He had guided her Majesty to Kett’s Castle on the hill; and had expounded to her the antiquities of Norwich Castle, and the architecture of the Bishop’s Palace, at which she had been lodging: and never once had he felt confounded, as he now did, when spoken to by a disgraced and exiled queen about a market-house in the Derbyshire hills. By the time her Grace had passed on towards the green where the archery was to take place, he had thought of several things which it would have been well to say. He followed, in hope of another chance; but he was so lost in vexing himself about his failure in manners that he saw little of what was going forward. He was conjecturing what the French and Scotch ladies would say, when alone, of the breeding of Bess of Hardwick and her architect.
Bess of Hardwick was dismounting, meantime, finding it the pleasure of Mary of Scotland to see the archery. There was a fine level space at the foot of the Tor; and a group of ash and birch-trees, affording shade at a point which overlooked the butts. It was not possible, by that year, to see good archery in every county of England. Notwithstanding Queen Bess’s admiration of the bow, it was quite out of fashion; and she was wont to say that she and archery should go out of the world together. In old-fashioned districts of the kingdom, however, cross-bow practice was still sustained; and there were rivalries of parishes and families which could not be allowed to expire for a generation or two. When proclamation was now made for the archers to appear, not only did several yeomen come forward, but some half-dozen gentlemen, to challenge a judgment of their skill. Her Grace of Scotland was seated on cushions under the shade, with her ladies behind her, and the Countess stationed by her side. The latter overheard, as she approached, the submissive speeches of Felton and his friend, who were kneeling beside the queen. They could not say that they were not bowmen, in the sense in which country gentlemen still were: and, if her Grace desired it, they would try their skill. They would challenge the Countess, if it might be permitted. They had no doubt of her ability to shoot with anybody present.
The Countess never refused her sanction to active sports, for man or woman. Her own chief bowman had foreseen the occasion, and had brought her bow, her gauntlet, and all that she needed; and when she appeared at the station opposite the butts, a loud cheer went up from the great crowd for Bess of Hardwick. Many said that there was not a stronger arm, nor a truer aim among the archers of all England.
Eager as she appeared, and really was, in watching the shots, she observed all that passed round the Queen’s rural throne. She believed there was opportunity for more than whispers,—even for an exchange of letters, amidst the jestings, and offerings of fruit, and of trifles from the market. She was considering how best to be in two places at once, or to employ Gadbury, when she saw, among the yeomen in homespun on the green, the man for whom she was specially watching. After satisfying herself that this was the Duke of Norfolk, or a magical likeness of him, she beckoned Gadbury, and sent him to make an inquiry of this very man about the butts: and when she observed that, after answering the question, he drew back, and mingled with the crowd, she proclaimed that she was about to use her woman’s privilege of selecting her adversaries, and summoned him as one of the four archers who should compete with her for the great cheese, which was to be the prize of success.
The yeoman advanced, with repeated obeisances to the Countess, after the manner of country fellows. The Lady Bess glanced at the group under the tree, and saw the flush which overspread the cheek of her royal guest at the moment when the competitors took their places. Once more she singled out the yeoman, and observed to him that it was but courteous to invite her Grace to a share in the sport.
“Carry my compliments to her Grace,” said she, “and say that it will be a crowning honour to the sports of the day if she will let fly a bolt, like the rest of us.”
“Too great an honour, surely,” was the reply.
“If you knew her Grace, you would not think so,” said the Countess. “She is full ready at times to join in lower sports than this. I have seen her, not only at bowls in the alley, but dancing in the hall;—dancing with the first who had courage to ask her. Go, and give her my message.”
“Let some worthier messenger carry it. I am too humble, my lady.”
“You are the fittest, because I doubt whether there is another yeoman on the ground whose speech she would understand. You must have been brought up outside of Derbyshire; for you have not the country speech which, in another, would be to her like a foreign tongue.”
This remark dispatched him on his errand. The Countess turned to Gadbury, laughing, and said she had never seen his eyes so far out of his head; and his countenance was full of astonishment when he replied that he had never seen such a likeness in his life.
“Study him, and tell me whether it be only a likeness,” said the Countess. “Is that clumsiness, that sheepish air, real, do you think? or rather the air, (see now!) with which he approaches her Grace? Does a yeoman attain such a bearing in a moment, on merely facing royalty?”
“A courtly air indeed!” exclaimed Gadbury. “His mask, if it be a mask—”
“No doubt of that, Gadbury.”
“His mask falls at her glance.”
“It is either flattery or rank imprudence,” the Countess observed. “See how her Grace bends to him as he kneels, and frowns! She frowns on his rashness; but how plain is the smile underneath it!”
“But what brings the Duke of Norfolk here in that guise?” asked Gadbury.
“Wooers are full of strange devices,” said the Countess.
“But, after all the sanction given to her Grace wedding an English nobleman,” observed Gadbury; “after our queen’s own proposal of the Earl of Leicester—”
“The Earl of Leicester is not the Duke of Norfolk. That is one thing; and another is that Queen Bess may not be so ready as she was a year ago to further any marriage of her kinswoman. It is said that Bothwell is ascertained to be still living; and he may be produced if any one of her Grace’s flirtations should go too far. Look at them now!”
“They are a noble pair!” exclaimed Gadbury.
“But slow in giving and receiving a message,” said the Countess. “I believe I must send another of her Grace’s lovers to fetch her reply. There is Felton—No, there is no need. Our highbred yeoman is returning. You see how his rustic manner grows upon him as he retires from Queen Mary to poor Bess of Hardwick!”
The yeoman brought word that her Grace feared that long disuse had spoiled her skill in archery, and that she should merely discredit Scotland if she accepted a challenge to the butts. She should have more pleasure in witnessing her hostess’s noted excellence.
While the sport proceeded, Mary of Scotland missed no point of the contest, but remarked on every shot. Yet she carried on a conversation with Felton, who kneeled by her side.
“If you have tidings for me,” she said, “use these few moments with diligence. Why so silent, with so rare an opportunity for private speech?” And she cast on him a glance which roused his spirits.
“I entreat your majesty’s pardon,” said Felton. “I must indeed rally my wits which yonder yeoman had cruelly dispersed.”
“Forget yonder yeoman,” said she, smiling: “except, indeed, that we must admire that shot of his. If he wins the prize, we shall have him here again to receive his honours.”
Felton inwardly breathed a hope that Bess might be the winner.
“Your tidings, quickly, if you have any,” her Grace demanded.
“All was prospering, up to forty-eight hours since,” said Felton. “The force from Jedburgh has already joined the Percy’s troops; and Westmoreland will meet them on the frontier of Yorkshire. My comrade will remain here to receive such news as may arrive, while I ride towards Westmoreland, to ensure the junction which is planned for Thursday night. Or he will ride, and I shall remain.”
“Which?” asked her Grace, smiling.
Felton was eagerly rising when she cautioned him to show no emotion.
“If you cannot proceed till I have answered my own question,” she continued, “I should propose that you should remain, as a nearer friend of mine: that is, supposing that the errand to the Earl of Westmoreland is one which requires no singular skill,—one to which your friend’s ability is adequate.”
“Stansbury is equal to either business,” Felton declared.
“And well disposed? You know I trust him on your assurance.”
“Only too well disposed. Your Majesty will not be offended at this chance word when I explain that it is because we are inseparable in our undertakings that he is now concerned with me in this. His homage to your Majesty is hourly becoming all that——”
“Not all that yours is, I trust,” Mary said, kindly. “I would not have more noble-hearted gentlemen involved. Alas! we have forgotten our part! What is that cheer?”
“An excellent shot that—of Bess of Hardwick’s!” said one of the party who stood sentinel while the low-voiced conversation went on.
“Persuade her to show us another,” said Felton to him; “we must have a few more moments.”
Turning to Mary, he perceived that she was contemplating Stansbury. She sighed, and said that there must be success this time, for it would destroy her peace for ever if she involved in danger any brave gentleman through loyalty to his friend. It was enough, and too much, when the peril reached only her own near and dear friends.
“Your Majesty has no real fear,” Felton observed.
“I know only what I am told,” she replied, gently. “Why do you say this? If I am too bold, too little careful of my comrades in our cause, you must warn me. Is the danger greater . . .?”
“The danger is naught, madam. It is only when I think of Stansbury that it flits for a moment before my fancy.”
“And why then?”
“Because he is a man of a childlike mind, manly as he is in thought and temper. He is not made for political adventure in a time like ours.”
“He ought to have had no share in it,” Mary observed.
And Felton hastened to explain that he had striven against his friend’s sympathy till he found it was a better kindness to admit him to confidence than to separate from him. But there must be, there could be, no failure.
“Why did you say just now that I myself have no fear?” Mary again asked.
Felton bitterly repented the remark; but her Grace would have an answer. He could not meet her eye as he said that he judged by the satisfaction she showed when his Grace of Norfolk was at her feet, half-an-hour ago.
“You recognised him, then?” said she. “I feared so. It was over rash in him to appear so far from York, where also he will be missed, and your well-served Sovereign will hear of it. It is too idle of him; and you are mistaken, Mr. Felton, if you imagine that such rashness affords me any pleasure. I did indeed rebuke him.”
Felton smiled painfully at the remembrance of the rebuke, which was nothing but a tender reproach for running risks for her sake,—given with the blush and the tone which intoxicated eye and ear, and the self which lay behind them. Felton thought that he would break into every prison to which Mary could be consigned to obtain such a rebuke as was now making yonder marksman in homespun the happiest man in Derbyshire. The more pointedly did he say that his Grace of Norfolk had not made this journey without reason. He had brought news, as her Grace would soon no doubt learn. Mary’s eagerness was extreme to hear this news; but Felton could only endeavour to bring the Duke to speech with her Grace. He did not know the nature of the tidings, further than that they bore favourably on the scheme of a rising and rescue a few days hence.
Mary had no more attention for Felton now, except as far as kindness required. She was watching the shooting. She had not long to wait. The yeoman in homespun won the prize, which was a handsome tankard. The second prize, a prodigious cheese, fell to the Countess. The yeoman appeared before Mary, to receive her compliments, and he laid his tankard at her feet.
“What will you do with your prize?” she asked. “Have you a buffet at home worthy to exhibit such a trophy?”
“I have a trifle of grandmother’s plate,” he replied; “a few poor spoons, and an empty place for my prize. I, and all mine, shall have the honour of drinking your Grace’s health,”—and, lowering his voice, he proceeded,—“the health of all your Majesty’s devoted servants, and especially your Majesty’s earliest subjects. . . .”
A glance showed that Mary understood that he was giving her news from France.
“Who,” continued the prizeman, “will line our cliffs some night soon.”
There was no time for more. The Countess was approaching amidst laughter and shouts of “Well done, Bess of Hardwick!” She was bearing her great cheese on her head, not altogether without grace, and with extreme good humour; and she lowered it to her Grace’s feet, with a hope that her Grace would permit the Derbyshire people to think of her as tasting the genuine cheese of their county at supper, this evening or some other. Her Grace would not wait for supper-time. If there was bread anywhere on the ground . . . . She delighted the people further by declining the delicate manchet, and even the meal loaf, and preferring the oat-cake, which she said she had learned in Scotland to like: but so few were the morsels of cake and cheese that she swallowed, that Felton, and not Felton alone, believed that the whole play was for the sake of pledging the prizeman in a draught from his tankard. She had called for ale; but she found herself served with a choice French wine.
It was but a lady’s portion that she took; but the country people might have been excused for supposing it more, from the flush on her cheek, the gaiety of her voice, and the exhilaration of her whole bearing. She asked questions of the old labourers and their dames, which had to be translated from her slightly foreign English into their dialect before any sort of answer could be got. She made the boys run races; and she noticed the infants,—less gaily, it is true, and once with tearful eyes; but she so far pleased young as well as old, that when the infants grew up to be youths and maidens, they listened eagerly to all conjectures about what would be the end of the long captivity of that beautiful lady. How kindly she had smiled at them! but now, it was said, she never smiled. How lightly she had mounted, and ridden up the valley when the games were over that fair-day! yet now she never appeared outside the walls of Fotheringay Castle. Did she remember that fair-day at Chee Tor, and having patted the cheeks of any baby there? Yes: Mary had reason to remember that day.
She believed that night, and she probably believed to the end of her days, that her hostess knew what to expect on the return of the party: but in this she was mistaken. The country people would not have been allowed to come near her, if it had been suspected that there would be any rousing of the neighbourhood before sunset.
The Countess saw the prizeman take his leave with a rustic bow, and mount a clumsy hack to ride home, as he said: but, as she herself rode behind her guest, she looked back, and saw that he had dismounted just below the ridge, and was watching the group, shading his eyes with his hat. It was true, as she observed to Gadbury, that any yeoman might watch a queen on her way, when he might never see a queen again: but still, his attitude was not that of a man with a good wife at home, to whom he was anxious to show his prize. She should inform Lord Shrewsbury, every time she saw the Duke of Norfolk in attendance; and the Earl would give what information he thought fit to his own sovereign. Her own opinion was that, as her Grace had a train of admirers awaiting her wherever she went, she was insufficiently guarded. Gadbury counted numbers, and observed that there were twenty-two men now present to guard four ladies. The Countess would not be reckoned as a lady requiring guardianship, but rather as one of her Grace’s men-at-arms; and she showed that she carried weapons. She said, too, that where the roads were thronged with the country people, as on that day, all was safe enough: but she fancied that the hunting and hawking, in the woods and on the moors, had gone too far; and that the slippery lady would be missing, some day, when it was time to be going home.
At the same moment, the whole cavalcade seemed to be struck by the appearance of a company of horsemen who crossed the ridge, at some distance to the east of the road. It was a large party,—not less than thirty, the architect judged. The strangeness was in any party coming in that direction after the fair was over. The Countess was instantly persuaded that a rescue was intended. She issued rapid orders to her servants and squires, bidding them push on with all speed on their road home; and she would overtake them presently. Selecting one servant to follow her, she took the left-hand road, as soon as the other ladies had passed its opening, and rode full speed at the approaching company, as if she meant to charge them all at once.
The strangers halted for a moment; and then all but two cut across the moorland, through wet and dry, bog and stones, and succeeded in heading the group below. Of the two who detached themselves one awaited the Countess, hat in hand, and declared himself her Ladyship’s humble servant. He had been deputed by Sir Francis Knollys—.
“Then it is not a rescue! thank Heaven!” exclaimed the Countess.
“Far from it,” the stranger declared. “Indeed it was precisely the contrary. It was an arrest.”
“It must be a mistake,” the Countess replied. Sir Francis Knollys was merely to fulfil Lord Shrewsbury’s office while he was ill. That had been all settled between the Queen’s council and Lord Shrewsbury.
The stranger bowed, evidently unconvinced; and the state of things, when the Lady Bess overtook her party, was certainly surprising enough. The loudest voice she heard was that of Mary of Scotland. She was in vehement anger; and her ladies were in tears. Sir Francis Knollys held her rein, and led her horse forward, while Felton, Stansbury, and their servants offered defiance to all persons who should conduct her Grace anywhere but where she was pleased to go. Mary asked where Sir Francis meant to take her; and when he said that she was not to return to Buxton, but to go to a country house for the present, and then to Tutbury, she wept aloud, and appealed to the people within hearing for aid. Felton’s anguish was in vain: the countryfolk crowded together, and seemed mortally afraid of the well-armed gentlemen, who announced to them that there was treason afoot against Queen Elizabeth. There was nothing to be done for Mary. At the next turn, the Buxton road was quitted,—even by Bess of Hardwick herself. She would not lose sight of her charge. The Earl must recover as well as he could without her. She must learn what all this meant, and be ready to answer to the Queen—
“Yes, indeed!” one of Sir F. Knollys’ gentlemen observed in her ear. “It was quite time to do so when, but for an accident, the Queen of Scots would have escaped in the course of a week, and the English crown would have been again in danger. A conspiracy was suspected: her Grace of Scotland’s secretaries were doubted, and it was necessary to separate her Grace from them till her papers had been examined. It was a sudden thought,—this start this afternoon; and it was not settled, he believed, where the night should be passed; but it would certainly not be at Buxton.”
Felton prevailed to have the poor queen conveyed once more to his house, near Chesterfield. She was dissolved in tears as she dismounted at his door; and in the hall she flung herself into a chair sobbing out:
“Here again! Disappointed again! Going again to Tutbury! O! anywhere but Tutbury! If you knew,”—and she turned to Knollys, “what I have endured of indignity and misery of every kind at Tutbury, you would spare me from going there.”
Sir F. Knollys was concerned that her Grace had so strong a dislike to Tutbury, as it was his charge to convey her there.
She sprang from her seat, dashed away her tears, and demanded to be conducted to her chamber. For three days and nights, her host watched for a moment’s sight of her; but in vain. A sentinel was placed at her door; and no one but her ladies saw her till a messenger brought the news that the coast was now clear at Tutbury.