“Then there are other practices?”
“Ask me no questions, Mr. Talbot. All will be known soon enough. Be content that I will lay nothing on you inconsistent with the honour of a Christian man, knowing that you will serve the Queen faithfully.”
Humfrey gave his word, resolving that he would warn Cicely to reckon henceforth on nothing on his part that did not befit a man in charge.
CHAPTER XXVIII. HUNTING DOWN THE DEER
Humfrey had been sworn in of the service of the Queen, and had been put in charge of the guard mustered at Chartley for about ten days, during which he seldom saw Cicely, and wondered much not to have heard from home: when a stag-hunt was arranged to take place at the neighbouring park of Tickhill or Tixall, belonging to Sir Walter Ashton.
The chase always invigorated Queen Mary, and she came down in cheerful spirits, with Cicely and Mary Seaton as her attendants, and with the two secretaries, Nau and Curll, heading the other attendants.
“Now,” she said to Cicely, “shall I see this swain, or this brother of thine, who hath done us such good service, and I promise you there will be more in my greeting than will meet Sir Amias’s ear.”
But to Cicely’s disappointment Humfrey was not among the horsemen mustered at the door to attend and guard the Queen.
“My little maid’s eye is seeking for her brother,” said Mary, as Sir Amias advanced to assist her to her horse.
“He hath another charge which will keep him at home,” replied Paulett, somewhat gruffly, and they rode on.
It was a beautiful day in early August, the trees in full foliage, the fields seen here and there through them assuming their amber harvest tints, the twin spires of Lichfield rising in the distance, the park and forest ground through which the little hunting-party rode rich with purple heather, illuminated here and there with a bright yellow spike or star, and the rapid motion of her brisk palfrey animated the Queen. She began to hope that Humfrey had after all brought a false alarm, and that either he had been mistaken or that Langston was deceiving the Council itself, and though Sir Amias Paulett’s close proximity held her silent, those who knew her best saw that her indomitably buoyant spirits were rising, and she hummed to herself the refrain of a gay French hunting-song, with the more zest perhaps that her warder held himself trebly upright, stiff and solemn under it, as one who thought such lively times equally unbefitting a lady, a queen, and a captive. So at least Cis imagined as she watched them, little guessing that there might be deeper reasons of compassion and something like compunction to add to the gravity of the old knight’s face.
As they came in sight of the gate of Tickhill Park, they became aware of a company whose steel caps and shouldered arquebuses did not look like those of huntsmen. Mary bounded in her saddle, she looked round at her little suite with a glance of exultation in her eye, which said as plainly as words, “My brave friends, the hour has come!” and she quickened her steed, expecting, no doubt, that she might have to outride Sir Amias in order to join them.