Sir Walter stood all the time, looking on moodily and stolidly, with his cap in his hand. The Queen tried to talk to him, and make inquiries of him, but he had probably steeled himself to her blandishments, for nothing but gruff monosyllables could be extracted from him, except when he finally asked what she would be pleased to have for supper.
“Mine own cook and pantler have hitherto provided for me. They would save your household the charge, sir,” said Mary, “and I would be at charges for them.”
“Madam, I can bear the charge in the Queen’s service. Your black guard are under ward. And if not, no French jackanapes shall ever brew his messes in my kitchen! Command honest English fare, madam, and if it be within my compass, you shall have it. No one shall be stinted in Walter Ashton’s house; but I’ll not away with any of your outlandish kickshaws. Come, what say you to eggs and bacon, madam?”
“As you will, sir,” replied Mary, listlessly. And Sir Walter, opening the door, shouted to his serving-man, who speedily removed the meal, he going last and making his clumsy reverence at the door, which he locked behind him.
“So,” said Mary, “I descend! I have had the statesman, the earl, the courtly knight, the pedantic Huguenot, for my warders. Now am I come to the clown. Soon will it be the dungeon and the headsman.”
“O dear madam mother, speak not thus,” cried Cicely. “Remember they can find nothing against you.”
“They can make what they cannot find, my poor child. If they thirst for my blood, it will cost them little to forge a plea. Ah, lassie! there have been times when nothing but my cousin Elizabeth’s conscience, or her pity, stood between me and doom. If she be brought to think that I have compassed her death, why then there is naught for it but to lay my head on the same pillow as Norfolk and More and holy Fisher, and many another beside. Well, be it so! I shall die a martyr for the Holy Church, and thus may I atone by God’s mercy for my many sins! Yea, I offer myself a sacrifice,” she said, folding her hands and looking upward with a light on her face. “O do Thou accept it, and let my sufferings purge away my many misdeeds, and render it a pure and acceptable offering unto Thee. Child, child,” she added, turning to Cicely, “would that thou wert of my faith, then couldst thou pray for me.”
“O mother, mother, I can do that. I do pray for thee.”
And hand in hand with tears often rising, they knelt while Mary repeated in broken voice the Miserere.