“Poor maiden!” said her foster-father, “she is in a manner ours, and we cannot but watch over her; but after all, I doubt me whether it had not been better for her and for us, if the waves had beaten the little life out of her ere I carried her home.”
“She hath been the joy of my life,” said Humfrey, low and hoarsely.
“And I fear me she will be the sorrow of it. Not by her fault, poor wench, but what hope canst thou have, my son?”
“None, sir,” said Humfrey, “except of giving up all if I can so defend her from aught.” He spoke in a quiet matter-of-fact way that made his father look with some inquiry at his grave settled face, quite calm, as if saying nothing new, but expressing a long-formed quiet purpose.
Nor, though Humfrey was his eldest son and heir, did Richard Talbot try to cross it.
He asked whether he might see Cicely before going on to London, but Sir Amias said that in that case she would not be allowed to return to the Queen, and that to have had any intercourse with the prisoners might overthrow all his designs in London, and he therefore only left with Humfrey his commendations to her, with a pot of fresh honey and a lavender-scented set of kerchiefs from Mistress Susan.
CHAPTER XXX. TETE-A-TETE.
During that close imprisonment at Tixall Cicely learnt to know her mother both in her strength and weakness. They were quite alone; except that Sir Walter Ashton daily came to perform the office of taster and carver at their meals, and on the first evening his wife dragged herself upstairs to superintend the arrangement of their bedroom, and to supply them with toilette requisites according to her own very limited notions and possessions. The Dame was a very homely, hard-featured lady, deaf, and extremely fat and heavy, one of the old uncultivated rustic gentry who had lagged far behind the general civilisation of the country, and regarded all refinements as effeminate French vanities. She believed, likewise, all that was said against Queen Mary, whom she looked on as barely restrained from plunging a dagger into Elizabeth’s heart, and letting Parma’s hell-hounds loose upon Tixall. To have such a guest imposed on her was no small grievance, and nothing but her husband’s absolute mandate could have induced her to come up with the maids who brought sheets for the bed, pillows, and the like needments. Mary tried to make her requests as moderate as necessity would permit; but when they had been shouted into her ears by one of the maids, she shook her head at most of them, as articles unknown to her. Nor did she ever appear again. The arrangement of the bed-chamber was performed by two maidservants, the Knight himself meanwhile standing a grim sentinel over the two ladies in the outer apartment to hinder their holding any communication through the servants. All requests had to be made to him, and on the first morning Mary made a most urgent one for writing materials, books, and either needlework or spinning.