The tragedies of the stage compress themselves into a few hours, but the tragedies of real life are of slow and heavy march, and the heart-sickness of delay and hope and dread alike deferred is one of their chief trials.
Humfrey’s hurt was quite well, but as he was at once trusted by his superiors, and acceptable to the captive, he was employed in many of those lesser communications between her and her keepers, for which the two knights did not feel it necessary to harass her with their presence. His post, for half the twenty-four hours, was on guard in the gallery outside her anteroom door; but he often knocked and was admitted as bearer of some message to her or her household; and equally often was called in to hear her requests, and sometimes he could not help believing because it pleased her to see him, even if there were nothing to tell her.
Nor was there anything known until the 19th of November, when the sound of horses’ feet in large numbers, and the blast of bugles, announced the arrival of a numerous party. When marshalled into the ordinary dining-hall, they proved to be Lord Buckhurst, a dignified-looking nobleman, who bore a sad and grave countenance full of presage, with Mr. Beale, the Clerk of the Council, and two or three other officials and secretaries, among whom Humfrey perceived the inevitable Will Cavendish.
The two old comrades quickly sought each other out, Will observing, “So here you are still, Humfrey. We are like to see the end of a long story.”
“How so?” asked Humfrey, with a thrill of horror, “is she sentenced?”
“By the Commissioners, all excepting my Lord Zouch, and by both houses of Parliament! We are come down to announce it to her. I’ll have you into the presence-chamber if I can prevail. It will be a noteworthy thing to see how the daughter of a hundred kings brooks such a sentence.”
“Hath no one spoken for her?” asked Humfrey, thinking at least as much of Cicely as of the victim.
“The King of Scots hath sent an ambassage,” returned Cavendish, “but when I say ’tis the Master of Gray, you know what that means. King James may be urgent to save his mother—nay, he hath written more sharply and shrewishly than ever he did before; but as for this Gray, whatever he may say openly, we know that he has whispered to the Queen, ‘The dead don’t bite.’”
“That may be, so far as he himself is concerned, but the counsel is canny, like the false Scot himself. What’s this I hear, Humfrey, that you have been playing the champion, and getting wounded in the defence?”
“A mere nothing,” said Humfrey, opening his hand, however, to show the mark. “I did but get my palm scored in hindering a villainous man-at-arms from slaying the poor lady.”
“Yea, well are thy race named Talbot!” said Cavendish. “Sturdy watch-dogs are ye all, with never a notion that sometimes it may be for the good of all parties to look the other way.”