CHAPTER XLIV. ON THE HUMBER.
Master Talbot had done considerately in arranging that Cicely should at least begin her journey on a pillion behind himself, for her anguish of suppressed weeping unfitted her to guide a horse, and would have attracted the attention of any serving-man behind whom he could have placed her, whereas she could lay her head against his shoulder, and feel a kind of dreary repose there.
He would have gone by the more direct way to Hull, through Lincoln, but that he feared that February Filldyke would have rendered the fens impassable, so he directed his course more to the north-west. Cicely was silent, crushed, but more capable of riding than of anything else; in fact, the air and motion seemed to give her a certain relief.
He meant to halt for the night at a large inn at Nottingham. There was much stir in the court, and it seemed to be full of the train of some great noble. Richard knew not whether to be glad or sorry when he perceived the Shrewsbury colours and the silver mastiff badge, and was greeted by a cry of “Master Richard of Bridgefield!” Two or three retainers of higher degree came round him as he rode into the yard, and, while demanding his news, communicated their own, that my Lord was on his way to Fotheringhay to preside at the execution of the Queen of Scots.
He could feel Cicely’s shudder as he lifted her off her horse, and he replied repressively, “I am bringing my daughter from thence.”
“Come in and see my Lord,” said the gentleman. “He is a woeful man at the work that is put on him.”
Lord Shrewsbury did indeed look sad, almost broken, as he held out his hand to Richard, and said, “This is a piteous errand, cousin, on which I am bound. And thou, my young kinswoman, thou didst not succeed with her Majesty!”
“She is sick with grief and weariness,” said Richard. “I would fain take her to her chamber.”
The evident intimacy of the new-comers with so great a personage as my Lord procured for them better accommodation than they might otherwise have had, and Richard obtained for Cicely a tiny closet within the room where he was himself to sleep. He even contrived that she should be served alone, partly by himself, partly by the hostess, a kind motherly woman, to whom he committed her, while he supped with the Earl, and was afterwards called into his sleeping chamber to tell him of his endeavours at treating with Lord and Lady Talbot, and also to hear his lamentations over the business he had been sent upon. He had actually offered to make over his office as Earl Marshal to Burghley for the nonce, but as he said, “that of all the nobles in England, such work should fall to the lot of him, who had been for fourteen years the poor lady’s host, and knew her admirable patience and sweet conditions, was truly hard.”
Moreover, he was joined in the commission with the Earl of Kent, a sour Puritan, who would rejoice in making her drink to the dregs of the cup of bitterness! He was sick at heart with the thought. Richard represented that he would, at least, be able to give what comfort could be derived from mildness and compassion.