Susan made an obeisance without answering. She had heard Sir Gilbert Talbot say, “If she tries to persuade you that you can convert her, be sure that she means mischief,” but she could not bear to believe it anything but a libel while the sweet sad face was gazing into hers.
Queen Mary changed the subject by asking a few questions about the Countess’s sudden departure. There was a sort of guarded irony suppressed in her tone—she was evidently feeling her way with the stranger, and when she found that Susan would only own to causes Lord Shrewsbury had adduced on the spur of the moment, she was much too wary to continue the examination, though Susan could not help thinking that she knew full well the disturbance which had taken place.
A short walk on the roof above followed. The sun was shining brilliantly, and lame as she was, the Queen’s strong craving for free air led her to climb her stairs and creep to and fro on Sir Andrew Melville’s arm, gazing out over the noble prospect of the park close below, divided by the winding vales of the three rivers, which could be traced up into the woods and the moors beyond, purple with spring freshness and glory. Mary made her visitors point out Bridgefield, and asked questions about all that could be seen of the house and pleasance, which, in truth, was little enough, but she contrived to set Cis off into a girl’s chatter about her home occupations, and would not let her be hushed.
“You little know the good it does a captive to take part, only in fancy, in a free harmless life,” returned Mary, with the wistful look that made her eyes so pathetic. “There is no refreshment to me like a child’s prattle.”
Susan’s heart smote her as she thought of the true relations in which these two stood to one another, and she forbore from further interference; but she greatly rejoiced when the great bell of the castle gave notice of noon, and of her own release. When Queen Mary’s dinner was served, the Talbot ladies in attendance left her and repaired to the general family meal in the hall.
CHAPTER XII. A FURIOUS LETTER.
A period now began of daily penance to Mrs. Talbot, of daily excitement and delight to Cis. Two hours or more had to be spent in attendance on Queen Mary. Even on Sundays there was no exemption, the visit only took place later in the day, so as not to interfere with going to church.
Nothing could be more courteous or more friendly than the manner in which the elder lady was always received. She was always made welcome by the Queen herself, who generally entered into conversation with her almost as with an equal. Or when Mary herself was engaged in her privy chamber in dictating to her secretaries, the ladies of the suite showed themselves equally friendly, and told her of their mistress’s satisfaction in having a companion free from all the rude and unaccountable humours and caprices of my Lady Countess and her daughters. And if Susan was favoured, Cis was petted. Queen Mary always liked to have young girls about her. Their fresh, spontaneous, enthusiastic homage was pleasant to one who loved above all to attract, and it was a pleasure to a prisoner to have a fresh face about her.