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    Chapter 18

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    Chapter 19
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    CIS OR SISTER.

    Buxtona, quae calidae celebraris nomine lymphae Forte mihi post hac non adeunda, Vale.

    (Buxton of whose warm waters men tell, Perchance I ne'er shall see thee more, Farewell.)

    Thus wrote Queen Mary with a diamond upon her window pane, smiling as she said, "There, we will leave a memento over which the admirable Dr. Jones will gloat his philosophical soul. Never may I see thee more, Buxton, yet never thought I to be so happy as I have here been."

    She spoke with the tenderness of farewell to the spot which had always been the pleasantest abode of the various places of durance which had been hers in England. Each year she had hoped would be her last of such visits, but on this occasion everything seemed to point to a close to the present state of things, since not only were the negotiations with Scotland apparently prosperous, but Lord Shrewsbury had obtained an absolute promise from Elizabeth that she would at all events relieve him from his onerous and expensive charge. Thus there was general cheerfulness, as the baggage was bestowed in carts and on beasts of burthen, and Mary, as she stood finishing her inscription on the window, smiled sweetly and graciously on Mistress Talbot, and gave her joy of the arrival of her towardly and hopeful son, adding, "We surprised him at the well! May his Cis, who is yet to be found, I trow, reward his lealty!"

    That was all the notice Mary deigned to take of the former relations between her daughter and young Talbot. She did not choose again to beg for secrecy when she was sure to hear that she had been forestalled, and she was too consummate a judge of character not to have learnt that, though she might despise the dogged, simple straightforwardness of Richard and Susan Talbot, their honour was perfectly trustworthy. She was able for the present to keep her daughter almost entirely to herself, since, on the return to Sheffield, the former state of things was resumed. The Bridgefield family was still quartered in the Manor-house, and Mistress Talbot continued to be, as it were, Lady Warder to the captive in the place of the Countess, who obstinately refused to return while Mary was still in her husband's keeping. Cicely, as Mary's acknowledged favourite, was almost always in her apartments, except at the meals of the whole company of Shrewsbury kinsfolk and retainers, when her place was always far removed from that of Humfrey. In truth, if ever an effort might have obtained a few seconds of private conversation, a strong sense of embarrassment and perplexity made the two young people fly apart rather than come together. They knew not what they wished. Humfrey might in his secret soul long for a token that Cis remembered his faithful affection, and yet he knew that to elicit one might do her life-long injury. So, however he might crave for word or look when out of sight of her, an honourable reluctance always withheld him from seeking any such sign in the short intervals when he could have tried to go beneath the surface. On the other hand, this apparent indifference piqued her pride, and made her stiff, cold, and almost disdainful whenever there was any approach between them. Her vanity might be flattered by the knowledge that she was beyond his reach; but it would have been still more gratified could she have discovered any symptoms of pining and languishing after her. She might peep at him from under her eyelashes in chapel and in hall; but in the former place his gaze always seemed to be on the minister, in the latter he showed no signs of flagging as a trencher companion. Both mothers thought her marvellously discreet; but neither beheld the strange tumult in her heart, where were surging pride, vanity, ambition, and wounded affection.

    In a few days, Sir Ralf Sadler and his son-in-law Mr. Somer arrived at Sheffield in order to take the charge of the prisoner whilst Shrewsbury went to London. The conferences and consultations were endless, and harassing, and it was finally decided that the Earl should escort her to Wingfield, and, leaving her there under charge of Sadler, should proceed to London. She made formal application for Mistress Cicely Talbot to accompany her as one of her suite, and her supposed parents could not but give their consent, but six gentlewomen had been already enumerated, and the authorities would not consent to her taking any more ladies with her, and decreed that Mistress Cicely must remain at home.

    "This unkindness has made the parting from this place less joyous than I looked for," said Mary, "but courage, ma mignonne. Soon shall I send for thee to Scotland, and there shalt thou burst thine husk, and show thyself in thy true colours;" and turning to Susan, "Madam, I must commit my treasure to her who has so long watched over her."

    "Your Grace knows that she is no less my treasure," said Susan.

    "I should have known it well," returned the Queen, "from the innocence and guilelessness of the damsel. None save such a mother as Mistress Talbot could have made her what she is. Credit me, madam, I have looked well into her heart, and found nought to undo there. You have bred her up better than her poor mother could have done, and I gladly entrust her once more to your care, assured that your well-tried honour will keep her in mind of what she is, and to what she may be called."

    "She shall remember it, madam," said Susan.

    "When I am a Queen once more," said Mary, "all I can give will seem too poor a meed for what you have been to my child. Even as Queen of Scotland or England itself, my power would be small in comparison with my will. My gratitude, however, no bounds can limit out to me."

    And with tears of tenderness and thankfulness she kissed the cheeks and lips of good Mistress Talbot, who could not but likewise weep for the mother thus compelled to part with her child.

    The night was partly spent in caresses and promises of the brilliant reception preparing in Scotland, with auguries of the splendid marriage in store, with a Prince of Lorraine, or even with an Archduke.

    Cis was still young enough to dream of such a lot as an opening to a fairy land of princely glories. If her mother knew better, she still looked tenderly back on her beau pays de France with that halo of brightness which is formed only in childhood and youth. Moreover, it might be desirable to enhance such aspiration as might best secure the young princess from anything derogatory to her real rank, while she was strongly warned against betraying it, and especially against any assumption of dignity should she ever hear of her mother's release, reception, and recognition in Scotland. For whatever might be the maternal longings, it would be needful to feel the way and prepare the ground for the acknowledgment of Bothwell's daughter in Scotland, while the knowledge of her existence in England would almost surely lead to her being detained as a hostage. She likewise warned the maiden never to regard any letter or billet from her as fully read till it had been held--without witnesses--to the fire.

    Of Humfrey Talbot, Queen Mary scorned to say anything, or to utter a syllable that she thought a daughter of Scotland needed a warning against a petty English sailor. Indeed, she had confidence that the youth's parents would view the attachment as quite as undesirable for him as for the young princess, and would guard against it for his sake as much as for hers.

    The true parting took place ere the household was astir. Afterwards, Mary, fully equipped for travelling, in a dark cloth riding-dress and hood, came across to the great hall of the Manor-house, and there sat while each one of the attendants filed in procession, as it were, before her. To each lady she presented some small token wrought by her own hands. To each gentleman she also gave some trinket, such as the elaborate dress of the time permitted, and to each serving man or maid a piece of money. Of each one she gravely but gently besought pardon for all the displeasures or offences she might have caused them, and as they replied, kissing her hand, many of them with tears, she returned a kiss on the brow to each woman and an entreaty to be remembered in their prayers, and a like request, with a pressure of the hand, to each man or boy.

    It must have been a tedious ceremony, and yet to every one it seemed as if Mary put her whole heart into it, and to any to whom she owed special thanks they were freely paid.

    The whole was only over by an hour before noon. Then she partook of a manchet and a cup of wine, drinking, with liquid eyes, to the health and prosperity of her good host, and to the restoration of his family peace, which she had so sorely, though unwittingly, disturbed.

    Then she let him hand her out, once more kissing Susan Talbot and Cis, who was weeping bitterly, and whispering to the latter, "Not over much grief, ma petite; not more than may befit, ma mignonne."

    Lord Shrewsbury lifted her on her horse, and, with him on one side and Sir Ralf Sadler on the other, she rode down the long avenue on her way to Wingfield.

    The Bridgefield family had already made their arrangements, and their horses were waiting for them amid the jubilations of Diccon and Ned. The Queen had given each of them a fair jewel, with special thanks to them for being good brothers to her dear Cis. "As if one wanted thanks for being good to one's own sister," said Ned, thrusting the delicate little ruby brooch on his mother to be taken care of till his days of foppery should set in, and he would need it for cap and plume.

    "Come, Cis, we are going home at last," said Diccon. "What! thou art not breaking thine heart over yonder Scottish lady--when we are going home, home, I say, and have got rid of watch and ward for ever? Hurrah!" and he threw up his cap, and was joined in the shout by more than one of the youngsters around, for Richard and most of the elders were escorting the Queen out of the park, and Mistress Susan had been summoned on some question of household stuff. Cis, however, stood leaning against the balustrade, over which she had leant for the last glance exchanged with her mother, her face hidden in her hands and kerchief, weeping bitterly, feeling as if all the glory and excitement of the last few weeks had vanished as a dream and left her to the dreary dulness of common life, as little insignificant Cis Talbot again.

    It was Humfrey who first came near, almost timidly touched her hand, and said, "Cheer up. It is but for a little while, mayhap. She will send for thee. Come, here is thine old palfrey--poor old Dapple. Let me put thee on him, and for this brief time let us feign that all is as it was, and thou art my little sister once more."

    "I know not which is truth and which is dreaming," said Cis, waking up through her tears, but resigning her hand to him, and letting him lift her to her seat on the old pony which had been the playfellow of both. If it had been an effort to Humfrey to prolong the word Cis into sister, he was rewarded for it. It gave the key-note to their intercourse, and set her at ease with him; and the idea that her present rustication was but a comedy instead of a reality was consoling in her present frame of mind. Mistress Susan, surrounded with importunate inquirers as to household matters, and unable to escape from them, could only see that Humfrey had taken charge of the maiden, and trusted to his honour and his tact. This was, however, only the beginning of a weary and perplexing time. Nothing could restore Cis to her old place in the Bridgefield household, or make her look upon its tasks, cares, and joys as she had done only a few short months ago. Her share in them could only be acting, and she was too artless and simple to play a part. Most frequently she was listless, dull, and pining, so much inclined to despise and neglect the ordinary household occupations which befitted the daughter of the family, that her adopted mother was forced, for the sake of her incognito, to rouse, and often to scold her when any witnesses were present who would have thought Mrs. Talbot's toleration of such conduct in a daughter suspicious and unnatural.

    Such reproofs were dangerous in another way, for Humfrey could not bear to hear them, and was driven nearly to the verge of disrespect and perilous approaches to implying that Cis was no ordinary person to be sharply reproved when she sat musing and sighing instead of sewing Diccon's shirts.

    Even the father himself could not well brook to hear the girl blamed, and both he and Humfrey could not help treating her with a kind of deference that made the younger brothers gape and wonder what had come to Humfrey on his travels "to make him treat our Cis as a born princess."

    "You irreverent varlets," said Humfrey, "you have yet to learn that every woman ought to be treated as a born princess."

    "By cock and pie," said spoilt Ned, "that beats all! One's own sister!"

    Whereupon Humfrey had the opportunity of venting a little of his vexation by thrashing his brother for his oath, while sharp Diccon innocently asked if men never swore by anything when at sea, and thereby nearly got another castigation for irreverent mocking of his elder brother's discipline.

    At other times the girl's natural activity and high spirits gained the upper hand, and she would abandon herself without reserve to the old homely delights of Bridgefield. At the apple gathering, she was running about, screaming with joy, and pelting the boys with apples, more as she had done at thirteen than at seventeen, and when called to order she inconsistently pleaded, "Ah, mother! it is for the last time. Do but let me have my swing!" putting on a wistful and caressing look, which Susan did not withstand when the only companions were the three brothers, since Humfrey had much of her own unselfishness and self-command, resulting in a discretion that was seldom at fault.

    And that discretion made him decide at a fortnight's end that his father had been right, and that it would be better for him to absent himself from where he could do no good, but only added to the general perplexity, and involved himself in the temptation of betraying the affection he knew to be hopeless.

    Before, however, it was possible to fit out either Diccon or the four men who were anxious to go under the leadership of Master Humfrey of Bridgefield, the Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury were returning fully reconciled. Queen Elizabeth had made the Cavendishes ask pardon on their knees of the Earl for their slanders; and he, in his joy, had freely forgiven all. Gilbert Talbot and his wife had shared in the general reconciliation. His elder brother's death had made him the heir apparent, and all were coming home again, including the little Lady Arbell, once more to fill the Castle and the Manor-house, and to renew the free hospitable life of a great feudal chief, or of the Queen's old courtier, with doors wide open, and no ward or suspicion.

    Richard rejoiced that his sons, before going abroad, should witness the return to the old times which had been at an end before they could remember Sheffield distinctly. The whole family were drawn up as usual to receive them, when the Earl and Countess arrived first of all at the Manor-house.

    The Countess looked smaller, thinner, older, perhaps a trifle more shrewish, but she had evidently suffered much, and was very glad to have recovered her husband and her home.

    "So, Susan Talbot," was her salutation, "you have thriven, it seems. You have been playing the part of hostess, I hear."

    "Only so far as might serve his Lordship, madam."

    "And the wench, there, what call you her? Ay, Cicely. I hear the Scottish Queen hath been cockering her up and making her her bedfellow, till she hath spoilt her for a reasonable maiden. Is it so? She looks it."

    "I trust not, madam," said Susan.

    "She grows a strapping wench, and we must find her a good husband to curb her pride. I have a young man already in my eye for her."

    "So please your Ladyship, we do not think of marrying her as yet," returned Susan, in consternation.

    "Tilly vally, Susan Talbot, tell me not such folly as that. Why, the maid is over seventeen at the very least! Save for all the coil this Scottish woman and her crew have made, I should have seen her well mated a year ago."

    Here was a satisfactory prospect for Mistress Susan, bred as she had been to unquestioning submission to the Countess. There was no more to be said on that occasion, as the great lady passed on to bestow her notice on others of her little court.

    Humfrey meantime had been warmly greeted by the younger men of the suite, and one of them handed him a letter which filled him with eagerness. It was from an old shipmate, who wrote, not without sanction, to inform him that Sir Francis Drake was fitting out an expedition, with the full consent of the Queen, to make a descent upon the Spaniards, and that there was no doubt that if he presented himself at Plymouth, he would obtain either the command, or at any rate the lieutenancy, of one of the numerous ships which were to be commissioned. Humfrey was before all else a sailor. He had made no engagement to Sir John Norreys, and many of the persons engaged on this expedition were already known to him. It was believed that the attack was to be upon Spain itself, and the notion filled him with ardour and excitement that almost drove Cicely out of his mind, as he laid the proposal before his father.

    Richard was scarcely less excited. "You young lads are in luck," he said. "I sailed for years and never had more than a chance brush with the Don; never the chance of bearding him on his own shores!"

    "Come with us, then, father," entreated Humfrey. "Sir Francis would be overjoyed to see you. You would get the choicest ship to your share."

    "Nay, nay, my boy, tempt me not; I cannot leave your mother to meet all the coils that may fall in her way! No; I'm too old. I've lost my sea legs. I leave thee to win the fame, son Humfrey!"

    The decision was thus made, and Humfrey and Diccon were to start together for London first, and then for Plymouth, the second day after a great festival for the wedding of the little Alethea, daughter of Gilbert, Lord Talbot--still of very tender age--to the young heir of Arundel. The Talbot family had been precluded from holding festival for full fourteen years, or indeed from entertaining any guests, save the Commissioners sent down to confer from time to time with the captive Queen, so that it was no wonder that they were in the highest possible spirits at their release, and determined to take the first opportunity of exercising the gorgeous hospitality of the Tudor times.

    Posts went out, riding round all the neighbourhood with invitations. The halls were swept and adorned with the best suit of hangings. All the gentlemen, young and old, all the keepers and verdurers, were put in requisition to slaughter all the game, quadruped and biped, that fell in their way, the village women and children were turned loose on the blackberries, cranberries, and bilberries, and all the ladies and serving-women were called on to concoct pasties of many stories high, subtilties of wonderful curiosity, sweetmeats and comfits, cakes and marchpanes worthy of Camacho's wedding, or to deck the halls with green boughs, and weave garlands of heather and red berries.

    Cis absolutely insisted, so that the heads of the household gave way, on riding out with Richard and Humfrey when they had a buck to mark down in Rivelin Chase. And she set her heart on going out to gather cranberries in the park, flinging herself about with petulant irritation when Dame Susan showed herself unwilling to permit a proceeding which was thought scarcely becoming in any well-born damsel of the period. "Ah, child, child! thou wilt have to bear worse restraints than these," she said, "if ever thou comest to thy greatness."

    Cis made no answer, but threw herself into a chair and pouted.

    The next morning she did not present herself at the usual hour; but just as the good mother was about to go in quest of her to her chamber, a clear voice came singing up the valley--

    "Berries to sell! berries to sell! Berries fresh from moorland fell!"

    And there stood a girl in peasant dress, with short petticoats, stout shoes soaked in dew, a round face under black brows, and cheeks glowing in morning freshness; and a boy swung the other handle of the basket overflowing with purple berries.

    It was but a shallow disguise betrayed by the two roguish faces, and the good mother was so pleased to see Cis smile merrily again, that she did not scold over the escapade.

    Yet the inconsistent girl hotly refused to go up to the castle and help to make pastry for her mother's bitter and malicious foe, and Sir Richard shook his head and said she was in the right on't, and should not be compelled. So Susan found herself making lame excuses, which did not avert a sharp lecture from the Countess on the cockering of her daughter.
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