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    Chapter 19

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    Chapter 20
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    THE CLASH OF SWORDS.

    Festivals in the middle ages were conducted by day rather than by night, and it was a bright noonday sun that shone upon the great hall at Sheffield, bedecked with rich tapestry around the dais, where the floor was further spread with Eastern carpets. Below, the garniture of the walls was of green boughs, interspersed between stag's antlers, and the floor was strewn, in ancient fashion, with the fragrant rush.

    All the tables, however, were spread with pure white napery, the difference being only in texture, but the higher table rejoiced in the wonderful extravagance of silver plates, while the lower had only trenchers. As to knives, each guest brought his or her own, and forks were not yet, but bread, in long fingers of crust, was provided to a large amount to supply the want. Splendid salt-cellars, towering as landmarks to the various degrees of guests, tankards, gilt and parcel gilt or shining with silver, perfectly swarmed along the board, and the meanest of the guests present drank from silver-rimmed cups of horn, while for the very greatest were reserved the tall, slender, opal Venice glasses, recently purchased by the Countess in London.

    The pies, the glory of Yorkshire, surpassed themselves. The young bride and bridegroom had the felicity of contemplating one whose crust was elevated into the altar of Hymen, with their own selves united thereat, attended by numerous Cupids, made chiefly in paste and sugar, and with little wings from the feathers of the many slaughtered fowl within. As to the jellies, the devices and the subtilties, the pen refuses to describe them! It will be enough to say that the wedding itself was the least part of the entertainment. It was gone through with very few spectators in the early morning, and the guests only assembled afterwards to this mighty dinner at a somewhat earlier hour than they would now to a wedding breakfast. The sewer marshalled all the guests in pairs according to their rank, having gone through the roll with his mistress, just as the lady of the house or her aide-de-camp pairs the guests and puts cards in their plates in modern times. Every one was there who had any connection with the Earl; and Cis, though flashes of recollection of her true claims would come across her now and then, was unable to keep from being eager about her first gaiety. Perhaps the strange life she had led at Buxton, as it receded in the distance, became more and more unreal and shadowy, and she was growing back into the simple Cicely she had always believed herself. It was with perfectly girlish natural pleasure that she donned the delicate sky-blue farthingale, embroidered with white lilies by the skilful hands of the captive Queen, and the daintily-fashioned little cap of Flanders lace, and practised the pretty dancing steps which the Queen had amused herself with teaching her long ere they knew they were mother and daughter.

    As Talbots, the Bridgefield family were spectators of the wedding, after which, one by one, the seneschal paired them off. Richard was called away first, then a huge old Yorkshire knight came and bore away Mrs. Susan, and after an interval, during which the young people entertained hopes of keeping together in enviable obscurity, the following summons to the board was heard in a loud voice--

    "Master Antony Babington, Esquire, of Dethick; Mistress Cicely Talbot, of Bridgefield."

    Humfrey's brow grew dark with disappointment, but cleared into a friendly greeting, as there advanced a tall, slender gentleman, of the well-known fair, pink and white colouring, and yellow hair, apparelled point device in dark green velvet, with a full delicately crimped ruff, bowing low as he extended his hand to take that of the young lady, exchanging at the same time a friendly greeting with his old comrade, before leading Cis to her place.

    On the whole, she was pleased. Tete-a-tetes with Humfrey were dreadfully embarrassing, and she felt life so flat without her nocturnal romance that she was very glad to have some one who would care to talk to her of the Queen. In point of fact, such conversation was prohibited. In the former days, when there had been much more intercourse between the Earl's household and the neighbourhood, regular cautions had been given to every member of it not to discuss the prisoner or make any communication about her habits. The younger generation who had grown up in the time of the closer captivity had never been instructed in these laws, for the simple reason that they hardly saw any one. Antony and Cicely were likewise most comfortably isolated, for she was flanked by a young esquire, who had no eyes nor ears save for the fair widow of sixteen whom he had just led in, and Antony, by a fat and deaf lady, whose only interest was in tasting as many varieties of good cheer as she could, and trying to discover how and of what they were compounded. Knowing Mistress Cicely to be a member of the family, she once or twice referred the question to her across Antony, but getting very little satisfaction, she gave up the young lady as a bad specimen of housewifery, and was forced to be content with her own inductions.

    There was plenty of time for Antony to begin with, "Are there as many conies as ever in the chase?" and to begin on a discussion of all the memories connected with the free days of childhood, the blackberry and bilberry gatherings, the hide-and-seek in the rocks and heather, the consternation when little Dick was lost, the audacious comedy with the unsuspected spectators, and all the hundred and one recollections, less memorable perhaps, but no less delightful to both. It was only thus gradually that they approached their recent encounter in the Castleton Cavern, and Antony explained how he had burnt to see his dear Queen and mistress once again, and that his friends, Tichborne and the rest, were ready to kiss every footstep she had taken, and almost worshipped him and John Eyre for contriving this mode of letting them behold the hitherto unknown object of their veneration.

    All that passionate, chivalrous devotion, which in Sidney, Spenser, and many more attached itself to then-great Gloriana, had in these young men, all either secretly or openly reconciled to Rome, found its object in that rival in whom Edmund Spenser only beheld his false Duessa or snowy Florimel. And, indeed, romance had in her a congenial heroine, who needed little self-blinding so to appear. Her beauty needed no illusion to be credited. Even at her age, now over forty, the glimpse they had had in the fitful torchlight of the cavern had been ravishing, and had confirmed all they had ever heard of her witching loveliness; nor did they recollect how that very obscurity might have assisted it.

    To their convictions, she was the only legitimate sovereign in the island, a confessor for their beloved Church, a captive princess and beauty driven from her throne, and kept in durance by a usurper. Thus every generous feeling was enlisted in her cause, with nothing to counterbalance them save the English hatred of the Spaniard, with whom her cause was inextricably linked; a dread of what might be inflicted on the country in the triumph of her party; and in some, a strange inconsistent personal loyalty to Elizabeth; but all these they were instructed to believe mere temptations and delusions that ought to be brushed aside as cobwebs.

    Antony's Puritan tutor at Cambridge had, as Richard Talbot had foreboded, done little but add to his detestation of the Reformation, and he had since fallen in with several of the seminary priests who were circulating in England. Some were devoted and pious men, who at the utmost risk went from house to house to confirm the faith and constancy of the old families of their own communion. The saintly martyr spirit of one of these, whom Antony met in the house of a kinsman of his mother, had so wrought on him as to bring him heart and soul back to his mother's profession, in which he had been secretly nurtured in early childhood, and which had received additional confirmation at Sheffield, where Queen Mary and her ladies had always shown that they regarded him as one of themselves, sure to return to them when he was his own master. It was not, however, of this that he spoke to Cis, but whatever she ventured to tell him of the Queen was listened to with delight as an extreme favour, which set her tongue off with all the eager pleasure of a girl, telling what she alone can tell.

    All through the banquet they talked, for Babington had much to ask of all the members of the household whom he had known. And after the feast was over and the hall was cleared for dancing, Antony was still, by etiquette, her partner for the evening. The young bride and bridegroom had first to perform a stately pavise before the whole assembly in the centre of the floor, in which, poor young things, they acquitted themselves much as if they were in the dancing- master's hands. Then her father led out his mother, and vice verse. The bridegroom had no grandparents, but the stately Earl handed forth his little active wiry Countess, bowing over her with a grand stiff devotion as genuine and earnest as at their wedding twenty years previously, for the reconciliation had been complete, and had restored all her ascendency over him. Theirs, as Mistress Susan exultingly agreed with a Hardwicke kinsman not seen for many years, was the grandest and most featly of all the performances. All the time each pair were performing, the others were awaiting their turn, the ladies in rows on benches or settles, the gentlemen sometimes standing before them, sometimes sitting on cushions or steps at their feet, sometimes handing them comfits of sugar or dried fruits.

    The number of gentlemen was greatly in excess, so that Humfrey had no such agreeable occupation, but had to stand in a herd among other young men, watching with no gratified eye Antony Babington, in a graceful attitude at Cicely's feet, while she conversed with him with untiring animation.

    Humfrey was not the only one to remark them. Lady Shrewsbury nodded once or twice to herself as one who had discovered what she sought, and the next morning a mandate arrived at Bridgefield that Master Richard and his wife should come to speak with my Lady Countess.

    Richard and his son were out of reach, having joined a party of the guests who had gone out hunting. Susan had to go alone, for she wished to keep Cicely as much as possible out of her Ladyship's sight, so she left the girl in charge of her keys, so that if father brought home any of the hunters to the midday meal, tankards and glasses might not be lacking.

    The Countess's summons was to her own bower, a sort of dressing-room, within her great state bed-room, and with a small glazed window looking down into the great hall where her ladies sat at work, whence she could on occasion call down orders or directions or reproofs. Susan had known what it was to stand in dread of such a window at Chatsworth or Hardwicke, whence shrill shrieks of objurgation, followed sometimes by such missiles as pincushions, shoes, or combs. However the window was now closed, and my Lady sat in her arm-chair, as on a throne, a stool being set, to which she motioned her kinswoman.

    "So! Susan Talbot," she said, "I have sent for you to do you a good turn, for you are mine own kinswoman of the Hardwicke blood, and have ever been reasonably humble and dutiful towards me and my Lord."

    Mrs. Talbot did not by any means view this speech as the insult it would in these days appear to a lady of her birth and position, but accepted it as the compliment it was intended to be.

    "Thus," continued Lady Shrewsbury, "I have always cast about how to marry that daughter of yours fitly. It would have been done ere now, had not that Scottish woman's tongue made mischief between me and my Lord, but I am come home to rule my own house now, and mine own blood have the first claim on me."

    The alarm always excited by a summons to speak with my Lady Countess began to acquire definite form, and Susan made answer, "Your Ladyship is very good, but I doubt me whether my husband desires to bestow Cicely in marriage as yet."

    "He hath surely received no marriage proposals for her without my knowledge or my Lord's," said Bess of Hardwicke, who was prepared to strain all feudal claims to the uttermost.

    "No, madam, but--"

    "Tell me not that you or he have the presumption to think that my son William Cavendish or even Edward Talbot will ever cast an eye on a mere portionless country maid, not comely, nor even like the Hardwickes or the Talbots. If I thought so for a moment, never shouldst thou darken these doors again, thou ungrateful, treacherous woman."

    "Neither of us ever had the thought, far less the wish," said Susan most sincerely.

    "Well, thou wast ever a simple woman, Susan Talbot," said the great lady, thereby meaning truthful, "so I will e'en take thy word for it, the more readily that I made contracts for both the lads when I was at court. As to Dick Talbot not being fain to bestow her, I trow that is because ye have spent too much on your long-legged sons to be able to lay down a portion for her, though she be your only daughter. Anan?"

    For though this was quite true, Susan feeling that it was not the whole truth, made but faint response. However, the Countess went on, expecting to overpower her with gratitude. "The gentleman I mean is willing to take her in her smock, and moreover his wardship and marriage were granted to my Lord by her Majesty. Thou knowest whom I mean."

    She wanted to hear a guess, and Susan actually foreboded the truth, but was too full of dismay and perplexity to do anything but shake her head as one puzzled.

    "What think'st thou of Mr. Babington?" triumphantly exclaimed the Countess.

    "Mr. Babington!" returned Susan. "But he is no longer a ward!"

    "No. We had granted his marriage to a little niece of my Lord Treasurer's, but she died ere coming to age. Then Tom Ratcliffe's wife would have him for her daughter, a mere babe. But for that thou and thine husband have done good service while evil tongues kept me absent, and because the wench comes of our own blood, we are willing to bestow her upon him, he showing himself willing and content, as bents a lad bred in our own household."

    "Madam, we are much beholden to you and my Lord, but sure Mr. Babington is more inclined to the old faith."

    "Tush, woman, what of that? Thou mayst say the same of half our Northern youth! They think it grand to dabble with seminary priests in hiding, and talk big about their conscience and the like, but when they've seen a neighbour or two pay down a heavy fine for recusancy, they think better of it, and a good wife settles their brains to jog to church to hear the parson with the rest of them."

    "I fear me Cis is over young to settle any one's mind," said Susan.

    "She is seventeen if she is a day," said my Lady, "and I was a wedded wife ere I saw my teens. Moreover, I will say for thee, Susan, that thou hast bred the girl as becomes one trained in my household, and unless she have been spoiled by resort to the Scottish woman, she is like to make the lad a moderately good wife, having seen nought of the unthrifty modes of the fine court dames, who queen it with standing ruffs a foot high, and coloured with turmeric, so please you, but who know no more how to bake a marchpane, or roll puff paste, than yonder messan dog!"

    "She is a good girl," said Susan, "but--"

    "What has the foolish wife to object now?" said the Countess. "I tell you I marked them both last eve, and though I seldom turn my mind to such follies, I saw the plain tokens of love in every look and gesture of the young springald. Nay, 'twas his countenance that put it into my mind, for I am even too good-natured--over good- natured, Susan Talbot. How now," at some sound below, springing to the little window and flinging it back, "you lazy idle wenches--what are you doing there? Is my work to stand still while you are toying with yon vile whelp? He is tangling the yarn, don't you see, thou purblind Jane Dacre, with no eyes but for ogling. There! there! Round the leg of the chair, don't you see!" and down flew a shoe, which made the poor dog howl, and his mistress catch him up. "Put him down! put him down this instant! Thomas! Davy! Here, hang him up, I say," cried this over good-natured lady, interspersing her commands with a volley of sixteenth century Billingsgate, and ending by declaring that nothing fared well without her, and hurrying off to pounce down on the luckless damsels who had let their dog play with the embroidery yarn destined to emblazon the tapestry of Chatsworth with the achievements of Juno. The good nature was so far veritable that when she found little harm done, and had vented her wrath in strong language and boxes on the ear, she would forget her sentence upon the poor little greyhound, which Mrs. Jane Dacre had hastily conveyed out of sight during her transit downstairs. Susan was thus, to her great relief, released for the present, for guests came in before my Lady had fully completed her objurgations on her ladies, the hour of noon was nigh at hand, sounds in the court betokened the return of the huntsmen, and Susan effected her escape to her own sober old palfrey--glad that she would at least be able to take counsel with her husband on this most inconvenient proposition.

    He came out to meet her at the court door, having just dismounted, and she knew by his face that she had not to give him the first intelligence of the difficulty in which they stood.

    My Lord had himself spoken to him, like my Lady expecting him to be enchanted at the prospect of so good a match for his slenderly- portioned daughter, for Dethick was a fair estate, and the Babington family, though not ennobled, fully equal to a younger branch of the Talbots. However, Richard had had a less uncomfortable task than his wife, since the Earl was many degrees more reasonable than the Countess. He had shown himself somewhat offended at not meeting more alacrity in the acceptance of his proposal, when Richard had objected on account of the young gentleman's Popish proclivities; but boldly declared that he was quite certain that the stripling had been entirely cured.

    This point of the narrative had just been reached when it was interrupted by a scream, and Cicely came flying into the hall, crying, "O father, father, stop them! Humfrey and Mr. Babington! They are killing one another."

    "Where?" exclaimed Richard, catching up his sword.

    "In the Pleasance, father! Oh, stop them! They will slay one another! They had their swords!" and as the father was already gone, she threw herself into the mother's arms, hid her face and sobbed with fright as scarce became a princess for whom swords were for the first time crossed. "Fear not! Father will stop them," said the mother, with confidence she could only keep up outwardly by the inward cry, "God protect my boy. Father will come ere they can hurt one another."

    "But how came it about?" she added, as with an arm round the trembling girl, she moved anxiously forward to know the issue.

    "Oh! I know not. 'Twas Humfrey fell on him. Hark!"

    "'Tis father's voice," said Susan. "Thank God! I know by the sound no harm is done! But how was it, child?"

    Cis told with more coherence now, but the tears in her eyes and colour deepening: "I was taking in Humfrey's kerchiefs from the bleaching on the grass, when Master Babington--he had brought me a plume of pheasant's feathers from the hunting, and he began. O mother, is it sooth? He said my Lord had sent him."

    "That is true, my child, but you know we have no choice but to refuse thee."

    "Ay, mother, and Antony knows."

    "Not thy true birth, child?"

    "Not that, but the other story. So he began to say that if I were favourable--Mother, do men always do like that?" Hiding her face against the trusty breast, "And when I drew back, and said I could not and would not hearken to such folly--"

    "That was well, dear child."

    "He would have it that I should have to hear him, and he went down on his knee, and snatched at my hand. And therewith came a great howl of rage like an angry lion, and Humfrey bounded right over the sweetbrier fence, and cried out, 'Off, fellow! No Papist traitor knave shall meddle with her.' And then Antony gave him back the lie for calling him traitor, and they drew their swords, and I ran away to call father, but oh! mother, I heard them clash!" and she shuddered again.

    "See," said Susan, as they had reached the corner of a thick screen of yew-trees, "all is safe. There they stand, and father between them speaking to them. No, we will not go nearer, since we know that it is well with them. Men deal with each other better out of women's earshot. Ah, see, there they are giving one another their hands. All is over now."

    "Humfrey stands tall, grave, and stiff! He is only doing it because father bids him," said Cicely. "Antony is much more willing."

    "Poor Humfrey! he knows better than Antony how vain any hope must be of my silly little princess," said Susan, with a sigh for her boy. "Come in, child, and set these locks in order. The hour of noon hath long been over, and father hath not yet dined."

    So they flitted out of sight as Richard and his son turned from the place of encounter, the former saying, "Son Humfrey, I had deemed thee a wiser man."

    "Sir, how could a man brook seeing that fellow on his knee to her? Is it not enough to be debarred from my sweet princess myself, but I must see her beset by a Papist and traitor, fostered and encouraged too?"

    "And thou couldst not rest secure in the utter impossibility of her being given to him? He is as much out of reach of her as thou art."

    "He has secured my Lord and my Lady on his side!" growled Humfrey.

    "My Lord is not an Amurath, nor my Lady either," said Richard, shortly. "As long as I pass for her father I have power to dispose of her, and I am not going to give another woman's daughter away without her consent."

    "Yet the fellow may have her ear," said Humfrey. "I know him to be popishly inclined, and there is a web of those Romish priests all over the island, whereof this Queen holds the strands in her fingers, captive though she be. I should not wonder if she had devised this fellow's suit."

    "This is the very madness of jealousy, Humfrey," said his father. "The whole matter was, as thy mother and thy Lord have both told me, simply a device of my Lady Countess's own brain."

    "Babington took to it wondrous naturally," muttered Humfrey.

    "That may be; but as for the lady at Wingfield, her talk to our poor maid hath been all of archdukes and dukes. She is far too haughty to think for a moment of giving her daughter to a mere Derbyshire esquire, not even of noble blood. You may trust her for that."

    This pacified Humfrey for a little while, especially as the bell was clanging for the meal which had been unusually deferred, and he had to hurry away to remove certain marks, which were happily the result of the sweetbrier weapons instead of that of Babington.

    That a little blood had been shed was shown by the state of his sword point, but Antony had disclaimed being hurt when the master of the house came up, and in the heat of the rebuke the father and son had hardly noticed that he had thrown a kerchief round his left hand ere he moved away.

    Before dinner was over, word was brought in from the door that Master Will Cavendish wanted to speak to Master Humfrey. The ladies' hearts were in their mouths, as it were, lest it should be to deliver a cartel, and they looked to the father to interfere, but he sat still, contenting himself with saying, as his son craved license to quit the board, "Use discretion as well as honour."

    They were glad that the next minute Humfrey came back to call his father to the door, where Will Cavendish sat on horseback. He had come by desire of Babington, who had fully intended that the encounter should be kept secret, but some servant must have been aware of it either from the garden or the park, and the Countess had got wind of it. She had summoned Babington to her presence, before the castle barber had finished dealing with the cut in his hand, and the messenger reported that "my Lady was in one of her raging fits," and talked of throwing young Humfrey into a dungeon, if not having him hung for his insolence.

    Babington, who had talked to his friends of a slip with his hunting- knife while disembowelling a deer, was forced to tell the fact in haste to Cavendish, the nearest at hand, begging him to hurry down and advise Humfrey to set forth at once if he did not wish his journey to be unpleasantly delayed.

    "My Lord is unwilling to cross my mother at the present," said young Cavendish with half a smile; "and though it be not likely that much harm should come of the matter, yet if she laid hands on Humfrey at the present moment, there might be hindrance and vexation, so it may be well for him to set forth, in case Tony be unable to persuade my Lady that it is nought."

    Will Cavendish had been a friendly comrade of both Humfrey and Antony in their boyish days, and his warning was fully to be trusted.

    "I know not why I should creep off as though I had done aught that was evil," said Humfrey, drawing himself up.

    "Well," said Will, "my Lord is always wroth at brawling with swords amongst us, and he might--my mother egging him on--lay you by the heels in the strong room for a week or so. Nay, for my part, methinks 'twas a strange requital of poor Babington's suit to your sister! Had she been your love instead of your sister there might have been plainer excuse, but sure you wot not of aught against Tony to warrant such heat."

    "He was importuning her when she would have none of him," said Humfrey, feeling the perplexity he had drawn on himself.

    "Will says well," added the father, feeling that it by all means behoved them all to avert inquiry into the cause of Humfrey's passion, since neither Cicely's birth nor Antony's perilous inclinations could be pleaded. "To be detained a week or two might hinder thy voyage. So we will speed thee on thy way instantly."

    "Tell me not where he halts for the night," said Cavendish significantly. "Fare thee well, Humfrey. I would return ere I am missed. I trust thou wilt have made the Spaniard's ships smoke, and weighted thy pouch with his dollars, before we see thee again."

    "Fare thee well, Will, and thank thee kindly," returned Humfrey, as they wrung each other's hands. "And tell Antony that I thank him heartily for his thought, and owe him a good turn."

    "That is well, my son," said Richard, as Cavendish rode out of the court. "Babington is both hot and weak-headed, and I fear me is in the toils of the Scottish lady; but he would never do aught that he held as disloyal by a comrade. I wish I could say the same of him anent the Queen."

    "And you will guard her from him, sir?" earnestly said Humfrey.

    "As I would from--I would have said Frenchman or Spaniard, but, poor maid, that may only be her hap, if her mother should come to her throne again;" and as Humfrey shrugged his shoulders at the improbability, "But we must see thee off, my boy. Poor mother! this hurries the parting for her. So best, mayhap."

    It was hastily arranged that Humfrey should ride off at once, and try to overtake a squire who had been at the festival, and had invited him to turn a little out of his road and spend a day or two at his house when leaving home. Humfrey had then declined, but hospitality in those days was elastic, and he had no doubt of a welcome. His father would bring Diccon and his baggage to join him there the next day.

    Thus there were only a very few minutes for adieux, and, as Richard had felt, this was best for all, even the anxious mother. Cicely ran about with the rest in the stress of preparation, until Humfrey, hurrying upstairs, met her coming down with a packet of his lace cuffs in her hands.

    He caught the hand on the balusters, and cried, "My princess, my princess, and art thou doing this for me?"

    "Thou hast learnt fine compliments, Humfrey," said Cis, trying to do her part with quivering lips.

    "Ah, Cis! thou knowest but too well what hath taught me no fine words but plain truth. Fear me not, I know what is due to thee. Cis, we never used to believe the tales and ballads that told of knights worshipping princesses beyond their reach, without a hope of more than a look--not even daring to wish for more; Cis, it is very truth. Be thou where thou wilt, with whom thou wilt, there will be one ready to serve thee to the uttermost, and never ask aught--aught but such remembrance as may befit the brother of thy childhood--"

    "Mistress Cis," screamed one of the maids," madam is waiting for those cuffs."

    Cis ran down, but the squeeze and kiss on the hand remained, as it were, imprinted on it, far more than the last kiss of all, which he gave, as both knew and felt, to support his character as a brother before the assembled household.
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