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    Chapter 20

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    Chapter 21
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    The drawing of swords was not regarded as a heinous offence in Elizabethan days. It was not likely, under ordinary circumstances, to result in murder, and was looked on much as boxing is, or was recently, in public schools, as an evidence of high spirit, and a means of working off ill-blood.

    Lady Shrewsbury was, however, much incensed at such a presumptuous reception of the suitor whom she had backed with her would-be despotic influence; and in spite of Babington's making extremely light of it, and declaring that he had himself been too forward in his suit, and the young lady's apparent fright had made her brother interfere over hastily for her protection, four yeomen were despatched by her Ladyship with orders instantly to bring back Master Humfrey Talbot to answer for himself.

    They were met by Mr. Talbot with the sober reply that Master Humfrey was already set forth on his journey. The men, having no orders, never thought of pursuing him, and after a short interval Richard thought it expedient to proceed to the Manor-house to explain matters.

    The Countess swooped upon him in one of her ungovernable furies--one of those of which even Gilbert Talbot avoided writing the particulars to his father--abusing his whole household in general, and his son in particular, in the most outrageous manner, for thus receiving the favour she had done to their beggarly, ill-favoured, ill-nurtured daughter. Richard stood still and grave, his hat in his hand, as unmoved and tranquil as if he had been breasting a stiff breeze on the deck of his ship, with good sea-room and confidence in all his tackle, never even attempting to open his lips, but looking at the Countess with a steady gaze which somehow disconcerted her, for she demanded wherefore he stared at her like one of his clumsy hinds.

    "Because her Ladyship does not know what she is saying," he replied.

    "Darest thou! Thou traitor, thou viper, thou unhanged rascal, thou mire under my feet, thou blot on the house! Darest thou beard me-- me?" screamed my Lady. "Darest thou--I say--"

    If the sailor had looked one whit less calm and resolute, my Lady would have had her clenched fist on his ear, or her talons in his beard, but he was like a rock against which the billows expended themselves, and after more of the tempest than need stain these pages, she deigned to demand what he meant or had to say for his son.

    "Solely this, madam, that my son had never even heard of Babington's suit, far less that he had your Ladyship's good-will. He found him kneeling to Cicely in the garden, and the girl, distressed and dismayed at his importunity. There were hot words and drawn blades. That was the whole. I parted them and saw them join hands."

    "So saith Master Babington. He is willing to overlook the insult, so will I and my Lord, if you will atone for it by instantly consenting to this espousal."

    "That, madam, I cannot do."

    She let him say no more, and the storm had begun to rage again, when Babington took advantage of an interval to take breath, and said, "I thank you, madam, and pray you peace. If a little space be vouchsafed me, I trust to show this worthy gentleman cause wherefore he should no longer withhold his fair damsel from me."

    "Indeed!" said the Countess. "Art thou so confident? I marvel what better backer thou wouldst have than me! So conceited of themselves are young men now-a-days, they think, forsooth, their own merits and graces should go farther in mating them than the word and will of their betters. There, you may go! I wash my hands of the matter. One is as ingrate as the other."

    Both gentlemen accepted this amiable dismissal, each hoping that the Countess might indeed have washed her hands of their affairs. On his departure Richard was summoned into the closet of the Earl, who had carefully kept out of the way during the uproar, only trusting not to be appealed to. "My good cousin," he asked, "what means this broil between the lads? Hath Babington spoken sooth?"

    "He hath spoken well and more generously than, mayhap, I thought he would have done," said Richard.

    "Ay; you have judged the poor youth somewhat hardly, as if the folly of pagedom never were outgrown," said the Earl. "I put him under governorship such as to drive out of his silly pate all the wiles that he was fed upon here. You will see him prove himself an honest Protestant and good subject yet, and be glad enough to give him your daughter. So he was too hot a lover for Master Humfrey's notions, eh?" said my Lord, laughing a little. "The varlet! He was over prompt to protect his sister, yet 'twas a fault on the right side, and I am sorry there was such a noise about it that he should have gone without leave-takings."

    "He will be glad to hear of your Lordship's goodness. I shall go after him to-morrow and take his mails and little Diccon to him."

    "That is well," said the Earl. "And give him this, with his kinsman's good wishes that he may win ten times more from the Don," pushing towards Richard a packet of twenty broad gold pieces, stamped with Queen Bess in all her glory; and then, after receiving due thanks for the gift, which was meant half as friendly feudal patronage from the head of the family, half as a contribution to the royal service, the Earl added, "I would crave of thee, Richard, to extend thy journey to Wingfield. Here are some accounts of which I could not sooner get the items, to be discharged between me and the lady there--and I would fain send thee as the man whom I can most entirely trust. I will give thee a pass, and a letter to Sadler, bidding him admit thee to her presence, since there are matters here which can sooner be discharged by one word of mouth than by many weary lines of writing."

    Good Master Richard's conscience had little occasion to wince, yet he could not but feel somewhat guilty when this opportune commission was given to him, since the Earl gave it unaware of his secret understanding with the captive. He accepted it, however, without hesitation, since he was certainly not going to make a mischievous use of it, and bent all his mind to understand the complicated accounts that he was to lay before the Queen or her comptroller of the household.

    He had still another interview to undergo with Antony Babington, who overtook him on his way home through the crackling leaves that strewed the avenue, as the October twilight fell. His recent conduct towards Humfrey gave him a certain right to friendly attention, though, as the frank-hearted mariner said to himself, it was hard that a plain man, who never told a lie, nor willingly had a concealment of his own, should be involved in a many-sided secret like this, a sort of web, where there was no knowing whether straining the wrong strand might not amount to a betrayal, all because he had rescued an infant, and not at once proclaimed her an alien.

    "Sir," said Antony, "if my impatience to accost the maiden we wot of, when I saw her alone, had not misled me, I should have sought you first to tell you that no man knows better than I that my Lady Countess's good will is not what is wanting to forward my suit."

    "Knowing then that it is not in my power or right to dispose of her, thine ardent wooing was out of place," said Richard.

    "I own it, sir, though had I but had time I should have let the maiden know that I sought her subject to other approval, which I trust to obtain so as to satisfy you."

    "Young man," said Richard, "listen to friendly counsel, and meddle not in perilous matters. I ask thee not whether Dethick hath any commerce with Wingfield; but I warn thee earnestly to eschew beginning again that which caused the trouble of thy childhood. Thou mayst do it innocently, seeking the consent of the lady to this courtship of thine; but I tell thee, as one who knows more of the matter than thou canst, that thou wilt only meet with disappointment"

    "Hath the Queen other schemes for her?" asked Babington, anxiously; and Richard, thinking of the vista of possible archdukes, replied that she had; but that he was not free to speak, though he replied to Babington's half-uttered question that his son Humfrey was by no means intended.

    "Ah!" cried Antony, "you give me hope, sir. I will do her such service that she shall refuse me nothing! Sir! do you mock me!" he added, with a fierce change of note.

    "My poor lad, I could not but laugh to think what a simple plotter you are, and what fine service you will render if thou utterest thy vows to the very last person who should hear them! Credit me, thou wast never made for privy schemes and conspiracies, and a Queen who can only be served by such, is no mistress for thee. Thou wilt but run thine own neck into the noose, and belike that of others."

    "That will I never do," quoth Antony. "I may peril myself, but no others."

    "Then the more you keep out of secrets the better. Thou art too open-hearted and unguarded for them! So speaks thy well-wisher, Antony, whose friendship thou hast won by thine honourable conduct towards my rash boy; though I tell thee plainly, the maiden is not for thee, whether as Scottish or English, Cis or Bride."

    So they parted at the gate of the park, the younger man full of hope and confidence, the elder full of pitying misgiving.

    He was too kind-hearted not to let Cicely know that he should see her mother, or to refuse to take a billet for her,--a little formal note necessarily silent on the matter at issue, since it had to be laid before the Earl, who smiled at the scrupulous precaution, and let it pass.

    Thus the good father parted with Humfrey and Diccon, rejoicing in his heart that they would fight with open foes, instead of struggling with the meshes of perplexity, which beset all concerned with Queen Mary, and then he turned his horse's head towards Wingfield Manor, a grand old castellated mansion of the Talbots, considered by some to excel even Sheffield. It stood high, on ground falling very steeply from the walls on three sides, and on the south well fortified, court within court, and each with a deep-arched and portcullised gateway, with loopholed turrets on either side, a porter's lodge, and yeomen guards.

    Mr. Talbot had to give his name and quality, and show his pass, at each of these gates, though they were still guarded by Shrewsbury retainers, with the talbot on their sleeves. He was, however, received with the respect and courtesy due to a trusted kinsman of their lord; and Sir Ralf Sadler, a thin, elderly, careworn statesman, came to greet him at the door of the hall, and would only have been glad could he have remained a week, instead of for the single night he wished to spend at Wingfield.

    Sadler was one of Mary's most gentle and courteous warders, and he spoke of her with much kindness, regretting that her health had again begun to suffer from the approach of winter, and far more from disappointment.

    The negotiation with Scotland on her behalf was now known to have been abortive. James had fallen into the hands of the faction most hostile to her, and though his mother still clung with desperate hope to the trust that he, at least, was labouring on her behalf, no one else believed that he cared for anything but his own security, and even she had been forced to perceive that her liberation was again adjourned.

    "And what think you was her thought when she found that road closed up?" said Sir Ralf. "Why, for her people! Her gentlewoman, Mrs. Mowbray, hath, it seems, been long betrothed."

    "Ay, to Gilbert Curll, the long-backed Scotch Secretary. They were to be wed at Stirling so soon as she arrived there again."

    "Yea; but when she read the letter that overthrew her hopes, what did she say but that 'her servants must not grow gray-headed with waiting till she was set free'! So she would have me make the case known to Sir Parson, and we had them married in the parish church two days since, they being both good Protestants."

    "There is no doubt that her kindness of heart is true," said Richard. "The poor folk at Sheffield and Ecclesfield will miss her plentiful almsgiving."

    "Some say it ought to be hindered, for that it is but a purchasing of friends to her cause," said Sadler; "but I have not the heart to check it, and what could these of the meaner sort do to our Queen's prejudice? I take care that nothing goes among them that could hide a billet, and that none of her people have private speech with them, so no harm can ensue from her bounty."

    A message here came that the Queen was ready to admit Mr. Talbot, and Richard found himself in her presence chamber, a larger and finer room than that in the lodge at Sheffield, and with splendid tapestry hangings and plenishings; but the windows all looked into the inner quadrangle, instead of on the expanse of park, and thus, as Mary said, she felt more entirely the prisoner. This, however, was not perceptible at the time, for the autumn evening had closed in; there were two large fires burning, one at each end of the room, and tall tapestry-covered screens and high-backed settles were arranged so as to exclude the draughts around the hearth, where Mary reclined on a couch-like chair. She looked ill, and though she brightened with her sweet smile to welcome her guest, there were dark circles round her eyes, and an air of dejection in her whole appearance. She held out her hand graciously, as Richard approached, closely followed by his host; he put his knee to the ground and kissed it, as she said, "You must pardon me, Mr. Talbot, for discourtesy, if I am less agile than when we were at Buxton. You see my old foe lies in wait to plague me with aches and pains so soon as the year declines."

    "I am sorry to see your Grace thus," returned Richard, standing on the step.

    "The while I am glad to see you thus well, sir. And how does the good lady, your wife, and my sweet playfellow, your daughter?"

    "Well, madam, I thank your Grace, and Cicely has presumed to send a billet by mine hand."

    "Ah! the dear bairnie," and all the Queen's consummate art could not repress the smile of gladness and the movement of eager joy with which she held out her hand for it, so that Richard regretted its extreme brevity and unsatisfying nature, and Mary, recollecting herself in a second, added, smiling at Sadler, "Mr. Talbot knows how a poor prisoner must love the pretty playfellows that are lent to her for a time."

    Sir Ralf's presence hindered any more intimate conversation, and Richard had certainly committed a solecism in giving Cicely's letter the precedence over the Earl's. The Queen, however, had recalled her caution, and inquired for the health of the Lord and Lady, and, with a certain sarcasm on her lips, trusted that the peace of the family was complete, and that they were once more setting Hallamshire the example of living together as household doves.

    Her hazel eyes meantime archly scanned the face of Richard, who could not quite forget the very undovelike treatment he had received, though he could and did sturdily aver that "my Lord and my Lady were perfectly reconciled, and seemed most happy in their reunion."

    "Well-a-day, let us trust that there will be no further disturbances to their harmony," said Mary, "a prayer I may utter most sincerely. Is the little Arbell come back with them?"

    "Yea, madam."

    "And is she installed in my former rooms, with the canopy over her cradle to befit her strain of royalty?"

    "I think not, madam. Meseems that my Lady Countess hath seen reason to be heedful on that score. My young lady hath come back with a grave gouvernante, who makes her read her primer and sew her seam, and save that she sat next my Lady at the wedding feast there is little difference made between her and the other grandchildren."

    The Queen then inquired into the circumstances of the wedding festivities with the interest of one to whom most of the parties were more or less known, and who seldom had the treat of a little feminine gossip. She asked who had been "her little Cis's partner," and when she heard of Babington, she said, "Ah ha, then, the poor youth has made his peace with my Lord?"

    "Certes, madam, he is regarded with high favour by both my Lord and my Lady," said Richard, heartily wishing himself rid of his host.

    "I rejoice to hear it," said Mary; "I was afraid that his childish knight-errantry towards the captive dame had damaged the poor stripling's prospects for ever. He is our neighbour here, and I believe Sir Ralf regards him as somewhat perilous."

    "Nay, madam, if my Lord of Shrewsbury be satisfied with him, so surely ought I to be," said Sir Ralf.

    Nothing more of importance passed that night. The packet of accounts was handed over to Sir Andrew Melville, and the two gentlemen dismissed with gracious good-nights.

    Richard Talbot was entirely trusted, and when the next morning after prayers, breakfast, and a turn among the stables, it was intimated that the Queen was ready to see him anent my Lord's business, Sir Ralf Sadler, who had his week's report to write to the Council, requested that his presence might be dispensed with, and thus Mr. Talbot was ushered into the Queen's closet without any witnesses to their interview save Sir Andrew Melville and Marie de Courcelles. The Queen was seated in a large chair, leaning against cushions, and evidently in a good deal of pain, but, as Richard made his obeisance, her eyes shone as she quoted two lines from an old Scotch ballad--

    "'Madame, how does my gay goss hawk? Madame, how does my doo?'

    Now can I hear what I hunger for!"

    "My gay gosshawk, madam, is flown to join Sir Francis Drake at Plymouth, and taken his little brother with him. I come now from speeding them as far as Derby."

    "Ah! you must not ask me to pray for success to them, my good sir,-- only that there may be a time when nations may be no more divided, and I fear me we shall not live to see it. And my doo--my little Cis, did she weep as became a sister for the bold laddies?"

    "She wept many tears, madam, but we are sore perplexed by a matter that I must lay before your Grace. My Lady Countess is hotly bent on a match between the maiden and young Babington."

    "Babington!" exclaimed the Queen, with the lioness sparkle in her eye. "You refused the fellow of course?"

    "Flatly, madam, but your Grace knows that it is ill making the Countess accept a denial of her will."

    Mary laughed "Ah ha! methought, sir, you looked somewhat as if you had had a recent taste of my Lord of Shrewsbury's dove. But you are a man to hold your own sturdy will, Master Richard, let Lord or Lady say what they choose."

    "I trust so, madam, I am master of mine own house, and, as I should certainly not give mine own daughter to Babington, so shall I guard your Grace's."

    "You would not give the child to him if she were your own?"

    "No, madam."

    "And wherefore not? Because he is too much inclined to the poor prisoner and her faith? Is it so, sir?"

    "Your Grace speaks the truth in part," said Richard, and then with effort added, "and likewise, madam, with your pardon, I would say that though I verily believe it is nobleness of heart and spirit that inclines poor Antony to espouse your Grace's cause, there is to my mind a shallowness and indiscretion about his nature, even when most in earnest, such as would make me loath to commit any woman, or any secret, to his charge."

    "You are an honest man, Mr. Talbot," said Mary; "I am glad my poor maid is in your charge. Tell me, is this suit on his part made to your daughter or to the Scottish orphan?"

    "To the Scottish orphan, madam. Thus much he knows, though by what means I cannot tell, unless it be through that kinsman of mine, who, as I told your Grace, saw the babe the night I brought her in."

    "Doubtless," responded Mary. "Take care he neither knows more, nor hints what he doth know to the Countess."

    "So far as I can, I will, madam," said Richard, "but his tongue is not easy to silence; I marvel that he hath not let the secret ooze out already."

    "Proving him to have more discretion than you gave him credit for, my good sir," said the Queen, smiling. "Refuse him, however, staunchly, grounding your refusal, if it so please you, on the very causes for which I should accept him, were the lassie verily what he deems her, my ward and kinswoman. Nor do you accede to him, whatever word or token he may declare that he brings from me, unless it bear this mark," and she hastily traced a peculiar-twisted form of M. "You know it?" she asked.

    "I have seen it, madam," said Richard, gravely, for he knew it as the letter which had been traced on the child's shoulders.

    "Ah, good Master Richard," she said, with a sweet and wistful expression, looking up to his face in pleading, and changing to the familiar pronoun, "thou likest not my charge, and I know that it is hard on an upright man like thee to have all this dissembling thrust on thee, but what can a poor captive mother do but strive to save her child from an unworthy lot, or from captivity like her own? I ask thee to say nought, that is all, and to shelter the maid, who hath been as thine own daughter, yet a little longer. Thou wilt not deny me, for her sake."

    "Madam, I deny nothing that a Christian man and my Queen's faithful servant may in honour do. Your Grace has the right to choose your own daughter's lot, and with her I will deal as you direct me. But, madam, were it not well to bethink yourself whether it be not a perilous and a cruel policy to hold out a bait to nourish hope in order to bind to your service a foolish though a generous youth, whose devotion may, after all, work you and himself more ill than good?"

    Mary looked a good deal struck, and waved back her two attendants, who were both startled and offended at what Marie de Courcelles described as the Englishman's brutal boldness.

    "Silence, dear friends," said she. "Would that I had always had counsellors who would deal with me with such honour and disinterestedness. Then should I not be here."

    However, she then turned her attention to the accounts, where Sir Andrew Melville was ready to question and debate every item set down by Shrewsbury's steward; while his mistress showed herself liberal and open-handed. Indeed she had considerable command of money from her French dowry, the proceeds of which were, in spite of the troubles of the League, regularly paid to her, and no doubt served her well in maintaining the correspondence which, throughout her captivity, eluded the vigilance of her keepers. On taking leave of her, which Richard Talbot did before joining his host at the mid-day meal, she reiterated her thanks for his care of her daughter, and her charges to let no persuasion induce him to consent to Babington's overtures, adding that she hoped soon to obtain permission to have the maiden amongst her authorised attendants. She gave him a billet, loosely tied with black floss silk and unsealed, so that if needful, Sadler and Shrewsbury might both inspect the tender, playful, messages she wrote to her "mignonne," and which she took care should not outrun those which she had often addressed to Bessie Pierrepoint.

    Cicely was a little disappointed when she first opened the letter, but ere long she bethought herself of the directions she had received to hold such notes to the fire, and accordingly she watched, waiting even till the next day before she could have free and solitary access to either of the two fires in the house, those in the hall and in the kitchen.

    At last, while the master was out farming, Ned at school, and the mistress and all her maids engaged in the unsavoury occupation of making candles, by repeated dipping of rushes into a caldron of melted fat, after the winter's salting, she escaped under pretext of attending to the hall fire, and kneeling beside the glowing embers, she held the paper over it, and soon saw pale yellow characters appear and deepen into a sort of brown or green, in which she read, "My little jewel must share the ring with none less precious. Yet be not amazed if commendations as from me be brought thee. Jewels are sometimes useful to dazzle the eyes of those who shall never possess them. Therefore seem not cold nor over coy, so as to take away all hope. It may be much for my service. Thou art discreet, and thy good guardians will hinder all from going too far. It might be well that he should deem thee and me inclined to what they oppose. Be secret. Keep thine own counsel, and let them not even guess what thou hast here read. So fare thee well, with my longing, yearning blessing."

    Cicely hastily hid the letter in the large housewifely pocket attached to her girdle, feeling excited and important at having a real secret unguessed by any one, and yet experiencing some of the reluctance natural to the pupil of Susan Talbot at the notion of acting a part towards Babington. She really liked him, and her heart warmed to him as a true friend of her much-injured mother, so that it seemed the more cruel to delude him with false hopes. Yet here was she asked to do a real service to her mother!

    Poor Cis, she knelt gazing perplexed into the embers, now and then touching a stick to make them glow, till Nat, the chief of "the old blue bottles of serving-men," came in to lay the cloth for dinner, exclaiming, "So, Mistress Cis! Madam doth cocker thee truly, letting thee dream over the coals, till thy face be as red as my Lady's new farthingale, while she is toiling away like a very scullion."
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