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    Chapter 29

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    Chapter 30
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    THE SEARCH.

    Humfrey had been much disappointed, when, instead of joining the hunt, Sir Amias Paulett bade him undertake the instruction of half a dozen extremely awkward peasants, who had been called in to increase the guard, but who did not know how to shoulder, load, or fire an arquebus, had no command of their own limbs, and, if put to stand sentry, would quite innocently loll in the nearest corner, and go to sleep. However, he reflected that if he were resident in the same house as Cicely he could not expect opportunities to be daily made for their meeting, and he addressed himself with all his might to the endeavour to teach his awkward squad to stand upright for five minutes together. Sturdy fellows as they were, he had not been able to hinder them from lopping over in all directions, when horses were heard approaching. Every man of them, regardless of discipline, lumbered off to stare, and Humfrey, after shouting at them in vain, and wishing he had them all on board ship, gave up the endeavour to recall them, and followed their example, repairing to the hall-door, when he found Sir Amias Paulett dismounting, together with a clerkly- looking personage, attended by Will Cavendish. Mary Seaton was being assisted from her horse, evidently in great grief; and others of the personal attendants of Mary were there, but neither herself, Cicely, nor the Secretaries.

    Before he had time to ask questions, his old companion came up to him. "You here still, Humfrey? Well. You have come in for the outburst of the train you scented out when you were with us in London, though I could not then speak explicitly."

    "What mean you? Where is Cicely? Where is the Queen of Scots?" asked Humfrey anxiously.

    Sir Amias Paulett heard him, and replied, "Your sister is safe, Master Talbot, and with the Queen of Scots at Tixall Castle. We permitted her attendance, as being young, simple, and loyal; she is less like to serve for plots than her elders in that lady's service."

    Sir Annas strode on, conducting with him his guest, whom Cavendish explained to be Mr. Wade, sworn by her Majesty's Council to take possession of Queen Mary's effects, and there make search for evidence of the conspiracy. Cavendish followed, and Humfrey took leave to do the same.

    The doors of the Queen's apartment were opened at the summons of Sir Amias Paulett, and Sir Andrew Melville, Mistress Kennedy, Marie de Courcelles, and the rest, stood anxiously demanding what was become of their Queen. They were briefly and harshly told that her foul and abominable plots and conspiracies against the life of the Queen, and the peace of the Kingdom, had been brought to light, and that she was under secure ward.

    Jean Kennedy demanded to be taken to her at once, but Paulett replied, "That must not be, madam. We have strict commands to keep her secluded from all."

    Marie de Courcelles screamed aloud and wrung her hands, crying, "If ye have slain her, only tell us quickly!" Sir Andrew Melville gravely protested against such a barbarous insult to a Queen of Scotland and France, and was answered, "No queen, sir, but a State criminal, as we shall presently show."

    Here Barbara Curll pressed forward, asking wildly for her husband; and Wade replying, with brutal brevity, that he was taken to London to be examined for his practices before the Council, the poor lady, well knowing that examination often meant torture, fell back in a swoon.

    "We shall do nothing with all these women crying and standing about," said Wade impatiently; "have them all away, while we put seals on the effects."

    "Nay, sirs," said Jean Kennedy. "Suffer me first to send her Grace some changes of garments."

    "I tell thee, woman," said Wade, "our orders are precise! Not so much as a kerchief is to be taken from these chambers till search hath been made. We know what practices may lurk in the smallest rag."

    "It is barbarous! It is atrocious! The King of France shall hear of it," shrieked Marie de Courcelles.

    "The King of France has enough to do to take care of himself, my good lady," returned Wade, with a sneer.

    "Sir," said Jean Kennedy, with more dignity, turning to Sir Amias Paulett, "I cannot believe that it can be by the orders of the Queen of England, herself a woman, that my mistress, her cousin, should be deprived of all attendance, and even of a change of linen. Such unseemly commands can never have been issued from herself."

    "She is not without attendance," replied the knight, "the little Talbot wench is with her, and for the rest, Sir Walter and Lady Ashton have orders to supply her needs during her stay among them. She is treated with all honour, and is lodged in the best chambers," he added, consolingly.

    "We must dally no longer," called out Wade. "Have away all this throng into ward, Sir Amias. We can do nothing with them here."

    There was no help for it. Sir Andrew Melville did indeed pause to enter his protest, but that, of course, went for nothing with the Commissioners, and Humfrey was ordered to conduct them to the upper gallery, there to await further orders. It was a long passage, in the highly pointed roof, with small chambers on either side which could be used when there was a press of guests. There was a steep stair, as the only access, and it could be easily guarded, so Sir Amias directed Humfrey to post a couple of men at the foot, and to visit and relieve them from time to time.

    It was a sad procession that climbed up those narrow stairs, of those faithful followers who were separated from their Queen for the first time. The servants of lower rank were merely watched in their kitchen, and not allowed to go beyond its courtyard, but were permitted to cook for and wait on the others, and bring them such needful furniture as was required.

    Humfrey was very sorry for them, having had some acquaintance with them all his life, and he was dismayed to find himself, instead of watching over Cicely, separated from her and made a jailer against his will. And when he returned to the Queen's apartments, he found Cavendish holding a taper, while Paulett and Wade were vigorously affixing cords, fastened at each end by huge red seals bearing the royal arms, to every receptacle, and rudely plucking back the curtains that veiled the ivory crucifix. Sir Amias's zeal would have "plucked down the idol," as he said, but Wade restrained him by reminding him that all injury or damage was forbidden.

    Not till all was sealed, and a guard had been stationed at the doors, would the Commissioners taste any dinner, and then their conversation was brief and guarded, so that Humfrey could discover little. He did, indeed, catch the name of Babington in connection with the "Counter prison," and a glance of inquiry to Cavendish, with a nod in return, showed him that his suspicions were correct, but he learnt little or nothing more till the two, together with Phillipps, drew together in the deep window, with wine, apples, and pears on the ledge before them, for a private discussion. Humfrey went away to see that the sentries at the staircase were relieved, and to secure that a sufficient meal for the unfortunate captives in the upper stories had been allowed to pass. Will Cavendish went with him. He had known these ladies and gentlemen far more intimately than Humfrey had done, and allowed that it was harsh measure that they suffered for their fidelity to their native sovereign.

    "No harm will come to them in the end," he said, "but what can we do? That very faithfulness would lead them to traverse our purposes did we not shut them up closely out of reach of meddling, and there is no other place where it can be done."

    "And what are these same purposes?" asked Humfrey, as, having fulfilled his commission, the two young men strolled out into the garden and threw themselves on the grass, close to a large mulberry- tree, whose luscious fruit dropped round, and hung within easy reach.

    "To trace out all the coils of as villainous and bloodthirsty a plot as ever was hatched in a traitor's brain," said Will; "but they little knew that we overlooked their designs the whole time. Thou wast mystified in London, honest Humfrey, I saw it plainly; but I might not then speak out," he added, with all his official self- importance.

    "And poor Tony hath brought himself within compass of the law?"

    "Verily you may say so. But Tony Babington always was a fool, and a wrong-headed fool, who was sure to ruin himself sooner or later. You remember the decoy for the wild-fowl? Well, never was silly duck or goose so ready to swim into the nets as was he!"

    "He always loved this Queen, yea, and the old faith."

    "He sucked in the poison with his mother's milk, you may say. Mrs. Babington was naught but a concealed Papist, and, coming from her, it cost nothing to this Queen to beguile him when he was a mere lad, and make him do her errands, as you know full well. Then what must my Lord Earl do but send him to that bitter Puritan at Cambridge, who turned him all the more that way, out of very contradiction. My Lord thought him cured of his Popish inclinations, and never guessed they had only led him among those who taught him to dissemble."

    "And that not over well," said Humfrey. "My father never trusted him."

    "And would not give him your sister. Yea, but the counterfeit was good enough for my Lord who sees nothing but what is before his nose, and for my mother who sees nothing but what she will see. Well, he had fallen in with those who deem this same Mary our only lawful Queen, and would fain set her on the throne to bring back fire and faggot by the Spanish sword among us."

    "I deemed him well-nigh demented with brooding over her troubles and those of his church."

    "Demented in verity. His folly was surpassing. He put his faith in a recusant priest--one John Ballard--who goes ruffling about as Captain Fortescue in velvet hose and a silver-laced cloak."

    "Ha!"

    "Hast seen him?"

    "Ay, in company with Babington, on the day I came to London, passing through Westminster."

    "Very like. Their chief place of meeting was at a house at Westminster belonging to a fellow named Gage. We took some of them there. Well, this Ballard teaches poor Antony, by way of gospel truth, that 'tis the mere duty of a good Catholic to slay the enemies of the church, and that he who kills our gracious Queen, whom God defend, will do the holiest deed; just as they gulled the fellow, who murdered the Prince of Orange, and then died in torments, deeming himself a holy martyr."

    "But it was not Babington whom I saw at Richmond."

    "Hold, I am coming to that. Let me tell you the Queen bore it in mind, and asked after you. Well, Babington has a number of friends, as hot-brained and fanatical as himself, and when once he had swallowed the notion of privily murdering the Queen, he got so enamoured of it, that he swore in five more to aid him in the enterprise, and then what must they do but have all their portraits taken in one picture with a Latin motto around them. What! Thou hast seen it?"

    "He showed it to me in Paul's Walk, and said I should hear of them, and I thought one of them marvellously like the fellow I had seen in Richmond Park."

    "So thought her Majesty. But more of that anon. On the self-same day as the Queen was to be slain by these sacrilegious wretches, another band was to fall on this place, free the lady and proclaim her, while the Prince of Parma landed from the Netherlands and brought fire and sword with him."

    "And Antony would have brought this upon us?" said Humfrey, still slow to believe it of his old comrade.

    "All for the true religion's sake," said Cavendish. "They were ringing bells and giving thanks, for the discovery and baffling thereof, when we came down from London."

    "As well they might," said Humfrey. "But how was it detected and overthrown? Was it through Langston?"

    "Ah, ha! we had had the strings in our hands all along. Why, Langston, as thou namest him, though we call him Maude, and a master spy called Gifford, have kept us warned thoroughly of every stage in the business. Maude even contrived to borrow the picture under colour of getting it blessed by the Pope's agent, and lent it to Mr. Secretary Walsingham, by whom it was privily shown to the Queen. Thereby she recognised the rogue Barnwell, an Irishman it seems, when she was walking in the Park at Richmond with only her women and Sir Christopher Hatton, who is better at dancing than at fighting. Not a sign did she give, but she kept him in check with her royal eye, so that he durst not so much as draw his pistol from his cloak; but she owned afterwards to my Lady Norris that she could have kissed you when you came between, and all the more, when you caught her meaning and followed her bidding silently. You will hear of it again, Humps."

    "However that may be, it is a noble thing to have seen such courage in a woman and a queen. But how could they let it go so near? I could shudder now to think of the risk to her person!"

    "There goes more to policy than you yet wot of," said Will, in his patronising tone. "In truth, Barnwell had started off unknown to his comrades, hoping to have the glory of the achievement all to himself by forestalling them, or else Mr. Secretary would have been warned in time to secure the Queen."

    "But wherefore leave these traitors at large to work mischief?"

    "See you not, you simple Humfrey, that, as I said methinks some time since, it is well sometimes to give a rogue rope enough and he will hang himself? Close the trap too soon, and you miss the biggest rat of all. So we waited until the prey seemed shy and about to escape. Babington had, it seems, suspected Maude or Langston, or whatever you call him, and had ridden out of town, hiding in St. John's Wood with some of his fellows, till they were starved out, and trying to creep into some outbuildings at Harrow, were there taken, and brought into London the morning we came away. Ballard, the blackest villain of all, is likewise in ward, and here we are to complete our evidence."

    "Nay, throughout all you have said, I have heard nothing to explain this morning's work."

    Will laughed outright. "And so you think all this would have been done without a word from their liege lady, the princess they all wanted to deliver from captivity! No, no, sir! 'Twas thus. There's an honest man at Burton, a brewer, who sends beer week by week for this house, and very good ale it is, as I can testify. I wish I had a tankard of it here to qualify these mulberries. This same brewer is instructed by Gifford, whose uncle lives in these parts, to fit a false bottom to one of his barrels, wherein is a box fitted for the receipt of letters and parcels. Then by some means, through Langston I believe, Babington and Gifford made known to the Queen of Scots and the French ambassador that here was a sure way of sending and receiving letters. The Queen's butler, old Hannibal, was to look in the bottom of the barrel with the yellow hoop, and one Barnes, a familiar of Gifford and Babington, undertook the freight at the other end. The ambassador, M. de Chateauneuf, seemed to doubt at first, and sent a single letter by way of experiment, and that having been duly delivered and answered, the bait was swallowed, and not a week has gone by but letters have come and gone from hence, all being first opened, copied, and deciphered by worthy Mr. Phillipps, and every word of them laid before the Council."

    "Hum! We should not have reckoned that fair play when we went to Master Sniggius's," observed Humfrey, as he heard his companion's tone of exultation.

    "Fair play is a jewel that will not pass current in statecraft," responded Cavendish. "Moreover, that the plotter should be plotted against is surely only his desert. But thou art a mere sailor, my Talbot, and these subtilties of policy are not for thee."

    "For the which Heaven be praised!" said Humfrey. "Yet having, as you say, read all these letters by the way, I see not wherefore ye are come down to seek for more."

    Will here imitated the Lord Treasurer's nod as well as in him lay, not perhaps himself knowing the darker recesses of this same plot. He did know so much as that every stage in it had been revealed to Walsingham and Burghley as it proceeded. He did not know that the entire scheme had been hatched, not by a blind and fanatical partisan of Mary's, doing evil that what he supposed to be good, might come, but by Gifford and Morgan, Walsingham's agents, for the express purpose of causing Mary totally to ruin herself, and to compel Elizabeth to put her to death, and that the unhappy Babington and his friends were thus recklessly sacrificed. The assassin had even been permitted to appear in Elizabeth's presence in order to terrify her into the conviction that her life could only be secured by Mary's death. They, too, did evil that good might come, thinking Mary's death alone could ensure them from Pope and Spaniard; but surely they descended into a lower depth of iniquity than did their victims.

    Will himself was not certain what was wanted among the Queen's papers, unless it might be the actual letters, from Babington, copies of which had been given by Phillips to the Council, so he only looked sagacious; and Humfrey thought of the Castle Well, and felt the satisfaction there is in seeing a hunted creature escape. He asked, however, about Cuthbert Langston, saying, "He is--worse luck, as you may have heard--akin to my father, who always pitied him as misguided, but thought him as sincere in his folly as ever was this unlucky Babington."

    "So he seems to have been till of late. He hovered about in sundry disguises, as you know, much to the torment of us all; but finally he seems to have taken some umbrage at the lady, thinking she flouted his services, or did not pay him high enough for them, and Gifford bought him over easily enough; but he goes with us by the name of Maude, and the best of it is that the poor fools thought he was hoodwinking us all the time. They never dreamt that we saw through them like glass. Babington was himself with Mr. Secretary only last week, offering to go to France on business for him--the traitor! Hark! there are more sounds of horse hoofs. Who comes now, I marvel!"

    This was soon answered by a serving-man, who hurried out to tell Humfrey that his father was arrived, and in a few moments the young man was blessed and embraced by the good Richard, while Diccon stood by, considerably repaired in flesh and colour by his brief stay under his mother's care.

    Mr. Richard Talbot was heartily welcomed by Sir Amias Paulett, who regretted that his daughter was out of reach, but did not make any offer of facilitating their meeting.

    Richard explained that he was on his way to London on behalf of the Earl. Reports and letters, not very clear, had reached Sheffield of young Babington being engaged in a most horrible conspiracy against the Queen and country, and my Lord and my Lady, who still preserved a great kindness for their former ward, could hardly believe it, and had sent their useful and trustworthy kinsman to learn the truth, and to find out whether any amount of fine or forfeiture would avail to save his life.

    Sir Amias thought it would be a fruitless errand, and so did Richard himself, when he had heard as much of the history as it suited Paulett and Wade to tell, and though they esteemed and trusted him, they did not care to go beneath that outer surface of the plot which was filling all London with fury.

    When, having finished their after-dinner repose, they repaired to make farther search, taking Cavendish to assist, they somewhat reluctantly thought it due to Mr. Talbot to invite his presence, but he declined. He and his son had much to say to one another, he observed, and not long to say it in.

    "Besides," he added, when he found himself alone with Humfrey, having despatched Diccon on some errand to the stables, "'tis a sorry sight to see all the poor Lady's dainty hoards turned out by strangers. If it must be, it must, but it would irk me to be an idle gazer thereon."

    "I would only," said Humfrey, "be assured that they would not light on the proofs of Cicely's birth."

    "Thou mayst be at rest on that score, my son. The Lady saw them, owned them, and bade thy mother keep them, saying ours were safer hands than hers. Thy mother was sore grieved, Humfrey, when she saw thee not; but she sends thee her blessing, and saith thou dost right to stay and watch over poor little Cis."

    "It were well if I were watching over her," said Humfrey, "but she is mewed up at Tixall, and I am only keeping guard over poor Mistress Seaton and the rest."

    "Thou hast seen her?"

    "Yea, and she was far more our own sweet maid than when she came back to us at Bridgefield."

    And Humfrey told his father all he had to tell of what he had seen and heard since he had been at Chartley. His adventures in London had already been made known by Diccon. Mr. Talbot was aghast, perhaps most of all at finding that his cousin Cuthbert was a double traitor. From the Roman Catholic point of view, there had been no treason in his former machinations on behalf of Mary, if she were in his eyes his rightful sovereign, but the betrayal of confidence reposed in him was so horrible that the good Master Richard refused to believe it, till he had heard the proofs again and again, and then he exclaimed,

    "That such a Judas should ever call cousin with us!"

    There could be little hope, as both agreed, of saving the unfortunate victims; but Richard was all the more bent on fulfilling Lord Shrewsbury's orders, and doing his utmost for Babington. As to Humfrey, it would be better that he should remain where he was, so that Cicely might have some protector near her in case of any sudden dispersion of Mary's suite.

    "Poor maiden!" said her foster-father, "she is in a manner ours, and we cannot but watch over her; but after all, I doubt me whether it had not been better for her and for us, if the waves had beaten the little life out of her ere I carried her home."

    "She hath been the joy of my life," said Humfrey, low and hoarsely.

    "And I fear me she will be the sorrow of it. Not by her fault, poor wench, but what hope canst thou have, my son?"

    "None, sir," said Humfrey, "except of giving up all if I can so defend her from aught." He spoke in a quiet matter-of-fact way that made his father look with some inquiry at his grave settled face, quite calm, as if saying nothing new, but expressing a long-formed quiet purpose.

    Nor, though Humfrey was his eldest son and heir, did Richard Talbot try to cross it.

    He asked whether he might see Cicely before going on to London, but Sir Amias said that in that case she would not be allowed to return to the Queen, and that to have had any intercourse with the prisoners might overthrow all his designs in London, and he therefore only left with Humfrey his commendations to her, with a pot of fresh honey and a lavender-scented set of kerchiefs from Mistress Susan.
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