Unknown to history a st.., p.21

Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland, page 21

 

Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland
 



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  CHAPTER XXI.

  A TANGLE.

  It was a rainy November afternoon. Dinner was over, the great woodfire had been made up, and Mistress Talbot was presiding over thewomenfolk of her household and their tasks with needle and distaff. Shehad laid hands on her unwilling son Edward to show his father how wellhe could read the piece de resistance of the family, Fabyan'sChronicle; and the boy, with an elbow firmly planted on either side ofthe great folio, was floundering through the miseries of King Stephen'stime; while Mr. Talbot, after smoothing the head of his largest houndfor some minutes, had leant back in his chair and dropped asleep.Cicely's hand tardily drew out her thread, her spindle scarcelybalanced itself on the floor, and her maiden meditation was in aninactive sort of way occupied with the sense of dulness after thesummer excitements, and wonder whether her greatness were all a dream,and anything would happen to recall her once more to be a princess.The kitten at her feet took the spindle for a lazily moving creature,and thought herself fascinating it, so she stared hard, with only anoccasional whisk of the end of her striped tail; and Mistress Susan wasonly kept awake by her anxiety to adapt Diccon's last year's jerkin toNed's use.

  Suddenly the dogs outside bayed, the dogs inside pricked their ears,Ned joyfully halted, his father uttered the unconscious falsehood, "I'mnot asleep, lad, go on," then woke up as horses' feet were heard; Neddashed out into the porch, and was in time to hold the horse of one ofthe two gentlemen, who, with cloaks over their heads, had ridden up tothe door. He helped them off with their cloaks in the porch,exchanging greetings with William Cavendish and Antony Babington.

  "Will Mrs. Talbot pardon our riding-boots?" said the former. "We haveonly come down from the Manor-house, and we rode mostly on the grass."

  Their excuses were accepted, though Susan had rather Master William hadbrought any other companion. However, on such an afternoon, almost anyvariety was welcome, especially to the younger folk, and room was madefor them in the circle, and according to the hospitality of the time, acup of canary fetched for each to warm him after the ride, whileanother was brought to the master of the house to pledge them in--arelic of the barbarous ages, when such a security was needed that thebeverage was not poisoned.

  Will Cavendish then explained that a post had come that morning to hisstepfather from Wingfield, having been joined on the way by Babington(people always preferred travelling in companies for security's sake),and that, as there was a packet from Sir Ralf Sadler for MasterRichard, he had brought it down, accompanied by his friend, who wasanxious to pay his devoirs to the ladies, and though Will spoke to themother, he smiled and nodded comprehension at the daughter, who blushedfuriously, and set her spindle to twirl and leap so violently, as tomake the kitten believe the creature had taken fright, and was going toescape. On she dashed with a sudden spring, involving herself and itin the flax. The old watch-dog roused himself with a growl to keeporder. Cicely flung herself on the cat, Antony hurried to the rescueto help her disentangle it, and received a fierce scratch for hispains, which made him start back, while Mrs. Talbot put in her word."Ah, Master Babington, it is ill meddling with a cat in the toils,specially for men folk! Here, Cis, hold her fast and I will soon haveher free. Still, Tib!"

  Cicely's cheeks were of a still deeper colour as she held fast themischievous favourite, while the good mother untwisted the flax fromits little claws and supple limbs, while it winked, twisted its headabout sentimentally, purred, and altogether wore an air of injuredinnocence and forgiveness.

  "I am afraid, air, you receive nothing but damage at our house," saidMrs. Talbot politely. "Hast drawn blood? Oh fie! thou ill-manneredTib! Will you have a tuft from a beaver to stop the blood?"

  "Thanks, madam, no, it is a small scratch. I would, I would that Icould face truer perils for this lady's sake!"

  "That I hope you will not, sir," said Richard, in a serious tone, whichconveyed a meaning to the ears of the initiated, though Will Cavendishonly laughed, and said,

  "Our kinsman takes it gravely! It was in the days of our grandfathersthat ladies could throw a glove among the lions, and bid a knight fetchit out for her love."

  "It has not needed a lion to defeat Mr. Babington," observed Ned,looking up from his book with a sober twinkle in his eye, which setthem all laughing, though his father declared that he ought to have hisears boxed for a malapert varlet.

  Will Cavendish declared that the least the fair damsel could do for herknight-errant was to bind up his wounds, but Cis was too shy to showany disposition so to do, and it was Mrs. Talbot who salved the scratchfor him. She had a feeling for the motherless youth, upon whom sheforeboded that a fatal game might be played.

  When quiet was restored, Mr. Talbot craved license from his guests, andopened the packet. There was a letter for Mistress Cicely Talbot inQueen Mary's well-known beautiful hand, which Antony followed witheager eyes, and a low gasp of "Ah! favoured maiden," making the goodmother, who overheard it, say to herself, "Methinks his love is chieflyfor the maid as something appertaining to the Queen, though he wots nothow nearly. His heart is most for the Queen herself, poor lad."

  The maiden did not show any great haste to open the letter, being awarethat the true gist of it could only be discovered in private, and herfather was studying his own likewise in silence. It was from Sir RalfSadler to request that Mistress Cicely might be permitted to become aregular member of the household. There was now a vacancy since, thoughMrs. Curll was nearly as much about the Queen as ever, it was as thesecretary's wife, not as one of the maiden attendants; and Sir Ralfwrote that he wished the more to profit by the opportunity, as he mightsoon be displaced by some one not of a temper greatly to consider theprisoner's wishes. Moreover, he said the poor lady was ill at ease,and much dejected at the tenor of her late letters from Scotland, andthat she had said repeatedly that nothing would do her good but thepresence of her pretty playfellow. Sir Ralf added assurances that hewould watch over the maiden like his own daughter, and would take theutmost care of the faith and good order of all within his household.Curll also wrote by order of his mistress a formal application for theyoung lady, to which Mary had added in her own hand, "I thank the goodMaster Richard and Mrs. Susan beforehand, for I know they will not denyme."

  Refusal was, of course, impossible to a mother who had every right toclaim her own child; and there was nothing to be done but to fix thetime for setting off: and Cicely, who had by this time read her ownletter, or at least all that was on the surface, looked up tremulous,with a strange frightened gladness, and said, "Mother, she needs me."

  "I shall shortly be returning home," said Antony, "and shall muchrejoice if I may be one of the party who will escort this fair maiden."

  "I shall take my daughter myself on a pillion, sir," said Richard,shortly.

  "Then, sir, I may tell my Lord that you purpose to grant this request,"said Will Cavendish, who had expected at least some time to be askedfor deliberation, and knew his mother would expect her permission to berequested.

  "I may not choose but do so," replied Richard; and then, thinking hemight have said too much, he added, "It were sheer cruelty to deny anysolace to the poor lady."

  "Sick and in prison, and balked by her only son," added Susan, "one'sheart cannot but ache for her."

  "Let not Mr. Secretary Walsingham hear you say so, good madam," saidCavendish, smiling. "In London they think of her solely as a kind ofmalicious fury shut up in a cage, and there were those who lookedaskance at me when I declared that she was a gentlewoman of greatsweetness and kindness of demeanour. I believe myself they will notrest till they have her blood!"

  Cis and Susan cried out with horror, and Babington with stammeringwrath demanded whether she was to be assassinated in the Spanishfashion, or on what pretext a charge could be brought against her."Well," Cavendish answered, "as the saying is, give her rope enough,and she will hang herself. Indeed, there's no doubt but that shetampered enough with Throckmorton's plot to have been convicted ofmisprision of treason,
and so she would have been, but that her mostsacred Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, would have no charge made against her.

  "Treason from one sovereign to another, that is new law!" saidBabington.

  "So to speak," said Richard; "but if she claim to be heiress to thecrown, she must also be a subject. Heaven forefend that she shouldcome to the throne!"

  To which all except Cis and Babington uttered a hearty amen, while apicture arose before the girl of herself standing beside her royalmother robed in velvet and ermine on the throne, and of the faces ofLady Shrewsbury and her daughter as they recognised her, and werepardoned.

  Cavendish presently took his leave, and carried the unwilling Babingtonoff with him, rightly divining that the family would wish to make theirarrangements alone. To Richard's relief, Babington had brought him noprivate message, and to Cicely's disappointment, there was no additionin sympathetic ink to her letter, though she scorched the paper brownin trying to bring one out. The Scottish Queen was much too wary towaste and risk her secret expedients without necessity.

  To Richard and Susan this was the real resignation of theirfoster-child into the hands of her own parent. It was true that shewould still bear their name, and pass for their daughter, but thatwould be only so long as it might suit her mother's convenience; andinstead of seeing her every day, and enjoying her full confidence (sofar as they knew), she would be out of reach, and given up toinfluences, both moral and religious, which they deeply distrusted;also to a fate looming in the future with all the dark uncertainty thatbrooded over all connected with Tudor or Stewart royalty.

  How much good Susan wept and prayed that night, only her pillow knew,not even her husband; and there was no particular comfort when my LadyCountess descended on her in the first interval of fine weather, fullof wrath at not having been consulted, and discharging it in all sortsof predictions as to Cis's future. No honest and loyal husband wouldhave her, after being turned loose in such company; she would becorrupted in morals and manners, and a disgrace to the Talbots; shewould be perverted in faith, become a Papist, and die in a nunnerybeyond sea; or she would be led into plots and have her head cut off;or pressed to death by the peine forte et dure.

  Susan had nothing to say to all this, but that her husband thought itright, and then had a little vigorous advice on her own score againsttamely submitting to any man, a weakness which certainly could not belaid to the charge of the termagant of Hardwicke.

  Cicely herself was glad to go. She loved her mother with a romanticenthusiastic affection, missed her engaging caresses, and felt herBridgefield home eminently dull, flat, and even severe, especiallysince she had lost the excitement of Humfrey's presence, and likewiseher companion Diccon. So she made her preparations with a joyfulalacrity, which secretly pained her good foster-parents, and made Susanalmost ready to reproach her with ingratitude.

  They lectured her, after the fashion of the time, on the need of neverforgetting her duty to her God in her affection to her mother, Susantrusting that she would never let herself be led away to the Romishfaith, and Richard warning her strongly against untruth and falsehood,though she must be exposed to cruel perplexities as to the right-- "Butif thou be true to man, thou wilt be true to God," he said. "If thoube false to man, thou wilt soon be false to thy God likewise."

  "We will pray for thee, child," said Susan. "Do thou pray earnestlyfor thyself that thou mayest ever see the right."

  "My queen mother is a right pious woman. She is ever praying andreading holy books," said Cis. "Mother Susan, I marvel you, who knowher, can speak thus."

  "Nay, child, I would not lessen thy love and duty to her, poor soul,but it is not even piety in a mother that can keep a maiden fromtemptation. I blame not her in warning thee."

  Richard himself escorted the damsel to her new home. There was nopreventing their being joined by Babington, who, being well acquaintedwith the road, and being also known as a gentleman of good estate, wasable to do much to make their journey easy to them, and secure goodaccommodation for them at the inns, though Mr. Talbot entirely baffledhis attempts to make them his guests, and insisted on bearing a fullshare of the reckoning. Neither did Cicely fulfil her mother'scommission to show herself inclined to accept his attentions. If shehad been under contrary orders, there would have been some excitementin going as far as she durst, but the only effect on her wasembarrassment, and she treated Antony with the same shy stiffness shehad shown to Humfrey, during the earlier part of his residence at home.Besides, she clung more and more to her adopted father, who, now thatthey were away from home and he was about to part with her, treated herwith a tender, chivalrous deference, most winning in itself, and makingher feel herself no longer a child.

  Arriving at last at Wingfield, Sir Ralf Sadler had hardly greeted thembefore a messenger was sent to summon the young lady to the presence ofthe Queen of Scots. Her welcome amounted to ecstasy. The Queen rosefrom her cushioned invalid chair as the bright young face appeared atthe door, held out her arms, gathered her into them, and, covering herwith kisses, called her by all sorts of tender names in French andScottish.

  "O ma mie, my lassie, ma fille, mine ain wee thing, how sweet to haveone bairn who is mine, mine ain, whom they have not robbed me of, forthy brother, ah, thy brother, he hath forsaken me! He is made of thefalse Darnley stuff, and compacted by Knox and Buchanan and the rest,and he will not stand a blast of Queen Elizabeth's wrath for the poormother that bore him. Ay, he hath betrayed me, and deluded me, mychild; he hath sold me once more to the English loons! I am set fasterin prison than ever, the iron entereth into my soul. Thou art butdaughter to a captive queen, who looks to thee to be her one bairn, onecomfort and solace."

  Cicely responded by caresses, and indeed felt herself more than everbefore the actual daughter, as she heard with indignation of James'sdesertion of his mother's cause; but Mary, whatever she said herself,would not brook to hear her speak severely of him. "The poor laddie,"she said, "he was no better than a prisoner among those dour Scotslords," and she described in graphic terms some of her own experiencesof royalty in Scotland.

  The other ladies all welcomed the newcomer as the best medicine both tothe spirit and body of their Queen. She was regularly enrolled amongthe Queen's maidens, and shared their meals. Mary dined and suppedalone, sixteen dishes being served to her, both on "fish and fleshdays," and the reversion of these as well as a provision of their owncame to the higher table of her attendants, where Cicely ranked withthe two Maries, Jean Kennedy, and Sir Andrew Melville. There was asecond table, at which ate the two secretaries, Mrs. Curll, andElizabeth Curll, Gilbert's sister, a most faithful attendant on theQueen. As before, she shared the Queen's chamber, and there it wasthat Mary asked her, "Well, mignonne, and how fares it with thineardent suitor? Didst say that he rode with thee?"

  "As far as the Manor gates, madam."

  "And what said he? Was he very pressing?"

  "Nay, madam, I was ever with my father--Mr. Talbot."

  "And he keeps the poor youth at arm's length. Thine other swain, thesailor, his son, is gone off once more to rob the Spaniards, is henot?--so there is the more open field."

  "Ay! but not till he had taught Antony a lesson."

  The Queen made Cis tell the story of the encounter, at which she wasmuch amused. "So my princess, even unknown, can make hearts beat andswords ring for her. Well done! thou art worthy to be one of the maidsin Perceforest or Amadis de Gaul, who are bred in obscurity, and setall the knights a sparring together. Tourneys are gone out since mypoor gude-father perished by mischance at one, or we would set theealoft to be contended for."

  "O madame mere, it made me greatly afraid, and poor Humfrey had to gooff without leave-taking, my Lady Countess was so wrathful."

  "So my Lady Countess is playing our game, is she! Backing Babingtonand banishing Talbot? Ha, ha," and Mary again laughed with a merrimentthat rejoiced the faithful ears of Jean Kennedy, under her bedclothes,but somewhat vexed Cicely. "Indeed, madam mother," she s
aid, "if Imust wed under my degree, I had rather it were Humfrey than AntonyBabington."

  "I tell thee, simple child, thou shall wed neither. A woman does notwed every man to whom she gives a smile and a nod. So long as thoubear'st the name of this Talbot, he is a good watch-dog to hinderBabington from winning thee: but if my Lady Countess choose to send theswain here, favoured by her to pay his court to thee, why then, shegives us the best chance we have had for many a long day of holdingintercourse with our friends without, and a hope of thee will bind himthe more closely."

  "He is all yours, heart and soul, already, madam."

  "I know it, child, but men are men, and no chains are so strong as canbe forged by a lady's lip and eye, if she do it cunningly. So said mybelle mere in France, and well do I believe it. Why, if one of thesour-visaged reformers who haunt this place chanced to have a daughterwith sweetness enough to temper the acidity, the youth might bethrowing up his cap the next hour for Queen Bess and the Reformation,unless we can tie him down with a silken cable while he is in the mind."

  "Yea, madam, you who are beautiful and winsome, you can do such things,I am homely and awkward."

  "Mort de ma vie, child! the beauty of the best of us is in the man'seyes who looks at us. 'Tis true, thou hast more of the Border lassiethan the princess. The likeness of some ewe-milking, cheese-makingsonsie Hepburn hath descended to thee, and hath been fostered bycountry breeding. But thou hast by nature the turn of the neck, andthe tread that belong to our Lorraine blood, the blood of Charlemagne,and now that I have thee altogether, see if I train thee not so as tobring out the princess that is in thee; and so, good-night, my bairnie,my sweet child; I shall sleep to-night, now that I have thy warm freshyoung cheek beside mine. Thou art life to me, my little one."

 

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