Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland, page 23
THE LOVE TOKEN.
"Yonder woman came to tell this young lady's fortune," said Sir Ralf, afew days later. "Did she guess what I, an old man, have to bode forher!" and he smiled at the Queen. "Here is a token I was entreated bya young gentleman to deliver to this young lady, with his humble suitthat he may pay his devoirs to her to-morrow, your Grace permitting."
"I knew not," said Mary, "that my women had license to receivevisitors."
"Assuredly not, as a rule, but this young gentleman, Mr. Babington ofDethick, has my Lord and Lady of Shrewsbury's special commendation."
"I knew the young man," said Mary, with perfectly acted heedlessness."He was my Lady Shrewsbury's page in his boyhood. I should have noobjection to receive him."
"That, madam, may not be," returned Sadler. "I am sorry to say it iscontrary to the orders of the council, but if Mr. and Mrs. Curll, andthe fair Mistress Cicely, will do me the honour to dine with meto-morrow in the hall, we may bring about the auspicious meeting myLady desires."
Cicely's first impulse had been to pout and say she wanted none of Mr.Babington's tokens, nor his company; but her mother's eye held herback, and besides any sort of change of scene, or any new face, couldnot but be delightful, so there was a certain leap of the young heartwhen the invitation was accepted for her; and she let Sir Ralf put thetoken into her hand, and a choice one it was. Everybody pressed tolook at it, while she stood blushing, coy and unwilling to display thesmall egg-shaped watch of the kind recently invented at Nuremberg. SirRalf observed that the young lady showed a comely shamefastmaidenliness, and therewith bowed himself out of the room.
Cicely laughed with impatient scorn. "Well spoken, reverend seignior,"she said, as she found herself alone with the Queen. "I wish my LadyCountess would leave me alone. I am none of hers."
"Nay, mademoiselle, be not thus disdainful," said the Queen, in a gaytone of banter; "give me here this poor token that thou dost sodespise, when many a maiden would be distraught with delight andgratitude. Let me see it, I say."
And as Cicely, restraining with difficulty an impatient, uncourtlygesture, placed the watch in her hand, her delicate deft fingers openedthe case, disregarding both the face and the place for inserting thekey; but dealing with a spring, which revealed that the case wasdouble, and that between the two thin plates of silver which formed it,was inserted a tiny piece of the thinnest paper, written from corner tocorner with the smallest characters in cipher. Mary laughed joyouslyand triumphantly as she held it up. "There, mignonne! What sayestthou to thy token now? This is the first secret news I have had fromthe outer world since we came to this weary Tutbury. And oh! theexquisite jest that my Lady and Sir Ralf Sadler should be the bearers!I always knew some good would come of that suitor of thine! Thou mustnot flout him, my fair lady, nor scowl at him so with thy beetle brows."
"It seems but hard to lure him on with false hopes," said Cicely,gravely.
"Hoots, lassie," as Dame Jean would say, "'tis but joy and delight tomen to be thus tickled. 'Tis the greatest kindness we can do them thusto amuse them," said Mary, drawing up her head with the consciousfascination of the serpent of old Nile, and toying the while with theciphered letter, in eagerness, and yet dread, of what it might contain.
Such things were not easy to make out, even to those who had the key,and Mary, unwilling to trust it out of her own hands, leant over it,spelling it out for many minutes, but at last broke forth into a clearringing burst of girlish laughter and clasped her hands together,"Mignonne, mignonne, it is too rare a jest to hold back. Deem not thatyour Highness stands first here! Oh no! 'Tis a letter from Bernardode Mendoza with a proposition for whose hand thinkest thou? For thispoor old captive hand! For mine, maiden. Ay, and from whom? From hisExcellency, the Prince of Parma, Lieutenant of the Netherlands. Anonwill he be here with 30,000 picked men and the Spanish fleet; and thenI shall ride once again at the head of my brave men, hear trumpetsbray, and see banners fly! We will begin to work our banner at once,child, and let Sir Ralf think it is a bed-quilt for her sacred Majesty,Elizabeth. Thou look'st dismayed, little maiden."
"Spanish ships and men, madam, ah! and how would it be with myfather--Mr. and Mrs. Talbot, I mean?"
"Not a hair of their heads shall be touched, child. We will send downa chosen troop to protect them, with Babington at its head if thouwilt. But," added the Queen, recollecting herself, and perceiving thatshe had startled and even shocked her daughter, "it is not to beto-morrow, nor for many a weary month. All that is here demanded iswhether, all being well, he might look for my hand as his guerdon.Shall I propose thine instead?"
"O madam, he is an old man and full of gout!"
"Well! we will not pull caps for him just yet. And see, thou must besecret as the grave, child, or thou wilt ruin thy mother. I ought notto have told thee, but the surprise was too much for me, and thou canstkeep a secret. Leave me now, child, and send me Monsieur Nau."
The next time any converse was held between mother and daughter, QueenMary said, "Will it grieve thee much, my lassie, to return thisbauble, on the plea of thy duty to the good couple at Bridgefield?"
After all Cicely had become so fond of the curious and ingenious eggthat she was rather sorry to part with it, and there was a littledismal resignation in her answer, "I will do your bidding, madam."
"Thou shalt have a better. I will write to Chateauneuf for thechoicest that Paris can furnish," said Mary, "but seest thou, noneother mode is so safe for conveying an answer to this suitor of mine!Nay, little one, do not fear. He is not at hand, and if he be sogout-ridden and stern as I have heard, we will find some way to contenthim and make him do the service without giving thee a stepfather, eventhough he be grandson to an emperor."
There was something perplexing and distressing to Cis in this suddenmood of exultation at such a suitor. However, Parma's proposal mightmean liberty and a recovered throne, and who could wonder at the joythat even the faintest gleam of light afforded to one whose captivityhad lasted longer than Cicely's young life?--and then once more therewas an alternation of feeling at the last moment, when Cicely, dressedin her best, came to receive instructions.
"I ken not, I ken not," said Mary, speaking the Scottish tongue, towhich she recurred in her moments of deepest feeling, "I ought not tolet it go. I ought to tell the noble Prince to have naught to do witha being like me. 'Tis not only the jettatura wherewith the QueenMother used to reproach me. Men need but bear me good will, and miseryovertakes them. Death is the best that befalls them! The gentlehusband of my girlhood--then the frantic Chastelar, my poor, poor goodDavie, Darnley, Bothwell, Geordie Douglas, young Willie, and againNorfolk, and the noble and knightly Don John! One spark of love anddevotion to the wretched Mary, and all is over with them! Give me backthat paper, child, and warn Babington against ever dreaming of aid to awretch like me. I will perish alone! It is enough! I will drag downno more generous spirits in the whirlpool around me."
"Madam! madam!" exclaimed De Preaux the almoner, who was standing,"this is not like your noble self. Have you endured so much to befainthearted when the end is near, and you are made a smooth andpolished instrument, welded in the fire, for the triumph of the Churchover her enemies?"
"Ah, Father!" said the Queen, "how should not my heart fail me when Ithink of the many high spirits who have fallen for my sake? Ay, andwhen I look out on yonder peaceful vales and happy homesteads, andthink of them ravaged by those furious Spaniards and Italians, whom mybrother of Anjou himself called very fiends!"
"Fiends are the tools of Divine wrath," returned Preaux. "Look at theprofaned sanctuaries and outraged convents on which these proud Englishhave waxen fat, and say whether a heavy retribution be not due to them."
"Ah, father! I may be weak, but I never loved persecution. KingFrancis and I were dragged to behold the executions at Amboise. Thatwas enough for us. His gentle spirit never recovered it, and I--I seetheir contorted visages and forms still i
"Nay, madam, as Queen you would have the reins in your own hand: youcould exercise what wholesome severity or well-tempered leniency youchose," urged the almoner; "it were ill requiting the favour of thesaints who have opened this door to you at last to turn aside now interror at the phantasy that long weariness of spirit hath conjured upbefore you."
So Mary rallied herself, and in five minutes more was as eager ingiving her directions to Cicely and to the Curlls as though her hearthad not recently failed her.
Cis was to go forth with her chaperons, not by any means enjoying themessage to Babington, and yet unable to help being very glad to escapefor ever so short a time from the dull prison apartments. There mightbe no great faith in her powers of diplomacy, but as it was probablethat Babington would have more opportunity of conversing with her thanwith the Curlls, she was charged to attend heedfully to whatever hemight say.
Sir Ralf's son-in-law, Mr. Somer, was sent to escort the trio to thehall at the hour of noon; and there, pacing the ample chamber, whilethe board at the upper end was being laid, were Sir Ralf Sadler and hisguest Mr. Babington. Antony was dressed in green velvet slashed withprimrose satin, setting off his good mien to the greatest advantage,and he came up with suppressed but rapturous eagerness, bowing low toMrs. Curll and the secretary, but falling on his knee to kiss the handof the dark-browed girl. Her recent courtly training made her muchless rustically awkward than she would have been a few months before,but she was extremely stiff, and held her head as though her ruff werebuckram, as she began her lesson. "Sir, I am greatly beholden to youfor this token, but if it be not sent with the knowledge and consent ofmy honoured father and mother I may not accept of it."
"Alas! that you will say so, fair mistress," said Antony, but he wasprobably prepared for this rejection, for he did not seem utterlyoverwhelmed by it.
"The young lady exercises a wise discretion," said Sir Ralf Sadler toMrs. Curll. "If I had known that mine old friend Mr. Talbot ofBridgefield was unfavourable to the suit, I would not have harbouredthe young spark, but when he brought my Lady Countess's commendation, Ithought all was well."
Barbara Curll had her cue, namely, to occupy Sir Ralf so as to leavethe young people to themselves, so she drew him off to tell him inconfidence a long and not particularly veracious story of theobjections of the Talbots to Antony Babington; whilst her husbandengaged the attention of Mr. Somer, and there was a space in which, asAntony took back the watch, he was able to inquire "Was the egg-shellopened?"
"Ay," said Cis, blushing furiously and against her will, "the egg wassucked and replenished."
"Take consolation," said Antony, and as some one came near them, "Dutyand discretion shall, I trust, both be satisfied when I next sun myselfin the light of those lovely eyes." Then, as the coast became moreclear, "You are about shortly to move. Chartley is preparing for you."
"So we are told."
"There are others preparing," said Antony, bending over her, holdingher hand, and apparently making love to her with all his might. "Tellme, lady, who hath charge of the Queen's buttery? Is it faithful oldHalbert as at Sheffield?"
"It is," replied Cis.
"Then let him look well at the bottom of each barrel of beer suppliedfor the use of her household. There is an honest man, a brewer, atBurton, whom Paulett will employ, who will provide that letters be sentto and fro. Gifford and Langston, who are both of these parts, knowhim well." Cis started at the name. "Do you trust Langston then?" sheasked.
"Wholly! Why, he is the keenest and ablest of all. Have you not seenhim and had speech with him in many strange shapes? He can change hisvoice, and whine like any beggar wife."
"Yea," said Cis, "but the Queen and Sir Andrew doubted a little if hemeant not threats last time we met."
"All put on--excellent dissembling to beguile the keepers. He told meall," said Antony, "and how he had to scare thee and change tonesuddenly. Why, he it is who laid this same egg, and will receive it.There is a sworn band, as you know already, who will let her know ourplans, and be at her commands through that means. Then, when we havedone service approaching to be worthy of her, then it may be that Ishall have earned at least a look or sign."
"Alas! sir," said Cicely, "how can I give you false hopes?" For herhonest heart burnt to tell the poor fellow that she would in case ofhis success be farther removed from him than ever.
"What would be false now shall be true then. I will wring love fromthee by my deeds for her whom we both alike love, and then wilt thou bemine own, my true Bride!"
By this time other guests had arrived, and the dinner was ready.Babington was, in deference to the Countess, allowed to sit next to hislady-love. She found he had been at Sheffield, and had visitedBridgefield, vainly endeavouring to obtain sanction to his addressesfrom her adopted parents. He saw how her eyes brightened and heard howher voice quivered with eagerness to hear of what still seemed home toher, and he was pleased to feel himself gratifying her by telling herhow Mrs. Talbot looked, and how Brown Dumpling had been turned out inthe Park, and Mr. Talbot had taken a new horse, which Ned had insistedon calling "Fulvius," from its colour, for Ned was such a scholar thathe was to be sent to study at Cambridge. Then he would have wanderedoff to little Lady Arbell's being put under Master Sniggius's tuition,but Cicely would bring him back to Bridgefield, and to Ned's brothers.
No, the boasted expedition to Spain had not begun yet. Sir FrancisDrake was lingering about Plymouth, digging a ditch, it was said, tobring water from Dartmoor. He would never get license to attack KingPhilip on his own shores. The Queen knew better than to give it.Humfrey and Diccon would get no better sport than robbing a ship or twoon the way to the Netherlands. Antony, for his part, could not seethat piracy on the high seas was fit work for a gentleman.
"A gentleman loves to serve his queen and country in all places," saidCicely.
"Ah!" said Antony, with a long breath, as though making a discovery,"sits the wind in that quarter?"
"Antony," exclaimed she, in her eagerness calling him by the familiarname of childhood, "you are in error. I declare most solemnly that itis quite another matter that stands in your way."
"And you will not tell me wherefore you are thus cruel?"
"I cannot, sir. You will understand in time that what you call crueltyis true kindness."
This was the gist of the interview. All the rest only repeated it inone form or another; and when Cis returned, it was with a saddenedheart, for she could not but perceive that Antony was well-nigh crazed,not so much with love of her, as with the contemplation of the wrongsof the Church and the Queen, whom he regarded with equally passionatedevotion, and with burning zeal and indignation to avenge theirsufferings, and restore them to their pristine glory. He did, indeed,love her, as he professed to have done from infancy, but as if she wereto be his own personal portion of the reward. Indeed there wasmagnanimity enough in the youth almost to lose the individual hope inthe dazzle of the great victory for which he was willing to devote hisown life and happiness in the true spirit of a crusader. Cicely didnot fully or consciously realise all this, but she had such a glimpseof it as to give her a guilty feeling in concealing from him the wholetruth, which would have shown how fallacious were the hopes that hermother did not scruple, for her own purposes, to encourage. PoorCicely! she had not had royal training enough to look on all subjectsas simply pawns on the monarch's chess-board; and she was so evidentlyunhappy over Babington's courtship, and so little disposed to enjoy herfirst feminine triumph, that the Queen declared that Nature haddesigned her for the convent she had so narrowly missed; and, valuableas was the intelligence she had brought, she was never trusted with thecontents of the correspondence. On the removal of Mary to Chartley thebarrel with the false bottom came into use, but the secretaries Nau andCurll alone knew in full what was there conveyed.
However, it was a relief when, before the end of this summer, Cicelyheard of his marriage to a young lady selected by the Earl. She hopedit would make him forget his dangerous inclination to herself; but yetthere was a little lurking vanity which believed that it had beenrather a marriage for property's than for love's sake.