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A Tangle








It was a rainy November afternoon. Dinner was over, the great wood
fire had been made up, and Mistress Talbot was presiding over the
womenfolk of her household and their tasks with needle and distaff. She
had laid hands on her unwilling son Edward to show his father how well
he could read the piece de resistance of the family, Fabyan's
Chronicle; and the boy, with an elbow firmly planted on either side of
the great folio, was floundering through the miseries of King Stephen's
time; while Mr. Talbot, after smoothing the head of his largest hound
for some minutes, had leant back in his chair and dropped asleep.
Cicely's hand tardily drew out her thread, her spindle scarcely
balanced itself on the floor, and her maiden meditation was in an
inactive sort of way occupied with the sense of dulness after the
summer 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 an
occasional whisk of the end of her striped tail; and Mistress Susan was
only kept awake by her anxiety to adapt Diccon's last year's jerkin to
Ned's use.

Suddenly the dogs outside bayed, the dogs inside pricked their ears,
Ned joyfully halted, his father uttered the unconscious falsehood, "I'm
not asleep, lad, go on," then woke up as horses' feet were heard; Ned
dashed out into the porch, and was in time to hold the horse of one of
the two gentlemen, who, with cloaks over their heads, had ridden up to
the 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 have
only come down from the Manor-house, and we rode mostly on the grass."

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

Will Cavendish then explained that a post had come that morning to his
stepfather 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 Master
Richard, he had brought it down, accompanied by his friend, who was
anxious to pay his devoirs to the ladies, and though Will spoke to the
mother, he smiled and nodded comprehension at the daughter, who blushed
furiously, and set her spindle to twirl and leap so violently, as to
make the kitten believe the creature had taken fright, and was going to
escape. On she dashed with a sudden spring, involving herself and it
in the flax. The old watch-dog roused himself with a growl to keep
order. Cicely flung herself on the cat, Antony hurried to the rescue
to help her disentangle it, and received a fierce scratch for his
pains, 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 have
her free. Still, Tib!"

Cicely's cheeks were of a still deeper colour as she held fast the
mischievous favourite, while the good mother untwisted the flax from
its little claws and supple limbs, while it winked, twisted its head
about sentimentally, purred, and altogether wore an air of injured
innocence and forgiveness.

"I am afraid, air, you receive nothing but damage at our house," said
Mrs. Talbot politely. "Hast drawn blood? Oh fie! thou ill-mannered
Tib! 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 I
could face truer perils for this lady's sake!"

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

"Our kinsman takes it gravely! It was in the days of our grandfathers
that ladies could throw a glove among the lions, and bid a knight fetch
it 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 set
them all laughing, though his father declared that he ought to have his
ears boxed for a malapert varlet.

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

When quiet was restored, Mr. Talbot craved license from his guests, and
opened the packet. There was a letter for Mistress Cicely Talbot in
Queen Mary's well-known beautiful hand, which Antony followed with
eager eyes, and a low gasp of "Ah! favoured maiden," making the good
mother, who overheard it, say to herself, "Methinks his love is chiefly
for the maid as something appertaining to the Queen, though he wots not
how nearly. His heart is most for the Queen herself, poor lad."

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

Refusal was, of course, impossible to a mother who had every right to
claim her own child; and there was nothing to be done but to fix the
time for setting off: and Cicely, who had by this time read her own
letter, 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 much
rejoice 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 asked
for deliberation, and knew his mother would expect her permission to be
requested.

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

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

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

Cis and Susan cried out with horror, and Babington with stammering
wrath demanded whether she was to be assassinated in the Spanish
fashion, 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 she
tampered enough with Throckmorton's plot to have been convicted of
misprision of treason, and so she would have been, but that her most
sacred Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, would have no charge made against her.

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

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

To which all except Cis and Babington uttered a hearty amen, while a
picture arose before the girl of herself standing beside her royal
mother robed in velvet and ermine on the throne, and of the faces of
Lady Shrewsbury and her daughter as they recognised her, and were
pardoned.

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

To Richard and Susan this was the real resignation of their
foster-child into the hands of her own parent. It was true that she
would still bear their name, and pass for their daughter, but that
would be only so long as it might suit her mother's convenience; and
instead of seeing her every day, and enjoying her full confidence (so
far as they knew), she would be out of reach, and given up to
influences, both moral and religious, which they deeply distrusted;
also to a fate looming in the future with all the dark uncertainty that
brooded 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 Lady
Countess descended on her in the first interval of fine weather, full
of wrath at not having been consulted, and discharging it in all sorts
of predictions as to Cis's future. No honest and loyal husband would
have her, after being turned loose in such company; she would be
corrupted in morals and manners, and a disgrace to the Talbots; she
would be perverted in faith, become a Papist, and die in a nunnery
beyond 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 it
right, and then had a little vigorous advice on her own score against
tamely submitting to any man, a weakness which certainly could not be
laid to the charge of the termagant of Hardwicke.

Cicely herself was glad to go. She loved her mother with a romantic
enthusiastic affection, missed her engaging caresses, and felt her
Bridgefield home eminently dull, flat, and even severe, especially
since she had lost the excitement of Humfrey's presence, and likewise
her companion Diccon. So she made her preparations with a joyful
alacrity, which secretly pained her good foster-parents, and made Susan
almost ready to reproach her with ingratitude.

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

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

"My queen mother is a right pious woman. She is ever praying and
reading holy books," said Cis. "Mother Susan, I marvel you, who know
her, 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 from
temptation. I blame not her in warning thee."

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

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

"O ma mie, my lassie, ma fille, mine ain wee thing, how sweet to have
one bairn who is mine, mine ain, whom they have not robbed me of, for
thy brother, ah, thy brother, he hath forsaken me! He is made of the
false 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 poor
mother that bore him. Ay, he hath betrayed me, and deluded me, my
child; he hath sold me once more to the English loons! I am set faster
in prison than ever, the iron entereth into my soul. Thou art but
daughter to a captive queen, who looks to thee to be her one bairn, one
comfort and solace."

Cicely responded by caresses, and indeed felt herself more than ever
before the actual daughter, as she heard with indignation of James's
desertion 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 Scots
lords," and she described in graphic terms some of her own experiences
of royalty in Scotland.

The other ladies all welcomed the newcomer as the best medicine both to
the spirit and body of their Queen. She was regularly enrolled among
the Queen's maidens, and shared their meals. Mary dined and supped
alone, sixteen dishes being served to her, both on "fish and flesh
days," and the reversion of these as well as a provision of their own
came to the higher table of her attendants, where Cicely ranked with
the two Maries, Jean Kennedy, and Sir Andrew Melville. There was a
second table, at which ate the two secretaries, Mrs. Curll, and
Elizabeth Curll, Gilbert's sister, a most faithful attendant on the
Queen. As before, she shared the Queen's chamber, and there it was
that Mary asked her, "Well, mignonne, and how fares it with thine
ardent 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, the
sailor, his son, is gone off once more to rob the Spaniards, is he
not?--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 was
much amused. "So my princess, even unknown, can make hearts beat and
swords ring for her. Well done! thou art worthy to be one of the maids
in Perceforest or Amadis de Gaul, who are bred in obscurity, and set
all the knights a sparring together. Tourneys are gone out since my
poor gude-father perished by mischance at one, or we would set thee
aloft to be contended for."

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

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

"I tell thee, simple child, thou shall wed neither. A woman does not
wed every man to whom she gives a smile and a nod. So long as thou
bear'st the name of this Talbot, he is a good watch-dog to hinder
Babington from winning thee: but if my Lady Countess choose to send the
swain here, favoured by her to pay his court to thee, why then, she
gives us the best chance we have had for many a long day of holding
intercourse with our friends without, and a hope of thee will bind him
the 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 can
be forged by a lady's lip and eye, if she do it cunningly. So said my
belle mere in France, and well do I believe it. Why, if one of the
sour-visaged reformers who haunt this place chanced to have a daughter
with sweetness enough to temper the acidity, the youth might be
throwing 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's
eyes who looks at us. 'Tis true, thou hast more of the Border lassie
than the princess. The likeness of some ewe-milking, cheese-making
sonsie Hepburn hath descended to thee, and hath been fostered by
country breeding. But thou hast by nature the turn of the neck, and
the 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 to
bring 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 fresh
young cheek beside mine. Thou art life to me, my little one."





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