A Lioness At Bay

It was in the middle of the summer of 1586 that Humfrey and his young

brother Richard, in broad grass hats and long feathers, found

themselves again in London, Diccon looking considerably taller and

leaner than when he went away. For when, after many months' delay, the

naval expedition had taken place, he had been laid low with fever

during the attack on Florida by Sir Francis Drake's little fleet; and

the return to England had been only just in time to save his life.

Though Humfrey had set forth merely as a lieutenant, he had returned in

command of a vessel, and stood in high repute for good discipline,

readiness of resource, and personal exploits. His ship had, however,

suffered so severely as to be scarcely seaworthy when the fleet arrived

in Plymouth harbour; and Sir Francis, finding it necessary to put her

into dock and dismiss her crew, had chosen the young Captain Talbot to

ride to London with his despatches to her Majesty.

The commission might well delight the brothers, who were burning to

hear of home, and to know how it fared with Cicely, having been

absolutely without intelligence ever since they had sailed from

Plymouth in January, since which they had plundered the Spaniard both

at home and in the West Indies, but had had no letters.

They rode post into London, taking their last change of horses at

Kensington, on a fine June evening, when the sun was mounting high upon

the steeple of St. Paul's, and speeding through the fields in hopes of

being able to reach the Strand in time for supper at Lord Shrewsbury's

mansion, which, even in the absence of my Lord, was always a harbour

for all of the name of Talbot. Nor, indeed, was it safe to be out

after dark, for the neighbourhood of the city was full of roisterers of

all sorts, if not of highwaymen and cutpurses, who might come in

numbers too large even for the two young gentlemen and the two

servants, who remained out of the four volunteers from Bridgefield.

They were just passing Westminster where the Abbey, Hall, and St.

Stephen's Chapel, and their precincts, stood up in their venerable but

unstained beauty among the fields and fine trees, and some of the

Westminster boys, flat-capped, gowned, and yellow-stockinged, ran out

with the cry that always flattered Diccon, not to say Humfrey, though

he tried to be superior to it, "Mariners! mariners from the Western

Main! Hurrah for gallant Drake! Down with the Don!" For the tokens

of the sea, in the form of clothes and weapons, were well known and

highly esteemed.

Two or three gentlemen who were walking along the road turned and

looked up, and the young sailors recognised in a moment a home face.

There was an exclamation on either side of "Antony Babington!" and

"Humfrey Talbot!" and a ready clasp of the hand in right of old


"Welcome home!" exclaimed Antony. "Is all well with you?"

"Royally well," returned Humfrey. "Know'st thou aught of our father

and mother?"

"All was well with them when last I heard," said Antony.

"And Cis--my sister I mean?" said Diccon, putting, in his

unconsciousness, the very question Humfrey was burning to ask.

"She is still with the Queen of Scots, at Chartley," replied Babington.

"Chartley, where is that? It is a new place for her captivity."

"'Tis a house of my Lord of Essex, not far from Lichfield," returned

Antony. "They sent her thither this spring, after they had well-nigh

slain her with the damp and wretched lodgings they provided at Tutbury."

"Who? Not our Cis?" asked Diccon.

"Nay," said Antony, "it hurt not her vigorous youth--but I meant the

long-suffering princess."

"Hath Sir Ralf Sadler still the charge of her?" inquired Humfrey.

"No, indeed. He was too gentle a jailer for the Council. They have

given her Sir Amias Paulett, a mere Puritan and Leicestrian, who is as

hard as the nether millstone, and well-nigh as dull," said Babington,

with a little significant chuckle, which perhaps alarmed one of his

companions, a small slight man with a slight halt, clad in black like a

lawyer. "Mr. Babington," he said, "pardon me for interrupting you, but

we shall make Mr. Gage tarry supper for us."

"Nay, Mr. Langston," said Babington, who was in high spirits, "these

are kinsmen of your own, sons of Mr. Richard Talbot of Bridgefield, to

whom you have often told me you were akin."

Mr. Langston was thus compelled to come forward, shake hands with the

young travellers, welcome them home, and desire to be commended to

their worthy parents; and Babington, in the exuberance of his welcome,

named his other two companions--Mr. Tichborne, a fine, handsome,

graceful, and somewhat melancholy young man; Captain Fortescue, a

bearded moustached bravo, in the height of the fashion, a long plume in

his Spanish hat, and his short gray cloak glittering with silver lace.

Humfrey returned their salute, but was as glad as they evidently were

when they got Babington away with them, and left the brothers to pursue

their way, after inviting them to come and see him at his lodgings as

early as possible.

"It is before supper," said Diccon, sagely, "or I should say Master

Antony had been acquainted with some good canary."

"More likely he is uplifted with some fancy of his own. It may be only

with the meeting of me after our encounter," said Humfrey. "He is a

brave fellow and kindly, but never did craft so want ballast as does

that pate of his!"

"Humfrey," said his brother, riding nearer to him, "did he not call

that fellow in black, Langston?"

"Ay, Cuthbert Langston. I have heard of him. No good comrade for his

weak brain."

"Humfrey, it is so, though father would not credit me. I knew his halt

and his eye--just like the venomous little snake that was the death, of

poor Foster. He is the same with the witch woman Tibbott, ay, and with

her with the beads and bracelets, who beset Cis and me at Buxton."

Young Diccon had proved himself on the voyage to have an unerring eye

for recognition, and his brother gave a low whistle. "I fear me then

Master Antony may be running himself into trouble."

"See, they turn in mounting the steps to the upper fence of yonder

house with the deep carved balcony. Another has joined them! I like

not his looks. He is like one of those hardened cavaliers from the


"Ay! who seem to have left pity and conscience behind them there," said

Humfrey, looking anxiously up at the fine old gabled house with its

projecting timbered front, and doubting inwardly whether it would be

wise to act on his old playfellow's invitation, yet with an almost sick

longing to know on what terms the youth stood with Cicely.

In another quarter of an hour they were at the gateway of Shrewsbury

House, where the porter proved to be one of the Sheffield retainers,

and admitted them joyfully. My Lord Earl was in Yorkshire, he said,

but my Lord and Lady Talbot were at home, and would be fain to see

them, and there too was Master William Cavendish.

They were handed on into the courtyard, where servants ran to take

their horses, and as the news ran that Master Richard's sons had

arrived from the Indies, Will Cavendish came running down the hall

steps to embrace them in his glee, while Lord Talbot came to the door

of the hall to welcome them. These great London houses, which had not

quite lost their names of hostels or inns, did really serve as free

lodgings to all members of the family who might visit town, and above

all such travellers as these, bringing news of grand national


Very soon after Gilbert's accession to the heirship, quarrels had begun

between his wife and her mother the Countess.

Lord Talbot had much of his father's stately grace, and his wife was a

finished lady. They heartily welcomed the two lads who had grown from

boys to men. My lady smilingly excused the riding-gear, and as soon as

the dust of travel had been removed they were seated at the board, and

called on to tell of the gallant deeds in which they had taken part,

whilst they heard in exchange of Lord Leicester's doings in the

Netherlands, and the splendid exploits of the Stanleys at Zutphen.

Lord Talbot promised to take Humfrey to Richmond the next day, to be

presented to her Majesty, so soon as he should be equipped, so as not

to lose his character of mariner, but still not to affront her

sensibilities by aught of uncourtly or unstudied in his apparel.

They confirmed what Babington had said of the Queen of Scots' changes

of residence and of keepers. As to Cicely, they had been lately so

little at Sheffield that they had almost forgotten her, but they

thought that if she were still at Chartley, there could be no objection

to her brothers having an interview with her on their way home, if they

chose to go out of their road for it.

Humfrey mentioned his meeting with Babington in Westminster, and Lord

Talbot made some inquiries as to his companions, adding that there were

strange stories and suspicions afloat, and that he feared that the

young man was disaffected and was consorting with Popish recusants.

Diccon's tongue was on the alert with his observation, but at a sign

from his brother, who did not wish to get Babington into trouble, he

was silent. Cavendish, however, laughed and said he was for ever in

Mr. Secretary's house, and even had a room there.

Very early the next morning the body servant of his Lordship was in

attendance with a barber and the fashionable tailor of the Court, and

in good time Humfrey and Diccon were arrayed in such garments as were

judged to suit the Queen's taste, and to become the character of young

mariners from the West. Humfrey had a dainty jewel of shell-work from

the spoils of Carthagena, entrusted to him by Drake to present to the

Queen as a foretaste of what was to come. Lady Talbot greatly admired

its novelty and beauty, and thought the Queen would be enchanted with

it, giving him a pretty little perfumed box to present it in.

Lord Talbot, well pleased to introduce his spirited young cousins, took

them in his boat to Richmond, which they reached just as the evening

coolness came on. They were told that her Majesty was walking in the

Park, and thither, so soon as the ruffs had been adjusted and the fresh

Spanish gloves drawn on, they resorted.

The Queen walked freely there without guards--without even swords being

worn by the gentlemen in attendance--loving as she did to display her

confidence in her people. No precautions were taken, but they were

allowed to gather together on the greensward to watch her, as among the

beautiful shady trees she paced along.

The eyes of the two youths were eagerly directed towards her, as they

followed Lord Talbot. Was she not indeed the cynosure of all the

realm? Did she not hold the heart of every loyal Englishman by an

invisible rein? Was not her favour their dream and their reward? She

was a little in advance of her suite. Her hair, of that light sandy

tint which is slow to whiten, was built up in curls under a rich stiff

coif, covered with silver lace, and lifted high at the temples. From

this a light gauze veil hung round her shoulders and over her splendid

standing ruff, which stood up like the erected neck ornaments of some

birds, opening in front, and showing the lesser ruff or frill

encircling her throat, and terminating a lace tucker within her low-cut

boddice. Rich necklaces, the jewel of the Garter, and a whole

constellation of brilliants, decorated her bosom, and the boddice of

her blue satin dress and its sleeves were laced with seed pearls. The

waist, a very slender one, was encircled with a gold cord and heavy

tassels, the farthingale spread out its magnificent proportions, and a

richly embroidered white satin petticoat showed itself in front, but

did not conceal the active, well-shaped feet. There was something

extraordinarily majestic in her whole bearing, especially the poise of

her head, which made the spectator never perceive how small her stature

actually was. Her face and complexion, too, were of the cast on which

time is slow to make an impression, being always pale and fair, with

keen and delicately-cut features; so that her admirers had quite as

much reason to be dazzled as when she was half her present age; nay,

perhaps more, for the habit of command had added to the regality which

really was her principal beauty. Sir Christopher Hatton, with a

handsome but very small face at the top of a very tall and portly

frame, dressed in the extreme of foppery, came behind her, and then a

bevy of ladies and gentlemen.

As the Talbots approached, she was moving slowly on, unusually erect

even for her, and her face composed to severe majesty, like that of a

judge, the tawny eyes with a strange gleam in them fixed on some one in

the throng on the grass near at hand. Lord Talbot advanced with a bow

so low that he swept the ground with his plume, and while the two

youths followed his example, Diccon's quick eye noted that she glanced

for one rapid second at their weapons, then continued her steady gaze,

never withdrawing it even to receive Lord Talbot's salutation as he

knelt before her, though she said, "We greet you well, my good lord.

Are not we well guarded, not having one man with a sword near me?"

"Here are three good swords, madam," returned he, "mine own, and those

of my two young kinsmen, whom I venture to present to your Majesty, as

they bear greetings from your trusty servant, Sir Francis Drake."

While he spoke there had been a by-play unperceived by him, or by the

somewhat slow and tardy Hatton. A touch from Diccon had made Humfrey

follow the direction of the Queen's eye, and they saw it was fixed on a

figure in a loose cloak strangely resembling that which they had seen

on the stair of the house Babington had entered. They also saw a

certain quailing and cowering of the form, and a scowl on the shaggy

red eyebrows, and Irish features, and Humfrey at once edged himself so

as to come between the fellow and the Queen, though he was ready to

expect a pistol shot in his back, but better thus, was his thought,

than that it should strike her,--and both laid their hands on their


"How now!" said Hatton, "young men, you are over prompt. Her Majesty

needs no swords. You are out of rank. Fall in and do your obeisance."

Something in the Queen's relaxed gaze told Humfrey that the peril was

over, and that he might kneel as Talbot named him, explaining his

lineage as Elizabeth always wished to have done. A sort of tremor

passed over her, but she instantly recalled her attention. "From

Drake!" she said, in her clear, somewhat shrill voice. "So, young

gentleman, you have been with the pirate who outruns our orders, and

fills our brother of Spain with malice such that he would have our life

by fair or foul means."

"That shall he never do while your Grace has English watch-dogs to

guard you," returned Talbot.

"The Talbot is a trusty hound by water or by land," said Elizabeth,

surveying the goodly proportion of the elder brother. "Whelps of a

good litter, though yonder lad be somewhat long and lean. Well, and

how fares Sir Francis? Let him make his will, for the Spaniards one

day will have his blood."

"I have letters and a token from him for your Grace," said Humfrey.

"Come then in," said the Queen. "We will see it in the bower, and hear

what thou wouldst say."

A bower, or small summer-house, stood at the end of the path, and here

she took her way, seating herself on a kind of rustic throne evidently

intended for her, and there receiving from Humfrey the letter and the

gift, and asking some questions about the voyage; but she seemed

preoccupied and anxious, and did not show the enthusiastic approbation

of her sailors' exploits which the young men expected. After glancing

over it, she bade them carry the letter to Mr. Secretary Walsingham the

next day; nor did she bid the party remain to supper; but as soon as

half a dozen of her gentlemen pensioners, who had been summoned by her

orders, came up, she rose to return to the palace.

A Furious Letter A Tangle facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail