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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