The Ebbing Well





Cicely's thirst for adventures had received a check, but the Queen,

being particularly well and in good spirits, and trusting that this

would be her last visit to Buxton, was inclined to enterprise, and

there were long rides and hawking expeditions on the moors.



The last of these, ere leaving Buxton, brought the party to the hamlet

of Barton Clough, where a loose horseshoe of the Earl's caused a halt

at a little wayside smithy. Mary, always friendly and free-spoken,

asked for a draught of water, and entered into conversation with the

smith's rosy-cheeked wife who brought it to her, and said it was sure

to be good and pure for the stream came from the Ebbing and Flowing

Well, and she pointed up a steep path. Then, on a further question,

she proceeded, "Has her ladyship never heard of the Ebbing Well that

shows whether true love is soothfast?"



"How so?" asked the Queen. "How precious such a test might be. It

would save many a maiden a broken heart, only that the poor fools would

ne'er trust it."



"I have heard of it," said the Earl, "and Dr. Jones would demonstrate

to your Grace that it is but a superstition of the vulgar regarding a

natural phenomenon."



"Yea, my Lord," said the smith, looking up from the horse's foot; "'tis

the trade of yonder philosophers to gainsay whatever honest folk

believed before them. They'll deny next that hens lay eggs, or blight

rots wheat. My good wife speaks but plain truth, and we have seen it

o'er and o'er again."



"What have you seen, good man?" asked Mary eagerly, and ready answer

was made by the couple, who had acquired some cultivation of speech and

manners by their wayside occupation, and likewise as cicerones to the

spring.



"Seen, quoth the lady?" said the smith. "Why, he that is a true man

and hath a true maid can quaff a draught as deep as his gullet can

hold--or she that is true and hath a true love--but let one who hath a

flaw in the metal, on the one side or t'other, stoop to drink, and the

water shrinks away so as there's not the moistening of a lip."



"Ay: the ladies may laugh," added his wife, "but 'tis soothfast for all

that."



"Hast proved it, good dame?" asked the Queen archly, for the pair were

still young and well-looking enough to be jested with.



"Ay! have we not, madam?" said the dame. "Was not my man yonder, Rob,

the tinker's son, whom my father and brethren, the smiths down yonder

at Buxton, thought but scorn of, but we'd taken a sup together at the

Ebbing Well, and it played neither of us false, so we held out against

'em all, and when they saw there was no help for it, they gave Bob the

second best anvil and bellows for my portion, and here we be."



"Living witnesses to the Well," said the Queen merrily. "How say you,

my Lord? I would fain see this marvel. Master Curll, will you try the

venture?"



"I fear it not, madam," said the secretary, looking at the blushing

Barbara.



Objections did not fail to arise from the Earl as to the difficulties

of the path and the lateness of the hour but Bob Smith, perhaps

wilfully, discovered another of my Lord's horseshoes to be in a

perilous state, and his good wife, Dame Emmott, offered to conduct the

ladies by so good a path that they might think themselves on the

Queen's Walk at Buxton itself.



Lord Shrewsbury, finding himself a prisoner, was obliged to yield

compliance, and leaving Sir Andrew Melville, with the grooms and

falconers, in charge of the horses, the Queen, the Earl, Cicely, Mary

Seaton, Barbara Mowbray, the two secretaries, and Richard Talbot and

young Diccon, started on the walk, together with Dr. Bourgoin, her

physician, who was eager to investigate the curiosity, and make it a

subject of debate with Dr. Jones.



The path was a beautiful one, through rocks and brushwood, mountain ash

bushes showing their coral berries amid their feathery leaves, golden

and white stars of stonecrop studding every coign of vantage, and in

more level spots the waxy bell-heather beginning to come into blossom.

Still it was rather over praise to call it as smooth as the

carefully-levelled and much-trodden Queen's path at Buxton, considering

that it ascended steeply all the way, and made the solemn,

much-enduring Earl pant for breath; but the Queen, her rheumatics for

the time entirely in abeyance, bounded on with the mountain step

learned in early childhood, and closely followed the brisk Emmott. The

last ascent was a steep pull, taking away the disposition to speak, and

at its summit Mary stood still holding out one hand, with a finger of

the other on her lips as a sign of silence to the rest of the suite and

to Emmott, who stood flushed and angered; for what she esteemed her

lawful province seemed to have been invaded from the other side of the

country.



They were on the side of the descent from the moorlands connected with

the Peak, on a small esplanade in the midst of which lay a deep clear

pool, with nine small springs or fountains discharging themselves,

under fern and wild rose or honeysuckle, into its basin. Steps bad been

cut in the rock leading to the verge of the pool, and on the lowest of

these, with his back to the new-comers, was kneeling a young man, his

brown head bare, his short cloak laid aside, so that his well-knit form

could be seen; the sword and spurs that clanked against the rock, as

well as the whole fashion and texture of his riding-dress, showing him

to be a gentleman.



"We shall see the venture made," whispered Mary to her daughter, who,

in virtue of youth and lightness of foot, had kept close behind her.

Grasping the girl's arm and smiling, she heard the young man's voice

cry aloud to the echoes of the rock, "Cis!" then stoop forward and

plunge face and head into the clear translucent water.



"Good luck to a true lover!" smiled the Queen. "What! starting, silly

maid? Cisses are plenty in these parts as rowan berries."



"Nay, but--" gasped Cicely, for at that moment the young man, rising

from his knees, his face still shining with the water, looked up at his

unsuspected spectators. An expression of astonishment and ecstasy

lighted up his honest sunburnt countenance as Master Richard, who had

just succeeded in dragging the portly Earl up the steep path, met his

gaze. He threw up his arms, made apparently but one bound, and was

kneeling at the captain's feet, embracing his knees.



"My son! Humfrey! Thyself!" cried Richard. "See! see what presence

we are in."



"Your blessing, father, first," cried Humfrey, "ere I can see aught

else."



And as Richard quickly and thankfully laid his hand on the brow, so

much fairer than the face, and then held his son for one moment in a

close embrace, with an exchange of the kiss that was not then only a

foreign fashion. Queen and Earl said to one another with a sigh, that

happy was the household where the son had no eyes for any save his

father.



Mary, however, must have found it hard to continue her smiles when,

after due but hurried obeisance to her and to his feudal chief, Humfrey

turned to the little figure beside her, all smiling with startled

shyness, and in one moment seemed to swallow it up in a huge

overpowering embrace, fraternal in the eyes of almost all the

spectators, but not by any means so to those of Mary, especially after

the name she had heard. Diccon's greeting was the next, and was not

quite so visibly rapturous on the part of the elder brother, who

explained that he had arrived at Sheffield yesterday, and finding no

one to welcome him but little Edward, had set forth for Buxton almost

with daylight, and having found himself obliged to rest his horse, he

had turned aside to---. And here he recollected just in time that Cis

was in every one's eyes save his father's, his own sister, and lamely

concluded "to take a draught of water," blushing under his brown skin

as he spoke. Poor fellow! the Queen, even while she wished him in the

farthest West Indian isle, could not help understanding that strange

doubt and dread that come over the mind at the last moment before a

longed-for meeting, and which had made even the bold young sailor glad

to rally his hopes by this divination. Fortunately she thought only

herself and one or two of the foremost had heard the name he gave, as

was proved by the Earl's good-humoured laugh, as he said,



"A draught, quotha? We understand that, young sir. And who may this

your true love be?"



"That I hope soon to make known to your Lordship," returned Humfrey,

with a readiness which he certainly did not possess before his voyage.



The ceremony was still to be fulfilled, and the smith's wife called

them to order by saying, "Good luck to the young gentleman. He is a

stranger here, or he would have known he should have come up by our

path! Will you try the well, your Grace?"



"Nay, nay, good woman, my time for such toys is over!" said the Queen

smiling, "but moved by such an example, here are others to make the

venture, Master Curll is burning for it, I see."



"I fear no such trial, an't please your Grace," said Curll, bowing,

with a bright defiance of the water, and exchanging a confident smile

with the blushing Mistress Barbara--then kneeling by the well, and

uttering her name aloud ere stooping to drink. He too succeeded in

obtaining a full draught, and came up triumphantly.



"The water is a flatterer!" said the Earl. "It favours all."



The French secretary, Monsieur Nau, here came forward and took his

place on the steps. No one heard, but every one knew the word he spoke

was "Bessie," for Elizabeth Pierrepoint had long been the object of his

affections. No doubt he hoped that he should obtain some encouragement

from the water, even while he gave a little laugh of affected

incredulity as though only complying with a form to amuse the Queen.

Down he went on his knees, bending over the pool, when behold he could

not reach it! The streams that fed it were no longer issuing from the

rock, the water was subsiding rapidly. The farther he stooped, the

more it retreated, till he had almost fallen over, and the guide

screamed out a note of warning, "Have a care, sir! If the water flees

you, flee it will, and ye'll not mend matters by drowning yourself."



How he was to be drowned by water that fled from him was not clear, but

with a muttered malediction he arose and glanced round as if he thought

the mortification a trick on the part of the higher powers, since the

Earl did not think him a match for the Countess's grandchild, and the

Queen had made it known to him that she considered Bess Pierrepoint to

have too much of her grandmother's conditions to be likely to be a good

wife. There was a laugh too, scarce controlled by some of the less

well-mannered of the suite, especially as the Earl, wishing to punish

his presumption, loudly set the example.



There was a pause, as the discomfited secretary came back, and the

guide exclaimed, "Come, my masters, be not daunted! Will none of you

come on? Hath none of you faith in your love? Oh, fie!"



"We are married men, good women," said Richard, hoping to put an end to

the scene, "and thus can laugh at your well."



"But will not these pretty ladies try it? It speaks as sooth to lass

as to lad."



"I am ready," said Barbara Mowbray, as Curll gave her his hand to bound

lightly down the steps. And to the general amazement, no sooner had

"Gilbert" echoed from her lips than the fountains again burst forth,

the water rose, and she had no difficulty in reaching it, while no one

could help bursting forth in applause. Her Gilbert fervently kissed

the hand she gave him to aid her steps up the slope, and Dame Emmott,

in triumphant congratulation, scanned them over and exclaimed, "Ay,

trust the well for knowing true sweetheart and true maid. Come you

next, fair mistress?" Poor Mary Seaton shook her head, with a look

that the kindly woman understood, and she turned towards Cicely, who

had a girl's unthinking impulse of curiosity, and had already put her

hand into Humfrey's, when his father exclaimed, "Nay, nay, the maid is

yet too young!" and the Queen added, "Come back, thou silly little one,

these tests be not for babes like thee."



She was forced to be obedient, but she pouted a little as she was

absolutely held fast by Richard Talbot's strong hand. Humfrey was

disappointed too; but all was bright with him just then, and as the

party turned to make the descent, he said to her, "It matters not,

little Cis! I'm sure of thee with the water or without, and after all,

thou couldst but have whispered my name, till my father lets us speak

all out!"



They were too much hemmed in by other people for a private word, and a

little mischievous banter was going on with Sir Andrew Melville, who

was supposed to have a grave elderly courtship with Mistress Kennedy.

Humfrey was left in the absolute bliss of ignorance, while the old

habit and instinct of joy and gladness in his presence reasserted

itself in Cis, so that, as he handed her down the rocks, she answered

in the old tone all his inquiries about his mother, and all else that

concerned them at home, Diccon meantime risking his limbs by scrambling

outside the path, to keep abreast of his brother, and to put in his

word whenever he could.



On reaching the smithy, Humfrey had to go round another way to fetch

his horse, and could hardly hope to come up with the rest before they

reached Buxton. His brother was spared to go with him, but his father

was too important a part of the escort to be spared. So Cicely rode

near the Queen, and heard no more except the Earl's version of Dr.

Jones's explanation of the intermitting spring. They reached home only

just in time to prepare for supper, and the two youths appeared almost

simultaneously, so that Mistress Talbot, sitting at her needle on the

broad terrace in front of the Earl's lodge, beheld to her amazement and

delight the figure that, grown and altered as it was, she recognised in

an instant. In another second Humfrey had sprung from his horse,

rushed up the steps, he knew not how, and the Queen, with tears

trembling in her eyes was saying, "Ah, Melville! see how sons meet

their mothers!"



The great clock was striking seven, a preposterously late hour for

supper, and etiquette was stronger than sentiment or perplexity. Every

one hastened to assume an evening toilette, for a riding-dress would

have been an insult to the Earl, and the bell soon clanged to call them

down to their places in the hall. Even Humfrey had brought in his

cloak-bag wherewithal to make himself presentable, and soon appeared, a

well-knit and active figure, in a plain dark blue jerkin, with white

slashes, and long hose knitted by his mother's dainty fingers, and

well-preserved shoes with blue rosettes, and a flat blue velvet cap,

with an exquisite black and sapphire feather in it fastened by a

curious brooch. His hair was so short that its naturally strong curl

could hardly be seen, his ruddy sunburnt face could hardly be called

handsome, but it was full of frankness and intelligence, and beaming

with honest joy, and close to him moved little Diccon, hardly able to

repress his ecstasy within company bounds, and letting it find vent in

odd little gestures, wriggling with his body, playing tunes on his

knee, or making dancing-steps with his feet.



Lord Shrewsbury welcomed his young kinsman as one who had grown from a

mere boy into a sturdy and effective supporter. He made the new-comer

sit near him, and asked many questions, so that Humfrey was the chief

speaker all supper time, with here and there a note from his father,

the only person who had made the same voyage. All heard with eager

interest of the voyage, the weeds in the Gulf Stream, the strange birds

and fishes, of Walter Raleigh's Virginian colony and its ill success,

of the half-starved men whom Sir Richard Grenville had found only too

ready to leave Roanoake, of dark-skinned Indians, of chases of Spanish

ships, of the Peak of Teneriffe rising white from the waves, of

phosphorescent seas, of storms, and of shark-catching.



Supper over, the audience again gathered round the young traveller, a

perfect fountain of various and wonderful information to those who had

for the most part never seen a book of travels. He narrated simply and

well, without his boyish shy embarrassment and awkwardness, and

likewise, as his father alone could judge, without boasting, though, if

to no one else, to Diccon and Cis, listening with wide open eyes, he

seemed a hero of heroes. In the midst of his narration a message came

that the Queen of Scots requested the presence of Mistress Cicely.

Humfrey stared in discomfiture, and asked when she would return.



"Not to-night," faltered the girl, and the mother added, for the

benefit of the bystanders, "For lack of other ladies of the household,

much service hath of late fallen to Cicely and myself, and she shares

the Queen's chamber."



Humfrey had to submit to exchange good-nights with Cicely, and she made

her way less willingly than usual to the apartments of the Queen, who

was being made ready for her bed. "Here comes our truant," she

exclaimed as the maiden entered. "I sent to rescue thee from the

western seafarer who had clawed thee in his tarry clutch. Thou didst

act the sister's part passing well. I hear my Lord and all his meine

have been sitting, open-mouthed, hearkening to his tales of savages and

cannibals."



"O madam, he told us of such lovely isles," said Cis. "The sea, he

said, is blue, bluer than we can conceive, with white waves of dazzling

surf, breaking on islands fringed with white shells and coral, and with

palms, their tops like the biggest ferns in the brake, and laden with

red golden fruit as big as goose eggs. And the birds! O madam, my

mother, the birds! They are small, small as our butterflies and

beetles, and they hang hovering and quivering over a flower so that

Humfrey thought they were moths, for he saw nothing but a whizzing and

a whirring till he smote the pretty thing dead, and then he said that I

should have wept for pity, for it was a little bird with a long bill,

and a breast that shines red in one light, purple in another, and

flame-coloured in a third. He has brought home the little skin and

feathers of it for me."



"Thou hast supped full of travellers' tales, my simple child."



"Yea, madam, but my Lord listened, and made Humfrey sit beside him, and

made much of him--my Lord himself! I would fain bring him to you,

madam. It is so wondrous to hear him tell of the Red Men with crowns

of feathers and belts of beads. Such gentle savages they be, and their

chiefs as courteous and stately as any of our princes, and yet those

cruel Spaniards make them slaves and force them to dig in mines, so

that they die and perish under their hands."



"And better so than that they should not come to the knowledge of the

faith," said Mary.



"I forgot that your Grace loves the Spaniards," said Cis, much in the

tone in which she might have spoken of a taste in her Grace for

spiders, adders, or any other noxious animal.



"One day my child will grow out of her little heretic prejudices, and

learn to love her mother's staunch friends, the champions of Holy

Church, and the representatives of true knighthood in these degenerate

days. Ah, child! couldst thou but see a true Spanish caballero, or

again, could I but show thee my noble cousin of Guise, then wouldst

thou know how to rate these gross clownish English mastiffs who now

turn thy silly little brain. Ah, that thou couldst once meet a true

prince!"



"The well," murmured Cicely.



"Tush, child," said the Queen, amused. "What of that? Thy name is not

Cis, is it? 'Tis only the slough that serves thee for the nonce. The

good youth will find himself linked to some homely, housewifely Cis in

due time, when the Princess Bride is queening it in France or Austria,

and will own that the well was wiser than he."



Poor Cis! If her inmost heart declared Humfrey Talbot to be prince

enough for her, she durst not entertain the sentiment, not knowing

whether it were unworthy, and while Marie de Courcelles read aloud a

French legend of a saint to soothe the Queen to sleep, she lay longing

after the more sympathetic mother, and wondering what was passing in

the hall.



Richard Talbot had communed with his wife's eyes, and made up his mind

that Humfrey should know the full truth before the Queen should enjoin

his being put off with the story of the parentage she had invented for

Bride Hepburn; and while some of the gentlemen followed their habit of

sitting late over the wine cup, he craved their leave to have his son

to himself a little while, and took him out in the summer twilight on

the greensward, going through the guards, for whom he, as the gentleman

warder, had the password of the night. In compliment to the expedition

of the day it had been made "True love and the Flowing Well." It

sounded agreeable in Humfrey's ears; he repeated it again, and then

added "Little Cis! she hath come to woman's estate, and she hath caught

some of the captive lady's pretty tricks of the head and hands. How

long hath she been so thick with her?"



"Since this journey. I have to speak with thee, my son."



"I wait your pleasure, sir," said Humfrey, and as his father paused a

moment ere communicating his strange tidings, he rendered the matter

less easy by saying, "I guess your purpose. If I may at once wed my

little Cis I will send word to Sir John Norreys that I am not for this

expedition to the Low Countries, though there is good and manly work to

be done there, and I have the offer of a command, but I gave not my

word till I knew your will, and whether we might wed at once."



"Thou hast much to hear, my son."



"Nay, surely no one has come between!" exclaimed Humfrey. "Methought

she was less frank and more coy than of old. If that sneaking traitor

Babington hath been making up to her I will slit his false gullet for

him."



"Hush, hush, Humfrey! thy seafaring boasts skill not here. No man

hath come between thee and yonder poor maid."



"Poor! You mean not that she is sickly. Were she so, I would so tend

her that she should be well for mere tenderness. But no, she was the

very image of health. No man, said you, father? Then it is a woman.

Ah! my Lady Countess is it, bent on making her match her own way? Sir,

you are too good and upright to let a tyrannous dame like that sever

between us, though she be near of kin to us. My mother might scruple

to cross her, but you have seen the world, sir."



"My lad, you are right in that it is a woman who stands between you and

Cis, but it is not the Countess. None would have the right to do so,

save the maiden's own mother."



"Her mother! You have discovered her lineage! Can she have ought

against me?--I, your son, sir, of the Talbot blood, and not ill

endowed?"



"Alack, son, the Talbot may be a good dog but the lioness will scarce

esteem him her mate. Riddles apart, it is proved beyond question that

our little maid is of birth as high as it is unhappy. Thou canst be

secret, I know, Humfrey, and thou must be silent as the grave, for it

touches my honour and the poor child's liberty."



"Who is she, then?" demanded Humfrey sharply.



His father pointed to the Queen's window. Humfrey stared at him, and

muttered an ejaculation, then exclaimed, "How and when was this known?"



Richard went over the facts, giving as few names as possible, while his

son stood looking down and drawing lines with the point of his sword.



"I hoped," ended the father, "that these five years' absence might have

made thee forget thy childish inclination;" and as Humfrey, without

raising his face, emphatically shook his head, he went on to add-- "So,

my dear son, meseemeth that there is no remedy, but that, for her peace

and thine own, thou shouldest accept this offer of brave Norreys, and

by the time the campaign is ended, they may be both safe in Scotland,

out of reach of vexing thy heart, my poor boy."



"Is it so sure that her royal lineage will be owned?" muttered Humfrey.

"Out on me for saying so! But sure this lady hath made light enough of

her wedlock with yonder villain."



"Even so, but that was when she deemed its offspring safe beneath the

waves. I fear me that, however our poor damsel be regarded, she will

be treated as a mere bait and tool. If not bestowed on some foreign

prince (and there hath been talk of dukes and archdukes), she may serve

to tickle the pride of some Scottish thief, such as was her father."



"Sir! sir! how can you speak patiently of such profanation and cruelty?

Papist butchers and Scottish thieves, for the child of your hearth!

Were it not better that I stole her safely away and wedded her in

secret, so that at least she might have an honest husband?"



"Nay, his honesty would scarce be thus manifest," said Richard, "even

if the maid would consent, which I think she would not. Her head is

too full of her new greatness to have room for thee, my poor lad. Best

that thou shouldest face the truth. And, verily, what is it but her

duty to obey her mother, her true and veritable mother, Humfrey? It is

but making her ease harder, and adding to her griefs, to strive to

awaken any inclination she may have had for thee; and therefore it is

that I counsel thee, nay, I might command thee, to absent thyself while

it is still needful that she remain with us, passing for our daughter."



Humfrey still traced lines with his sword in the dust. He had always

been a strong-willed though an obedient and honourable boy, and his

father felt that these five years had made a man of him, whom, in spite

of mediaeval obedience, it was not easy to dispose of arbitrarily.



"There's no haste," he muttered. "Norreys will not go till my Lord of

Leicester's commission be made out. It is five years since I was at

home."



"My son, thou knowest that I would not send thee from me willingly. I

had not done so ere now, but that it was well for thee to know the

world and men, and Sheffield is a mere nest of intrigue and falsehood,

where even if one keeps one's integrity, it is hard to be believed.

But for my Lord, thy mother, and my poor folk, I would gladly go with

thee to strike honest downright blows at a foe I could see and feel,

rather than be nothing better than a warder, and be driven distracted

with women's tongues. Why, they have even set division between my Lord

and his son Gilbert, who was ever the dearest to him. Young as he is,

methinks Diccon would be better away with thee than where the very air

smells of plots and lies."



"I trow the Queen of Scots will not be here much longer," said Humfrey.

"Men say in London that Sir Ralf Sadler is even now setting forth to

take charge of her, and send my Lord to London."



"We have had such hopes too often, my son," said Richard. "Nay, she

hath left us more than once, but always to fall back upon Sheffield

like a weight to the ground. But she is full of hope in her son, now

that he is come of age, and hath put to death her great foe, the Earl

of Morton."



"The poor lady might as well put her faith in--in a jelly-fish," said

Humfrey, falling on a comparison perfectly appreciated by the old

sailor.



"Heh? She will get naught but stings. How knowest thou?"



"Why, do none know here that King James is in the hands of him they

call the Master of Gray?"



"Queen Mary puts in him her chief hope."



"Then she hath indeed grasped a jelly-fish. Know you not, father,

those proud and gay ones, with rose-coloured bladders and long blue

beards--blue as the azure of a herald's coat?"



"Ay, marry I do. I remember when I was a lad, in my first voyage,

laying hold on one. I warrant you I danced about till I was nearly

overboard, and my arm was as big as two for three days later. Is the

fellow of that sort? The false Scot."



"Look you, father, I met in London that same Johnstone who was one of

this lady's gentlemen at one time. You remember him. He breakfasted

at Bridgefield once or twice ere the watch became more strict."



"Yea, I remember him. He was an honest fellow for a Scot."



"When he made out that I was the little lad he remembered, he was very

courteous, and desired his commendations to you and to my mother. He

had been in Scotland, and had come south in the train of this rogue,

Gray. I took him to see the old Pelican, and we had a breakfast aboard

there. He asked much after his poor Queen, whom he loves as much as

ever, and when he saw I was a man he could trust, your true son, he

said that he saw less hope for her than ever in Scotland--her friends

have been slain or exiled, and the young generation that has grown up

have learned to dread her like an incarnation of the scarlet one of

Babylon. Their preachers would hail her as Satan loosed on them, and

the nobles dread nothing so much as being made to disgorge the lands of

the Crown and the Church, on which they are battening. As to her son,

he was fain enough to break forth from one set of tutors, and the

messages of France and Spain tickled his fancy--but he is nought. He

is crammed with scholarship, and not without a shrewd apprehension;

but, with respect be it spoken, more the stuff that court fools are

made of than kings. It may be, as a learned man told Johnstone, that

the shock the Queen suffered when the brutes put Davy to death before

her eyes, three months ere his birth, hath damaged his constitution,

for he is at the mercy of whosoever chooses to lead him, and hath no

will of his own. This Master of Gray was at first inclined to the

Queen's party, thinking more might be got by a reversal of all things,

but now he finds the king's men so strong in the saddle, and the

Queen's French kindred like to be too busy at home to aid her, what

doth he do, but list to our Queen's offers, and this ambassage of his,

which hath a colour of being for Queen Mary's release, is verily to

make terms with my Lord Treasurer and Sir Francis Walsingham for the

pension he is to have for keeping his king in the same mind."



"Turning a son against a mother! I marvel that honourable counsellors

can bring themselves to the like."



"Policy, sir, policy," said Humfrey. "And this Gray maketh a fine show

of chivalry and honour, insomuch that Sir Philip Sidney himself hath

desired his friendship; but, you see, the poor lady is as far from

freedom as she was when first she came to Sheffield."



"She is very far from believing it, poor dame. I am sorry for her,

Humfrey, more sorry than I ever thought I could be, now I have seen

more of her. My Lord himself says he never knew her break a promise.

How gracious she is there is no telling."



"That we always knew," said Humfrey, looking somewhat amazed, that his

honoured father should have fallen under the spell of the "siren

between the cold earth and moon."



"Yes, gracious, and of a wondrous constancy of mind, and evenness of

temper," said Richard. "Now that thy mother and I have watched her

more closely, we can testify that, weary, worn, and sick of body and of

heart as she is, she never letteth a bitter or a chiding word pass her

lips towards her servants. She hath nothing to lose by it. Their

fidelity is proven. They would stand by her to the last, use them as

she would, but assuredly their love must be doubly bound up in her when

they see how she regardeth them before herself. Let what will be said

of her, son Humfrey, I shall always maintain that I never saw woman,

save thine own good mother, of such evenness of condition, and

sweetness of consideration for all about her, ay, and patience in

adversity, such as, Heaven forbid, thy mother should ever know."



"Amen, and verily amen," said Humfrey. "Deem you then that she hath

not worked her own woe?"



"Nay, lad, what saith the Scripture, 'Judge not, and ye shall not be

judged'? How should I know what hath passed seventeen years back in

Scotland?"



"Ay, but for present plots and intrigues, judge you her a true woman?"



"Humfrey, thou hadst once a fox in a cage. When it found it vain to

dash against the bars, rememberest thou how it scratched away the earth

in the rear, and then sat over the hole it had made, lest we should see

it?"



"The fox, say you, sir? Then you cannot call her ought but false."



"They tell me," said Sir Richard, "that ever since an Italian named

Machiavel wrote his Book of the Prince, statecraft hath been craft

indeed, and princes suck in deceit with the very air they breathe. Ay,

boy, it is what chiefly vexes me in the whole. I cannot doubt that she

is never so happy as when there is a plot or scheme toward, not merely

for her own freedom, but the utter overthrow of our own gracious

Sovereign, who, if she hath kept this lady in durance, hath shielded

her from her own bloodthirsty subjects. And for dissembling, I never

saw her equal. Yet she, as thy mother tells me, is a pious and devout

woman, who bears her troubles thus cheerfully and patiently, because

she deems them a martyrdom for her religion. Ay, all women are riddles,

they say, but this one the most of all!"



"Thinkest thou that she hath tampered with--with that poor maiden's

faith?" asked Humfrey huskily.



"I trow not yet, my son," replied Richard; "Cis is as open as ever to

thy mother, for I cannot believe she hath yet learnt to dissemble, and

I greatly suspect that the Queen, hoping to return to Scotland, may be

willing to keep her a Protestant, the better to win favour with her

brother and the lords of his council; but if he be such a cur as thou

sayest, all hope of honourable release is at an end. So thou seest,

Humfrey, how it lies, and how, in my judgment, to remain here is but to

wring thine own heart, and bring the wench and thyself to sore straits.

I lay not my commands on thee, a man grown, but such is my opinion on

the matter."



"I will not disobey you, father," said Humfrey, "but suffer me to

consider the matter."





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