The Huckstering Woman





The huckstering woman, Tibbott by name, was tended by Queen Mary's

apothecary, and in due time was sent off well provided, to the great

fair of York, whence she returned with a basket of needles, pins (such

as they were), bodkins, and the like articles, wherewith to circulate

about Hallamshire, but the gate-wards would not relax their rules so

far as to admit her into the park. She was permitted, however, to

bring her wares to the town of Sheffield, and to Bridgefield, but she

might come no farther.



Thither Antony Babington came down to lay out the crown which had been

given to him on his birthday, and indeed half Master Sniggius's

scholars discovered needs, and came down either to spend, or to give

advice to the happy owners of groats and testers. So far so good; but

the huckster-woman soon made Bridgefield part of her regular rounds,

and took little commissions which she executed for the household of

Sheffield, who were, as the Cavendish sisters often said in their

spleen, almost as much prisoners as the Queen of Scots. Antony

Babington was always her special patron, and being Humfrey's great

companion and playfellow, he was allowed to come in and out of the

gates unquestioned, to play with him and with Cis, who no longer went

to school, but was trained at home in needlework and housewifery.



Match-making began at so early an age, that when Mistress Susan had

twice found her and Antony Babington with their heads together over the

lamentable ballad of the cold fish that had been a lady, and which sang

its own history "forty thousand fathom above water," she began to

question whether the girl were the attraction. He was now an orphan,

and his wardship and marriage had been granted to the Earl, who, having

disposed of all his daughters and stepdaughters, except Bessie

Cavendish, might very fairly bestow on the daughter of his kinsman so

good a match as the young squire of Dethick.



"Then should we have to consider of her parentage," said Richard, when

his wife had propounded her views.



"I never can bear in mind that the dear wench is none of ours," said

Susan. "Thou didst say thou wouldst portion her as if she were our own

little maid, and I have nine webs ready for her household linen. Must

we speak of her as a stranger?"



"It would scarce be just towards another family to let them deem her of

true Talbot blood, if she were to enter among them," said Richard;

"though I look on the little merry maid as if she were mine own child.

But there is no need yet to begin upon any such coil; and, indeed, I

would wager that my lady hath other views for young Babington."



After all, parents often know very little of what passes in children's

minds, and Cis never hinted to her mother that the bond of union

between her and Antony was devotion to the captive Queen. Cis had only

had a glimpse or two of her, riding by when hunting or hawking, or

when, on festive occasions, all who were privileged to enter the park

were mustered together, among whom the Talbots ranked high as kindred

to both Earl and Countess; but those glimpses had been enough to fill

the young heart with romance, such as the matter-of-fact elders never

guessed at. Antony Babington, who was often actually in the gracious

presence, and received occasional smiles, and even greetings, was

immeasurably devoted to the Queen, and maintained Cicely's admiration

by his vivid descriptions of the kindness, the grace, the charms of the

royal captive, in contrast with the innate vulgarity of their own

Countess.



Willie Douglas (the real Roland Graeme of the escape from Lochleven)

had long ago been dismissed from Mary's train, with all the other

servants who were deemed superfluous; but Antony had heard the details

of the story from Jean Kennedy (Mrs. Kennett, as the English were

pleased to call her), and Willie was the hero of his emulative

imagination.



"What would I not do to be like him!" he fervently exclaimed when he

had narrated the story to Humfrey and Cis, as they lay on a nest in the

fern one fine autumn day, resting after an expedition to gather

blackberries for the mother's preserving.



"I would not be him for anything," said Humfrey.



"Fie, Humfrey," cried Cis; "would not you dare exile or anything else

in a good cause?"



"For a good cause, ay," said Humfrey in his stolid way.



"And what can be a better cause than that of the fairest of captive

queens?" exclaimed Antony, hotly.



"I would not be a traitor," returned Humfrey, as he lay on his back,

looking up through the chequerwork of the branches of the trees towards

the sky.



"Who dares link the word traitor with my name?" said Babington, feeling

for the imaginary handle of a sword.



"Not I; but you'll get it linked if you go on in this sort."



"For shame, Humfrey," again cried Cis, passionately. "Why, delivering

imprisoned princesses always was the work of a true knight."



"Yea; but they first defied the giant openly," said Humfrey.



"What of that?" said Antony.



"They did not do it under trust," said Humfrey.



"I am not under trust," said Antony. "Your father may be a sworn

servant of the Earl and, the Queen--Queen Elizabeth, I mean; but I have

taken no oaths--nobody asked me if I would come here."



"No," said Humfrey, knitting his brows, "but you see we are all trusted

to go in and out as we please, on the understanding that we do nought

that can be unfaithful to the Earl; and I suppose it was thus with this

same Willie Douglas."



"She was his own true and lawful Queen," cried Cis. "His first duty

was to her."



Humfrey sat up and looked perplexed, but with a sudden thought

exclaimed, "No Scots are we, thanks be to Heaven! and what might be

loyalty in him would be rank treason in us."



"How know you that?" said Antony. "I have heard those who say that our

lawful Queen is there," and he pointed towards the walls that rose in

the distance above the woods.



Humfrey rose wrathful. "Then truly you are no better than a traitor,

and a Spaniard, and a Papist," and fists were clenched on both aides,

while Cis flew between, pulling down Humfrey's uplifted hand, and

crying, "No, no; he did not say he thought so, only he had heard it."



"Let him say it again!" growled Antony, his arm bared.



"No, don't, Humfrey!" as if she saw it between his clenched teeth. "You

know you only meant if Tony thought so, and he didn't. Now how can you

two be so foolish and unkind to me, to bring me out for a holiday to

eat blackberries and make heather crowns, and then go and spoil it all

with folly about Papists, and Spaniards, and grown-up people's nonsense

that nobody cares about!"



Cis had a rare power over both her comrades, and her piteous appeal

actually disarmed them, since there was no one present to make them

ashamed of their own placability. Grown-up people's follies were

avoided by mutual consent through the rest of the walk, and the three

children parted amicably when Antony had to return to fulfil his page's

duties at my lord's supper, and Humfrey and Cis carried home their big

basket of blackberries.



When they entered their own hall they found their mother engaged in

conversation with a tall, stout, and weather-beaten man, whom she

announced--"See here, my children, here is a good friend of your

father's, Master Goatley, who was his chief mate in all his voyages,

and hath now come over all the way from Hull to see him! He will be

here anon, sir, so soon as the guard is changed at the Queen's lodge.

Meantime, here are the elder children."



Diccon, who had been kept at home by some temporary damage to his foot,

and little Edward were devouring the sailor with their eyes; and

Humfrey and Cis were equally delighted with the introduction,

especially as Master Goatley was just returned from the Western Main,

and from a curious grass-woven basket which he carried slung to his

side, produced sundry curiosities in the way of beads, shell-work,

feather-work, and a hatchet of stone, and even a curious armlet of

soft, dull gold, with pearls set in it. This he had, with great

difficulty, obtained on purpose for Mistress Talbot, who had once cured

him of a bad festering hurt received on board ship.



The children clustered round in ecstasies of admiration and wonder as

they heard of the dark brown atives, the curious expedients by which

barter was carried on; also of cruel Spaniards, and of savage fishes,

with all the marvels of flying-fish, corals, palm-trees, humming

birds--all that is lesson work to our modern youth, but was the most

brilliant of living fairy tales at this Elizabethan period. Humfrey

and Diccon were ready to rush off to voyage that instant, and even

little Ned cried imitatively in his imperfect language that he would be

"a tailor."



Then their father came home, and joyfully welcomed and clasped hands

with his faithful mate, declaring that the sight did him good; and they

sat down to supper and talked of voyages, till the boys' eyes glowed,

and they beat upon their own knees with the enthusiasm that their

strict manners bade them repress; while their mother kept back her

sighs as she saw them becoming infected with that sea fever so dreaded

by parents. Nay, she saw it in her husband himself. She knew him to

be grievously weary of a charge most monotonously dull, and only varied

by suspicions and petty detections; and that he was hungering and

thirsting for his good ship and to be facing winds and waves. She

could hear his longing in the very sound of the "Ays?" and brief

inquiries by which he encouraged Goatley to proceed in the story of

voyages and adventures, and she could not wonder when Goatley said,

"Your heart is in it still, sir. Not one of us all but says it is a

pity such a noble captain should be lost as a landsman, with nothing to

do but to lock the door on a lady."



"Speak not of it, my good Goatley," said Richard, hastily, "or you will

set me dreaming and make me mad."



"Then it is indeed so," returned Goatley. "Wherefore then come you

not, sir, where a crew is waiting for you of as good fellows as ever

stepped on a deck, and who, one and all, are longing after such a

captain as you are, sir? Wherefore hold back while still in your

prime?"



"Ask the mistress, there," said Richard, as he saw his Susan's white

face and trembling fingers, though she kept her eyes on her work to

prevent them from betraying their tears and their wistfulness.



"O sweet father," burst forth Humfrey, "do but go, and take me. I am

quite old enough."



"Nay, Humfrey, 'tis no matter of liking," said his father, not wishing

to prolong his wife's suspense. "Look you here, boy, my Lord Earl is

captain of all of his name by right of birth, and so long as he needs

my services, I have no right to take them from him. Dost see, my boy?"



Humfrey reluctantly did see. It was a great favour to be thus argued

with, and admitted of no reply.



Mrs. Talbot's heart rejoiced, but she was not sorry that it was time

for her to carry off Diccon and Ned to their beds, away from the

fascinating narrative, and she would give no respite, though Diccon

pleaded hard. In fact, the danger might be the greatest to him, since

Humfrey, though born within the smell of the sea, might be retained by

the call of duty like his father. To Cis, at least, she thought the

sailor's conversation could do no harm, little foreboding the words

that presently ensued. "And, sir, what befell the babe we found in our

last voyage off the Spurn? It would methinks be about the age of this

pretty mistress."



Richard Talbot endeavoured to telegraph a look both of assent and

warning, but though Master Goatley would have been sharp to detect the

least token of a Spanish galleon on the most distant horizon, the

signal fell utterly short. "Ay, sir. What, is it so? Bless me! The

very maiden! And you have bred her up for your own."



"Sir! Father!" cried Cis, looking from one to the other, with eyes and

mouth wide open.



"Soh!" cried the sailor, "what have I done? I beg your pardon, sir, if

I have overhauled what should have been let alone. But," continued the

honest, but tactless man, "who could have thought of the like of that,

and that the pretty maid never knew it? Ay, ay, dear heart. Never

fear but that the captain will be good father to you all the same."



For Richard Talbot had held out his arm, and, as Cis ran up to him, he

had seated her on his knee, and held her close to him. Humfrey

likewise started up with an impulse to contradict, which was suddenly

cut short by a strange flash of memory, so all he did was to come up to

his father, and grasp one of the girl's hands as fast as he could. She

trembled and shivered, but there was something in the presence of this

strange man which choked back all inquiry, and the silence, the

vehement grasp, and the shuddering, alarmed the captain, lest she might

suddenly go off into a fit upon his hands.



"This is gear for mother," said he, and taking her up like a baby,

carried her off, followed closely by Humfrey. He met Susan coming

down, asking anxiously, "Is she sick?"



"I hope not, mother," he said, "but honest Goatley, thinking no harm,

hath blurted out that which we had never meant her to know, at least

not yet awhile, and it hath wrought strangely with her."



"Then it is true, father?" said Humfrey, in rather an awe-stricken

voice, while Cis still buried her face on the captain's breast.



"Yes," he said, "yea, my children, it is true that God sent us a

daughter from the sea and the wreck when He had taken our own little

maid to His rest. But we have ever loved our Cis as well, and hope

ever to do so while she is our good child. Take her, mother, and tell

the children how it befell; if I go not down, the fellow will spread it

all over the house, and happily none were present save Humfrey and the

little maiden."



Susan put the child down on her own bed, and there, with Humfrey

standing by, told the history of the father carrying in the little

shipwrecked babe. They both listened with eyes devouring her, but they

were as yet too young to ask questions about evidences, and Susan did

not volunteer these, only when the girl asked, "Then, have I no name?"

she answered, "A godly minister, Master Heatherthwayte, gave thee the

name of Cicely when he christened thee."



"I marvel who I am?" said Cis, gazing round her, as if the world were

all new to her.



"It does not matter," said Humfrey, "you are just the same to us, is

she not, mother?"



"She is our dear Heaven-sent child," said the mother tenderly.



"But thou art not my true mother, nor Humfrey nor Diccon my brethren,"

she said, stretching out her hands like one in the dark.



"If I'm not your brother, Cis, I'll be your husband, and then you will

have a real right to be called Talbot. That's better than if you were

my sister, for then you would go away, I don't know where, and now you

will always be mine--mine--mine very own."



And as he gave Cis a hug in assurance of his intentions, his father,

who was uneasy about the matter, looked in again, and as Susan, with

tears in her eyes, pointed to the children, the good man said, "By my

faith, the boy has found the way to cut the knot--or rather to tie it.

What say you, dame? If we do not get a portion for him, we do not have

to give one with her, so it is as broad as it is long, and she remains

our dear child. Only listen, children, you are both old enough to keep

a secret. Not one word of all this matter is to be breathed to any

soul till I bid you."



"Not to Diccon," said Humfrey decidedly.



"Nor to Antony?" asked Cis wistfully.



"To Antony? No, indeed! What has he to do with it? Now, to your

beds, children, and forget all about this tale."



"There, Humfrey," broke out Cis, as soon as they were alone together,

"Huckstress Tibbott is a wise woman, whatever thou mayest say."



"How?" said Humfrey.



"Mindst thou not the day when I crossed her hand with the tester father

gave me?"



"When mother whipped thee for listening to fortune-tellers and wasting

thy substance. Ay, I mind it well," said Humfrey, "and how thou didst

stand simpering at her pack of lies, ere mother made thee sing another

tune."



"Nay, Humfrey, they were no lies, though I thought them so then. She

said I was not what I seemed, and that the Talbots' kennel would not

always hold one of the noble northern eagles. So Humfrey, sweet

Humfrey, thou must not make too sure of wedding me."



"I'll wed thee though all the lying old gipsy-wives in England wore

their false throats out in screeching out that I shall not," cried

Humfrey.



"But she must have known," said Cis, in an awestruck voice; "the

spirits must have spoken with her, and said that I am none of the

Talbots."



"Hath mother heard this?" asked Humfrey, recoiling a little, but never

thinking of the more plausible explanation.



"Oh no, no! tell her not, Humfrey, tell her not. She said she would

whip me again if ever I talked again of the follies that the

fortune-telling woman had gulled me with, for if they were not deceits,

they were worse. And, thou seest, they are worse, Humfrey!"



With which awe-stricken conclusion the children went off to bed.





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