The Love Token





"Yonder woman came to tell this young lady's fortune," said Sir Ralf, a

few days later. "Did she guess what I, an old man, have to bode for

her!" and he smiled at the Queen. "Here is a token I was entreated by

a young gentleman to deliver to this young lady, with his humble suit

that he may pay his devoirs to her to-morrow, your Grace permitting."



"I knew not," said Mary, "that my women had license to receive

visitors."



"Assuredly not, as a rule, but this young gentleman, Mr. Babington of

Dethick, has my Lord and Lady of Shrewsbury's special commendation."



"I knew the young man," said Mary, with perfectly acted heedlessness.

"He was my Lady Shrewsbury's page in his boyhood. I should have no

objection to receive him."



"That, madam, may not be," returned Sadler. "I am sorry to say it is

contrary to the orders of the council, but if Mr. and Mrs. Curll, and

the fair Mistress Cicely, will do me the honour to dine with me

to-morrow in the hall, we may bring about the auspicious meeting my

Lady desires."



Cicely's first impulse had been to pout and say she wanted none of Mr.

Babington's tokens, nor his company; but her mother's eye held her

back, and besides any sort of change of scene, or any new face, could

not but be delightful, so there was a certain leap of the young heart

when the invitation was accepted for her; and she let Sir Ralf put the

token into her hand, and a choice one it was. Everybody pressed to

look at it, while she stood blushing, coy and unwilling to display the

small egg-shaped watch of the kind recently invented at Nuremberg. Sir

Ralf observed that the young lady showed a comely shamefast

maidenliness, and therewith bowed himself out of the room.



Cicely laughed with impatient scorn. "Well spoken, reverend seignior,"

she said, as she found herself alone with the Queen. "I wish my Lady

Countess would leave me alone. I am none of hers."



"Nay, mademoiselle, be not thus disdainful," said the Queen, in a gay

tone of banter; "give me here this poor token that thou dost so

despise, when many a maiden would be distraught with delight and

gratitude. Let me see it, I say."



And as Cicely, restraining with difficulty an impatient, uncourtly

gesture, placed the watch in her hand, her delicate deft fingers opened

the case, disregarding both the face and the place for inserting the

key; but dealing with a spring, which revealed that the case was

double, and that between the two thin plates of silver which formed it,

was inserted a tiny piece of the thinnest paper, written from corner to

corner with the smallest characters in cipher. Mary laughed joyously

and triumphantly as she held it up. "There, mignonne! What sayest

thou to thy token now? This is the first secret news I have had from

the outer world since we came to this weary Tutbury. And oh! the

exquisite jest that my Lady and Sir Ralf Sadler should be the bearers!

I always knew some good would come of that suitor of thine! Thou must

not flout him, my fair lady, nor scowl at him so with thy beetle brows."



"It seems but hard to lure him on with false hopes," said Cicely,

gravely.



"Hoots, lassie," as Dame Jean would say, "'tis but joy and delight to

men to be thus tickled. 'Tis the greatest kindness we can do them thus

to amuse them," said Mary, drawing up her head with the conscious

fascination of the serpent of old Nile, and toying the while with the

ciphered letter, in eagerness, and yet dread, of what it might contain.



Such things were not easy to make out, even to those who had the key,

and Mary, unwilling to trust it out of her own hands, leant over it,

spelling it out for many minutes, but at last broke forth into a clear

ringing burst of girlish laughter and clasped her hands together,

"Mignonne, mignonne, it is too rare a jest to hold back. Deem not that

your Highness stands first here! Oh no! 'Tis a letter from Bernardo

de Mendoza with a proposition for whose hand thinkest thou? For this

poor old captive hand! For mine, maiden. Ay, and from whom? From his

Excellency, the Prince of Parma, Lieutenant of the Netherlands. Anon

will he be here with 30,000 picked men and the Spanish fleet; and then

I shall ride once again at the head of my brave men, hear trumpets

bray, and see banners fly! We will begin to work our banner at once,

child, and let Sir Ralf think it is a bed-quilt for her sacred Majesty,

Elizabeth. Thou look'st dismayed, little maiden."



"Spanish ships and men, madam, ah! and how would it be with my

father--Mr. and Mrs. Talbot, I mean?"



"Not a hair of their heads shall be touched, child. We will send down

a chosen troop to protect them, with Babington at its head if thou

wilt. But," added the Queen, recollecting herself, and perceiving that

she had startled and even shocked her daughter, "it is not to be

to-morrow, nor for many a weary month. All that is here demanded is

whether, all being well, he might look for my hand as his guerdon.

Shall I propose thine instead?"



"O madam, he is an old man and full of gout!"



"Well! we will not pull caps for him just yet. And see, thou must be

secret as the grave, child, or thou wilt ruin thy mother. I ought not

to have told thee, but the surprise was too much for me, and thou canst

keep a secret. Leave me now, child, and send me Monsieur Nau."



The next time any converse was held between mother and daughter, Queen

Mary said, "Will it grieve thee much, my lassie, to return this

bauble, on the plea of thy duty to the good couple at Bridgefield?"



After all Cicely had become so fond of the curious and ingenious egg

that she was rather sorry to part with it, and there was a little

dismal resignation in her answer, "I will do your bidding, madam."



"Thou shalt have a better. I will write to Chateauneuf for the

choicest that Paris can furnish," said Mary, "but seest thou, none

other mode is so safe for conveying an answer to this suitor of mine!

Nay, little one, do not fear. He is not at hand, and if he be so

gout-ridden and stern as I have heard, we will find some way to content

him and make him do the service without giving thee a stepfather, even

though he be grandson to an emperor."



There was something perplexing and distressing to Cis in this sudden

mood of exultation at such a suitor. However, Parma's proposal might

mean liberty and a recovered throne, and who could wonder at the joy

that even the faintest gleam of light afforded to one whose captivity

had lasted longer than Cicely's young life?--and then once more there

was an alternation of feeling at the last moment, when Cicely, dressed

in her best, came to receive instructions.



"I ken not, I ken not," said Mary, speaking the Scottish tongue, to

which she recurred in her moments of deepest feeling, "I ought not to

let it go. I ought to tell the noble Prince to have naught to do with

a being like me. 'Tis not only the jettatura wherewith the Queen

Mother used to reproach me. Men need but bear me good will, and misery

overtakes them. Death is the best that befalls them! The gentle

husband of my girlhood--then the frantic Chastelar, my poor, poor good

Davie, Darnley, Bothwell, Geordie Douglas, young Willie, and again

Norfolk, and the noble and knightly Don John! One spark of love and

devotion to the wretched Mary, and all is over with them! Give me back

that paper, child, and warn Babington against ever dreaming of aid to a

wretch like me. I will perish alone! It is enough! I will drag down

no more generous spirits in the whirlpool around me."



"Madam! madam!" exclaimed De Preaux the almoner, who was standing,

"this is not like your noble self. Have you endured so much to be

fainthearted when the end is near, and you are made a smooth and

polished instrument, welded in the fire, for the triumph of the Church

over her enemies?"



"Ah, Father!" said the Queen, "how should not my heart fail me when I

think of the many high spirits who have fallen for my sake? Ay, and

when I look out on yonder peaceful vales and happy homesteads, and

think of them ravaged by those furious Spaniards and Italians, whom my

brother of Anjou himself called very fiends!"



"Fiends are the tools of Divine wrath," returned Preaux. "Look at the

profaned sanctuaries and outraged convents on which these proud English

have waxen fat, and say whether a heavy retribution be not due to them."



"Ah, father! I may be weak, but I never loved persecution. King

Francis and I were dragged to behold the executions at Amboise. That

was enough for us. His gentle spirit never recovered it, and I--I see

their contorted visages and forms still in my restless nights; and if

the Spanish dogs should deal with England as with Haarlem or Antwerp,

and all through me!--Oh! I should be happier dying within these walls!"



"Nay, madam, as Queen you would have the reins in your own hand: you

could exercise what wholesome severity or well-tempered leniency you

chose," urged the almoner; "it were ill requiting the favour of the

saints who have opened this door to you at last to turn aside now in

terror at the phantasy that long weariness of spirit hath conjured up

before you."



So Mary rallied herself, and in five minutes more was as eager in

giving her directions to Cicely and to the Curlls as though her heart

had not recently failed her.



Cis was to go forth with her chaperons, not by any means enjoying the

message to Babington, and yet unable to help being very glad to escape

for ever so short a time from the dull prison apartments. There might

be no great faith in her powers of diplomacy, but as it was probable

that Babington would have more opportunity of conversing with her than

with the Curlls, she was charged to attend heedfully to whatever he

might say.



Sir Ralf's son-in-law, Mr. Somer, was sent to escort the trio to the

hall at the hour of noon; and there, pacing the ample chamber, while

the board at the upper end was being laid, were Sir Ralf Sadler and his

guest Mr. Babington. Antony was dressed in green velvet slashed with

primrose satin, setting off his good mien to the greatest advantage,

and he came up with suppressed but rapturous eagerness, bowing low to

Mrs. Curll and the secretary, but falling on his knee to kiss the hand

of the dark-browed girl. Her recent courtly training made her much

less rustically awkward than she would have been a few months before,

but she was extremely stiff, and held her head as though her ruff were

buckram, as she began her lesson. "Sir, I am greatly beholden to you

for this token, but if it be not sent with the knowledge and consent of

my honoured father and mother I may not accept of it."



"Alas! that you will say so, fair mistress," said Antony, but he was

probably prepared for this rejection, for he did not seem utterly

overwhelmed by it.



"The young lady exercises a wise discretion," said Sir Ralf Sadler to

Mrs. Curll. "If I had known that mine old friend Mr. Talbot of

Bridgefield was unfavourable to the suit, I would not have harboured

the young spark, but when he brought my Lady Countess's commendation, I

thought all was well."



Barbara Curll had her cue, namely, to occupy Sir Ralf so as to leave

the young people to themselves, so she drew him off to tell him in

confidence a long and not particularly veracious story of the

objections of the Talbots to Antony Babington; whilst her husband

engaged the attention of Mr. Somer, and there was a space in which, as

Antony took back the watch, he was able to inquire "Was the egg-shell

opened?"



"Ay," said Cis, blushing furiously and against her will, "the egg was

sucked and replenished."



"Take consolation," said Antony, and as some one came near them, "Duty

and discretion shall, I trust, both be satisfied when I next sun myself

in the light of those lovely eyes." Then, as the coast became more

clear, "You are about shortly to move. Chartley is preparing for you."



"So we are told."



"There are others preparing," said Antony, bending over her, holding

her hand, and apparently making love to her with all his might. "Tell

me, lady, who hath charge of the Queen's buttery? Is it faithful old

Halbert as at Sheffield?"



"It is," replied Cis.



"Then let him look well at the bottom of each barrel of beer supplied

for the use of her household. There is an honest man, a brewer, at

Burton, whom Paulett will employ, who will provide that letters be sent

to and fro. Gifford and Langston, who are both of these parts, know

him well." Cis started at the name. "Do you trust Langston then?" she

asked.



"Wholly! Why, he is the keenest and ablest of all. Have you not seen

him and had speech with him in many strange shapes? He can change his

voice, and whine like any beggar wife."



"Yea," said Cis, "but the Queen and Sir Andrew doubted a little if he

meant not threats last time we met."



"All put on--excellent dissembling to beguile the keepers. He told me

all," said Antony, "and how he had to scare thee and change tone

suddenly. Why, he it is who laid this same egg, and will receive it.

There is a sworn band, as you know already, who will let her know our

plans, and be at her commands through that means. Then, when we have

done service approaching to be worthy of her, then it may be that I

shall have earned at least a look or sign."



"Alas! sir," said Cicely, "how can I give you false hopes?" For her

honest heart burnt to tell the poor fellow that she would in case of

his success be farther removed from him than ever.



"What would be false now shall be true then. I will wring love from

thee by my deeds for her whom we both alike love, and then wilt thou be

mine own, my true Bride!"



By this time other guests had arrived, and the dinner was ready.

Babington was, in deference to the Countess, allowed to sit next to his

lady-love. She found he had been at Sheffield, and had visited

Bridgefield, vainly endeavouring to obtain sanction to his addresses

from her adopted parents. He saw how her eyes brightened and heard how

her voice quivered with eagerness to hear of what still seemed home to

her, and he was pleased to feel himself gratifying her by telling her

how Mrs. Talbot looked, and how Brown Dumpling had been turned out in

the Park, and Mr. Talbot had taken a new horse, which Ned had insisted

on calling "Fulvius," from its colour, for Ned was such a scholar that

he was to be sent to study at Cambridge. Then he would have wandered

off to little Lady Arbell's being put under Master Sniggius's tuition,

but Cicely would bring him back to Bridgefield, and to Ned's brothers.



No, the boasted expedition to Spain had not begun yet. Sir Francis

Drake was lingering about Plymouth, digging a ditch, it was said, to

bring water from Dartmoor. He would never get license to attack King

Philip on his own shores. The Queen knew better than to give it.

Humfrey and Diccon would get no better sport than robbing a ship or two

on the way to the Netherlands. Antony, for his part, could not see

that piracy on the high seas was fit work for a gentleman.



"A gentleman loves to serve his queen and country in all places," said

Cicely.



"Ah!" said Antony, with a long breath, as though making a discovery,

"sits the wind in that quarter?"



"Antony," exclaimed she, in her eagerness calling him by the familiar

name of childhood, "you are in error. I declare most solemnly that it

is quite another matter that stands in your way."



"And you will not tell me wherefore you are thus cruel?"



"I cannot, sir. You will understand in time that what you call cruelty

is true kindness."



This was the gist of the interview. All the rest only repeated it in

one form or another; and when Cis returned, it was with a saddened

heart, for she could not but perceive that Antony was well-nigh crazed,

not so much with love of her, as with the contemplation of the wrongs

of the Church and the Queen, whom he regarded with equally passionate

devotion, and with burning zeal and indignation to avenge their

sufferings, and restore them to their pristine glory. He did, indeed,

love her, as he professed to have done from infancy, but as if she were

to be his own personal portion of the reward. Indeed there was

magnanimity enough in the youth almost to lose the individual hope in

the dazzle of the great victory for which he was willing to devote his

own life and happiness in the true spirit of a crusader. Cicely did

not fully or consciously realise all this, but she had such a glimpse

of it as to give her a guilty feeling in concealing from him the whole

truth, which would have shown how fallacious were the hopes that her

mother did not scruple, for her own purposes, to encourage. Poor

Cicely! she had not had royal training enough to look on all subjects

as simply pawns on the monarch's chess-board; and she was so evidently

unhappy over Babington's courtship, and so little disposed to enjoy her

first feminine triumph, that the Queen declared that Nature had

designed her for the convent she had so narrowly missed; and, valuable

as was the intelligence she had brought, she was never trusted with the

contents of the correspondence. On the removal of Mary to Chartley the

barrel with the false bottom came into use, but the secretaries Nau and

Curll alone knew in full what was there conveyed. Little more was said

to Cicely of Babington.



However, it was a relief when, before the end of this summer, Cicely

heard of his marriage to a young lady selected by the Earl. She hoped

it would make him forget his dangerous inclination to herself; but yet

there was a little lurking vanity which believed that it had been

rather a marriage for property's than for love's sake.





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