The Peak Cavern





It was quite true that at this period Queen Mary had good hope of

liberation in the most satisfactory manner possible--short of being

hailed as English Queen. Negotiations were actually on foot with James

VI. and Elizabeth for her release. James had written to her with his

own hand, and she had for the first time consented to give him the

title of King of Scotland. The project of her reigning jointly with

him had been mooted, and each party was showing how enormous a

condescension it would be in his or her eyes! Thus there was no great

unlikelihood that there would be a recognition of the Lady Bride, and

that she would take her position as the daughter of a queen.

Therefore, when Mary contrived to speak to Master Richard Talbot and

his wife in private, she was able to thank them with gracious

condescension for the care they had bestowed in rearing her daughter,

much as if she had voluntarily entrusted the maiden to them, saying she

trusted to be in condition to reward them.



Mistress Susan's heart swelled high with pain, as though she had been

thanked for her care of Humfrey or Diccon, and her husband answered.

"We seek no reward, madam. The damsel herself, while she was ours, was

reward enough."



"And I must still entreat, that of your goodness you will let her

remain yours for a little longer," said Mary, with a touch of imperious

grace, "until this treaty is over, and I am free, it is better that she

continues to pass for your daughter. The child herself has sworn to me

by her great gods," said Mary, smiling with complimentary grace, "that

you will preserve her secret--nay, she becomes a little fury when I

express my fears lest you should have scruples."



"No, madam, this is no state secret; such as I might not with honour

conceal," returned Richard.



"There is true English sense!" exclaimed Mary. "I may then count on

your giving my daughter the protection of your name and your home until

I can reclaim her and place her in her true position. Yea, and if your

concealment should give offence, and bring you under any displeasure of

my good sister, those who have so saved and tended my daughter will

have the first claim to whatever I can give when restored to my

kingdom."



"We are much beholden for your Grace's favour," said Richard, somewhat

stiffly, "but I trust never to serve any land save mine own."



"Ah! there is your fierete," cried Mary. "Happy is my sister to have

subjects with such a point of honour. Happy is my child to have been

bred up by such parents!"



Richard bowed. It was all a man could do at such a speech, and Mary

further added, "She has told me to what bounds went your goodness to

her. It is well that you acted so prudently that the children's hearts

were not engaged; for, as we all know but too well royal blood should

have no heart."



"I am quite aware of it, madam," returned Richard, and there for the

time the conversation ended. The Queen had been most charming, full of

gratitude, and perfectly reasonable in her requests, and yet there was

some flaw in the gratification of both, even while neither thought the

disappointment would go very hard with their son. Richard could never

divest himself of the instinctive prejudice with which soft words

inspire men of his nature, and Susan's maternal heart was all in revolt

against the inevitable, not merely grieving over the wrench to her

affections, but full of forebodings and misgivings as to the future

welfare of her adopted child. Even if the brightest hopes should be

fulfilled; the destiny of a Scottish princess did not seem to Southern

eyes very brilliant at the best, and whether poor Bride Hepburn might

be owned as a princess at all was a doubtful matter, since, if her

father lived (and he had certainly been living in 1577 in Norway), both

the Queen and the Scottish people would be agreed in repudiating the

marriage. Any way, Susan saw every reason to fear for the happiness

and the religion alike of the child to whom she had given a mother's

love. Under her grave, self-contained placid demeanour, perhaps Dame

Susan was the most dejected of those at Buxton. The captive Queen had

her hopes of freedom and her newly found daughter, who was as yet only

a pleasure, and not an encumbrance to her, the Earl had been assured

that his wife's slanders had been forgotten. He was secure of his

sovereign's favour, and permitted to see the term of his weary

jailorship, and thus there was an unusual liveliness and cheerfulness

about the whole sojourn at Buxton, where, indeed, there was always more

or less of a holiday time.



To Cis herself, her nights were like a perpetual fairy tale, and so

indeed were all times when she was alone with the initiated, who were

indeed all those original members of her mother's suite who had known

of her birth at Lochleven, people who had kept too many perilous

secrets not to be safely entrusted with this one, and whose finished

habits of caution, in a moment, on the approach of a stranger, would

change their manner from the deferential courtesy due to their

princess, to the good-natured civility of court ladies to little Cicely

Talbot.



Dame Susan had been gratified at first by the young girl's sincere

assurances of unchanging affection and allegiance, and, in truth, Cis

had clung the most to her with the confidence of a whole life's

danghterhood, but as the days went on, and every caress and token of

affection imaginable was lavished upon the maiden, every splendid

augury held out to her of the future, and every story of the past

detailed the charms of Mary's court life in France, seen through the

vista of nearly twenty sadly contrasted years, it was in the very

nature of things that Cis should regard the time spent perforce with

Mistress Talbot much as a petted child views its return to the strict

nurse or governess from the delights of the drawing-room. She liked to

dazzle the homely housewife with the wonderful tales of French

gaieties, or the splendid castles in the air she had heard in the

Queen's rooms, but she resented the doubt and disapproval they

sometimes excited; she was petulant and fractious at any exercise of

authority from her foster-mother, and once or twice went near to betray

herself by lapsing into a tone towards her which would have brought

down severe personal chastisement on any real daughter even of

seventeen. It was well that the Countess and her sharp-eyed daughter

Mary were out of sight, as the sight of such "cockering of a malapert

maiden" would have led to interference that might have brought matters

to extremity. Yet, with all the forbearance thus exercised, Susan

could not but feel that the girl's love was being weaned from her; and,

after all, how could she complain, since it was by the true mother? If

only she could have hoped it was for the dear child's good, it would

not have been so hard! But the trial was a bitter one, and not even

her husband guessed how bitter it was.



The Queen meantime improved daily in health and vigour in the splendid

summer weather. The rheumatism had quitted her, and she daily rode and

played at Trowle Madame for hours after supper in the long bright July

evenings. Cis, whose shoulder was quite well, played with great

delight on the greensward, where one evening she made acquaintance with

a young esquire and his sisters from the neighbourhood, who had come

with their father to pay their respects to my Lord Earl, as the head of

all Hallamshire. The Earl, though it was not quite according to the

recent stricter rules, ventured to invite them to stay to sup with the

household, and afterwards they came out with the rest upon the lawn.



Cis was walking between the young lad and his sister, laughing and

talking with much animation, for she had not for some time enjoyed the

pleasure of free intercourse with any of her fellow-denizens in the

happy land of youth.



Dame Susan watched her with some uneasiness, and presently saw her

taking them where she herself was privileged to go, but strangers were

never permitted to approach, on the Trowle Madame sward reserved for

the Queen, on which she was even now entering.



"Cicely!" she called, but the young lady either did not or would not

hear, and she was obliged to walk hastily forward, meet the party, and

with courteous excuses turn them back from the forbidden ground. They

submitted at once, apologising, but Cis, with a red spot on her cheek,

cried, "The Queen would take no offence."



"That is not the matter in point, Cicely," said Dame Susan gravely.

"Master and Mistress Eyre understand that we are bound to obedience to

the Earl."



Master Eyre, a well-bred young gentleman, made reply that he well knew

that no discourtesy was intended, but Cis pouted and muttered,

evidently to the extreme amazement of Mistress Alice Eyre; and Dame

Susan, to divert her attention, began to ask about the length of their

ride, and the way to their home.



Cis's ill humour never lasted long, and she suddenly broke in, "O

mother, Master Eyre saith there is a marvellous cavern near his

father's house, all full of pendants from the roof like a minster, and

great sheeted tables and statues standing up, all grand and ghostly on

the floor, far better than in this Pool's Hole. He says his father

will have it lighted up if we will ride over and see it."



"We are much beholden to Master Eyre," said Susan, but Cis read refusal

in her tone, and began to urge her to consent.



"It must be as my husband wills," was the grave answer, and at the same

time, courteously, but very decidedly, she bade the strangers farewell,

and made her daughter do the same, though Cis was inclined to

resistance, and in a somewhat defiant tone added, "I shall not forget

your promise, sir. I long to see the cave."



"Child, child," entreated Susan, as soon as they were out of hearing,

"be on thy guard. Thou wilt betray thyself by such conduct towards me."



"But, mother, they did so long to see the Queen, and there would have

been no harm in it. They are well affected, and the young gentleman is

a friend of poor Master Babington."



"Nay, Cis, that is further cause that I should not let them pass

onward. I marvel not at thee, my maid, but thou and thy mother queen

must bear in mind that while thou passest for our daughter, and hast

trust placed in thee, thou must do nothing to forfeit it or bring thy

fa--, Master Richard I mean, into trouble."



"I meant no harm," said Cis; rather crossly.



"Thou didst not, but harm may be done by such as mean it the least."



"Only, mother, sweet mother," cried the girl, childlike, set upon her

pleasure, "I will be as good as can be. I will transgress in nought if

only thou wilt get my father to take me to see Master Eyre's cavern."



She was altogether the home daughter again in her eagerness, entreating

and promising by turns with the eager curiosity of a young girl bent on

an expedition, but Richard was not to be prevailed on. He had little or

no acquaintance with the Eyre family, and to let them go to the cost

and trouble of lighting up the cavern for the young lady's amusement

would be like the encouragement of a possible suit, which would have

been a most inconvenient matter. Richard did not believe the young

gentleman had warrant from his father in giving this invitation, and if

he had, that was the more reason for declining it. The Eyres, then

holding the royal castle of the Peak, were suspected of being secretly

Roman Catholics, and though the Earl could not avoid hospitably bidding

them to supper, the less any Talbot had to do with them the better, and

for the present Cis must be contented to be reckoned as one.



So she had to put up with her disappointment, and she did not do so

with as good a grace as she would have shown a year ago. Nay, she

carried it to Queen Mary, who at night heard her gorgeous description

of the wonders of the cavern, which grew in her estimation in

proportion to the difficulty of seeing them, and sympathised with her

disappointment at the denial.



"Nay, thou shalt not be balked," said Mary, with the old queenly habit

of having her own way. "Prisoner as I am, I will accomplish this. My

daughter shall have her wish."



So on the ensuing morning, when the Earl came to pay his respects, Mary

assailed him with, "There is a marvellous cavern in these parts, my

Lord, of which I hear great wonders."



"Does your grace mean Pool's Hole?"



"Nay, nay, my Lord. Have I not been conducted through it by Dr. Jones,

and there writ my name for his delectation? This is, I hear, as a

palace compared therewith."



"The Peak Cavern, Madam!" said Lord Shrewsbury, with the distaste of

middle age for underground expeditions, "is four leagues hence, and a

dark, damp, doleful den, most noxious for your Grace's rheumatism."



"Have you ever seen it, my Lord?"



"No, verily," returned his lordship with a shudder.



"Then you will be edified yourself, my Lord, if you will do me the

grace to escort me thither," said Mary, with the imperious suavity she

well knew how to adopt.



"Madam, madam," cried the unfortunate Earl, "do but consult your

physicians. They will tell you that all the benefits of the Buxton

waters will be annulled by an hour in yonder subterranean hole."



"I have heard of it from several of my suite," replied Mary, "and they

tell me that the work of nature on the lime-droppings is so marvellous

that I shall not rest without a sight of it. Many have been instant

with me to go and behold the wondrous place."



This was not untrue, but she had never thought of gratifying them in

her many previous visits to Buxton. The Earl found himself obliged

either to utter a harsh and unreasonable refusal, or to organise an

expedition which he personally disliked extremely, and moreover

distrusted, for he did not in the least believe that Queen Mary would

be so set upon gratifying her curiosity about stalactites without some

ulterior motive. He tried to set on Dr. Jones to persuade Messieurs

Gorion and Bourgoin, her medical attendants, that the cave would be

fatal to her rheumatism, but it so happened that the Peak Cavern was

Dr. Jones's favourite lion, the very pride of his heart. Pool's Hole

was dear to him, but the Peak Cave was far more precious, and the very

idea of the Queen of Scots honouring it with her presence, and leaving

behind her the flavour of her name, was so exhilarating to the little

man that if the place had been ten times more damp he would have

vouched for its salubrity. Moreover, he undertook that fumigations of

fragrant woods should remove all peril of noxious exhalations, so that

the Earl was obliged to give his orders that Mr. Eyre should be

requested to light up the cave, and heartily did he grumble and pour

forth his suspicions and annoyance to his cousin Richard.



"And I," said the good sailor, "felt it hard not to be able to tell him

that all was for the freak of a silly damsel."



Mistress Cicely laughed a little triumphantly. It was something like

being a Queen's daughter to have been the cause of making my Lord

himself bestir himself against his will. She had her own way, and

might well be good-humoured. "Come, dear sir father," she said, coming

up to him in a coaxing, patronising way, which once would have been

quite alien to them both, "be not angered. You know nobody means

treason! And, after all, 'tis not I but you that are the cause of all

the turmoil. If you would but have ridden soberly out with your poor

little Cis, there would have been no coil, but my Lord might have paced

stately and slow up and down the terrace-walk undisturbed."



"Ah, child, child!" said Susan, vexed, though her husband could not

help smiling at the arch drollery of the girl's tone and manner, "do

not thou learn light mockery of all that should be honoured."



"I am not bound to honour the Earl," said Cis, proudly.



"Hush, hush!" said Richard. "I have allowed thee unchecked too long,

maiden. Wert thou ten times what thou art, it would not give thee the

right to mock at the gray-haired, highly-trusted noble, the head of the

name thou dost bear."



"And the torment of her whom I am most bound to love," broke from

Cicely petulantly.



Richard's response to this sally was to rise up, make the young lady

the lowest possible reverence, with extreme and displeased gravity, and

then to quit the room. It brought the girl to her bearings at once.

"Oh, mother, mother, how have I displeased him?"



"I trow thou canst not help it, child," said Susan, sadly; "but it is

hard that thou shouldst bring home to us how thine heart and thine

obedience are parted from us."



The maiden was in a passion of tears at once, vowing that she meant no

such thing, that she loved and obeyed them as much as ever, and that if

only her father would forgive her she would never wish to go near the

cavern. She would beg the Queen to give up the plan at once, if only

Sir Richard would be her good father as before.



Susan looked at her sadly and tenderly, but smiled, and said that what

had been lightly begun could not now be dropped, and that she trusted

Cis would be happy in the day's enjoyment, and remember to behave

herself as a discreet maiden. "For truly," said she, "so far from

discretion being to be despised by Queen's daughters, the higher the

estate the greater the need thereof."



This little breeze did not prevent Cicely from setting off in high

spirits, as she rode near the Queen, who declared that she wanted to

enjoy through the merry maiden, and who was herself in a gay and

joyous mood, believing that the term of her captivity was in sight,

delighted with her daughter, exhilarated by the fresh breezes and rapid

motion, and so mirthful that she could not help teasing and bantering

the Earl a little, though all in the way of good-humoured grace.



The ride was long, about eight miles; but though the Peak Castle was a

royal one, the Earl preferred not to enter it, but, according to

previous arrangement, caused the company to dismount in the valley, or

rather ravine, which terminates in the cavern, where a repast was

spread on the grass. It was a wonderful place, cool and refreshing,

for the huge rocks on either side cast a deep shadow, seldom pierced by

the rays of the sun. Lofty, solemn, and rich in dark reds and purples,

rose the walls of rock, here and there softened by tapestry of ivy or

projecting bushes of sycamore, mountain ash, or with fruit already

assuming its brilliant tints, and jackdaws flying in and out of their

holes above. Deep beds of rich ferns clothed the lower slopes, and

sheets of that delicate flower, the enchanter's nightshade, reared its

white blossoms down to the bank of a little clear stream that came

flowing from out of the mighty yawning arch of the cavern, while above

the precipice rose sheer the keep of Peak Castle.



The banquet was gracefully arranged to suit the scene, and comprised,

besides more solid viands, large bowls of milk, with strawberries or

cranberries floating in them. Mr. Eyre, the keeper of the castle, and

his daughter did the honours, while his son superintended the lighting

and fumigation of the cavern, assisted, if not directed by Dr. Jones,

whose short black cloak and gold-headed cane were to be seen almost

everywhere at once.



Presently clouds of smoke began to issue from the vast archway that

closed the ravine. "Beware, my maidens," said the Queen, merrily, "we

have roused the dragon in his den, and we shall see him come forth

anon, curling his tail and belching flame."



"With a marvellous stomach for a dainty maiden or two," added Gilbert

Curll, falling into her humour.



"Hark! Good lack!" cried the Queen, with an affectation of terror, as

a most extraordinary noise proceeded from the bowels of the cavern,

making Cis start and Marie de Courcelles give a genuine shriek.



"Your Majesty is pleased to be merry," said the Earl, ponderously. "The

sound is only the coughing of the torchbearers from the damp whereof I

warned your Majesty."



"By my faith," said Mary, "I believe my Lord Earl himself fears the

monster of the cavern, to whom he gives the name of Damp. Dread

nothing, my Lord; the valorous knight Sir Jones is even now in conflict

with the foul worm, as those cries assure me, being in fact caused by

his fumigations."



The jest was duly received, and in the midst of the laughter, young

Eyre came forward, bowing low, and holding his jewelled hat in his

hand, while his eyes betrayed that he had recently been sneezing

violently.



"So please your Majesty," he said, "the odour hath rolled away, and all

is ready if you will vouchsafe to accept my poor guidance."



"How say you, my Lord?" said Mary. "Will you dare the lair of the

conquered foe, or fear you to be pinched with aches and pains by his

lurking hobgoblins? If so, we dispense with your attendance."



"Your Majesty knows that where she goes thither I am bound to attend

her," said the rueful Earl.



"Even into the abyss!" said Mary. "Valiantly spoken, for have not

Ariosto and his fellows sung of captive princesses for whom every cave

held an enchanter who could spirit them away into vapour thin as air,

and leave their guardians questing in vain for them?"



"Your Majesty jests with edged tools," sighed the Earl.



Old Mr. Eyre was too feeble to act as exhibitor of the cave, and his

son was deputed to lead the Queen forward. This was, of course, Lord

Shrewsbury's privilege, but he was in truth beholden to her fingers for

aid, as she walked eagerly forward, now and then accepting a little

help from John Eyre, but in general sure-footed and exploring eagerly

by the light of the numerous torches held by yeomen in the Eyre livery,

one of whom was stationed wherever there was a dangerous pass or a

freak of nature worth studying.



The magnificent vaulted roof grew lower, and presently it became

necessary to descend a staircase, which led to a deep hollow chamber,

shaped like a bell, and echoing like one. A pool of intensely black

water filled it, reflecting the lights on its surface, that only

enhanced its darkness, while there moved on a mysterious flat-bottomed

boat, breaking them into shimmering sparks, and John Eyre intimated

that the visitors must lie down flat in it to be ferried one by one

over a space of about fourteen yards.



"Your Majesty will surely not attempt it," said the Earl, with a

shudder.



"Wherefore not? It is but a foretaste of Charon's boat!" said Mary,

who was one of those people whose spirit of enterprise rises with the

occasion, and she murmured to Mary Seaton the line of Dante--



"Quando noi fermerem li nostri passi

Su la triate riviera a' Acheronte."





"Will your Majesty enter?" asked John Eyre. "Dr. Jones and some

gentlemen wait on the other side to receive you."



"Some gentlemen?" repeated Mary. "You are sure they are not Minos and

Rhadamanthus, sir? My obolus is ready; shall I put it in my mouth?"



"Nay, madam, pardon me," said the Earl, spurred by a miserable sense of

his duties; "since you will thus venture, far be it from me to let you

pass over until I have reached the other aide to see that it is fit for

your Majesty!"



"Even as you will, most devoted cavalier," said Mary, drawing back; "we

will be content to play the part of the pale ghosts of the unburied

dead a little longer. See, Mary, the boat sinks down with him and his

mortal flesh! We shall have Charon complaining of him anon."



"Your Highness gars my flesh grue," was the answer of her faithful Mary.



"Ah, ma mie! we have not left all hope behind. We can afford to smile

at the doleful knight, ferried o'er on his back, in duteous and loyal

submission to his task mistress. Child, Cicely, where art thou? Art

afraid to dare the black river?"



"No, madam, not with you on the other side, and my father to follow me."



"Well said. Let the maiden follow next after me. Or mayhap Master

Eyre should come next, then the young lady. For you, my ladies, and

you, good sirs, you are free to follow or not, as the fancy strikes

you. So--here is Charon once more--must I lie down?"



"Ay, madam," said Eyre, "if you would not strike your head against

yonder projecting rock."



Mary lay down, her cloak drawn about her, and saying, "Now then, for

Acheron. Ah! would that it were Lethe!"



"Her Grace saith well," muttered faithful Jean Kennedy, unversed in

classic lore, "would that we were once more at bonnie Leith. Soft

there now, 'tis you that follow her next, my fair mistress."



Cicely, not without trepidation, obeyed, laid herself flat, and was

soon midway, feeling the passage so grim and awful, that she could

think of nothing but the dark passages of the grave, and was shuddering

all over, when she was helped out on the other side by the Queen's own

hand.



Some of those in the rear did not seem to be similarly affected, or

else braved their feelings of awe by shouts and songs, which echoed

fearfully through the subterranean vaults. Indeed Diccon, following

the example of one or two young pages and grooms of the Earl's, began

to get so daring and wild in the strange scene, that his father became

anxious, and tarried for him on the other side, in the dread of his

wandering away and getting lost, or falling into some of the fearful

dark rivers that could be heard--not seen--rushing along. By this

means, Master Richard was entirely separated from Cicely, to whom,

before crossing the water, he had been watchfully attending, but he

knew her to be with the Queen and her ladies, and considered her

natural timidity the best safeguard against the chief peril of the

cave, namely, wandering away.



Cicely did, however, miss his care, for the Queen could not but be

engrossed by her various cicerones and attendants, and it was no one's

especial business to look after the young girl over the rough descent

to the dripping well called Roger Rain's House, and the grand

cathedral-like gallery, with splendid pillars of stalagmite, and

pendants above. By the time the steps beyond were reached, a toilsome

descent, the Queen had had enough of the expedition, and declined to go

any farther, but she good-naturedly yielded to the wish of Master John

Eyre and Dr. Jones, that she would inscribe her name on the farthest

column that she had reached.



There was a little confusion while this was being done, as some of the

more enterprising wished to penetrate as far as possible into the

recesses of the cave, and these were allowed to pass forward--Diccon

and his father among them. In the passing and repassing, Cicely

entirely lost sight of all who had any special care of her, and went

stumbling on alone, weary, frightened, and repenting of the wilfulness

with which she had urged on the expedition. Each of the other ladies

had some cavalier to help her, but none had fallen to Cicely's lot, and

though, to an active girl, there was no real danger where the

torchbearers lined the way, still there was so much difficulty that she

was a laggard in reaching the likeness of Acheron, and could see no

father near as she laid herself down in Charon's dismal boat, dimly

rejoicing that this time it was to return to the realms of day, and yet

feeling as if she should never reach them. A hand was given to assist

her from the boat by one of the torchbearers, a voice strangely

familiar was in her ears, saying, "Mistress Cicely!" and she knew the

eager eyes, and exclaimed under her breath, "Antony, you here? In

hiding? What have you done?"



"Nothing," he answered, smiling, and holding her hand, as he helped her

forward. "I only put on this garb that I might gaze once more on the

most divine and persecuted of queens, and with some hope likewise that

I might win a word with her who deigned once to be my playmate. Lady, I

know the truth respecting you."



"Do you in very deed?" demanded Cicely, considerably startled.



"I know your true name, and that you are none of the mastiff race,"

said Antony.



"Did--did Tibbott tell you, sir?" asked Cicely.



"You are one of us," said Antony; "bound by natural allegiance in the

land of your birth to this lady."



"Even so," said Cis, here becoming secure of what she had before

doubted, that Babington only knew half the truth he referred to.



"And you see and speak with her privily," he added.



"As Bess Pierrepoint did," said she.



These words passed during the ascent, and were much interrupted by the

difficulties of the way, in which Antony rendered such aid that she was

each moment more impelled to trust to him, and relieved to find herself

in such familiar hands. On reaching the summit the light of day could

be seen glimmering in the extreme distance, and the maiden's heart

bounded at the sight of it; but she found herself led somewhat aside,

where in a sort of side aisle of the great bell chamber were standing

together four more of the torch-bearers.



One of them, a slight man, made a step forward and said, "The Queen

hath dropped her kerchief. Mayhap the young gentlewoman will restore

it?"



"She will do more than that!" said Antony, drawing her into the midst

of them. "Dost not know her, Langston? She is her sacred Majesty's

own born, true, and faithful subject, the Lady--"



"Hush, my friend; thou art ever over outspoken with thy names,"

returned the other, evidently annoyed at Babington's imprudence.



"I tell thee, she is one of us," replied Antony impatiently. "How is

the Queen to know of her friends if we name them not to her?"



"Are these her friends?" asked Cicely, looking round on the five

figures in the leathern coats and yeomen's heavy buskins and shoes, and

especially at the narrow face and keen pale eyes of Langston.



"Ay, verily," said one, whom Cicely could see even under his disguise

to be a slender, graceful youth. "By John Eyre's favour have we come

together here to gaze on the true and lawful mistress of our hearts,

the champion of our faith, in her martyrdom." Then taking the kerchief

from Langston's hand, Babington kissed it reverently, and tore it into

five pieces, which he divided among himself and his fellows, saying,

"This fair mistress shall bear witness to her sacred Majesty that

we--Antony Babington, Chidiock Tichborne, Cuthbert Langston, John

Charnock, John Savage--regard her as the sole and lawful Queen of

England and Scotland, and that as we have gone for her sake into the

likeness of the valley of the shadow of death, so will we meet death

itself and stain this linen with our best heart's blood rather than not

bring her again to freedom and the throne!"



Then with the most solemn oath each enthusiastically kissed the white

token, and put it in his breast, but Langston looked with some alarm at

the girl, and said to Babington, "Doth this young lady understand that

you have put our lives into her hands?"



"She knows! she knows! I answer for her with my life," said Antony.



"Let her then swear to utter no word of what she has seen save to the

Queen," said Langston, and Cicely detected a glitter in that pale eye,

and with a horrified leap of thought, recollected how easy it would be

to drag her away into one of those black pools, beyond all ken.



"Oh save me, Antony!" she cried clinging to his arm.



"No one shall touch you. I will guard you with my life!" exclaimed the

impulsive young man, feeling for the sword that was not there.



"Who spoke of hurting the foolish wench?" growled Savage; but Tichborne

said, "No one would hurt you, madam; but it is due to us all that you

should give us your word of honour not to disclose what has passed,

save to our only true mistress."



"Oh yes! yes!" cried Cicely hastily, scarcely knowing what passed her

lips, and only anxious to escape from that gleaming eye of Langston,

which had twice before filled her with a nameless sense of the

necessity of terrified obedience. "Oh! let me go. I hear my father's

voice."



She sprang forward with a cry between joy and terror, and darted up to

Richard Talbot, while Savage, the man who looked most entirely unlike a

disguised gentleman, stepped forward, and in a rough, north country

dialect, averred that the young gentlewoman had lost her way.



"Poor maid," said kind Richard, gathering the two trembling little

hands into one of his own broad ones. "How was it? Thanks, good

fellow," and he dropped a broad piece into Savage's palm; "thou hast

done good service. What, Cis, child, art quaking?"



"Hast seen any hobgoblins, Cis?" said Diccon, at her other side. "I'm

sure I heard them laugh."



"Whist, Dick," said his father, putting a strong arm round the girl's

waist. "See, my wench, yonder is the goodly light of day. We shall

soon be there."



With all his fatherly kindness, he helped the agitated girl up the

remaining ascent, as the lovely piece of blue sky between the

retreating rocks grew wider, and the archway higher above them. Cis

felt that infinite repose and reliance that none else could give, yet

the repose was disturbed by the pang of recollection that the secret

laid on her was their first severance. It was unjust to his kindness;

strange, doubtful, nay grisly, to her foreboding mind, and she shivered

alike from that and the chill of the damp cavern, and then he drew her

cloak more closely about her, and halted to ask for the flask of wine

which one of the adventurous spirits had brought, that Queen

Elizabeth's health might be drunk by her true subjects in the bowels of

the earth. The wine was, of course, exhausted; but Dr. Jones bustled

forward with some cordial waters which he had provided in case of

anyone being struck with the chill of the cave, and Cicely was made to

swallow some.



By this time she had been missed, and the little party were met by some

servants sent by the Earl at the instance of the much-alarmed Queen to

inquire for her. A little farther on came Mistress Talbot, in much

anxiety and distress, though as Diccon ran forward to meet her, and she

saw Cicely on her husband's arm, she resumed her calm and staid

demeanour, and when assured that the maiden had suffered no damage, she

made no special demonstrations of joy or affection. Indeed, such would

have been deemed unbecoming in the presence of strangers, and

disrespectful to the Queen and the Earl, who were not far off.



Mary, on the other hand, started up, held out her arms, received the

truant with such vehement kisses, as might almost have betrayed their

real relationship, and then reproached her, with all sorts of endearing

terms, for having so terrified them all; nor would she let the girl go

from her side, and kept her hand in her own, Diccon meanwhile had

succeeded in securing his father's attention, which had been wholly

given to Cicely till she was placed in the women's hands. "Father," he

said, "I wish that one of the knaves with the torches who found our Cis

was the woman with the beads and bracelets, ay, and Tibbott, too."



"Belike, belike, my son," said Richard. "There are folk who can take

as many forms as a barnacle goose. Keep thou a sharp eye as the

fellows pass out, and pull me by the cloak if thou seest him."



Of course he was not seen, and Richard, who was growing more and more

cautious about bringing vague or half-proved suspicions before his

Lord, decided to be silent and to watch, though he sighed to his wife

that the poor child would soon be in the web.



Cis had not failed to recognise that same identity, and to feel a

half-realised conviction that the Queen had not chosen to confide to

her that the two female disguises both belonged to Langston. Yet the

contrast between Mary's endearments and the restrained manner of Susan

so impelled her towards the veritable mother, that the compunction as

to the concealment she had at first experienced passed away, and her

heart felt that its obligations were towards her veritable and most

loving parent. She told the Queen the whole story at night, to Mary's

great delight. She said she was sure her little one had something on

her mind, she had so little to say of her adventure, and the next day a

little privy council was contrived, in which Cicely was summoned again

to tell her tale. The ladies declared they had always hoped much from

their darling page, in whom they had kept up the true faith, but Sir

Andrew Melville shook his head and said: "I'd misdoot ony plot where

the little finger of him was. What garred the silly loon call in the

young leddy ere he kenned whether she wad keep counsel?"





The Oak And The Oaken Hall The Proposal Of A Divorce Between Mary And Darnley And The Christening Of James Vi facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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