A Lioness At Bay
It was in the middle of the summer of 1586 that Humfrey and his young
brother Richard, in broad grass hats and long feathers, found
themselves again in London, Diccon looking considerably taller and
leaner than when he went away. For when, after many months' delay, the
naval expedition had taken place, he had been laid low with fever
during the attack on Florida by Sir Francis Drake's little fleet; and
the return to E
gland had been only just in time to save his life.
Though Humfrey had set forth merely as a lieutenant, he had returned in
command of a vessel, and stood in high repute for good discipline,
readiness of resource, and personal exploits. His ship had, however,
suffered so severely as to be scarcely seaworthy when the fleet arrived
in Plymouth harbour; and Sir Francis, finding it necessary to put her
into dock and dismiss her crew, had chosen the young Captain Talbot to
ride to London with his despatches to her Majesty.
The commission might well delight the brothers, who were burning to
hear of home, and to know how it fared with Cicely, having been
absolutely without intelligence ever since they had sailed from
Plymouth in January, since which they had plundered the Spaniard both
at home and in the West Indies, but had had no letters.
They rode post into London, taking their last change of horses at
Kensington, on a fine June evening, when the sun was mounting high upon
the steeple of St. Paul's, and speeding through the fields in hopes of
being able to reach the Strand in time for supper at Lord Shrewsbury's
mansion, which, even in the absence of my Lord, was always a harbour
for all of the name of Talbot. Nor, indeed, was it safe to be out
after dark, for the neighbourhood of the city was full of roisterers of
all sorts, if not of highwaymen and cutpurses, who might come in
numbers too large even for the two young gentlemen and the two
servants, who remained out of the four volunteers from Bridgefield.
They were just passing Westminster where the Abbey, Hall, and St.
Stephen's Chapel, and their precincts, stood up in their venerable but
unstained beauty among the fields and fine trees, and some of the
Westminster boys, flat-capped, gowned, and yellow-stockinged, ran out
with the cry that always flattered Diccon, not to say Humfrey, though
he tried to be superior to it, "Mariners! mariners from the Western
Main! Hurrah for gallant Drake! Down with the Don!" For the tokens
of the sea, in the form of clothes and weapons, were well known and
Two or three gentlemen who were walking along the road turned and
looked up, and the young sailors recognised in a moment a home face.
There was an exclamation on either side of "Antony Babington!" and
"Humfrey Talbot!" and a ready clasp of the hand in right of old
"Welcome home!" exclaimed Antony. "Is all well with you?"
"Royally well," returned Humfrey. "Know'st thou aught of our father
"All was well with them when last I heard," said Antony.
"And Cis--my sister I mean?" said Diccon, putting, in his
unconsciousness, the very question Humfrey was burning to ask.
"She is still with the Queen of Scots, at Chartley," replied Babington.
"Chartley, where is that? It is a new place for her captivity."
"'Tis a house of my Lord of Essex, not far from Lichfield," returned
Antony. "They sent her thither this spring, after they had well-nigh
slain her with the damp and wretched lodgings they provided at Tutbury."
"Who? Not our Cis?" asked Diccon.
"Nay," said Antony, "it hurt not her vigorous youth--but I meant the
"Hath Sir Ralf Sadler still the charge of her?" inquired Humfrey.
"No, indeed. He was too gentle a jailer for the Council. They have
given her Sir Amias Paulett, a mere Puritan and Leicestrian, who is as
hard as the nether millstone, and well-nigh as dull," said Babington,
with a little significant chuckle, which perhaps alarmed one of his
companions, a small slight man with a slight halt, clad in black like a
lawyer. "Mr. Babington," he said, "pardon me for interrupting you, but
we shall make Mr. Gage tarry supper for us."
"Nay, Mr. Langston," said Babington, who was in high spirits, "these
are kinsmen of your own, sons of Mr. Richard Talbot of Bridgefield, to
whom you have often told me you were akin."
Mr. Langston was thus compelled to come forward, shake hands with the
young travellers, welcome them home, and desire to be commended to
their worthy parents; and Babington, in the exuberance of his welcome,
named his other two companions--Mr. Tichborne, a fine, handsome,
graceful, and somewhat melancholy young man; Captain Fortescue, a
bearded moustached bravo, in the height of the fashion, a long plume in
his Spanish hat, and his short gray cloak glittering with silver lace.
Humfrey returned their salute, but was as glad as they evidently were
when they got Babington away with them, and left the brothers to pursue
their way, after inviting them to come and see him at his lodgings as
early as possible.
"It is before supper," said Diccon, sagely, "or I should say Master
Antony had been acquainted with some good canary."
"More likely he is uplifted with some fancy of his own. It may be only
with the meeting of me after our encounter," said Humfrey. "He is a
brave fellow and kindly, but never did craft so want ballast as does
that pate of his!"
"Humfrey," said his brother, riding nearer to him, "did he not call
that fellow in black, Langston?"
"Ay, Cuthbert Langston. I have heard of him. No good comrade for his
"Humfrey, it is so, though father would not credit me. I knew his halt
and his eye--just like the venomous little snake that was the death, of
poor Foster. He is the same with the witch woman Tibbott, ay, and with
her with the beads and bracelets, who beset Cis and me at Buxton."
Young Diccon had proved himself on the voyage to have an unerring eye
for recognition, and his brother gave a low whistle. "I fear me then
Master Antony may be running himself into trouble."
"See, they turn in mounting the steps to the upper fence of yonder
house with the deep carved balcony. Another has joined them! I like
not his looks. He is like one of those hardened cavaliers from the
"Ay! who seem to have left pity and conscience behind them there," said
Humfrey, looking anxiously up at the fine old gabled house with its
projecting timbered front, and doubting inwardly whether it would be
wise to act on his old playfellow's invitation, yet with an almost sick
longing to know on what terms the youth stood with Cicely.
In another quarter of an hour they were at the gateway of Shrewsbury
House, where the porter proved to be one of the Sheffield retainers,
and admitted them joyfully. My Lord Earl was in Yorkshire, he said,
but my Lord and Lady Talbot were at home, and would be fain to see
them, and there too was Master William Cavendish.
They were handed on into the courtyard, where servants ran to take
their horses, and as the news ran that Master Richard's sons had
arrived from the Indies, Will Cavendish came running down the hall
steps to embrace them in his glee, while Lord Talbot came to the door
of the hall to welcome them. These great London houses, which had not
quite lost their names of hostels or inns, did really serve as free
lodgings to all members of the family who might visit town, and above
all such travellers as these, bringing news of grand national
Very soon after Gilbert's accession to the heirship, quarrels had begun
between his wife and her mother the Countess.
Lord Talbot had much of his father's stately grace, and his wife was a
finished lady. They heartily welcomed the two lads who had grown from
boys to men. My lady smilingly excused the riding-gear, and as soon as
the dust of travel had been removed they were seated at the board, and
called on to tell of the gallant deeds in which they had taken part,
whilst they heard in exchange of Lord Leicester's doings in the
Netherlands, and the splendid exploits of the Stanleys at Zutphen.
Lord Talbot promised to take Humfrey to Richmond the next day, to be
presented to her Majesty, so soon as he should be equipped, so as not
to lose his character of mariner, but still not to affront her
sensibilities by aught of uncourtly or unstudied in his apparel.
They confirmed what Babington had said of the Queen of Scots' changes
of residence and of keepers. As to Cicely, they had been lately so
little at Sheffield that they had almost forgotten her, but they
thought that if she were still at Chartley, there could be no objection
to her brothers having an interview with her on their way home, if they
chose to go out of their road for it.
Humfrey mentioned his meeting with Babington in Westminster, and Lord
Talbot made some inquiries as to his companions, adding that there were
strange stories and suspicions afloat, and that he feared that the
young man was disaffected and was consorting with Popish recusants.
Diccon's tongue was on the alert with his observation, but at a sign
from his brother, who did not wish to get Babington into trouble, he
was silent. Cavendish, however, laughed and said he was for ever in
Mr. Secretary's house, and even had a room there.
Very early the next morning the body servant of his Lordship was in
attendance with a barber and the fashionable tailor of the Court, and
in good time Humfrey and Diccon were arrayed in such garments as were
judged to suit the Queen's taste, and to become the character of young
mariners from the West. Humfrey had a dainty jewel of shell-work from
the spoils of Carthagena, entrusted to him by Drake to present to the
Queen as a foretaste of what was to come. Lady Talbot greatly admired
its novelty and beauty, and thought the Queen would be enchanted with
it, giving him a pretty little perfumed box to present it in.
Lord Talbot, well pleased to introduce his spirited young cousins, took
them in his boat to Richmond, which they reached just as the evening
coolness came on. They were told that her Majesty was walking in the
Park, and thither, so soon as the ruffs had been adjusted and the fresh
Spanish gloves drawn on, they resorted.
The Queen walked freely there without guards--without even swords being
worn by the gentlemen in attendance--loving as she did to display her
confidence in her people. No precautions were taken, but they were
allowed to gather together on the greensward to watch her, as among the
beautiful shady trees she paced along.
The eyes of the two youths were eagerly directed towards her, as they
followed Lord Talbot. Was she not indeed the cynosure of all the
realm? Did she not hold the heart of every loyal Englishman by an
invisible rein? Was not her favour their dream and their reward? She
was a little in advance of her suite. Her hair, of that light sandy
tint which is slow to whiten, was built up in curls under a rich stiff
coif, covered with silver lace, and lifted high at the temples. From
this a light gauze veil hung round her shoulders and over her splendid
standing ruff, which stood up like the erected neck ornaments of some
birds, opening in front, and showing the lesser ruff or frill
encircling her throat, and terminating a lace tucker within her low-cut
boddice. Rich necklaces, the jewel of the Garter, and a whole
constellation of brilliants, decorated her bosom, and the boddice of
her blue satin dress and its sleeves were laced with seed pearls. The
waist, a very slender one, was encircled with a gold cord and heavy
tassels, the farthingale spread out its magnificent proportions, and a
richly embroidered white satin petticoat showed itself in front, but
did not conceal the active, well-shaped feet. There was something
extraordinarily majestic in her whole bearing, especially the poise of
her head, which made the spectator never perceive how small her stature
actually was. Her face and complexion, too, were of the cast on which
time is slow to make an impression, being always pale and fair, with
keen and delicately-cut features; so that her admirers had quite as
much reason to be dazzled as when she was half her present age; nay,
perhaps more, for the habit of command had added to the regality which
really was her principal beauty. Sir Christopher Hatton, with a
handsome but very small face at the top of a very tall and portly
frame, dressed in the extreme of foppery, came behind her, and then a
bevy of ladies and gentlemen.
As the Talbots approached, she was moving slowly on, unusually erect
even for her, and her face composed to severe majesty, like that of a
judge, the tawny eyes with a strange gleam in them fixed on some one in
the throng on the grass near at hand. Lord Talbot advanced with a bow
so low that he swept the ground with his plume, and while the two
youths followed his example, Diccon's quick eye noted that she glanced
for one rapid second at their weapons, then continued her steady gaze,
never withdrawing it even to receive Lord Talbot's salutation as he
knelt before her, though she said, "We greet you well, my good lord.
Are not we well guarded, not having one man with a sword near me?"
"Here are three good swords, madam," returned he, "mine own, and those
of my two young kinsmen, whom I venture to present to your Majesty, as
they bear greetings from your trusty servant, Sir Francis Drake."
While he spoke there had been a by-play unperceived by him, or by the
somewhat slow and tardy Hatton. A touch from Diccon had made Humfrey
follow the direction of the Queen's eye, and they saw it was fixed on a
figure in a loose cloak strangely resembling that which they had seen
on the stair of the house Babington had entered. They also saw a
certain quailing and cowering of the form, and a scowl on the shaggy
red eyebrows, and Irish features, and Humfrey at once edged himself so
as to come between the fellow and the Queen, though he was ready to
expect a pistol shot in his back, but better thus, was his thought,
than that it should strike her,--and both laid their hands on their
"How now!" said Hatton, "young men, you are over prompt. Her Majesty
needs no swords. You are out of rank. Fall in and do your obeisance."
Something in the Queen's relaxed gaze told Humfrey that the peril was
over, and that he might kneel as Talbot named him, explaining his
lineage as Elizabeth always wished to have done. A sort of tremor
passed over her, but she instantly recalled her attention. "From
Drake!" she said, in her clear, somewhat shrill voice. "So, young
gentleman, you have been with the pirate who outruns our orders, and
fills our brother of Spain with malice such that he would have our life
by fair or foul means."
"That shall he never do while your Grace has English watch-dogs to
guard you," returned Talbot.
"The Talbot is a trusty hound by water or by land," said Elizabeth,
surveying the goodly proportion of the elder brother. "Whelps of a
good litter, though yonder lad be somewhat long and lean. Well, and
how fares Sir Francis? Let him make his will, for the Spaniards one
day will have his blood."
"I have letters and a token from him for your Grace," said Humfrey.
"Come then in," said the Queen. "We will see it in the bower, and hear
what thou wouldst say."
A bower, or small summer-house, stood at the end of the path, and here
she took her way, seating herself on a kind of rustic throne evidently
intended for her, and there receiving from Humfrey the letter and the
gift, and asking some questions about the voyage; but she seemed
preoccupied and anxious, and did not show the enthusiastic approbation
of her sailors' exploits which the young men expected. After glancing
over it, she bade them carry the letter to Mr. Secretary Walsingham the
next day; nor did she bid the party remain to supper; but as soon as
half a dozen of her gentlemen pensioners, who had been summoned by her
orders, came up, she rose to return to the palace.