In The Web
It was a beautiful bright summer day, and Queen Mary and some of her
train were preparing for their ride. The Queen was in high spirits,
and that wonderful and changeful countenance of hers was beaming with
anticipation and hope, while her demeanour was altogether delightful to
every one who approached her. She was adding some last instructions to
Nau, who was writing a letter for her to the French ambassador, and
ely stood by her, holding her little dog in a leash, and looking
somewhat anxious and wistful. There was more going on round the girl
than she was allowed to understand, and it made her anxious and uneasy.
She knew that the correspondence through the brewer was actively
carried on, but she was not informed of what passed. Only she was
aware that some crisis must be expected, for her mother was ceaselessly
restless and full of expectation. She had put all her jewels and
valuables into as small a compass as possible, and talked more than
ever of her plans for giving her daughter either to the Archduke
Matthias, or to some great noble, as if the English crown were already
within her grasp. Anxious, curious, and feeling injured by the want of
confidence, yet not daring to complain, Cicely felt almost fretful at
her mother's buoyancy, but she had been taught a good many lessons in
the past year, and one of them was that she might indeed be caressed,
but that she must show neither humour nor will of her own, and the
least presumption in inquiry or criticism was promptly quashed.
There was a knock at the door, and the usher announced that Sir Amias
Paulett prayed to speak with her Grace. Her eye glanced round with the
rapid emotion of one doubtful whether it were for weal or woe, yet with
undaunted spirit to meet either, and as she granted her permission, Cis
heard her whisper to Nau, "A rider came up even now! 'Tis the tidings!
Are the Catholics of Derby in the saddle? Are the ships on the coast?"
In came the tall old man with a stiff reverence: "Madam, your Grace's
horses attend you, and I have tidings"--(Mary started
forward)--"tidings for this young lady, Mistress Cicely Talbot. Her
brother is arrived from the Spanish Main, and requests permission to
see and speak with her."
Radiance flashed out on Cicely's countenance as excitement faded on
that of her mother: "Humfrey! O madam! let me go to him!" she
entreated, with a spring of joy and clasped hands.
Mary was far too kind-hearted to refuse, besides to have done so would
have excited suspicion at a perilous moment, and the arrangement Sir
Amias proposed was quickly made. Mary Seaton was to attend the Queen
in Cicely's stead, and she was allowed to hurry downstairs, and only
one warning was possible:
"Go then, poor child, take thine holiday, only bear in mind what and
who thou art."
Yet the words had scarce died on her ears before she was oblivious of
all save that it was a familial home figure who stood at the bottom of
the stairs, one of the faces she trusted most in all the world which
beamed out upon her, the hands which she knew would guard her through
everything were stretched out to her, the lips with veritable love in
them kissed the cheeks she did not withhold. Sir Amias stood by and
gave the kindest smile she had seen from him, quite changing his
pinched features, and he proposed to the two young people to go and
walk in the garden together, letting them out into the square walled
garden, very formal, but very bright and gay, and with a pleached alley
to shelter them from the sun.
"Good old gentleman!" exclaimed Humfrey, holding the maiden's hand in
his. "It is a shame to win such pleasure by feigning."
"As for that," sighed Cis, "I never know what is sooth here, and what
am I save a living lie myself? O Humfrey! I am so weary of it all."
"Ah I would that I could bear thee home with me," he said, little
prepared for this reception.
"Would that thou couldst! O that I were indeed thy sister, or that the
writing in my swaddling bands had been washed out!--Nay," catching back
her words, "I meant not that! I would not but belong to the dear Lady
here. She says I comfort her more than any of them, and oh! she
is--she is, there is no telling how sweet and how noble. It was only
that the sight of thee awoke the yearning to be at home with mother and
with father. Forget my folly, Humfrey."
"I cannot soon forget that Bridgefield seems to thee thy true home," he
said, putting strong restraint on himself to say and do no more, while
his heart throbbed with a violence unawakened by storm or Spaniard.
"Tell me of them all," she said. "I have heard naught of them since we
left Tutbury, where at least we were in my Lord's house, and the dear
old silver dog was on every sleeve. Ah! there he is, the trusty rogue."
And snatching up Humfrey's hat, which was fastened with a brooch of his
crest in the fashion of the day, she kissed the familiar token. Then,
however, she blushed and drew herself up, remembering the caution not
to forget who she was, and with an assumption of more formal dignity,
she said, "And how fares it with the good Mrs. Talbot?"
"Well, when I last heard," said Humfrey, "but I have not been at home.
I only know what Will Cavendish and my Lord Talbot told me. I sent
Diccon on to Bridgefield, and came out of the way to see you, lady," he
concluded, with the same regard to actual circumstances that she had
"Oh, that was good!" she whispered, and they both seemed to feel a
certain safety in avoiding personal subjects. Humfrey had the history
of his voyage to narrate--to tell of little Diccon's gallant doings,
and to exalt Sir Francis Drake's skill and bravery, and at last to let
it ooze out, under Cis's eager questioning, that when his captain had
died of fever on the Hispaniola coast, and they had been overtaken by a
tornado, Sir Francis had declared that it was Humfrey's skill and
steadfastness which had saved the ship and crew.
"And it was that tornado," he said, "which stemmed the fever, and saved
little Diccon's life. Oh! when he lay moaning below, then was the time
to long for my mother."
Time sped on till the great hall clock made Cicely look up and say she
feared that the riders would soon return, and then Humfrey knew that he
must make sure to speak the words of warning he came to utter. He
told, in haste, of his message to Queen Elizabeth, and of his being
sent on to Secretary Walsingham, adding, "But I saw not the great man,
for he was closeted--with whom think you? No other than Cuthbert
Langston, whom Cavendish called by another name. It amazed me the
more, because I had two days before met him in Westminster with Antony
Babington, who presented him to me by his own name."
"Saw you Antony Babington?" asked Cis, raising her eyes to his face,
but looking uneasy.
"Twice, at Westminster, and again in Paul's Walk. Had you seen him
since you have been here?"
"Not here, but at Tutbury. He came once, and I was invited to dine in
the hall, because he brought recommendations from the Countess." There
was a pause, and then, as if she had begun to take in the import of
Humfrey's words, she added, "What said you? That Mr. Langston was
going between him and Mr. Secretary?"
"Not exactly that," and Humfrey repeated with more detail what he had
seen of Langston, forbearing to ask any questions which Cicely might
not be able to answer with honour; but they had been too much together
in childhood not to catch one another's meaning with half a hint, and
she said, "I see why you came here, Humfrey. It was good and true and
kind, befitting you. I will tell the Queen. If Langston be in it,
there is sure to be treachery. But, indeed, I know nothing or
"I am glad of it," fervently exclaimed Humfrey.
"No; I only know that she has high hopes, and thinks that the term of
her captivity is well-nigh over. But it is Madame de Courcelles whom
she trusts, not me," said Cicely, a little hurt.
"So is it much better for thee to know as little as possible," said
Humfrey, growing intimate in tone again in spite of himself. "She hath
not changed thee much, Cis, only thou art more grave and womanly, ay,
and thou art taller, yea, and thinner, and paler, as I fear me thou
mayest well be."
"Ah, Humfrey, 'tis a poor joy to be a princess in prison! And yet I
shame me that I long to be away. Oh no, I would not. Mistress Seaton
and Mrs. Curll and the rest might be free, yet they have borne this
durance patiently all these years--and I think--I think she loves me a
little, and oh! she is hardly used. Humfrey, what think'st thou that
Mr. Langston meant? I wot now for certain that it was he who twice
came to beset us, as Tibbott the huckster, and with the beads and
bracelets! They all deem him a true friend to my Queen."
"So doth Babington," said Humfrey, curtly.
"Ah!" she said, with a little terrified sound of conviction, then
added, "What thought you of Master Babington?"
"That he is half-crazed," said Humfrey.
"We may say no more," said Cis, seeing a servant advancing from the
house to tell her that the riders were returning. "Shall I see you
"If Sir Amias should invite me to lie here to-night, and remain
to-morrow, since it will be Sunday."
"At least I shall see you in the morning, ere you depart," she said, as
with unwilling yet prompt steps she returned to the house, Humfrey
feeling that she was indeed his little Cis, yet that some change had
come over her, not so much altering her, as developing the capabilities
he had always seen.
For herself, poor child, her feelings were in a strange turmoil, more
than usually conscious of that dual existence which had tormented her
ever since she had been made aware of her true birth. Moreover, she
had a sense of impending danger and evil, and, by force of contrast,
the frank, open-hearted manner of Humfrey made her the more sensible of
being kept in the dark as to serious matters, while outwardly made a
pet and plaything by her mother, "just like Bijou," as she said to
"So, little one," said Queen Mary, as she returned, "thou hast been
revelling once more in tidings of Sheffield! How long will it take me
to polish away the dulness of thy clownish contact?"
"Humphrey does not come from home, madam, but from London. Madam, let
me tell you in your ear--"
Mary's eye instantly took the terrified alert expression which had come
from many a shock and alarm. "What is it, child?" she asked, however,
in a voice of affected merriment. "I wager it is that he has found his
true Cis. Nay, whisper it to me, if it touch thy silly little heart so
Cicely knelt down, the Queen bending over her, while she murmured in
her ear, "He saw Cuthbert Langston, by a feigned name, admitted to Mr.
Secretary Walsingham's privy chamber."
She felt the violent start this information caused, but the command of
voice and countenance was perfect.
"What of that, mignonne?" she said. "What knoweth he of this Langston,
as thou callest him?"
"He is my--no--his father's kinsman, madam, and is known to be but a
plotter. Oh, surely, he is not in your secrets, madam, my mother,
after that day at Tutbury?"
"Alack, my lassie, Gifford or Babington answered for him," said the
Queen, "and he kens more than I could desire. But this Humfrey of
thine! How came he to blunder out such tidings to thee?"
"It was no blunder, madam. He came here of purpose."
"Sure," exclaimed Mary, "it were too good to hope that he hath become
well affected. He--a sailor of Drake's, a son of Master Richard! Hath
Babington won him over; or is it for thy sake, child? For I bestowed
no pains to cast smiles to him at Sheffield, even had he come in my
"I think, madam," said Cicely, "that he is too loyal-hearted to bear
the sight of treachery without a word of warning."
"Is he so? Then he is the first of his nation who hath been of such a
mind! Nay, mignonne, deny not thy conquest. This is thy work."
"I deny not that--that I am beloved by Humfrey," said Cicely, "for I
have known it all my life; but that goes for naught in what he deems it
right to do."
"There spoke so truly Mistress Susan's scholar that thou makest me
laugh in spite of myself and all the rest. Hold him fast, my maiden;
think what thou wilt of his service, and leave me now, and send
Melville and Curll to me."
Cicely went away full of that undefined discomfort experienced by
generous young spirits when their elders, more worldly-wise (or
foolish), fail even to comprehend the purity or loftiness of motive
which they themselves thoroughly believe. Yet, though she had
infinitely more faith in Humfrey's affection than she had in that of
Babington, she had not by any means the same dread of being used to
bait the hook for him, partly because she knew his integrity too well
to expect to shake it, and partly because he was perfectly aware of her
real birth, and could not be gulled with such delusive hopes as poor
Antony might once have been.
Humfrey meantime was made very welcome by Sir Amias Paulett, who
insisted on his spending the next day, Sunday, at Chartley, and made
him understand that he was absolutely welcome, as having a strong arm,
stout heart, and clear brain used to command. "Trusty aid do I need,"
said poor Sir Amias, "if ever man lacked an arm of flesh. The Council
is putting more on me than ever man had to bear, in an open place like
this, hard to be defended, and they will not increase the guard lest
they should give the alarm, forsooth!"
"What is it that you apprehend?" inquired Humfrey.
"There's enough to apprehend when all the hot-headed Papists of
Stafford and Derbyshire are waiting the signal to fire the outhouses
and carry off this lady under cover of the confusion. Mr. Secretary
swears they will not stir till the signal be given, and that it never
will; but such sort of fellows are like enough to mistake the sign, and
the stress may come through their dillydallying to make all sure as
they say, and then, if there be any mischance, I shall be the one to
bear the blame. Ay, if it be their own work!" he added, speaking to
himself, "Murder under trust! That would serve as an answer to foreign
princes, and my head would have to pay for it, however welcome it might
be! So, good Mr. Talbot, supposing any alarm should arise, keep you
close to the person of this lady, for there be those who would make the
fray a colour for taking her life, under pretext of hindering her from
being carried off."
It was no wonder that a warder in such circumstances looked harassed
and perplexed, and showed himself glad of being joined by any ally whom
he could trust. In truth, harsh and narrow as he was, Paulett was too
good and religious a man for the task that had been thrust on him,
where loyal obedience, sense of expediency, and even religious
fanaticism, were all in opposition to the primary principles of truth,
mercy, and honour. He was, besides, in constant anxiety, living as he
did between plot and counterplot, and with the certainty that
emissaries of the Council surrounded him who would have no scruple in
taking Mary's life, and leaving him to bear the blame, when Elizabeth
would have to explain the deed to the other sovereigns of Europe. He
disclosed almost all this to Humfrey, whose frank, trustworthy
expression seemed to move him to unusual confidence.
At supper-time another person appeared, whom Humfrey thought he had
once seen at Sheffield--a thin, yellow-haired and bearded man, much
marked with smallpox, in the black dress of a lawyer, who sat above the
household servants, though below the salt. Paulett once drank to him
with a certain air of patronage, calling him Master Phillipps, a name
that came as a revelation to Humfrey. Phillipps was the decipherer who
had, he knew, been employed to interpret Queen Mary's letters after the
Norfolk plot. Were there, then, fresh letters of that unfortunate lady
in his hands, or were any to be searched for and captured?