Will Cavendish, who was in training for a statesman, and acted as a
secretary to Sir Francis Walsingham, advised that the letters should be
carried to him at once that same evening, as he would be in attendance
on the Queen the next morning, and she would inquire for them.
The great man's house was not far off, and he walked thither with
Humfrey, who told him what he had seen, and asked whether it ought not
at once to be reported to Walsingham.
Will whistled. "They are driving it very close," he said. "Humfrey;
old comrade, thy brains were always more of the order fit to face a
tough breeze than to meddle with Court plots. Credit me, there is
cause for what amazed thee. The Queen and her Council know what they
are about. Risk a little, and put an end to all the plottings for
ever! That's the word."
"Risk even the Queen's life?"
Will Cavendish looked sapient, and replied, "We of the Council Board
know many a thing that looks passing strange."
Mr. Secretary Walsingham's town house was, like Lord Talbot's, built
round a court, across which Cavendish led the way, with the assured air
of one used to the service, and at home there. The hall was thronged
with people waiting, but Cavendish passed it, opened a little wicket,
and admitted his friends into a small anteroom, where he bade them
remain, while he announced them to Sir Francis.
He disappeared, shutting a door behind him, and after a moment's
interval another person, with a brown cloak round him, came hastily and
stealthily across to the door. He had let down the cloak which muffled
his chin, not expecting the presence of any one, and there was a
moment's start as he was conscious of the young men standing there. He
passed through the door instantly, but not before Humfrey had had time
to recognise in him no other than Cuthbert Langston, almost the last
person he would have looked for at Sir Francis Walsingham's. Directly
afterwards Cavendish returned.
"Sir Francis could not see Captain Talbot, and prayed him to excuse
him, and send in the letter."
"It can't be helped," said Cavendish, with his youthful airs of
patronage. "He would gladly have spoken with you when I told him of
you, but that Maude is just come on business that may not tarry. So
you must e'en entrust your packet to me."
"Maude," repeated Humfrey, "Was that man's name Maude? I should have
dared be sworn that he was my father's kinsman, Cuthbert Langston."
"Very like," said Will, "I would dare be sworn to nothing concerning
him, but that he is one of the greatest and most useful villains
So saying, Will Cavendish disappeared with the letters. He probably
had had a caution administered to him, for when he returned he was
evidently swelling with the consciousness of a State secret, which he
would not on any account betray, yet of the existence of which he
desired to make his old comrade aware.
Humfrey asked whether he had told Mr. Secretary of the man in Richmond
"Never fear! he knows it," returned the budding statesman. "Why, look
you, a man like Sir Francis has ten thousand means of intelligence that
a simple mariner like you would never guess at. I thought it strange
myself when I came first into business of State, but he hath eyes and
ears everywhere, like the Queen's gown in her picture. Men of the
Privy Council, you see, must despise none, for the lewdest and meanest
rogues oft prove those who can do the best service, just as the
bandy-legged cur will turn the spit, or unearth the fox when your
gallant hound can do nought but bay outside."
"Is this Maude, or Langston, such a cur?"
Cavendish gave his head a shake that expressed unutterable things,
saying: "Your kinsman, said you? I trust not on the Talbot side of the
"No. On his mother's side. I wondered the more to see him here as he
got that halt in the Rising of the North, and on the wrong side, and
hath ever been reckoned a concealed Papist."
"Ay, ay. Dost not see, mine honest Humfrey, that's the very point that
fits him for our purpose?"
"You mean that he is a double traitor and informer."
"We do not use such hard words in the Privy Council Board as you do on
deck, my good friend," said Cavendish. "We have our secret
intelligencers, you see, all in the Queen's service. Foul and dirty
work, but you can't dig out a fox without soiling of fingers, and if
there be those that take kindly to the work, why, e'en let them do it."
"Then there is a plot?"
"Content you, Humfrey! You'll hear enough of it anon. A most foul,
bloody, and horrible plot, quite enough to hang every soul that has
meddled in it, and yet safe to do no harm--like poor Hal's blunderbuss,
which would never go off, except when it burst, and blew him to pieces."
Will felt that he had said quite enough to impress Humfrey with a sense
of his statecraft and importance, and was not sorry for an interruption
before he should have said anything dangerous. It was from Frank
Pierrepoint, who had been Diccon's schoolmate, and was enchanted to see
him. Humfrey was to stay one day longer in town in case Walsingham
should wish to see him, and to show Diccon something of London, which
they had missed on their way to Plymouth.
St. Paul's Cathedral was even then the sight that all Englishmen were
expected to have seen, and the brothers took their way thither,
accompanied by Frank Pierrepoint, who took their guidance on his hands.
Had the lads seen the place at the opening of the century they would
have thought it a piteous spectacle, for desecration and sacrilege had
rioted there unchecked, the magnificent peal of bells had been gambled
away at a single throw of the dice, the library had been utterly
destroyed, the magnificent plate melted up, and what covetous
fanaticism had spared had been further ravaged by a terrible fire. At
this time Bishop Bancroft had done his utmost towards reparation, and
the old spire had been replaced by a wooden one; but there was much of
ruin and decay visible all around, where stood the famous octagon
building called Paul's Cross, where outdoor sermons were preached to
listeners of all ranks. This was of wood, and was kept in moderately
good repair. Beyond, the nave of the Cathedral stretched its length,
the greatest in England. Two sets of doors immediately opposite to one
another on the north and south sides had rendered it a thoroughfare in
very early times, in spite of the endeavours of the clergy; and at this
time "Duke Humfrey's Walk," from the tomb of Duke Humfrey Stafford, as
the twelve grand Norman bays of this unrivalled nave were called, was
the prime place for the humours of London; and it may be feared that
this, rather than the architecture, was the chief idea in the minds of
the youths, as a babel of strange sounds fell on their ears, "a still
roar like a humming of bees," as it was described by a contemporary,
or, as Humfrey said, like the sea in a great hollow cave. A cluster of
choir-boys were watching at the door to fall on any one entering with
spurs on, to levy their spur money, and one gentleman, whom they had
thus attacked, was endeavouring to save his purse by calling on the
youngest boy to sing his gamut.
Near at hand was a pillar, round which stood a set of men, some rough,
some knavish-looking, with the blue coats, badges, short swords, and
bucklers carried by serving-men. They were waiting to be hired, as if
in a statute fair, and two or three loud-voiced bargains were going on.
In the middle aisle, gentlemen in all the glory of plumed hats,
jewelled ears, ruffed necks, Spanish cloaks, silken jerkins, velvet
hose, and be-rosed shoes, were marching up and down, some
attitudinising to show their graces, some discussing the news of the
day, for "Paul's Walk" was the Bond Street, the Row, the Tattersall's,
the Club of London. Twelve scriveners had their tables to act as
letter-writers, and sometimes as legal advisers, and great amusement
might be had by those who chose to stand listening to the blundering
directions of their clients. In the side aisles, horse-dealing,
merchants' exchanges, everything imaginable in the way of traffic was
going on. Disreputable-looking men, who there were in sanctuary from
their creditors, there lurked around Humfrey Stafford's tomb; and young
Pierrepoint's warning to guard their purses was evidently not wasted,
for a country fellow, who had just lost his, was loudly demanding
justice, and getting jeered at for his simplicity in expecting to
"Seest thou this?" said a voice close to Humfrey, and he found a hand
on his arm, and Babington, in the handsome equipment of one of the
loungers, close to him.
"A sorry sight, that would grieve my good mother," returned Humfrey.
"My Mother, the Church, is grieved," responded Antony. "This is what
you have brought us to, for your so-called religion," he added,
ignorant or oblivious that these desecrations had been quite as
shocking before the Reformation. "All will soon be changed, however,"
"Sir Thomas Gresham's New Exchange has cleared off some of the traffic,
they say," returned Humfrey.
"Pshaw!" said Antony; "I meant no such folly. That were cleansing one
stone while the whole house is foul with shame. No. There shall be a
swift vengeance on these desecrators. The purifier shall come again,
and the glory and the beauty of the true Faith shall be here as of old,
when our fathers bowed before the Holy Rood, instead of tearing it
down." His eye glanced with an enthusiasm which Humfrey thought
somewhat wild, and he said, "Whist! these are not things to be thus
"All is safe," said Babington, drawing him within shelter of the
chantry of Sir John Beauchamp's tomb. "Never heed Diccon--Pierrepoint
can guide him," and Humfrey saw their figures, apparently absorbed in
listening to the bidding for a horse. "I have things of moment to say
to thee, Humfrey Talbot. We have been old comrades, and had that
childish emulation which turns to love in manhood in the face of
Humfrey, recollecting how they had parted, held out his hand in
recognition of the friendliness.
"I would fain save thee," said Babington. "Heretic and rival as thou
art, I cannot but love thee, and I would have thee die, if die thou
must, in honourable fight by sea or land, rather than be overtaken by
the doom that will fall on all who are persecuting our true and lawful
confessor and sovereign."
"Gramercy for thy good will, Tony," said Humfrey, looking anxiously to
see whether his old companion was in his right mind, yet remembering
what had been said of plots.
"Thou deem'st me raving," said Antony, smiling at the perplexed
countenance before him, "but thou wilt see too late that I speak sooth,
when the armies of the Church avenge the Name that has been profaned
"The Spaniards, I suppose you mean," said Humfrey coolly. "You must be
far gone indeed to hope to see those fiends turned loose on this
peaceful land, but by God's blessing we have kept them aloof before, I
trust we may again."
"You talk of God's blessing. Look at His House," said Babington.
"He is more like to bless honest men who fight for their Queen, their
homes and hearths, than traitors who would bring in slaughterers and
butchers to work their will!"
"His glory is worked through judgment, and thus must it begin!"
returned the young man. "But I would save thee, Humfrey," he added.
"Go thou back to Plymouth, and be warned to hold aloof from that prison
where the keepers will meet their fit doom! and the captive will be set
free. Thou dost not believe," he added. "See here," and drawing into
the most sheltered part of the chantry, he produced from his bosom a
picture in the miniature style of the period, containing six heads,
among which his own was plainly to be recognised, and likewise a face
which Humfrey felt as if he should never forget, that which he had seen
in Richmond Park, quailing beneath the Queen's eye. Round the picture
was the motto--
"Hi mihi sunt comites quos ipsa pericula jungunt."
"I tell thee, Humfrey, thou wilt hear--if thou dost live to hear--of
these six as having wrought the greatest deed of our times!"
"May it only be a deed an honest man need not be ashamed of," said
Humfrey, not at all convinced of his friend's sanity.
"Ashamed of!" exclaimed Babington. "It is blest, I tell thee, blest by
holy men, blest by the noble and suffering woman who will thus be
delivered from her martyrdom."
"Babington, if thou talkest thus, it will be my duty to have thee put
in ward," said Humfrey.
Antony laughed, and there was a triumphant ring very like insanity in
his laughter. Humfrey, with a moment's idea that to hint that the
conspiracy was known would blast it at once, if it were real, said, "I
see not Cuthbert Langston among your six. Know you, I saw him only
yestereven going into Secretary Walsingham's privy chamber."
"Was he so?" answered Babington. "Ha! ha! he holds them all in play
till the great stroke be struck! Why! am not I myself in Walsingham's
confidence? He thinketh that he is about to send me to France to watch
the League. Ha! ha!"
Here Humfrey's other companions turned back in search of him; Babington
vanished in the crowd, he hardly knew how, and he was left in
perplexity and extreme difficulty as to what was his duty as friend or
as subject. If Babington were sane, there must be a conspiracy for
killing the Queen, bringing in the Spaniards and liberating Mary, and
he had expressly spoken of having had the latter lady's sanction, while
the sight of the fellow in Richmond Park gave a colour of probability
to the guess. Yet the imprudence and absurdity of having portraits
taken of six assassins before the blow was struck seemed to contradict
all the rest. On the other hand, Cavendish had spoken of having all
the meshes of the web in the hands of the Council; and Langston or
Maude seemed to be trusted by both parties.
Humfrey decided to feel his way with Will Cavendish, and that evening
spoke of having met Babington and having serious doubts whether he were
in his right mind. Cavendish laughed, "Poor wretch! I could pity
him," he said, "though his plans be wicked enough to merit no
compassion. Nay, never fear, Humfrey. All were overthrown, did I
speak openly. Nay, to utter one word would ruin me for ever. 'Tis
quite sufficient to say that he and his fellows are only at large till
Mr. Secretary sees fit, that so his grip may be the more sure."
Humfrey saw he was to be treated with no confidence, and this made him
the more free to act. There were many recusant gentlemen in the
neighbourhood of Chartley, and an assault and fight there were not
improbable, if, as Cavendish hinted, there was a purpose of letting the
traitors implicate themselves in the largest numbers and as fatally as
possible. On the other hand, Babington's hot head might only fancy he
had authority from the Queen for his projects. If, through Cicely, he
could convey the information to Mary, it might save her from even
appearing to be cognisant of these wild schemes, whatever they might
be, and to hint that they were known was the surest way to prevent
their taking effect. Any way, Humfrey's heart was at Chartley, and
every warning he had received made him doubly anxious to be there in
person, to be Cicely's guardian in case of whatever danger might
threaten her. He blessed the fiction which still represented him as
her brother, and which must open a way for him to see her, but he
resolved not to take Diccon thither, and parted with him when the roads
diverged towards Lichfield, sending to his father a letter which Diccon
was to deliver only into his own hand, with full details of all he had
seen and heard, and his motives for repairing to Chartley.
"Shall I see my little Cis?" thought he. "And even if she play the
princess to me, how will she meet me? She scorned me even when she was
at home. How will it be now when she has been for well-nigh a year in
this Queen's training? Ah! she will be taught to despise me! Heigh ho!
At least she may be in need of a true heart and strong arm to guard
her, and they shall not fail her."
Will Cavendish, in the plenitude of the official importance with which
he liked to dazzle his old playfellow, had offered him a pass to
facilitate his entrance, and he found reason to be glad that he had
accepted it, for there was a guard at the gate of Chartley Park, and he
was detained there while his letter was sent up for inspection to Sir
Amias Paulett, who had for the last few months acted as warder to the
However, a friendly message came back, inviting him to ride up. The
house--though called a castle--had been rebuilt in hospitable domestic
style, and looked much less like a prison than Sheffield Lodge, but at
every enclosure stood yeomen who challenged the passers-by, as though
this were a time of alarm. However, at the hall-door itself stood Sir
Amias Paulett, a thin, narrow-browed, anxious-looking man, with the
stiffest of ruffs, over which hung a scanty yellow beard.
"Welcome, sir," he said, with a nervous anxious distressed manner.
"Welcome, most welcome. You will pardon any discourtesy, sir, but
these are evil times. The son, I think, of good Master Richard Talbot
of Bridgefield? Ay, I would not for worlds have shown any lack of
hospitality to one of his family. It is no want of respect, sir. No;
nor of my Lord's house; but these are ill days, and with my charge,
sir--if Heaven itself keep not the house--who knows what may chance or
what may be laid on me?"
"I understand," said Humfrey, smiling. "I was bred close to Sheffield,
and hardly knew what 'twas to live beyond watch and ward."
"Yea!" said Paulett, shaking his head. "You come of a loyal house,
sir; but even the good Earl was less exercised than I am in the charge
of this same lady. But I am glad, glad to see you, sir. And you would
see your sister, sir? A modest young lady, and not indevout, though I
have sometimes seen her sleep at sermon. It is well that the poor
maiden should see some one well affected, for she sitteth in the very
gate of Babylon; and with respect, sir, I marvel that a woman, so godly
as Mistress Talbot of Bridgefield is reported to be, should suffer it.
However, I do my poor best, under Heaven, to hinder the faithful of the
household from being tainted. I have removed Preaux, who is well known
to be a Popish priest in disguise, and thus he can spread no more of
his errors. Moreover, my chaplain, Master Blunden, with other godly
men, preaches three times a week against Romish errors, and all are
enforced to attend. May their ears be opened to the truth! I am about
to attend this lady on a ride in the Park, sir. It might--if she be
willing--be arranged that your sister, Mistress Talbot, should spend
the time in your company, and methinks the lady will thereto agree, for
she is ever ready to show a certain carnal and worldly complaisance to
the wishes of her attendants, and I have observed that she greatly
affects the damsel, more, I fear, than may be for the eternal welfare
of the maiden's soul."