The Clash Of Swords
Festivals in the middle ages were conducted by day rather than by
night, and it was a bright noonday sun that shone upon the great hall
at Sheffield, bedecked with rich tapestry around the dais, where the
floor was further spread with Eastern carpets. Below, the garniture of
the walls was of green boughs, interspersed between stag's antlers, and
the floor was strewn, in ancient fashion, with the fragrant rush.
All the tables, however, were spread with pure white napery, the
difference being only in texture, but the higher table rejoiced in the
wonderful extravagance of silver plates, while the lower had only
trenchers. As to knives, each guest brought his or her own, and forks
were not yet, but bread, in long fingers of crust, was provided to a
large amount to supply the want. Splendid salt-cellars, towering as
landmarks to the various degrees of guests, tankards, gilt and parcel
gilt or shining with silver, perfectly swarmed along the board, and the
meanest of the guests present drank from silver-rimmed cups of horn,
while for the very greatest were reserved the tall, slender, opal
Venice glasses, recently purchased by the Countess in London.
The pies, the glory of Yorkshire, surpassed themselves. The young
bride and bridegroom had the felicity of contemplating one whose crust
was elevated into the altar of Hymen, with their own selves united
thereat, attended by numerous Cupids, made chiefly in paste and sugar,
and with little wings from the feathers of the many slaughtered fowl
within. As to the jellies, the devices and the subtilties, the pen
refuses to describe them! It will be enough to say that the wedding
itself was the least part of the entertainment. It was gone through
with very few spectators in the early morning, and the guests only
assembled afterwards to this mighty dinner at a somewhat earlier hour
than they would now to a wedding breakfast. The sewer marshalled all
the guests in pairs according to their rank, having gone through the
roll with his mistress, just as the lady of the house or her
aide-de-camp pairs the guests and puts cards in their plates in modern
times. Every one was there who had any connection with the Earl; and
Cis, though flashes of recollection of her true claims would come
across her now and then, was unable to keep from being eager about her
first gaiety. Perhaps the strange life she had led at Buxton, as it
receded in the distance, became more and more unreal and shadowy, and
she was growing back into the simple Cicely she had always believed
herself. It was with perfectly girlish natural pleasure that she
donned the delicate sky-blue farthingale, embroidered with white lilies
by the skilful hands of the captive Queen, and the daintily-fashioned
little cap of Flanders lace, and practised the pretty dancing steps
which the Queen had amused herself with teaching her long ere they knew
they were mother and daughter.
As Talbots, the Bridgefield family were spectators of the wedding,
after which, one by one, the seneschal paired them off. Richard was
called away first, then a huge old Yorkshire knight came and bore away
Mrs. Susan, and after an interval, during which the young people
entertained hopes of keeping together in enviable obscurity, the
following summons to the board was heard in a loud voice--
"Master Antony Babington, Esquire, of Dethick; Mistress Cicely Talbot,
Humfrey's brow grew dark with disappointment, but cleared into a
friendly greeting, as there advanced a tall, slender gentleman, of the
well-known fair, pink and white colouring, and yellow hair, apparelled
point device in dark green velvet, with a full delicately crimped ruff,
bowing low as he extended his hand to take that of the young lady,
exchanging at the same time a friendly greeting with his old comrade,
before leading Cis to her place.
On the whole, she was pleased. Tete-a-tetes with Humfrey were
dreadfully embarrassing, and she felt life so flat without her
nocturnal romance that she was very glad to have some one who would
care to talk to her of the Queen. In point of fact, such conversation
was prohibited. In the former days, when there had been much more
intercourse between the Earl's household and the neighbourhood, regular
cautions had been given to every member of it not to discuss the
prisoner or make any communication about her habits. The younger
generation who had grown up in the time of the closer captivity had
never been instructed in these laws, for the simple reason that they
hardly saw any one. Antony and Cicely were likewise most comfortably
isolated, for she was flanked by a young esquire, who had no eyes nor
ears save for the fair widow of sixteen whom he had just led in, and
Antony, by a fat and deaf lady, whose only interest was in tasting as
many varieties of good cheer as she could, and trying to discover how
and of what they were compounded. Knowing Mistress Cicely to be a
member of the family, she once or twice referred the question to her
across Antony, but getting very little satisfaction, she gave up the
young lady as a bad specimen of housewifery, and was forced to be
content with her own inductions.
There was plenty of time for Antony to begin with, "Are there as many
conies as ever in the chase?" and to begin on a discussion of all the
memories connected with the free days of childhood, the blackberry and
bilberry gatherings, the hide-and-seek in the rocks and heather, the
consternation when little Dick was lost, the audacious comedy with the
unsuspected spectators, and all the hundred and one recollections, less
memorable perhaps, but no less delightful to both. It was only thus
gradually that they approached their recent encounter in the Castleton
Cavern, and Antony explained how he had burnt to see his dear Queen and
mistress once again, and that his friends, Tichborne and the rest, were
ready to kiss every footstep she had taken, and almost worshipped him
and John Eyre for contriving this mode of letting them behold the
hitherto unknown object of their veneration.
All that passionate, chivalrous devotion, which in Sidney, Spenser, and
many more attached itself to then-great Gloriana, had in these young
men, all either secretly or openly reconciled to Rome, found its object
in that rival in whom Edmund Spenser only beheld his false Duessa or
snowy Florimel. And, indeed, romance had in her a congenial heroine,
who needed little self-blinding so to appear. Her beauty needed no
illusion to be credited. Even at her age, now over forty, the glimpse
they had had in the fitful torchlight of the cavern had been ravishing,
and had confirmed all they had ever heard of her witching loveliness;
nor did they recollect how that very obscurity might have assisted it.
To their convictions, she was the only legitimate sovereign in the
island, a confessor for their beloved Church, a captive princess and
beauty driven from her throne, and kept in durance by a usurper. Thus
every generous feeling was enlisted in her cause, with nothing to
counterbalance them save the English hatred of the Spaniard, with whom
her cause was inextricably linked; a dread of what might be inflicted
on the country in the triumph of her party; and in some, a strange
inconsistent personal loyalty to Elizabeth; but all these they were
instructed to believe mere temptations and delusions that ought to be
brushed aside as cobwebs.
Antony's Puritan tutor at Cambridge had, as Richard Talbot had
foreboded, done little but add to his detestation of the Reformation,
and he had since fallen in with several of the seminary priests who
were circulating in England. Some were devoted and pious men, who at
the utmost risk went from house to house to confirm the faith and
constancy of the old families of their own communion. The saintly
martyr spirit of one of these, whom Antony met in the house of a
kinsman of his mother, had so wrought on him as to bring him heart and
soul back to his mother's profession, in which he had been secretly
nurtured in early childhood, and which had received additional
confirmation at Sheffield, where Queen Mary and her ladies had always
shown that they regarded him as one of themselves, sure to return to
them when he was his own master. It was not, however, of this that he
spoke to Cis, but whatever she ventured to tell him of the Queen was
listened to with delight as an extreme favour, which set her tongue off
with all the eager pleasure of a girl, telling what she alone can tell.
All through the banquet they talked, for Babington had much to ask of
all the members of the household whom he had known. And after the
feast was over and the hall was cleared for dancing, Antony was still,
by etiquette, her partner for the evening. The young bride and
bridegroom had first to perform a stately pavise before the whole
assembly in the centre of the floor, in which, poor young things, they
acquitted themselves much as if they were in the dancing-master's
hands. Then her father led out his mother, and vice verse. The
bridegroom had no grandparents, but the stately Earl handed forth his
little active wiry Countess, bowing over her with a grand stiff
devotion as genuine and earnest as at their wedding twenty years
previously, for the reconciliation had been complete, and had restored
all her ascendency over him. Theirs, as Mistress Susan exultingly
agreed with a Hardwicke kinsman not seen for many years, was the
grandest and most featly of all the performances. All the time each
pair were performing, the others were awaiting their turn, the ladies
in rows on benches or settles, the gentlemen sometimes standing before
them, sometimes sitting on cushions or steps at their feet, sometimes
handing them comfits of sugar or dried fruits.
The number of gentlemen was greatly in excess, so that Humfrey had no
such agreeable occupation, but had to stand in a herd among other young
men, watching with no gratified eye Antony Babington, in a graceful
attitude at Cicely's feet, while she conversed with him with untiring
Humfrey was not the only one to remark them. Lady Shrewsbury nodded
once or twice to herself as one who had discovered what she sought, and
the next morning a mandate arrived at Bridgefield that Master Richard
and his wife should come to speak with my Lady Countess.
Richard and his son were out of reach, having joined a party of the
guests who had gone out hunting. Susan had to go alone, for she wished
to keep Cicely as much as possible out of her Ladyship's sight, so she
left the girl in charge of her keys, so that if father brought home any
of the hunters to the midday meal, tankards and glasses might not be
The Countess's summons was to her own bower, a sort of dressing-room,
within her great state bed-room, and with a small glazed window looking
down into the great hall where her ladies sat at work, whence she could
on occasion call down orders or directions or reproofs. Susan had known
what it was to stand in dread of such a window at Chatsworth or
Hardwicke, whence shrill shrieks of objurgation, followed sometimes by
such missiles as pincushions, shoes, or combs. However the window was
now closed, and my Lady sat in her arm-chair, as on a throne, a stool
being set, to which she motioned her kinswoman.
"So! Susan Talbot," she said, "I have sent for you to do you a good
turn, for you are mine own kinswoman of the Hardwicke blood, and have
ever been reasonably humble and dutiful towards me and my Lord."
Mrs. Talbot did not by any means view this speech as the insult it
would in these days appear to a lady of her birth and position, but
accepted it as the compliment it was intended to be.
"Thus," continued Lady Shrewsbury, "I have always cast about how to
marry that daughter of yours fitly. It would have been done ere now,
had not that Scottish woman's tongue made mischief between me and my
Lord, but I am come home to rule my own house now, and mine own blood
have the first claim on me."
The alarm always excited by a summons to speak with my Lady Countess
began to acquire definite form, and Susan made answer, "Your Ladyship
is very good, but I doubt me whether my husband desires to bestow
Cicely in marriage as yet."
"He hath surely received no marriage proposals for her without my
knowledge or my Lord's," said Bess of Hardwicke, who was prepared to
strain all feudal claims to the uttermost.
"No, madam, but--"
"Tell me not that you or he have the presumption to think that my son
William Cavendish or even Edward Talbot will ever cast an eye on a mere
portionless country maid, not comely, nor even like the Hardwickes or
the Talbots. If I thought so for a moment, never shouldst thou darken
these doors again, thou ungrateful, treacherous woman."
"Neither of us ever had the thought, far less the wish," said Susan
"Well, thou wast ever a simple woman, Susan Talbot," said the great
lady, thereby meaning truthful, "so I will e'en take thy word for it,
the more readily that I made contracts for both the lads when I was at
court. As to Dick Talbot not being fain to bestow her, I trow that is
because ye have spent too much on your long-legged sons to be able to
lay down a portion for her, though she be your only daughter. Anan?"
For though this was quite true, Susan feeling that it was not the whole
truth, made but faint response. However, the Countess went on,
expecting to overpower her with gratitude. "The gentleman I mean is
willing to take her in her smock, and moreover his wardship and
marriage were granted to my Lord by her Majesty. Thou knowest whom I
She wanted to hear a guess, and Susan actually foreboded the truth, but
was too full of dismay and perplexity to do anything but shake her head
as one puzzled.
"What think'st thou of Mr. Babington?" triumphantly exclaimed the
"Mr. Babington!" returned Susan. "But he is no longer a ward!"
"No. We had granted his marriage to a little niece of my Lord
Treasurer's, but she died ere coming to age. Then Tom Ratcliffe's wife
would have him for her daughter, a mere babe. But for that thou and
thine husband have done good service while evil tongues kept me absent,
and because the wench comes of our own blood, we are willing to bestow
her upon him, he showing himself willing and content, as bents a lad
bred in our own household."
"Madam, we are much beholden to you and my Lord, but sure Mr. Babington
is more inclined to the old faith."
"Tush, woman, what of that? Thou mayst say the same of half our
Northern youth! They think it grand to dabble with seminary priests in
hiding, and talk big about their conscience and the like, but when
they've seen a neighbour or two pay down a heavy fine for recusancy,
they think better of it, and a good wife settles their brains to jog to
church to hear the parson with the rest of them."
"I fear me Cis is over young to settle any one's mind," said Susan.
"She is seventeen if she is a day," said my Lady, "and I was a wedded
wife ere I saw my teens. Moreover, I will say for thee, Susan, that
thou hast bred the girl as becomes one trained in my household, and
unless she have been spoiled by resort to the Scottish woman, she is
like to make the lad a moderately good wife, having seen nought of the
unthrifty modes of the fine court dames, who queen it with standing
ruffs a foot high, and coloured with turmeric, so please you, but who
know no more how to bake a marchpane, or roll puff paste, than yonder
"She is a good girl," said Susan, "but--"
"What has the foolish wife to object now?" said the Countess. "I tell
you I marked them both last eve, and though I seldom turn my mind to
such follies, I saw the plain tokens of love in every look and gesture
of the young springald. Nay, 'twas his countenance that put it into my
mind, for I am even too good-natured--over good-natured, Susan Talbot.
How now," at some sound below, springing to the little window and
flinging it back, "you lazy idle wenches--what are you doing there? Is
my work to stand still while you are toying with yon vile whelp? He is
tangling the yarn, don't you see, thou purblind Jane Dacre, with no
eyes but for ogling. There! there! Round the leg of the chair, don't
you see!" and down flew a shoe, which made the poor dog howl, and his
mistress catch him up. "Put him down! put him down this instant!
Thomas! Davy! Here, hang him up, I say," cried this over good-natured
lady, interspersing her commands with a volley of sixteenth century
Billingsgate, and ending by declaring that nothing fared well without
her, and hurrying off to pounce down on the luckless damsels who had
let their dog play with the embroidery yarn destined to emblazon the
tapestry of Chatsworth with the achievements of Juno. The good nature
was so far veritable that when she found little harm done, and had
vented her wrath in strong language and boxes on the ear, she would
forget her sentence upon the poor little greyhound, which Mrs. Jane
Dacre had hastily conveyed out of sight during her transit downstairs.
Susan was thus, to her great relief, released for the present, for
guests came in before my Lady had fully completed her objurgations on
her ladies, the hour of noon was nigh at hand, sounds in the court
betokened the return of the huntsmen, and Susan effected her escape to
her own sober old palfrey--glad that she would at least be able to take
counsel with her husband on this most inconvenient proposition.
He came out to meet her at the court door, having just dismounted, and
she knew by his face that she had not to give him the first
intelligence of the difficulty in which they stood.
My Lord had himself spoken to him, like my Lady expecting him to be
enchanted at the prospect of so good a match for his
slenderly-portioned daughter, for Dethick was a fair estate, and the
Babington family, though not ennobled, fully equal to a younger branch
of the Talbots. However, Richard had had a less uncomfortable task
than his wife, since the Earl was many degrees more reasonable than the
Countess. He had shown himself somewhat offended at not meeting more
alacrity in the acceptance of his proposal, when Richard had objected
on account of the young gentleman's Popish proclivities; but boldly
declared that he was quite certain that the stripling had been entirely
This point of the narrative had just been reached when it was
interrupted by a scream, and Cicely came flying into the hall, crying,
"O father, father, stop them! Humfrey and Mr. Babington! They are
killing one another."
"Where?" exclaimed Richard, catching up his sword.
"In the Pleasance, father! Oh, stop them! They will slay one another!
They had their swords!" and as the father was already gone, she threw
herself into the mother's arms, hid her face and sobbed with fright as
scarce became a princess for whom swords were for the first time
crossed. "Fear not! Father will stop them," said the mother, with
confidence she could only keep up outwardly by the inward cry, "God
protect my boy. Father will come ere they can hurt one another."
"But how came it about?" she added, as with an arm round the trembling
girl, she moved anxiously forward to know the issue.
"Oh! I know not. 'Twas Humfrey fell on him. Hark!"
"'Tis father's voice," said Susan. "Thank God! I know by the sound no
harm is done! But how was it, child?"
Cis told with more coherence now, but the tears in her eyes and colour
deepening: "I was taking in Humfrey's kerchiefs from the bleaching on
the grass, when Master Babington--he had brought me a plume of
pheasant's feathers from the hunting, and he began. O mother, is it
sooth? He said my Lord had sent him."
"That is true, my child, but you know we have no choice but to refuse
"Ay, mother, and Antony knows."
"Not thy true birth, child?"
"Not that, but the other story. So he began to say that if I were
favourable--Mother, do men always do like that?" Hiding her face
against the trusty breast, "And when I drew back, and said I could not
and would not hearken to such folly--"
"That was well, dear child."
"He would have it that I should have to hear him, and he went down on
his knee, and snatched at my hand. And therewith came a great howl of
rage like an angry lion, and Humfrey bounded right over the sweetbrier
fence, and cried out, 'Off, fellow! No Papist traitor knave shall
meddle with her.' And then Antony gave him back the lie for calling
him traitor, and they drew their swords, and I ran away to call father,
but oh! mother, I heard them clash!" and she shuddered again.
"See," said Susan, as they had reached the corner of a thick screen of
yew-trees, "all is safe. There they stand, and father between them
speaking to them. No, we will not go nearer, since we know that it is
well with them. Men deal with each other better out of women's
earshot. Ah, see, there they are giving one another their hands. All
is over now."
"Humfrey stands tall, grave, and stiff! He is only doing it because
father bids him," said Cicely. "Antony is much more willing."
"Poor Humfrey! he knows better than Antony how vain any hope must be of
my silly little princess," said Susan, with a sigh for her boy. "Come
in, child, and set these locks in order. The hour of noon hath long
been over, and father hath not yet dined."
So they flitted out of sight as Richard and his son turned from the
place of encounter, the former saying, "Son Humfrey, I had deemed thee
a wiser man."
"Sir, how could a man brook seeing that fellow on his knee to her? Is
it not enough to be debarred from my sweet princess myself, but I must
see her beset by a Papist and traitor, fostered and encouraged too?"
"And thou couldst not rest secure in the utter impossibility of her
being given to him? He is as much out of reach of her as thou art."
"He has secured my Lord and my Lady on his side!" growled Humfrey.
"My Lord is not an Amurath, nor my Lady either," said Richard, shortly.
"As long as I pass for her father I have power to dispose of her, and I
am not going to give another woman's daughter away without her consent."
"Yet the fellow may have her ear," said Humfrey. "I know him to be
popishly inclined, and there is a web of those Romish priests all over
the island, whereof this Queen holds the strands in her fingers,
captive though she be. I should not wonder if she had devised this
"This is the very madness of jealousy, Humfrey," said his father. "The
whole matter was, as thy mother and thy Lord have both told me, simply
a device of my Lady Countess's own brain."
"Babington took to it wondrous naturally," muttered Humfrey.
"That may be; but as for the lady at Wingfield, her talk to our poor
maid hath been all of archdukes and dukes. She is far too haughty to
think for a moment of giving her daughter to a mere Derbyshire esquire,
not even of noble blood. You may trust her for that."
This pacified Humfrey for a little while, especially as the bell was
clanging for the meal which had been unusually deferred, and he had to
hurry away to remove certain marks, which were happily the result of
the sweetbrier weapons instead of that of Babington.
That a little blood had been shed was shown by the state of his sword
point, but Antony had disclaimed being hurt when the master of the
house came up, and in the heat of the rebuke the father and son had
hardly noticed that he had thrown a kerchief round his left hand ere he
Before dinner was over, word was brought in from the door that Master
Will Cavendish wanted to speak to Master Humfrey. The ladies' hearts
were in their mouths, as it were, lest it should be to deliver a
cartel, and they looked to the father to interfere, but he sat still,
contenting himself with saying, as his son craved license to quit the
board, "Use discretion as well as honour."
They were glad that the next minute Humfrey came back to call his
father to the door, where Will Cavendish sat on horseback. He had come
by desire of Babington, who had fully intended that the encounter
should be kept secret, but some servant must have been aware of it
either from the garden or the park, and the Countess had got wind of
it. She had summoned Babington to her presence, before the castle
barber had finished dealing with the cut in his hand, and the messenger
reported that "my Lady was in one of her raging fits," and talked of
throwing young Humfrey into a dungeon, if not having him hung for his
Babington, who had talked to his friends of a slip with his
hunting-knife while disembowelling a deer, was forced to tell the fact
in haste to Cavendish, the nearest at hand, begging him to hurry down
and advise Humfrey to set forth at once if he did not wish his journey
to be unpleasantly delayed.
"My Lord is unwilling to cross my mother at the present," said young
Cavendish with half a smile; "and though it be not likely that much
harm should come of the matter, yet if she laid hands on Humfrey at the
present moment, there might be hindrance and vexation, so it may be
well for him to set forth, in case Tony be unable to persuade my Lady
that it is nought."
Will Cavendish had been a friendly comrade of both Humfrey and Antony
in their boyish days, and his warning was fully to be trusted.
"I know not why I should creep off as though I had done aught that was
evil," said Humfrey, drawing himself up.
"Well," said Will, "my Lord is always wroth at brawling with swords
amongst us, and he might--my mother egging him on--lay you by the heels
in the strong room for a week or so. Nay, for my part, methinks 'twas
a strange requital of poor Babington's suit to your sister! Had she
been your love instead of your sister there might have been plainer
excuse, but sure you wot not of aught against Tony to warrant such
"He was importuning her when she would have none of him," said Humfrey,
feeling the perplexity he had drawn on himself.
"Will says well," added the father, feeling that it by all means
behoved them all to avert inquiry into the cause of Humfrey's passion,
since neither Cicely's birth nor Antony's perilous inclinations could
be pleaded. "To be detained a week or two might hinder thy voyage. So
we will speed thee on thy way instantly."
"Tell me not where he halts for the night," said Cavendish
significantly. "Fare thee well, Humfrey. I would return ere I am
missed. I trust thou wilt have made the Spaniard's ships smoke, and
weighted thy pouch with his dollars, before we see thee again."
"Fare thee well, Will, and thank thee kindly," returned Humfrey, as
they wrung each other's hands. "And tell Antony that I thank him
heartily for his thought, and owe him a good turn."
"That is well, my son," said Richard, as Cavendish rode out of the
court. "Babington is both hot and weak-headed, and I fear me is in the
toils of the Scottish lady; but he would never do aught that he held as
disloyal by a comrade. I wish I could say the same of him anent the
"And you will guard her from him, sir?" earnestly said Humfrey.
"As I would from--I would have said Frenchman or Spaniard, but, poor
maid, that may only be her hap, if her mother should come to her throne
again;" and as Humfrey shrugged his shoulders at the improbability,
"But we must see thee off, my boy. Poor mother! this hurries the
parting for her. So best, mayhap."
It was hastily arranged that Humfrey should ride off at once, and try
to overtake a squire who had been at the festival, and had invited him
to turn a little out of his road and spend a day or two at his house
when leaving home. Humfrey had then declined, but hospitality in those
days was elastic, and he had no doubt of a welcome. His father would
bring Diccon and his baggage to join him there the next day.
Thus there were only a very few minutes for adieux, and, as Richard had
felt, this was best for all, even the anxious mother. Cicely ran about
with the rest in the stress of preparation, until Humfrey, hurrying
upstairs, met her coming down with a packet of his lace cuffs in her
He caught the hand on the balusters, and cried, "My princess, my
princess, and art thou doing this for me?"
"Thou hast learnt fine compliments, Humfrey," said Cis, trying to do
her part with quivering lips.
"Ah, Cis! thou knowest but too well what hath taught me no fine words
but plain truth. Fear me not, I know what is due to thee. Cis, we
never used to believe the tales and ballads that told of knights
worshipping princesses beyond their reach, without a hope of more than
a look--not even daring to wish for more; Cis, it is very truth. Be
thou where thou wilt, with whom thou wilt, there will be one ready to
serve thee to the uttermost, and never ask aught--aught but such
remembrance as may befit the brother of thy childhood--"
"Mistress Cis," screamed one of the maids, "madam is waiting for those
Cis ran down, but the squeeze and kiss on the hand remained, as it
were, imprinted on it, far more than the last kiss of all, which he
gave, as both knew and felt, to support his character as a brother
before the assembled household.