The Ebbing Well
Cicely's thirst for adventures had received a check, but the Queen,
being particularly well and in good spirits, and trusting that this
would be her last visit to Buxton, was inclined to enterprise, and
there were long rides and hawking expeditions on the moors.
The last of these, ere leaving Buxton, brought the party to the hamlet
of Barton Clough, where a loose horseshoe of the Earl's caused a halt
little wayside smithy. Mary, always friendly and free-spoken,
asked for a draught of water, and entered into conversation with the
smith's rosy-cheeked wife who brought it to her, and said it was sure
to be good and pure for the stream came from the Ebbing and Flowing
Well, and she pointed up a steep path. Then, on a further question,
she proceeded, "Has her ladyship never heard of the Ebbing Well that
shows whether true love is soothfast?"
"How so?" asked the Queen. "How precious such a test might be. It
would save many a maiden a broken heart, only that the poor fools would
ne'er trust it."
"I have heard of it," said the Earl, "and Dr. Jones would demonstrate
to your Grace that it is but a superstition of the vulgar regarding a
"Yea, my Lord," said the smith, looking up from the horse's foot; "'tis
the trade of yonder philosophers to gainsay whatever honest folk
believed before them. They'll deny next that hens lay eggs, or blight
rots wheat. My good wife speaks but plain truth, and we have seen it
o'er and o'er again."
"What have you seen, good man?" asked Mary eagerly, and ready answer
was made by the couple, who had acquired some cultivation of speech and
manners by their wayside occupation, and likewise as cicerones to the
"Seen, quoth the lady?" said the smith. "Why, he that is a true man
and hath a true maid can quaff a draught as deep as his gullet can
hold--or she that is true and hath a true love--but let one who hath a
flaw in the metal, on the one side or t'other, stoop to drink, and the
water shrinks away so as there's not the moistening of a lip."
"Ay: the ladies may laugh," added his wife, "but 'tis soothfast for all
"Hast proved it, good dame?" asked the Queen archly, for the pair were
still young and well-looking enough to be jested with.
"Ay! have we not, madam?" said the dame. "Was not my man yonder, Rob,
the tinker's son, whom my father and brethren, the smiths down yonder
at Buxton, thought but scorn of, but we'd taken a sup together at the
Ebbing Well, and it played neither of us false, so we held out against
'em all, and when they saw there was no help for it, they gave Bob the
second best anvil and bellows for my portion, and here we be."
"Living witnesses to the Well," said the Queen merrily. "How say you,
my Lord? I would fain see this marvel. Master Curll, will you try the
"I fear it not, madam," said the secretary, looking at the blushing
Objections did not fail to arise from the Earl as to the difficulties
of the path and the lateness of the hour but Bob Smith, perhaps
wilfully, discovered another of my Lord's horseshoes to be in a
perilous state, and his good wife, Dame Emmott, offered to conduct the
ladies by so good a path that they might think themselves on the
Queen's Walk at Buxton itself.
Lord Shrewsbury, finding himself a prisoner, was obliged to yield
compliance, and leaving Sir Andrew Melville, with the grooms and
falconers, in charge of the horses, the Queen, the Earl, Cicely, Mary
Seaton, Barbara Mowbray, the two secretaries, and Richard Talbot and
young Diccon, started on the walk, together with Dr. Bourgoin, her
physician, who was eager to investigate the curiosity, and make it a
subject of debate with Dr. Jones.
The path was a beautiful one, through rocks and brushwood, mountain ash
bushes showing their coral berries amid their feathery leaves, golden
and white stars of stonecrop studding every coign of vantage, and in
more level spots the waxy bell-heather beginning to come into blossom.
Still it was rather over praise to call it as smooth as the
carefully-levelled and much-trodden Queen's path at Buxton, considering
that it ascended steeply all the way, and made the solemn,
much-enduring Earl pant for breath; but the Queen, her rheumatics for
the time entirely in abeyance, bounded on with the mountain step
learned in early childhood, and closely followed the brisk Emmott. The
last ascent was a steep pull, taking away the disposition to speak, and
at its summit Mary stood still holding out one hand, with a finger of
the other on her lips as a sign of silence to the rest of the suite and
to Emmott, who stood flushed and angered; for what she esteemed her
lawful province seemed to have been invaded from the other side of the
They were on the side of the descent from the moorlands connected with
the Peak, on a small esplanade in the midst of which lay a deep clear
pool, with nine small springs or fountains discharging themselves,
under fern and wild rose or honeysuckle, into its basin. Steps bad been
cut in the rock leading to the verge of the pool, and on the lowest of
these, with his back to the new-comers, was kneeling a young man, his
brown head bare, his short cloak laid aside, so that his well-knit form
could be seen; the sword and spurs that clanked against the rock, as
well as the whole fashion and texture of his riding-dress, showing him
to be a gentleman.
"We shall see the venture made," whispered Mary to her daughter, who,
in virtue of youth and lightness of foot, had kept close behind her.
Grasping the girl's arm and smiling, she heard the young man's voice
cry aloud to the echoes of the rock, "Cis!" then stoop forward and
plunge face and head into the clear translucent water.
"Good luck to a true lover!" smiled the Queen. "What! starting, silly
maid? Cisses are plenty in these parts as rowan berries."
"Nay, but--" gasped Cicely, for at that moment the young man, rising
from his knees, his face still shining with the water, looked up at his
unsuspected spectators. An expression of astonishment and ecstasy
lighted up his honest sunburnt countenance as Master Richard, who had
just succeeded in dragging the portly Earl up the steep path, met his
gaze. He threw up his arms, made apparently but one bound, and was
kneeling at the captain's feet, embracing his knees.
"My son! Humfrey! Thyself!" cried Richard. "See! see what presence
we are in."
"Your blessing, father, first," cried Humfrey, "ere I can see aught
And as Richard quickly and thankfully laid his hand on the brow, so
much fairer than the face, and then held his son for one moment in a
close embrace, with an exchange of the kiss that was not then only a
foreign fashion. Queen and Earl said to one another with a sigh, that
happy was the household where the son had no eyes for any save his
Mary, however, must have found it hard to continue her smiles when,
after due but hurried obeisance to her and to his feudal chief, Humfrey
turned to the little figure beside her, all smiling with startled
shyness, and in one moment seemed to swallow it up in a huge
overpowering embrace, fraternal in the eyes of almost all the
spectators, but not by any means so to those of Mary, especially after
the name she had heard. Diccon's greeting was the next, and was not
quite so visibly rapturous on the part of the elder brother, who
explained that he had arrived at Sheffield yesterday, and finding no
one to welcome him but little Edward, had set forth for Buxton almost
with daylight, and having found himself obliged to rest his horse, he
had turned aside to---. And here he recollected just in time that Cis
was in every one's eyes save his father's, his own sister, and lamely
concluded "to take a draught of water," blushing under his brown skin
as he spoke. Poor fellow! the Queen, even while she wished him in the
farthest West Indian isle, could not help understanding that strange
doubt and dread that come over the mind at the last moment before a
longed-for meeting, and which had made even the bold young sailor glad
to rally his hopes by this divination. Fortunately she thought only
herself and one or two of the foremost had heard the name he gave, as
was proved by the Earl's good-humoured laugh, as he said,
"A draught, quotha? We understand that, young sir. And who may this
your true love be?"
"That I hope soon to make known to your Lordship," returned Humfrey,
with a readiness which he certainly did not possess before his voyage.
The ceremony was still to be fulfilled, and the smith's wife called
them to order by saying, "Good luck to the young gentleman. He is a
stranger here, or he would have known he should have come up by our
path! Will you try the well, your Grace?"
"Nay, nay, good woman, my time for such toys is over!" said the Queen
smiling, "but moved by such an example, here are others to make the
venture, Master Curll is burning for it, I see."
"I fear no such trial, an't please your Grace," said Curll, bowing,
with a bright defiance of the water, and exchanging a confident smile
with the blushing Mistress Barbara--then kneeling by the well, and
uttering her name aloud ere stooping to drink. He too succeeded in
obtaining a full draught, and came up triumphantly.
"The water is a flatterer!" said the Earl. "It favours all."
The French secretary, Monsieur Nau, here came forward and took his
place on the steps. No one heard, but every one knew the word he spoke
was "Bessie," for Elizabeth Pierrepoint had long been the object of his
affections. No doubt he hoped that he should obtain some encouragement
from the water, even while he gave a little laugh of affected
incredulity as though only complying with a form to amuse the Queen.
Down he went on his knees, bending over the pool, when behold he could
not reach it! The streams that fed it were no longer issuing from the
rock, the water was subsiding rapidly. The farther he stooped, the
more it retreated, till he had almost fallen over, and the guide
screamed out a note of warning, "Have a care, sir! If the water flees
you, flee it will, and ye'll not mend matters by drowning yourself."
How he was to be drowned by water that fled from him was not clear, but
with a muttered malediction he arose and glanced round as if he thought
the mortification a trick on the part of the higher powers, since the
Earl did not think him a match for the Countess's grandchild, and the
Queen had made it known to him that she considered Bess Pierrepoint to
have too much of her grandmother's conditions to be likely to be a good
wife. There was a laugh too, scarce controlled by some of the less
well-mannered of the suite, especially as the Earl, wishing to punish
his presumption, loudly set the example.
There was a pause, as the discomfited secretary came back, and the
guide exclaimed, "Come, my masters, be not daunted! Will none of you
come on? Hath none of you faith in your love? Oh, fie!"
"We are married men, good women," said Richard, hoping to put an end to
the scene, "and thus can laugh at your well."
"But will not these pretty ladies try it? It speaks as sooth to lass
as to lad."
"I am ready," said Barbara Mowbray, as Curll gave her his hand to bound
lightly down the steps. And to the general amazement, no sooner had
"Gilbert" echoed from her lips than the fountains again burst forth,
the water rose, and she had no difficulty in reaching it, while no one
could help bursting forth in applause. Her Gilbert fervently kissed
the hand she gave him to aid her steps up the slope, and Dame Emmott,
in triumphant congratulation, scanned them over and exclaimed, "Ay,
trust the well for knowing true sweetheart and true maid. Come you
next, fair mistress?" Poor Mary Seaton shook her head, with a look
that the kindly woman understood, and she turned towards Cicely, who
had a girl's unthinking impulse of curiosity, and had already put her
hand into Humfrey's, when his father exclaimed, "Nay, nay, the maid is
yet too young!" and the Queen added, "Come back, thou silly little one,
these tests be not for babes like thee."
She was forced to be obedient, but she pouted a little as she was
absolutely held fast by Richard Talbot's strong hand. Humfrey was
disappointed too; but all was bright with him just then, and as the
party turned to make the descent, he said to her, "It matters not,
little Cis! I'm sure of thee with the water or without, and after all,
thou couldst but have whispered my name, till my father lets us speak
They were too much hemmed in by other people for a private word, and a
little mischievous banter was going on with Sir Andrew Melville, who
was supposed to have a grave elderly courtship with Mistress Kennedy.
Humfrey was left in the absolute bliss of ignorance, while the old
habit and instinct of joy and gladness in his presence reasserted
itself in Cis, so that, as he handed her down the rocks, she answered
in the old tone all his inquiries about his mother, and all else that
concerned them at home, Diccon meantime risking his limbs by scrambling
outside the path, to keep abreast of his brother, and to put in his
word whenever he could.
On reaching the smithy, Humfrey had to go round another way to fetch
his horse, and could hardly hope to come up with the rest before they
reached Buxton. His brother was spared to go with him, but his father
was too important a part of the escort to be spared. So Cicely rode
near the Queen, and heard no more except the Earl's version of Dr.
Jones's explanation of the intermitting spring. They reached home only
just in time to prepare for supper, and the two youths appeared almost
simultaneously, so that Mistress Talbot, sitting at her needle on the
broad terrace in front of the Earl's lodge, beheld to her amazement and
delight the figure that, grown and altered as it was, she recognised in
an instant. In another second Humfrey had sprung from his horse,
rushed up the steps, he knew not how, and the Queen, with tears
trembling in her eyes was saying, "Ah, Melville! see how sons meet
The great clock was striking seven, a preposterously late hour for
supper, and etiquette was stronger than sentiment or perplexity. Every
one hastened to assume an evening toilette, for a riding-dress would
have been an insult to the Earl, and the bell soon clanged to call them
down to their places in the hall. Even Humfrey had brought in his
cloak-bag wherewithal to make himself presentable, and soon appeared, a
well-knit and active figure, in a plain dark blue jerkin, with white
slashes, and long hose knitted by his mother's dainty fingers, and
well-preserved shoes with blue rosettes, and a flat blue velvet cap,
with an exquisite black and sapphire feather in it fastened by a
curious brooch. His hair was so short that its naturally strong curl
could hardly be seen, his ruddy sunburnt face could hardly be called
handsome, but it was full of frankness and intelligence, and beaming
with honest joy, and close to him moved little Diccon, hardly able to
repress his ecstasy within company bounds, and letting it find vent in
odd little gestures, wriggling with his body, playing tunes on his
knee, or making dancing-steps with his feet.
Lord Shrewsbury welcomed his young kinsman as one who had grown from a
mere boy into a sturdy and effective supporter. He made the new-comer
sit near him, and asked many questions, so that Humfrey was the chief
speaker all supper time, with here and there a note from his father,
the only person who had made the same voyage. All heard with eager
interest of the voyage, the weeds in the Gulf Stream, the strange birds
and fishes, of Walter Raleigh's Virginian colony and its ill success,
of the half-starved men whom Sir Richard Grenville had found only too
ready to leave Roanoake, of dark-skinned Indians, of chases of Spanish
ships, of the Peak of Teneriffe rising white from the waves, of
phosphorescent seas, of storms, and of shark-catching.
Supper over, the audience again gathered round the young traveller, a
perfect fountain of various and wonderful information to those who had
for the most part never seen a book of travels. He narrated simply and
well, without his boyish shy embarrassment and awkwardness, and
likewise, as his father alone could judge, without boasting, though, if
to no one else, to Diccon and Cis, listening with wide open eyes, he
seemed a hero of heroes. In the midst of his narration a message came
that the Queen of Scots requested the presence of Mistress Cicely.
Humfrey stared in discomfiture, and asked when she would return.
"Not to-night," faltered the girl, and the mother added, for the
benefit of the bystanders, "For lack of other ladies of the household,
much service hath of late fallen to Cicely and myself, and she shares
the Queen's chamber."
Humfrey had to submit to exchange good-nights with Cicely, and she made
her way less willingly than usual to the apartments of the Queen, who
was being made ready for her bed. "Here comes our truant," she
exclaimed as the maiden entered. "I sent to rescue thee from the
western seafarer who had clawed thee in his tarry clutch. Thou didst
act the sister's part passing well. I hear my Lord and all his meine
have been sitting, open-mouthed, hearkening to his tales of savages and
"O madam, he told us of such lovely isles," said Cis. "The sea, he
said, is blue, bluer than we can conceive, with white waves of dazzling
surf, breaking on islands fringed with white shells and coral, and with
palms, their tops like the biggest ferns in the brake, and laden with
red golden fruit as big as goose eggs. And the birds! O madam, my
mother, the birds! They are small, small as our butterflies and
beetles, and they hang hovering and quivering over a flower so that
Humfrey thought they were moths, for he saw nothing but a whizzing and
a whirring till he smote the pretty thing dead, and then he said that I
should have wept for pity, for it was a little bird with a long bill,
and a breast that shines red in one light, purple in another, and
flame-coloured in a third. He has brought home the little skin and
feathers of it for me."
"Thou hast supped full of travellers' tales, my simple child."
"Yea, madam, but my Lord listened, and made Humfrey sit beside him, and
made much of him--my Lord himself! I would fain bring him to you,
madam. It is so wondrous to hear him tell of the Red Men with crowns
of feathers and belts of beads. Such gentle savages they be, and their
chiefs as courteous and stately as any of our princes, and yet those
cruel Spaniards make them slaves and force them to dig in mines, so
that they die and perish under their hands."
"And better so than that they should not come to the knowledge of the
faith," said Mary.
"I forgot that your Grace loves the Spaniards," said Cis, much in the
tone in which she might have spoken of a taste in her Grace for
spiders, adders, or any other noxious animal.
"One day my child will grow out of her little heretic prejudices, and
learn to love her mother's staunch friends, the champions of Holy
Church, and the representatives of true knighthood in these degenerate
days. Ah, child! couldst thou but see a true Spanish caballero, or
again, could I but show thee my noble cousin of Guise, then wouldst
thou know how to rate these gross clownish English mastiffs who now
turn thy silly little brain. Ah, that thou couldst once meet a true
"The well," murmured Cicely.
"Tush, child," said the Queen, amused. "What of that? Thy name is not
Cis, is it? 'Tis only the slough that serves thee for the nonce. The
good youth will find himself linked to some homely, housewifely Cis in
due time, when the Princess Bride is queening it in France or Austria,
and will own that the well was wiser than he."
Poor Cis! If her inmost heart declared Humfrey Talbot to be prince
enough for her, she durst not entertain the sentiment, not knowing
whether it were unworthy, and while Marie de Courcelles read aloud a
French legend of a saint to soothe the Queen to sleep, she lay longing
after the more sympathetic mother, and wondering what was passing in
Richard Talbot had communed with his wife's eyes, and made up his mind
that Humfrey should know the full truth before the Queen should enjoin
his being put off with the story of the parentage she had invented for
Bride Hepburn; and while some of the gentlemen followed their habit of
sitting late over the wine cup, he craved their leave to have his son
to himself a little while, and took him out in the summer twilight on
the greensward, going through the guards, for whom he, as the gentleman
warder, had the password of the night. In compliment to the expedition
of the day it had been made "True love and the Flowing Well." It
sounded agreeable in Humfrey's ears; he repeated it again, and then
added "Little Cis! she hath come to woman's estate, and she hath caught
some of the captive lady's pretty tricks of the head and hands. How
long hath she been so thick with her?"
"Since this journey. I have to speak with thee, my son."
"I wait your pleasure, sir," said Humfrey, and as his father paused a
moment ere communicating his strange tidings, he rendered the matter
less easy by saying, "I guess your purpose. If I may at once wed my
little Cis I will send word to Sir John Norreys that I am not for this
expedition to the Low Countries, though there is good and manly work to
be done there, and I have the offer of a command, but I gave not my
word till I knew your will, and whether we might wed at once."
"Thou hast much to hear, my son."
"Nay, surely no one has come between!" exclaimed Humfrey. "Methought
she was less frank and more coy than of old. If that sneaking traitor
Babington hath been making up to her I will slit his false gullet for
"Hush, hush, Humfrey! thy seafaring boasts skill not here. No man
hath come between thee and yonder poor maid."
"Poor! You mean not that she is sickly. Were she so, I would so tend
her that she should be well for mere tenderness. But no, she was the
very image of health. No man, said you, father? Then it is a woman.
Ah! my Lady Countess is it, bent on making her match her own way? Sir,
you are too good and upright to let a tyrannous dame like that sever
between us, though she be near of kin to us. My mother might scruple
to cross her, but you have seen the world, sir."
"My lad, you are right in that it is a woman who stands between you and
Cis, but it is not the Countess. None would have the right to do so,
save the maiden's own mother."
"Her mother! You have discovered her lineage! Can she have ought
against me?--I, your son, sir, of the Talbot blood, and not ill
"Alack, son, the Talbot may be a good dog but the lioness will scarce
esteem him her mate. Riddles apart, it is proved beyond question that
our little maid is of birth as high as it is unhappy. Thou canst be
secret, I know, Humfrey, and thou must be silent as the grave, for it
touches my honour and the poor child's liberty."
"Who is she, then?" demanded Humfrey sharply.
His father pointed to the Queen's window. Humfrey stared at him, and
muttered an ejaculation, then exclaimed, "How and when was this known?"
Richard went over the facts, giving as few names as possible, while his
son stood looking down and drawing lines with the point of his sword.
"I hoped," ended the father, "that these five years' absence might have
made thee forget thy childish inclination;" and as Humfrey, without
raising his face, emphatically shook his head, he went on to add-- "So,
my dear son, meseemeth that there is no remedy, but that, for her peace
and thine own, thou shouldest accept this offer of brave Norreys, and
by the time the campaign is ended, they may be both safe in Scotland,
out of reach of vexing thy heart, my poor boy."
"Is it so sure that her royal lineage will be owned?" muttered Humfrey.
"Out on me for saying so! But sure this lady hath made light enough of
her wedlock with yonder villain."
"Even so, but that was when she deemed its offspring safe beneath the
waves. I fear me that, however our poor damsel be regarded, she will
be treated as a mere bait and tool. If not bestowed on some foreign
prince (and there hath been talk of dukes and archdukes), she may serve
to tickle the pride of some Scottish thief, such as was her father."
"Sir! sir! how can you speak patiently of such profanation and cruelty?
Papist butchers and Scottish thieves, for the child of your hearth!
Were it not better that I stole her safely away and wedded her in
secret, so that at least she might have an honest husband?"
"Nay, his honesty would scarce be thus manifest," said Richard, "even
if the maid would consent, which I think she would not. Her head is
too full of her new greatness to have room for thee, my poor lad. Best
that thou shouldest face the truth. And, verily, what is it but her
duty to obey her mother, her true and veritable mother, Humfrey? It is
but making her ease harder, and adding to her griefs, to strive to
awaken any inclination she may have had for thee; and therefore it is
that I counsel thee, nay, I might command thee, to absent thyself while
it is still needful that she remain with us, passing for our daughter."
Humfrey still traced lines with his sword in the dust. He had always
been a strong-willed though an obedient and honourable boy, and his
father felt that these five years had made a man of him, whom, in spite
of mediaeval obedience, it was not easy to dispose of arbitrarily.
"There's no haste," he muttered. "Norreys will not go till my Lord of
Leicester's commission be made out. It is five years since I was at
"My son, thou knowest that I would not send thee from me willingly. I
had not done so ere now, but that it was well for thee to know the
world and men, and Sheffield is a mere nest of intrigue and falsehood,
where even if one keeps one's integrity, it is hard to be believed.
But for my Lord, thy mother, and my poor folk, I would gladly go with
thee to strike honest downright blows at a foe I could see and feel,
rather than be nothing better than a warder, and be driven distracted
with women's tongues. Why, they have even set division between my Lord
and his son Gilbert, who was ever the dearest to him. Young as he is,
methinks Diccon would be better away with thee than where the very air
smells of plots and lies."
"I trow the Queen of Scots will not be here much longer," said Humfrey.
"Men say in London that Sir Ralf Sadler is even now setting forth to
take charge of her, and send my Lord to London."
"We have had such hopes too often, my son," said Richard. "Nay, she
hath left us more than once, but always to fall back upon Sheffield
like a weight to the ground. But she is full of hope in her son, now
that he is come of age, and hath put to death her great foe, the Earl
"The poor lady might as well put her faith in--in a jelly-fish," said
Humfrey, falling on a comparison perfectly appreciated by the old
"Heh? She will get naught but stings. How knowest thou?"
"Why, do none know here that King James is in the hands of him they
call the Master of Gray?"
"Queen Mary puts in him her chief hope."
"Then she hath indeed grasped a jelly-fish. Know you not, father,
those proud and gay ones, with rose-coloured bladders and long blue
beards--blue as the azure of a herald's coat?"
"Ay, marry I do. I remember when I was a lad, in my first voyage,
laying hold on one. I warrant you I danced about till I was nearly
overboard, and my arm was as big as two for three days later. Is the
fellow of that sort? The false Scot."
"Look you, father, I met in London that same Johnstone who was one of
this lady's gentlemen at one time. You remember him. He breakfasted
at Bridgefield once or twice ere the watch became more strict."
"Yea, I remember him. He was an honest fellow for a Scot."
"When he made out that I was the little lad he remembered, he was very
courteous, and desired his commendations to you and to my mother. He
had been in Scotland, and had come south in the train of this rogue,
Gray. I took him to see the old Pelican, and we had a breakfast aboard
there. He asked much after his poor Queen, whom he loves as much as
ever, and when he saw I was a man he could trust, your true son, he
said that he saw less hope for her than ever in Scotland--her friends
have been slain or exiled, and the young generation that has grown up
have learned to dread her like an incarnation of the scarlet one of
Babylon. Their preachers would hail her as Satan loosed on them, and
the nobles dread nothing so much as being made to disgorge the lands of
the Crown and the Church, on which they are battening. As to her son,
he was fain enough to break forth from one set of tutors, and the
messages of France and Spain tickled his fancy--but he is nought. He
is crammed with scholarship, and not without a shrewd apprehension;
but, with respect be it spoken, more the stuff that court fools are
made of than kings. It may be, as a learned man told Johnstone, that
the shock the Queen suffered when the brutes put Davy to death before
her eyes, three months ere his birth, hath damaged his constitution,
for he is at the mercy of whosoever chooses to lead him, and hath no
will of his own. This Master of Gray was at first inclined to the
Queen's party, thinking more might be got by a reversal of all things,
but now he finds the king's men so strong in the saddle, and the
Queen's French kindred like to be too busy at home to aid her, what
doth he do, but list to our Queen's offers, and this ambassage of his,
which hath a colour of being for Queen Mary's release, is verily to
make terms with my Lord Treasurer and Sir Francis Walsingham for the
pension he is to have for keeping his king in the same mind."
"Turning a son against a mother! I marvel that honourable counsellors
can bring themselves to the like."
"Policy, sir, policy," said Humfrey. "And this Gray maketh a fine show
of chivalry and honour, insomuch that Sir Philip Sidney himself hath
desired his friendship; but, you see, the poor lady is as far from
freedom as she was when first she came to Sheffield."
"She is very far from believing it, poor dame. I am sorry for her,
Humfrey, more sorry than I ever thought I could be, now I have seen
more of her. My Lord himself says he never knew her break a promise.
How gracious she is there is no telling."
"That we always knew," said Humfrey, looking somewhat amazed, that his
honoured father should have fallen under the spell of the "siren
between the cold earth and moon."
"Yes, gracious, and of a wondrous constancy of mind, and evenness of
temper," said Richard. "Now that thy mother and I have watched her
more closely, we can testify that, weary, worn, and sick of body and of
heart as she is, she never letteth a bitter or a chiding word pass her
lips towards her servants. She hath nothing to lose by it. Their
fidelity is proven. They would stand by her to the last, use them as
she would, but assuredly their love must be doubly bound up in her when
they see how she regardeth them before herself. Let what will be said
of her, son Humfrey, I shall always maintain that I never saw woman,
save thine own good mother, of such evenness of condition, and
sweetness of consideration for all about her, ay, and patience in
adversity, such as, Heaven forbid, thy mother should ever know."
"Amen, and verily amen," said Humfrey. "Deem you then that she hath
not worked her own woe?"
"Nay, lad, what saith the Scripture, 'Judge not, and ye shall not be
judged'? How should I know what hath passed seventeen years back in
"Ay, but for present plots and intrigues, judge you her a true woman?"
"Humfrey, thou hadst once a fox in a cage. When it found it vain to
dash against the bars, rememberest thou how it scratched away the earth
in the rear, and then sat over the hole it had made, lest we should see
"The fox, say you, sir? Then you cannot call her ought but false."
"They tell me," said Sir Richard, "that ever since an Italian named
Machiavel wrote his Book of the Prince, statecraft hath been craft
indeed, and princes suck in deceit with the very air they breathe. Ay,
boy, it is what chiefly vexes me in the whole. I cannot doubt that she
is never so happy as when there is a plot or scheme toward, not merely
for her own freedom, but the utter overthrow of our own gracious
Sovereign, who, if she hath kept this lady in durance, hath shielded
her from her own bloodthirsty subjects. And for dissembling, I never
saw her equal. Yet she, as thy mother tells me, is a pious and devout
woman, who bears her troubles thus cheerfully and patiently, because
she deems them a martyrdom for her religion. Ay, all women are riddles,
they say, but this one the most of all!"
"Thinkest thou that she hath tampered with--with that poor maiden's
faith?" asked Humfrey huskily.
"I trow not yet, my son," replied Richard; "Cis is as open as ever to
thy mother, for I cannot believe she hath yet learnt to dissemble, and
I greatly suspect that the Queen, hoping to return to Scotland, may be
willing to keep her a Protestant, the better to win favour with her
brother and the lords of his council; but if he be such a cur as thou
sayest, all hope of honourable release is at an end. So thou seest,
Humfrey, how it lies, and how, in my judgment, to remain here is but to
wring thine own heart, and bring the wench and thyself to sore straits.
I lay not my commands on thee, a man grown, but such is my opinion on
"I will not disobey you, father," said Humfrey, "but suffer me to
consider the matter."