The Love Token
"Yonder woman came to tell this young lady's fortune," said Sir Ralf, a
few days later. "Did she guess what I, an old man, have to bode for
her!" and he smiled at the Queen. "Here is a token I was entreated by
a young gentleman to deliver to this young lady, with his humble suit
that he may pay his devoirs to her to-morrow, your Grace permitting."
"I knew not," said Mary, "that my women had license to receive
"Assuredly not, as a rule, but this young gentleman, Mr. Babington of
Dethick, has my Lord and Lady of Shrewsbury's special commendation."
"I knew the young man," said Mary, with perfectly acted heedlessness.
"He was my Lady Shrewsbury's page in his boyhood. I should have no
objection to receive him."
"That, madam, may not be," returned Sadler. "I am sorry to say it is
contrary to the orders of the council, but if Mr. and Mrs. Curll, and
the fair Mistress Cicely, will do me the honour to dine with me
to-morrow in the hall, we may bring about the auspicious meeting my
Cicely's first impulse had been to pout and say she wanted none of Mr.
Babington's tokens, nor his company; but her mother's eye held her
back, and besides any sort of change of scene, or any new face, could
not but be delightful, so there was a certain leap of the young heart
when the invitation was accepted for her; and she let Sir Ralf put the
token into her hand, and a choice one it was. Everybody pressed to
look at it, while she stood blushing, coy and unwilling to display the
small egg-shaped watch of the kind recently invented at Nuremberg. Sir
Ralf observed that the young lady showed a comely shamefast
maidenliness, and therewith bowed himself out of the room.
Cicely laughed with impatient scorn. "Well spoken, reverend seignior,"
she said, as she found herself alone with the Queen. "I wish my Lady
Countess would leave me alone. I am none of hers."
"Nay, mademoiselle, be not thus disdainful," said the Queen, in a gay
tone of banter; "give me here this poor token that thou dost so
despise, when many a maiden would be distraught with delight and
gratitude. Let me see it, I say."
And as Cicely, restraining with difficulty an impatient, uncourtly
gesture, placed the watch in her hand, her delicate deft fingers opened
the case, disregarding both the face and the place for inserting the
key; but dealing with a spring, which revealed that the case was
double, and that between the two thin plates of silver which formed it,
was inserted a tiny piece of the thinnest paper, written from corner to
corner with the smallest characters in cipher. Mary laughed joyously
and triumphantly as she held it up. "There, mignonne! What sayest
thou to thy token now? This is the first secret news I have had from
the outer world since we came to this weary Tutbury. And oh! the
exquisite jest that my Lady and Sir Ralf Sadler should be the bearers!
I always knew some good would come of that suitor of thine! Thou must
not flout him, my fair lady, nor scowl at him so with thy beetle brows."
"It seems but hard to lure him on with false hopes," said Cicely,
"Hoots, lassie," as Dame Jean would say, "'tis but joy and delight to
men to be thus tickled. 'Tis the greatest kindness we can do them thus
to amuse them," said Mary, drawing up her head with the conscious
fascination of the serpent of old Nile, and toying the while with the
ciphered letter, in eagerness, and yet dread, of what it might contain.
Such things were not easy to make out, even to those who had the key,
and Mary, unwilling to trust it out of her own hands, leant over it,
spelling it out for many minutes, but at last broke forth into a clear
ringing burst of girlish laughter and clasped her hands together,
"Mignonne, mignonne, it is too rare a jest to hold back. Deem not that
your Highness stands first here! Oh no! 'Tis a letter from Bernardo
de Mendoza with a proposition for whose hand thinkest thou? For this
poor old captive hand! For mine, maiden. Ay, and from whom? From his
Excellency, the Prince of Parma, Lieutenant of the Netherlands. Anon
will he be here with 30,000 picked men and the Spanish fleet; and then
I shall ride once again at the head of my brave men, hear trumpets
bray, and see banners fly! We will begin to work our banner at once,
child, and let Sir Ralf think it is a bed-quilt for her sacred Majesty,
Elizabeth. Thou look'st dismayed, little maiden."
"Spanish ships and men, madam, ah! and how would it be with my
father--Mr. and Mrs. Talbot, I mean?"
"Not a hair of their heads shall be touched, child. We will send down
a chosen troop to protect them, with Babington at its head if thou
wilt. But," added the Queen, recollecting herself, and perceiving that
she had startled and even shocked her daughter, "it is not to be
to-morrow, nor for many a weary month. All that is here demanded is
whether, all being well, he might look for my hand as his guerdon.
Shall I propose thine instead?"
"O madam, he is an old man and full of gout!"
"Well! we will not pull caps for him just yet. And see, thou must be
secret as the grave, child, or thou wilt ruin thy mother. I ought not
to have told thee, but the surprise was too much for me, and thou canst
keep a secret. Leave me now, child, and send me Monsieur Nau."
The next time any converse was held between mother and daughter, Queen
Mary said, "Will it grieve thee much, my lassie, to return this
bauble, on the plea of thy duty to the good couple at Bridgefield?"
After all Cicely had become so fond of the curious and ingenious egg
that she was rather sorry to part with it, and there was a little
dismal resignation in her answer, "I will do your bidding, madam."
"Thou shalt have a better. I will write to Chateauneuf for the
choicest that Paris can furnish," said Mary, "but seest thou, none
other mode is so safe for conveying an answer to this suitor of mine!
Nay, little one, do not fear. He is not at hand, and if he be so
gout-ridden and stern as I have heard, we will find some way to content
him and make him do the service without giving thee a stepfather, even
though he be grandson to an emperor."
There was something perplexing and distressing to Cis in this sudden
mood of exultation at such a suitor. However, Parma's proposal might
mean liberty and a recovered throne, and who could wonder at the joy
that even the faintest gleam of light afforded to one whose captivity
had lasted longer than Cicely's young life?--and then once more there
was an alternation of feeling at the last moment, when Cicely, dressed
in her best, came to receive instructions.
"I ken not, I ken not," said Mary, speaking the Scottish tongue, to
which she recurred in her moments of deepest feeling, "I ought not to
let it go. I ought to tell the noble Prince to have naught to do with
a being like me. 'Tis not only the jettatura wherewith the Queen
Mother used to reproach me. Men need but bear me good will, and misery
overtakes them. Death is the best that befalls them! The gentle
husband of my girlhood--then the frantic Chastelar, my poor, poor good
Davie, Darnley, Bothwell, Geordie Douglas, young Willie, and again
Norfolk, and the noble and knightly Don John! One spark of love and
devotion to the wretched Mary, and all is over with them! Give me back
that paper, child, and warn Babington against ever dreaming of aid to a
wretch like me. I will perish alone! It is enough! I will drag down
no more generous spirits in the whirlpool around me."
"Madam! madam!" exclaimed De Preaux the almoner, who was standing,
"this is not like your noble self. Have you endured so much to be
fainthearted when the end is near, and you are made a smooth and
polished instrument, welded in the fire, for the triumph of the Church
over her enemies?"
"Ah, Father!" said the Queen, "how should not my heart fail me when I
think of the many high spirits who have fallen for my sake? Ay, and
when I look out on yonder peaceful vales and happy homesteads, and
think of them ravaged by those furious Spaniards and Italians, whom my
brother of Anjou himself called very fiends!"
"Fiends are the tools of Divine wrath," returned Preaux. "Look at the
profaned sanctuaries and outraged convents on which these proud English
have waxen fat, and say whether a heavy retribution be not due to them."
"Ah, father! I may be weak, but I never loved persecution. King
Francis and I were dragged to behold the executions at Amboise. That
was enough for us. His gentle spirit never recovered it, and I--I see
their contorted visages and forms still in my restless nights; and if
the Spanish dogs should deal with England as with Haarlem or Antwerp,
and all through me!--Oh! I should be happier dying within these walls!"
"Nay, madam, as Queen you would have the reins in your own hand: you
could exercise what wholesome severity or well-tempered leniency you
chose," urged the almoner; "it were ill requiting the favour of the
saints who have opened this door to you at last to turn aside now in
terror at the phantasy that long weariness of spirit hath conjured up
So Mary rallied herself, and in five minutes more was as eager in
giving her directions to Cicely and to the Curlls as though her heart
had not recently failed her.
Cis was to go forth with her chaperons, not by any means enjoying the
message to Babington, and yet unable to help being very glad to escape
for ever so short a time from the dull prison apartments. There might
be no great faith in her powers of diplomacy, but as it was probable
that Babington would have more opportunity of conversing with her than
with the Curlls, she was charged to attend heedfully to whatever he
Sir Ralf's son-in-law, Mr. Somer, was sent to escort the trio to the
hall at the hour of noon; and there, pacing the ample chamber, while
the board at the upper end was being laid, were Sir Ralf Sadler and his
guest Mr. Babington. Antony was dressed in green velvet slashed with
primrose satin, setting off his good mien to the greatest advantage,
and he came up with suppressed but rapturous eagerness, bowing low to
Mrs. Curll and the secretary, but falling on his knee to kiss the hand
of the dark-browed girl. Her recent courtly training made her much
less rustically awkward than she would have been a few months before,
but she was extremely stiff, and held her head as though her ruff were
buckram, as she began her lesson. "Sir, I am greatly beholden to you
for this token, but if it be not sent with the knowledge and consent of
my honoured father and mother I may not accept of it."
"Alas! that you will say so, fair mistress," said Antony, but he was
probably prepared for this rejection, for he did not seem utterly
overwhelmed by it.
"The young lady exercises a wise discretion," said Sir Ralf Sadler to
Mrs. Curll. "If I had known that mine old friend Mr. Talbot of
Bridgefield was unfavourable to the suit, I would not have harboured
the young spark, but when he brought my Lady Countess's commendation, I
thought all was well."
Barbara Curll had her cue, namely, to occupy Sir Ralf so as to leave
the young people to themselves, so she drew him off to tell him in
confidence a long and not particularly veracious story of the
objections of the Talbots to Antony Babington; whilst her husband
engaged the attention of Mr. Somer, and there was a space in which, as
Antony took back the watch, he was able to inquire "Was the egg-shell
"Ay," said Cis, blushing furiously and against her will, "the egg was
sucked and replenished."
"Take consolation," said Antony, and as some one came near them, "Duty
and discretion shall, I trust, both be satisfied when I next sun myself
in the light of those lovely eyes." Then, as the coast became more
clear, "You are about shortly to move. Chartley is preparing for you."
"So we are told."
"There are others preparing," said Antony, bending over her, holding
her hand, and apparently making love to her with all his might. "Tell
me, lady, who hath charge of the Queen's buttery? Is it faithful old
Halbert as at Sheffield?"
"It is," replied Cis.
"Then let him look well at the bottom of each barrel of beer supplied
for the use of her household. There is an honest man, a brewer, at
Burton, whom Paulett will employ, who will provide that letters be sent
to and fro. Gifford and Langston, who are both of these parts, know
him well." Cis started at the name. "Do you trust Langston then?" she
"Wholly! Why, he is the keenest and ablest of all. Have you not seen
him and had speech with him in many strange shapes? He can change his
voice, and whine like any beggar wife."
"Yea," said Cis, "but the Queen and Sir Andrew doubted a little if he
meant not threats last time we met."
"All put on--excellent dissembling to beguile the keepers. He told me
all," said Antony, "and how he had to scare thee and change tone
suddenly. Why, he it is who laid this same egg, and will receive it.
There is a sworn band, as you know already, who will let her know our
plans, and be at her commands through that means. Then, when we have
done service approaching to be worthy of her, then it may be that I
shall have earned at least a look or sign."
"Alas! sir," said Cicely, "how can I give you false hopes?" For her
honest heart burnt to tell the poor fellow that she would in case of
his success be farther removed from him than ever.
"What would be false now shall be true then. I will wring love from
thee by my deeds for her whom we both alike love, and then wilt thou be
mine own, my true Bride!"
By this time other guests had arrived, and the dinner was ready.
Babington was, in deference to the Countess, allowed to sit next to his
lady-love. She found he had been at Sheffield, and had visited
Bridgefield, vainly endeavouring to obtain sanction to his addresses
from her adopted parents. He saw how her eyes brightened and heard how
her voice quivered with eagerness to hear of what still seemed home to
her, and he was pleased to feel himself gratifying her by telling her
how Mrs. Talbot looked, and how Brown Dumpling had been turned out in
the Park, and Mr. Talbot had taken a new horse, which Ned had insisted
on calling "Fulvius," from its colour, for Ned was such a scholar that
he was to be sent to study at Cambridge. Then he would have wandered
off to little Lady Arbell's being put under Master Sniggius's tuition,
but Cicely would bring him back to Bridgefield, and to Ned's brothers.
No, the boasted expedition to Spain had not begun yet. Sir Francis
Drake was lingering about Plymouth, digging a ditch, it was said, to
bring water from Dartmoor. He would never get license to attack King
Philip on his own shores. The Queen knew better than to give it.
Humfrey and Diccon would get no better sport than robbing a ship or two
on the way to the Netherlands. Antony, for his part, could not see
that piracy on the high seas was fit work for a gentleman.
"A gentleman loves to serve his queen and country in all places," said
"Ah!" said Antony, with a long breath, as though making a discovery,
"sits the wind in that quarter?"
"Antony," exclaimed she, in her eagerness calling him by the familiar
name of childhood, "you are in error. I declare most solemnly that it
is quite another matter that stands in your way."
"And you will not tell me wherefore you are thus cruel?"
"I cannot, sir. You will understand in time that what you call cruelty
is true kindness."
This was the gist of the interview. All the rest only repeated it in
one form or another; and when Cis returned, it was with a saddened
heart, for she could not but perceive that Antony was well-nigh crazed,
not so much with love of her, as with the contemplation of the wrongs
of the Church and the Queen, whom he regarded with equally passionate
devotion, and with burning zeal and indignation to avenge their
sufferings, and restore them to their pristine glory. He did, indeed,
love her, as he professed to have done from infancy, but as if she were
to be his own personal portion of the reward. Indeed there was
magnanimity enough in the youth almost to lose the individual hope in
the dazzle of the great victory for which he was willing to devote his
own life and happiness in the true spirit of a crusader. Cicely did
not fully or consciously realise all this, but she had such a glimpse
of it as to give her a guilty feeling in concealing from him the whole
truth, which would have shown how fallacious were the hopes that her
mother did not scruple, for her own purposes, to encourage. Poor
Cicely! she had not had royal training enough to look on all subjects
as simply pawns on the monarch's chess-board; and she was so evidently
unhappy over Babington's courtship, and so little disposed to enjoy her
first feminine triumph, that the Queen declared that Nature had
designed her for the convent she had so narrowly missed; and, valuable
as was the intelligence she had brought, she was never trusted with the
contents of the correspondence. On the removal of Mary to Chartley the
barrel with the false bottom came into use, but the secretaries Nau and
Curll alone knew in full what was there conveyed. Little more was said
to Cicely of Babington.
However, it was a relief when, before the end of this summer, Cicely
heard of his marriage to a young lady selected by the Earl. She hoped
it would make him forget his dangerous inclination to herself; but yet
there was a little lurking vanity which believed that it had been
rather a marriage for property's than for love's sake.