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
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 lacking.
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
"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
"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.
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 messan dog!"
"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
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
"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
"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
"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 moved away.
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 insolence.
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 heat."
"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 Queen."
"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
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 hands.
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
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.
CHAPTER XX. WINGFIELD MANOR.
The drawing of swords was not regarded as a heinous offence in
Elizabethan days. It was not likely, under ordinary circumstances,
to result in murder, and was looked on much as boxing is, or was
recently, in public schools, as an evidence of high spirit, and a
means of working off ill-blood.
Lady Shrewsbury was, however, much incensed at such a presumptuous
reception of the suitor whom she had backed with her would-be
despotic influence; and in spite of Babington's making extremely
light of it, and declaring that he had himself been too forward in
his suit, and the young lady's apparent fright had made her brother
interfere over hastily for her protection, four yeomen were
despatched by her Ladyship with orders instantly to bring back Master
Humfrey Talbot to answer for himself.
They were met by Mr. Talbot with the sober reply that Master Humfrey
was already set forth on his journey. The men, having no orders,
never thought of pursuing him, and after a short interval Richard
thought it expedient to proceed to the Manor-house to explain
The Countess swooped upon him in one of her ungovernable furies - one
of those of which even Gilbert Talbot avoided writing the particulars
to his father - abusing his whole household in general, and his son in
particular, in the most outrageous manner, for thus receiving the
favour she had done to their beggarly, ill-favoured, ill-nurtured
daughter. Richard stood still and grave, his hat in his hand, as
unmoved and tranquil as if he had been breasting a stiff breeze on
the deck of his ship, with good sea-room and confidence in all his
tackle, never even attempting to open his lips, but looking at the
Countess with a steady gaze which somehow disconcerted her, for she
demanded wherefore he stared at her like one of his clumsy hinds.
"Because her Ladyship does not know what she is saying," he replied.
"Darest thou! Thou traitor, thou viper, thou unhanged rascal, thou
mire under my feet, thou blot on the house! Darest thou beard me -
me?" screamed my Lady. "Darest thou - I say - "
If the sailor had looked one whit less calm and resolute, my Lady
would have had her clenched fist on his ear, or her talons in his
beard, but he was like a rock against which the billows expended
themselves, and after more of the tempest than need stain these
pages, she deigned to demand what he meant or had to say for his son.
"Solely this, madam, that my son had never even heard of Babington's
suit, far less that he had your Ladyship's good-will. He found him
kneeling to Cicely in the garden, and the girl, distressed and
dismayed at his importunity. There were hot words and drawn blades.
That was the whole. I parted them and saw them join hands."
"So saith Master Babington. He is willing to overlook the insult, so
will I and my Lord, if you will atone for it by instantly consenting
to this espousal."
"That, madam, I cannot do."
She let him say no more, and the storm had begun to rage again, when
Babington took advantage of an interval to take breath, and said, "I
thank you, madam, and pray you peace. If a little space be
vouchsafed me, I trust to show this worthy gentleman cause wherefore
he should no longer withhold his fair damsel from me."
"Indeed!" said the Countess. "Art thou so confident? I marvel what
better backer thou wouldst have than me! So conceited of themselves
are young men now-a-days, they think, forsooth, their own merits and
graces should go farther in mating them than the word and will of
their betters. There, you may go! I wash my hands of the matter.
One is as ingrate as the other."
Both gentlemen accepted this amiable dismissal, each hoping that the
Countess might indeed have washed her hands of their affairs. On his
departure Richard was summoned into the closet of the Earl, who had
carefully kept out of the way during the uproar, only trusting not to
be appealed to. "My good cousin," he asked, "what means this broil
between the lads? Hath Babington spoken sooth?"
"He hath spoken well and more generously than, mayhap, I thought he
would have done," said Richard.
"Ay; you have judged the poor youth somewhat hardly, as if the folly
of pagedom never were outgrown," said the Earl. "I put him under
governorship such as to drive out of his silly pate all the wiles
that he was fed upon here. You will see him prove himself an honest
Protestant and good subject yet, and be glad enough to give him your
daughter. So he was too hot a lover for Master Humfrey's notions,
eh?" said my Lord, laughing a little. "The varlet! He was over
prompt to protect his sister, yet 'twas a fault on the right side,
and I am sorry there was such a noise about it that he should have