CHAPTER XXIII. 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 visitors.”
“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 Lady desires.”
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.”