“I understand,” said Humfrey, smiling. “I was bred close to Sheffield, and hardly knew what ’twas to live beyond watch and ward.”
“Yea!” said Paulett, shaking his head. “You come of a loyal house, sir; but even the good Earl was less exercised than I am in the charge of this same lady. But I am glad, glad to see you, sir. And you would see your sister, sir? A modest young lady, and not indevout, though I have sometimes seen her sleep at sermon. It is well that the poor maiden should see some one well affected, for she sitteth in the very gate of Babylon; and with respect, sir, I marvel that a woman, so godly as Mistress Talbot of Bridgefield is reported to be, should suffer it. However, I do my poor best, under Heaven, to hinder the faithful of the household from being tainted. I have removed Preaux, who is well known to be a Popish priest in disguise, and thus he can spread no more of his errors. Moreover, my chaplain, Master Blunden, with other godly men, preaches three times a week against Romish errors, and all are enforced to attend. May their ears be opened to the truth! I am about to attend this lady on a ride in the Park, sir. It might—if she be willing—be arranged that your sister, Mistress Talbot, should spend the time in your company, and methinks the lady will thereto agree, for she is ever ready to show a certain carnal and worldly complaisance to the wishes of her attendants, and I have observed that she greatly affects the damsel, more, I fear, than may be for the eternal welfare of the maiden’s soul.”
It was a beautiful bright summer day, and Queen Mary and some of her train were preparing for their ride. The Queen was in high spirits, and that wonderful and changeful countenance of hers was beaming with anticipation and hope, while her demeanour was altogether delightful to every one who approached her. She was adding some last instructions to Nau, who was writing a letter for her to the French ambassador, and Cicely stood by her, holding her little dog in a leash, and looking somewhat anxious and wistful. There was more going on round the girl than she was allowed to understand, and it made her anxious and uneasy. She knew that the correspondence through the brewer was actively carried on, but she was not informed of what passed. Only she was aware that some crisis must be expected, for her mother was ceaselessly restless and full of expectation. She had put all her jewels and valuables into as small a compass as possible, and talked more than ever of her plans for giving her daughter either to the Archduke Matthias, or to some great noble, as if the English crown were already within her grasp. Anxious, curious, and feeling injured by the want of confidence, yet not daring to complain, Cicely felt almost fretful at her mother’s buoyancy, but she had been taught a good many lessons in the past year, and one of them was that she might indeed be caressed, but that she must show neither humour nor will of her own, and the least presumption in inquiry or criticism was promptly quashed.