“She is a charitable lady,” continued the man, who looked like a groom, “and if she only knew that my poor old aunt is lying famishing, she would aid her. Pray you, good my lord, help me to let this scroll reach to her.”
“I’m no lord, and I have naught to do with the Queen,” repeated Humfrey, while at the same moment Antony, who had been rather longer in getting out of his female attire, presented himself; and Humfrey, pitying the man’s distress, said, “This young gentleman is the Countess’s page. He sometimes sees the Queen.”
The man eagerly told his story, how his aunt, the widow of a huckster, had gone on with the trade till she had been cruelly robbed and beaten, and now was utterly destitute, needing aid to set herself up again. The Queen of Scots was noted for her beneficent almsgiving, and a few silver pieces from her would be quite sufficient to replenish her basket.
Neither boy doubted a moment. Antony had the entree to the presence chamber, where on this festival night the Earl and Countess were sure to be with the Queen. He went straightway thither, and trained as he was in the usages of the place, told his business to the Earl, who was seated near the Queen. Lord Shrewsbury took the petition from him, glanced it over, and asked, “Who knew the Guy Norman who sent it?” Frank Talbot answered for him, that he was a yeoman pricker, and the Earl permitted the paper to be carried to Mary, watching her carefully as she read it, when Antony had presented it on one knee.
“Poor woman!” she said, “it is a piteous case. Master Beatoun, hast thou my purse? Here, Master Babington, wilt thou be the bearer of this angel for me, since I know that the delight of being the bearer will be a reward to thy kind heart.”
Antony gracefully kissed the fair hand, and ran off joyously with the Queen’s bounty. Little did any one guess what the career thus begun would bring that fair boy.
The huckstering woman, Tibbott by name, was tended by Queen Mary’s apothecary, and in due time was sent off well provided, to the great fair of York, whence she returned with a basket of needles, pins (such as they were), bodkins, and the like articles, wherewith to circulate about Hallamshire, but the gate-wards would not relax their rules so far as to admit her into the park. She was permitted, however, to bring her wares to the town of Sheffield, and to Bridgefield, but she might come no farther.
Thither Antony Babington came down to lay out the crown which had been given to him on his birthday, and indeed half Master Sniggius’s scholars discovered needs, and came down either to spend, or to give advice to the happy owners of groats and testers. So far so good; but the huckster-woman soon made Bridgefield part of her regular rounds, and took little commissions which she executed for the household of Sheffield, who were, as the Cavendish sisters often said in their spleen, almost as much prisoners as the Queen of Scots. Antony Babington was always her special patron, and being Humfrey’s great companion and playfellow, he was allowed to come in and out of the gates unquestioned, to play with him and with Cis, who no longer went to school, but was trained at home in needlework and housewifery.