IN DOUBLET AND HOSE
A STORY FOR GIRLS
By LUCY FOSTER MADISON
Author of "A Colonial Maid" etc.
Illustrated by CLYDE O. DELAND
The Penn Publishing Company PHILADELPHIA MCMIV
COPYRIGHT 1904 BY THE PENN PUBLISHING COMPANY
In Doublet and Hose
CHAPTER PAGE I A QUESTION OF SKILL 7 II THE SOLDIER GUEST 17 III THE PAGE'S DRESS 27 IV ANTHONY BABINGTON 37 V ON THE ROAD TO STAFFORD 48 VI A GLIMPSE OF MARY 56 VII FRANCIS TO THE FRONT 66 VIII THE DELIVERY OF THE LETTERS 75 IX THE COMING OF ELIZABETH 90 X THE QUEEN TAKES OFFENSE 101 XI AT THE QUEEN'S COMMAND 111 XII THE FAVOR OF PRINCES 121 XIII A FAMILIAR FACE AND A CHALLENGE 137 XIV A STRANGE DUEL 149 XV THE STRANGE WEAKNESS OF FRANCIS STAFFORD 160 XVI WHAT CAME OF AN OFFER OF FRIENDSHIP 171 XVII WHAT FRANCIS OVERHEARD 182 XVIII AN ADVENTURE 192 XIX A SHELTER FROM THE STORM 203 XX FRANCIS FINDS A HELPER 213 XXI AN UNLOOKED FOR RECEPTION 223 XXII AS IT FELL OUT 229 XXIII IN THE TOWER OF LONDON 238 XXIV A FRIEND IN NEED 250 XXV A GREAT SORROW BEFALLS FRANCIS 260 XXVI A FELLOW PRISONER 272 XXVII THE ESCAPE 284 XXVIII THE THREE VOLUNTEERS 297 XXIX A BRITOMARTE OF THE ARMADA 304 XXX PARDON AND HAPPINESS 321
PAGE "METHINKS THE MAID WILL SERVE OUR PURPOSE WELL!" frontispiece QUEEN MARY'S WIT GRASPED THE SITUATION 77 ELIZABETH EXTENDED HER HAND GRACIOUSLY 107 THE TWO WERE DEEP IN THE MYSTERIES OF FENCING 156 SHE GAVE A FAINT GASP 190 "I WILL NOT TELL, SIR FRANCIS" 248 "PULL, PULL FOR YOUR LIFE!" 318
IN DOUBLET AND HOSE
A QUESTION OF SKILL
It was June, and the peaceful stillness of a summer's day hung over an ancient wood which lay in the heart of the New Forest near the village of Lyndhurst. The wood was a part of a large demesne which had at one time been bordered by hedges of yew and holly, but these, having been untrimmed for years, had grown into great bushes which in many places were choked up by underwood and brambles.
The forest stretched in every direction. Wood after wood rose before the eye, masses of color, the birches hung with softest green, the oak boughs breaking into amber and olive made doubly bright by the dark gloom of the firs. Wide-branched oaks were intermingled with beeches and copsewood of various descriptions so closely in some places as to intercept the sunshine. In others the trees receded from each other, forming wide vistas that gave glimpses of other recesses of sylvan solitude.
Down the long sunlit glades the gold belted bees sounded their humming horns through every flowery town of the weald. Gauze-winged dragon-flies darted hither and thither while butterflies of every hue sailed by on wings of sheeny bronze. In the bracken wild roses rioted in the richest profusion; the foxglove blazed like pillars of fire through the shadowy underwood and the woodbine flaunted its tall head proudly among the leaves. A gentle breeze rustled the fern, and breathed upon the quaking grass, setting its beautiful spikelets in motion until they seemed like fairy bells rung by elfin fingers. The flutter and hum of the wild things served but to intensify the stillness of the wood.
All at once the deep bass notes of a hound broke upon the air. Louder and louder grew the baying, and soon from out of the purplish shade of the trees there dashed a large greyhound followed by a laughing, panting maiden.
"Content thee, Echo," she cried flinging herself upon the sward under a wide-spreading oak. "I have breath to follow thee no more. Rest until our good cousin joins us."
The dog obediently stretched himself by her side, and once more quiet reigned in the wold. Presently the maiden sat up with an impatient movement.
"He tarries long," she said throwing a mass of auburn curls from a broad, low brow. "Marry! I fear that we have done but an ill turn to the good Hugh."
As she spoke the form of an elderly man emerged from the trees and approached her slowly. He was withered and thin and though but fifty years of age seemed much older. His doublet and hose were of some dark stuff and his short cloak was surmounted by a huge ruff, the edges of which almost joined the brim of the small, high, cone-shaped hat which partly concealed his gray hair.
"By the mass, Francis! methinks that thou dost grow more unmannerly each day. Thou art as unthinking as the butterfly, else thou wouldst not have burdened my fore-wearied flesh with thy bow."
"In sooth, it was but a poor return for thy kindness to leave thee my bow," observed the girl as she hastened to relieve him of the crossbow that he held. "Thy pardon, Master Hugh. I was intent upon the race and thought not of it. It was a good dash, I promise you."
"Ay! I make no doubt of it," grumbled the old man seating himself. "But 'twere meeter for a maiden to embroider, or to play the virginals than to shoot the bow or run with the hounds as thou dost."
"Said I not my Latin well this morning, cousin?" queried Francis. "Doth not my lady mother instruct me in the tent and cross-stitch each day? Besides doth not even the Queen's Majesty disport herself with the bow? 'Tis the fashion, good my master."
"Ay! 'Dum vitant stulti vitia, in contraria currunt,'"[A] spoke the old man sharply.
"Be not angry, cousin, I did but ill in running from thee."
"Marry! let it pass, but I mislike such sturdiness, Francis. Thou hast led me a sorry chase and we are far from the Hall. If I mistake not, we are even now in Sanborne Park and that, thou knowest, is trespass."
"Nay, cousin; not unless we kill some of the red deer with which it abounds, and that we have not done—yet," spoke the maiden demurely.
"The thought of such a thing should not be entertained by the daughter of Lord William Stafford. Thou durst not think it, Francis."
"Durst not?" laughed Francis teasingly. "Should one stray in our path I will show thee what I durst."
"Boast not, girl. It bespeaks ill for thy breeding. Thou art too prone to vaunt thy skill in shooting. Not so was that flower of womanhood, the Lady Jane Grey. Once," and the tutor spoke warmly for this was a favorite theme, "once it was my good hap to pass some time at Broadgate, her father's seat in Leicestershire, and never have I seen her like for love of learning. Greek, Latin, French and Italian spoke she as well as her own tongue. Some knowledge had she also of Hebrew, Chaldee and Arabic. She loved not such idle sport as the chase. Would that thou wert like her."
"Out upon thee for so evil a wish," chided Francis, but there was a merry twinkle in her eye that softened the harshness of her tone. "Wouldst have me beheaded? Yet it may be that I am such a dullard that thou dost wish that I should meet with a like fate."
"Nay, child! Thou knowest better." The face of the old man softened involuntarily as he gazed into the laughing countenance of the girl before him.
Her head was crowned by a mass of red gold hair which, guiltless of crisping or curling pins, fell in ringlets over her shoulders; her complexion was of creamy fairness; her features regular, her eyes dark and luminous; her whole expression full of winsomeness; but there was a sparkle in the dark eyes now so full of mischief, and a set to the rich red lips that spoke volumes for the spirit of Mistress Francis Stafford.
"I would only that thy desire for learning was like to that of the Lady Jane's," went on the tutor. "Yet I do not dislike thy courage, and thou art a good wench, surely."
"Hark!" cried Francis springing to her feet. "I hear the hounds. Look ware, Echo! Look ware! Ware, ware!"
The greyhound, answering with short sharp yelps, rushed forward frantically, and then stood at gaze as a tall red deer bounded from the covert into the open glade. The noble animal's strength was almost spent. His mouth was embossed with foam and large round tears were dropping from his eyes. With a motion that was at once despairing and majestic he turned to face his pursuers as a pack of hounds dashed from the trees and surrounded him, making the air hideous with their clamor.
Instantly the maiden fitted a shaft to her bow and let fly a bolt as the tutor uttered a shrill cry of remonstrance:
"Stay thy hand, girl! Knowest thou not the danger?"
Before the wounded animal could turn to charge this new assailant an answering twang sounded from among the trees and a second arrow, sent with unerring precision, imbedded itself in the deer's body. As the stag fell, a lad of some sixteen years, clad in the dress of a forester, ran hastily forward and reached the animal at the same moment that Francis did.
"Behold, cousin," cried the girl triumphantly, "I have slain the deer. Could thy Lady Jane Grey have done so well, thinkest thou?"
"Nay, fair maid," and the boy turned quickly, "'twas mine own bolt that did the deed. Behold for thyself that thy shaft struck too far to the left."
"'Tis false," cried Francis angrily. "'Twas mine arrow that slew him. This one is mine, and thou seest that it alone hath entered the vital part. 'Tis thine that is too far to the left."
"Nay; not mine, but thine," retorted the lad. "What? Would I, who lack but little of man's estate be excelled by a girl? See for thyself, mistress. The two are not an inch apart. The point is only which did the deed. On mine honor, I tell thee, that it was mine own arrow. Thou seest that it hath penetrated deeper than thine."
"I see naught of the kind," answered Francis with passion. "It was mine that did it."
"Good master," said the boy appealing to the tutor, "didst mark that the stag fell not until he received my shot?"
"Ay! I noted it, lad, and 'tis a point well taken," quoth Master Hugh. "But a truce to thy quibbling. Here are the huntsmen."
The noise of the horns had been growing louder and louder as the hunting party drew near, but the boy and girl were so absorbed in their controversy that they had not heeded it.
"Fair maiden, there is a penalty," began the lad, but one of the hunters called out:
"Beshrew me! if the quarry be not slain! What varlet hath done this?"
As Francis started forward the lad spoke,
"I, good my master. Give me thy knife, I pray thee, that I may make the essay."
"What, ho, boy? Thou? Then instead of breaking the stag, thou shalt break the jail. Knowest thou not that it is trespass to kill deer upon the land of another?"
"He did it not," cried Francis. "'Twas I. What is the penalty? My father, Lord William Stafford, will requite the loss; but permit me, I pray, to take trophy of my skill."
"Thou?" The foresters who had surrounded the youth looked with amusement at the girl, and then broke into loud guffaws.
"Heed her not, masters. Could a maiden do such a thing? She knows not of what she speaks."
"Nay; give heed to me, I beseech you," cried Francis, but the lad interrupted her.
"Permit it to be as I have said, mistress. If there be penalty, 'twere meeter for me to suffer it than for thee. Withdraw, I beseech you."
"The boy is right," said Hugh Greville. "It is no place for thee, Francis. I will speak to thy father concerning the matter. Meantime we can serve no good purpose here. Come!"
"No, no," cried the girl trying vainly to make the foresters attend her. "'Twas I who killed the deer. It was not this lad."
But the verderers paying no further attention to her words busied themselves about the cutting up of the deer. With a burst of angry tears Francis reluctantly permitted the tutor to lead her away.
——- [A] While fools avoid one error they fall into the opposite one.
THE SOLDIER GUEST
Passing out of the park, Francis and her tutor came into the forest proper. One vast sea of woods rolled, a flood of green, over hill and valley onward and ever on till lost among the moors. Presently they ascended Stoney Cross Hill and there opened out one long view. On the northeast rose the hills of Winchester but the city was hidden in their valley. To the east lay Southampton by the waterside; and to the north, gleamed the green Wiltshire downs lit up by the sunlight.
Among the beeches but a short distance away lay Castle Malwood with its single trench and Forest lodge, where tradition says that William Rufus feasted before his death, and down in the valley was the spot where he is said to have fallen. The road now became a long avenue of trees—beeches with their smooth trunks, oaks growing in groups, with here and there long lawns stretching far away into distant woods. All at once the manor burst upon the view.
Situated in the midst of a noble park which crowned the summit of one of the hills that fringed the borders of the weald, Stafford Hall, in this year of grace 1586, the twenty-eighth of Elizabeth, was graceful and stately in the extreme. The general design of the castle was a parallelogram defended by a round tower at each of the angles with an Anglo-Saxon keep. The entrance through a vaulted passageway was its most striking feature. Of the time of the first Edward, there were signs of decay in tower and still more ancient keep. Crevices bare of mortar gave rare holding ground for moss and wall flower, and ivy and clematis mantled chapel and turrets with a dank shroud that added to the picturesqueness of the building.
The park, full of ferny depths, glorious old oaks and deep glades, stretched away on one side toward the soft recesses of the forest. On the other its wooded declivities sloped down to an idle brook now stopped up by water-lilies and white crowfoot. The fair corn lands sloping to the southeast so as to miss no gleam of morning or noonday sun; the fat meadows where the herbage hid the hocks of the browsing kine, and the hanging woods holding so many oaks and beeches ripe for the felling, formed an appanage that was almost royal.
The views of the castle, the winding declivity of hill, the trees, the fields, the exquisite landscape in the distance made an assemblage of nature's beauties that was at once inspiring and noble.
But Francis Stafford was too angry to heed either beauty of scene or sky, and she hurried toward the Hall with so quick a step that the tutor could scarcely keep pace with her.
"I cry you mercy, Francis," he panted querulously as the girl paused reluctantly in answer to his pleading. "Age hath stolen my vigor and I cannot walk as thou canst. Already thou hast made me plod many a weary step beyond my strength; and now thou wouldst have me run as though I were a lad. Thou art too unheeding."
"A truce to thy chiding, cousin," rebuked the girl sharply. "I marvel that thou dost appeal to my compassion. Thou knowest my skill with the bow, and thou didst see the deer fall under my shaft; yet thou didst say with the boy that 'twas he who did the deed. Catiff! How dared he claim the stag? And 'twas a hart royal!"
"Yet had he not done so thou wouldst have had to suffer fine and imprisonment. Dost know the law? It says——"
"I care not what it says," declared Francis haughtily. "If I offend against the law then 'twere meet that I should bear the penalty. My father shall right the matter."
Master Greville knowing full well the futility of contradicting his charge when she was in such a wilful mood said no more, but meekly followed her as she started once more on her way. Through the great doors, which were of weathered oak thickly studded with nails, over which hung the family coat of arms, a shield, azure, three quatrefoils, argent, the girl and the old man passed across the paved courtyard, up a flight of steps to the terrace which led to the porch and from thence to the ante-hall passage.
Serving men clothed in blue with the family arms upon the left sleeve, and retainers clothed also in blue but without the heraldic device thronged courtyard, terrace and hall. Francis hastened through the ante-hall passage to the great hall which lay beyond. The floors were freshly strewn with rushes, the walls were hung with rich tapestries representing stories from the classics. The upper end contained an oriel window under which was a fringed dais. On one side of the apartment was a huge fireplace over which the ancestral arms hung with the arms of England over them. On the other side towered lofty windows. A screen gallery, an organ and a high table completed the hall which was the principal room of the castle and the place where all of the feasts, mummeries and masques were held.
Ushers were hurrying through the great hall for it was "covering time," and the household was mustering for the midday meal. Francis threaded her way through the crowd of yeomen to the door of the presence chamber, and drawing aside the arras that hid the entrance, opened it and entered.
"My father," she began abruptly, and then paused for she saw that her father was not alone.
"Is it you, my daughter?" Lord Stafford rose to meet her. The resemblance between them was very striking. "I had just asked for you. This is my child, Fortescue. She of whom we were speaking. Give greeting, Francis, to my good friend Captain Fortescue."
Francis gave a quick glance at her father's guest. He was a man of commanding stature, with black hair and keen black eyes that held a cruel light in them. He was arrayed in a blue velvet jerkin with hose of the same material. A large beaver hat with a long feather in it lay on the table. A rapier depending from his belt completed his attire which was that of a soldier. Without heeding this fact something in his bearing caused the girl to address him as a priest.
"I give thee welcome, good father."
"Said I not that the wench was shrewd?" asked Lord Stafford with a hearty laugh.
"Ay, my lord; and 'twas well said," returned the guest. "My child, do you not see that I am attired as a soldier?"
"I crave forbearance," faltered Francis in some confusion. "I did not notice thy dress, but judged from thy manner. Nathless, priest or soldier, I give thee greeting. Prithee heed not mine error."
"'Twas naught," smiled Captain Fortescue. "It is to my praise that thou didst accost me as an holy man. My lord, methinks the maid will serve our purpose well."
"I trow so," answered Lord Stafford with a proud look. "She hath spirit and courage to a rare degree in a maid. I know no lad of her age that can equal her in hunting or hawking. No tercelet for her, but the fiercest goshawk that e'er seized quarry. How now, Francis?"
"My father, I knew that thou wouldst believe my skill," said Francis eagerly. "Yet a lad did but now contend that he it was who shot a deer in the forest," and she related the incident graphically.
"Beshrew me, I doubt not but that thine was the arrow that slew the buck, yet it contents me well that the lad should endure the penalty of the deed in thy stead. How now, Greville?" to the tutor. "Was the youth of noble birth?"
"Methought there seemed something of the gentle in him, though he was but meanly garbed. Yet the apparel doth not always make the man," answered Greville.
"Not always," acquiesced Lord Stafford.
"He was not noble," interjected Francis shortly. "Else he would not have claimed the deer. I would, good my father, that you compass his release, and let me take the consequences of my action. I killed the deer."
"Be that as it may, child, the lad must bear the penalty. There are matters of grave import that must now be considered, and thou canst aid me."
"I aid thee?" asked the girl in surprise. "Father, didst thou say my aid?"
"Thine, child. Come to me anon, and I will acquaint thee with the full import of the matter. Greville, thou standest like a hind. Give greeting to our guest. One would think that thou hadst never been at court."
"I give thee welcome, sir," said Greville bowing. "As my lord's friend, I welcome thee."
"Methinks thy countenance is not unfamiliar, Master Greville," and the soldier returned his obeisance courteously.
"In London mayhap thou hast seen me. It was mine abode for a time," replied the tutor carelessly.
"Perchance 'twas there," mused the other with a searching look at the old man. "But howsoe'er that may be, later will I pledge to our better friendship."
"I drink with no enemy of the queen," said Greville coldly.
"Greville!" exclaimed Lord Stafford.
"We differ not, Master Greville," smiled the soldier. "My life, my service, my all is devoted to our queen. God bless Her Majesty!"
"God bless Her Majesty, Elizabeth," returned Greville pointedly.
"Thy mother waits thee, Francis, in her tiring-room," interposed Lord Stafford hastily. "Come to me anon. Greville, no more of this an thou lovest me."
The tutor without another word withdrew from the room accompanied by his pupil.
"Was it not strange, cousin, that I should have thought our guest a priest?" queried Francis when they were beyond the portals of the door.
"Nay; the habit doth not always proclaim the monk," quoth Greville sententiously. "You spoke truer than you knew when you called him 'father.'"
"Is he in sooth then a priest?" asked the girl curiously. "Why comes he then in such array? Are not priests always welcome in my father's house?"
"Is it not within thy ken that an edict hath been passed making it treason for priests to be found within the kingdom, and felony to harbor them? And, forsooth, there is much reason for such a law. So many have been the plots against the Queen's Majesty that much precaution must be taken to preserve her from them."
"Would evil befall my father should it come to the ears of the queen that he had given a priest entertainment?"
"I make no doubt of it, child. Therefore it behooves us to be silent respecting the matter. But, by my life, girl! we dally too long. Away! and set a guard upon thy lips. If thou canst carry so weighty a matter sub silentio then will I deem thee better than the most of thy sex."
THE PAGE'S DRESS
The bower chamber of the Lady Penelope Stafford was both large and lofty yet there was nothing there of ponderous grandeur. The walls were covered with soft arras embroidered in bright coloring skilfully blended. The rich furniture was designed for ease and comfort rather than pomp and parade. The chamber was lighted by a large window with broad casements between the mullions, and with flowing tracery above of arch and quatrefoil.
On a low couch sat Lady Stafford swinging gently to and fro a delicate gold handled fan of flamingo feathers which ever and anon she laid aside to direct Francis who sat on a low stool at her feet plying some embroidery work.
"So, my daughter," said the lady indicating a cross-stitch. "Take heed to thy work else thou wilt not excel with the needle. Marry, I marvel that thou dost accomplish anything with such unskilful fingers. Knowest thou not that the Queen's Majesty did fashion a shirt of cambric for her brother when she was but six years old? I trow that that is more than thou couldst do now; and thou art more than double that age."
"I crave thy forbearance, my sweet mother," pleaded Francis. "My fancy dwells not upon my task, but the rather do I wonder in what manner I may be of service to my father. Dost thou know, my mother?"
"I could make a shrewd hazard as to its nature, Francis. Content thee, child. Thou wilt soon know all." A look of anxiety crossed the lady's face as she spoke, which the girl was quick to note.
"Thou art troubled, my mother. Prithee tell me the cause."
"Nay, girl. Thy father will open up the matter to thy ears when he deems it best. Until then neither thou nor I may speak of it. 'Tis a woman's lot to obey, and never to question the decree of either father or husband."
"But why?" asked the maiden. "Have we not minds with which to reason? Can we not think as well as men? Wherefore then should we yield blind unreasoning obedience when mind and soul are as noble as theirs? Methinks that women's judgments are as wise as men's."
"Child, child," exclaimed the lady startled by the girl's vehemence. "Thou hast too much of thy sire in thee for a girl. I fear such spirit. Study lowliness, for a woman should be meek. Stifle whatever of questioning may come into thy heart, and render implicit obedience to thy father."
"That I will do, mother. Have I not ever reverenced him? 'Tis pleasure to obey his will. The more because I have so much of him in me. 'Twas he who taught me how to string a bow, and 'twas he who guided my maiden hand and eye until had I a brother he could not excel in hunting or hawking."
"I know, my daughter, yet my heart misgives me because of these very things. Hadst thou been a boy all this would not come amiss. But thou art a girl, and full of the weaknesses of women despite thy skill in men's sports. Nature, howsoe'er disguised, will soon or late assert herself. Thou art a woman, therefore again I say, steep thy soul in humility. I fear that haughtiness in thee which thy father doth abet. Methinks it bodes but ill both to thee and to him. But this give ear to: in all things be submissive to thy father. Heedst thou, Francis?"
"Yes, my mother."
"I have thus spoken because dire forebodings have seized me of late. Thy proud spirit ill brooks authority, and thou wilt soon be of an age when if thy will should clash with thy father's, I trow not the consequences. Therefore have I counseled thee. But of this no more."
For a time the two sat in silence, and then Francis broke the quiet:
"My mother, there is something that I would fain ask."
"Say on, my child."
"When I speak of it to Master Greville he calls me disloyal, but I mean it not so. 'Tis only that I would know. My mother, why doth Elizabeth reign as queen if our rightful queen is Mary of Scotland? Dost thou believe her to be the true heiress to the crown?"
"Yes, child; as what true adherent of the faith doth not? Yet hath Elizabeth been a good queen save and except that she hath made severe laws against the exercise of our religion. But England hath truly prospered under her."
"But there be some that would willingly raise Mary to the throne, are there not?"
"'Tis treason to say so, but there be some in very truth. 'Tis because the queen fears them that she hath kept Mary so long a prisoner."
"How long hath it been, mother?"
"Near nineteen years. It is a long, long time. She was full of youth and beauty when she set foot upon English soil, but now she hath grown old before her time with disease and confinement. Truly the queen hath dealt harshly with her own kin."
"Master Greville saith that she is a cruel bad woman, and that if she could compass the death of our queen she would do so."
"Greville speaks of that of which he knows naught," said Lady Stafford sharply. "He hath let the gossip of the court fill him to repletion. It hath been said that Mary was a wicked woman, yet I believe it not. That she desireth her liberty is no crime, but rather the longing of all nature to be free. Mary is the daughter and the granddaughter of a king. Sometime queen of France, and crowned queen of Scotland. She is cousin german to Elizabeth, and if common natures cannot brook confinement what wonder is it that she sighs for freedom? This desire hath caused her to attempt escape often by the aid of friends, and given rise to the belief that many would raise her to the throne."
"Is Elizabeth beautiful, mother? Greville says that she is the most lovely woman in the world. That none can compare with her for beauty, or for learning."
Lady Stafford laughed and then checked herself.
"Child," she said, "it is my prayer that thou wilt grow here in thine own home as a wild flower without sight of queen or court. But if it should chance, which God forfend, that thou art called to the court, then remember what thy tutor hath told thee, and count the queen the most beautiful of women."
"But is she?"
"The queen is learned, child, beyond what is usual for her sex. Greville will tell thee that there never was her like for knowledge, save and except the Lady Jane Grey, the which would be treason to speak. I mind well when Elizabeth was crowned that she was fair to look upon, but that was twenty-eight years ago. The queen is now past fifty years of age. Doth a flower retain its loveliness forever? I trow not. Yet methinks I do but ill in speaking thus to thee. Elizabeth believes that time for her hath stopped, and that age but enhances those charms which are the pride of women. Yet I have heard otherwise."
"You go not to court, my mother. Why?"
"Because of its troubles and its dangers, Francis. Better to bide afar off in this remote spot than to dwell among the jealousies of courtiers. The favor of princes is uncertain, and even royalty is not always well disposed toward the happiness of a subject. I would fain never behold the court again, and I pray that thou mayst never be called to its treacherous pleasures."
"Art thou here, my child?" asked Lord Stafford coming in at this moment. "This is a favorable time, I ween, for me to unfold my wishes to thee. Madam, will you bring the page's dress?"
Lady Stafford arose and drew from a chest of drawers the doublet, hose and short cloak of a page.
"Withdraw, Francis, to the tiring room, and don these habiliments," commanded her father.
"But why," began the girl, but Lord Stafford waved his hand impatiently.
"Do as I tell thee, girl. When thou art habited, return and hear the reason for thy strange attire."
Presently with a merry laugh Francis bounded into the room, and, doffing the jaunty bonnet that perched upon her tresses, swept him a deep bow.
"Am I not a fair boy, my lord?" she cried gaily. "Do I not grace the garb?"
"By my halidom, thou dost in very truth," exclaimed her father laughing. "But thy tresses? Should they not be clipped?"
"Nay, good my lord," spoke Lady Stafford entreatingly. "Command not that, I pray thee. Thou shalt see how cunningly my hand can knot them up with silken strings. It will not be amiss in a lad."
"Leave them then, if thou wilt be the better contented," said the father. "And now, child, if thou wilt but bring thy nimble wit into the part, thou shalt please me well. How say thee? Wilt thou bear me company upon a grave mission? Will thy courage fail, or canst thou, as if thou wert in very truth my son, aid me to compass that to which I am pledged? How now, girl? Hast courage for such an undertaking?"
"My father, what mean you?" asked Francis in bewilderment.
"Take heed to my words. There is on foot a movement to release from her vile durance Mary, Queen of Scots. Too long hath she lain imprisoned. I am to carry to her letters of import that inform her of the design. But Mary is so immured, that heretofore it hath been impossible to gain access to her. A lad would serve the purpose, but there be none known to me of like courage and wit as thyself. Girl, canst thou wear that garb and bear thyself as a man?"
"Ay, my lord; and to do more if needful," spoke Francis boldly.
"There spoke myself in you," said her father approvingly. "Then hearken! at the first sign of the dawn we set forth, thou and I, for Chartley. How now, sweet chuck?" as a sob escaped the mother. "Fear naught. Thy birdling will return to thee the better for having stretched her wings beyond the nest."
"I fear, my lord, for you both," said the lady brokenly. "You know how all these attempts have ended, and Elizabeth hath no mercy for the perpetrators of them."
"Now, now, be of good cheer. There is naught of harm meant to the queen. 'Tis only to give Mary freedom. Think only of thy daughter. Not many mothers in England can boast of such a girl."
"Would that I had given thee a daughter of gentler spirit," sobbed the lady. "Oh, my lord, pardon my utterance. I fear, I fear——"
"There! we will return safely and thou wilt forget thy misgivings in the success of our enterprise. But now to bed, to bed. The first gray of the morning must find us on our way. To bed, my child."
It was that darkest hour of the night, the one just before the dawn, that Francis was summoned to attend her father. None of the household was stirring save Brooks, an old servitor, who stood at the foot of the steps with the horses. The statues of terrace and court gleamed ghostly white in the darkness, and the grim old keep frowned darkly upon them. The deserted aspect of the courtyard filled the girl with dismay. High purposes and noble resolves flourish in the bright light of day and grow into mightiness in the first hours of the night, but the early dawn chills enthusiasm and makes the inspirations of the night before seem poor and weak and hardly worth an effort.
Something of this feeling oppressed Francis Stafford. She missed the shouting of the gallants, the screaming of the hawks, the yelping of the dogs and the blowing of horns that was the accompaniment of a hunting-party. Instead of such a triumphal departure there was only the low sobbing of Lady Stafford as she bade them farewell.
"My lord, you will have great care for you both, will you not?" she murmured, trying to control her emotion. "Oh, I like not the journey! I like it not!"
"Be not dismayed," comforted her husband. "We will return soon, and there is no danger. We will be with thee again ere thou hast had time to miss us."
The lady said no more but embraced them mournfully. Both father and child were silent as they swept out of the courtyard into the park beyond. Presently the sky began to soften in the east, and the gray uncertain light gave place to the blushing dawn. Soon the dark shadows that lurked under the trees fled before the golden beams of the sun. Suddenly the note of a lark rang out silvery and joyous. Bird after bird took up the note until from every tree and shrub there swelled a grand chorus as larks and throstles poured forth their matin song of praise.
"How beautiful!" cried Francis, her eyes sparkling, her spirits rising. "My father, right glad am I to be here with thee."
"Thine is a wild spirit, Francis," said her father rousing himself. "You mind me of these birds, so wild and free yet sweet withal. Child, mayhap I have done ill in taking thee thus from thy mother. And yet, we are not in the queen's favor! Should misfortune overtake one it would involve all."
"Father, if by act of mine I can further thy purpose, make use of me, I pray. Glad am I that thou dost deem me worthy of thy confidence. And do we not go to the aid of Mary, our rightful queen? What excuse need we for so doing? Oh, if I can once behold her, can but once kiss her hand, then would I be willing to lose even my life if 'twere needful."
Lord Stafford smiled at her enthusiasm.
"Has the infection seized upon thee too, child? In like manner so do I feel, and so do hundreds of others. Strange what an influence Mary Stuart wields over human hearts! God forfend that thy life should be required, Francis, though many have been lost in her cause. But I would not that thine should be numbered among them. Marry, it saddens me to think on't. No more of this!"
"What name shall you call me by, my father, since I am your page?" asked Francis presently.
"Thine own. 'Tis a name that thou dost wear because it was my father's, and will serve. But bear thyself in accordance with it and none will deem thee other than thou seemest. And I—I must teach my tongue to say boy instead of child. We have a long ride before us, and I fear that thy strength will fail ere we reach its end."
"Fear not, good my father. Thou knowest how used to fatigue I am in hunting and hawking."
"I know thy strength, else I should have feared to risk thee for so long a jaunt. And thou hast never been so far from home before."
"No; I went with thee once to Lymington where I saw The Solent, and in the distance the Isle of Wight. But never have I been even across Southampton water."
"True; I had forgot. Then thou wilt be entertained greatly, for we go through Wilts, Gloucester and Worcester before we reach Stafford."
And so conversing on through the woods they passed until at length they came to Bramshaw, a little village standing partly in Hampshire and partly in Wiltshire and forming the forest boundary. Before them swelled the rounded forms of the Wiltshire downs, and from their midst towered the spire of Salisbury with the mound of old Sarum looming darkly behind.
"I prithee tell me, father," said Francis, "what is that which I see in yon distance? Methinks it looks like the tower of a church."
"Its looks belie it not, Francis. It is the spire of the cathedral of Saint Mary, than which there is none higher in England. In the valley lies Salisbury where we will stop for rest and refreshment. Yon conical mound is Old Sarum which hath been a fortress from the earliest times. The fosse and rampart belong to the Roman period. In the vast plain which lies beneath it the Conqueror reviewed his victorious armies, and there also did the English landholders swear fealty to him."
Francis looked with the delight of one who goes abroad for the first time. At the beautiful cathedral, then at the old fort, and lastly at the town itself which lay in the valley at the confluence of four rivers: the upper Avon, the Wiley, the Bourne and the Nadder. In the centre of the city was a large handsome square for the market-place from which the streets branched off at right angles. The streams flowed uncovered through the streets which added greatly to the picturesqueness of the place.
Lord Stafford turned into one of the side streets, and drew rein before a small inn, The Mermaid by name. As he rode into the courtyard the host hurried forward to greet him.
"Good my lord," he said obsequiously, "light, and grace my poor house, I pray you. There be one here who hath waited since yester e'en to see you."
"Beshrew me, sayst thou so!" ejaculated Lord Stafford. "I thought not to meet with any here. But oft must a man's pleasuring be staid for by affairs of business. Is it not true, good Giles?"
"Marry, 'tis only too true," replied the host.
"Where is he that would speak with me, Giles?"
"In the east parlor, my lord. I crave forbearance, sir, for placing any in the room which is reserved for your use, but I knew not that you were about to fare this way."
"Trouble not thyself concerning the matter, good Giles," returned his lordship. "Come, Francis."
Tossing his cloak to Francis he strode toward the entrance of the tavern. The girl threw the garment over her arm, started to follow him, and then paused in sheerest confusion at finding the eyes of the myrmidons of the inn upon her.
Donning male attire in her own home had been mere sport, but with the curious eyes of strangers upon her the girl felt painfully embarrassed.
"Look to thyself, boy," came in sharp tones from her father, and there was a note of warning in the faint emphasis that he placed upon the word boy.
Thus adjured Francis collected her wits, and, looking neither to the right nor to the left, she followed after her father with all the boldness which she could assume. Lord Stafford wended his way to the east parlor of the inn with the air of being perfectly familiar with the place, giving his orders to the rotund host as he went.
"'Tis but a short time that we will trouble thee, Giles," he said. "Serve us with dinner, I pray you. We will rest for a time, and then speed onward. Anthony," he ejaculated as the host threw open the door of the chamber, "it is thou?"
"'Tis even I, my lord," answered a tall young man coming forward. "I had news that you were coming this way and hurried hither to greet you."
"Right glad am I to see thee, Babington," was Stafford's rejoinder. "I have much to say to thee. Hast dined?"
"No, my lord."
"Then let us eat, and afterward there will be leisure for converse. Be in haste with thy meal, Giles."
The host hastened from the room while Francis slipped quietly into the nearest chair, and looked with interest at the young man. She had heard of Anthony Babington. His attachment to Mary of Scotland was well known, and his devotion invested him with a romantic glamour now that she too had espoused the same cause. The young man was speaking in low, rapid tones to her father:
"I tell you, my lord, that the attempt will not be successful. No invasion or insurrection can occur during Elizabeth's life, for any open endeavor in Mary's favor will cause Sir Amyas Paulet to slay her. He hath sworn it."
"Then, Anthony, it may be unwise to try to release Mary from her prison. She hath suffered much of late from illness. It was my hope that if we were successful, to place her where she might obtain the comforts of which she hath been bereft, and so placed she would regain her health."
"The matter hath gone too far to end in her mere release," cried Babington earnestly. "Elizabeth must die."
"Babington, thou art mad!" exclaimed Lord Stafford starting up in horror.
"Mad? Nay; I have just begun to see that I have been called to rid England of that most unjust queen who transcends the laws of blood by keeping her own kin imprisoned as she hath done. And I am not alone, Stafford. There are others who believe as I do. Wilt thou join us?"
"Never," cried Lord Stafford sternly. "May my right hand drop from its shoulder ere it be raised against England's queen. Unjust to Mary she hath been. Unjust in her treatment of her, and unjust in usurping the throne. But still she is her father's daughter, and crowned queen of England. If it be so that the release of Mary can be compassed, and Elizabeth forced to recognize her as her successor, I will join the effort even as I have already pledged to do. But no more."
"Hast thou not seen Ballard?" asked the young man in surprise.
"Yes; he tarried with me at mine own house as Captain Fortescue. How now?"
"He said that thou wert ripe for the project," mused the other.
"Not to assassinate Elizabeth," returned Lord Stafford firmly. "I go to Chartley now to acquaint Mary with the plan for her release. But I tell thee, Anthony, if what thou tellest me be true, then will I withdraw from the enterprise."
"My lord, I did but try thee. Some there be who advocate the slaying of Elizabeth, but they are few. I beseech you, as you have given your pledge, aid us in acquainting Mary with the plan for her rescue. No more than this do we ask, and thou art depended on for this much."
"As mine honor hath been given, I will continue to Chartley," said Lord Stafford.
"Then, my lord, wilt thou bear this letter also from me," and Babington handed him a small missive. "It hath given her some uneasiness at not hearing from me, and I would ease her mind."
"Yes, Anthony; the letter shall be given her with these others." Lord Stafford concealed it in his belt. "Methinks that thou art in a bad way, my lad."
"More anon," said Babington. "Our host comes. Thy dinner is served, my lord."
ON THE ROAD TO STAFFORD
Francis was so absorbed in the thoughts engendered by the conversation that she had just heard that she forgot all about her character as page and her duties as such. She was recalled to herself by a sharp reprimand from her father:
"Thy duty, Francis. Attend to the serving."
Babington turned a startled glance upon her as she arose in obedience to her father's command.
"The page?" he cried. "Did he hear our converse, my lord?"
"Yes; but fear not, Anthony. I would stake mine honor upon his silence. Thou canst be trusted, Francis?"
With heightened color, for the blood mounted to her cheeks at the intent gaze of the young man, the girl answered earnestly:
"Yes, my lord. Naught of what I have heard shall pass my lips. Not even the rack should wring it from me."
"Protest not too much, boy," rebuked Babington. "Older and wiser men than thou have succumbed to its tortures."
"You speak words of wisdom, Anthony," remarked Lord Stafford. "Let us hope that the boy will not be tried by so grievous an instrument. Yet I do believe that he will be discreet."
"He seems a proper lad," returned the other. "A little backward, forsooth, but with none of the malapertness of some pages."
Francis, now completely at ease as she saw that the young man believed her to be what she appeared, flashed an arch look at her father. Lord Stafford smiled slightly, but his countenance soon became overcast with gravity. The meal over, the host withdrew, and the elder man turned once more to the younger one.
"Anthony," he said, "I must on my way, but let me plead with thee that if thou dost entertain a thought of such rash emprises as thy words suggest, to forego them. Naught but disaster could follow upon such projects."
"My lord, say no more an thou lovest me," replied Babington. "Mary's sufferings cry aloud for vengeance. Sleeping or waking her wrongs are before me. My lord, she is a prisoner; made to submit to privations that even the basest criminals do not undergo. Couldst thou have seen her at Tutbury or Wingfield as I have done, you would wonder no longer that deeds of blood suggest themselves."
"Anthony, thou art mad," exclaimed Lord Stafford compassionately.
"Mad! nay; but Mary Stuart hath languished too long in her chains. I would dare anything to release her from them."
"And so would we all who love and reverence her as the true heiress of England's crown, Anthony. Yet I fear that thou dost meditate wrong to Elizabeth, but surely thou wouldst not raise thy hand against a woman?"
"Ay, my lord! Against a woman, or what not for Mary's sake."
"But Mary would not approve such measure."
"No; therefore do we only contemplate her rescue. The softness of her heart doth prevent other aims."
"Anthony," said Lord Stafford preparing to renew his journey, "I see that thou art ripe for some foolhardy enterprise. I misdoubt thy loyalty to Elizabeth, and fear that thou wilt soon engage in mischief. Had I not pledged mine honor to take these letters to Mary I would have naught to do with the matter. Thou hast raised grave doubts as to the nature of this undertaking. I fear for thee, for myself and family, and most of all do I fear for Mary Stuart. Thou knowest how eagerly Walsingham watches for an excuse to compass her death. Remember that, Anthony, and by the love you bear to her, forego the thoughts that charge thy brain."
"Fear naught, my lord. Thy doubts carry thee farther than the issue warrants," said Babington lightly.
"I bid you farewell, Anthony, but my heart is heavy with foreboding," and Lord Stafford embraced him. "Would that I had known all this ere mine honor had become involved."
"Be of good cheer. You lay too much stress upon the matter," and the young man returned his embrace. "Farewell."
"Fare you well." Lord Stafford proceeded to the courtyard followed by Francis. When the girl would have ridden behind him, he motioned her silently to come beside him. Wonderingly she obeyed, for not thus were pages wont to travel with their lords.
"My child," said Lord Stafford when they had left the tavern behind and were on the old Roman road to Bath, "I have done ill in embarking upon this emprise, and more than ill in engaging thee in it also. There are dark days before us, Francis."
"My father," and leaning from her horse the girl kissed him. "No matter what befall thou hast deemed me worthy to share thy danger, and I will not repine. But I like not to think that they wish to kill the queen."
"Think not on that, Francis," said her father hastily. "On that matter my heart is heavy, though I trow such attempt will not be made. Anthony but raves. Such thoughts are not for thy young heart. Dismiss them, I entreat thee."
"Let us rather think only that we are to carry the tidings to Mary that an effort will be made to release her. Surely it is right to seek to relieve her suffering," said the girl sweetly.
"It is in very truth, my child. Thou and I are not concerned in aught but in bearing good news; therefore will I cheer up, sweet chuck, though I am greatly troubled."
And by an effort he put aside the dire forebodings that filled his soul, and tried to enter into the enjoyment of his daughter who, with the elasticity of youth, had turned to the more cheerful scenes around them.
Frequently he called her attention to some historic spot, or pointed out the beauties of the sylvan landscape. And thus, sometimes in sweet converse in which Francis learned to know her father better than she had ever known him; at others, in long lapses of silence the more eloquent that there was no conversation, and in stopping for rest and refreshment at taverns did the days pass without further incident. Yet though nothing of import transpired, the journey was not without interest to Francis.
Bath, on the right bank of the river Avon, presented a great variety of beautiful landscape; the old city of Gloucester, city of churches and beloved of kings; Tewkesbury, site of the battle between Lancastrians and Yorkists which placed the crown upon the head of Edward the Fourth; Worcester, with its glorious cathedral, filled her with delight. The beauty of the diversified scenery, consisting of hill, vale, forest and river, the numerous remains of Druid, British, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Norman to which her father called her attention; all these things contributed to her pleasure, and served to banish everything from her mind save the happiness of the moment.
"And now, Francis," said Lord Stafford on the evening of the fourth day, "yonder lies Stafford, and we are near the end of our travel. Behold, on yon mount, called 'Castle Hill,' the place where stood a noble castle built by William the Conqueror. He conferred it upon Robert de Torri who took the name de Stafford from whom, as thou dost well ken, our family hath sprung. Art thou weary, girl?"
"Yes, father, but the journey hath nevertheless been full of delight," returned Francis brightly though her drooping body spoke of the fatigue by which she was almost overcome. "Yet right glad am I that we are come to Stafford. And on the morrow it may be that I shall see Queen Mary."
"Mayhap, child. But now put from thee all thought save that of rest. Let the morrow bring what it will, this night shall be devoted to quiet and repose."
Putting spurs to his horse the tired animal renewed his speed, and they were soon within the gates of the city.
A GLIMPSE OF MARY
Francis' wish of beholding the Queen of Scots was gratified in a most unexpected manner.
"Do you remain here, my child," said Lord Stafford the next morning. "I would behold for myself if what I have heard of Mary's keeper, Sir Amyas Paulet, be true. If he be not so strict as report hath it, access to Mary may be easy. I would rather, if it be possible, that the matter be dispatched without employ of thee."
"But thou wouldst still let me see Mary, father?"
"By my troth, I would. Thou hast well merited it. But now farewell for a season. When I return we can tell better how to conclude this business."
"My father, what shall I do until thy return? Could I not go forth to the place where stood the castle of our ancestors? I would fain examine it."
Lord Stafford hesitated for a moment before replying, and then said thoughtfully:
"Thou mayst, if thou wilt. I know that I need not tell thee to remember that though thou dost wear a man's habit thou art still in truth a maid, and to demean thyself in accordance therewith. But still as thou dost wear the habit, more of liberty may be given thee than otherwise thou couldst enjoy. Yes; go to Castle Hill, an thou wishest, but say to none what and for why we tarry in the town."
"I am thy daughter, sir," said Francis proudly. "Thou dost deem me worthy to abet thy enterprises. I will so bear myself that thou couldst ask no more of me than if I were thy son."
"No more," said Lord Stafford smilingly. "Thou leavest me with no regret that thou art not my son. A son could do no more."
He kissed her and left the chamber. Francis followed after him to the courtyard of the inn where she stood watching him until he was lost to view. Then drawing her cloak about her she left the yard, and walked slowly toward the eminence upon which the great castle formerly stood.
The ruins were interesting and served to entertain the girl for some time, but at length becoming weary, it occurred to her to set forth to meet her father.
"It seems long since he started," she mused. "It cannot be a great while ere he returns. Therefore to beguile my loneliness I will go to meet him."
Passing through the gates of the town she struck boldly into the open plain through which the road ran to Chartley. On and on she walked, the road turning and winding until at length it forked; one branch going to the left, the other to the right. Francis paused in bewilderment.
"Which shall I take?" she asked herself looking first at one and then at the other. "My faith, but either stretches forth invitingly. I have it! I will cast my dagger, and traverse that one toward which it points."
So saying she unsheathed a small poniard from her belt and drew herself up to cast the weapon, when the clatter of horses' hoofs broke upon her ear. She looked up startled. From behind a bend in the road to the right there came at full gallop a party consisting of several men and a lady. Francis was so amazed at their sudden appearance that she still retained her position, the dagger poised ready for the throw. With a cry of horror the lady spurred her horse to her side.
"Boy," she cried, "what art thou about to do? Stay thy hand, I command. Knowest thou not that self-destruction is forbid?"
Francis gave vent to a merry peal of laughter as the lady's meaning flashed upon her.
"Be not dismayed, fair lady," she said doffing her bonnet and making a deep courtesy. "I was not planning self-destruction. Life holds too much of promise to end it now. I was but wondering which of these two roads led to Chartley, and thought to follow the one toward which a throw of the dagger would point."
The lady joined in the laugh, and then became grave.
"To Chartley?" she said. "And what wouldst thou at Chartley?"
It was on the tip of the girl's tongue to reply, "I go to meet my father," but she caught herself in time. None must know of his journey there, and even though she who asked were beautiful and gracious she must be discreet.
"I wished to see Queen Mary," she answered after a moment's hesitation.
"To see Mary?" broke in one of the men who had drawn near during the above colloquy. "And may I ask, young sir, what business thou hast with Mary?"
"Why, why," stammered Francis abashed by his harsh address and rude bearing. "I have no business. I only wished to see the queen."
"Queen forsooth! Of what is she queen?" asked the other brusquely. "Of nothing, I trow. Not even is she mistress of her own actions. Queen forsooth!"
"Thou speakest truly, Paulet," said the lady mildly. "Yet methinks it not becoming in thee to taunt Mary Stuart with the miserable state to which she hath been reduced. Boy, thou didst wish to see Mary. I am she."
"Mary? Art thou in truth Queen Mary?" Francis exclaimed rapturously, and seeing the assenting smile on the lady's face she darted to her side and seizing her hand she kissed it fervently. "Oh," she cried, "if thou art Mary, know that mistress of thy actions thou mayst not be, but thou dost reign in truth a queen over this poor heart."
The dark eyes of Mary Stuart filled with tears and she pressed the girl's hand tenderly.
"Such homage is sweet to the poor captive, my lad. It gladdens our heart to know that there are some who still hold Mary in reverence. Take this and wear in remembrance of her who is grateful for even the homage of a page."
She drew from her neck a chain of gold to which was attached a locket which she threw over the girl's head. With an exclamation of delight Francis pressed it to her lips passionately.
"It shall never leave me while life lasts," she declared. "But may I not wait upon you at your castle, Your Highness? I would be of service to you."
Her eyes sought the lady's with a meaning look that Mary was quick to catch.
"Nay;" broke in Sir Amyas Paulet for the gruff old puritan was very rigid with his illustrious captive. "Thou hast had thy wish, boy, and obtained what was doubtless thy object: a chain for a kiss, a locket for an obeisance. It pays to give court to reduced royalty. Away with thee, and let me not see thy face at Chartley, else thou shalt meet a gruff reception."
"Then farewell." Francis drew as close to the lady's side as she could. "There are letters," she whispered.
"Away!" Sir Amyas laid a hand upon the bridle of Mary's horse and turned the animal from the girl. "I will have no whisperings. Away, boy!"
"Be not overcome, my pretty lad," and Mary drew rein despite the protests of her uncivil guardian. "We thank thee for thy homage, and hope to see thee again when we journey forth. Farewell."
"Farewell," returned Francis sinking upon one knee and saluting her. "I will see you again, Your Grace."
With an impatient exclamation Sir Amyas Paulet gave a sharp blow to Mary's horse, which reared and plunged at the treatment, almost unseating the lady, able horsewoman though she was. The animal then dashed away followed by the grim old puritan and the remainder of the party who had halted at some little distance from them.
As soon as they were out of sight Francis took the locket in her hand.
"And I have seen Mary," she said with gladness. "How it will surprise my father. How beautiful is the locket, and how full of graciousness and sweetness she is! Service in her behalf must be a joy."
She turned and retraced her steps toward Stafford unmindful of the fact that she had started to meet her father.
It had been morning when Lord Stafford had left his daughter; the sun was declining in the west when, discouraged and low in spirit, he returned to the tavern!
"It is even worse than report hath it," he said as he entered the apartment where Francis awaited him. "Chartley is as much a prison for Mary as the tower itself would be. When I sought admission to its gates I was refused and threatened, forsooth. The manor is surrounded by a moat and is well defended. The walls can be scaled only by birds. Methinks that there is cause for Babington's wild frenzy."
"Father," spoke Francis demurely, though there was exultation in her tones, "I saw Mary."
"My child, what do you say?" ejaculated Lord Stafford in surprise. "How couldst thou? You were not at Chartley."
"Nathless I saw the queen," and Francis laughed gleefully. "See what she graciously gave me."
Her father took the chain and locket in his hands and examined them closely.
"It doth indeed come from Mary," he said looking at the name, Marie R, engraved upon it. "Thou hast accomplished wonders, Francis. Tell me how the matter fell out?"
Francis related all that had happened. Lord Stafford listened intently.
"Sir Amyas is an austere jailer," he observed. "He thinketh to do his duty more acceptably to Elizabeth by treating Mary with rigor. Mary is quick of wit, and I doubt not that this will put her on the alert. Child, I must trust to thy wit to help me in this. Canst thou compass it?"
"I am sure so," answered Francis with the confidence of youth. "To-morrow I will again repair to the forked roads, and mayhap she will be there."
"Mayhap," said her father, "but I misdoubt it. Paulet may be suspicious of thee, but 'twill do no harm to be there. We will try to get the letters to her, but if we do not succeed then must Ballard, or Captain Fortescue as he calls himself, find some other means of communicating with her."
"We will succeed. Never fear," said Francis with conviction.
FRANCIS TO THE FRONT
The next morning Francis was early at the crossroads but although she waited for several hours neither Mary nor any of her party appeared.
"It is as I thought it would be," said Lord Stafford, "but we must not be discouraged. You must go to the same place for several days. I feel sure that if Mary can compass it she will fare that way again. It is our only hope of opening up communication with her."
Three more days passed without result, but on the morning of the fourth day a cavalcade appeared. Francis was delighted to see Mary in their midst. Not as before on a horse but in a coach. As she stood with uncovered head the party swept by her without stopping. The queen bowed and smiled, but when the girl would have darted to the side of the coach she was prevented by the gentlemen of the guard who closed around it.
"Oh," cried the girl, tears of disappointment streaming from her eyes, "what shall I do? What can I do?" But the equipage swept on bearing Mary from her sight and Francis gave way to her grief unrestrainedly.
"And I thought to have done so much," she murmured when she had become calm. "Ah! my father did well to say that Sir Amyas was an austere man. Little doth it comfort Mary to be a queen when there is such an one to control her actions. Well, I must to the inn."
She turned to go back to the town when her eye was caught by a filmy bit of linen which was caught in a bush by the wayside.
"'Twas hers," cried Francis catching it up eagerly. "How foolish to repine when I should have known that there would be some sign."
Examining the dainty bit of cloth carefully she found it covered over with a lot of characters whose meaning she could not fathom.
"I must take it to my father," she said concealing the linen in her bosom. "Mayhap he can decipher it." And she hastened to return to the tavern joyful at having obtained at least a token.
"It is written in cipher," remarked Lord Stafford, examining the bit of cloth attentively. "It is my good fortune to have the key to some of the ciphers which she uses. It may be that it is the one that will unravel the meaning of this for us."
Francis awaited the result with impatience while her father applied himself to the task of deciphering the characters. Presently he looked up triumphantly.
"I have it, child. Mary is in truth on the alert. She knows that we have messages for her. Listen! she says: 'I find no security in writing by carrier; the best recipe for secret writing is alum dissolved in a little clear water twenty-four hours before it is required to write with. In order to read it the paper must be wetted in a basin of water and then held to the fire; the secret writing then appears white and may easily be read until the paper gets dry. You may write in this manner on white taffeta or white linen, especially lawn; and as a token when anything is written on a piece of taffeta or linen a little snip can be cut off from one of the corners. Friend, if so be that you have letters, transcribe their message in the above manner. As to the manner of their delivery I know not. I will this way as often as the disposition of my jailer will permit. Adieu, my friend—though I know not thy name, yet thy features are engraved upon the heart of your queen,
"There!" Lord Stafford smoothed the piece of cloth complacently. "The thing that troubles is how to give her the papers and letters. 'Tis my belief that they would be as easy to deliver as to transcribe their contents upon cloth to give her. She must be made aware of the plan for her rescue."
"What is the plan, father?"
"To overwhelm her escort while she is taking the air, child. Babington is to come with one hundred men and carry Mary off. Her escort seldom consists of more than eighteen or twenty men, and we think she might be easily taken from them."
"But would not other of Sir Amyas's men follow after and retake her?"
"We hope to place her in a secure spot ere they could do so, Francis. Once across the border Elizabeth would have no power over her, and her son, unfilial though he hath shown himself, could not for very shame refuse her safe asylum. Then she might, if she would so choose, retire to France where she could dwell in peace."
"She must have those letters, my father."
"Yes, Francis; but how? My mind plays me false when I would discover a way. It is not active. We must think, think, Francis."
Francis arose and walked to the window where she stood abstractedly looking through the lattice which overhung a large yard, surrounded by the stables of the hostelry. Some yeomen were dressing their own or their masters' horses, whistling, singing and laughing. Suddenly she bent forward eagerly.
"My father," she cried, "prithee come here!"
"What is it, Francis?" asked Lord Stafford joining her.
"Dost see the boy on the cart that has just entered the yard?"
"What is he, think you?"
"My child, he is a carter. What doth make thee so full of interest in him?"
"Might it not be that as a carter he would go to Chartley sometimes?"
"Gramercy! I see thy meaning. How full of wit thou art!"
Francis smiled, much gratified.
"If it can be compassed would it not be excellent to enter Chartley as a carter? The thing is to get within the gates. Then the delivery of the letters would be easy."
"'Tis excellently thought of, child, but there are guards within as well. 'Twould still require adroitness to accomplish the rest."
"Trust me! If I can get within, the rest shall follow," said she with great determination. "I will enter into talk with that carter and see what can be done with him. My father, do I bear myself in a manner befitting my garb?"
"Thou art a very model of pagehood, Francis. Go, my child. Heavy as the burden of this emprise is it seems to have shifted its weight to thy shoulders. Find if the lad goes to Chartley, and if so, the way may be opened for us to enter therein. Divers means must be employed to accomplish our aims."
The girl left the chamber and, assuming the careless frowardness of a page, sauntered into the yard.
"Good-morrow, my lad," she said, stopping by the side of the boy who was busily engaged in removing sacks, baskets and other receptacles from the cart.
"Good-morrow, young sir," returned the wight civilly. "It hath been some days since I saw your worshipful sir. Methought that you had gone away."
"Nay; I tarry here still for there is good cheer to be found at the Red Hand," quoth Francis with a bold swagger. "How busy thou art."
"Yes; the likes o' us have to be. What with loading the cart, delivering, and unloading again, and caring for the nag I find the time full."
"And where doth it all go, lad?"
"To Chartley, sir."
"Chartley? Is not that where Mary of Scotland is confined?" asked Francis, trying to speak indifferently.
"The very place."
"Didst ever see her, boy?"
"Why, yes, my young master. Many a time and oft since she hath been at Chartley. She takes the air in the early morning in the gardens and I have seen her there when I drove in with my cart."
"I would that I might see her. Could I—could I go with you?"
The youth stared for a moment and then answered soberly:
"It is forbid to us to carry aught besides our wares within the gates. And Sir Amyas is that particular that I misdoubt if he would let you enter."
"Still I would like to try. 'Tis only for a sight of the queen. And see! here is a gold piece that thou canst have. Do let me go with thee, Will. Thy name is Will?"
"That is my name, sir." Will's hand closed over the gold but he still appeared reluctant. "Well, it shall be as you wish, my young master. But you must wear other garb than that, else you cannot enter."
"What habit shall I wear, good Will?"
"I will give thee my cloak and bonnet, master. I durst not do this if thou shouldst want else but to look at the queen. But what harm is there in that?"
"What in truth, Will? A cat may look at a king, I trow. When do you go again?"
"To-morrow. Wouldst go then?"
"Then, my master, you must be up with the lark for we start early."
"I will be ready. Then farewell until then. Thou wilt not regret thy favor to me, Will, I promise thee."
"I hope not, master."
"Thou wilt not. Farewell till the morrow."
And Francis ran lightly back to her father to report the result of the interview.
THE DELIVERY OF THE LETTERS
Will was disposed to be taciturn on the way to Chartley. Francis did not know whether he suspected her design was more than to see Mary or not, but summoning all the finesse of which she was mistress she made herself as agreeable as she could, relating stories and incidents of the chase, until long before the plain which lay between Stafford and Chartley was crossed, Will's surliness had vanished.
The sun was an hour high when they reached their destination. Chartley, grim and gray in the morning light, rose before them. The manor was large and roomy, surrounded by such a high wall that none, unless he were endowed with the wings of a bird, could scale its heights. A moat encompassed the whole. The castle with wall and moat forming a stronghold well suited to its present use as prison.
As they crossed the drawbridge and entered the portals Francis was surprised to see sentinels everywhere. Her spirit sank a little and her heart quailed as she noted all of the means employed to insure Mary's safe-keeping.
"My father was right," she thought. "To obtain entrance is not all. There will still be difficulty, I fear, in seeing her. What if she comes not to the garden? But courage! Poor lady! I marvel not that she doth wish to gain her liberty. Methinks I should die were I to be deprived of my freedom!" Thus she mused little dreaming that not many weeks would elapse ere she would be put to the test.
"There are the gardens," said Will breaking in upon her thoughts. "'Tis there that I have often seen the queen. See, the guard is leaving."
"Don't they guard her through the day, Will?"
"Ay, master. But the sentinels stand not at the doors and windows as they do at night. The walls only are guarded through the day. There she is, forsooth."
"I see her not, good Will."
"In the main garden, master. To the right."
Francis looked in the direction indicated and soon descried the form of a woman seated in a large rolling chair which was wheeled by an attendant. Along the walks of the garden they went pausing ever and anon to pluck some flower or the cherries which were ripening in the sun. For a moment only Francis gazed and then, before Will had time to say her nay, she leaped off from the wagon and bounded swiftly in the direction of the garden.
"Uds!" growled Will his mouth agape with astonishment. "Methought there was more to 't than appeared," and he went on to the kitchens.
Meantime Francis, trampling over flowers and vegetables in her haste, reached the side of Mary, and thrust into her hand the package of letters. Mary's quick wit grasped the situation instantly. Concealing the papers about her she drew back from the seeming carter, crying in a loud voice for she saw one of the guards approaching:
"Well, what meaneth this? Forgive me," she whispered hurriedly, "if I seem angry. 'Tis but for thine own safety." So saying she drew back still further from the kneeling girl exclaiming as the guard came up, "I know thee not, boy. Why dost thou trouble me?"
"I wished to see thee," murmured Francis rising. "Forgive me. I wished——"
"There!" said Mary. "'Tis no matter. Barbara," to her companion, "hast thou the purse? Give the lad a groat. Marry! thou art all alike. Ye wish bounty whether ye deserve it or not. Go, and trouble me no more."
She turned as she spoke and without another glance at the girl passed back to the house. Francis stood looking at the coin for a moment undecided what to do for she saw that Will's cart was nowhere in sight.
"Get thee gone," said the guard coming toward her menacingly. He had overheard Mary's remarks and noted her demeanor, and thought that the carter lad before him was really seeking to profit by Mary's well-known generosity. "Go, fellow! or I will take thee to my master. And if thou troublest the lady again, I will run thee through with my rapier. Go!"
Without a word in reply, glad to have the matter end so, Francis followed him meekly as he led her to the kitchen doors where Will and other carters were busy unloading their wagons.
"With which of you came this fellow?" demanded the guard.
"With me, master," spoke Will sullenly.
"See that he accompanies thee no more. 'Tis a mischievous wight and like to get into trouble. Quick with thy load. I wish to see thy cart safely beyond the gates."
"Will," said Francis when they were once more outside the gates, "art angry with me?"
"Ay! 'twere an ill turn that thou did serve me," growled Will. "'Twere an ill turn, master."
"Forgive me, and you shall have this groat that the queen gave me," and Francis handed him the coin. "My lord, I know, will give me more to give thee."
"Well, mayhap it be all right," said Will somewhat mollified, "but you go no more, young master."
"No, Will; I will not ask it of thee. I have both seen and spoken with the lady. What more need I?"
"No more, I'll be bound, master," growled Will. "There was more in't than seeing and speaking, I'll warrant. But I ken none of it. Here we are at Stafford, master."
"I thank you, Will, for your courtesy," said Francis sweetly as she left him.
Lord Stafford was awaiting her return anxiously. He folded her close to his breast as she entered his chamber, saying earnestly:
"Thank Heaven, my daughter, that thou hast returned safely to me. Not for all the queens in the world would I have thee adventure such a thing again."
"Why, 'twas naught," laughed the girl. "Mary hath the letters now. 'Twas not hard to give them after all." She recounted the whole affair.
"Well hast thou done, my child. There will need to be further communication with Mary, but not from us. We have done our part. No more of plots or conspiracies will I have, and never again will I subject thee to such danger. Now we will wend homeward to allay the anxiety of thy mother. Whenever I have need of a quick wit and a nimble brain I will call on thee."
"Glad am I to have pleased thee," returned Francis. "There is naught that I would not undertake for thee, my father."
"I believe it, Francis."
The next morning early they set forth on the return journey. Lord Stafford seemed to have thrown aside the weight of misgiving that had oppressed him on his way thither, and was full of the gayest spirits. With laughter and story did he beguile the way, and once as he jestingly spoke of her attire, he said laughingly,
"Listen, Francis, and I will tell thee of another such an one. Hast thou ever heard how the serving man became a queen?"
"The serving man a queen?" cried the girl. "Why how could that be, father?"
"Listen, and you shall hear." In a rich full voice he trolled the following ballad:
THE FAMOUS FLOWER OF SERVING MEN
"You beauteous ladyes, great and small, I write unto you one and all, Whereby that you may understand What I have suffered in the land.
"I was by birth a lady faire, An ancient baron's only heire, And when my goode old father died Then I became a young knight's bride.
"And then my love built me a bower, Bedecked with many a fragrant flower; A braver bower you ne'er did see Than my true love did build for me.
"And there I lived a lady gay Till fortune wrought my love's decay; For there came foes so fierce a band, That soon they overran the land.
"They came upon us in the night, And rent my bower and slew my knight; And trembling hid in man's array, I scarce with life escaped away.
"Yet though my heart was full of care, Heaven would not suffer me to despair; Wherefore in haste I changed my name From fair Elise to Sweet Williame.
"And then withal I cut my hair, Resolv'd my man's attire to wear; And in my beaver, hose and band, I travel'd far through many a land.
"At length all wearied with my toil, I sate me down to rest awhile; My heart it was so filled with woe, That down my cheeks the tears did flow.
"It chanced the king of that same place, With all his lords a hunting was, And seeing me weep, upon the same Askt who I was, and whence I came.
"Then to His Grace I did reply, 'I am a poor and friendless boy, Though nobly born, now forc'd to be A serving man of low degree.'
"'Stand up, fair youth,' the king reply'd, For thee a service I'll provide; But tell me first what thou canst do Thou shall be fitted thereunto.
"'Chuse, gentle youth,' said he, 'thy place,' Then I reply'd, 'If it please Your Grace, To show such favor unto me, Your chamberlain I fain would be.'
"Now mark what fortune did provide; The king he would a hunting ride With all his lords and noble train, Sweet Williame must at home remain.
"And meeting with a ladye's vest, Within the same myself I drest; With silken robes and jewels rare, I deckt me as a lady faire.
"And taking up a lute straitway, Upon the same I strove to play; And sweetly to the same did sing, As made both hall and chamber ring:
"'My father was as brave a lord, As ever Europe might afford; My mother was a lady bright: My husband was a valiant knight.
"'But now, alas! my husband's dead, And all my friends are from me fled, My former days are past and gone, And I am now a serving man.'
"The king who had a hunting gone, Grew weary of his sport anon, And leaving all his gallant train, Turn'd on the sudden home again.
"And when he reached his statlye tower, Hearing one sing within his bower, He stopt to listen and to see Who sang there so melodiouslie.
"A crimson dye my face orespred, I blush'd for shame and hung my head, To find my sex and story known, When as I thought I was alone.
"'Faire ladye, pardon me,' says he, 'Thy virtue shall rewarded be. And since it is so fairly tryde, Thou shall become my royal bride.'
"Then strait to end his loving strife He took Sweet Williame for his wife. The like before was never seen, A serving man become a queen."
Francis laughed merrily when he finished.
"Poor Williame! but it ended well after all. Well, my days for man's attire will soon be o'er."
"'Tis to be hoped so," answered her father. "Though the dress well becomes thee."
At length, though they had returned by easier stages than they had performed the journey to Stafford, Lyndhurst was reached, and soon the turrets of Stafford Hall became visible.
"Home again, my child," spoke Lord Stafford cheerily. "Right glad am I to enter its gates once more. How is it with thee, Francis? Thou hast fared widely. Dost still revere thy home?"
"More than ever, my father. Never have I seen it look so beautiful. Even the stones seem to smile a welcome."
"Marry, there stands my lady wife! Look, she sees us."
With a cry of joy the lady ran to greet them.
"Ye are safe," she cried embracing them. "Ah, but it hath been long, long since ye left. Methought something had befallen you."
"No; my sweet wife. Weary we may be with the journey, and ready for the good cheer which we know awaits us, but well otherwise. How now, sweet chuck? Thou art pale, and even though thou hast us safe with thee, yet doth thy lip still quiver, and thy form tremble. What is it? Speak, madam, I beseech thee."
"My lord, I wot not what to think of it, but to-day a messenger came from the queen saying that Elizabeth in her royal progress through Hampshire would honor us with a visit."
"Elizabeth here?" cried Lord Stafford in astonishment. "Art sure?"
"Sure, my lord. What doth it portend? Is there hidden menace in the fact? Doth she suspect, think you, that Ballard hath been here? My lord, what can it mean?"
"Madam, I know not. We are her subjects. If Her Majesty chooses to visit us we can but receive her. But look not so pale. 'Tis but a matter of a few days' entertainment, and surely we would do ill to be churlish of them. It is not the first time that royalty hath honored Stafford. Right well do I remember that Henry, Elizabeth's bluff old father, favored us with a visit. With his own hand he brought down many a fat buck in yon forest park. Right well pleased was my father with that visit."
"True, my lord; but he had favor with Henry, and had naught to fear."
"And what is there to fear from his daughter? We must bestir ourselves to give the queen most royal welcome. Here she will not find the 'princely pleasures of Kenilworth,' but nathless! hearty welcome and good cheer are much even to a queen. How now, girl! Thou dost not look displeased?"
"Neither am I, good my father," spoke Francis quickly. With the natural instinct of youth she delighted at the prospect of the pleasures in store. "Glad will I be to see the queen even though she be old and not so beautiful as Mary."
"Beshrew me, girl! let no such words pass thy lips," cried her father in consternation. "'Twere treason, forsooth."
"Have no fear. I will speak naught of that order to any save thee and my lady mother. Discreet am I and full of matter, but nothing will I disclose."
"Thou hast need to be discreet," replied her mother. "Be not malapert and froward, child."
"Said the messenger when she was coming?" now asked the nobleman.
"On the third day from this, my lord."
"'Tis but short notice for what must be done," mused Lord Stafford. "Supplies must be obtained for the queen's retinue, and pageants prepared to amuse her. Call Greville, my wife. Bid him hasten to the presence chamber. Francis, repair to thy chamber and rest. Thou dost merit it. It will be thy part, madam, to attend to the ordering of the royal apartments. As for me there will be much to employ me during the next few days. Pray Heaven, that Ballard come not during the festivities."
THE COMING OF ELIZABETH
The days that followed were full of bustle and activity. The officers of the household scoured the country far and near to secure provisions and delicacies sufficient for the queen and her retinue. Game, droves of bullocks, sheep, hogs and great hampers of groceries filled the larders to overflowing. Near and remote neighbors and kinsmen embraced the opportunity to send contributions. No man knew when his own time might come and sympathized accordingly. The queen was not tolerant of any but a royal reception, and a visit, while an honor, was not always an unmixed blessing; as many an impoverished nobleman could testify.
Hugh Greville, the tutor, was overjoyed at her coming, and, as master of the pageants preparing for the amusement of the queen, assumed a pompous importance greatly at variance with his usual manner.
"We must have a play, my lord," he said to Lord Stafford who was for the moment idle. "Her Majesty doth take delight in a play. This to be preceded by an address in Latin. Latin, my lord, because the queen is learned, and deference should be paid to her knowledge. The welcome to be spoken by a boy."
"Have what thou wilt, Greville, so that it will please the queen," returned the nobleman. "I had word from my Lord of Leicester this morning that his mummers accompanied Elizabeth in her progress. They will give the play with more of satisfaction, I trow, than any of the strolling players who have come hither. The address of welcome could be managed, but what boy couldst thou get to deliver it? Boys there be in plenty, but boys with Latinity——" and he shrugged his shoulders.
"Had your lordship only a son," sighed Greville regretfully, "it would be right fitting for him to give the speech. I myself would write it. 'Twould only need to be conned well. Ah, would that thou hadst a son!"
"Gramercy!" spoke Francis overhearing the tutor's speech. "Hath he not a daughter? I will give thy harangue, Master Greville."
"Nay;" and the old man shook his head positively. "'Twill not do, Francis. The Queen's Majesty would relish it more if 'twere spoken by a lad. Her heart inclineth to them. A pretty lad, for she loves beauty. Marry! 'tis pity thou art a girl!"
"Father," Francis spoke quickly, a roguish light coming into her eyes, "I could put on the page's dress again, and who would be the wiser? Not the queen, I trow, for she doth not know whether or no thou hast a son."
"If it might be," said Greville eagerly. "The girl is brighter than most lads, and could quickly con the speech. What say you, my lord?"
"Let the child have her way in this, my lord," spoke Lady Stafford joining them. "Did she not don the garb to please thee? Now that it be for her pleasure deny her not, I entreat."
"When thou pleadest for her, madam, I cannot deny," said her husband slowly. "I thought never to see thee in such dress again, Francis. There seemed necessity for it before. Now——"
"Now there is necessity also," broke in Francis. "Shall the queen go without her welcome for the want of a boy? I trow not, when Francis Stafford makes so good an one. Fear not, my father. I have become so accustomed to the dress that each day do I don it. And 'tis but sport."
"Have thine own way," said Lord Stafford resignedly. "Do but honor the queen, and I will not inquire too closely concerning the manner."
Pleased at receiving the permission, Francis applied herself to memorizing the speech prepared by the tutor while the other preparations went on royally. Elizabeth was to arrive in the afternoon, and on the morning of that day her master of horse, the Earl of Leicester, with his stepson, the Earl of Essex, came to see that everything was in readiness. Then in company with Lord Stafford they went forth to escort the queen to the Hall.
A great concourse of people stood without the gates. Lord Stafford's retainers were drawn up on either side of the base court ready to shout a welcome so soon as the queen appeared. At the top of the stairs leading to the terrace stood Francis arrayed in doublet and hose of purple velvet. A short cloak of the material hung gracefully from her shoulders. A purple velvet bonnet with a long white feather crowned her head. Her curls were blown about her cheeks by the breeze; her color was coming and going for she was somewhat dismayed at the magnitude of the task she had set herself. Stories that she had heard of the great queen's anger at those who failed to perform well their parts rushed to her mind and almost overwhelmed her with confusion.
"Courage," whispered Greville who stood near her. "Courage, girl. Remember who thou art, and whom thou art to welcome. Do thy father credit, else I will repent me of having intrusted so important a duty to thee."
"I will, good cousin," returned Francis her spirit rising at his words. "Not even the presence of the queen shall make me forget what is due my father. But hark!"
A blare of trumpets sounded without the gates. The bell in the tower, used only upon great occasions, pealed forth merrily. The musicians stationed in court, terrace, and hall struck up, and viols, sackbuts, cornets and recorders sounded, while from the retainers and people who thronged the roads and the court there went up a great shout of acclamation as a glittering cavalcade appeared.
The dresses of the courtiers were a blaze of splendor remarkable even in that imaginative age. First rode the Earl of Leicester, magnificent in black satin, his horse richly caparisoned with embroidered furnishings. On the right of the queen was the Earl of Essex resplendent in cloth of silver. Upon her left, rode Sir Walter Raleigh gorgeous in white satin raiment. Back of them came the ladies of the court, maids of honor, and the gentlemen. In the midst of all these was the one upon whom all eyes were bent—Elizabeth. She was attired in white silk bordered with pearls the size of beans, and over it a mantle of black silk shot with silver threads. Instead of a chain she had an oblong collar of gold and jewels. Her air was stately, and as she passed along in great state and magnificence, she bowed graciously first to one side and then to the other. Wherever she turned her face the people fell upon their knees, crying,—"God save the queen, Elizabeth!" To which she replied,—"I thank you, my good people."
At the foot of the terrace she alighted from her chariot, and, escorted by Lord Stafford, ascended the steps and approached the place where Francis stood. The girl gazed at her earnestly, mentally contrasting her with Mary of Scotland.
Elizabeth was very stately though her stature was not great; her face, oblong, fair but wrinkled; her eyes small, yet black and pleasant; her nose a little hooked; her lips narrow and compressed; her teeth black as were most of the ladies' teeth at that period from the excessive use of sugar. She wore a wig of false red hair; and upon her head sat a small crown of gold reported to be made of some of the celebrated Lunebourg table. When she reached the terrace two cannons were shot off; the one filled with a sweet powder; the other with sweet water, odoriferous and pleasant; the firing being imitated by a crash of instruments. When the noise of these had died away Francis stepped forward, and began timidly, gaining self-possession as she proceeded:
"Oh Excellent Queen! true adamant of hearts, Out of that sacred garland ever grew Garlands of virtues, beauties, and perfections, That crowns your crown, and dims your fortune's beams, Welcome, and thrice welcome!
"O lady, that doth ennoble the title you possess, with the honor of your worthiness, rather crowning the great crown that derives fame from having so excellent an owner, than you receiving to yourself any ornament therefrom; vouchsafe with patient attention to hear the words which I, by commandment, am here to deliver unto you. Disdain not to smile upon our feeble efforts to entertain you, yet do I dare warrant myself so far upon the show of rare beauty, as that malice cannot fall from so fair a mind. Welcome! This hall and all it contains are yours. Do with them as you list, fair queen, but oh, disdain not to breathe your favor upon us. Welcome and thrice welcome to these portals! Loving hearts greet you, and declare you queen of them as well as of Love and Beauty."
Elizabeth listened smilingly, and as the girl concluded she passed her hand over her auburn curls saying affably:
"Well done, thou pretty lad! I like well the spirit as well as the delivery of it. Thy Latinity holds much to be commended. And what may be thy name?"
"Francis Stafford, may it please Your Grace."
"It does please me. Francis? Ah, well do I ken that was the name of thy father, my lord," and she turned to Lord Stafford.
"You speak aright, Your Highness," answered he.
"Thou shalt come to me anon, thou pretty lad, for I would speak with thee further," said the queen as she moved away. "Hast thou other children, my lord?"
"This is mine only one," replied Lord Stafford.
"And was the welcome of your composing?" queried she.
"Nay; I am not so ready with the pen," laughed Stafford. "I am not a Sidney, my liege. Greville did it. Dost remember him?"
"Assuredly. Where is he? Ah, Greville," as the tutor overwhelmed with rapture at her notice, threw himself on his knees before her, and seizing the hand which she graciously extended to him, covered it with kisses. "Art well?"
"Ah, madam, madam," murmured the old man, "can you ask that when it hath been so long since I have been in your presence? As well expect the flower to flourish without the rays of the sun."
"There, flatterer," said the queen tapping him lightly on the shoulder to Francis' amazement for she expected her to take no notice of such adulation. "Thou must come to the court oftener, Greville."
Greville arose as she passed on, his face aglow with gratification.
"Child, is she not the most gracious, the most lovely of sovereigns?" he whispered to Francis.
"Gracious, I grant thee, cousin; but lovely, no. My mother is fairer by far than she."
"Hark ye, lad," said a courtier who had overheard the girl's words, "a hint in thine ear: repeat not that speech. Nay; think it not even. It behooves thee, and me, and all of us to believe that the queen is the loveliest, the fairest, and the most learned of all women, bar none; which she is. God bless her!"
"God bless Elizabeth," echoed Greville fervently, but Francis, with a haughty look at the speaker, turned upon her heel, and entered the hall.
THE QUEEN TAKES OFFENSE
The queen at length reached the great hall of the castle, gorgeously hung with tapestries for her reception, and resounding to the strains of soft and delicious music. At the upper end of the chamber was a throne and beside it a door which opened into a suite of apartments for the queen whenever it should be her pleasure to be private. The hall was thronged with spectators, for a masque was to be given, and menials as well as courtiers were interested in the pageant.
Francis mingled with the crowd purposing to retire very soon to her bower to don habit more befitting her sex, but enjoying for the nonce the freedom which her garb gave her. Presently she felt her cloak twitched as some one said:
"Where is your sister, sir? I see her not among those who attend the queen."
"My sister?" The girl wheeled about, and uttered an exclamation of amazement as she recognized the speaker. "What dost thou here?" she demanded sternly. "And why art thou in that attire?"
The boy, for it was the lad who had shot the deer in the chase, gave vent to a low laugh.
"I came to see the queen. Why should I not? I am her leal and true subject, which is more than thou canst say even if thou didst rattle off her welcome so glibly in Latin. As for my dress, it is my own. Why should I not wear it, Master Stafford?"
"I am as true a subject to the queen as thou art," retorted Francis. "Why art thou here? Thou shouldst be in durance for the deer which thou didst shoot in the forest," and a sneer curled her lips.
"So she told you of it," exclaimed the lad.
"She? Whom mean you?" queried Francis in bewilderment.
"Thy sister, stupid. How else couldst thou have known of the deer? Truly, thou art as much like her as one pea is to another. Should you but don her frock there would be none that could tell ye apart. Where is she?"
Francis laughed outright as the lad's mistake dawned upon her, and a merry twinkle came into her eyes.
"My sister is occupied," she answered mischievously. "Marry! it were well for thee that it was she with whom thou didst dispute over the deer. But thou hast been punished enough, else I would not let thee leave this hall before thou wouldst feel the weight of my whip."
"Beshrew me, I like not thy brag," cried the other angrily. "Know, Master Stafford, that I was not punished. So soon as the keepers found who and what I was they made apology for treating me in such an unmannerly fashion, and brought me the horns of the deer as trophy of my skill. They now repose in mine own abode."
"Brought thee the horns in trophy of thy skill?" repeated the girl in wrathful incredulity. "Brought them to thee, forsooth! Why, minion, thou didst not kill the deer. I slew it myself."
"Marry! dost thou take thy sister's quarrel upon thee," cried the boy. "Know then that I slew it, and I am ready to maintain the matter by force of arms."
"Francis," Greville came up opportunely at this moment, "thou art forgetting thyself. Thy mother wishes thy presence. Why doth thou show choler toward this lad? Why, it is the lad who shot the deer!"
"You too, Greville," exclaimed Francis bitterly. "I think the sight of Elizabeth hath addled thy wits. As for you, young sir, 'tis well that my duty to my mother calls me hence else thou shouldst not get off so easily."
"At another time then," replied the boy, "thou wilt find me at thy service. We can settle our difference then."
"Now heaven forfend!" ejaculated the tutor urging Francis away. "This comes of donning male habit. I will report the matter to my lady, Francis. She will see to't that thou dost conduct thyself in more seemly manner. 'Twould but amuse my lord."
"Keep a still tongue in thy head, cousin," said the girl sharply. "Meddle not with that that doth not concern thee. Couldst thou not see that the fellow did but laud himself? The varlet dare not meet me."
"Methought he spoke not without courage," observed Greville. "I should judge by his dress that his rank was equal to thine."
"His dress, forsooth! What doth hinder any hind from appearing in rich attire?"
"The law of the queen. It regulates dress according to rank, and works with severity against those who dare transgress it," returned Greville. "There stands thy lady mother. I entreat thee, girl, abide close by her side during the queen's visit else thy sharp tongue may work mischief for all of us. My lady, here is the child."
Lady Stafford who stood near the queen and her ladies looked reproachfully at her daughter.
"Hast thou not changed thy garb yet, my child?" she asked. "It behooves thee to do so at once for it savors of disrespect to the queen not to appear in other array."