Unknown to History
A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland
Charlotte M. Yonge
In p. 58 of vol. ii. of the second edition of Miss Strickland's Life of Mary Queen of Scots, or p. 100, vol. v. of Burton's History of Scotland, will be found the report on which this tale is founded.
If circumstances regarding the Queen's captivity and Babington's plot have been found to be omitted, as well as many interesting personages in the suite of the captive Queen, it must be remembered that the art of the story-teller makes it needful to curtail some of the incidents which would render the narrative too complicated to be interesting to those who wish more for a view of noted characters in remarkable situations, than for a minute and accurate sifting of facts and evidence.
C. M. YONGE.
February 27, 1882.
CHAPTER I. THE LITTLE WAIF
CHAPTER II. EVIL TIDINGS
CHAPTER III. THE CAPTIVE
CHAPTER IV. THE OAK AND THE OAKEN HALL
CHAPTER V. THE HUCKSTERING WOMAN
CHAPTER VI. THE BEWITCHED WHISTLE
CHAPTER VII. THE BLAST OF THE WHISTLE
CHAPTER VIII. THE KEY OF THE CIPHER
CHAPTER IX. UNQUIET
CHAPTER X. THE LADY ARBELL
CHAPTER XI. QUEEN MARY'S PRESENCE CHAMBER
CHAPTER XII. A FURIOUS LETTER
CHAPTER XIII. BEADS AND BRACELETS
CHAPTER XIV. THE MONOGRAMS
CHAPTER XV. MOTHER AND CHILD
CHAPTER XVI. THE PEAK CAVERN
CHAPTER XVII. THE EBBING WELL
CHAPTER XVIII. CIS OR SISTER
CHAPTER XIX. THE CLASH OF SWORDS
CHAPTER XX. WINGFIELD MANOR
CHAPTER XXI. A TANGLE
CHAPTER XXII. TUTBURY
CHAPTER XXIII. THE LOVE TOKEN
CHAPTER XXIV. A LIONESS AT BAY
CHAPTER XXV. PAUL'S WALK
CHAPTER XXVI. IN THE WEB
CHAPTER XXVII. THE CASTLE WELL
CHAPTER XXVIII. HUNTING DOWN THE DEER
CHAPTER XXIX. THE SEARCH
CHAPTER XXX. TETE-A-TETE
CHAPTER XXXI. EVIDENCE
CHAPTER XXXII. WESTMINSTER HALL
CHAPTER XXXIII. IN THE TOWER
CHAPTER XXXIV. FOTHERINGHAY
CHAPTER XXXV. BEFORE THE COMMISSIONERS
CHAPTER XXXVI. A VENTURE
CHAPTER XXXVII. MY LADY'S REMORSE
CHAPTER XXXVIII. MASTER TALBOT AND HIS CHARGE
CHAPTER XXXIX. THE FETTERLOCK COURT
CHAPTER XL. THE SENTENCE
CHAPTER XLI. HER ROYAL HIGHNESS
CHAPTER XLII. THE SUPPLICATION
CHAPTER XLIII. THE WARRANT
CHAPTER XLIV. ON THE HUMBER
CHAPTER XLV. TEN YEARS AFTER
UNKNOWN TO HISTORY.
Poor scape-goat of crimes, where,—her part what it may, So tortured, so hunted to die, Foul age of deceit and of hate,—on her head Least stains of gore-guiltiness lie; To the hearts of the just her blood from the dust Not in vain for mercy will cry.
Poor scape-goat of nations and faiths in their strife So cruel,—and thou so fair! Poor girl!—so, best, in her misery named,— Discrown'd of two kingdoms, and bare; Not first nor last on this one was cast The burden that others should share. Visions of England, by F. T. Palgrave
THE LITTLE WAIF.
On a spring day, in the year 1568, Mistress Talbot sat in her lodging at Hull, an upper chamber, with a large latticed window, glazed with the circle and diamond leading perpetuated in Dutch pictures, and opening on a carved balcony, whence, had she been so minded, she could have shaken hands with her opposite neighbour. There was a richly carved mantel-piece, with a sea-coal fire burning in it, for though it was May, the sea winds blew cold, and there was a fishy odour about the town, such as it was well to counteract. The floor was of slippery polished oak, the walls hung with leather, gilded in some places and depending from cornices, whose ornaments proved to an initiated eye, that this had once been the refectory of a small priory, or cell, broken up at the Reformation.
Of furniture there was not much, only an open cupboard, displaying two silver cups and tankards, a sauce-pan of the same metal, a few tall, slender, Venetian glasses, a little pewter, and some rare shells. A few high-backed chairs were ranged against the wall; there was a tall "armory," i.e. a linen-press of dark oak, guarded on each side by the twisted weapons of the sea unicorn, and in the middle of the room stood a large, solid-looking table, adorned with a brown earthenware beau-pot, containing a stiff posy of roses, southernwood, gillyflowers, pinks and pansies, of small dimensions. On hooks, against the wall, hung a pair of spurs, a shield, a breastplate, and other pieces of armour, with an open helmet bearing the dog, the well-known crest of the Talbots of the Shrewsbury line.
On the polished floor, near the window, were a child's cart, a little boat, some whelks and limpets. Their owner, a stout boy of three years old, in a tight, borderless, round cap, and home-spun, madder-dyed frock, lay fast asleep in a big wooden cradle, scarcely large enough, however, to contain him, as he lay curled up, sucking his thumb, and hugging to his breast the soft fragment of a sea-bird's downy breast. If he stirred, his mother's foot was on the rocker, as she sat spinning, but her spindle danced languidly on the floor, as if "feeble was her hand, and silly her thread;" while she listened anxiously, for every sound in the street below. She wore a dark blue dress, with a small lace ruff opening in front, deep cuffs to match, and a white apron likewise edged with lace, and a coif, bent down in the centre, over a sweet countenance, matronly, though youthful, and now full of wistful expectancy; not untinged with anxiety and sorrow.
Susan Hardwicke was a distant kinswoman of the famous Bess of Hardwicke, and had formed one of the little court of gentlewomen with whom great ladies were wont to surround themselves. There she met Richard Talbot, the second son of a relative of the Earl of Shrewsbury, a young man who, with the indifference of those days to service by land or sea, had been at one time a gentleman pensioner of Queen Mary; at another had sailed under some of the great mariners of the western main. There he had acquired substance enough to make the offer of his hand to the dowerless Susan no great imprudence; and as neither could be a subject for ambitious plans, no obstacle was raised to their wedding.
He took his wife home to his old father's house in the precincts of Sheffield Park, where she was kindly welcomed; but wealth did not so abound in the family but that, when opportunity offered, he was thankful to accept the command of the Mastiff, a vessel commissioned by Queen Elizabeth, but built, manned, and maintained at the expense of the Earl of Shrewsbury. It formed part of a small squadron which was cruising on the eastern coast to watch over the intercourse between France and Scotland, whether in the interest of the imprisoned Mary, or of the Lords of the Congregation. He had obtained lodgings for Mistress Susan at Hull, so that he might be with her when he put into harbour, and she was expecting him for the first time since the loss of their second child, a daughter whom he had scarcely seen during her little life of a few months.
Moreover, there had been a sharp storm a few days previously, and experience had not hardened her to the anxieties of a sailor's wife. She had been down once already to the quay, and learnt all that the old sailors could tell her of chances and conjectures; and when her boy began to fret from hunger and weariness, she had left her serving-man, Gervas, to watch for further tidings. Yet, so does one trouble drive out another, that whereas she had a few days ago dreaded the sorrow of his return, she would now have given worlds to hear his step.
Hark, what is that in the street? Oh, folly! If the Mastiff were in, would not Gervas have long ago brought her the tidings? Should she look over the balcony only to be disappointed again? Ah! she had been prudent, for the sounds were dying away. Nay, there was a foot at the door! Gervas with ill news! No, no, it bounded as never did Gervas's step! It was coming up. She started from the chair, quivering with eagerness, as the door opened and in hurried her suntanned sailor! She was in his arms in a trance of joy. That was all she knew for a moment, and then, it was as if something else were given back to her. No, it was not a dream! It was substance. In her arms was a little swaddled baby, in her ears its feeble wail, mingled with the glad shout of little Humfrey, as he scrambled from the cradle to be uplifted in his father's arms.
"What is this?" she asked, gazing at the infant between terror and tenderness, as its weak cry and exhausted state forcibly recalled the last hours of her own child.
"It is the only thing we could save from a wreck off the Spurn," said her husband. "Scottish as I take it. The rogues seem to have taken to their boats, leaving behind them a poor woman and her child. I trust they met their deserts and were swamped. We saw the fluttering of her coats as we made for the Humber, and I sent Goatley and Jaques in the boat to see if anything lived. The poor wench was gone before they could lift her up, but the little one cried lustily, though it has waxen weaker since. We had no milk on board, and could only give it bits of soft bread soaked in beer, and I misdoubt me whether it did not all run out at the corners of its mouth."
This was interspersed with little Humfrey's eager outcries that little sister was come again, and Mrs. Talbot, the tears running down her cheeks, hastened to summon her one woman-servant, Colet, to bring the porringer of milk.
Captain Talbot had only hurried ashore to bring the infant, and show himself to his wife. He was forced instantly to return to the wharf, but he promised to come back as soon as he should have taken order for his men, and for the Mastiff, which had suffered considerably in the storm, and would need to be refitted.
Colet hastily put a manchet of fresh bread, a pasty, and a stoup of wine into a basket, and sent it by her husband, Gervas, after their master; and then eagerly assisted her mistress in coaxing the infant to swallow food, and in removing the soaked swaddling clothes which the captain and his crew had not dared to meddle with.
When Captain Talbot returned, as the rays of the setting sun glanced high on the roofs and chimneys, little Humfrey stood peeping through the tracery of the balcony, watching for him, and shrieking with joy at the first glimpse of the sea-bird's feather in his cap. The spotless home-spun cloth and the trenchers were laid for supper, a festive capon was prepared by the choicest skill of Mistress Susan, and the little shipwrecked stranger lay fast asleep in the cradle.
All was well with it now, Mrs. Talbot said. Nothing had ailed it but cold and hunger, and when it had been fed, warmed, and dressed, it had fallen sweetly asleep in her arms, appeasing her heartache for her own little Sue, while Humfrey fully believed that father had brought his little sister back again.
The child was in truth a girl, apparently three or four months old. She had been rolled up in Mrs. Talbot's baby's clothes, and her own long swaddling bands hung over the back of a chair, where they had been dried before the fire. They were of the finest woollen below, and cambric above, and the outermost were edged with lace, whose quality Mrs. Talbot estimated very highly.
"See," she added, "what we found within. A Popish relic, is it not? Colet and Mistress Gale were for making away with it at once, but it seemed to me that it was a token whereby the poor babe's friends may know her again, if she have any kindred not lost at sea."
The token was a small gold cross, of peculiar workmanship, with a crystal in the middle, through which might be seen some mysterious object neither husband nor wife could make out, but which they agreed must be carefully preserved for the identification of their little waif. Mrs. Talbot also produced a strip of writing which she had found sewn to the inmost band wrapped round the little body, but it had no superscription, and she believed it to be either French, Latin, or High Dutch, for she could make nothing of it. Indeed, the good lady's education had only included reading, writing, needlework and cookery, and she knew no language but her own. Her husband had been taught Latin, but his acquaintance with modern tongues was of the nautical order, and entirely oral and vernacular. However, it enabled him to aver that the letter—if such it were—was neither Scottish, French, Spanish, nor High or Low Dutch. He looked at it in all directions, and shook his head over it.
"Who can read it, for us?" asked Mrs. Talbot. "Shall we ask Master Heatherthwayte? he is a scholar, and he said he would look in to see how you fared."
"At supper-time, I trow," said Richard, rather grimly, "the smell of thy stew will bring him down in good time."
"Nay, dear sir, I thought you would be fain to see the good man, and he lives but poorly in his garret."
"Scarce while he hath good wives like thee to boil his pot for him," said Richard, smiling. "Tell me, hath he heard aught of this gear? thou hast not laid this scroll before him?"
"No, Colet brought it to me only now, having found it when washing the swaddling-bands, stitched into one of them."
"Then hark thee, good wife, not one word to him of the writing."
"Might he not interpret it?"
"Not he! I must know more about it ere I let it pass forth from mine hands, or any strange eye fall upon it— Ha, in good time! I hear his step on the stair."
The captain hastily rolled up the scroll and put it into his pouch, while Mistress Susan felt as if she had made a mistake in her hospitality, yet almost as if her husband were unjust towards the good man who had been such a comfort to her in her sorrow; but there was no lack of cordiality or courtesy in Richard's manner when, after a short, quick knock, there entered a figure in hat, cassock, gown, and bands, with a pleasant, though grave countenance, the complexion showing that it had been tanned and sunburnt in early youth, although it wore later traces of a sedentary student life, and, it might be, of less genial living than had nourished the up-growth of that sturdily-built frame.
Master Joseph Heatherthwayte was the greatly underpaid curate of a small parish on the outskirts of Hull. He contrived to live on some (pounds)10 per annum in the attic of the house where the Talbots lodged,—and not only to live, but to be full of charitable deeds, mostly at the expense of his own appetite. The square cut of his bands, and the uncompromising roundness of the hat which he doffed on his entrance, marked him as inclined to the Puritan party, which, being that of apparent progress, attracted most of the ardent spirits of the time.
Captain Talbot's inclinations did not lie that way, but he respected and liked his fellow-lodger, and his vexation had been merely the momentary disinclination of a man to be interrupted, especially on his first evening at home. He responded heartily to Master Heatherthwayte's warm pressure of the hand and piously expressed congratulation on his safety, mixed with condolence on the grief that had befallen him.
"And you have been a good friend to my poor wife in her sorrow," said Richard, "for the which I thank you heartily, sir."
"Truly, sir, I could have been her scholar, with such edifying resignation did she submit to the dispensation," returned the clergyman, uttering these long words in a broad northern accent which had nothing incongruous in it to Richard's ears, and taking advantage of the lady's absence on "hospitable tasks intent" to speak in her praise.
Little Humfrey, on his father's knee, comprehending that they were speaking of the recent sorrow, put in his piece of information that "father had brought little sister back from the sea."
"Ah, child!" said Master Heatherthwayte, in the ponderous tone of one unused to children, "thou hast yet to learn the words of the holy David, 'I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.'"
"Bring not that thought forward, Master Heatherthwayte," said Richard, "I am well pleased that my poor wife and this little lad can take the poor little one as a solace sent them by God, as she assuredly is."
"Mean you, then, to adopt her into your family?" asked the minister.
"We know not if she hath any kin," said Richard, and at that moment Susan entered, followed by the man and maid, each bearing a portion of the meal, which was consumed by the captain and the clergyman as thoroughly hungry men eat; and there was silence till the capon's bones were bare and two large tankards had been filled with Xeres sack, captured in a Spanish ship, "the only good thing that ever came from Spain," quoth the sailor.
Then he began to tell how he had weathered the storm on the Berwickshire coast; but he was interrupted by another knock, followed by the entrance of a small, pale, spare man, with the lightest possible hair, very short, and almost invisible eyebrows; he had a round ruff round his neck, and a black, scholarly gown, belted round his waist with a girdle, in which he carried writing tools.
"Ha, Cuthbert Langston, art thou there?" said the captain, rising. "Thou art kindly welcome. Sit down and crush a cup of sack with Master Heatherthwayte and me."
"Thanks, cousin," returned the visitor, "I heard that the Mastiff was come in, and I came to see whether all was well."
"It was kindly done, lad," said Richard, while the others did their part of the welcome, though scarcely so willingly. Cuthbert Langston was a distant relation on the mother's side of Richard, a young scholar, who, after his education at Oxford, had gone abroad with a nobleman's son as his pupil, and on his return, instead of taking Holy Orders, as was expected, had obtained employment in a merchant's counting-house at Hull, for which his knowledge of languages eminently fitted him. Though he possessed none of the noble blood of the Talbots, the employment was thought by Mistress Susan somewhat derogatory to the family dignity, and there was a strong suspicion both in her mind and that of Master Heatherthwayte that his change of purpose was due to the change of religion in England, although he was a perfectly regular church-goer. Captain Talbot, however, laughed at all this, and, though he had not much in common with his kinsman, always treated him in a cousinly fashion. He too had heard a rumour of the foundling, and made inquiry for it, upon which Richard told his story in greater detail, and his wife asked what the poor mother was like.
"I saw her not," he answered, "but Goatley thought the poor woman to whom she was bound more like to be nurse than mother, judging by her years and her garments."
"The mother may have been washed off before," said Susan, lifting the little one from the cradle, and hushing it. "Weep not, poor babe, thou hast found a mother here."
"Saw you no sign of the crew?" asked Master Heatherthwayte.
"None at all. The vessel I knew of old as the brig Bride of Dunbar, one of the craft that ply between Dunbar and the French ports."
"And how think you? Were none like to be saved?"
"I mean to ride along the coast to-morrow, to see whether aught can be heard of them, but even if their boats could live in such a sea, they would have evil hap among the wreckers if they came ashore. I would not desire to be a shipwrecked man in these parts, and if I had a Scottish or a French tongue in my head so much the worse for me."
"Ah, Master Heatherthwayte," said Susan, "should not a man give up the sea when he is a husband and father?"
"Tush, dame! With God's blessing the good ship Mastiff will ride out many another such gale. Tell thy mother, little Numpy, that an English sailor is worth a dozen French or Scottish lubbers."
"Sir," said Master Heatherthwayte, "the pious trust of the former part of your discourse is contradicted by the boast of the latter end."
"Nay, Sir Minister, what doth a sailor put his trust in but his God foremost, and then his good ship and his brave men?"
It should be observed that all the three men wore their hats, and each made a reverent gesture of touching them. The clergyman seemed satisfied by the answer, and presently added that it would be well, if Master and Mistress Talbot meant to adopt the child, that she should be baptized.
"How now?" said Richard, "we are not so near any coast of Turks or Infidels that we should deem her sprung of heathen folk."
"Assuredly not," said Cuthbert Langston, whose quick, light-coloured eyes had spied the reliquary in Mistress Susan's work-basket, "if this belongs to her. By your leave, kinswoman," and he lifted it in his hand with evident veneration, and began examining it.
"It is Babylonish gold, an accursed thing!" exclaimed Master Heatherthwayte. "Beware, Master Talbot, and cast it from thee."
"Nay," said Richard, "that shall I not do. It may lead to the discovery of the child's kindred. Why, my master, what harm think you it will do to us in my dame's casket? Or what right have we to make away with the little one's property?"
His common sense was equally far removed from the horror of the one visitor as from the reverence of the other, and so it pleased neither. Master Langston was the first to speak, observing that the relic made it evident that the child must have been baptized.
"A Popish baptism," said Master Heatherthwayte, "with chrism and taper and words and gestures to destroy the pure simplicity of the sacrament."
Controversy here seemed to be setting in, and the infant cause of it here setting up a cry, Susan escaped under pretext of putting Humfrey to bed in the next room, and carried off both the little ones. The conversation then fell upon the voyage, and the captain described the impregnable aspect of the castle of Dumbarton, which was held for Queen Mary by her faithful partisan, Lord Flemyng. On this, Cuthbert Langston asked whether he had heard any tidings of the imprisoned Queen, and he answered that it was reported at Leith that she had well-nigh escaped from Lochleven, in the disguise of a lavender or washerwoman. She was actually in the boat, and about to cross the lake, when a rude oarsman attempted to pull aside her muffler, and the whiteness of the hand she raised in self-protection betrayed her, so that she was carried back. "If she had reached Dumbarton," he said, "she might have mocked at the Lords of the Congregation. Nay, she might have been in that very brig, whose wreck I beheld."
"And well would it have been for Scotland and England had it been the will of Heaven that so it should fall out," observed the Puritan.
"Or it may be," said the merchant, "that the poor lady's escape was frustrated by Providence, that she might be saved from the rocks of the Spurn."
"The poor lady, truly! Say rather the murtheress," quoth Heatherthwayte.
"Say rather the victim and scapegoat of other men's plots," protested Langston.
"Come, come, sirs," says Talbot, "we'll have no high words here on what Heaven only knoweth. Poor lady she is, in all sooth, if sackless; poorer still if guilty; so I know not what matter there is for falling out about. In any sort, I will not have it at my table." He spoke with the authority of the captain of a ship, and the two visitors, scarce knowing it, submitted to his decision of manner, but the harmony of the evening seemed ended. Cuthbert Langston soon rose to bid good-night, first asking his cousin at what hour he proposed to set forth for the Spurn, to which Richard briefly replied that it depended on what had to be done as to the repairs of the ship.
The clergyman tarried behind him to say, "Master Talbot, I marvel that so godly a man as you have ever been should be willing to harbour one so popishly affected, and whom many suspect of being a seminary priest."
"Master Heatherthwayte," returned the captain, "my kinsman is my kinsman, and my house is my house. No offence, sir, but I brook not meddling."
The clergyman protested that no offence was intended, only caution, and betook himself to his own bare chamber, high above. No sooner was he gone than Captain Talbot again became absorbed in the endeavour to spell out the mystery of the scroll, with his elbows on the table and his hands over his ears, nor did he look up till he was touched by his wife, when he uttered an impatient demand what she wanted now.
She had the little waif in her arms undressed, and with only a woollen coverlet loosely wrapped round her, and without speaking she pointed to the little shoulder-blades, where two marks had been indelibly made—on one side the crowned monogram of the Blessed Virgin, on the other a device like the Labarum, only that the upright was surmounted by a fleur-de-lis.
Richard Talbot gave a sort of perplexed grunt of annoyance to acknowledge that he saw them.
"Poor little maid! how could they be so cruel? They have been branded with a hot iron," said the lady.
"They that parted from her meant to know her again," returned Talbot.
"Surely they are Popish marks," added Mistress Susan.
"Look you here, Dame Sue, I know you for a discreet woman. Keep this gear to yourself, both the letter and the marks. Who hath seen them?"
"I doubt me whether even Colet has seen this mark."
"That is well. Keep all out of sight. Many a man has been brought into trouble for a less matter swelled by prating tongues."
"Have you made it out?"
"Not I. It may be only the child's horoscope, or some old wife's charm that is here sewn up, and these marks may be naught but some sailor's freak; but, on the other hand, they may be concerned with perilous matter, so the less said the better."
"Should they not be shown to my lord, or to her Grace's Council?"
"I'm not going to run my head into trouble for making a coil about what may be naught. That's what befell honest Mark Walton. He thought he had seized matter of State, and went up to Master Walsingham, swelling like an Indian turkey-cock, with his secret letters, and behold they turned out to be a Dutch fishwife's charm to bring the herrings. I can tell you he has rued the work he made about it ever since. On the other hand, let it get abroad through yonder prating fellow, Heatherthwayte, or any other, that Master Richard Talbot had in his house a child with, I know not what Popish tokens, and a scroll in an unknown tongue, and I should be had up in gyves for suspicion of treason, or may be harbouring the Prince of Scotland himself, when it is only some poor Scottish archer's babe."
"You would not have me part with the poor little one?"
"Am I a Turk or a Pagan? No. Only hold thy peace, as I shall hold mine, until such time as I can meet some one whom I can trust to read this riddle. Tell me—what like is the child? Wouldst guess it to be of gentle, or of clownish blood, if women can tell such things?"
"Of gentle blood, assuredly," cried the lady, so that he smiled and said, "I might have known that so thou wouldst answer."
"Nay, but see her little hands and fingers, and the mould of her dainty limbs. No Scottish fisher clown was her father, I dare be sworn. Her skin is as fair and fine as my Humfrey's, and moreover she has always been in hands that knew how a babe should be tended. Any woman can tell you that!"
"And what like is she in your woman's eyes? What complexion doth she promise?"
"Her hair, what she has of it, is dark; her eyes—bless them—are of a deep blue, or purple, such as most babes have till they take their true tint. There is no guessing. Humfrey's eyes were once like to be brown, now are they as blue as thine own."
"I understand all that," said Captain Talbot, smiling. "If she have kindred, they will know her better by the sign manual on her tender flesh than by her face."
"And who are they?"
"Who are they?" echoed the captain, rolling up the scroll in despair. "Here, take it, Susan, and keep it safe from all eyes. Whatever it may be, it may serve thereafter to prove her true name. And above all, not a word or breath to Heatherthwayte, or any of thy gossips, wear they coif or bands."
"Ah, sir! that you will mistrust the good man."
"I said not I mistrust any one; only that I will have no word of all this go forth! Not one! Thou heedest me, wife?"
"Verily I do, sir; I will be mute."
After giving orders for the repairs of the Mastiff, and the disposal of her crew, Master Richard Talbot purveyed himself of a horse at the hostel, and set forth for Spurn Head to make inquiries along the coast respecting the wreck of the Bride of Dunbar, and he was joined by Cuthbert Langston, who said his house had had dealings with her owners, and that he must ascertain the fate of her wares. His good lady remained in charge of the mysterious little waif, over whom her tender heart yearned more and more, while her little boy hovered about in serene contemplation of the treasure he thought he had recovered. To him the babe seemed really his little sister; to his mother, if she sometimes awakened pangs of keen regret, yet she filled up much of the dreary void of the last few weeks.
Mrs. Talbot was a quiet, reserved woman, not prone to gadding abroad, and she had made few acquaintances during her sojourn at Hull; but every creature she knew, or might have known, seemed to her to drop in that day, and bring at least two friends to inspect the orphan of the wreck, and demand all particulars.
The little girl was clad in the swaddling garments of Mrs. Talbot's own children, and the mysterious marks were suspected by no one, far less the letter which Susan, for security's sake, had locked up in her nearly empty, steel-bound, money casket. The opinions of the gossips varied, some thinking the babe might belong to some of the Queen of Scotland's party fleeing to France, others fathering her on the refugees from the persecutions in Flanders, a third party believing her a mere fisherman's child, and one lean, lantern-jawed old crone, Mistress Rotherford, observing, "Take my word, Mrs. Talbot, and keep her not with you. They that are cast up by the sea never bring good with them."
The court of female inquiry was still sitting when a heavy tread was heard, and Colet announced "a serving-man from Bridgefield had ridden post haste to speak with madam," and the messenger, booted and spurred, with the mastiff badge on his sleeve, and the hat he held in his hand, followed closely.
"What news, Nathanael?" she asked, as she responded to his greeting.
"Ill enough news, mistress," was the answer. "Master Richard's ship be in, they tell me."
"Yes, but he is rid out to make inquiry for a wreck," said the lady. "Is all well with my good father-in-law?"
"He ails less in body than in mind, so please you. Being that Master Humfrey was thrown by Blackfoot, the beast being scared by a flash of lightning, and never spoke again."
"Ay, mistress. Pitched on his head against the south gate-post. I saw how it was with him when we took him up, and he never so much as lifted an eyelid, but died at the turn of the night. Heaven rest his soul!'
"Heaven rest his soul!" echoed Susan, and the ladies around chimed in. They had come for one excitement, and here was another.
"There! See but what I said!" quoth Mrs. Rotherford, uplifting a skinny finger to emphasise that the poor little flotsome had already brought evil.
"Nay," said the portly wife of a merchant, "begging your pardon, this may be a fat instead of a lean sorrow. Leaves the poor gentleman heirs, Mrs. Talbot?"
"Oh no!" said Susan, with tears in her eyes. "His wife died two years back, and her chrisom babe with her. He loved her too well to turn his mind to wed again, and now he is with her for aye." And she covered her face and sobbed, regardless of the congratulations of the merchant's wife, and exclaiming, "Oh! the poor old lady!"
"In sooth, mistress," said Nathanael, who had stood all this time as if he had by no means emptied his budget of ill news, "poor old madam fell down all of a heap on the floor, and when the wenches lifted her, they found she was stricken with the dead palsy, and she has not spoken, and there's no one knows what to do, for the poor old squire is like one distraught, sitting by her bed like an image on a monument, with the tears flowing down his old cheeks. 'But,' says he to me, 'get you to Hull, Nat, and take madam's palfrey and a couple of sumpter beasts, and bring my good daughter Talbot back with you as fast as she and the babes may brook.' I made bold to say, 'And Master Richard, your worship?' then he groaned somewhat, and said, 'If my son's ship be come in, he must do as her Grace's service permits, but meantime he must spare us his wife, for she is sorely needed here.' And he looked at the bed so as it would break your heart to see, for since old Nurse Took hath been doited, there's not been a wench about the house that can do a hand's turn for a sick body."
Susan knew this was true, for her mother-in-law had been one of those bustling, managing housewives, who prefer doing everything themselves to training others, and she was appalled at the idea of the probable desolation and helplessness of the bereaved household.
It was far too late to start that day, even had her husband been at home, for the horses sent for her had to rest. The visitors would fain have extracted some more particulars about the old squire's age, his kindred to the great Earl, and the amount of estate to which her husband had become heir. There were those among them who could not understand Susan's genuine grief, and there were others whose consolations were no less distressing to one of her reserved character. She made brief answer that the squire was threescore and fifteen years old, his wife nigh about his age; that her husband was now their only child; that he was descended from a son of the great Earl John, killed at the Bridge of Chatillon, that he held the estate of Bridgefield in fief on tenure of military service to the head of his family. She did not know how much it was worth by the year, but she must pray the good ladies to excuse her, as she had many preparations to make. Volunteers to assist her in packing her mails were made, but she declined them all, and rejoiced when left alone with Colet to arrange for what would be probably her final departure from Hull.
It was a blow to find that she must part from her servant-woman, who, as well as her husband Gervas, was a native of Hull. Not only were they both unwilling to leave, but the inland country was to their imagination a wild unexplored desert. Indeed, Colet had only entered Mrs. Talbot's service to supply the place of a maid who bad sickened with fever and ague, and had to be sent back to her native Hallamshire.
Ere long Mr. Heatherthwayte came down to offer his consolation, and still more his advice, that the little foundling should be at once baptized—conditionally, if the lady preferred it.
The Reformed of imperfect theological training, and as such Joseph Heatherthwayte must be classed, were apt to view the ceremonial of the old baptismal form, symbolical and beautiful as it was, as almost destroying the efficacy of the rite. Moreover, there was a further impression that the Church by which the child was baptized, had a right to bring it up, and thus the clergyman was urgent with the lady that she should seize this opportunity for the little one's baptism.
"Not without my husband's consent and knowledge," she said resolutely.
"Master Talbot is a good man, but somewhat careless of sound doctrine, as be the most of seafaring men."
Susan had been a little nettled by her husband's implied belief that she was influenced by the minister, so there was double resolution, as well as some offence in her reply, that she knew her duty as a wife too well to consent to such a thing without him. As to his being careless, he was a true and God-fearing man, and Mr. Heatherthwayte should know better than to speak thus of him to his wife.
Mr. Heatherthwayte's real piety and goodness had made him a great comfort to Susan in her lonely grief, but he had not the delicate tact of gentle blood, and had not known where to stop, and as he stood half apologising and half exhorting, she felt that her Richard was quite right, and that he could be both meddling and presuming. He was exceedingly in the way of her packing too, and she was at her wit's end to get rid of him, when suddenly Humfrey managed to pinch his fingers in a box, and set up such a yell, as, seconded by the frightened baby, was more than any masculine ears could endure, and drove Master Heatherthwayte to beat a retreat.
Mistress Susan was well on in her work when her husband returned, and as she expected, was greatly overcome by the tidings of his brother's death. He closely questioned Nathanael on every detail, and could think of nothing but the happy days he had shared with his brother, and of the grief of his parents. He approved of all that his wife had done; and as the damage sustained by the Mastiff could not be repaired under a month, he had no doubt about leaving his crew in the charge of his lieutenant while he took his family home.
So busy were both, and so full of needful cares, the one in giving up her lodging, the other in leaving his men, that it was impossible to inquire into the result of his researches, for the captain was in that mood of suppressed grief and vehement haste in which irrelevant inquiry is perfectly unbearable.
It was not till late in the evening that Richard told his wife of his want of success in his investigations. He had found witnesses of the destruction of the ship, but he did not give them full credit. "The fellows say the ship drove on the rock, and that they saw her boats go down with every soul on board, and that they would not lie to an officer of her Grace. Heaven pardon me if I do them injustice in believing they would lie to him sooner than to any one else. They are rogues enough to take good care that no poor wretch should survive even if he did chance to come to land."
"Then if there be no one to claim her, we may bring up as our own the sweet babe whom Heaven hath sent us."
"Not so fast, dame. Thou wert wont to be more discreet. I said not so, but for the nonce, till I can come by the rights of that scroll, there's no need to make a coil. Let no one know of it, or of the trinket—Thou hast them safe?"
"Laid up with the Indian gold chain, thy wedding gift, dear sir."
"'Tis well. My mother!—ah me," he added, catching himself up; "little like is she to ask questions, poor soul."
Then Susan diffidently told of Master Heatherthwayte's earnest wish to christen the child, and, what certainly biased her a good deal, the suggestion that this would secure her to their own religion.
"There is something in that," said Richard, "specially after what Cuthbert said as to the golden toy yonder. If times changed again—which Heaven forfend—that fellow might give us trouble about the matter."
"You doubt him then, sir!" she asked.
"I relished not his ways on our ride to-day," said Richard. "Sure I am that he had some secret cause for being so curious about the wreck. I suspect him of some secret commerce with the Queen of Scots' folk."
"Yet you were on his side against Mr. Heatherthwayte," said Susan.
"I would not have my kinsman browbeaten at mine own table by the self-conceited son of a dalesman, even if he have got a round hat and Geneva band! Ah, well! one good thing is we shall leave both of them well behind us, though I would it were for another cause."
Something in the remonstrance had, however, so worked on Richard Talbot, that before morning be declared that, hap what hap, if he and his wife were to bring up the child, she should be made a good Protestant Christian before they left the house, and there should be no more ado about it.
It was altogether illogical and untheological; but Master Heatherthwayte was delighted when in the very early morning his devotions were interrupted, and he was summoned by the captain himself to christen the child.
Richard and his wife were sponsors, but the question of name had never occurred to any one. However, in the pause of perplexity, when the response lagged to "Name this child," little Humfrey, a delighted spectator, broke out again with "Little Sis."
And forthwith, "Cicely, if thou art not already baptized," was uttered over the child, and Cicely became her name. It cost Susan a pang, as it had been that of her own little daughter, but it was too late to object, and she uttered no regret, but took the child to her heart, as sent instead of her who had been taken from her.
Master Heatherthwayte bade them good speed, and Master Langston stood at the door of his office and waved them a farewell, both alike unconscious of the rejoicing with which they were left behind. Mistress Talbot rode on the palfrey sent for her use, with the little stranger slung to her neck for security's sake. Her boy rode "a cock-horse" before his father, but a resting-place was provided for him on a sort of pannier on one of the sumpter beasts. What these animals could not carry of the household stuff was left in Colet's charge to be despatched by carriers; and the travellers jogged slowly on through deep Yorkshire lanes, often halting to refresh the horses and supply the wants of the little children at homely wayside inns, their entrance usually garnished with an archway formed of the jawbones of whales, which often served for gate-posts in that eastern part of Yorkshire. And thus they journeyed, with frequent halts, until they came to the Derbyshire borders.
Bridgefield House stood on the top of a steep slope leading to the river Dun, with a high arched bridge and a mill below it. From the bridge proceeded one of the magnificent avenues of oak-trees which led up to the lordly lodge, full four miles off, right across Sheffield Park.
The Bridgefield estate had been a younger son's portion, and its owners had always been regarded as gentlemen retainers of the head of their name, the Earl of Shrewsbury. Tudor jealousy had forbidden the marshalling of such a meine as the old feudal lords had loved to assemble, and each generation of the Bridgefield Talbots had become more independent than the former one. The father had spent his younger days as esquire to the late Earl, but had since become a justice of the peace, and took rank with the substantial landowners of the country. Humfrey, his eldest son, had been a gentleman pensioner of the Queen till his marriage, and Richard, though beginning his career as page to the present Earl's first wife, had likewise entered the service of her Majesty, though still it was understood that the head of their name had a claim to their immediate service, and had he been called to take up arms, they would have been the first to follow his banner. Indeed, a pair of spurs was all the annual rent they paid for their estate, which they held on this tenure, as well as on paying the heriard horse on the death of the head of the family, and other contributions to their lord's splendour when he knighted his son or married his daughter. In fact, they stood on the borderland of that feudal retainership which was being rapidly extinguished. The estate, carved out of the great Sheffield property, was sufficient to maintain the owner in the dignities of an English gentleman, and to portion off the daughters, provided that the superfluous sons shifted for themselves, as Richard had hitherto done. The house had been ruined in the time of the Wars of the Roses, and rebuilt in the later fashion, with a friendly-looking front, containing two large windows, and a porch projecting between them. The hall reached to the top of the house, and had a waggon ceiling, with mastiffs alternating with roses on portcullises at the intersections of the timbers. This was the family sitting and dining room, and had a huge chimney never devoid of a wood fire. One end had a buttery-hatch communicating with the kitchen and offices; at the other was a small room, sacred to the master of the house, niched under the broad staircase that led to the upper rooms, which opened on a gallery running round three sides of the hall.
Outside, on the southern side of the house, was a garden of potherbs, with the green walks edged by a few bright flowers for beau-pots and posies. This had stone walls separating it from the paddock, which sloped down to the river, and was a good deal broken by ivy-covered rocks. Adjoining the stables were farm buildings and barns, for there were several fields for tillage along the river-side, and the mill and two more farms were the property of the Bridgefield squire, so that the inheritance was a very fair one, wedged in, as it were, between the river and the great Chase of Sheffield, up whose stately avenue the riding party looked as they crossed the bridge, Richard having become more silent than ever as he came among the familiar rocks and trees of his boyhood, and knew he should not meet that hearty welcome from his brother which had never hitherto failed to greet his return. The house had that strange air of forlornness which seems to proclaim sorrow within. The great court doors stood open, and a big, rough deer-hound, at the sound of the approaching hoofs, rose slowly up, and began a series of long, deep-mouthed barks, with pauses between, sounding like a knell. One or two men and maids ran out at the sound, and as the travellers rode up to the horse-block, an old gray-bearded serving-man came stumbling forth with "Oh! Master Diccon, woe worth the day!"
"How does my mother?" asked Richard, as he sprang off and set his boy on his feet.
"No worse, sir, but she hath not yet spoken a word—back, Thunder—ah! sir, the poor dog knows you."
For the great hound had sprung up to Richard in eager greeting, but then, as soon as he heard his voice, the creature drooped his ears and tail, and instead of continuing his demonstrations of joy, stood quietly by, only now and then poking his long, rough nose into Richard's hand, knowing as well as possible that though not his dear lost master, he was the next thing!
Mistress Susan and the infant were lifted down—a hurried question and answer assured them that the funeral was over yesterday. My Lady Countess had come down and would have it so; my lord was at Court, and Sir Gilbert and his brothers had been present, but the old servants thought it hard that none nearer in blood should be there to lay their young squire in his grave, nor to support his father, who, poor old man, had tottered, and been so like to swoon as he passed the hall door, that Sir Gilbert and old Diggory could but, help him back again, fearing lest he, too, might have a stroke.
It was a great grief to Richard, who had longed to look on his brother's face again, but he could say nothing, only he gave one hand to his wife and the other to his son, and led them into the hall, which was in an indescribable state of confusion. The trestles which had supported the coffin were still at one end of the room, the long tables were still covered with cloths, trenchers, knives, cups, and the remains of the funeral baked meats, and there were overthrown tankards and stains of wine on the cloth, as though, whatever else were lacking, the Talbot retainers had not missed their revel.
One of the dishevelled rough-looking maidens began some hurried muttering about being so distraught, and not looking for madam so early, but Susan could not listen to her, and merely putting the babe into her arms, came with her husband up the stairs, leaving little Humfrey with Nathanael.
Richard knocked at the bedroom door, and, receiving no answer, opened it. There in the tapestry-hung chamber was the huge old bedstead with its solid posts. In it lay something motionless, but the first thing the husband and wife saw was the bent head which was lifted up by the burly but broken figure in the chair beside it.
The two knotted old hands clasped the arms of the chair, and the squire prepared to rise, his lip trembling under his white beard, and emotion working in his dejected features. They were beforehand with him. Ere he could rise both were on their knees before him, while Richard in a broken voice cried, "Father, O father!"
"Thank God that thou art come, my son," said the old man, laying his hands on his shoulders, with a gleam of joy, for as they afterwards knew, he had sorely feared for Richard's ship in the storm that had caused Humfrey's death. "I looked for thee, my daughter," he added, stretching out one hand to Susan, who kissed it. "Now it may go better with her! Speak to thy mother, Richard, she may know thy voice."
Alas! no; the recently active, ready old lady was utterly stricken, and as yet held in the deadly grasp of paralysis, unconscious of all that passed around her.
Susan found herself obliged at once to take up the reins, and become head nurse and housekeeper. The old squire trusted implicitly to her, and helplessly put the keys into her hands, and the serving-men and maids, in some shame at the condition in which the hall had been found, bestirred themselves to set it in order, so that there was a chance of the ordinary appearance of things being restored by supper-time, when Richard hoped to persuade his father to come down to his usual place.
Long before this, however, a trampling had been heard in the court, and a shrill voice, well known to Richard and Susan, was heard demanding, "Come home, is she—Master Diccon too? More shame for you, you sluttish queans and lazy lubbers, never to have let me know; but none of you have any respect—"
A visit from my Lady Countess was a greater favour to such a household as that of Bridgefield than it would be to a cottage of the present day; Richard was hurrying downstairs, and Susan only tarried to throw off the housewifely apron in which she had been compounding a cooling drink for the poor old lady, and to wash her hands, while Humfrey, rushing up to her, exclaimed "Mother, mother, is it the Queen?"
Queen Elizabeth herself was not inaptly represented by her namesake of Hardwicke, the Queen of Hallamshire, sitting on her great white mule at the door, sideways, with her feet on a board, as little children now ride, and attended by a whole troop of gentlemen ushers, maidens, prickers, and running footmen. She was a woman of the same type as the Queen, which was of course enough to stamp her as a celebrated beauty, and though she had reached middle age, her pale, clear complexion and delicate features were well preserved. Her chin was too sharp, and there was something too thin and keen about her nose and lips to promise good temper. She was small of stature, but she made up for it in dignity of presence, and as she sat there, with her rich embroidered green satin farthingale spreading out over the mule, her tall ruff standing up fanlike on her shoulders, her riding-rod in her hand, and her master of the horse standing at her rein, while a gentleman usher wielded an enormous, long-handled, green fan, to keep the sun from incommoding her, she was, perhaps, even more magnificent than the maiden queen herself might have been in her more private expeditions. Indeed, she was new to her dignity as Countess, having been only a few weeks married to the Earl, her fourth husband. Captain Talbot did not feel it derogatory to his dignity as a gentleman to advance with his hat in his hand to kiss her hand, and put a knee to the ground as he invited her to alight, an invitation his wife heard with dismay as she reached the door, for things were by no means yet as they should be in the hall. She curtsied low, and advanced with her son holding her hand, but shrinking behind her.
"Ha, kinswoman, is it thou!" was her greeting, as she, too, kissed the small, shapely, white, but exceedingly strong hand that was extended to her; "So thou art come, and high time too. Thou shouldst never have gone a-gadding to Hull, living in lodgings; awaiting thine husband, forsooth. Thou art over young a matron for such gear, and so I told Diccon Talbot long ago."
"Yea, madam," said Richard, somewhat hotly, "and I made answer that my Susan was to be trusted, and truly no harm has come thereof."
"Ho! and you reckon it no harm that thy father and mother were left to a set of feckless, brainless, idle serving-men and maids in their trouble? Why, none would so much as have seen to thy brother's poor body being laid in a decent grave had not I been at hand to take order for it as became a distant kinsman of my lord. I tell thee, Richard, there must be no more of these vagabond seafaring ways. Thou must serve my lord, as a true retainer and kinsman is bound—Nay," in reply to a gesture, "I will not come in, I know too well in what ill order the house is like to be. I did but take my ride this way to ask how it fared with the mistress, and try if I could shake the squire from his lethargy, if Mrs. Susan had not had the grace yet to be here. How do they?" Then in answer, "Thou must waken him, Diccon—rouse him, and tell him that I and my lord expect it of him that he should bear his loss as a true and honest Christian man, and not pule and moan, since he has a son left—ay, and a grandson. You should breed your boy up to know his manners, Susan Talbot," as Humfrey resisted an attempt to make him do his reverence to my lady; "that stout knave of yours wants the rod. Methought I heard you'd borne another, Susan! Ay! as I said it would be," as her eye fell on the swaddled babe in a maid's arms. "No lack of fools to eat up the poor old squire's substance. A maid, is it? Beshrew me, if your voyages will find portions for all your wenches! Has the leech let blood to thy good-mother, Susan? There! not one amongst you all bears any brains. Knew you not how to send up to the castle for Master Drewitt? Farewell! Thou wilt be at the lodge to-morrow to let me know how it fares with thy mother, when her brain is cleared by further blood-letting. And for the squire, let him know that I expect it of him that he shall eat, and show himself a man!"
So saying, the great lady departed, escorted as far as the avenue gate by Richard Talbot, and leaving the family gratified by her condescension, and not allowing to themselves how much their feelings were chafed.
Death and sorrow seemed to have marked the house of Bridgefield, for the old lady never rallied after the blood-letting enjoined by the Countess's medical science, and her husband, though for some months able to creep about the house, and even sometimes to visit the fields, had lost his memory, and became more childish week by week.
Richard Talbot was obliged to return to his ship at the end of the month, but as soon as she was laid up for the winter he resigned his command, and returned home, where he was needed to assume the part of master. In truth he became actually master before the next spring, for his father took to his bed with the first winter frosts, and in spite of the duteous cares lavished upon him by his son and daughter-in-law, passed from his bed to his grave at the Christmas feast. Richard Talbot inherited house and lands, with the undefined sense of feudal obligation to the head of his name, and ere long he was called upon to fulfil those obligations by service to his lord.
There had been another act in the great Scottish tragedy. Queen Mary had effected her escape from Lochleven, but only to be at once defeated, and then to cross the Solway and throw herself into the hands of the English Queen.
Bolton Castle had been proved to be too perilously near the Border to serve as her residence, and the inquiry at York, and afterwards at Westminster, having proved unsatisfactory, Elizabeth had decided on detaining her in the kingdom, and committed her to the charge of the Earl of Shrewsbury.
To go into the history of that ill-managed investigation is not the purpose of this tale. It is probable that Elizabeth believed her cousin guilty, and wished to shield that guilt from being proclaimed, while her councillors, in their dread of the captive, wished to enhance the crime in Elizabeth's eyes, and were by no means scrupulous as to the kind of evidence they adduced. However, this lies outside our story; all that concerns it is that Lord Shrewsbury sent a summons to his trusty and well-beloved cousin, Richard Talbot of Bridgefield, to come and form part of the guard of honour which was to escort the Queen of Scots to Tutbury Castle, and there attend upon her.
All this time no hint had been given that the little Cicely was of alien blood. The old squire and his lady had been in no state to hear of the death of their own grandchild, or of the adoption of the orphan and Susan was too reserved a woman to speak needlessly of her griefs to one so unsympathising as the Countess or so flighty as the daughters at the great house. The men who had brought the summons to Hull had not been lodged in the house, but at an inn, where they either had heard nothing of Master Richard's adventure or had drowned their memory in ale, for they said nothing; and thus, without any formed intention of secrecy, the child's parentage had never come into question.
Indeed, though without doubt Mrs. Talbot was very loyal in heart to her noble kinsfolk, it is not to be denied that she was a good deal more at peace when they were not at the lodge. She tried devoutly to follow out the directions of my Lady Countess, and thought herself in fault when things went amiss, but she prospered far more when free from such dictation.
She had nothing to wish except that her husband could be more often at home, but it was better to have him only a few hours' ride from her, at Chatsworth or Tutbury, than to know him exposed to the perils of the sea. He rode over as often as he could be spared, to see his family and look after his property; but his attendance was close, and my Lord and my Lady were exacting with one whom they could thoroughly trust, and it was well that in her quiet way Mistress Susan proved capable of ruling men and maids, farm and stable as well as house, servants and children, to whom another boy was added in the course of the year after her return to Bridgefield.
In the autumn, notice was sent that the Queen of Scots was to be lodged at Sheffield, and long trains of waggons and sumpter horses and mules began to arrive, bringing her plenishing and household stuff in advance. Servants without number were sent on, both by her and by the Earl, to make preparations, and on a November day, tidings came that the arrival might be expected in the afternoon. Commands were sent that the inhabitants of the little town at the park gate should keep within doors, and not come forth to give any show of welcome to their lord and lady, lest it should be taken as homage to the captive queen; but at the Manor-house there was a little family gathering to hail the Earl and Countess. It chiefly consisted of ladies with their children, the husbands of most being in the suite of the Earl acting as escort or guard to the Queen. Susan Talbot, being akin to the family on both sides, was there with the two elder children; Humfrey, both that he might greet his father the sooner, and that he might be able to remember the memorable arrival of the captive queen, and Cicely, because he had clamoured loudly for her company. Lady Talbot, of the Herbert blood, wife to the heir, was present with two young sisters-in-law, Lady Grace, daughter to the Earl, and Mary, daughter to the Countess, who had been respectively married to Sir Henry Cavendish and Sir Gilbert Talbot, a few weeks before their respective parents were wedded, when the brides were only twelve and fourteen years old. There, too, was Mrs. Babington of Dethick, the recent widow of a kinsman of Lord Shrewsbury, to whom had been granted the wardship of her son, and the little party waiting in the hall also numbered Elizabeth and William Cavendish, the Countess's youngest children, and many dependants mustered in the background, ready for the reception. Indeed, the castle and manor-house, with their offices, lodges, and outbuildings, were an absolute little city in themselves. The castle was still kept in perfect repair, for the battle of Bosworth was not quite beyond the memory of living men's fathers; and besides, who could tell whether any day England might not have to be contested inch by inch with the Spaniard? So the gray walls stood on the tongue of land in the valley, formed by the junction of the rivers Sheaf and Dun, with towers at all the gateways, enclosing a space of no less than eight acres, and with the actual fortress, crisp, strong, hard, and unmouldered in the midst, its tallest square tower serving as a look-out place for those who watched to give the first intimation of the arrival.
The castle had its population, but chiefly of grooms, warders, and their families. The state-rooms high up in that square tower were so exceedingly confined, so stern and grim, that the grandfather of the present earl had built a manor-house for his family residence on the sloping ground on the farther side of the Dun.
This house, built of stone, timber, and brick, with two large courts, two gardens, and three yards, covered nearly as much space as the castle itself. A pleasant, smooth, grass lawn lay in front, and on it converged the avenues of oaks and walnuts, stretching towards the gates of the park, narrowing to the eye into single lines, then going absolutely out of sight, and the sea of foliage presenting the utmost variety of beautiful tints of orange, yellow, brown, and red. There was a great gateway between two new octagon towers of red brick, with battlements and dressings of stone, and from this porch a staircase led upwards to the great stone-paved hall, with a huge fire burning on the open hearth. Around it had gathered the ladies of the Talbot family waiting for the reception. The warder on the tower had blown his horn as a signal that the master and his royal guest were within the park, and the banner of the Talbots had been raised to announce their coming, but nearly half an hour must pass while the party came along the avenue from the drawbridge over the Sheaf ere they could arrive at the lodge.
So the ladies, in full state dresses, hovered over the fire, while the children played in the window seat near at hand.
Gilbert Talbot's wife, a thin, yellow-haired, young creature, promising to be like her mother, the Countess, had a tongue which loved to run, and with the precocity and importance of wifehood at sixteen, she dilated to her companions on her mother's constant attendance on the Queen, and the perpetual plots for that lady's escape. "She is as shifty and active as any cat-a-mount; and at Chatsworth she had a scheme for being off out of her bedchamber window to meet a traitor fellow named Boll; but my husband smelt it out in good time, and had the guard beneath my lady's window, and the fellows are in gyves, and to see the lady the day it was found out! Not a wry face did she make. Oh no! 'Twas all my good lord, and my sweet sir with her. I promise you butter would not melt in her mouth, for my Lord Treasurer Cecil hath been to see her, and he has promised to bring her to speech of her Majesty. May I be there to see. I promise you 'twill be diamond cut diamond between them."
"How did she and my Lord Treasurer fare together?" asked Mrs. Babington.
"Well, you know there's not a man of them all that is proof against her blandishments. Her Majesty should have women warders for her. 'Twas good sport to see the furrows in his old brow smoothing out against his will as it were, while she plied him with her tongue. I never saw the Queen herself win such a smile as came on his lips, but then he is always a sort of master, or tutor, as it were, to the Queen. Ay," on some exclamation from Lady Talbot, "she heeds him like no one else. She may fling out, and run counter to him for the very pleasure of feeling that she has the power, but she will come round at last, and 'tis his will that is done in the long run. If this lady could beguile him indeed, she might be a free woman in the end."
"And think you that she did?"
"Not she! The Lord Treasurer is too long-headed, and has too strong a hate to all Papistry, to be beguiled more than for the very moment he was before her. He cannot help the being a man, you see, and they are all alike when once in her presence—your lord and father, like the rest of them, sister Grace. Mark me if there be not tempests brewing, an we be not the sooner rid of this guest of ours. My mother is not the woman to bear it long."
Dame Mary's tongue was apt to run on too fast, and Lady Talbot interrupted its career with an amused gesture towards the children.
For the little Cis, babe as she was, had all the three boys at her service. Humfrey, with a paternal air, was holding her on the window-seat; Antony Babington was standing to receive the ball that was being tossed to and fro between them, but as she never caught it, Will Cavendish was content to pick it up every time and return it to her, appearing amply rewarded by her laugh of delight.
The two mothers could not but laugh, and Mrs. Babington said the brave lads were learning their knightly courtesy early, while Mary Talbot began observing on the want of likeness between Cis and either the Talbot or Hardwicke race. The little girl was much darker in colouring than any of the boys, and had a pair of black, dark, heavy brows, that prevented her from being a pretty child. Her adopted mother shrank from such observations, and was rejoiced that a winding of horns, and a shout from the boys, announced that the expected arrival was about to take place. The ladies darted to the window, and beholding the avenue full of horsemen and horsewomen, their accoutrements and those of their escort gleaming in the sun, each mother gathered her own chicks to herself, smoothed the plumage somewhat ruffled by sport, and advanced to the head of the stone steps, William Cavendish, the eldest of the boys, being sent down to take his stepfather's rein and hold his stirrup, page fashion.
Clattering and jingling the troop arrived. The Earl, a stout, square man, with a long narrow face, lengthened out farther by a light-coloured, silky beard, which fell below his ruff, descended from his steed, gave his hat to Richard Talbot, and handed from her horse a hooded and veiled lady of slender proportions, who leant on his arm as she ascended the steps.
The ladies knelt, whether in respect to the heads of the family, or to the royal guest, may be doubtful.
The Queen came up the stairs with rheumatic steps, declaring, however, as she did so, that she felt the better for her ride, and was less fatigued than when she set forth. She had the soft, low, sweet Scottish voice, and a thorough Scottish accent and language, tempered, however, by French tones, and as, coming into the warmer air of the hall, she withdrew her veil, her countenance was seen. Mary Stuart was only thirty-one at this time, and her face was still youthful, though worn and wearied, and bearing tokens of illness. The features were far from being regularly beautiful; there was a decided cast in one of the eyes, and in spite of all that Mary Talbot's detracting tongue had said, Susan's first impression was disappointment. But, as the Queen greeted the lady whom she already knew, and the Earl presented his daughter, Lady Grace, his stepdaughter, Elizabeth Cavendish, and his kinswoman, Mistress Susan Talbot, the extraordinary magic of her eye and lip beamed on them, the queenly grace and dignity joined with a wonderful sweetness impressed them all, and each in measure felt the fascination.
The Earl led the Queen to the fire to obtain a little warmth before mounting the stairs to her own apartments, and likewise while Lady Shrewsbury was dismounting, and being handed up the stairs by her second stepson, Gilbert. The ladies likewise knelt on one knee to greet this mighty dame, and the children should have done so too, but little Cis, catching sight of Captain Richard, who had come up bearing the Earl's hat, in immediate attendance on him, broke out with an exulting cry of "Father! father! father!" trotted with outspread arms right in front of the royal lady, embraced the booted leg in ecstasy, and then stretching out, exclaimed "Up! up!"
"How now, malapert poppet!" exclaimed the Countess, and though at some distance, uplifted her riding-rod. Susan was ready to sink into the earth with confusion at the great lady's displeasure, but Richard had stooped and lifted the little maid in his arms, while Queen Mary turned, her face lit up as by a sunbeam, and said, "Ah, bonnibell, art thou fain to see thy father? Wilt thou give me one of thy kisses, sweet bairnie?" and as Richard held her up to the kind face, "A goodly child, brave sir. Thou must let me have her at times for a playfellow. Wilt come and comfort a poor prisoner, little sweeting?"
The child responded with "Poor poor," stroking the soft delicate cheek, but the Countess interfered, still wrathful. "Master Richard, I marvel that you should let her Grace be beset by a child, who, if she cannot demean herself decorously, should have been left at home. Susan Hardwicke, I thought I had schooled you better."
"Nay, madam, may not a babe's gentle deed of pity be pardoned?" said Mary.
"Oh! if it pleasures you, madam, so be it," said Lady Shrewsbury, deferentially; "but there be children here more worthy of your notice than yonder little black-browed wench, who hath been allowed to thrust herself forward, while others have been kept back from importuning your Grace."
"No child can importune a mother who is cut off from her own," said Mary, eager to make up for the jealousy she had excited. "Is this bonnie laddie yours, madam? Ah! I should have known it by the resemblance."
She held her white hand to receive the kisses of the boys: William Cavendish, under his mother's eye, knelt obediently; Antony Babington, a fair, pretty lad, of eight or nine, of a beautiful pink and white complexion, pressed forward with an eager devotion which made the Queen smile and press her delicate hand on his curled locks; as for Humfrey, he retreated behind the shelter of his mother's farthingale, where his presence was forgotten by every one else, and, after the rebuff just administered to Cicely, there was no inclination to bring him to light, or combat with his bashfulness.
The introductions over, Mary gave her hand to the Earl to be conducted from the hall up the broad staircase, and along the great western gallery to the south front, where for many days her properties had been in course of being arranged.
Lady Shrewsbury followed as mistress of the house, and behind, in order of precedence, came the Scottish Queen's household, in which the dark, keen features of the French, and the rufous hues of the Scots, were nearly equally divided. Lady Livingstone and Mistress Seaton, two of the Queen's Maries of the same age with herself, came next, the one led by Lord Talbot, the other by Lord Livingstone. There was also the faithful French Marie de Courcelles, paired with Master Beatoun, comptroller of the household, and Jean Kennedy, a stiff Scotswoman, whose hard outlines did not do justice to her tenderness and fidelity, and with her was a tall, active, keen-faced stripling, looked on with special suspicion by the English, as Willie Douglas, the contriver of the Queen's flight from Lochleven. Two secretaries, French and Scottish, were shrewdly suspected of being priests, and there were besides, a physician, surgeon, apothecary, with perfumers, cooks, pantlers, scullions, lacqueys, to the number of thirty, besides their wives and attendants, these last being "permitted of my lord's benevolence."
They were all eyed askance by the sturdy, north country English, who naturally hated all strangers, above all French and Scotch, and viewed the band of captives much like a caged herd of wild beasts.
When on the way home Mistress Susan asked her little boy why he would not make his obeisance to the pretty lady, he sturdily answered, "She is no pretty lady of mine. She is an evil woman who slew her husband."
"Poor lady! tongues have been busy with her," said his father.
"How, sir?" asked Susan, amazed, "do you think her guiltless in the matter?"
"I cannot tell," returned Richard. "All I know is that many who have no mercy on her would change their minds if they beheld her patient and kindly demeanour to all."
This was a sort of shock to Susan, as it seemed to her to prove the truth of little Lady Talbot's words, that no one was proof against Queen Mary's wiles; but she was happy in having her husband at home once more, though, as he told her, he would be occupied most of each alternate day at Sheffield, he and another relation having been appointed "gentlemen porters," which meant that they were to wait in a chamber at the foot of the stairs, and keep watch over whatever went in or out of the apartments of the captive and her suite.
"And," said Richard, "who think you came to see me at Wingfield? None other than Cuthbert Langston."
"Hath he left his merchandise at Hull?"
"Ay, so he saith. He would fain have had my good word to my lord for a post in the household, as comptroller of accounts, clerk, or the like. It seemed as though there were no office he would not take so that he might hang about the neighbourhood of this queen."
"Then you would not grant him your recommendation?"
"Nay, truly. I could not answer for him, and his very anxiety made me the more bent on not bringing him hither. I'd fain serve in no ship where I know not the honesty of all the crew, and Cuthbert hath ever had a hankering after the old profession."
"Verily then it were not well to bring him hither."
"Moreover, he is a lover of mysteries and schemes," said Richard. "He would never be content to let alone the question of our little wench's birth, and would be fretting us for ever about the matter."
"Did he speak of it?"
"Yes. He would have me to wit that a nurse and babe had been put on board at Dumbarton. Well, said I, and so they must have been, since on board they were. Is that all thou hast to tell me? And mighty as was the work he would have made of it, this was all he seemed to know. I asked, in my turn, how he came to know thus much about a vessel sailing from a port in arms against the Lords of the Congregation, the allies of her Majesty?"
"What said he?"
"That his house had dealings with the owners of the Bride of Dunbar. I like not such dealings, and so long as this lady and her train are near us, I would by no means have him whispering here and there that she is a Scottish orphan."
"It would chafe my Lady Countess!" said Susan, to whom this was a serious matter. "Yet doth it not behove us to endeavour to find out her parentage?"
"I tell you I proved to myself that he knew nothing, and all that we have to do is to hinder him from making mischief out of that little," returned Richard impatiently.
The honest captain could scarcely have told the cause of his distrust or of his secrecy, but he had a general feeling that to let an intriguer like Cuthbert Langston rake up any tale that could be connected with the party of the captive queen, could only lead to danger and trouble.
THE OAK AND THE OAKEN HALL.
The oaks of Sheffield Park were one of the greatest glories of the place. Giants of the forest stretched their huge arms over the turf, kept smooth and velvety by the creatures, wild and tame, that browsed on it, and made their covert in the deep glades of fern and copse wood that formed the background.
There were not a few whose huge trunks, of such girth that two men together could not encompass them with outstretched arms, rose to a height of more than sixty feet before throwing out a horizontal branch, and these branches, almost trees in themselves, spread forty-eight feet on each side of the bole, lifting a mountain of rich verdure above them, and casting a delicious shade upon the ground beneath them. Beneath one of these noble trees, some years after the arrival of the hapless Mary Stuart, a party of children were playing, much to the amusement of an audience of which they were utterly unaware, namely, of sundry members of a deer-hunting party; a lady and gentleman who, having become separated from the rest, were standing in the deep bracken, which rose nearly as high as their heads, and were further sheltered by a rock, looking and listening.
"Now then, Cis, bravely done! Show how she treats her ladies—"
"Who will be her lady? Thou must, Humfrey!"
"No, no, I'll never be a lady," said Humfrey gruffly.
"Thou then, Diccon."
"No, no," and the little fellow shrank back, "thou wilt hurt me, Cis."
"Come then, do thou, Tony! I'll not strike too hard!"
"As if a wench could strike too hard."
"He might have turned that more chivalrously," whispered the lady to her companion. "What are they about to represent? Mort de ma vie, the profane little imps! I, believe it is my sacred cousin, the Majesty of England herself! Truly the little maid hath a bearing that might serve a queen, though she be all too black and beetle-browed for Queen Elizabeth. Who is she, Master Gilbert?"
"She is Cicely Talbot, daughter to the gentleman porter of your Majesty's lodge."
"See to her—mark her little dignity with her heather and bluebell crown as she sits on the rock, as stately as jewels could make her! See her gesture with her hands, to mark where the standing ruff ought to be. She hath the true spirit of the Comedy—ah! and here cometh young Antony with mincing pace, with a dock-leaf for a fan, and a mantle for a farthingale! She speaks! now hark!"
"Good morrow to you, my young mistress," began a voice pitched two notes higher than its actual childlike key. "Thou hast a new farthingale, I see! O Antony, that's not the way to curtsey—do it like this. No no! thou clumsy fellow—back and knees together."
"Never mind, Cis," interposed one of the boys—"we shall lose all our play time if you try to make him do it with a grace. Curtsies are women's work—go on."
"Where was I? O—" (resuming her dignity after these asides) "Thou hast a new farthingale, I see."
"To do my poor honour to your Grace's birthday."
"Oh ho! Is it so? Methought it had been to do honour to my fair mistress's own taper waist. And pray how much an ell was yonder broidered stuff?"
"Two crowns, an't please your Grace," returned the supposed lady, making a wild conjecture.
"Two crowns! thou foolish Antony!" Then recollecting herself, "two crowns! what, when mine costs but half! Thou presumptuous, lavish varlet—no, no, wench! what right hast thou to wear gowns finer than thy liege?—I'll teach you." Wherewith, erecting all her talons, and clawing frightfully with them in the air, the supposed Queen Bess leapt at the unfortunate maid of honour, appeared to tear the imaginary robe, and drove her victim on the stage with a great air of violence, amid peals of laughter from the other children, loud enough to drown those of the elders, who could hardly restrain their merriment.
Gilbert Talbot, however, had been looking about him anxiously all the time, and would fain have moved away; but a sign from Queen Mary withheld him, as one of the children cried,
"Now! show us how she serves her lords."
The play seemed well understood between them, for the mimic queen again settled herself on her throne, while Will Cavendish, calling out, "Now I'm Master Hatton," began to tread a stately measure on the grass, while the queen exclaimed, "Who is this new star of my court? What stalwart limbs, what graceful tread! Who art thou, sir?"
"Madam, I am—I am. What is it? An ef—ef—"
"A daddy-long-legs," mischievously suggested another of the group.
"No, it's Latin. Is it Ephraim? No; it's a fly, something like a gnat" (then at an impatient gesture from her Majesty) "disporting itself in the beams of the noontide sun."
"Blood-sucking," whispered the real Queen behind the fern. "He is not so far out there. See! see! with what a grace the child holds out her little hand for him to kiss. I doubt me if Elizabeth herself could be more stately. But who comes here?"
"I'm Sir Philip Sydney."
"No, no," shouted Humfrey, "Sir Philip shall not come into this fooling. My father says he's the best knight in England."
"He is as bad as the rest in flattery to the Queen," returned young Cavendish.
"I'll not have it, I say. You may be Lord Leicester an you will! He's but Robin Dudley."
"Ah!" began the lad, now advancing and shading his eyes. "What burnished splendour dazzles my weak sight? Is it a second Juno that I behold, or lovely Venus herself? Nay, there is a wisdom in her that can only belong to the great Minerva herself! So youthful too. Is it Hebe descended to this earth?"
Cis smirked, and held out a hand, saying in an affected tone, "Lord Earl, are thy wits astray?"
"Whose wits would not be perturbed at the mere sight of such exquisite beauty?"
"Come and sit at our feet, and we will try to restore them," said the stage queen; but here little Diccon, the youngest of the party, eager for more action, called out, "Show us how she treats her lords and ladies together."
On which young Babington, as the lady, and Humfrey, made demonstrations of love-making and betrothal, upon which their sovereign lady descended on them with furious tokens of indignation, abusing them right and left, until in the midst the great castle bell pealed forth, and caused a flight general, being, in fact, the summons to the school kept in one of the castle chambers by one Master Snigg, or Sniggius, for the children of the numerous colony who peopled the castle. Girls, as well as boys, were taught there, and thus Cis accompanied Humfrey and Diccon, and consorted with their companions.
Queen Mary was allowed to hunt and take out-of-door exercise in the park whenever she pleased, but Lord Shrewsbury, or one of his sons, Gilbert and Francis, never was absent from her for a moment when she went beyond the door of the lesser lodge, which the Earl had erected for her, with a flat, leaded, and parapeted roof, where she could take the air, and with only one entrance, where was stationed a "gentleman porter," with two subordinates, whose business it was to keep a close watch over every person or thing that went in or out. If she had any purpose of losing herself in the thickets of fern, or copsewood, in the park, or holding unperceived conference under shelter of the chase, these plans were rendered impossible by the pertinacious presence of one or other of the Talbots, who acted completely up to their name.
Thus it was that the Queen, with Gilbert in close attendance, had found herself an unseen spectator of the children's performance, which she watched with the keen enjoyment that sometimes made her forget her troubles for the moment.
"How got the imps such knowledge?" mused Gilbert Talbot, as he led the Queen out on the sward which had been the theatre of their mimicry.
"Do you ask that, Sir Gilbert?" said the Queen with emphasis, for indeed it was his wife who had been the chief retailer of scandal about Queen Elizabeth, to the not unwilling ears of herself and his mother; and Antony Babington, as my lady's page, had but used his opportunities.
"They are insolent varlets and deserve the rod," continued Gilbert.
"You are too ready with the rod, you English," returned Mary. "You flog all that is clever and spirited out of your poor children!"
"That is the question, madam. Have the English been found so deficient in spirit compared with other nations?"
"Ah! we all know what you English can say for yourselves," returned the Queen. "See what Master John Coke hath made of the herald's argument before Dame Renown, in his translation. He hath twisted all the other way."
"Yea, madam, but the French herald had it all his own way before. So it was but just we should have our turn."
Here a cry from the other hunters greeted them, and they found Lord Shrewsbury, some of the ladies, and a number of prickers, looking anxiously for them.
"Here we are, good my lord," said the Queen, who, when free from rheumatism, was a most active walker. "We have only been stalking my sister Queen's court in small, the prettiest and drollest pastime I have seen for many a long day."
Much had happened in the course of the past years. The intrigues with Northumberland and Norfolk, and the secret efforts of the unfortunate Queen to obtain friends, and stir up enemies against Elizabeth, had resulted in her bonds being drawn closer and closer. The Rising of the North had taken place, and Cuthbert Langston had been heard of as taking a prominent part beneath the sacred banner, but he had been wounded and not since heard of, and his kindred knew not whether he were among the unnamed dead who loaded the trees in the rear of the army of Sussex, or whether he had escaped beyond seas. Richard Talbot still remained as one of the trusted kinsmen of Lord Shrewsbury, on whom that nobleman depended for the execution of the charge which yearly became more wearisome and onerous, as hope decayed and plots thickened.
Though resident in the new lodge with her train, it was greatly diminished by the dismissal from time to time of persons who were regarded as suspicious; Mary still continued on intimate terms with Lady Shrewsbury and her daughters, specially distinguishing with her favour Bessie Pierrepoint, the eldest grandchild of the Countess, who slept with her, and was her plaything and her pupil in French and needlework. The fiction of her being guest and not prisoner had not entirely passed away; visitors were admitted, and she went in and out of the lodge, walked or rode at will, only under pretext of courtesy. She never was unaccompanied by the Earl or one of his sons, and they endeavoured to make all private conversation with strangers, or persons unauthorised from Court, impossible to her.
The invitation given to little Cicely on the arrival had not been followed up. The Countess wished to reserve to her own family all the favours of one who might at any moment become the Queen of England, and she kept Susan Talbot and her children in what she called their meet place, in which that good lady thoroughly acquiesced, having her hands much too full of household affairs to run after queens.
There was a good deal of talk about this child's play, a thing which had much better have been left where it was; but in a seclusion like that of Sheffield subjects of conversation were not over numerous, and every topic which occurred was apt to be worried to shreds. So Lady Shrewsbury and her daughters heard the Queen's arch description of the children's mimicry, and instantly conceived a desire to see the scene repeated. The gentlemen did not like it at all: their loyalty was offended at the insult to her gracious Majesty, and besides, what might not happen if such sports ever came to her ears? However, the Countess ruled Sheffield; and Mary Talbot and Bessie Cavendish ruled the Countess, and they were bent on their own way. So the representation was to take place in the great hall of the manor-house, and the actors were to be dressed in character from my lady's stores.
"They will ruin it, these clumsy English, after their own fashion," said Queen Mary, among her ladies. "It was the unpremeditated grace and innocent audacity of the little ones that gave the charm. Now it will be a mere broad farce, worthy of Bess of Hardwicke. Mais que voulez vous?"
The performance was, however, laid under a great disadvantage by the absolute refusal of Richard and Susan Talbot to allow their Cicely to assume the part of Queen Elizabeth. They had been dismayed at her doing so in child's play, and since she could read fluently, write pretty well, and cipher a little, the good mother had decided to put a stop to this free association with the boys at the castle, and to keep her at home to study needlework and housewifery. As to her acting with boys before the assembled households, the proposal seemed to them absolutely insulting to any daughter of the Talbot line, and they had by this time forgotten that she was no such thing. Bess Cavendish, the special spoilt child of the house, even rode down, armed with her mother's commands, but her feudal feeling did not here sway Mistress Susan.
Public acting was esteemed an indignity for women, and, though Cis was a mere child, all Susan's womanhood awoke, and she made answer firmly that she could not obey my lady Countess in this.
Bess flounced out of the house, indignantly telling her she should rue the day, and Cis herself cried passionately, longing after the fine robes and jewels, and the presentation of herself as a queen before the whole company of the castle. The harsh system of the time made the good mother think it her duty to requite this rebellion with the rod, and to set the child down to her seam in the corner, and there sat Cis, pouting and brooding over what Antony Babington had told her of what he had picked up when in his page's capacity, attending his lady, of Queen Mary's admiration of the pretty ways and airs of the little mimic Queen Bess, till she felt as if she were defrauded of her due. The captive Queen was her dream, and to hear her commendations, perhaps be kissed by her, would be supreme bliss. Nay, she still hoped that there would be an interference of the higher powers on her behalf, which would give her a triumph.