Unknown to history a st.., p.12

Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland, page 12

 

Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland
 



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  CHAPTER XII.

  A FURIOUS LETTER.

  A period now began of daily penance to Mrs. Talbot, of daily excitementand delight to Cis. Two hours or more had to be spent in attendance onQueen Mary. Even on Sundays there was no exemption, the visit onlytook place later in the day, so as not to interfere with going tochurch.

  Nothing could be more courteous or more friendly than the manner inwhich the elder lady was always received. She was always made welcomeby the Queen herself, who generally entered into conversation with heralmost as with an equal. Or when Mary herself was engaged in her privychamber in dictating to her secretaries, the ladies of the suite showedthemselves equally friendly, and told her of their mistress'ssatisfaction in having a companion free from all the rude andunaccountable humours and caprices of my Lady Countess and herdaughters. And if Susan was favoured, Cis was petted. Queen Maryalways liked to have young girls about her. Their fresh, spontaneous,enthusiastic homage was pleasant to one who loved above all to attract,and it was a pleasure to a prisoner to have a fresh face about her.

  Was it only this, or was it the maternal instinct that made her facelight up when the young girl entered the room and return the shyreverential kiss of the hand with a tender kiss on the forehead, thatmade her encourage the chatter, give little touches to the deportment,and present little keepsakes, which increased in value till Sir Richardbegan to look grave, and to say there must be no more jewels of pricebrought from the lodge? And as his wife uttered a word that soundedlike remonstrance, he added, "Not while she passes for my daughter."

  Cis, who had begun by putting on a pouting face, burst into tears. Heradopted parents had always been more tolerant and indulgent to her thanif she had been a child over whom they felt entire rights, and insteadof rewarding her petulance with such a blow as would have fallen to thelot of a veritable Talbot, Richard shrugged his shoulders and left theroom--the chamber which had been allotted to Dame Susan at theManor-house, while Susan endeavoured to cheer the girl by telling hernot to grieve, for her father was not angry with her.

  "Why--why may not the dear good Queen give me her dainty gifts?" sobbedCis.

  "See, dear child," said Susan, "while she only gave thee an orangestuck with cloves, or an embroidery needle, or even a puppy dog, it isall very well; but when it comes to Spanish gloves and coral clasps,the next time there is an outcry about a plot, some evil-disposedperson would be sure to say that Master Richard Talbot had been takingbribes through his daughter."

  "It would be vilely false!" cried Cis with flashing eyes.

  "It would not be the less believed," said Susan. "My Lord would say wehad betrayed our trust, and there never has been one stain on myhusband's honour."

  "You are wroth with me too, mother!" said Cis.

  "Not if you are a good child, and guard the honour of the name youbear."

  "I will, I will!" said Cis. "Never will I take another gift from theQueen if only you and he will call me your child, and be--good to me--"The rest was lost in tears and in the tender caresses that Susanlavished on her; all the more as she caught the broken words, "Humfrey,too, he would never forgive me."

  Susan told her husband what had passed, adding, "She will keep herword."

  "She must, or she shall go no more to the lodge," he said.

  "You would not have doubted had you seen her eye flash at the thoughtof bringing your honour into question. There spoke her kingly blood."

  "Well, we shall see," sighed Richard, "if it be blood that makes thenature. I fear me hers is but that of a Scottish thief! Scorn notwarning, mother, but watch thy stranger nestling well."

  "Nay, mine husband. While we own her as our child, she will doanything to be one with us. It is when we seem to put her from us thatwe wound her so that I know not what she might do, fondled as sheis--by--by her who--has the best right to the dear child."

  Richard uttered a certain exclamation of disgust which silenced hisdiscreet wife.

  Neither of them had quite anticipated the result, namely, that the nextmorning, Cis, after kissing the Queen's hand as usual, remainedkneeling, her bosom heaving, and a little stammering on her tongue,while tears rose to her eyes.

  "What is it, mignonne," said Mary, kindly; "is the whelp dead? or isthe clasp broken?"

  "No, madam; but--but I pray you give me no more gifts. My father saysit touches his honour, and I have promised him--Oh, madam, be notdispleased with me, but let me give you back your last beauteous gift."

  Mary was standing by the fire. She took the ivory and coral trinketfrom the hand of the kneeling girl, and dashed it into the hottestglow. There was passion in the action, and in the kindling eye, but itwas but for a moment. Before Cis could speak or Susan begin herexcuses, the delicate hand was laid on the girl's head, and a calmvoice said, "Fear not, child. Queens take not back their gifts. Iought to have borne in mind that I am balked of the pleasure ofgiving--the beat of all the joys they have robbed me of. But tremblenot, sweetheart, I am not chafed with thee. I will vex thy father nomore. Better thou shouldst go without a trinket or two than deprive meof the light of that silly little face of thine so long as they willleave me that sunbeam."

  She stooped and kissed the drooping brow, and Susan could not but feelas if the voice of nature were indeed speaking.

  A few words of apology in her character of mother for the maiden'sabrupt proceeding were met by the Queen most graciously. "Spare thywords, good madam. We understand and reverence Mr. Talbot's point ofhonour. Would that all who approached us had held his scruples!"

  Perhaps Mary was after this more distant and dignified towards thematron, but especially tender and caressing towards the maiden, as ifto make up by kindness for the absence of little gifts.

  Storms, however, were brewing without. Lady Shrewsbury made opencomplaints of her husband having become one of Mary's many victims,representing herself as an injured wife driven out of her house. Sheactually in her rage carried the complaint to Queen Elizabeth, who sentdown two commissioners to inquire into the matter. They sat in thecastle hall, and examined all the attendants, including Richard and hiswife. The investigation was extremely painful and distressing, but itwas proved that nothing could have been more correct and guarded thanthe whole intercourse between the Earl and his prisoner. If he haderred, it had been on the side of caution and severity, though he hadalways preserved the courteous demeanour of a gentleman, and had beenrejoiced to permit whatever indulgences could be granted. If there hadbeen any transgressions of the strict rules, they had been made by theCountess herself and her daughters in the days of their intimacy withthe Queen; and the aspersions on the unfortunate Earl were, it was soonevident, merely due to the violent and unscrupulous tongues of theCountess and her daughter Mary. No wonder that Lord Shrewsbury wroteletters in which he termed the lady "his wicked and malicious wife,"and expressed his conviction that his son Gilbert's mind had beenperverted by her daughter.

  The indignation of the captive Queen was fully equal to his, as oneafter another of her little court returned and was made to detail thepoints on which he or she had been interrogated. Susan found herpacing up and down the floor like a caged tigress, her cap and veilthrown back, so that her hair--far whiter than what was usuallydisplayed--was hanging dishevelled, her ruff torn open, as if it chokedback the swelling passion in her throat.

  "Never, never content with persecuting me, they must insult me! Is itnot enough that I am stripped of my crown, deprived of my friends; thatI cannot take a step beyond this chamber, queen as I am, without mywarder? Must they attaint me as a woman? Oh, why, why did the doomspare me that took my little brothers? Why did I live to be the mostwretched, not of sovereigns alone, but of women?"

  "Madam," entreated Marie de Courcelles, "dearest madam, take courage.All these horrible charges refute themselves."

  "Ah, Marie! you have said so ten thousand times, and what charge hasever been dropped?"

  "This one is dropped!" exclaimed Susan, coming forward.
"Yes, yourGrace, indeed it is! The Commissioner himself told my husband that noone believed it for a moment."

  "Then why should these men have been sent but to sting and gall me, andmake me feel that I am in their power?" cried the Queen.

  "They came," said the Secretary Curll, "because thus alone could theCountess be silenced."

  "The Countess!" exclaimed Mary. "So my cousin hath listened to hertongue!"

  "Backed by her daughter's," added Jean Kennedy.

  "It were well that she knew what those two dames can say of her Majestyherself, when it serves them," added Marie de Courcelles.

  "That shall she!" exclaimed Mary. "She shall have it from mine ownhand! Ha! ha! Elizabeth shall know the choice tales wherewith MaryTalbot hath regaled us, and then shall she judge how far anything thatcomes from my young lady is worth heeding for a moment. Remember youall the tales of the nips and the pinches? Ay, and of all theendearments to Leicester and to Hatton? She shall have it all, and tryhow she likes the dish of scandal of Mary Talbot's cookery, sauced byBess of Hardwicke. Here, nurse, come and set this head-gear of mine inorder, and do you, my good Curll, have pen, ink, and paper in readinessfor me."

  The Queen did little but write that morning. The next day, on comingout from morning prayers, which the Protestants of her suite attended,with the rest of the Shrewsbury household, Barbara Mowbray contrived todraw Mrs. Talbot apart as they went towards the lodge.

  "Madam," she said, "they all talk of your power to persuade. Now isthe time you could do what would be no small service to this poorQueen, ay, and it may be to your own children."

  "I may not meddle in any matters of the Queen's," returned Susan,rather stiffly.

  "Nay, but hear me, madam. It is only to hinder the sending of aletter."

  "That letter which her Grace was about to write yesterday?"

  "Even so. 'Tis no secret, for she read fragments of it aloud, and allher women applauded it with all their might, and laughed over thestings that it would give, but Mr. Curll, who bad to copy it, saiththat there is a bitterness in it that can do nothing but make herMajesty of England the more inflamed, not only against my LadyShrewsbury, but against her who writ the letter, and all concerned.Why, she hath even brought in the comedy that your children acted inthe woodland, and that was afterwards repeated in the hall!"

  "You say not so, Mistress Barbara?"

  "Indeed I do. Mr. Curll and Sir Andrew Melville are both of them sorevexed, and would fain have her withdraw it; but Master Nau and all theFrench part of the household know not how to rejoice enough at such anexposure of my Lady, which gives a hard fling at Queen Elizabeth at thesame time! Nay, I cannot but tell you that there are things in it thatDame Mary Talbot might indeed say, but I know not how Queen Mary couldbring herself to set down--"

  Barbara Mowbray ventured no more, and Susan felt hopeless of her task,since how was she by any means to betray knowledge of the contents ofthe letter? Yet much that she had heard made her feel very uneasy onall accounts. She had too much strong family regard for the Countessand for Gilbert Talbot and his wife to hear willingly of what mightimperil them, and though royal indignation would probably fly over theheads of the children, no one was too obscure in those Tudor times tostand in danger from a sovereign who might think herself insulted. Yetas a Hardwicke, and the wife of a Talbot, it was most unlikely that shewould have any opening for remonstrance given to her.

  However, it was possible that Curll wished to give her an opening, forno sooner were the ladies settled at work than he bowed himself forwardand offered his mistress his copy of the letter.

  "Is it fair engrossed, good Curll?" asked Mary.

  "Thanks. Then will we keep your copy, and you shall fold and prepareour own for our sealing."

  "Will not your Majesty hear it read over ere it pass out of yourhands?" asked Curll.

  "Even so," returned Mary, who really was delighted with the pungency ofher own composition. "Mayhap we may have a point or two to add."

  After what Mistress Barbara had said, Susan was on thorns that Cisshould hear the letter; but that good young lady, hating theexpressions therein herself, and hating it still more for the girl,bethought her of asking permission to take Mistress Cicely to her ownchamber, there to assist her in the folding of some of her laces, andMary consented. It was well, for there was much that made theEnglish-bred Susan's cheeks glow and her ears tingle.

  But, at least, it gave her a great opportunity. When the letter wasfinished, she advanced and knelt on the step of the canopied chair,saying, "Madam, pardon me, if in the name of my unfortunate children, Ientreat you not to accuse them to the Queen."

  "Your children, lady! How have I included them in what I have told herMajesty of our sweet Countess?"

  "Your Grace will remember that the foremost parts in yonder farce wereallotted to my son Humfrey and to young Master Babington. Nay, thatthe whole arose from the woodland sport of little Cis, which your Gracewas pleased to admire."

  "Sooth enough, my good gossip, but none could suspect the poor childrenof the malice my Lady Countess contrived to put into the matter."

  "Ah, madam! these are times when it is convenient to shift the blame onone who can be securely punished."

  "Certes," said Mary, thoughtfully, "the Countess is capable of makingher escape by denouncing some one else, especially those within her ownreach."

  "Your Grace, who can speak such truth of my poor Lady," said Susan,"will also remember that though my Lord did yield to the persuasions ofthe young ladies, he so heedfully caused Master Sniggins to omit allperilous matter, that no one not informed would have guessed at theimport of the piece, as it was played in the hall."

  "Most assuredly not," said Mary, laughing a little at the recollection."It might have been played in Westminster Hall without putting mygracious cousin, ay, or Leicester and Hatton themselves, to the blush."

  "Thus, if the Queen should take the matter up and trace it home, itcould not but be brought to my poor innocent children! Humfrey is forthe nonce out of reach, but the maiden--I wis verily that your Highnesswould be loath to do her any hurt!"

  "Thou art a good pleader, madam," said the queen. "Verily I should notlike to bring the bonnie lassie into trouble. It will give MasterCurll a little more toil, ay and myself likewise, for the matter muststand in mine own hand; but we will leave out yonder unlucky farce."

  "Your Highness is very good," said Susan earnestly.

  "Yet you look not yet content, my good lady. What more would you haveof me?"

  "What your Majesty will scarce grant," said Susan.

  "Ha! thou art of the same house thyself. I had forgotten it; thou artso unlike to them. I wager that it is not to send this same letter atall."

  "Your Highness hath guessed my mind. Nay, madam, though assuredly I dodesire it because the Countess bath been ever my good lady, and bred meup ever since I was an orphan, it is not solely for her sake that Iwould fain pray you, but fully as much for your Majesty's own."

  "Madame Talbot sees the matter as I do," said Sir Andrew Melville. "TheEnglish Queen is as like to be irate with the reporter of the scandalas with the author of it, even as the wolf bites the barb that pierceshim when he cannot reach the archer."

  "She is welcome to read the letter," said Mary, smiling; "thy semblancefalleth short, my good friend."

  "Nay, madam, that was not the whole of my purport," said Susan,standing with folded hands, looking from one to another. "Pardon me.My thought was that to take part in all this repeating of thoughtless,idle words, spoken foolishly indeed, but scarce so much in malice as toamuse your Grace with Court news, and treasured up so long, yourMajesty descends from being the patient and suffering princess, meek,generous, and uncomplaining, to be--to be--"

  "No better than one of them, wouldst thou add?" asked Mary, somewhatsharply, as Susan paused.

  "Your Highness has said it," answered Susan; then, as there was amoment's pause, she looked up, and with clasped hands added, "Oh,
madam! would it not be more worthy, more noble, more queenly, moreChristian, to refrain from stinging with this repetition of these vainand foolish slanders?"

  "Most Christian treatment have I met with," returned Mary; but after apause she turned to her almoner. Master Belton, saying, "What say you,sir?"

  "I say that Mrs. Talbot speaks more Christian words than are oftenheard in these parts," returned he. "The thankworthiness of sufferingis lost by those who return the revilings upon those who utter them."

  "Then be it so," returned the Queen. "Elizabeth shall be spared theknowledge that some ladies' tongues can be as busy with her as with herpoor cousin."

  With her own hands Mary tore up her own letter, but Curll's copyunfortunately escaped destruction, to be discovered in after times.Lord and Lady Shrewsbury never knew the service Susan had rendered themby causing it to be suppressed.

 

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