Unknown to history a st.., p.2

Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland, page 2

 

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



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  CHAPTER II.

  EVIL TIDINGS.

  After giving orders for the repairs of the Mastiff, and the disposal ofher crew, Master Richard Talbot purveyed himself of a horse at thehostel, and set forth for Spurn Head to make inquiries along the coastrespecting the wreck of the Bride of Dunbar, and he was joined byCuthbert Langston, who said his house had had dealings with her owners,and that he must ascertain the fate of her wares. His good ladyremained in charge of the mysterious little waif, over whom her tenderheart yearned more and more, while her little boy hovered about inserene contemplation of the treasure he thought he had recovered. Tohim the babe seemed really his little sister; to his mother, if shesometimes awakened pangs of keen regret, yet she filled up much of thedreary 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; butevery creature she knew, or might have known, seemed to her to drop inthat day, and bring at least two friends to inspect the orphan of thewreck, and demand all particulars.

  The little girl was clad in the swaddling garments of Mrs. Talbot's ownchildren, and the mysterious marks were suspected by no one, far lessthe letter which Susan, for security's sake, had locked up in hernearly empty, steel-bound, money casket. The opinions of the gossipsvaried, some thinking the babe might belong to some of the Queen ofScotland's party fleeing to France, others fathering her on therefugees from the persecutions in Flanders, a third party believing hera mere fisherman's child, and one lean, lantern-jawed old crone,Mistress Rotherford, observing, "Take my word, Mrs. Talbot, and keepher not with you. They that are cast up by the sea never bring goodwith them."

  The court of female inquiry was still sitting when a heavy tread washeard, and Colet announced "a serving-man from Bridgefield had riddenpost 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 bein, 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 MasterHumfrey was thrown by Blackfoot, the beast being scared by a flash oflightning, and never spoke again."

  "Master Humfrey!"

  "Ay, mistress. Pitched on his head against the south gate-post. I sawhow it was with him when we took him up, and he never so much as liftedan 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 askinny finger to emphasise that the poor little flotsome had alreadybrought evil.

  "Nay," said the portly wife of a merchant, "begging your pardon, thismay be a fat instead of a lean sorrow. Leaves the poor gentlemanheirs, Mrs. Talbot?"

  "Oh no!" said Susan, with tears in her eyes. "His wife died two yearsback, and her chrisom babe with her. He loved her too well to turn hismind to wed again, and now he is with her for aye." And she coveredher face and sobbed, regardless of the congratulations of themerchant's wife, and exclaiming, "Oh! the poor old lady!"

  "In sooth, mistress," said Nathanael, who had stood all this time as ifhe had by no means emptied his budget of ill news, "poor old madam felldown all of a heap on the floor, and when the wenches lifted her, theyfound she was stricken with the dead palsy, and she has not spoken, andthere's no one knows what to do, for the poor old squire is like onedistraught, sitting by her bed like an image on a monument, with thetears flowing down his old cheeks. 'But,' says he to me, 'get you toHull, Nat, and take madam's palfrey and a couple of sumpter beasts, andbring my good daughter Talbot back with you as fast as she and thebabes may brook.' I made bold to say, 'And Master Richard, yourworship?' then he groaned somewhat, and said, 'If my son's ship be comein, he must do as her Grace's service permits, but meantime he mustspare us his wife, for she is sorely needed here.' And he looked atthe bed so as it would break your heart to see, for since old NurseTook hath been doited, there's not been a wench about the house thatcan do a hand's turn for a sick body."

  Susan knew this was true, for her mother-in-law had been one of thosebustling, managing housewives, who prefer doing everything themselvesto training others, and she was appalled at the idea of the probabledesolation and helplessness of the bereaved household.

  It was far too late to start that day, even had her husband been athome, for the horses sent for her had to rest. The visitors would fainhave extracted some more particulars about the old squire's age, hiskindred to the great Earl, and the amount of estate to which herhusband had become heir. There were those among them who could notunderstand Susan's genuine grief, and there were others whoseconsolations were no less distressing to one of her reserved character.She made brief answer that the squire was threescore and fifteen yearsold, his wife nigh about his age; that her husband was now their onlychild; that he was descended from a son of the great Earl John, killedat the Bridge of Chatillon, that he held the estate of Bridgefield infief on tenure of military service to the head of his family. She didnot know how much it was worth by the year, but she must pray the goodladies to excuse her, as she had many preparations to make. Volunteersto assist her in packing her mails were made, but she declined themall, and rejoiced when left alone with Colet to arrange for what wouldbe 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 werethey both unwilling to leave, but the inland country was to theirimagination a wild unexplored desert. Indeed, Colet had only enteredMrs. Talbot's service to supply the place of a maid who bad sickenedwith fever and ague, and had to be sent back to her native Hallamshire.

  Ere long Mr. Heatherthwayte came down to offer his consolation, andstill more his advice, that the little foundling should be at oncebaptized--conditionally, if the lady preferred it.

  The Reformed of imperfect theological training, and as such JosephHeatherthwayte must be classed, were apt to view the ceremonial of theold baptismal form, symbolical and beautiful as it was, as almostdestroying the efficacy of the rite. Moreover, there was a furtherimpression that the Church by which the child was baptized, had a rightto bring it up, and thus the clergyman was urgent with the lady thatshe 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 thatshe was influenced by the minister, so there was double resolution, aswell as some offence in her reply, that she knew her duty as a wife toowell 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 knowbetter than to speak thus of him to his wife.

  Mr. Heatherthwayte's real piety and goodness had made him a greatcomfort to Susan in her lonely grief, but he had not the delicate tactof gentle blood, and had not known where to stop, and as he stood halfapologising and half exhorting, she felt that her Richard was quiteright, and that he could be both meddling and presuming. He wasexceedingly in the way of her packing too, and she was at her wit's endto get rid of him, when suddenly Humfrey managed to pinch his fingersin a box, and set up such a yell, as, seconded by the frightened baby,was more than any masculine ears could endure, and drove MasterHeatherthwayte to beat a retreat.

  Mistress Susan was well on in her work when her husband returned, andas she expected, was greatly overcome by the tidings of his brother'sdeath. He closely questioned Nathanael on every detail, and couldthink o
f nothing but the happy days he had shared with his brother, andof the grief of his parents. He approved of all that his wife haddone; and as the damage sustained by the Mastiff could not be repairedunder a month, he had no doubt about leaving his crew in the charge ofhis lieutenant while he took his family home.

  So busy were both, and so full of needful cares, the one in giving upher lodging, the other in leaving his men, that it was impossible toinquire into the result of his researches, for the captain was in thatmood of suppressed grief and vehement haste in which irrelevant inquiryis perfectly unbearable.

  It was not till late in the evening that Richard told his wife of hiswant of success in his investigations. He had found witnesses of thedestruction of the ship, but he did not give them full credit. "Thefellows say the ship drove on the rock, and that they saw her boats godown with every soul on board, and that they would not lie to anofficer of her Grace. Heaven pardon me if I do them injustice inbelieving they would lie to him sooner than to any one else. They arerogues enough to take good care that no poor wretch should survive evenif he did chance to come to land."

  "Then if there be no one to claim her, we may bring up as our own thesweet babe whom Heaven hath sent us."

  "Not so fast, dame. Thou wert wont to be more discreet. I said notso, 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 thetrinket--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; "littlelike is she to ask questions, poor soul."

  Then Susan diffidently told of Master Heatherthwayte's earnest wish tochristen the child, and, what certainly biased her a good deal, thesuggestion that this would secure her to their own religion.

  "There is something in that," said Richard, "specially after whatCuthbert said as to the golden toy yonder. If times changedagain--which Heaven forfend--that fellow might give us trouble aboutthe matter."

  "You doubt him then, sir!" she asked.

  "I relished not his ways on our ride to-day," said Richard. "Sure I amthat he had some secret cause for being so curious about the wreck. Isuspect 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 theself-conceited son of a dalesman, even if he have got a round hat andGeneva band! Ah, well! one good thing is we shall leave both of themwell behind us, though I would it were for another cause."

  Something in the remonstrance had, however, so worked on RichardTalbot, that before morning be declared that, hap what hap, if he andhis wife were to bring up the child, she should be made a goodProtestant Christian before they left the house, and there should be nomore ado about it.

  It was altogether illogical and untheological; but MasterHeatherthwayte was delighted when in the very early morning hisdevotions were interrupted, and he was summoned by the captain himselfto christen the child.

  Richard and his wife were sponsors, but the question of name had neveroccurred to any one. However, in the pause of perplexity, when theresponse lagged to "Name this child," little Humfrey, a delightedspectator, broke out again with "Little Sis."

  And forthwith, "Cicely, if thou art not already baptized," was utteredover the child, and Cicely became her name. It cost Susan a pang, asit had been that of her own little daughter, but it was too late toobject, and she uttered no regret, but took the child to her heart, assent instead of her who had been taken from her.

  Master Heatherthwayte bade them good speed, and Master Langston stoodat the door of his office and waved them a farewell, both alikeunconscious of the rejoicing with which they were left behind. MistressTalbot rode on the palfrey sent for her use, with the little strangerslung 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 sortof pannier on one of the sumpter beasts. What these animals could notcarry of the household stuff was left in Colet's charge to bedespatched by carriers; and the travellers jogged slowly on throughdeep Yorkshire lanes, often halting to refresh the horses and supplythe wants of the little children at homely wayside inns, their entranceusually 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 theDerbyshire borders.

  Bridgefield House stood on the top of a steep slope leading to theriver Dun, with a high arched bridge and a mill below it. From thebridge proceeded one of the magnificent avenues of oak-trees which ledup to the lordly lodge, full four miles off, right across SheffieldPark.

  The Bridgefield estate had been a younger son's portion, and its ownershad always been regarded as gentlemen retainers of the head of theirname, the Earl of Shrewsbury. Tudor jealousy had forbidden themarshalling of such a meine as the old feudal lords had loved toassemble, and each generation of the Bridgefield Talbots had becomemore independent than the former one. The father had spent his youngerdays as esquire to the late Earl, but had since become a justice of thepeace, and took rank with the substantial landowners of the country.Humfrey, his eldest son, had been a gentleman pensioner of the Queentill his marriage, and Richard, though beginning his career as page tothe present Earl's first wife, had likewise entered the service of herMajesty, though still it was understood that the head of their name hada claim to their immediate service, and had he been called to take uparms, they would have been the first to follow his banner. Indeed, apair of spurs was all the annual rent they paid for their estate, whichthey held on this tenure, as well as on paying the heriard horse on thedeath of the head of the family, and other contributions to theirlord's splendour when he knighted his son or married his daughter. Infact, they stood on the borderland of that feudal retainership whichwas being rapidly extinguished. The estate, carved out of the greatSheffield property, was sufficient to maintain the owner in thedignities of an English gentleman, and to portion off the daughters,provided that the superfluous sons shifted for themselves, as Richardhad hitherto done. The house had been ruined in the time of the Warsof the Roses, and rebuilt in the later fashion, with a friendly-lookingfront, containing two large windows, and a porch projecting betweenthem. The hall reached to the top of the house, and had a waggonceiling, with mastiffs alternating with roses on portcullises at theintersections of the timbers. This was the family sitting and diningroom, and had a huge chimney never devoid of a wood fire. One end hada buttery-hatch communicating with the kitchen and offices; at theother was a small room, sacred to the master of the house, niched underthe broad staircase that led to the upper rooms, which opened on agallery 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 andposies. This had stone walls separating it from the paddock, whichsloped down to the river, and was a good deal broken by ivy-coveredrocks. Adjoining the stables were farm buildings and barns, for therewere several fields for tillage along the river-side, and the mill andtwo more farms were the property of the Bridgefield squire, so that theinheritance was a very fair one, wedged in, as it were, between theriver and the great Chase of Sheffield, up whose stately avenue theriding party looked as they crossed the bridge, Richard having becomemore silent than ever as he came among the familiar rocks and trees ofhis boyhood, and knew he should not meet that hearty welcome from hisbrother which had never hitherto failed to greet his return. The househad that strange air of forlornness which seems to proclaim sorrowwithin. The great court doors stood open, and a big, rough deer-hound,at the sound of the approaching hoofs, rose slowly up, and began aseries of long, deep-mouthed barks, with pauses between, sounding likea knell. One or two men and maids ran out at the sound, and as thetravellers rode up to the horse-block, an old gray-bearded serving-manc
ame stumbling forth with "Oh! Master Diccon, woe worth the day!"

  "How does my mother?" asked Richard, as he sprang off and set his boyon 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, butthen, as soon as he heard his voice, the creature drooped his ears andtail, and instead of continuing his demonstrations of joy, stoodquietly by, only now and then poking his long, rough nose intoRichard's hand, knowing as well as possible that though not his dearlost master, he was the next thing!

  Mistress Susan and the infant were lifted down--a hurried question andanswer assured them that the funeral was over yesterday. My LadyCountess had come down and would have it so; my lord was at Court, andSir Gilbert and his brothers had been present, but the old servantsthought it hard that none nearer in blood should be there to lay theiryoung squire in his grave, nor to support his father, who, poor oldman, had tottered, and been so like to swoon as he passed the halldoor, 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 hisbrother's face again, but he could say nothing, only he gave one handto his wife and the other to his son, and led them into the hall, whichwas in an indescribable state of confusion. The trestles which hadsupported the coffin were still at one end of the room, the long tableswere still covered with cloths, trenchers, knives, cups, and theremains of the funeral baked meats, and there were overthrown tankardsand 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 hurriedmuttering about being so distraught, and not looking for madam soearly, but Susan could not listen to her, and merely putting the babeinto her arms, came with her husband up the stairs, leaving littleHumfrey with Nathanael.

  Richard knocked at the bedroom door, and, receiving no answer, openedit. There in the tapestry-hung chamber was the huge old bedstead withits solid posts. In it lay something motionless, but the first thingthe husband and wife saw was the bent head which was lifted up by theburly but broken figure in the chair beside it.

  The two knotted old hands clasped the arms of the chair, and the squireprepared to rise, his lip trembling under his white beard, and emotionworking in his dejected features. They were beforehand with him. Erehe could rise both were on their knees before him, while Richard in abroken voice cried, "Father, O father!"

  "Thank God that thou art come, my son," said the old man, laying hishands on his shoulders, with a gleam of joy, for as they afterwardsknew, he had sorely feared for Richard's ship in the storm that hadcaused Humfrey's death. "I looked for thee, my daughter," he added,stretching out one hand to Susan, who kissed it. "Now it may go betterwith her! Speak to thy mother, Richard, she may know thy voice."

  Alas! no; the recently active, ready old lady was utterly stricken, andas yet held in the deadly grasp of paralysis, unconscious of all thatpassed around her.

  Susan found herself obliged at once to take up the reins, and becomehead nurse and housekeeper. The old squire trusted implicitly to her,and helplessly put the keys into her hands, and the serving-men andmaids, 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 ofthe ordinary appearance of things being restored by supper-time, whenRichard hoped to persuade his father to come down to his usual place.

  Long before this, however, a trampling had been heard in the court, anda shrill voice, well known to Richard and Susan, was heard demanding,"Come home, is she--Master Diccon too? More shame for you, yousluttish queans and lazy lubbers, never to have let me know; but noneof you have any respect--"

  A visit from my Lady Countess was a greater favour to such a householdas that of Bridgefield than it would be to a cottage of the presentday; Richard was hurrying downstairs, and Susan only tarried to throwoff the housewifely apron in which she had been compounding a coolingdrink 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 ofHardwicke, the Queen of Hallamshire, sitting on her great white mule atthe door, sideways, with her feet on a board, as little children nowride, and attended by a whole troop of gentlemen ushers, maidens,prickers, and running footmen. She was a woman of the same type as theQueen, which was of course enough to stamp her as a celebrated beauty,and though she had reached middle age, her pale, clear complexion anddelicate features were well preserved. Her chin was too sharp, andthere was something too thin and keen about her nose and lips topromise good temper. She was small of stature, but she made up for itin dignity of presence, and as she sat there, with her rich embroideredgreen satin farthingale spreading out over the mule, her tall ruffstanding up fanlike on her shoulders, her riding-rod in her hand, andher master of the horse standing at her rein, while a gentleman usherwielded an enormous, long-handled, green fan, to keep the sun fromincommoding her, she was, perhaps, even more magnificent than themaiden queen herself might have been in her more private expeditions.Indeed, she was new to her dignity as Countess, having been only a fewweeks married to the Earl, her fourth husband. Captain Talbot did notfeel it derogatory to his dignity as a gentleman to advance with hishat in his hand to kiss her hand, and put a knee to the ground as heinvited her to alight, an invitation his wife heard with dismay as shereached the door, for things were by no means yet as they should be inthe hall. She curtsied low, and advanced with her son holding herhand, but shrinking behind her.

  "Ha, kinswoman, is it thou!" was her greeting, as she, too, kissed thesmall, shapely, white, but exceedingly strong hand that was extended toher; "So thou art come, and high time too. Thou shouldst never havegone a-gadding to Hull, living in lodgings; awaiting thine husband,forsooth. Thou art over young a matron for such gear, and so I toldDiccon Talbot long ago."

  "Yea, madam," said Richard, somewhat hotly, "and I made answer that mySusan 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 toa set of feckless, brainless, idle serving-men and maids in theirtrouble? Why, none would so much as have seen to thy brother's poorbody being laid in a decent grave had not I been at hand to take orderfor 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 servemy lord, as a true retainer and kinsman is bound--Nay," in reply to agesture, "I will not come in, I know too well in what ill order thehouse is like to be. I did but take my ride this way to ask how itfared with the mistress, and try if I could shake the squire from hislethargy, if Mrs. Susan had not had the grace yet to be here. How dothey?" Then in answer, "Thou must waken him, Diccon--rouse him, andtell him that I and my lord expect it of him that he should bear hisloss as a true and honest Christian man, and not pule and moan, sincehe has a son left--ay, and a grandson. You should breed your boy up toknow his manners, Susan Talbot," as Humfrey resisted an attempt to makehim do his reverence to my lady; "that stout knave of yours wants therod. Methought I heard you'd borne another, Susan! Ay! as I said itwould be," as her eye fell on the swaddled babe in a maid's arms. "Nolack of fools to eat up the poor old squire's substance. A maid, isit? Beshrew me, if your voyages will find portions for all yourwenches! 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 upto the castle for Master Drewitt? Farewell! Thou wilt be at the lodgeto-morrow to let me know how it fares with thy mother, when her brainis cleared by further blood-letting. And for the squire, let him knowthat 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 gateby Richard Talbot, and leaving the family gratified by hercondescension,
and not allowing to themselves how much their feelingswere chafed.

 

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