Unknown to history a st.., p.3

Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland, page 3


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

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  Death and sorrow seemed to have marked the house of Bridgefield, forthe old lady never rallied after the blood-letting enjoined by theCountess's medical science, and her husband, though for some monthsable 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 themonth, but as soon as she was laid up for the winter he resigned hiscommand, and returned home, where he was needed to assume the part ofmaster. In truth he became actually master before the next spring, forhis father took to his bed with the first winter frosts, and in spiteof 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 Talbotinherited house and lands, with the undefined sense of feudalobligation to the head of his name, and ere long he was called upon tofulfil those obligations by service to his lord.

  There had been another act in the great Scottish tragedy. Queen Maryhad effected her escape from Lochleven, but only to be at oncedefeated, and then to cross the Solway and throw herself into the handsof the English Queen.

  Bolton Castle had been proved to be too perilously near the Border toserve as her residence, and the inquiry at York, and afterwards atWestminster, having proved unsatisfactory, Elizabeth had decided ondetaining her in the kingdom, and committed her to the charge of theEarl of Shrewsbury.

  To go into the history of that ill-managed investigation is not thepurpose of this tale. It is probable that Elizabeth believed hercousin guilty, and wished to shield that guilt from being proclaimed,while her councillors, in their dread of the captive, wished to enhancethe crime in Elizabeth's eyes, and were by no means scrupulous as tothe kind of evidence they adduced. However, this lies outside ourstory; all that concerns it is that Lord Shrewsbury sent a summons tohis trusty and well-beloved cousin, Richard Talbot of Bridgefield, tocome and form part of the guard of honour which was to escort the Queenof Scots to Tutbury Castle, and there attend upon her.

  All this time no hint had been given that the little Cicely was ofalien blood. The old squire and his lady had been in no state to hearof the death of their own grandchild, or of the adoption of the orphanand Susan was too reserved a woman to speak needlessly of her griefs toone so unsympathising as the Countess or so flighty as the daughters atthe great house. The men who had brought the summons to Hull had notbeen lodged in the house, but at an inn, where they either had heardnothing of Master Richard's adventure or had drowned their memory inale, for they said nothing; and thus, without any formed intention ofsecrecy, the child's parentage had never come into question.

  Indeed, though without doubt Mrs. Talbot was very loyal in heart to hernoble kinsfolk, it is not to be denied that she was a good deal more atpeace when they were not at the lodge. She tried devoutly to followout the directions of my Lady Countess, and thought herself in faultwhen things went amiss, but she prospered far more when free from suchdictation.

  She had nothing to wish except that her husband could be more often athome, but it was better to have him only a few hours' ride from her, atChatsworth or Tutbury, than to know him exposed to the perils of thesea. He rode over as often as he could be spared, to see his familyand look after his property; but his attendance was close, and my Lordand my Lady were exacting with one whom they could thoroughly trust,and it was well that in her quiet way Mistress Susan proved capable ofruling men and maids, farm and stable as well as house, servants andchildren, to whom another boy was added in the course of the year afterher return to Bridgefield.

  In the autumn, notice was sent that the Queen of Scots was to be lodgedat Sheffield, and long trains of waggons and sumpter horses and mulesbegan to arrive, bringing her plenishing and household stuff inadvance. Servants without number were sent on, both by her and by theEarl, to make preparations, and on a November day, tidings came thatthe arrival might be expected in the afternoon. Commands were sentthat the inhabitants of the little town at the park gate should keepwithin doors, and not come forth to give any show of welcome to theirlord 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 theEarl and Countess. It chiefly consisted of ladies with their children,the husbands of most being in the suite of the Earl acting as escort orguard to the Queen. Susan Talbot, being akin to the family on bothsides, was there with the two elder children; Humfrey, both that hemight greet his father the sooner, and that he might be able toremember the memorable arrival of the captive queen, and Cicely,because he had clamoured loudly for her company. Lady Talbot, of theHerbert blood, wife to the heir, was present with two youngsisters-in-law, Lady Grace, daughter to the Earl, and Mary, daughter tothe Countess, who had been respectively married to Sir Henry Cavendishand Sir Gilbert Talbot, a few weeks before their respective parentswere wedded, when the brides were only twelve and fourteen years old.There, too, was Mrs. Babington of Dethick, the recent widow of akinsman of Lord Shrewsbury, to whom had been granted the wardship ofher son, and the little party waiting in the hall also numberedElizabeth and William Cavendish, the Countess's youngest children, andmany dependants mustered in the background, ready for the reception.Indeed, the castle and manor-house, with their offices, lodges, andoutbuildings, were an absolute little city in themselves. The castlewas still kept in perfect repair, for the battle of Bosworth was notquite beyond the memory of living men's fathers; and besides, who couldtell whether any day England might not have to be contested inch byinch with the Spaniard? So the gray walls stood on the tongue of landin the valley, formed by the junction of the rivers Sheaf and Dun, withtowers at all the gateways, enclosing a space of no less than eightacres, and with the actual fortress, crisp, strong, hard, andunmouldered in the midst, its tallest square tower serving as alook-out place for those who watched to give the first intimation ofthe arrival.

  The castle had its population, but chiefly of grooms, warders, andtheir families. The state-rooms high up in that square tower were soexceedingly confined, so stern and grim, that the grandfather of thepresent earl had built a manor-house for his family residence on thesloping 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 thecastle itself. A pleasant, smooth, grass lawn lay in front, and on itconverged the avenues of oaks and walnuts, stretching towards the gatesof the park, narrowing to the eye into single lines, then goingabsolutely out of sight, and the sea of foliage presenting the utmostvariety of beautiful tints of orange, yellow, brown, and red. Therewas a great gateway between two new octagon towers of red brick, withbattlements and dressings of stone, and from this porch a staircase ledupwards to the great stone-paved hall, with a huge fire burning on theopen hearth. Around it had gathered the ladies of the Talbot familywaiting for the reception. The warder on the tower had blown his hornas 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 avenuefrom the drawbridge over the Sheaf ere they could arrive at the lodge.

  So the ladies, in full state dresses, hovered over the fire, while thechildren played in the window seat near at hand.

  Gilbert Talbot's wife, a thin, yellow-haired, young creature, promisingto be like her mother, the Countess, had a tongue which loved to run,and with the precocity and importance of wifehood at sixteen, shedilated to her companions on her mother's constant attendance on theQueen, and the perpetual plots for that lady's escape. "She is asshifty and active as any cat-a-mount; and at Chatsworth she had ascheme for being off out of her bedchamber window to meet a traitorfellow named Boll; but my husband smelt it out in good time, and hadthe guard beneath my lady's window, and the fellows are in gyves, andto see the lady the day it was found out! Not a wry face did she make.Oh no! 'Twas al
l my good lord, and my sweet sir with her. I promiseyou butter would not melt in her mouth, for my Lord Treasurer Cecilhath been to see her, and he has promised to bring her to speech of herMajesty. May I be there to see. I promise you 'twill be diamond cutdiamond 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 herblandishments. Her Majesty should have women warders for her. 'Twasgood sport to see the furrows in his old brow smoothing out against hiswill as it were, while she plied him with her tongue. I never saw theQueen herself win such a smile as came on his lips, but then he isalways a sort of master, or tutor, as it were, to the Queen. Ay," onsome exclamation from Lady Talbot, "she heeds him like no one else.She may fling out, and run counter to him for the very pleasure offeeling 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 beguilehim 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 ahate to all Papistry, to be beguiled more than for the very moment hewas before her. He cannot help the being a man, you see, and they areall alike when once in her presence--your lord and father, like therest 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 notthe woman to bear it long."

  Dame Mary's tongue was apt to run on too fast, and Lady Talbotinterrupted its career with an amused gesture towards the children.

  For the little Cis, babe as she was, had all the three boys at herservice. Humfrey, with a paternal air, was holding her on thewindow-seat; Antony Babington was standing to receive the ball that wasbeing tossed to and fro between them, but as she never caught it, WillCavendish 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 bravelads were learning their knightly courtesy early, while Mary Talbotbegan observing on the want of likeness between Cis and either theTalbot or Hardwicke race. The little girl was much darker in colouringthan any of the boys, and had a pair of black, dark, heavy brows, thatprevented her from being a pretty child. Her adopted mother shrankfrom such observations, and was rejoiced that a winding of horns, and ashout from the boys, announced that the expected arrival was about totake place. The ladies darted to the window, and beholding the avenuefull of horsemen and horsewomen, their accoutrements and those of theirescort gleaming in the sun, each mother gathered her own chicks toherself, smoothed the plumage somewhat ruffled by sport, and advancedto the head of the stone steps, William Cavendish, the eldest of theboys, being sent down to take his stepfather's rein and hold hisstirrup, page fashion.

  Clattering and jingling the troop arrived. The Earl, a stout, squareman, with a long narrow face, lengthened out farther by alight-coloured, silky beard, which fell below his ruff, descended fromhis steed, gave his hat to Richard Talbot, and handed from her horse ahooded and veiled lady of slender proportions, who leant on his arm asshe ascended the steps.

  The ladies knelt, whether in respect to the heads of the family, or tothe 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 lessfatigued than when she set forth. She had the soft, low, sweetScottish voice, and a thorough Scottish accent and language, tempered,however, by French tones, and as, coming into the warmer air of thehall, she withdrew her veil, her countenance was seen. Mary Stuart wasonly thirty-one at this time, and her face was still youthful, thoughworn and wearied, and bearing tokens of illness. The features were farfrom being regularly beautiful; there was a decided cast in one of theeyes, and in spite of all that Mary Talbot's detracting tongue hadsaid, Susan's first impression was disappointment. But, as the Queengreeted the lady whom she already knew, and the Earl presented hisdaughter, Lady Grace, his stepdaughter, Elizabeth Cavendish, and hiskinswoman, Mistress Susan Talbot, the extraordinary magic of her eyeand lip beamed on them, the queenly grace and dignity joined with awonderful sweetness impressed them all, and each in measure felt thefascination.

  The Earl led the Queen to the fire to obtain a little warmth beforemounting the stairs to her own apartments, and likewise while LadyShrewsbury was dismounting, and being handed up the stairs by hersecond stepson, Gilbert. The ladies likewise knelt on one knee togreet this mighty dame, and the children should have done so too, butlittle Cis, catching sight of Captain Richard, who had come up bearingthe Earl's hat, in immediate attendance on him, broke out with anexulting cry of "Father! father! father!" trotted with outspread armsright 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 somedistance, uplifted her riding-rod. Susan was ready to sink into theearth with confusion at the great lady's displeasure, but Richard hadstooped and lifted the little maid in his arms, while Queen Maryturned, her face lit up as by a sunbeam, and said, "Ah, bonnibell, artthou 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 goodlychild, 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 marvelthat you should let her Grace be beset by a child, who, if she cannotdemean herself decorously, should have been left at home. SusanHardwicke, I thought I had schooled you better."

  "Nay, madam, may not a babe's gentle deed of pity be pardoned?" saidMary.

  "Oh! if it pleasures you, madam, so be it," said Lady Shrewsbury,deferentially; "but there be children here more worthy of your noticethan yonder little black-browed wench, who hath been allowed to thrustherself forward, while others have been kept back from importuning yourGrace."

  "No child can importune a mother who is cut off from her own," saidMary, eager to make up for the jealousy she had excited. "Is thisbonnie laddie yours, madam? Ah! I should have known it by theresemblance."

  She held her white hand to receive the kisses of the boys: WilliamCavendish, under his mother's eye, knelt obediently; Antony Babington,a fair, pretty lad, of eight or nine, of a beautiful pink and whitecomplexion, pressed forward with an eager devotion which made the Queensmile and press her delicate hand on his curled locks; as for Humfrey,he retreated behind the shelter of his mother's farthingale, where hispresence was forgotten by every one else, and, after the rebuff justadministered 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 conductedfrom the hall up the broad staircase, and along the great westerngallery to the south front, where for many days her properties had beenin course of being arranged.

  Lady Shrewsbury followed as mistress of the house, and behind, in orderof precedence, came the Scottish Queen's household, in which the dark,keen features of the French, and the rufous hues of the Scots, werenearly equally divided. Lady Livingstone and Mistress Seaton, two ofthe Queen's Maries of the same age with herself, came next, the one ledby Lord Talbot, the other by Lord Livingstone. There was also thefaithful 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 withspecial suspicion by the English, as Willie Douglas, the contriver ofthe Queen's flight from Lochleven. Two secretaries, French andScottish, were shrewdly suspected of being priests, and there werebesides, a physician, surgeon, apothecary, with perfumers, cooks,pantlers, scullions, lacqueys, to the number of thirty, besides theirwives and attendants, these las
t being "permitted of my lord'sbenevolence."

  They were all eyed askance by the sturdy, north country English, whonaturally hated all strangers, above all French and Scotch, and viewedthe band of captives much like a caged herd of wild beasts.

  When on the way home Mistress Susan asked her little boy why he wouldnot make his obeisance to the pretty lady, he sturdily answered, "Sheis 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 thematter?"

  "I cannot tell," returned Richard. "All I know is that many who haveno mercy on her would change their minds if they beheld her patient andkindly demeanour to all."

  This was a sort of shock to Susan, as it seemed to her to prove thetruth of little Lady Talbot's words, that no one was proof againstQueen Mary's wiles; but she was happy in having her husband at homeonce more, though, as he told her, he would be occupied most of eachalternate day at Sheffield, he and another relation having beenappointed "gentlemen porters," which meant that they were to wait in achamber at the foot of the stairs, and keep watch over whatever went inor out of the apartments of the captive and her suite.

  "And," said Richard, "who think you came to see me at Wingfield? Noneother 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 apost 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 hemight 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 methe more bent on not bringing him hither. I'd fain serve in no shipwhere I know not the honesty of all the crew, and Cuthbert hath everhad 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. "Hewould never be content to let alone the question of our little wench'sbirth, 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 onboard at Dumbarton. Well, said I, and so they must have been, since onboard they were. Is that all thou hast to tell me? And mighty as wasthe work he would have made of it, this was all he seemed to know. Iasked, in my turn, how he came to know thus much about a vessel sailingfrom a port in arms against the Lords of the Congregation, the alliesof her Majesty?"

  "What said he?"

  "That his house had dealings with the owners of the Bride of Dunbar. Ilike not such dealings, and so long as this lady and her train are nearus, I would by no means have him whispering here and there that she isa Scottish orphan."

  "It would chafe my Lady Countess!" said Susan, to whom this was aserious matter. "Yet doth it not behove us to endeavour to find outher parentage?"

  "I tell you I proved to myself that he knew nothing, and all that wehave 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 distrustor of his secrecy, but he had a general feeling that to let anintriguer like Cuthbert Langston rake up any tale that could beconnected with the party of the captive queen, could only lead todanger and trouble.

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