Unknown to history a st.., p.9

Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland, page 9


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

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  Bridgefield was a peaceable household, and the castle and manor beyondmight envy its calm.

  From the time of the marriage of Elizabeth Cavendish with the youngEarl of Lennox all the shreds of comfort which had remained to theunfortunate Earl had vanished. First he had to clear himself beforeQueen Elizabeth from having been a consenting party, and then he foundhis wife furious with him at his displeasure at her daughter'saggrandisement. Moreover, whereas she had formerly been on terms offriendly gossiphood with the Scottish Queen, she now went over to theLennox side because her favourite daughter had married among them; andit was evident that from that moment all amity between her and theprisoner was at an end.

  She was enraged that her husband would not at once change his wholetreatment of the Queen, and treat her as such guilt deserved; and withthe illogical dulness of a passionate woman, she utterly scouted andfailed to comprehend the argument that the unhappy Mary was, to say theleast of it, no more guilty now than when she came into their keeping,and that to alter their demeanour towards her would be unjust andunreasonable.

  "My Lady is altogether beyond reason," said Captain Talbot, returningone evening to his wife; "neither my Lord nor her daughter can do oughtwith her; so puffed up is she with this marriage! Moreover, she ishotly angered that young Babington should have been sent away from herretinue without notice to her, and demands our Humfrey in his stead asa page."

  "He is surely too old for a page!" said his mother, thinking of hertall well-grown son of fifteen.

  "So said I," returned Richard. "I had sooner it were Diccon, and so Itold his lordship."

  Before Richard could speak for them, the two boys came in, eager andbreathless. "Father!" cried Humfrey, "who think you is at Hull? Why,none other than your old friend and shipmate, Captain Frobisher!"

  "Ha! Martin Frobisher! Who told thee, Humfrey?"

  "Faithful Ekins, sir, who had it from the Doncaster carrier, who sawCaptain Frobisher himself, and was asked by him if you, sir, were notsomewhere in Yorkshire, and if so, to let you know that he will be inHull till May-day, getting men together for a voyage to the northwards,where there is gold to be had for the picking--and if you had a likelyson or two, now was the time to make their fortunes, and show them theworld. He said, any way you might ride to see an old comrade."

  "A long message for two carriers," said Richard Talbot, smiling, "butMartin never was a scribe!"

  "But, sir, you will let me go," cried Humfrey, eagerly. "I mean, Ipray you to let me go. Dear mother, say nought against it," entreatedthe youth. "Cis, think of my bringing thee home a gold bracelet likemother's."

  "What," said his father, "when my Lady has just craved thee for a page."

  "A page!" said Humfrey, with infinite contempt--"to hear all theirtales and bickerings, hold skeins of silk, amble mincingly alonggalleries, be begged to bear messages that may have more in them thanone knows, and be noted for a bear if one refuses."

  The father and Cis laughed, the mother looked unhappy.

  "So Martin is at Hull, is he?" said Richard, musingly. "If my Lord cangive me leave for a week or fortnight, methinks I must ride to see thestout old knave."

  "And oh, sweet father! prithee take me with you," entreated Humfrey,"if it be only to come back again. I have not seen the sea since wecame here, and yet the sound is in my ears as I fall asleep. I entreatof you to let me come, good my father."

  "And, good father, let me come," exclaimed Diccon; "I have never evenseen the sea!"

  "And dear, sweet father, take me," entreated little Ned.

  "Nay," cried Cis, "what should I do? Here is Antony Babington borneoff to Cambridge, and you all wanting to leave me."

  "I'll come home better worth than he!" muttered Humfrey, who thought hesaw consent on his father's brow, and drew her aside into the deepwindow.

  "You'll come back a rude sailor, smelling of pitch and tar, and Antonywill be a well-bred, point-device scholar, who will know how to give alady his hand," said the teasing girl.

  "And so the playful war was carried on, while the father, havingsilenced and dismissed the two younger lads, expressed his intention ofobtaining leave of absence, if possible, from the Earl."

  "Yea," he added to his wife, "I shall even let Humfrey go with me. Itis time he looked beyond the walls of this place, which is littlebetter than a prison."

  "And will you let him go on this strange voyage?" she asked wistfully,"he, our first-born, and our heir."

  "For that, dame, remember his namesake, my poor brother, was the onewho stayed at home, I the one to go forth, and here am I now! Thelad's words may have set before thee weightier perils in yonder parkthan he is like to meet among seals and bears under honest old Martin."

  "Yet here he has your guidance," said Susan.

  "Who knows how they might play on his honour as to talebearing? Nay,good wife, when thou hast thought it over, thou wilt see that farfouler shoals and straits lie up yonder, than in the free open sea thatGod Almighty made. Martin is a devout and godly man, who hath matinsand evensong on board each day when the weather is not too foul, andlooks well that there be no ill-doings in his ship; and if he have aberth for thy lad, it will be a better school for him than wheretwo-thirds of the household are raging against one another, and thethird ever striving to corrupt and outwit the rest. I am weary of itall! Would that I could once get into blue water again, and leave itall behind!"

  "You will not! Oh! you will not!" implored Susan. "Remember, my dear,good lord, how you said all your duties lay at home."

  "I remember, my good housewife. Thou needst not fear for me. Butthere is little time to spare. If I am to see mine old friend, I mustget speech of my Lord to-night, so as to be on horseback to-morrow.Saddle me Brown Dumpling, boys."

  And as the boys went off, persuading Cis, who went coyly protestingthat the paddock was damp, yet still following after them, he added,"Yea, Sue, considering all, it is better those two were apart for ayear or so, till we see better what is this strange nestling that wehave reared. Ay, thou art like the mother sparrow that hath bred up acuckoo and doteth on it, yet it mateth not with her brood."

  "It casteth them out," said Susan, "as thou art doing now, by yourleave, husband."

  "Only for a flight, gentle mother," he answered, "only for a flight, toprove meanwhile whether there be the making of a simple household bird,or of a hawk that might tear her mate to pieces, in yonder nestling."

  Susan was too dutiful a wife to say more, though her motherly heart waswrung almost as much at the implied distrust of her adopted daughter asby the sudden parting with her first-born to the dangers of thenorthern seas. She could better enter into her husband's fears of thetemptations of page life at Sheffield, and being altogether a wife,"bonner and boughsome," as her marriage vow held it, she appliedherself and Cis to the choosing of the shirts and the crimping of theruffs that were to appear in Hull, if, for there was this hope at thebottom of her heart, my Lord might refuse leave of absence to his"gentleman porter."

  The hope was fallacious; Richard reported that my Lord was so muchrelieved to find that he had detected no fresh conspiracy, as to bewilling to grant him a fortnight's leave, and even had said with a sighthat he was in the right on't about his son, for Sheffield was more ofa school for plotting than for chivalry.

  It was a point of honour with every good housewife to have a store oflinen equal to any emergency, and, indeed, as there were no washingdays in the winter, the stock of personal body-linen was at all timesnearly a sufficient outfit; so the main of Humfrey's shirts were to bedespatched by a carrier, in the trust that they would reach him beforethe expedition should sail.

  There was then little to delay the father and son, after the mother,with fast-gathering tears resolutely forced back, had packed andstrapped their mails, with Cis's help, Humfrey standing by, booted andspurred, and talking fast of the wonders he should see, and the goldand ivory he should bring home, to hid
e the qualms of home-sickness,and mother-sickness, he was already beginning to feel; and maybe to getCis to pronounce that then she should think more of him than of AntonyBabington with his airs and graces. Wistfully did the lad watch forsome such tender assurance, but Cis seemed all provoking brilliancy andteasing. "She knew he would be back over soon. Oh no, _he_ wouldnever go to sea! She feared not. Mr. Frobisher would have none ofsuch awkward lubbers. More's the pity. There would be some peace toget to do her broidery, and leave to play on the virginals when he wasgone."

  But when the horsemen had disappeared down the avenue, Cis hid herselfin a corner and cried as if her heart would break.

  She cried again behind the back of the tall settle when the father cameback alone, full of praises of Captain Frobisher, his ship, and hiscompany, and his assurances that he would watch over Humfrey like hisown son.

  Meantime the domestic storms at the park were such that Master Richardand his wife were not sorry that the boy was not growing up in themidst of them, though the Countess rated Susan severely for heringratitude.

  Queen Elizabeth was of course much angered at the Lennox match, and theEarl had to write letter after letter to clear himself from anyparticipation in bringing it about. Queen Mary also wrote to clearherself of it, and to show that she absolutely regretted it, as she hadsmall esteem for Bess Cavendish. Moreover, though Lady Shrewsbury'sfriendship might not be a very pleasant thing, it was at least betterthan her hostility. However, she was not much at Sheffield. Not onlywas she very angry with her husband, but Queen Elizabeth had strictlyforbidden the young Lord Lennox from coming under the same roof withhis royal sister-in-law. He was a weakly youth, and his wife's healthfailed immediately after her marriage, so that Lady Shrewsbury remainedalmost constantly at Chatsworth with her darling.

  Gilbert Talbot, who was the chief peacemaker of the family, went to andfro, wrote letters and did his best, which would have been moreeffective but for Mary, his wife, who, no doubt, detailed all thegossip of Sheffield at Chatsworth, as she certainly amused Sheffieldwith stories of her sister Bess as a royal countess full of airs andhumours, and her mother treating her, if not as a queen, at least onthe high road to become one, and how the haughty dame of Shrewsbury ranwillingly to pick up her daughter's kerchief, and stood over the firestirring the posset, rather than let it fail to tempt the appetitewhich became more dainty by being cossetted.

  The difference made between Lady Lennox and her elder sisters was not alittle nettling to Dame Mary Talbot, who held that some considerationwas her due, as the proud mother of the only grandson of the house ofShrewsbury, little George, who was just able to be put on horseback inthe court, and say he was riding to see "Lady Danmode," and to drinkthe health of "Lady Danmode" at his meals.

  Alas! the little hope of the Talbots suddenly faded. One evening aftersupper a message came down in haste to beg for the aid of MistressSusan, who, though much left to the seclusion of Bridgefield inprosperous days, was always a resource in trouble or difficulty. LittleGeorge, then two and a half years old, had been taken suddenly illafter a supper on marchpane and plum broth, washed down by Christmasale. Convulsions had come on, and the skill of Queen Mary's apothecaryhad only gone so far as to bleed him. Susan arrived only just in timeto see the child breathe his last sigh, and to have his mother, wildwith tumultuous clamorous grief, put into her hands for such soothingand comforting as might be possible, and the good and tender woman didher best to turn the mother's thoughts to something higher and betterthan the bewailing at one moment "her pretty boy," with a sort ofanimal sense of bereavement, and the next with lamentations over thehonours to which he would have succeeded. It was of little use to speakto her of the eternal glories of which he was now secure, for MaryTalbot's sorrow was chiefly selfish, and was connected with the loss ofher pre-eminence as parent to the heir-male.

  However, the grief of those times was apt to expend itself quickly, andwhen little George's coffin, smothered under heraldic devices andfuneral escutcheons, had been bestowed in the family vault, Dame Marysoon revived enough to take a warm interest in the lords who were nextafterwards sent down to hold conferences with the captive; and hercriticism of the fashion of their ruffs and doublets was as animated asever. Another grief, however, soon fell upon the family. Lady Lennox'sailments proved to be no such trifles as her sisters and sisters-in-lawhad been pleased to suppose, and before the year was out, she hadpassed away from all her ambitious hopes, leaving a little daughter.The Earl took a brief leave of absence to visit his lady in heraffliction at Chatsworth, and to stand godfather to the motherlessinfant.

  "She will soon be fatherless, too," said Richard Talbot on his returnto Bridgefield, after attending his lord on this expedition. "My youngLord Lennox, poor youth, is far gone in the wasting sickness, as wellas distraught with grief, and he could scarcely stand to receive myLord."

  "Our poor lady!" said Susan, "it pities me to think what hopes she hadfixed upon that young couple whom she had mated together."

  "I doubt me whether her hopes be ended now," quoth Richard. "Whatthink you she hath fixed on as the name of the poor puling babe yonder?They have called her Arbel or Arabella."

  "Arabella, say you? I never heard such a name. It is scarceChristian. Is it out of a romaunt?"

  "Better that it were. It is out of a pedigree. They have got thewhole genealogy of the house of Lennox blazoned fair, with crowns andcoronets and coats of arms hung up in the hall at Chatsworth, going upon the one hand through Sir AEneas of Troy, and on the other handthrough Woden to Adam and Eve! Pass for all before the Stewart linebecame Kings of Scots! Well, it seems that these Lennox Stewartssprang from one Walter, who was son to King Robert II., and that themother of this same Walter was called Anhild, or as the Scots here callit Annaple, but the scholars have made it into Arabella, and so myyoung lady is to be called. They say it was a special fancy of theyoung Countess's."

  "So I should guess. My lady would fill her head with such thoughts,and of this poor youth being next of kin to the young Scottish king,and to our own Queen."

  "He is not next heir to Scotland even, barring a little one we wot of,Dame Sue. The Hamiltons stand between, being descended from a daughterof King James I."

  "So methought I had heard. Are they not Papists?"

  "Yea! Ah ha, sweetheart, there is another of the house of Hardwicke asfain to dreams of greatness for her child as ever was the Countess,though she may be more discreet in the telling of them."

  "Ah me, dear sir, I dreamt not of greatness for splendour'ssake--'twere scarce for the dear child's happiness. I only thought ofwhat you once said, that she may be the instrument of preserving thetrue religion."

  "And if so, it can only be at a mighty cost!" said her husband.

  "Verily," said Susan, "glad am I that you sent our Humfrey from her.Would that nought had ever passed between the children!"

  "They were but children," said Richard; "and there was no contractbetween them."

  "I fear me there was what Humfrey will hold to, or know good reasonwhy," said his mother.

  "And were the young King of Scots married and father to a goodly heir,there is no reason he should not hold to it," rejoined Richard.

  However Richard was still anxious to keep his son engaged at a distancefrom Sheffield. There was great rejoicing and thankfulness when one ofthe many messengers constantly passing between London and Sheffieldbrought a packet from Humfrey, whose ship had put into the Thamesinstead of the Humber.

  The packet contained one of the black stones which the science of thetime expected to transmute into gold, also some Esquimaux trinkets madeof bone, and a few shells. These were for the mother and Cis, andthere were also the tusks of a sea-elephant which Humfrey would lay upat my Lord's London lodgings till his father sent tidings what shouldbe done with them, and whether he should come home at once by sea toHull, or if, as he much desired to do, he might join an expeditionwhich was fitting out for the Spanish Main, where he was assured thatmuch mo
re both of gold and honour was to be acquired than in the coldnorthern seas, where nothing was to be seen for the fog at most times,and when it cleared only pigmies, with their dogs, white bears, andseals, also mountains of ice bigger than any church, blue as my lady'sbest sapphires, green as her emeralds, sparkling as her diamonds, butready to be the destruction of the ships.

  "One there was," wrote Humfrey, "that I could have thought was no otherthan the City that the blessed St. John saw descending from Heaven, sofair was it to look on, but they cried out that it was rather a City ofDestruction, and when we had got out of the current where it wasbearing down on us, our noble captain piped all hands up to prayers,and gave thanks for our happy deliverance therefrom."

  Susan breathed a thanksgiving as her husband read, and he forbore totell her of the sharks, the tornadoes, and the fevers which might makethe tropical seas more perilous than the Arctic. No Elizabethanmariner had any scruples respecting piracy, and so long as the captainwas a godly man who kept up strict discipline on board, Master Richardheld the quarterdeck to be a much more wholesome place than theManor-house, and much preferred the humours of the ship to those of anyother feminine creature; for, as to his Susan, he always declared thatshe was the only woman who had none.

  So she accepted his decision, and saw the wisdom of it, though hertender heart deeply felt the disappointment. Tenderly she packed upthe shirts which she and Cis had finished, and bestrewed them withlavender, which, as she said, while a tear dropped with the grayblossoms, would bring the scent of home to the boy.

  Cis affected to be indifferent and offended. Master Humfrey might doas he chose. She did not care if he did prefer pitch and tar, andwhale blubber and grease, to hawks and hounds, and lords and ladies.She was sure she wanted no more great lubberly lads--with a sly cut atDiccon--to tangle her silk, and torment her to bait their hooks. Shewas well quit of any one of them.

  When Diccon proposed that she should write a letter to Humfrey, shedeclared that she should do no such thing, since he had never attemptedto write to her. In truth Diccon may have made the proposal in orderto obtain a companion in misfortune, since Master Sniggius, emulous ofthe success of other tutors, insisted on his writing to his brother inLatin, and the unfortunate epistle of Ricardus to Onofredus was revisedand corrected to the last extremity, and as it was allowed to containno word unknown to Virgilius Maro, it could not have afforded muchdelectation to the recipient.

  But when Mrs. Susan had bestowed all the shirts as neatly as possible,on returning to settle them for the last time before wrapping them upfor the messenger, she felt something hard among them. It was a tinyparcel wrapped in a piece of a fine kerchief, tied round with a tressof dark hair, and within, Susan knew by the feeling, a certain chessrook which had been won by Cis when shooting at the butts a week or twobefore.

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