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Master Talbot And His Charge








The afternoon on which they were to enter the old town of
Kingston-upon-Hull closed in with a dense sea-fog, fast turning to
drizzling rain. They could see but a little distance on either side,
and could not see the lordly old church tower. The beads of dew on the
fringes of her pony's ears were more visible to Cicely than anything
else, and as she kept along by Master Richard's side, she rejoiced both
in the beaten, well-trodden track, and in the pealing bells which
seemed to guide them into the haven; while Richard was resolving, as he
had done all through the journey, where he could best lodge his
companion so as to be safe, and at the same time free from inconvenient
curiosity.

The wetness of the evening made promptness of decision the more
needful, while the bad weather which his experienced eye foresaw would
make the choice more important.

Discerning through the increasing gloom a lantern moving in the street
which seemed to him to light a substantial cloaked figure, he drew up
and asked if he were in the way to a well-known hostel. Fortune had
favoured him, for a voice demanded in return, "Do I hear the voice of
good Captain Talbot? At your service."

"Yea, it is I--Richard Talbot. Is it you, good Master Heatherthwayte?"

"It is verily, sir. Well do I remember you, good trusty Captain, and
the goodly lady your wife. Do I see her here?" returned the clergyman,
who had heartily grasped Richard's hand.

"No, sir, this is my daughter, for whose sake I would ask you to direct
me to some lodging for the night."

"Nay, if the young lady will put up with my humble chambers, and my
little daughter for her bedfellow, I would not have so old an
acquaintance go farther."

Richard accepted the offer gladly, and Mr. Heatherthwayte walked close
to the horses, using his lantern to direct them, and sending flashes of
light over the gabled ends of the old houses and the muffled
passengers, till they came to a long flagged passage, when he asked
them to dismount, bidding the servants and horses to await his return,
and giving his hand to conduct the young lady along the narrow slippery
alley, which seemed to have either broken walls or houses on either
aide.

He explained to Richard, by the way, that he had married the godly
widow of a ship chandler, but that it had pleased Heaven to take her
from him at the end of five years, leaving him two young children, but
that her ancient nurse had the care of the house and the little ones.

Curates were not sumptuously lodged in those days. The cells which had
been sufficient for monks commissioned by monasteries were no homes for
men with families; and where means were to be had, a few rooms had been
added without much grace, or old cottages adapted--for indeed the
requirements of the clergy of the day did not soar above those of the
farmer or petty dealer. Master Heatherthwayte pulled a string
depending from a hole in a door, the place of which he seemed to know
by instinct, and admitted the newcomers into a narrow paved entry,
where he called aloud, "Here, Oil! Dust! Goody! Bring a light! Here
are guests!"

A door was opened instantly into a large kitchen or keeping room,
bright with a fire and small lamp. A girl of nine or ten sprang
forward, but hung back at the sight of strangers; a boy of twelve rose
awkwardly from conning his lessons by the low, unglazed lamp; an old
woman showed herself from some kind of pantry.

"Here," said the clergyman, "is my most esteemed friend Captain Talbot
of Bridgefield and his daughter, who will do us the honour of abiding
with us this night. Do thou, Goody Madge, and thou, Oil-of-Gladness,
make the young lady welcome, and dry her garments, while we go and see
to the beasts. Thou, Dust-and-Ashes, mayest come with us and lead the
gentleman's horse."

The lad, saddled with this dismal name, and arrayed in garments which
matched it in colour though not in uncleanliness, sprang up with
alacrity, infinitely preferring fog, rain, and darkness to his
accidence, and never guessing that he owed this relaxation to his
father's recollection of Mrs. Talbot's ways, and perception that the
young lady would be better attended to without his presence.

Oil-of-Gladness was a nice little rosy girl in the tightest and
primmest of caps and collars, and with the little housewifely
hospitality that young mistresses of houses early attain to. There was
no notion of equal terms between the Curate's daughter and the
Squire's: the child brought a chair, and stood respectfully to receive
the hood, cloak, and riding skirt, seeming delighted at the smile and
thanks with which Cicely requited her attentions. The old woman felt
the inner skirts, to make sure that they were not damp, and then the
little girl brought warm water, and held the bowl while her guest
washed face and hands, and smoothed her hair with the ivory comb which
ladies always carried on a journey. The sweet power of setting people
at ease was one Cis had inherited and cultivated by imitation, and
Oil-of-Gladness was soon chattering away over her toilette. Would the
lady really sleep with her in her little bed? She would promise not to
kick if she could help it. Then she exclaimed, "Oh! what fair thing
was that at the lady's throat? Was it a jewel of gold? She had never
seen one; for father said it was not for Christian women to adorn
themselves. Oh no; she did not mean--" and, confused, she ran off to
help Goody to lay the spotless tablecloth, Cis following to set the
child at peace with herself, and unloose the tongue again into hopes
that the lady liked conger pie; for father had bought a mighty conger
for twopence, and Goody had made a goodly pie of him.

By the time the homely meal was ready Mr. Talbot had returned from
disposing of his horses and servants at a hostel, for whose comparative
respectability Mr. Heatherthwayte had answered. The clergyman himself
alone sat down to supper with his guests. He would not hear of letting
either of his children do so; but while Dust-and-Ashes retired to study
his tasks for the Grammar School by firelight, Oil-of-Gladness assisted
Goody in waiting, in a deft and ready manner pleasant to behold.

No sooner did Mr. Talbot mention the name Cicely than Master
Heatherthwayte looked up and said--"Methinks it was I who spake that
name over this young lady in baptism."

"Even so," said Richard. "She knoweth all, but she hath ever been our
good and dutiful daughter, for which we are the more thankful that
Heaven hath given us none other maid child."

He knew Master Heatherthwayte was inclined to curiosity about other
people's affairs, and therefore turned the discourse on the doings of
his sons, hoping to keep him thus employed and avert all further
conversation upon Cicely and the cause of the journey. The good man
was most interested in Edward, only he exhorted Mr. Talbot to be
careful with whom he bestowed the stripling at Cambridge, so that he
might shed the pure light of the Gospel, undimmed by Popish obscurities
and idolatries.

He began on his objections to the cross in baptism and the ring in
marriage, and dilated on them to his own satisfaction over the tankard
of ale that was placed for him and his guest, and the apples and nuts
wherewith Cicely was surreptitiously feeding Oil-of-Gladness and
Dust-and-Ashes; while the old woman bustled about, and at length made
her voice heard in the announcement that the chamber was ready, and the
young lady was weary with travel, and it was time she was abed, and Oil
likewise.

Though not very young children, Oil and Dust, at a sign from their
father, knelt by his chair, and uttered their evening prayers aloud,
after which he blessed and dismissed them--the boy to a shake-down in
his own room, the girl to the ecstasy of assisting the guest to
undress, and admiring the wonders of the very simple toilette apparatus
contained in her little cloak bag.

Richard meantime was responding as best he could to the inquiries he
knew would be inevitable as soon as he fell in with the Reverend Master
Heatherthwayte. He was going to London in the Mastiff on some business
connected with the Queen of Scots, he said.

Whereupon Mr. Heatherthwayte quoted something from the Psalms about the
wicked being taken in their own pits, and devoutly hoped she would not
escape this time. His uncharitableness might be excused by the fact
that he viewed it as an immediate possibility that the Prince of Parma
might any day enter the Humber, when he would assuredly be burnt alive,
and Oil-of-Gladness exposed to the fate of the children of Haarlem.

Then he added, "I grieved to hear that you and your household were so
much exposed to the witchcrafts of that same woman, sir."

"I hope she hath done them little hurt," said Richard.

"Is it true," he added, "that the woman hath laid claim to the young
lady now here as a kinswoman?"

"It is true," said Richard, "but how hath it come to your knowledge, my
good friend? I deemed it known to none out of our house; not even the
Earl and Countess guess that she is no child of ours."

"Nay, Mr. Talbot, is it well to go on in a deceit?"

"Call it rather a concealment," said Richard. "We have doubted it
since, but when we began, it was merely that there was none to whom it
seemed needful to explain that the babe was not the little daughter we
buried here. But how did you learn it? It imports to know."

"Sir, do you remember your old servant Colet, Gervas's wife? It will
be three years next Whitsuntide that hearing a great outcry as of a
woman maltreated as I passed in the street, I made my way into the
house and found Gervas verily beating his wife with a broomstick. After
I had rebuked him and caused him to desist, I asked him the cause, and
he declared it to be that his wife had been gadding to a stinking
Papist fellow, who would be sure to do a mischief to his noble captain,
Mr. Talbot. Thereupon Colet declares that she had done no harm, the
gentleman wist all before. She knew him again for the captain's
kinsman who was in the house the day that the captain brought home the
babe."

"Cuthbert Langston!"

"Even so, sir. It seems that he had been with this woman, and
questioned her closely on all she remembered of the child, learning
from her what I never knew before, that there were marks branded on her
shoulders and a letter sewn in her clothes. Was it so, sir?"

"Ay, but my wife and I thought that even Colet had never seen them."

"Nothing can escape a woman, sir. This man drew all from her by
assuring her that the maiden belonged to some great folk, and was even
akin to the King and Queen of Scots, and that she might have some great
reward if she told her story to them. She even sold him some three or
four gold and ivory beads which she says she found when sweeping out
the room where the child was first undressed."

"Hath she ever heard more of the fellow?"

"Nay, but Gervas since told me that he had met some of my Lord's men
who told him that your daughter was one of the Queen of Scots' ladies,
and said he, 'I held my peace; but methought, It hath come of the
talebearing of that fellow to whom my wife prated.'"

"Gervas guessed right," said Richard. "That Langston did contrive to
make known to the Queen of Scots such tokens as led to her owning the
maiden as of near kin to her by the mother's side, and to her husband
on the father's; but for many reasons she entreated us to allow the
damsel still to bear our name, and be treated as our child."

"I doubt me whether it were well done of you, sir," said Mr.
Heatherthwayte.

"Of that," said Richard, drawing up into himself, "no man can judge for
another."

"She hath been with that woman; she will have imbibed her Popish
vanities!" exclaimed the poor clergyman, almost ready to start up and
separate Oil-of-Gladness at once from the contamination.

"You may be easy on that score," said Richard drily. "Her faith is
what my good wife taught her, and she hath constantly attended the
preachings of the chaplains of Sir Amias Paulett, who be all of your
own way of thinking."

"You assure me?" said Mr. Heatherthwayte, "for it is the nature of
these folk to act a part, even as did the parent the serpent."

Often as Richard had thought so himself, he was offended now, and rose,
"If you think I have brought a serpent into your house, sir, we will
take shelter elsewhere. I will call her."

Mr. Heatherthwayte apologised and protested, and showed himself willing
to accept the assurance that Cicely was as simple and guileless as his
own little maid; and Mr. Talbot, not wishing to be sent adrift with
Cicely at that time of night, and certainly not to put such an affront
on the good, if over-anxious father, was pacified, but the cordial tone
of ease was at an end, and they were glad to separate and retire to
rest.

Richard had much cause for thought. He perceived, what had always been
a perplexity to him before, how Langston had arrived at the knowledge
that enabled him to identify Cicely with the babe of Lochleven.

Mr. Talbot heard moanings and wailings of wind all night, which to his
experience here meant either a three days' detention at Hull, or a land
journey. With dawn there were gusts and showers. He rose betimes and
went downstairs. He could hear his good host praying aloud in his
room, and feeling determined not to vex that Puritan spirit by the
presence of Queen Mary's pupil, he wrapped his cloak about him and went
out to study the weather, and inquire for lodgings to which he might
remove Cicely. He saw nothing he liked, and determined on consulting
his old mate, Goatley, who generally acted as skipper, but he had first
to return so as not to delay the morning meal. He found, on coming in,
Cicely helping Oil-of-Gladness in making griddle cakes, and buttering
them, so as to make Mr. Heatherthwayte declare that he had not tasted
the like since Mistress Susan quitted Hull.

Moreover, he had not sat down to the meal more than ten minutes before
he discovered, to his secret amusement, that Cicely had perfectly
fascinated and charmed the good minister, who would have shuddered had
he known that she did so by the graces inherited and acquired from the
object of his abhorrence. Invitations to abide in their present
quarters till it was possible to sail were pressed on them; and though
Richard showed himself unwilling to accept them, they were so cordially
reiterated, that he felt it wiser to accede to them rather than spread
the mystery farther. He was never quite sure whether Mr.
Heatherthwayte looked on the young lady as untainted, or whether he
wished to secure her in his own instructions; but he always described
her as a modest and virtuous young lady, and so far from thinking her
presence dangerous, only wished Oil to learn as much from her as
possible.

Cicely was sorely disappointed, and wanted to ride on at once by land;
but when her foster-father had shown her that the bad weather would be
an almost equal obstacle, and that much time would be lost on the road,
she submitted with the good temper she had cultivated under such a
notable example. She taught Oil-of-Gladness the cookery of one of her
mothers and the stitchery of the other; she helped Dust-and-Ashes with
his accidence, and enlightened him on the sports of the Bridgefield
boys, so that his father looked round dismayed at the smothered
laughter, when she assured him that she was only telling how her
brother Diccon caught a coney, or the like, and in some magical way
smoothed down his frowns with her smile.

Mistress Cicely Talbot's visit was likely to be an unforgotten era with
Dust-and-Ashes and Oil-of-Gladness. The good curate entreated that she
and her father would lodge there on their return, and the invitation
was accepted conditionally, Mr. Talbot writing to his wife, by the
carriers, to send such a load of good cheer from Bridgefield as would
amply compensate for the expenses of this hospitality.





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Previous: My Lady's Remorse



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