A Furious Letter





A period now began of daily penance to Mrs. Talbot, of daily excitement

and delight to Cis. Two hours or more had to be spent in attendance on

Queen Mary. Even on Sundays there was no exemption, the visit only

took place later in the day, so as not to interfere with going to

church.



Nothing could be more courteous or more friendly than the manner in

which the elder lady was always received. She was always made welcome

by the Queen herself, who generally entered into conversation with her

almost as with an equal. Or when Mary herself was engaged in her privy

chamber in dictating to her secretaries, the ladies of the suite showed

themselves equally friendly, and told her of their mistress's

satisfaction in having a companion free from all the rude and

unaccountable humours and caprices of my Lady Countess and her

daughters. And if Susan was favoured, Cis was petted. Queen Mary

always 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 face

light up when the young girl entered the room and return the shy

reverential kiss of the hand with a tender kiss on the forehead, that

made her encourage the chatter, give little touches to the deportment,

and present little keepsakes, which increased in value till Sir Richard

began to look grave, and to say there must be no more jewels of price

brought from the lodge? And as his wife uttered a word that sounded

like remonstrance, he added, "Not while she passes for my daughter."



Cis, who had begun by putting on a pouting face, burst into tears. Her

adopted parents had always been more tolerant and indulgent to her than

if she had been a child over whom they felt entire rights, and instead

of rewarding her petulance with such a blow as would have fallen to the

lot of a veritable Talbot, Richard shrugged his shoulders and left the

room--the chamber which had been allotted to Dame Susan at the

Manor-house, while Susan endeavoured to cheer the girl by telling her

not to grieve, for her father was not angry with her.



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

Cis.



"See, dear child," said Susan, "while she only gave thee an orange

stuck with cloves, or an embroidery needle, or even a puppy dog, it is

all very well; but when it comes to Spanish gloves and coral clasps,

the next time there is an outcry about a plot, some evil-disposed

person would be sure to say that Master Richard Talbot had been taking

bribes 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 we

had betrayed our trust, and there never has been one stain on my

husband'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 you

bear."



"I will, I will!" said Cis. "Never will I take another gift from the

Queen 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 Susan

lavished 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 her

word."



"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 thought

of bringing your honour into question. There spoke her kingly blood."



"Well, we shall see," sighed Richard, "if it be blood that makes the

nature. I fear me hers is but that of a Scottish thief! Scorn not

warning, mother, but watch thy stranger nestling well."



"Nay, mine husband. While we own her as our child, she will do

anything to be one with us. It is when we seem to put her from us that

we wound her so that I know not what she might do, fondled as she

is--by--by her who--has the best right to the dear child."



Richard uttered a certain exclamation of disgust which silenced his

discreet wife.



Neither of them had quite anticipated the result, namely, that the next

morning, Cis, after kissing the Queen's hand as usual, remained

kneeling, 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 is

the clasp broken?"



"No, madam; but--but I pray you give me no more gifts. My father says

it touches his honour, and I have promised him--Oh, madam, be not

displeased with me, but let me give you back your last beauteous gift."



Mary was standing by the fire. She took the ivory and coral trinket

from the hand of the kneeling girl, and dashed it into the hottest

glow. There was passion in the action, and in the kindling eye, but it

was but for a moment. Before Cis could speak or Susan begin her

excuses, the delicate hand was laid on the girl's head, and a calm

voice said, "Fear not, child. Queens take not back their gifts. I

ought to have borne in mind that I am balked of the pleasure of

giving--the beat of all the joys they have robbed me of. But tremble

not, sweetheart, I am not chafed with thee. I will vex thy father no

more. Better thou shouldst go without a trinket or two than deprive me

of the light of that silly little face of thine so long as they will

leave me that sunbeam."



She stooped and kissed the drooping brow, and Susan could not but feel

as if the voice of nature were indeed speaking.



A few words of apology in her character of mother for the maiden's

abrupt proceeding were met by the Queen most graciously. "Spare thy

words, good madam. We understand and reverence Mr. Talbot's point of

honour. Would that all who approached us had held his scruples!"



Perhaps Mary was after this more distant and dignified towards the

matron, but especially tender and caressing towards the maiden, as if

to make up by kindness for the absence of little gifts.



Storms, however, were brewing without. Lady Shrewsbury made open

complaints of her husband having become one of Mary's many victims,

representing herself as an injured wife driven out of her house. She

actually in her rage carried the complaint to Queen Elizabeth, who sent

down two commissioners to inquire into the matter. They sat in the

castle hall, and examined all the attendants, including Richard and his

wife. The investigation was extremely painful and distressing, but it

was proved that nothing could have been more correct and guarded than

the whole intercourse between the Earl and his prisoner. If he had

erred, it had been on the side of caution and severity, though he had

always preserved the courteous demeanour of a gentleman, and had been

rejoiced to permit whatever indulgences could be granted. If there had

been any transgressions of the strict rules, they had been made by the

Countess herself and her daughters in the days of their intimacy with

the Queen; and the aspersions on the unfortunate Earl were, it was soon

evident, merely due to the violent and unscrupulous tongues of the

Countess and her daughter Mary. No wonder that Lord Shrewsbury wrote

letters in which he termed the lady "his wicked and malicious wife,"

and expressed his conviction that his son Gilbert's mind had been

perverted by her daughter.



The indignation of the captive Queen was fully equal to his, as one

after another of her little court returned and was made to detail the

points on which he or she had been interrogated. Susan found her

pacing up and down the floor like a caged tigress, her cap and veil

thrown back, so that her hair--far whiter than what was usually

displayed--was hanging dishevelled, her ruff torn open, as if it choked

back the swelling passion in her throat.



"Never, never content with persecuting me, they must insult me! Is it

not enough that I am stripped of my crown, deprived of my friends; that

I cannot take a step beyond this chamber, queen as I am, without my

warder? Must they attaint me as a woman? Oh, why, why did the doom

spare me that took my little brothers? Why did I live to be the most

wretched, 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 has

ever been dropped?"



"This one is dropped!" exclaimed Susan, coming forward. "Yes, your

Grace, indeed it is! The Commissioner himself told my husband that no

one believed it for a moment."



"Then why should these men have been sent but to sting and gall me, and

make me feel that I am in their power?" cried the Queen.



"They came," said the Secretary Curll, "because thus alone could the

Countess be silenced."



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

tongue!"



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



"It were well that she knew what those two dames can say of her Majesty

herself, when it serves them," added Marie de Courcelles.



"That shall she!" exclaimed Mary. "She shall have it from mine own

hand! Ha! ha! Elizabeth shall know the choice tales wherewith Mary

Talbot hath regaled us, and then shall she judge how far anything that

comes from my young lady is worth heeding for a moment. Remember you

all the tales of the nips and the pinches? Ay, and of all the

endearments to Leicester and to Hatton? She shall have it all, and try

how she likes the dish of scandal of Mary Talbot's cookery, sauced by

Bess of Hardwicke. Here, nurse, come and set this head-gear of mine in

order, and do you, my good Curll, have pen, ink, and paper in readiness

for me."



The Queen did little but write that morning. The next day, on coming

out from morning prayers, which the Protestants of her suite attended,

with the rest of the Shrewsbury household, Barbara Mowbray contrived to

draw Mrs. Talbot apart as they went towards the lodge.



"Madam," she said, "they all talk of your power to persuade. Now is

the time you could do what would be no small service to this poor

Queen, 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 a

letter."



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



"Even so. 'Tis no secret, for she read fragments of it aloud, and all

her women applauded it with all their might, and laughed over the

stings that it would give, but Mr. Curll, who bad to copy it, saith

that there is a bitterness in it that can do nothing but make her

Majesty of England the more inflamed, not only against my Lady

Shrewsbury, but against her who writ the letter, and all concerned.

Why, she hath even brought in the comedy that your children acted in

the 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 sore

vexed, and would fain have her withdraw it; but Master Nau and all the

French part of the household know not how to rejoice enough at such an

exposure of my Lady, which gives a hard fling at Queen Elizabeth at the

same time! Nay, I cannot but tell you that there are things in it that

Dame Mary Talbot might indeed say, but I know not how Queen Mary could

bring 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 of

the letter? Yet much that she had heard made her feel very uneasy on

all accounts. She had too much strong family regard for the Countess

and for Gilbert Talbot and his wife to hear willingly of what might

imperil them, and though royal indignation would probably fly over the

heads of the children, no one was too obscure in those Tudor times to

stand in danger from a sovereign who might think herself insulted. Yet

as a Hardwicke, and the wife of a Talbot, it was most unlikely that she

would have any opening for remonstrance given to her.



However, it was possible that Curll wished to give her an opening, for

no sooner were the ladies settled at work than he bowed himself forward

and 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 prepare

our own for our sealing."



"Will not your Majesty hear it read over ere it pass out of your

hands?" asked Curll.



"Even so," returned Mary, who really was delighted with the pungency of

her own composition. "Mayhap we may have a point or two to add."



After what Mistress Barbara had said, Susan was on thorns that Cis

should hear the letter; but that good young lady, hating the

expressions therein herself, and hating it still more for the girl,

bethought her of asking permission to take Mistress Cicely to her own

chamber, there to assist her in the folding of some of her laces, and

Mary consented. It was well, for there was much that made the

English-bred Susan's cheeks glow and her ears tingle.



But, at least, it gave her a great opportunity. When the letter was

finished, she advanced and knelt on the step of the canopied chair,

saying, "Madam, pardon me, if in the name of my unfortunate children, I

entreat you not to accuse them to the Queen."



"Your children, lady! How have I included them in what I have told her

Majesty of our sweet Countess?"



"Your Grace will remember that the foremost parts in yonder farce were

allotted to my son Humfrey and to young Master Babington. Nay, that

the whole arose from the woodland sport of little Cis, which your Grace

was pleased to admire."



"Sooth enough, my good gossip, but none could suspect the poor children

of the malice my Lady Countess contrived to put into the matter."



"Ah, madam! these are times when it is convenient to shift the blame on

one who can be securely punished."



"Certes," said Mary, thoughtfully, "the Countess is capable of making

her escape by denouncing some one else, especially those within her own

reach."



"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 of

the young ladies, he so heedfully caused Master Sniggins to omit all

perilous matter, that no one not informed would have guessed at the

import 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 my

gracious cousin, ay, or Leicester and Hatton themselves, to the blush."



"Thus, if the Queen should take the matter up and trace it home, it

could not but be brought to my poor innocent children! Humfrey is for

the nonce out of reach, but the maiden--I wis verily that your Highness

would be loath to do her any hurt!"



"Thou art a good pleader, madam," said the queen. "Verily I should not

like to bring the bonnie lassie into trouble. It will give Master

Curll a little more toil, ay and myself likewise, for the matter must

stand 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 have

of me?"



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



"Ha! thou art of the same house thyself. I had forgotten it; thou art

so unlike to them. I wager that it is not to send this same letter at

all."



"Your Highness hath guessed my mind. Nay, madam, though assuredly I do

desire it because the Countess bath been ever my good lady, and bred me

up ever since I was an orphan, it is not solely for her sake that I

would fain pray you, but fully as much for your Majesty's own."



"Madame Talbot sees the matter as I do," said Sir Andrew Melville. "The

English Queen is as like to be irate with the reporter of the scandal

as with the author of it, even as the wolf bites the barb that pierces

him when he cannot reach the archer."



"She is welcome to read the letter," said Mary, smiling; "thy semblance

falleth 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 to

amuse your Grace with Court news, and treasured up so long, your

Majesty 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, somewhat

sharply, as Susan paused.



"Your Highness has said it," answered Susan; then, as there was a

moment's pause, she looked up, and with clasped hands added, "Oh,

madam! would it not be more worthy, more noble, more queenly, more

Christian, to refrain from stinging with this repetition of these vain

and foolish slanders?"



"Most Christian treatment have I met with," returned Mary; but after a

pause she turned to her almoner. Master Belton, saying, "What say you,

sir?"



"I say that Mrs. Talbot speaks more Christian words than are often

heard in these parts," returned he. "The thankworthiness of suffering

is lost by those who return the revilings upon those who utter them."



"Then be it so," returned the Queen. "Elizabeth shall be spared the

knowledge that some ladies' tongues can be as busy with her as with her

poor cousin."



With her own hands Mary tore up her own letter, but Curll's copy

unfortunately escaped destruction, to be discovered in after times.

Lord and Lady Shrewsbury never knew the service Susan had rendered them

by causing it to be suppressed.





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