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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