The Captive





Death and sorrow seemed to have marked the house of Bridgefield, for

the old lady never rallied after the blood-letting enjoined by the

Countess's medical science, and her husband, though for some months

able 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 the

month, but as soon as she was laid up for the winter he resigned his

command, and returned home, where he was needed to assume the part of

master. In truth he became actually master before the next spring, for

his father took to his bed with the first winter frosts, and in spite

of 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 Talbot

inherited house and lands, with the undefined sense of feudal

obligation to the head of his name, and ere long he was called upon to

fulfil those obligations by service to his lord.



There had been another act in the great Scottish tragedy. Queen Mary

had effected her escape from Lochleven, but only to be at once

defeated, and then to cross the Solway and throw herself into the hands

of the English Queen.



Bolton Castle had been proved to be too perilously near the Border to

serve as her residence, and the inquiry at York, and afterwards at

Westminster, having proved unsatisfactory, Elizabeth had decided on

detaining her in the kingdom, and committed her to the charge of the

Earl of Shrewsbury.



To go into the history of that ill-managed investigation is not the

purpose of this tale. It is probable that Elizabeth believed her

cousin guilty, and wished to shield that guilt from being proclaimed,

while her councillors, in their dread of the captive, wished to enhance

the crime in Elizabeth's eyes, and were by no means scrupulous as to

the kind of evidence they adduced. However, this lies outside our

story; all that concerns it is that Lord Shrewsbury sent a summons to

his trusty and well-beloved cousin, Richard Talbot of Bridgefield, to

come and form part of the guard of honour which was to escort the Queen

of Scots to Tutbury Castle, and there attend upon her.



All this time no hint had been given that the little Cicely was of

alien blood. The old squire and his lady had been in no state to hear

of the death of their own grandchild, or of the adoption of the orphan

and Susan was too reserved a woman to speak needlessly of her griefs to

one so unsympathising as the Countess or so flighty as the daughters at

the great house. The men who had brought the summons to Hull had not

been lodged in the house, but at an inn, where they either had heard

nothing of Master Richard's adventure or had drowned their memory in

ale, for they said nothing; and thus, without any formed intention of

secrecy, the child's parentage had never come into question.



Indeed, though without doubt Mrs. Talbot was very loyal in heart to her

noble kinsfolk, it is not to be denied that she was a good deal more at

peace when they were not at the lodge. She tried devoutly to follow

out the directions of my Lady Countess, and thought herself in fault

when things went amiss, but she prospered far more when free from such

dictation.



She had nothing to wish except that her husband could be more often at

home, but it was better to have him only a few hours' ride from her, at

Chatsworth or Tutbury, than to know him exposed to the perils of the

sea. He rode over as often as he could be spared, to see his family

and look after his property; but his attendance was close, and my Lord

and my Lady were exacting with one whom they could thoroughly trust,

and it was well that in her quiet way Mistress Susan proved capable of

ruling men and maids, farm and stable as well as house, servants and

children, to whom another boy was added in the course of the year after

her return to Bridgefield.



In the autumn, notice was sent that the Queen of Scots was to be lodged

at Sheffield, and long trains of waggons and sumpter horses and mules

began to arrive, bringing her plenishing and household stuff in

advance. Servants without number were sent on, both by her and by the

Earl, to make preparations, and on a November day, tidings came that

the arrival might be expected in the afternoon. Commands were sent

that the inhabitants of the little town at the park gate should keep

within doors, and not come forth to give any show of welcome to their

lord 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 the

Earl and Countess. It chiefly consisted of ladies with their children,

the husbands of most being in the suite of the Earl acting as escort or

guard to the Queen. Susan Talbot, being akin to the family on both

sides, was there with the two elder children; Humfrey, both that he

might greet his father the sooner, and that he might be able to

remember the memorable arrival of the captive queen, and Cicely,

because he had clamoured loudly for her company. Lady Talbot, of the

Herbert blood, wife to the heir, was present with two young

sisters-in-law, Lady Grace, daughter to the Earl, and Mary, daughter to

the Countess, who had been respectively married to Sir Henry Cavendish

and Sir Gilbert Talbot, a few weeks before their respective parents

were wedded, when the brides were only twelve and fourteen years old.

There, too, was Mrs. Babington of Dethick, the recent widow of a

kinsman of Lord Shrewsbury, to whom had been granted the wardship of

her son, and the little party waiting in the hall also numbered

Elizabeth and William Cavendish, the Countess's youngest children, and

many dependants mustered in the background, ready for the reception.

Indeed, the castle and manor-house, with their offices, lodges, and

outbuildings, were an absolute little city in themselves. The castle

was still kept in perfect repair, for the battle of Bosworth was not

quite beyond the memory of living men's fathers; and besides, who could

tell whether any day England might not have to be contested inch by

inch with the Spaniard? So the gray walls stood on the tongue of land

in the valley, formed by the junction of the rivers Sheaf and Dun, with

towers at all the gateways, enclosing a space of no less than eight

acres, and with the actual fortress, crisp, strong, hard, and

unmouldered in the midst, its tallest square tower serving as a

look-out place for those who watched to give the first intimation of

the arrival.



The castle had its population, but chiefly of grooms, warders, and

their families. The state-rooms high up in that square tower were so

exceedingly confined, so stern and grim, that the grandfather of the

present earl had built a manor-house for his family residence on the

sloping 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 the

castle itself. A pleasant, smooth, grass lawn lay in front, and on it

converged the avenues of oaks and walnuts, stretching towards the gates

of the park, narrowing to the eye into single lines, then going

absolutely out of sight, and the sea of foliage presenting the utmost

variety of beautiful tints of orange, yellow, brown, and red. There

was a great gateway between two new octagon towers of red brick, with

battlements and dressings of stone, and from this porch a staircase led

upwards to the great stone-paved hall, with a huge fire burning on the

open hearth. Around it had gathered the ladies of the Talbot family

waiting for the reception. The warder on the tower had blown his horn

as 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 avenue

from the drawbridge over the Sheaf ere they could arrive at the lodge.



So the ladies, in full state dresses, hovered over the fire, while the

children played in the window seat near at hand.



Gilbert Talbot's wife, a thin, yellow-haired, young creature, promising

to be like her mother, the Countess, had a tongue which loved to run,

and with the precocity and importance of wifehood at sixteen, she

dilated to her companions on her mother's constant attendance on the

Queen, and the perpetual plots for that lady's escape. "She is as

shifty and active as any cat-a-mount; and at Chatsworth she had a

scheme for being off out of her bedchamber window to meet a traitor

fellow named Boll; but my husband smelt it out in good time, and had

the guard beneath my lady's window, and the fellows are in gyves, and

to see the lady the day it was found out! Not a wry face did she make.

Oh no! 'Twas all my good lord, and my sweet sir with her. I promise

you butter would not melt in her mouth, for my Lord Treasurer Cecil

hath been to see her, and he has promised to bring her to speech of her

Majesty. May I be there to see. I promise you 'twill be diamond cut

diamond 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 her

blandishments. Her Majesty should have women warders for her. 'Twas

good sport to see the furrows in his old brow smoothing out against his

will as it were, while she plied him with her tongue. I never saw the

Queen herself win such a smile as came on his lips, but then he is

always a sort of master, or tutor, as it were, to the Queen. Ay," on

some exclamation from Lady Talbot, "she heeds him like no one else.

She may fling out, and run counter to him for the very pleasure of

feeling 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 beguile

him 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 a

hate to all Papistry, to be beguiled more than for the very moment he

was before her. He cannot help the being a man, you see, and they are

all alike when once in her presence--your lord and father, like the

rest 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 not

the woman to bear it long."



Dame Mary's tongue was apt to run on too fast, and Lady Talbot

interrupted its career with an amused gesture towards the children.



For the little Cis, babe as she was, had all the three boys at her

service. Humfrey, with a paternal air, was holding her on the

window-seat; Antony Babington was standing to receive the ball that was

being tossed to and fro between them, but as she never caught it, Will

Cavendish 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 brave

lads were learning their knightly courtesy early, while Mary Talbot

began observing on the want of likeness between Cis and either the

Talbot or Hardwicke race. The little girl was much darker in colouring

than any of the boys, and had a pair of black, dark, heavy brows, that

prevented her from being a pretty child. Her adopted mother shrank

from such observations, and was rejoiced that a winding of horns, and a

shout from the boys, announced that the expected arrival was about to

take place. The ladies darted to the window, and beholding the avenue

full of horsemen and horsewomen, their accoutrements and those of their

escort gleaming in the sun, each mother gathered her own chicks to

herself, smoothed the plumage somewhat ruffled by sport, and advanced

to the head of the stone steps, William Cavendish, the eldest of the

boys, being sent down to take his stepfather's rein and hold his

stirrup, page fashion.



Clattering and jingling the troop arrived. The Earl, a stout, square

man, with a long narrow face, lengthened out farther by a

light-coloured, silky beard, which fell below his ruff, descended from

his steed, gave his hat to Richard Talbot, and handed from her horse a

hooded and veiled lady of slender proportions, who leant on his arm as

she ascended the steps.



The ladies knelt, whether in respect to the heads of the family, or to

the 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 less

fatigued than when she set forth. She had the soft, low, sweet

Scottish voice, and a thorough Scottish accent and language, tempered,

however, by French tones, and as, coming into the warmer air of the

hall, she withdrew her veil, her countenance was seen. Mary Stuart was

only thirty-one at this time, and her face was still youthful, though

worn and wearied, and bearing tokens of illness. The features were far

from being regularly beautiful; there was a decided cast in one of the

eyes, and in spite of all that Mary Talbot's detracting tongue had

said, Susan's first impression was disappointment. But, as the Queen

greeted the lady whom she already knew, and the Earl presented his

daughter, Lady Grace, his stepdaughter, Elizabeth Cavendish, and his

kinswoman, Mistress Susan Talbot, the extraordinary magic of her eye

and lip beamed on them, the queenly grace and dignity joined with a

wonderful sweetness impressed them all, and each in measure felt the

fascination.



The Earl led the Queen to the fire to obtain a little warmth before

mounting the stairs to her own apartments, and likewise while Lady

Shrewsbury was dismounting, and being handed up the stairs by her

second stepson, Gilbert. The ladies likewise knelt on one knee to

greet this mighty dame, and the children should have done so too, but

little Cis, catching sight of Captain Richard, who had come up bearing

the Earl's hat, in immediate attendance on him, broke out with an

exulting cry of "Father! father! father!" trotted with outspread arms

right 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 some

distance, uplifted her riding-rod. Susan was ready to sink into the

earth with confusion at the great lady's displeasure, but Richard had

stooped and lifted the little maid in his arms, while Queen Mary

turned, her face lit up as by a sunbeam, and said, "Ah, bonnibell, art

thou 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 goodly

child, 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 marvel

that you should let her Grace be beset by a child, who, if she cannot

demean herself decorously, should have been left at home. Susan

Hardwicke, I thought I had schooled you better."



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

Mary.



"Oh! if it pleasures you, madam, so be it," said Lady Shrewsbury,

deferentially; "but there be children here more worthy of your notice

than yonder little black-browed wench, who hath been allowed to thrust

herself forward, while others have been kept back from importuning your

Grace."



"No child can importune a mother who is cut off from her own," said

Mary, eager to make up for the jealousy she had excited. "Is this

bonnie laddie yours, madam? Ah! I should have known it by the

resemblance."



She held her white hand to receive the kisses of the boys: William

Cavendish, under his mother's eye, knelt obediently; Antony Babington,

a fair, pretty lad, of eight or nine, of a beautiful pink and white

complexion, pressed forward with an eager devotion which made the Queen

smile and press her delicate hand on his curled locks; as for Humfrey,

he retreated behind the shelter of his mother's farthingale, where his

presence was forgotten by every one else, and, after the rebuff just

administered 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 conducted

from the hall up the broad staircase, and along the great western

gallery to the south front, where for many days her properties had been

in course of being arranged.



Lady Shrewsbury followed as mistress of the house, and behind, in order

of precedence, came the Scottish Queen's household, in which the dark,

keen features of the French, and the rufous hues of the Scots, were

nearly equally divided. Lady Livingstone and Mistress Seaton, two of

the Queen's Maries of the same age with herself, came next, the one led

by Lord Talbot, the other by Lord Livingstone. There was also the

faithful 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 with

special suspicion by the English, as Willie Douglas, the contriver of

the Queen's flight from Lochleven. Two secretaries, French and

Scottish, were shrewdly suspected of being priests, and there were

besides, a physician, surgeon, apothecary, with perfumers, cooks,

pantlers, scullions, lacqueys, to the number of thirty, besides their

wives and attendants, these last being "permitted of my lord's

benevolence."



They were all eyed askance by the sturdy, north country English, who

naturally hated all strangers, above all French and Scotch, and viewed

the band of captives much like a caged herd of wild beasts.



When on the way home Mistress Susan asked her little boy why he would

not make his obeisance to the pretty lady, he sturdily answered, "She

is 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 the

matter?"



"I cannot tell," returned Richard. "All I know is that many who have

no mercy on her would change their minds if they beheld her patient and

kindly demeanour to all."



This was a sort of shock to Susan, as it seemed to her to prove the

truth of little Lady Talbot's words, that no one was proof against

Queen Mary's wiles; but she was happy in having her husband at home

once more, though, as he told her, he would be occupied most of each

alternate day at Sheffield, he and another relation having been

appointed "gentlemen porters," which meant that they were to wait in a

chamber at the foot of the stairs, and keep watch over whatever went in

or out of the apartments of the captive and her suite.



"And," said Richard, "who think you came to see me at Wingfield? None

other 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 a

post 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 he

might 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 me

the more bent on not bringing him hither. I'd fain serve in no ship

where I know not the honesty of all the crew, and Cuthbert hath ever

had 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. "He

would never be content to let alone the question of our little wench's

birth, 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 on

board at Dumbarton. Well, said I, and so they must have been, since on

board they were. Is that all thou hast to tell me? And mighty as was

the work he would have made of it, this was all he seemed to know. I

asked, in my turn, how he came to know thus much about a vessel sailing

from a port in arms against the Lords of the Congregation, the allies

of her Majesty?"



"What said he?"



"That his house had dealings with the owners of the Bride of Dunbar. I

like not such dealings, and so long as this lady and her train are near

us, I would by no means have him whispering here and there that she is

a Scottish orphan."



"It would chafe my Lady Countess!" said Susan, to whom this was a

serious matter. "Yet doth it not behove us to endeavour to find out

her parentage?"



"I tell you I proved to myself that he knew nothing, and all that we

have 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 distrust

or of his secrecy, but he had a general feeling that to let an

intriguer like Cuthbert Langston rake up any tale that could be

connected with the party of the captive queen, could only lead to

danger and trouble.





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