The Key Of The Cipher

Where is the man who does not persuade himself that when he gratifies

his own curiosity he does so for the sake of his womankind? So Richard

Talbot, having made his protest, waited two days, but when next he had

any leisure moments before him, on a Sunday evening, he said to his

wife, "Sue, what hast thou done with that scroll of Cissy's? I trow

thou wilt not rest till thou art convinced it is but some lying

horoscope or Popish charm."

Susan had in truth been resting in perfect quietness, being extremely

busy over her spinning, so as to be ready for the weaver who came round

periodically to direct the more artistic portions of domestic work.

However, she joyfully produced the scroll from the depths of the casket

where she kept her chief treasures, and her spindle often paused in its

dance as she watched her husband over it, with his elbows on the table

and his hands in his hair, from whence he only removed them now and

then to set down a letter or two by way of experiment. She had to be

patient, for she heard nothing that night but that he believed it was

French, that the father of deceits himself might be puzzled with the

thing, and that she might as well ask him for his head at once as

propose his consulting Master Francis.

The next night he unfolded it with many a groan, and would say nothing

at all; but he sat up late and waked in early dawn to pore over it

again, and on the third day of study he uttered a loud exclamation of

dismay, but he ordered Susan off to bed in the midst, and did not utter

anything but a perplexed groan or two when he followed her much later.

It was not till the next night that she heard anything, and then, in

the darkness, he began, "Susan, thou art a good wife and a discreet


Perhaps her heart leapt as she thought to herself, "At last it is

coming, I knew it would!" but she only made some innocent note of


"Thou hast asked no questions, nor tried to pry into this unhappy

mystery," he went on.

"I knew you would tell me what was fit for me to hear," she replied.

"Fit! It is fit for no one to hear! Yet I needs must take counsel

with thee, and thou hast shown thou canst keep a close mouth so far."

"Concerns it our Cissy, husband?"

"Ay does it Our Cissy, indeed! What wouldst say, Sue, to hear she was

daughter to the lady yonder."

"To the Queen of Scots?"

"Hush! hush!" fairly grasping her to hinder the words from being

uttered above her breath.

"And her father?"

"That villain, Bothwell, of course. Poor lassie, she is ill fathered!"

"You may say so. Is it in the scroll?"

"Ay! so far as I can unravel it; but besides the cipher no doubt much

was left for the poor woman to tell that was lost in the wreck."

And he went on to explain that the scroll was a letter to the Abbess of

Soissons, who was aunt to Queen Mary, as was well known, since an open

correspondence was kept up through the French ambassador. This letter

said that "our trusty Alison Hepburn" would tell how in secrecy and

distress Queen Mary had given birth to this poor child in Lochleven,

and how she had been conveyed across the lake while only a few hours

old, after being hastily baptized by the name of Bride, one of the

patron saints of Scotland. She had been nursed in a cottage for a few

weeks till the Queen had made her first vain attempt to escape, after

which Mary had decided on sending her with her nurse to Dumbarton

Castle, whence Lord Flemyng would despatch her to France. The Abbess

was implored to shelter her, in complete ignorance of her birth, until

such time as her mother should resume her liberty and her throne. "Or

if," the poor Queen said, "I perish in the hands of my enemies, you

will deal with her as my uncles of Guise and Lorraine think fit, since,

should her unhappy little brother die in the rude hands of yonder

traitors, she may bring the true faith back to both realms."

"Ah!" cried Susan, with a sudden gasp of dismay, as she bethought her

that the child was indeed heiress to both realms after the young King

of Scots. "But has there been no quest after her? Do they deem her


"No doubt they do. Either all hands were lost in the Bride of Dunbar,

or if any of the crew escaped, they would report the loss of nurse and

child. The few who know that the little one was born believe her to

have perished. None will ever ask for her. They deem that she has

been at the bottom of the sea these twelve years or more."

"And you would still keep the knowledge to ourselves?" asked his wife,

in a tone of relief.

"I would I knew it not myself!" sighed Richard. "Would that I could

blot it out of my mind."

"It were far happier for the poor maid herself to remain no one's child

but ours," said Susan.

"In sooth it is! A drop of royal blood is in these days a mere drop of

poison to them that have the ill luck to inherit it. As my lord said

the other day, it brings the headsman's axe after it."

"And our boy Humfrey calls himself contracted to her!"

"So long as we let the secret die with us that can do her no ill.

Happily the wench favours not her mother, save sometimes in a certain

lordly carriage of the head and shoulders. She is like enough to some

of the Scots retinue to make me think she must take her face from her

father, the villain, who, someone told me, was beetle-browed and


"Lives he still?"

"So 'tis thought, but somewhere in prison in the north. There have

been no tidings of his death; but my Lady Queen, you'll remember,

treats the marriage as nought, and has made offer of herself for the

misfortune of the Duke of Norfolk, ay, and of this Don John, and I know

not whom besides."

"She would not have done that had she known that our Cis was alive."

"Mayhap she would, mayhap not. I believe myself she would do anything

short of disowning her Popery to get out of prison; but as matters

stand I doubt me whether Cis--"

"The Lady Bride Hepburn," suggested Susan.

"Pshaw, poor child, I misdoubt me whether they would own her claim even

to that name."

"And they might put her in prison if they did," said Susan.

"They would be sure to do so, sooner or later. Here has my lord been

recounting in his trouble about my lady's fine match for her Bess, all

that hath come of mating with royal blood, the very least disaster

being poor Lady Mary Grey's! Kept in ward for life! It is a cruel

matter. I would that I had known the cipher at first. Then she might

either have been disposed of at the Queen's will, or have been sent

safe to this nunnery at Soissons."

"To be bred a Papist! Oh fie, husband!"

"And to breed dissension in the kingdoms!" added her husband. "It is

best so far for the poor maiden herself to have thy tender hand over

her than that of any queen or abbess of them all."

"Shall we then keep all things as they are, and lock this knowledge in

our own hearts?" asked Susan hopefully.

"To that am I mightily inclined," said Richard. "Were it blazed abroad

at once, thou and I might be made out guilty of I know not what for

concealing it; and as to the maiden, she would either be put in close

ward with her mother, or, what would be more likely, had up to court to

be watched, and flouted, and spied upon, as were the two poor

ladies--sisters to the Lady Jane--ere they made their lot hopeless by

marrying. Nay, I have seen those who told me that poor Lady Katherine

was scarce worse bested in the Tower than she was while at court."

"My poor Cis! No, no! The only cause for which I could bear to yield

her up would be the thought that she would bring comfort to the heart

of the poor captive mother who hath the best right to her."

"Forsooth! I suspect her poor captive mother would scarce be pleased

to find this witness to her ill-advised marriage in existence."

"Nor would she be permitted to be with her."

"Assuredly not. Moreover, what could she do with the poor child?"

"Rear her in Popery," exclaimed Susan, to whom the word was terrible.

"Yea, and make her hand secure as the bait to some foreign prince or

some English traitor, who would fain overthrow Queen and Church."

Susan shuddered. "Oh yes! let us keep the poor child to ourselves. I

could not give her up to such a lot as that. And it might imperil

you too, my husband. I should like to get up instantly and burn the


"I doubt me whether that were expedient," said Richard. "Suppose it

were in the course of providence that the young King of Scots should

not live, then would this maid be the means of uniting the two kingdoms

in the true and Reformed faith! Heaven forefend that he should be cut

off, but meseemeth that we have no right to destroy the evidence that

may one day be a precious thing to the kingdom at large."

"No chance eye could read it even were it discovered?" said Susan.

"No, indeed. Thou knowest how I strove in vain to read it at first,

and even now, when Frank Talbot unwittingly gave me the key, it was

days before I could fully read it. It will tell no tales, sweet wife,

that can prejudice any one, so we will let it be, even with the baby

clouts. So now to sleep, with no more thoughts on the matter."

That was easy to say, but Susan lay awake long, pondering over the

wonder, and only slept to dream strange dreams of queens and

princesses, ay, and worse, for she finally awoke with a scream,

thinking her husband was on the scaffold, and that Humfrey and Cis were

walking up the ladder, hand in hand with their necks bared, to follow


There was no need to bid her hold her tongue. She regarded the secret

with dread and horror, and a sense of something amiss which she could

not quite define, though she told herself she was only acting in

obedience to her husband, and indeed her judgment went along with his.

Often she looked at the unconscious Cis, studying whether the child's

parentage could be detected in her features. But she gave promise of

being of larger frame than her mother, who had the fine limbs and

contour of her Lorraine ancestry, whereas Cis did, as Richard said,

seem to have the sturdy outlines of the Borderer race from whom her

father came. She was round-faced too, and sunburnt, with deep gray

eyes under black straight brows, capable of frowning heavily. She did

not look likely ever to be the fascinating beauty which all declared

her mother to be--though those who saw the captive at Sheffield,

believed the charm to be more in indefinable grace than in actual

features,--in a certain wonderful smile and sparkle, a mixed pathos and

archness which seldom failed of its momentary effect, even upon those

who most rebelled against it. Poor little Cis, a sturdy girl of twelve

or thirteen, playing at ball with little Ned on the terrace, and coming

with tardy steps to her daily task of spinning, had little of the

princess about her; and yet when she sat down, and the management of

distaff and thread threw her shoulders back, there was something in the

poise of her small head and the gesture of her hand that forcibly

recalled the Queen. Moreover, all the boys around were at her beck and

call, not only Humfrey and poor Antony Babington, but Cavendishes,

Pierrepoints, all the young pages and grandsons who dwelt at castle or

lodge, and attended Master Sniggius's school. Nay, the dominie

himself, though owning that Mistress Cicely promoted idleness and

inattention among his pupils, had actually volunteered to come down to

Bridgefield twice a week himself to prevent her from forgetting her

Lilly's grammar and her Caesar's Commentaries, an attention with which

this young lady would willingly have dispensed.

Stewart, Lorraine, Hepburn, the blood of all combined was a perilous

inheritance, and good Susan Talbot's instinct was that the young girl

whom she loved truly like her own daughter would need all the more

careful and tender watchfulness and training to overcome any tendencies

that might descend to her. Pity increased her affection, and even

while in ordinary household life it was easy to forget who and what the

girl really was, yet Cis was conscious that she was admitted to the

intimacy and privileges of an elder daughter, and made a companion and

friend, while her contemporaries at the Manor-house were treated as

children, and rated roundly, their fingers tapped with fans, their

shoulders even whipped, whenever they transgressed. Cis did indeed

live under equal restraint, but it was the wise and gentle restraint of

firm influence and constant watchfulness, which took from her the wish

to resist.

The Huckstering Woman The Lady Arbell facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail