The Lady Arbell





After several weary months of languishing, Charles Stewart was saved

from the miseries which seemed the natural inheritance of his name by

sinking into his grave. His funeral was conducted with the utmost

magnificence, though the Earl of Shrewsbury declined to be present at

it, and shortly after, the Countess intimated her purpose of returning

to Sheffield, bringing with her the little orphan, Lady Arabella

Stewart. Orders came that the best presence chamber in the Manor-house

should be prepared, the same indeed where Queen Mary had been quartered

before the lodge had been built for her use. The Earl was greatly

perturbed. "Whom can she intend to bring?" he went about asking. "If

it were the Lady Margaret, it were be much as my head were worth to

admit her within the same grounds as this Queen."



"There is no love lost between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law,"

observed his son Gilbert in a consolatory tone.



"Little good would that do to me, if once it came to the ears of her

Grace and the Lord Treasurer that both had been my guests! And if I

had to close the gates--though in no other way could I save my life and

honour--your mother would never forget it. It would be cast up to me

for ever. What think you, daughter Talbot?"



"Mayhap," said Dame Mary, "my lady mother has had a hint to make ready

for her Majesty herself, who hath so often spoken of seeing the Queen

of Scots, and might think well to take her unawares."



This was a formidable suggestion. "Say you so," cried the poor Earl,

with an alarm his eye would never have betrayed had Parma himself been

within a march of Sheffield, "then were we fairly spent. I am an

impoverished man, eaten out of house and lands as it is, and were the

Queen herself to come, I might take at once to the beggar's bowl."



"But think of the honour, good my lord," cried Mary. "Think of all

Hallamshire coming to do her homage. Oh, how I should laugh to hear

the Mayor stumbling over his address."



"Laugh, ay," growled the Earl; "and how will you laugh when there is

not a deer left in the park, nor an ox in the stalls?"



"Nay, my Lord," interposed Gilbert, "there is no fear of her Majesty's

coming. That post from M. de la Mauvissiere reported her at Greenwich

only five days back, and it would take her Majesty a far longer time to

make her progress than yonder fellow, who will tell you himself that

she had no thoughts of moving."



"That might only be a feint to be the more sudden with us," said his

wife, actuated in part by the diversion of alarming her father-in-law,

and in part really fired by the hope of such an effectual enlivenment

of the dulness of Sheffield.



They were all in full family conclave drawn up in the hall for the

reception, and Mistress Susan, who could not bear to see the Earl so

perplexed and anxious, ventured to say that she was quite sure that my

Lady Countess would have sent warning forward if indeed she were

bringing home such a guest, and at that moment the blare of trumpets

announced that the cavalcade was approaching. The start which the Earl

gave showed how much his nerves had become affected by his years of

custody. Up the long avenue they came, with all the state with which

the Earl had conducted Queen Mary to the lodge before she was

absolutely termed a prisoner. Halberdiers led the procession, horse

and foot seemed to form it. The home party stood on the top of the

steps watching with much anxiety. There was a closed litter visible,

beside which Lady Shrewsbury, in a mourning dress and hood, could be

seen riding her favourite bay palfrey. No doubt it contained the Lady

Margaret, Countess of Lennox; and the unfortunate Earl, forgetting all

his stately dignity, stood uneasily moving from leg to leg, and pulling

his long beard, torn between the instincts of hospitality and of loyal

obedience, between fear of his wife and fear of the Queen.



The litter halted at the foot of the steps, the Earl descended. All he

saw was the round face of an infant in its nurse's arms, and he turned

to help his wife from the saddle, but she waved him aside. "My son

Gilbert will aid me, my Lord," said she, "your devoir is to the

princess."



Poor Lord Shrewsbury, his apologies on his tongue, looked into the

litter, where he saw the well-known and withered countenance of the

family nurse. He also beheld a buxom young female, whose dress marked

her as a peasant, but before he had time to seek further for the

princess, the tightly rolled chrysalis of a child was thrust into his

astonished arms, while the round face puckered up instantly with terror

at sight of his bearded countenance, and he was greeted with a loud

yell. He looked helplessly round, and his lady was ready at once to

relieve him. "My precious! My sweetheart! My jewel! Did he look

sour at her and frighten her with his ugsome beard?" and the like

endearments common to grandmothers in all ages.



"But where is the princess?"



"Where? Where should she be but here? Her grandame's own precious,

royal, queenly little darling!" and as a fresh cry broke out, "Yes,

yes; she shall to her presence chamber. Usher her, Gilbert."



"Bess's brat!" muttered Dame Mary, in ineffable disappointment.



Curiosity and the habit of obedience to the Countess carried the entire

troop on to the grand apartments on the south side, where Queen Mary

had been lodged while the fiction of her guestship had been kept up.

Lady Shrewsbury was all the time trying to hush the child, who was

quite old enough to be terrified by new faces and new scenes, and who

was besides tired and restless in her swaddling bands, for which she

was so nearly too old that she had only been kept in them for greater

security upon the rough and dangerous roads. Great was my lady's

indignation on reaching the state rooms on finding that no nursery

preparations had been made, and her daughter Mary, with a giggle hardly

repressed by awe of her mother, stood forth and said, "Why, verily, my

lady, we expected some great dame, my Lady Margaret or my Lady Hunsdon

at the very least, when you spoke of a princess."



"And who should it be but one who has both the royal blood of England

and Scotland in her veins? You have not saluted the child to whom you

have the honour to be akin, Mary! On your knee, minion; I tell you she

hath as good or a better chance of wearing a crown as any woman in

England."



"She hath a far better chance of a prison," muttered the Earl, "if all

this foolery goes on."



"What! What is that? What are you calling these honours to my orphan

princess?" cried the lady, but the princess herself here broke in with

the lustiest of squalls, and Susan, who was sorry for the child,

contrived to insert an entreaty that my lady would permit her to be

taken at once to the nursery chamber that had been made ready for her,

and let her there be fed, warmed, and undressed at once.



There was something in the quality of Susan's voice to which people

listened, and the present necessity overcame the Countess's desire to

assert the dignity of her granddaughter, so she marched out of the room

attended by the women, while the Earl and his sons were only too glad

to slink away--there is no other word for it, their relief as to the

expected visitor having been exchanged for consternation of another

description.



There was a blazing fire ready, and all the baby comforts of the time

provided, and poor little Lady Arbell was relieved from her swathing

bands, and allowed to stretch her little limbs on her nurse's lap, the

one rest really precious to babes of all periods and conditions--but

the troubles were not yet over, for the grandmother, glancing round,

demanded, "Where is the cradle inlaid with pearl? Why was it not

provided? Bring it here."



Now this cradle, carved in cedar wood and inlaid with mother-of-pearl,

had been a sponsor's gift to poor little George, the first male heir of

the Talbots, and it was regarded as a special treasure by his mother,

who was both wounded and resentful at the demand, and stood pouting and

saying, "It was my son's. It is mine."



"It belongs to the family. You," to two of the servants, "fetch it

here instantly!"



The ladies of Hardwicke race were not guarded in temper or language,

and Mary burst into passionate tears and exclamations that Bess's brat

should not have her lost George's cradle, and flounced away to get

before the servants and lock it up. Lady Shrewsbury would have sprung

after her, and have made no scruple of using her fists and nails even

on her married daughter, but that she was impeded by a heavy table, and

this gave time for Susan to throw herself before her, and entreat her

to pause.



"You, you, Susan Talbot! You should know better than to take the part

of an undutiful, foul-tongued vixen like that. Out of my way, I say!"

and as Susan, still on her knees, held the riding-dress, she received a

stinging box on the ear. But in her maiden days she had known the

weight of my lady's hand, and without relaxing her hold, she only

entreated: "Hear me, hear me for a little space, my lady. Did you but

know how sore her heart is, and how she loved little Master George!"



"That is no reason she should flout and miscall her dead sister, of

whom she was always jealous!"



"O madam, she wept with all her heart for poor Lady Lennox. It is not

any evil, but she sets such store by that cradle in which her child

died--she keeps it by her bed even now, and her woman told me how, for

all she seems gay and blithe by day, she weeps over it at night, as if

her heart would break."



Lady Shrewsbury was a little softened. "The child died in it?" she

asked.



"Yea, madam. He had been on his father's knee, and had seemed a little

easier, and as if he might sleep, so Sir Gilbert laid him down, and he

did but stretch himself out, shiver all over, draw a long breath, and

the pretty lamb was gone to Paradise!"



"You saw him, Susan?"



"Yea, madam. Dame Mary sent for me, but none could be of any aid where

it was the will of Heaven to take him."



"If I had been there," said the Countess, "I who have brought up eight

children and lost none, I should have saved him! So he died in yonder

cedar cradle! Well, e'en let Mary keep it. It may be that there is

infection in the smell of the cedar wood, and that the child will sleep

better out of it. It is too late to do aught this evening, but

to-morrow the child shall be lodged as befits her birth, in the

presence chamber."



"Ah, madam!" said Susan, "would it be well for the sweet babe if her

Majesty's messengers, who be so often at the castle, were to report her

so lodged?"



"I have a right to lodge my grandchild where and how I please in my own

house."



"Yea, madam, that is most true, but you wot how the Queen treats all

who may have any claim to the throne in future times; and were it

reported by any of the spies that are ever about us, how royal honours

were paid to the little Lady Arbell, might she not be taken from your

ladyship's wardship, and bestowed with those who would not show her

such loving care?"



The Countess would not show whether this had any effect on her, or else

some sound made by the child attracted her. It was a puny little

thing, and she had a true grandmother's affection for it, apart from

her absurd pride and ambition, so that she was glad to hold counsel

over it with Susan, who had done such justice to her training as to be,

in her eyes, a mother who had sense enough not to let her children

waste and die; a rare merit in those days, and one that Susan could not

disclaim, though she knew that it did not properly belong to her.



Cis had stood by all the time like a little statue, for no one, not

even young Lady Talbot, durst sit down uninvited in the presence of

Earl or Countess; but her black brows were bent, her gray eyes intent.



"Mother," she said, as they went home on their quiet mules, "are great

ladies always so rudely spoken to one another?"



"I have not seen many great ladies, Cis, and my Lady Countess has

always been good to me."



"Antony said that the Scots Queen and her ladies never storm at one

another like my lady and her daughters."



"Open words do not always go deep, Cis," said the mother. "I had

rather know and hear the worst at once." And then her heart smote her

as she recollected that she might be implying censure of the girl's

true mother, as well as defending wrath and passion, and she added, "Be

that as it may, it is a happy thing to learn to refrain the tongue."





The Key Of The Cipher The Little Waif facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback