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
Nothing could be more courteous or more friendly than the manner in
which the elder lady was always received. She was alw
ys 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
"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
"You are wroth with me too, mother!" said Cis.
"Not if you are a good child, and guard the honour of the name you
"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
"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
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
"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
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,
"Nay, but hear me, madam. It is only to hinder the sending of a
"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
"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
"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
"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,
"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
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.