After giving orders for the repairs of the Mastiff, and the disposal of
her crew, Master Richard Talbot purveyed himself of a horse at the
hostel, and set forth for Spurn Head to make inquiries along the coast
respecting the wreck of the Bride of Dunbar, and he was joined by
Cuthbert Langston, who said his house had had dealings with her owners,
and that he must ascertain the fate of her wares. His good lady
n charge of the mysterious little waif, over whom her tender
heart yearned more and more, while her little boy hovered about in
serene contemplation of the treasure he thought he had recovered. To
him the babe seemed really his little sister; to his mother, if she
sometimes awakened pangs of keen regret, yet she filled up much of the
dreary void of the last few weeks.
Mrs. Talbot was a quiet, reserved woman, not prone to gadding abroad,
and she had made few acquaintances during her sojourn at Hull; but
every creature she knew, or might have known, seemed to her to drop in
that day, and bring at least two friends to inspect the orphan of the
wreck, and demand all particulars.
The little girl was clad in the swaddling garments of Mrs. Talbot's own
children, and the mysterious marks were suspected by no one, far less
the letter which Susan, for security's sake, had locked up in her
nearly empty, steel-bound, money casket. The opinions of the gossips
varied, some thinking the babe might belong to some of the Queen of
Scotland's party fleeing to France, others fathering her on the
refugees from the persecutions in Flanders, a third party believing her
a mere fisherman's child, and one lean, lantern-jawed old crone,
Mistress Rotherford, observing, "Take my word, Mrs. Talbot, and keep
her not with you. They that are cast up by the sea never bring good
The court of female inquiry was still sitting when a heavy tread was
heard, and Colet announced "a serving-man from Bridgefield had ridden
post haste to speak with madam," and the messenger, booted and spurred,
with the mastiff badge on his sleeve, and the hat he held in his hand,
"What news, Nathanael?" she asked, as she responded to his greeting.
"Ill enough news, mistress," was the answer. "Master Richard's ship be
in, they tell me."
"Yes, but he is rid out to make inquiry for a wreck," said the lady.
"Is all well with my good father-in-law?"
"He ails less in body than in mind, so please you. Being that Master
Humfrey was thrown by Blackfoot, the beast being scared by a flash of
lightning, and never spoke again."
"Ay, mistress. Pitched on his head against the south gate-post. I saw
how it was with him when we took him up, and he never so much as lifted
an eyelid, but died at the turn of the night. Heaven rest his soul!'
"Heaven rest his soul!" echoed Susan, and the ladies around chimed in.
They had come for one excitement, and here was another.
"There! See but what I said!" quoth Mrs. Rotherford, uplifting a
skinny finger to emphasise that the poor little flotsome had already
"Nay," said the portly wife of a merchant, "begging your pardon, this
may be a fat instead of a lean sorrow. Leaves the poor gentleman
heirs, Mrs. Talbot?"
"Oh no!" said Susan, with tears in her eyes. "His wife died two years
back, and her chrisom babe with her. He loved her too well to turn his
mind to wed again, and now he is with her for aye." And she covered
her face and sobbed, regardless of the congratulations of the
merchant's wife, and exclaiming, "Oh! the poor old lady!"
"In sooth, mistress," said Nathanael, who had stood all this time as if
he had by no means emptied his budget of ill news, "poor old madam fell
down all of a heap on the floor, and when the wenches lifted her, they
found she was stricken with the dead palsy, and she has not spoken, and
there's no one knows what to do, for the poor old squire is like one
distraught, sitting by her bed like an image on a monument, with the
tears flowing down his old cheeks. 'But,' says he to me, 'get you to
Hull, Nat, and take madam's palfrey and a couple of sumpter beasts, and
bring my good daughter Talbot back with you as fast as she and the
babes may brook.' I made bold to say, 'And Master Richard, your
worship?' then he groaned somewhat, and said, 'If my son's ship be come
in, he must do as her Grace's service permits, but meantime he must
spare us his wife, for she is sorely needed here.' And he looked at
the bed so as it would break your heart to see, for since old Nurse
Took hath been doited, there's not been a wench about the house that
can do a hand's turn for a sick body."
Susan knew this was true, for her mother-in-law had been one of those
bustling, managing housewives, who prefer doing everything themselves
to training others, and she was appalled at the idea of the probable
desolation and helplessness of the bereaved household.
It was far too late to start that day, even had her husband been at
home, for the horses sent for her had to rest. The visitors would fain
have extracted some more particulars about the old squire's age, his
kindred to the great Earl, and the amount of estate to which her
husband had become heir. There were those among them who could not
understand Susan's genuine grief, and there were others whose
consolations were no less distressing to one of her reserved character.
She made brief answer that the squire was threescore and fifteen years
old, his wife nigh about his age; that her husband was now their only
child; that he was descended from a son of the great Earl John, killed
at the Bridge of Chatillon, that he held the estate of Bridgefield in
fief on tenure of military service to the head of his family. She did
not know how much it was worth by the year, but she must pray the good
ladies to excuse her, as she had many preparations to make. Volunteers
to assist her in packing her mails were made, but she declined them
all, and rejoiced when left alone with Colet to arrange for what would
be probably her final departure from Hull.
It was a blow to find that she must part from her servant-woman, who,
as well as her husband Gervas, was a native of Hull. Not only were
they both unwilling to leave, but the inland country was to their
imagination a wild unexplored desert. Indeed, Colet had only entered
Mrs. Talbot's service to supply the place of a maid who bad sickened
with fever and ague, and had to be sent back to her native Hallamshire.
Ere long Mr. Heatherthwayte came down to offer his consolation, and
still more his advice, that the little foundling should be at once
baptized--conditionally, if the lady preferred it.
The Reformed of imperfect theological training, and as such Joseph
Heatherthwayte must be classed, were apt to view the ceremonial of the
old baptismal form, symbolical and beautiful as it was, as almost
destroying the efficacy of the rite. Moreover, there was a further
impression that the Church by which the child was baptized, had a right
to bring it up, and thus the clergyman was urgent with the lady that
she should seize this opportunity for the little one's baptism.
"Not without my husband's consent and knowledge," she said resolutely.
"Master Talbot is a good man, but somewhat careless of sound doctrine,
as be the most of seafaring men."
Susan had been a little nettled by her husband's implied belief that
she was influenced by the minister, so there was double resolution, as
well as some offence in her reply, that she knew her duty as a wife too
well to consent to such a thing without him. As to his being careless,
he was a true and God-fearing man, and Mr. Heatherthwayte should know
better than to speak thus of him to his wife.
Mr. Heatherthwayte's real piety and goodness had made him a great
comfort to Susan in her lonely grief, but he had not the delicate tact
of gentle blood, and had not known where to stop, and as he stood half
apologising and half exhorting, she felt that her Richard was quite
right, and that he could be both meddling and presuming. He was
exceedingly in the way of her packing too, and she was at her wit's end
to get rid of him, when suddenly Humfrey managed to pinch his fingers
in a box, and set up such a yell, as, seconded by the frightened baby,
was more than any masculine ears could endure, and drove Master
Heatherthwayte to beat a retreat.
Mistress Susan was well on in her work when her husband returned, and
as she expected, was greatly overcome by the tidings of his brother's
death. He closely questioned Nathanael on every detail, and could
think of nothing but the happy days he had shared with his brother, and
of the grief of his parents. He approved of all that his wife had
done; and as the damage sustained by the Mastiff could not be repaired
under a month, he had no doubt about leaving his crew in the charge of
his lieutenant while he took his family home.
So busy were both, and so full of needful cares, the one in giving up
her lodging, the other in leaving his men, that it was impossible to
inquire into the result of his researches, for the captain was in that
mood of suppressed grief and vehement haste in which irrelevant inquiry
is perfectly unbearable.
It was not till late in the evening that Richard told his wife of his
want of success in his investigations. He had found witnesses of the
destruction of the ship, but he did not give them full credit. "The
fellows say the ship drove on the rock, and that they saw her boats go
down with every soul on board, and that they would not lie to an
officer of her Grace. Heaven pardon me if I do them injustice in
believing they would lie to him sooner than to any one else. They are
rogues enough to take good care that no poor wretch should survive even
if he did chance to come to land."
"Then if there be no one to claim her, we may bring up as our own the
sweet babe whom Heaven hath sent us."
"Not so fast, dame. Thou wert wont to be more discreet. I said not
so, but for the nonce, till I can come by the rights of that scroll,
there's no need to make a coil. Let no one know of it, or of the
trinket--Thou hast them safe?"
"Laid up with the Indian gold chain, thy wedding gift, dear sir."
"'Tis well. My mother!--ah me," he added, catching himself up; "little
like is she to ask questions, poor soul."
Then Susan diffidently told of Master Heatherthwayte's earnest wish to
christen the child, and, what certainly biased her a good deal, the
suggestion that this would secure her to their own religion.
"There is something in that," said Richard, "specially after what
Cuthbert said as to the golden toy yonder. If times changed
again--which Heaven forfend--that fellow might give us trouble about
"You doubt him then, sir!" she asked.
"I relished not his ways on our ride to-day," said Richard. "Sure I am
that he had some secret cause for being so curious about the wreck. I
suspect him of some secret commerce with the Queen of Scots' folk."
"Yet you were on his side against Mr. Heatherthwayte," said Susan.
"I would not have my kinsman browbeaten at mine own table by the
self-conceited son of a dalesman, even if he have got a round hat and
Geneva band! Ah, well! one good thing is we shall leave both of them
well behind us, though I would it were for another cause."
Something in the remonstrance had, however, so worked on Richard
Talbot, that before morning be declared that, hap what hap, if he and
his wife were to bring up the child, she should be made a good
Protestant Christian before they left the house, and there should be no
more ado about it.
It was altogether illogical and untheological; but Master
Heatherthwayte was delighted when in the very early morning his
devotions were interrupted, and he was summoned by the captain himself
to christen the child.
Richard and his wife were sponsors, but the question of name had never
occurred to any one. However, in the pause of perplexity, when the
response lagged to "Name this child," little Humfrey, a delighted
spectator, broke out again with "Little Sis."
And forthwith, "Cicely, if thou art not already baptized," was uttered
over the child, and Cicely became her name. It cost Susan a pang, as
it had been that of her own little daughter, but it was too late to
object, and she uttered no regret, but took the child to her heart, as
sent instead of her who had been taken from her.
Master Heatherthwayte bade them good speed, and Master Langston stood
at the door of his office and waved them a farewell, both alike
unconscious of the rejoicing with which they were left behind. Mistress
Talbot rode on the palfrey sent for her use, with the little stranger
slung to her neck for security's sake. Her boy rode "a cock-horse"
before his father, but a resting-place was provided for him on a sort
of pannier on one of the sumpter beasts. What these animals could not
carry of the household stuff was left in Colet's charge to be
despatched by carriers; and the travellers jogged slowly on through
deep Yorkshire lanes, often halting to refresh the horses and supply
the wants of the little children at homely wayside inns, their entrance
usually garnished with an archway formed of the jawbones of whales,
which often served for gate-posts in that eastern part of Yorkshire.
And thus they journeyed, with frequent halts, until they came to the
Bridgefield House stood on the top of a steep slope leading to the
river Dun, with a high arched bridge and a mill below it. From the
bridge proceeded one of the magnificent avenues of oak-trees which led
up to the lordly lodge, full four miles off, right across Sheffield
The Bridgefield estate had been a younger son's portion, and its owners
had always been regarded as gentlemen retainers of the head of their
name, the Earl of Shrewsbury. Tudor jealousy had forbidden the
marshalling of such a meine as the old feudal lords had loved to
assemble, and each generation of the Bridgefield Talbots had become
more independent than the former one. The father had spent his younger
days as esquire to the late Earl, but had since become a justice of the
peace, and took rank with the substantial landowners of the country.
Humfrey, his eldest son, had been a gentleman pensioner of the Queen
till his marriage, and Richard, though beginning his career as page to
the present Earl's first wife, had likewise entered the service of her
Majesty, though still it was understood that the head of their name had
a claim to their immediate service, and had he been called to take up
arms, they would have been the first to follow his banner. Indeed, a
pair of spurs was all the annual rent they paid for their estate, which
they held on this tenure, as well as on paying the heriard horse on the
death of the head of the family, and other contributions to their
lord's splendour when he knighted his son or married his daughter. In
fact, they stood on the borderland of that feudal retainership which
was being rapidly extinguished. The estate, carved out of the great
Sheffield property, was sufficient to maintain the owner in the
dignities of an English gentleman, and to portion off the daughters,
provided that the superfluous sons shifted for themselves, as Richard
had hitherto done. The house had been ruined in the time of the Wars
of the Roses, and rebuilt in the later fashion, with a friendly-looking
front, containing two large windows, and a porch projecting between
them. The hall reached to the top of the house, and had a waggon
ceiling, with mastiffs alternating with roses on portcullises at the
intersections of the timbers. This was the family sitting and dining
room, and had a huge chimney never devoid of a wood fire. One end had
a buttery-hatch communicating with the kitchen and offices; at the
other was a small room, sacred to the master of the house, niched under
the broad staircase that led to the upper rooms, which opened on a
gallery running round three sides of the hall.
Outside, on the southern side of the house, was a garden of potherbs,
with the green walks edged by a few bright flowers for beau-pots and
posies. This had stone walls separating it from the paddock, which
sloped down to the river, and was a good deal broken by ivy-covered
rocks. Adjoining the stables were farm buildings and barns, for there
were several fields for tillage along the river-side, and the mill and
two more farms were the property of the Bridgefield squire, so that the
inheritance was a very fair one, wedged in, as it were, between the
river and the great Chase of Sheffield, up whose stately avenue the
riding party looked as they crossed the bridge, Richard having become
more silent than ever as he came among the familiar rocks and trees of
his boyhood, and knew he should not meet that hearty welcome from his
brother which had never hitherto failed to greet his return. The house
had that strange air of forlornness which seems to proclaim sorrow
within. The great court doors stood open, and a big, rough deer-hound,
at the sound of the approaching hoofs, rose slowly up, and began a
series of long, deep-mouthed barks, with pauses between, sounding like
a knell. One or two men and maids ran out at the sound, and as the
travellers rode up to the horse-block, an old gray-bearded serving-man
came stumbling forth with "Oh! Master Diccon, woe worth the day!"
"How does my mother?" asked Richard, as he sprang off and set his boy
on his feet.
"No worse, sir, but she hath not yet spoken a word--back, Thunder--ah!
sir, the poor dog knows you."
For the great hound had sprung up to Richard in eager greeting, but
then, as soon as he heard his voice, the creature drooped his ears and
tail, and instead of continuing his demonstrations of joy, stood
quietly by, only now and then poking his long, rough nose into
Richard's hand, knowing as well as possible that though not his dear
lost master, he was the next thing!
Mistress Susan and the infant were lifted down--a hurried question and
answer assured them that the funeral was over yesterday. My Lady
Countess had come down and would have it so; my lord was at Court, and
Sir Gilbert and his brothers had been present, but the old servants
thought it hard that none nearer in blood should be there to lay their
young squire in his grave, nor to support his father, who, poor old
man, had tottered, and been so like to swoon as he passed the hall
door, that Sir Gilbert and old Diggory could but, help him back again,
fearing lest he, too, might have a stroke.
It was a great grief to Richard, who had longed to look on his
brother's face again, but he could say nothing, only he gave one hand
to his wife and the other to his son, and led them into the hall, which
was in an indescribable state of confusion. The trestles which had
supported the coffin were still at one end of the room, the long tables
were still covered with cloths, trenchers, knives, cups, and the
remains of the funeral baked meats, and there were overthrown tankards
and stains of wine on the cloth, as though, whatever else were lacking,
the Talbot retainers had not missed their revel.
One of the dishevelled rough-looking maidens began some hurried
muttering about being so distraught, and not looking for madam so
early, but Susan could not listen to her, and merely putting the babe
into her arms, came with her husband up the stairs, leaving little
Humfrey with Nathanael.
Richard knocked at the bedroom door, and, receiving no answer, opened
it. There in the tapestry-hung chamber was the huge old bedstead with
its solid posts. In it lay something motionless, but the first thing
the husband and wife saw was the bent head which was lifted up by the
burly but broken figure in the chair beside it.
The two knotted old hands clasped the arms of the chair, and the squire
prepared to rise, his lip trembling under his white beard, and emotion
working in his dejected features. They were beforehand with him. Ere
he could rise both were on their knees before him, while Richard in a
broken voice cried, "Father, O father!"
"Thank God that thou art come, my son," said the old man, laying his
hands on his shoulders, with a gleam of joy, for as they afterwards
knew, he had sorely feared for Richard's ship in the storm that had
caused Humfrey's death. "I looked for thee, my daughter," he added,
stretching out one hand to Susan, who kissed it. "Now it may go better
with her! Speak to thy mother, Richard, she may know thy voice."
Alas! no; the recently active, ready old lady was utterly stricken, and
as yet held in the deadly grasp of paralysis, unconscious of all that
passed around her.
Susan found herself obliged at once to take up the reins, and become
head nurse and housekeeper. The old squire trusted implicitly to her,
and helplessly put the keys into her hands, and the serving-men and
maids, in some shame at the condition in which the hall had been found,
bestirred themselves to set it in order, so that there was a chance of
the ordinary appearance of things being restored by supper-time, when
Richard hoped to persuade his father to come down to his usual place.
Long before this, however, a trampling had been heard in the court, and
a shrill voice, well known to Richard and Susan, was heard demanding,
"Come home, is she--Master Diccon too? More shame for you, you
sluttish queans and lazy lubbers, never to have let me know; but none
of you have any respect--"
A visit from my Lady Countess was a greater favour to such a household
as that of Bridgefield than it would be to a cottage of the present
day; Richard was hurrying downstairs, and Susan only tarried to throw
off the housewifely apron in which she had been compounding a cooling
drink for the poor old lady, and to wash her hands, while Humfrey,
rushing up to her, exclaimed "Mother, mother, is it the Queen?"
Queen Elizabeth herself was not inaptly represented by her namesake of
Hardwicke, the Queen of Hallamshire, sitting on her great white mule at
the door, sideways, with her feet on a board, as little children now
ride, and attended by a whole troop of gentlemen ushers, maidens,
prickers, and running footmen. She was a woman of the same type as the
Queen, which was of course enough to stamp her as a celebrated beauty,
and though she had reached middle age, her pale, clear complexion and
delicate features were well preserved. Her chin was too sharp, and
there was something too thin and keen about her nose and lips to
promise good temper. She was small of stature, but she made up for it
in dignity of presence, and as she sat there, with her rich embroidered
green satin farthingale spreading out over the mule, her tall ruff
standing up fanlike on her shoulders, her riding-rod in her hand, and
her master of the horse standing at her rein, while a gentleman usher
wielded an enormous, long-handled, green fan, to keep the sun from
incommoding her, she was, perhaps, even more magnificent than the
maiden queen herself might have been in her more private expeditions.
Indeed, she was new to her dignity as Countess, having been only a few
weeks married to the Earl, her fourth husband. Captain Talbot did not
feel it derogatory to his dignity as a gentleman to advance with his
hat in his hand to kiss her hand, and put a knee to the ground as he
invited her to alight, an invitation his wife heard with dismay as she
reached the door, for things were by no means yet as they should be in
the hall. She curtsied low, and advanced with her son holding her
hand, but shrinking behind her.
"Ha, kinswoman, is it thou!" was her greeting, as she, too, kissed the
small, shapely, white, but exceedingly strong hand that was extended to
her; "So thou art come, and high time too. Thou shouldst never have
gone a-gadding to Hull, living in lodgings; awaiting thine husband,
forsooth. Thou art over young a matron for such gear, and so I told
Diccon Talbot long ago."
"Yea, madam," said Richard, somewhat hotly, "and I made answer that my
Susan was to be trusted, and truly no harm has come thereof."
"Ho! and you reckon it no harm that thy father and mother were left to
a set of feckless, brainless, idle serving-men and maids in their
trouble? Why, none would so much as have seen to thy brother's poor
body being laid in a decent grave had not I been at hand to take order
for it as became a distant kinsman of my lord. I tell thee, Richard,
there must be no more of these vagabond seafaring ways. Thou must serve
my lord, as a true retainer and kinsman is bound--Nay," in reply to a
gesture, "I will not come in, I know too well in what ill order the
house is like to be. I did but take my ride this way to ask how it
fared with the mistress, and try if I could shake the squire from his
lethargy, if Mrs. Susan had not had the grace yet to be here. How do
they?" Then in answer, "Thou must waken him, Diccon--rouse him, and
tell him that I and my lord expect it of him that he should bear his
loss as a true and honest Christian man, and not pule and moan, since
he has a son left--ay, and a grandson. You should breed your boy up to
know his manners, Susan Talbot," as Humfrey resisted an attempt to make
him do his reverence to my lady; "that stout knave of yours wants the
rod. Methought I heard you'd borne another, Susan! Ay! as I said it
would be," as her eye fell on the swaddled babe in a maid's arms. "No
lack of fools to eat up the poor old squire's substance. A maid, is
it? Beshrew me, if your voyages will find portions for all your
wenches! Has the leech let blood to thy good-mother, Susan? There!
not one amongst you all bears any brains. Knew you not how to send up
to the castle for Master Drewitt? Farewell! Thou wilt be at the lodge
to-morrow to let me know how it fares with thy mother, when her brain
is cleared by further blood-letting. And for the squire, let him know
that I expect it of him that he shall eat, and show himself a man!"
So saying, the great lady departed, escorted as far as the avenue gate
by Richard Talbot, and leaving the family gratified by her
condescension, and not allowing to themselves how much their feelings