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
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
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 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
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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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.