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    Chapter 9

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    Chapter 10
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    Bridgefield was a peaceable household, and the castle and manor beyond might envy its calm.

    From the time of the marriage of Elizabeth Cavendish with the young Earl of Lennox all the shreds of comfort which had remained to the unfortunate Earl had vanished. First he had to clear himself before Queen Elizabeth from having been a consenting party, and then he found his wife furious with him at his displeasure at her daughter's aggrandisement. Moreover, whereas she had formerly been on terms of friendly gossiphood with the Scottish Queen, she now went over to the Lennox side because her favourite daughter had married among them; and it was evident that from that moment all amity between her and the prisoner was at an end.

    She was enraged that her husband would not at once change his whole treatment of the Queen, and treat her as such guilt deserved; and with the illogical dulness of a passionate woman, she utterly scouted and failed to comprehend the argument that the unhappy Mary was, to say the least of it, no more guilty now than when she came into their keeping, and that to alter their demeanour towards her would be unjust and unreasonable.

    "My Lady is altogether beyond reason," said Captain Talbot, returning one evening to his wife; "neither my Lord nor her daughter can do ought with her; so puffed up is she with this marriage! Moreover, she is hotly angered that young Babington should have been sent away from her retinue without notice to her, and demands our Humfrey in his stead as a page."

    "He is surely too old for a page!" said his mother, thinking of her tall well-grown son of fifteen.

    "So said I," returned Richard. "I had sooner it were Diccon, and so I told his lordship."

    Before Richard could speak for them, the two boys came in, eager and breathless. "Father!" cried Humfrey, "who think you is at Hull? Why, none other than your old friend and shipmate, Captain Frobisher!"

    "Ha! Martin Frobisher! Who told thee, Humfrey?"

    "Faithful Ekins, sir, who had it from the Doncaster carrier, who saw Captain Frobisher himself, and was asked by him if you, sir, were not somewhere in Yorkshire, and if so, to let you know that he will be in Hull till May-day, getting men together for a voyage to the northwards, where there is gold to be had for the picking--and if you had a likely son or two, now was the time to make their fortunes, and show them the world. He said, any way you might ride to see an old comrade."

    "A long message for two carriers," said Richard Talbot, smiling, "but Martin never was a scribe!"

    "But, sir, you will let me go," cried Humfrey, eagerly. "I mean, I pray you to let me go. Dear mother, say nought against it," entreated the youth. "Cis, think of my bringing thee home a gold bracelet like mother's."

    "What," said his father, "when my Lady has just craved thee for a page."

    "A page!" said Humfrey, with infinite contempt--"to hear all their tales and bickerings, hold skeins of silk, amble mincingly along galleries, be begged to bear messages that may have more in them than one knows, and be noted for a bear if one refuses."

    The father and Cis laughed, the mother looked unhappy.

    "So Martin is at Hull, is he ?" said Richard, musingly. "If my Lord can give me leave for a week or fortnight, methinks I must ride to see the stout old knave."

    "And oh, sweet father! prithee take me with you," entreated Humfrey, "if it be only to come back again. I have not seen the sea since we came here, and yet the sound is in my ears as I fall asleep. I entreat of you to let me come, good my father."

    "And, good father, let me come," exclaimed Diccon; "I have never even seen the sea!"

    "And dear, sweet father, take me," entreated little Ned.

    "Nay," cried Cis, "what should I do? Here is Antony Babington borne off to Cambridge, and you all wanting to leave me."

    "I'll come home better worth than he!" muttered Humfrey, who thought he saw consent on his father's brow, and drew her aside into the deep window.

    "You'll come back a rude sailor, smelling of pitch and tar, and Antony will be a well-bred, point-device scholar, who will know how to give a lady his hand," said the teasing girl.

    And so the playful war was carried on, while the father, having silenced and dismissed the two younger lads, expressed his intention of obtaining leave of absence, if possible, from the Earl."

    "Yea," he added to his wife, "I shall even let Humfrey go with me. It is time he looked beyond the walls of this place, which is little better than a prison."

    "And will you let him go on this strange voyage?" she asked wistfully, "he, our first-born, and our heir."

    "For that, dame, remember his namesake, my poor brother, was the one who stayed at home, I the one to go forth, and here am I now!" The lad's words may have set before thee weightier perils in yonder park than he is like to meet among seals and bears under honest old Martin."

    "Yet here he has your guidance," said Susan.

    "Who knows how they might play on his honour as to talebearing? Nay, good wife, when thou hast thought it over, thou wilt see that far fouler shoals and straits lie up yonder, than in the free open sea that God Almighty made. Martin is a devout and godly man, who hath matins and evensong on board each day when the weather is not too foul, and looks well that there be no ill-doings in his ship; and if he have a berth for thy lad, it will be a better school for him than where two-thirds of the household are raging against one another, and the third ever striving to corrupt and outwit the rest. I am weary of it all! Would that I could once get into blue water again, and leave it all behind!"

    "You will not! Oh! you will not!" implored Susan. "Remember, my dear, good lord, how you said all your duties lay at home."

    "I remember, my good housewife. Thou needst not fear for me. But there is little time to spare. If I am to see mine old friend, I must get speech of my Lord to-night, so as to be on horseback to- morrow. Saddle me Brown Dumpling, boys."

    And as the boys went off, persuading Cis, who went coyly protesting that the paddock was damp, yet still following after them, he added, "Yea, Sue, considering all, it is better those two were apart for a year or so, till we see better what is this strange nestling that we have reared. Ay, thou art like the mother sparrow that hath bred up a cuckoo and doteth on it, yet it mateth not with her brood."

    "It casteth them out," said Susan, "as thou art doing now, by your leave, husband."

    "Only for a flight, gentle mother," he answered, "only for a flight, to prove meanwhile whether there be the making of a simple household bird, or of a hawk that might tear her mate to pieces, in yonder nestling."

    Susan was too dutiful a wife to say more, though her motherly heart was wrung almost as much at the implied distrust of her adopted daughter as by the sudden parting with her first-born to the dangers of the northern seas. She could better enter into her husband's fears of the temptations of page life at Sheffield, and being altogether a wife, "bonner and boughsome," as her marriage vow held it, she applied herself and Cis to the choosing of the shirts and the crimping of the ruffs that were to appear in Hull, if, for there was this hope at the bottom of her heart, my Lord might refuse leave of absence to his "gentleman porter."

    The hope was fallacious; Richard reported that my Lord was so much relieved to find that he had detected no fresh conspiracy, as to be willing to grant him a fortnight's leave, and even had said with a sigh that he was in the right on't about his son, for Sheffield was more of a school for plotting than for chivalry.

    It was a point of honour with every good housewife to have a store of linen equal to any emergency, and, indeed, as there were no washing days in the winter, the stock of personal body-linen was at all times nearly a sufficient outfit; so the main of Humfrey's shirts were to be despatched by a carrier, in the trust that they would reach him before the expedition should sail.

    There was then little to delay the father and son, after the mother, with fast-gathering tears resolutely forced back, had packed and strapped their mails, with Cis's help, Humfrey standing by, booted and spurred, and talking fast of the wonders he should see, and the gold and ivory he should bring home, to hide the qualms of home- sickness, and mother-sickness, he was already beginning to feel; and maybe to get Cis to pronounce that then she should think more of him than of Antony Babington with his airs and graces. Wistfully did the lad watch for some such tender assurance, but Cis seemed all provoking brilliancy and teasing. "She knew he would be back over soon. Oh no, he would never go to sea! She feared not. Mr. Frobisher would have none of such awkward lubbers. More's the pity. There would be some peace to get to do her broidery, and leave to play on the virginals when he was gone."

    But when the horsemen had disappeared down the avenue, Cis hid herself in a corner and cried as if her heart would break.

    She cried again behind the back of the tall settle when the father came back alone, full of praises of Captain Frobisher, his ship, and his company, and his assurances that he would watch over Humfrey like his own son.

    Meantime the domestic storms at the park were such that Master Richard and his wife were not sorry that the boy was not growing up in the midst of them, though the Countess rated Susan severely for her ingratitude.

    Queen Elizabeth was of course much angered at the Lennox match, and the Earl had to write letter after letter to clear himself from any participation in bringing it about. Queen Mary also wrote to clear herself of it, and to show that she absolutely regretted it, as she had small esteem for Bess Cavendish. Moreover, though Lady Shrewsbury's friendship might not be a very pleasant thing, it was at least better than her hostility. However, she was not much at Sheffield. Not only was she very angry with her husband, but Queen Elizabeth had strictly forbidden the young Lord Lennox from coming under the same roof with his royal sister-in-law. He was a weakly youth, and his wife's health failed immediately after her marriage, so that Lady Shrewsbury remained almost constantly at Chatsworth with her darling.

    Gilbert Talbot, who was the chief peacemaker of the family, went to and fro, wrote letters and did his best, which would have been more effective but for Mary, his wife, who, no doubt, detailed all the gossip of Sheffield at Chatsworth, as she certainly amused Sheffield with stories of her sister Bess as a royal countess full of airs and humours, and her mother treating her, if not as a queen, at least on the high road to become one, and how the haughty dame of Shrewsbury ran willingly to pick up her daughter's kerchief, and stood over the fire stirring the posset, rather than let it fail to tempt the appetite which became more dainty by being cossetted.

    The difference made between Lady Lennox and her elder sisters was not a little nettling to Dame Mary Talbot, who held that some consideration was her due, as the proud mother of the only grandson of the house of Shrewsbury, little George, who was just able to be put on horseback in the court, and say he was riding to see "Lady Danmode," and to drink the health of "Lady Danmode" at his meals.

    Alas! the little hope of the Talbots suddenly faded. One evening after supper a message came down in haste to beg for the aid of Mistress Susan, who, though much left to the seclusion of Bridgefield in prosperous days, was always a resource in trouble or difficulty. Little George, then two and a half years old, had been taken suddenly ill after a supper on marchpane and plum broth, washed down by Christmas ale. Convulsions had come on, and the skill of Queen Mary's apothecary had only gone so far as to bleed him. Susan arrived only just in time to see the child breathe his last sigh, and to have his mother, wild with tumultuous clamorous grief, put into her hands for such soothing and comforting as might be possible, and the good and tender woman did her best to turn the mother's thoughts to something higher and better than the bewailing at one moment "her pretty boy," with a sort of animal sense of bereavement, and the next with lamentations over the honours to which he would have succeeded. It was of little use to speak to her of the eternal glories of which he was now secure, for Mary Talbot's sorrow was chiefly selfish, and was connected with the loss of her pre-eminence as parent to the heir-male.

    However, the grief of those times was apt to expend itself quickly, and when little George's coffin, smothered under heraldic devices and funeral escutcheons, had been bestowed in the family vault, Dame Mary soon revived enough to take a warm interest in the lords who were next afterwards sent down to hold conferences with the captive; and her criticism of the fashion of their ruffs and doublets was as animated as ever. Another grief, however, soon fell upon the family. Lady Lennox's ailments proved to be no such trifles as her sisters and sisters-in-law had been pleased to suppose, and before the year was out, she had passed away from all her ambitious hopes, leaving a little daughter. The Earl took a brief leave of absence to visit his lady in her affliction at Chatsworth, and to stand godfather to the motherless infant.

    "She will soon be fatherless, too," said Richard Talbot on his return to Bridgefield, after attending his lord on this expedition. "My young Lord Lennox, poor youth, is far gone in the wasting sickness, as well as distraught with grief, and he could scarcely stand to receive my Lord."

    "Our poor lady!" said Susan, "it pities me to think what hopes she had fixed upon that young couple whom she had mated together."

    "I doubt me whether her hopes be ended now," quoth Richard. "What think you she hath fixed on as the name of the poor puling babe yonder? They have called her Arbel or Arabella."

    "Arabella, say you? I never heard such a name. It is scarce Christian. Is it out of a romaunt?"

    "Better that it were. It is out of a pedigree. They have got the whole genealogy of the house of Lennox blazoned fair, with crowns and coronets and coats of arms hung up in the hall at Chatsworth, going up on the one hand through Sir AEneas of Troy, and on the other hand through Woden to Adam and Eve! Pass for all before the Stewart line became Kings of Scots! Well, it seems that these Lennox Stewarts sprang from one Walter, who was son to King Robert II., and that the mother of this same Walter was called Anhild, or as the Scots here call it Annaple, but the scholars have made it into Arabella, and so my young lady is to be called. They say it was a special fancy of the young Countess's."

    "So I should guess. My lady would fill her head with such thoughts, and of this poor youth being next of kin to the young Scottish king, and to our own Queen."

    "He is not next heir to Scotland even, barring a little one we wot of, Dame Sue. The Hamiltons stand between, being descended from a daughter of King James I."

    "So methought I had heard. Are they not Papists?"

    "Yea! Ah ha, sweetheart, there is another of the house of Hardwicke as fain to dreams of greatness for her child as ever was the Countess, though she may be more discreet in the telling of them."

    "Ah me, dear sir, I dreamt not of greatness for splendour's sake-- 'twere scarce for the dear child's happiness. I only thought of what you once said, that she may be the instrument of preserving the true religion."

    "And if so, it can only be at a mighty cost!" said her husband.

    "Verily," said Susan, "glad am I that you sent our Humfrey from her. Would that nought had ever passed between the children!"

    "They were but children," said Richard; "and there was no contract between them."

    "I fear me there was what Humfrey will hold to, or know good reason why," said his mother.

    "And were the young King of Scots married and father to a goodly heir, there is no reason he should not hold to it," rejoined Richard.

    However Richard was still anxious to keep his son engaged at a distance from Sheffield. There was great rejoicing and thankfulness when one of the many messengers constantly passing between London and Sheffield brought a packet from Humfrey, whose ship had put into the Thames instead of the Humber.

    The packet contained one of the black stones which the science of the time expected to transmute into gold, also some Esquimaux trinkets made of bone, and a few shells. These were for the mother and Cis, and there were also the tusks of a sea-elephant which Humfrey would lay up at my Lord's London lodgings till his father sent tidings what should be done with them, and whether he should come home at once by sea to Hull, or if, as he much desired to do, he might join an expedition which was fitting out for the Spanish Main, where he was assured that much more both of gold and honour was to be acquired than in the cold northern seas, where nothing was to be seen for the fog at most times, and when it cleared only pigmies, with their dogs, white bears, and seals, also mountains of ice bigger than any church, blue as my lady's best sapphires, green as her emeralds, sparkling as her diamonds, but ready to be the destruction of the ships.

    "One there was," wrote Humfrey, "that I could have thought was no other than the City that the blessed St. John saw descending from Heaven, so fair was it to look on, but they cried out that it was rather a City of Destruction, and when we had got out of the current where it was bearing down on us, our noble captain piped all hands up to prayers, and gave thanks for our happy deliverance therefrom."

    Susan breathed a thanksgiving as her husband read, and he forbore to tell her of the sharks, the tornadoes, and the fevers which might make the tropical seas more perilous than the Arctic. No Elizabethan mariner had any scruples respecting piracy, and so long as the captain was a godly man who kept up strict discipline on board, Master Richard held the quarterdeck to be a much more wholesome place than the Manor-house, and much preferred the humours of the ship to those of any other feminine creature; for, as to his Susan, he always declared that she was the only woman who had none.

    So she accepted his decision, and saw the wisdom of it, though her tender heart deeply felt the disappointment. Tenderly she packed up the shirts which she and Cis had finished, and bestrewed them with lavender, which, as she said, while a tear dropped with the gray blossoms, would bring the scent of home to the boy.

    Cis affected to be indifferent and offended. Master Humfrey might do as he chose. She did not care if he did prefer pitch and tar, and whale blubber and grease, to hawks and hounds, and lords and ladies. She was sure she wanted no more great lubberly lads--with a sly cut at Diccon--to tangle her silk, and torment her to bait their hooks. She was well quit of any one of them.

    When Diccon proposed that she should write a letter to Humfrey, she declared that she should do no such thing, since he had never attempted to write to her. In truth Diccon may have made the proposal in order to obtain a companion in misfortune, since Master Sniggius, emulous of the success of other tutors, insisted on his writing to his brother in Latin, and the unfortunate epistle of Ricardus to Onofredus was revised and corrected to the last extremity, and as it was allowed to contain no word unknown to Virgilius Maro, it could not have afforded much delectation to the recipient.

    But when Mrs. Susan had bestowed all the shirts as neatly as possible, on returning to settle them for the last time before wrapping them up for the messenger, she felt something hard among them. It was a tiny parcel wrapped in a piece of a fine kerchief, tied round with a tress of dark hair, and within, Susan knew by the feeling, a certain chess rook which had been won by Cis when shooting at the butts a week or two before.
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