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    Chapter 14

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    Chapter 15
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    THE MONOGRAMS.

    When Cicely had been carried into a chamber by Master Talbot, and laid half-conscious and moaning on the grand carved bed, Mrs. Talbot by word and gesture expelled all superfluous spectators. She would have preferred examining alone into the injury sustained by the maiden, which she did not think beyond her own management; but there was no refusing the services of Maitre Gorion, or of Mrs. Kennedy, who indeed treated her authoritatively, assuming the direction of the sick-room. She found herself acting under their orders as she undid the boddice, while Mrs. Kennedy ripped up the tight sleeve of the riding dress, and laid bare the arm and shoulder, which had been severely bruised and twisted, but neither broken nor dislocated, as Mrs. Kennedy informed her, after a few rapid words from the Frenchman, unintelligible to the English lady, who felt somewhat impatient of this invasion of her privileges, and was ready to say she had never supposed any such thing.

    The chirurgeon skipped to the door, and for a moment she hoped that she was rid of him, but he had only gone to bring in a neat case with which his groom was in waiting outside, whence he extracted a lotion and sponge, speaking rapidly as he did so.

    "Now, madam," said Jean Kennedy, "lift the lassie, there, turn back her boddice, and we will bathe her shouther. So! By my halidome!"

    "Ah! Mort de ma vie!"

    The two exclamations darted simultaneously from the lips of the Scottish nurse and the French doctor. Susan beheld what she had at the moment forgotten, the curious mark branded on her nursling's shoulder, which indeed she had not seen since Cicely had been of an age to have the care of her own person, and which was out of the girl's own sight. No more was said at the moment, for Cis was reviving fast, and was so much bewildered and frightened that she required all the attention and soothing that the two women could give, but when they removed the rest of her clothing, so that she might be laid down comfortably to rest, Mrs. Kennedy by another dexterous movement uncovered enough of the other shoulder to obtain a glimpse of the monogram upon it.

    Nothing was spoken. Those two had not been so many years attendants on a suspected and imprisoned queen without being prudent and cautious; but when they quitted the apartment after administering a febrifuge, Susan felt a pang of wonder, whether they were about to communicate their discovery to their mistress. For the next quarter of an hour, the patient needed all her attention, and there was no possibility of obeying the summons of a great clanging bell which announced dinner. When, however, Cis had fallen asleep it became possible to think over the situation. She foresaw an inquiry, and would have given much for a few words with her husband; but reflection showed her that the one point essential to his safety was not to betray that he and she had any previous knowledge of the rank of their nursling. The existence of the scroll might have to be acknowledged, but to show that Richard had deciphered it would put him in danger on all hands.

    She had just made up her mind on this point when there was a knock at the door, and Mrs. Kennedy bore in a salver with a cup of wine, and took from an attendant, who remained outside, a tray with some more solid food, which she placed on the broad edge of the deep-set window, and coming to the bedside, invited Mrs. Talbot to eat, while she watched the girl. Susan complied, though with little appetite, and Mrs. Kennedy, after standing for a few minutes in contemplation, came to the window. She was a tall woman, her yellow hair softened by an admixture of gray, her eyes keen and shrewd, yet capable of great tenderness at times, her features certainly not youthful, but not a whit more aged than they had been when Susan had first seen her fourteen years ago. It was a quiet mouth, and one that gave a sense of trust both in its firmness, secrecy, and kindness.

    "Madam," said she, in her soft Scotch voice, lowered considerably, but not whispering, and with her keen eyes fixed on Susan--"Madam, what garred ye gie your bit lassie yonder marks? Ye need not fear, that draught of Maister Gorion's will keep her sleeping fast for a good hour or two longer, and it behoves me to ken how she cam by yonder brands."

    "She had them when she came to us," said Susan.

    "Ye'll no persuade me that they are birth marks," returned Mistress Jean. "Such a thing would be a miracle in a loyal Scottish Catholic's wean, let alone an English heretic's."

    "No," said Susan, who had in fact only made the answer to give herself time to think whether it were possible to summon her husband. "They never seemed to me birth marks."

    "Woman," said Jean Kennedy, laying a strong, though soft hand, on her wrist, "this is not gear for trifling. Is the lass your ain bairn? Ha! I always thought she had mair of the kindly Scot than of the Southron about her. Hech! so they made the puir wean captive! Wha gave her till you to keep? Your lord, I trow."

    "The Lord of heaven and earth," replied Susan. "My husband took her, the only living thing left on a wreck off the Spurn Head."

    "Hech, sirs!" exclaimed Mrs. Kennedy, evidently much struck, but still exercising great self-command. "And when fell this out?"

    "Two days after Low Sunday, in the year of grace 1568," returned Susan.

    "My halidome!" again ejaculated Jean, in a low voice, crossing herself. "And what became of honest Ailie--I mean," catching herself up, "what befell those that went with her?"

    "Not one lived," said Susan, gravely. "The mate of my husband's ship took the little one from the arms of her nurse, who seemed to have been left alone with her by the crew, lashed to the wreck, and to have had her life freshly beaten out by the winds and waves, for she was still warm. I was then lying at Hull, and they brought the babe to me, while there was still time to save her life, with God's blessing."

    "And the vessel?" asked Jean.

    "My husband held it to be the Bride of Dunbar, plying between that port and Harfleur."

    "Ay! ay! Blessed St. Bride!" muttered Jean Kennedy, with an awe- stricken look; then, collecting herself, she added, "Were there no tokens, save these, about the little one, by which she could be known?"

    "There was a gold chain with a cross, and what you call a reliquary about her little neck, and a scroll written in cipher among her swaddling bands; but they are laid up at home, at Bridgefield."

    It was a perplexing situation for this simple-hearted and truthful woman, and, on the other hand, Jean Kennedy was no less devoted and loyal in her own line, a good and conscientious woman, but shrewder, and, by nature and breeding, far less scrupulous as to absolute truth.

    The one idea that Susan, in her confusion, could keep hold of was that any admission of knowledge as to who her Cis really was, would be a betrayal of her husband's secret; and on the other hand she saw that Mrs. Kennedy, though most keen to discover everything, and no doubt convinced that the maiden was her Queen's child, was bent on not disclosing that fact to the foster-mother.

    She asked anxiously whether Mistress Cicely knew of her being only an adopted child, and Susan replied that they had intended that she never should learn that she was of alien birth; but that it had been revealed by the old sailor who had brought her on board the Mastiff, though no one had heard him save young Humfrey and the girl herself, and they had been, so far as she knew, perfectly reserved on the subject.

    Jean Kennedy then inquired how the name of Cicely had been given, and whether the child had been so baptized by Protestant rites.

    "Wot you who the maid may be, madam?" Susan took courage to ask; but the Scotswoman would not be disconcerted, and replied,

    "How suld I ken without a sight of the tokens? Gin I had them, maybe I might give a guess, but there was mony a leal Scot sairly bestead, wife and wean and all, in her Majesty's cause that wearie spring."

    Here Cis stirred in her sleep, and both women were at her side in a moment, but she did not wake.

    Jean Kennedy stood gazing at the girl with eagerness that she did not attempt to conceal, studying each feature in detail; but Cis showed in her sleep very little of her royal lineage, which betrayed itself far more in her gait and bearing than in her features. Susan could not help demanding of the nurse whether she saw any resemblance that could show the maiden's parentage.

    The old lady gave a kind of Scotch guttural sound expressive of disappointment, and said, "I'll no say but I've seen the like beetle- broo. But we'll waken the bairn with our clavers. I'll away the noo. Maister Gorion will see her again ere night, but it were ill to break her sleep, the puir lassie!"

    Nevertheless, she could not resist bending over and kissing the sleeper, so gently that there was no movement. Then she left the room, and Susan stood with clasped hands.

    "My child! my child! Oh, is it coming on thee? Wilt thou be taken from me! Oh, and to what a fate! And to what hands! They will never never love thee as we have done! O God, protect her, and be her Father."

    And Susan knelt by the bed in such a paroxysm of grief that her husband, coming in unshod that he might not disturb the girl, apprehended that she had become seriously worse.

    However, his entrance awoke her, and she found herself much better, and was inclined to talk, so he sat down on a chest by the bed, and related what Diccon had told him of the reappearance of the woman with the basket of spar trinkets.

    "Beads and bracelets," said Cicely.

    "Ay?" said he. "What knowest thou of them?"

    "Only that she spake the words so often; and the Queen, just ere that doctor began his speech, asked of me whether she did not sell beads and bracelets."

    "'Tis a password, no doubt, and we must be on our guard," said Richard, while his wife demanded with whom Diccon had seen her speaking.

    "With Gorion," returned he. "That was what made the lad suspect something, knowing that the chirurgeon can barely speak three sentences in any tongue but his own, and those are in their barbarous Scotch. I took the boy with me and inquired here, there, and everywhere this afternoon, but could find no one who had ever seen or heard of any one like her."

    "Tell me, Cis," exclaimed Susan, with a sudden conviction, "was she like in any fashion to Tibbott the huckster-woman who brought young Babington into trouble three years agone?"

    "Women's heads all run on one notion," said Richard. "Can there be no secret agents save poor Cuthbert, whom I believe to be beyond seas?"

    "Nay, but hear what saith the child?" asked Susan.

    "This woman was not nearly so old as Tibbott," said Cis, "nor did she walk with a staff, nor had she those grizzled black brows that were wont to frighten me."

    "But was she tall?" asked Susan.

    "Oh yes, mother. She was very tall--she came after Diccon and me with long strides--yet it could never have been Tibbott!"

    Susan had reasons for thinking otherwise, but she could not pursue the subject at that time, as she had to go down to supper with her husband, and privacy was impossible. Even at night, nobody enjoyed extensive quarters, and but for Cicely's accident she would have slept with Dyot, the tirewoman, who had arrived with the baggage, which included a pallet bed for them. However, the young lady had been carried to a chamber intended for one of Queen Mary's suite; and there it was decreed that she should remain for the night, the mother sleeping with her, while the father and son betook themselves to the room previously allotted to the family. Only on the excuse of going to take out her husband's gear from the mails was Susan able to secure a few words with him, and then by ordering out Diccon, Dyot, and the serving-man. Then she could succeed in saying, "Mine husband, all will soon out--Mistress Kennedy and Master Gorion have seen the brands on the child's shoulders. It is my belief that she of the 'beads and bracelets' bade the chirurgeon look for them. Else, why should he have thrust himself in for a hurt that women-folk had far better have tended? Now, that kinsman of yours knew that poor Cis was none of ours, and gave her a hint of it long ago--that is, if Tibbott were he, and not something worse."

    Richard shook his head. "Give a woman a hint of a seminary priest in disguise, and she would take a new-born baby for one. I tell thee I heard that Cuthbert was safe in Paris. But, be that as it may, I trust thou hast been discreet."

    "So I strove to be," said Susan. "Mrs. Kennedy questioned me, and I told her."

    "What?" sharply demanded her husband.

    "Nought but truth," she answered, "save that I showed no knowledge who the maid really is, nor let her guess that you had read the scroll."

    "That is well. Frank Talbot was scarce within his duty when he gave me the key, and it were as much as my head were worth to be known to have been aware of the matter." To this Susan could only assent, as they were interrupted by the serving-man coming to ask directions about the bestowal of the goods.

    She was relieved by this short colloquy, but it was a sad and wakeful night for her as Cicely slept by her side. Her love was too truly motherly not to be deeply troubled at the claim of one of differing religion and nation, and who had so uncertain and perilous a lot in which to place her child. There was also the sense that all her dearest, including her eldest son, were involved in the web of intrigue with persons far mightier and more unscrupulous than themselves; and that, however they might strive to preserve their integrity, it would be very hard to avoid suspicion and danger.

    In this temporary abode, the household of the Queen and of the Earl ate together, in the great hall, and thus while breaking their fast in the morning Jean Kennedy found opportunity to examine Richard Talbot on all the circumstances of the wreck of the Bride of Dunbar, and the finding of the babe. She was much more on her guard than the day before, and said that she had a shrewd suspicion as to who the babe's parents might be, but that she could not be certain without seeing the reliquary and the scroll. Richard replied that they were at home, but made no offer of sending for them. "Nor will I do so," said he to his wife, "unless I am dealt plainly with, and the lady herself asks for them. Then should I have no right to detain them."

    M. Gorion would not allow his patient to leave her room that day, and she had to remain there while Susan was in attendance on the Queen, who did not appear to her yet to have heard of the discovery, and who was entering with zest into the routine of the place, where Dr. Jones might be regarded as the supreme legislator.

    Each division of the great bath hall was fitted with drying and dressing room, arranged commodiously according to the degree of those who were to use them. Royalty, of course, enjoyed a monopoly, and after the hot bath, which the Queen took immediately after rising, she breakfasted in her own apartments, and then came forth, according to the regimen of the place, by playing at Trowle Madame. A board with arches cut in, just big enough to permit the entrance of the balls used in playing at bowls was placed on the turf at a convenient distance from the player. Each arch was numbered, from one to thirteen, but the numbers were irregularly arranged, and the game consisted in rolling bowls into the holes in succession, each player taking a single turn, and the winner reaching the highest number first,--being, in fact, a sort of lawn bagatelle. Dr. Jones recommended it as good to stretch the rheumatic joints of his patients, and Queen Mary, an adept at all out-of-door games, delighted in it, though she had refused an offer to have the lawn arranged for it at Sheffield, saying that it would only spoil a Buxton delight. She was still too stiff to play herself, but found infinite amusement in teaching the new-comers the game, and poor Susan, with her thoughts far away, was scarcely so apt a pupil as befitted a royal mistress, especially as she missed Mrs. Kennedy.

    When she came back, she found that the dame had been sitting with the patient, and had made herself very agreeable to the girl by drawing out from her all she knew of her own story from beginning to end, having first shown that she knew of the wreck of the Bride of Dunbar.

    "And, mother," said Cis, "she says she is nearly certain that she knows who my true parents were, and that she could be certain if she saw the swaddling clothes and tokens you had with me. Have you, mother? I never knew of them."

    "Yes, child, I have. We did not wish to trouble and perturb your mind, little one, while you were content to be our daughter."

    "Ah, mother, I would fain be yours and father's still. They must not take me from you. But suppose I was some great and noble lord's daughter, and had a great inheritance and lordship to give Humfrey!"

    "Alas, child! Scottish inheritances are wont to bring more strife than wealth."

    Nevertheless, Cis went on supposing and building castles that were pain and grief to her foreboding auditor. That evening, however, Richard called his wife. It was late, but the northern sunset was only just over, and Susan could wander out with him on the greensward in front of the Earl's house.

    "So this is the tale we are to be put off with," he said, "from the Queen herself, ay, herself, and told with such an air of truth that it would almost make me discredit the scroll. She told me with one of her sweetest smiles how a favourite kinswoman of hers wedded in secret with a faithful follower of hers, of the clan Hepburn. Oh, I assure you it might have been a ballad sung by a harper for its sadness. Well, this fellow ventured too far in her service, and had to flee to France to become an archer of the guard, while the wife remained and died at Lochleven Castle, having given birth to our Cis, whom the Queen in due time despatched to her father, he being minded to have her bred up in a French nunnery, sending her to Dunbar to be there embarked in the Bride of Dunbar."

    "And the father?"

    "Oh, forsooth, the father! It cost her as little to dispose of him as of the mother. He was killed in some brawl with the Huguenots; so that the poor child is altogether an orphan, beholden to our care, for which she thanked me with tears in her eyes, that were more true than mayhap the poor woman could help."

    "Poor lady," said Susan. "Yet can it not be sooth indeed?"

    "Nay, dame, that may not be. The cipher is not one that would be used in simply sending a letter to the father."

    "Might not the occasion have been used for corresponding in secret with French friends?"

    "I tell thee, wife, if I read one word of that letter, I read that the child was her own, and confided to the Abbess of Soissons! I will read it to thee once more ere I yield it up, that is if I ever do. Wherefore cannot the woman speak truth to me? I would be true and faithful were I trusted, but to be thus put off with lies makes a man ready at once to ride off with the whole to the Queen in council."

    "Think, but think, dear sir," pleaded Susan, "how the poor lady is pressed, and how much she has to fear on all sides."

    "Ay, because lies have been meat and drink to her, till she cannot speak a soothfast word nor know an honest man when she sees him."

    "What would she have ?"

    "That Cis should remain with us as before, and still pass for our daughter, till such time as these negotiations are over, and she recover her kingdom. That is--so far as I see--like not to be till latter Lammas--but meantime what sayest thou, Susan? Ah! I knew, anything to keep the child with thee! Well, be it so--though if I had known the web we were to be wound into, I'd have sailed for the Indies with Humfrey long ago!"
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