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    Chapter 45

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    Chapter 46
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    TEN YEARS AFTER.

    It was ten years later in the reign of Elizabeth, when James VI. was under one of his many eclipses of favour, and when the united English and Dutch fleets had been performing gallant exploits at Cadiz and Tercera, that license for a few weeks' absence was requested for one of the lieutenants in her Majesty's guard, Master Richard Talbot.

    "And wherefore?" demanded the royal lady of Sir Walter Raleigh, the captain of her guard, who made the request.

    "To go to the Hague to look after his brother's widow and estate, so please your Majesty; more's the pity," said Raleigh.

    "His brother's widow?" repeated the Queen.

    "Yea, madam. For it may be feared that young Humfrey Talbot--I know not whether your Majesty ever saw him--but he was my brave brother Humfrey Gilbert's godson, and sailed with us to the West some sixteen years back. He was as gallant a sailor as ever trod a deck, and I never could see why he thought fit to take service with the States. But he did good work in the time of the Armada, and I saw him one of the foremost in the attack on Cadiz. Nay, he was one of those knighted by my Lord of Essex in the market-place. Then he sailed with my Lord of Cumberland for the Azores, now six months since, and hath not since been heard of, as his brother tells me, and therefore doth Talbot request this favour of your Majesty."

    "Send the young man to me," returned the Queen.

    Diccon, to give him his old name, was not quite so unsophisticated as when his father had first left him in London. Though a good deal shocked by what a new arrival from Holland had just told him of the hopelessness of ever seeing the Ark of Fortune and her captain again, he was not so overpowered with grief as to prevent him from being full of excitement and gratification at the honour of an interview with the Queen, and he arranged his rich scarlet and gold attire so as to set himself off to the best advantage, that so he might be pronounced "a proper man."

    Queen Elizabeth was now some years over sixty, and her nose and chin began to meet, but otherwise she was as well preserved as ever, and quite as alert and dignified. To his increased surprise, she was alone, and as she was becoming a little deaf, she made him kneel very near her chair.

    "So, Master Talbot," she said, "you are the son of Richard Talbot of Bridgefield."

    "An it so please your Majesty."

    "And you request license from us to go to the Hague?"

    "An it so please your Majesty," repeated Diccon, wondering what was coming next; and as she paused for him to continue--"There are grave rumours and great fears for my brother's ship--he being in the Dutch service--and I would fain learn the truth and see what may be done for his wife."

    "Who is his wife?" demanded the Queen, fixing her keen glittering eyes on him, but he replied with readiness.

    "She was an orphan brought up by my father and mother."

    "Young man, speak plainly. No tampering serves here. She is the wench who came hither to plead for the Queen of Scots."

    "Yea, madam," said Diccon, seeing that direct answers were required.

    "Tell me truly," continued the Queen. "On your duty to your Queen, is she what she called herself?"

    "To the best of my belief she is, madam," he answered.

    "Look you, sir, Cavendish brought back word that it was all an ingenious figment which had deceived your father, mother, and the maid herself--and no wonder, since the Queen of Scots persisted therein to the last."

    "Yea, madam, but my mother still keeps absolute proofs in the garments and the letter that were found on the child when recovered from the wreck. I had never known that she was not my sister till her journey to London; and when next I went to the north my mother told me the whole truth."

    "I pray, then, how suits it with the boasted loyalty of your house that this brother of yours should have wedded the maid?"

    "Madam; it was not prudent, but he had never a thought save for her throughout his life. Her mother committed her to him, and holding the matter a deep and dead secret, he thought to do your Majesty no wrong by the marriage. If he erred, be merciful, madam."

    "Pah! foolish youth, to whom should I be merciful since the man is dead? No doubt he hath left half a score of children to be puffed up with the wind of their royal extraction."

    "Not one, madam. When last I heard they were still childless."

    "And now you are on your way to take on you the cheering of your sister-in-law, the widow," said the Queen, and as Diccon made a gesture of assent, she stretched out her hand and drew him nearer. "She is then alone in the world. She is my kinswoman, if so be she is all she calls herself. Now, Master Talbot, go not open-mouthed about your work, but tell this lady that if she can prove her kindred to me, and bring evidence of her birth at Lochleven, I will welcome her here, treat her as my cousin the Princess of Scotland, and, it may be, put her on her way to higher preferment, so she prove herself worthy thereof. You take me, sir?"

    Diccon did take in the situation. He had understood how Cavendish, partly blinded by Langston, partly unwilling to believe in any competitor who would be nearer the throne than his niece Arabella Stewart, and partly disconcerted by Langston's disappearance, had made such a report to the Queen and the French Ambassador, that they had thought that the whole matter was an imposture, and had been so ashamed of their acquiescence as to obliterate all record of it. But the Queen's mind had since recurred to the matter, and as in these later years of her reign one of her constant desires was to hinder James from making too sure of the succession, she was evidently willing to play his sister off against him.

    Nay, in the general uncertainty, dreams came over Diccon of possible royal honours to Queen Bridget; and then what glories would be reflected on the house of Talbot! His father and mother were too old, no doubt, to bask in the sunshine of the Court, and Ned--pity that he was a clergyman, and had done so dull a thing as marry that little pupil of his mother's, Laetitia, as he had rendered her Puritan name. But he might be made a bishop, and his mother's scholar would always become any station. And for Diccon himself-- assuredly the Mastiff race would rejoice in a new coronet!

    Seven weeks later, Diccon was back again, and was once more summoned to the Queen's apartment. He looked crestfallen, and she began,--

    "Well, sir? Have you brought the lady?"

    "Not so, an't please your Majesty."

    "And wherefore? Fears she to come, or has she sent no message nor letter?"

    "She sends her deep and humble thanks, madam, for the honour your Majesty intended her, but she--"

    "How now? Is she too great a fool to accept of it?"

    "Yea, madam. She prays your Grace to leave her in her obscurity at the Hague."

    Elizabeth made a sound of utter amazement and incredulity, and then said, "This is new madness! Come, young man, tell me all! This is as good and new as ever was play. Let me hear. What like is she? And what is her house to be preferred to mine?"

    Diccon saw his cue, and began--

    "Her house, madam, is one of those tall Dutch mansions with high roof, and many small windows therein, with a stoop or broad flight of steps below, on the banks of a broad and pleasant canal, shaded with fine elm-trees. There I found her on the stoop, in the shade, with two or three children round her; for she is a mother to all the English orphans there, and they are but too many. They bring them to her as a matter of course when their parents die, and she keeps them till their kindred in England claim them. Madam, her queenliness of port hath gained on her. Had she come, she would not have shamed your Majesty; and it seems that, none knowing her true birth, she is yet well-nigh a princess among the many wives of officers and merchants who dwell at the Hague, and doubly so among the men, to whom she and her husband have never failed to do a kindness. Well, madam, I weary you. She greeted me as the tender sister she has ever been, but she would not brook to hear of fears or compassion for my brother. She would listen to no word of doubt that he was safe, but kept the whole household in perfect readiness for him to come. At last I spake your Majesty's gracious message; and, madam, pardon me, but all I got was a sound rating, that I should think any hope of royal splendour or preferment should draw her from waiting for Humfrey. Ay, she knew he would come! And if not, she would never be more than his faithful widow. Had he not given up all for her? Should she fail in patience because his ship tarried awhile? No; he should find her ready in his home that he had made for her."

    "Why, this is as good as the Globe Theatre!" cried the Queen, but with a tear glittering in her eye.

    "Your Majesty would have said so truly," said Diccon; "for as I sat at evening, striving hard to make her give over these fantastic notions and consult her true interest, behold she gave a cry--"Tis his foot!" Yea, and verily there was Humfrey, brown as a berry, having been so far with his mate as to the very mouth of the River Plate. He had, indeed, lost his Ark of Fortune, but he has come home with a carrack that quadruples her burthen, and with a thousand bars of silver in her hold. And then, madam, the joy, the kisses, the embraces, and even more--the look of perfect content, and peace, and trust, were enough to make a bachelor long for a wife."

    "Long to be a fool!" broke out the Queen sharply. "Look you, lad: there may be such couples as this Humfrey and--what call you her?-- here and there."

    "My father and mother are such."

    "Yea, saucy cockerel as you are; but for one such, there are a hundred others who fret the yoke, and long to be free! Ay, and this brother of thine, what hath he got with this wife of his but banishment and dread of his own land?"

    "Even so, madam; but they still count all they either could have had or hoped for, nought in comparison with their love to one another."

    "After ten years! Ha! They are no subjects for this real world of ours; are they not rather swains in my poor Philip Sidney's Arcadia? Ho, no; 'twere pity to meddle with them. Leave them to their Dutch household and their carracks. Let them keep their own secret; I'll meddle in the matter no more."

    And so, though after Elizabeth's death and James's accession, Sir Humfrey and Lady Talbot gladdened the eyes of the loving and venerable pair at Bridgefield, the Princess Bride of Scotland still remained in happy obscurity, "Unknown to History."

    THE END.

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