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 remained in 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 with them.”
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, followed closely.
“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.