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.”