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Grisly Grisell By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 16688

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

The Earl of Salisbury, called Prudence.

Contemporary Poem.

Little Grisell Dacre did not die, though day after day she lay in a suffering condition, tenderly watched over by the Countess Alice. Her mother had been summoned from attendance on the Queen, but at first there only was returned a message that if the maid was dead she should be embalmed and sent north to be buried in the family vault, when her father would be at all charges. Moreover, that the boy should be called to account for his crime, his father being, as the Lady of Whitburn caused to be written, an evil-minded minion and fosterer of the house of Somerset, the very bane of the King and the enemies of the noble Duke of York and Earl of Warwick.

The story will be clearer if it is understood that the Earl of Salisbury was Richard Nevil, one of the large family of Nevil of Raby Castle in Westmoreland, and had obtained his title by marriage with Alice Montagu, heiress of that earldom. His youngest sister had married Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, who being descended from Lionel, Duke of Clarence, was considered to have a better right to the throne than the house of Lancaster, though this had never been put forward since the earlier years of Henry V.

Salisbury had several sons. The eldest had married Anne Beauchamp, and was in her right Earl of Warwick, and had estates larger even than those of his father. He had not, however, as yet come forward, and the disputes at Court were running high between the friends of the Duke of Somerset and those of the Duke of York.

The King and Queen both were known to prefer the house of Somerset, who were the more nearly related to Henry, and the more inclined to uphold royalty, while York was considered as the champion of the people. The gentle King and the Beauforts wished for peace with France; the nation, and with them York, thought this was giving up honour, land, and plunder, and suspected the Queen, as a Frenchwoman, of truckling to the enemy. Jack Cade's rising and the murder of the Duke of Suffolk had been the outcome of this feeling. Indeed, Lord Salisbury's messenger reported the Country about London to be in so disturbed a state that it was no wonder that the Lady of Whitburn did not make the journey. She was not, as the Countess suspected, a very tender mother. Grisell's moans were far more frequently for her nurse than for her, but after some space they ceased. The child became capable of opening first one eye, then the other, and both barber and lady perceived that she was really unscathed in any vital part, and was on the way to recovery, though apparently with hopelessly injured features.

Leonard Copeland had already been released from restraint, and allowed to resume his usual place among the Earl's pages; when the warder announced that he saw two parties approaching from opposite sides of the down, one as if from Salisbury, the other from the north; and presently he reported that the former wore the family badge, a white rosette, the latter none at all, whence it was perceived that the latter were adherents of the Beauforts of Somerset, for though the "Rose of Snow" had been already adopted by York, Somerset had in point of fact not plucked the Red Rose in the Temple gardens, nor was it as yet the badge of Lancaster.

Presently it was further reported that the Lady of Whitburn was in the fore front of the party, and the Lord of Salisbury hastened to receive her at the gates, his suite being rapidly put into some order.

She was a tall, rugged-faced North Country dame, not very smooth of speech, and she returned his salute with somewhat rough courtesy, demanding as she sprang off her horse with little aid, "Lives my wench still?"

"Yes, madam, she lives, and the leech trusts that she will yet be healed."

"Ah! Methought you would have sent to me if aught further had befallen her. Be that as it may, no doubt you have given the malapert boy his deserts."

"I hope I have, madam," began the Earl. "I kept him in close ward while she was in peril of death, but-" A fresh bugle blast interrupted him, as there clattered through the resounding gate the other troop, at sight of whom the Lady of Whitburn drew herself up, redoubling her grim dignity, and turning it into indignation as a young page rushed forward to meet the newcomers, with a cry of "Father! Lord Father, come at last;" then composing himself, doffed his cap and held the stirrup, then bent a knee for his father's blessing.

"You told me, Lord Earl, the mischievous, murderous fellow was in safe hold," said the lady, bending her dark brows.

"While the maid was in peril," hastily answered Salisbury. "Pardon me, madam, my Countess will attend you."

The Countess's high rank and great power were impressive to the Baroness of Whitburn, who bent in salutation, but almost her first words were, "Madam, you at least will not let the murderous traitors of Somerset and the Queen prevail over the loyal friends of York and the nation."

"There is happily no murder in the case. Praise be to the saints," said Countess Alice, "your little maid-"

"Aye, that's what they said as to the poor good Duke Humfrey," returned the irate lady; "but that you, madam, the good-sister of the noble York, should stand up for the enemies of him, and the friends of France, is more than a plain North Country woman like me can understand. And there-there, turning round upon the steep steps, there is my Lord Earl hand and glove with that minion fellow of Somerset, who was no doubt at the bottom of the plot! None would believe it at Raby."

"None at Raby would believe that my lord could be lacking in courtesy to a guest," returned Lady Salisbury with dignity, "nor that a North Country dame could expect it of him. Those who are under his roof must respect it by fitting demeanour towards one another."

The Lady of Whitburn was quenched for the time, and the Countess asked whether she did not wish to see her daughter, leading the way to a chamber hung with tapestry, and with a great curtained bed nearly filling it up, for the patient had been installed in one of the best guest-chambers of the Castle. Lady Whitburn was surprised, but was too proud to show herself gratified by what she thought was the due of the dignity of the Dacres. An old woman in a hood sat by the bed, where there was a heap of clothes, and a dark-haired little girl stood by the window, whence she had been describing the arrivals in the Castle court.

"Here is your mother, my poor child," began the Lady of Salisbury, but there was no token of joy. Grisell gave a little gasp, and tried to say "Lady Mother, pardon-" but the Lady of Whitburn, at sight of the reddened half of the face which alone was as yet visible, gave a cry, "She will be a fright! You evil little baggage, thus to get yourself scarred and made hideous! Running where you ought not, I warrant!" and she put out her hand as if to shake the patient, but the Countess interposed, and her niece Margaret gave a little cry. "Grisell is still very weak and feeble! She cannot bear much; we have only just by Heaven's grace brought her round."

"As well she were dead as like this," cried this untender parent. "Who is to find her a husband now? and as to a nunnery, where is one to take her without a dower such as is hard to find, with two sons to be fitly provided? I looked that in a household like this, better rule should be kept."

"None can mourn it more than myself and the Earl," said the gentle Countess; "but young folks can scarce be watched hour by hour."

"The rod is all that is good for them, and I trusted to you to give it them, madam," said Lady Whitburn. "Now, the least that can be done is to force yonder malapert lad and his father into keeping his contract to her, since he has spoilt the market for any other."

"Is he contracted to her?" asked the Countess.

"Not fully; but as you know yourself, lady, your lord, and the King, and all the rest, thought to heal the breach between the houses by planning a contract between their son and my daughter. He shall keep it now, at his peril."

Grisell was cowering among her pillows, and no one knew how much she heard or understood. The Countess was glad to get Lady Whitburn out of the room, but both she and her Earl had a very trying

evening, in trying to keep the peace between the two parents. Sir William Copeland was devoted to the Somerset family, of whom he held his manor; and had had a furious quarrel with the Baron of Whitburn, when both were serving in France.

The gentle King had tried to bring about a reconciliation, and had induced the two fathers to consent to a contract for the future marriage of Leonard, Copeland's second son, to Grisell Dacre, then the only child of the Lord of Whitburn. He had also obtained that the two children should be bred up in the household of the Earl of Salisbury, by way of letting them grow up together. On the same principle the Lady of Whitburn had been made one of the attendants of Queen Margaret-but neither arrangement had been more successful than most of those of poor King Henry.

Grisell indeed considered Leonard as a sort of property of hers, but she beset him in the manner that boys are apt to resent from younger girls, and when he was thirteen, and she ten years old, there was very little affection on his side. Moreover, the birth of two brothers had rendered Grisell's hand a far less desirable prize in the eyes of the Copelands.

To attend on the Court was penance to the North Country dame, used to a hardy rough life in her sea-side tower, with absolute rule, and no hand over her save her husband's; while the young and outspoken Queen, bred up in the graceful, poetical Court of Aix or Nancy, looked on her as no better than a barbarian, and if she did not show this openly, reporters were not wanting to tell her that the Queen called her the great northern hag, or that her rugged unwilling curtsey was said to look as if she were stooping to draw water at a well. Her husband had kept her in some restraint, but when be had gone to Ireland with the Duke of York, offences seemed to multiply upon her. The last had been that when she had tripped on her train, dropped the salver wherewith she was serving the Queen, and broken out with a loud "Lawk a daisy!" all the ladies, and Margaret herself, had gone into fits of uncontrollable laughter, and the Queen had begged her to render her exclamation into good French for her benefit.

"Madam," she had exclaimed, "if a plain woman's plain English be not good enough for you, she can have no call here!" And without further ceremony she had flown out of the royal presence.

Margaret of Anjou, naturally offended, and never politic, had sent her a message, that her attendance was no longer required. So here she was going out of her way to make a casual inquiry, from the Court at Winchester, whether that very unimportant article, her only daughter, were dead or alive.

The Earl absolutely prohibited all conversation on affairs in debate during the supper which was spread in the hall, with quite as much state as, and even greater profusion and splendour, than was to be found at Windsor, Winchester, or Westminster. All the high born sat on the dais, raised on two steps with gorgeous tapestry behind, and a canopy overhead; the Earl and Countess on chairs in the centre of the long narrow table. Lady Whitburn sat beside the Earl, Sir William Copeland by the Countess, watching with pleasure how deftly his son ran about among the pages, carrying the trenchers of food, and the cups. He entered on a conversation with the Countess, telling her of the King's interest and delight in his beautiful freshly-founded Colleges at Eton and Cambridge, how the King rode down whenever he could to see the boys, listen to them at their tasks in the cloisters, watch them at their sports in the playing fields, and join in their devotions in the Chapel-a most holy example for them.

"Ay, for such as seek to be monks and shavelings," broke in the North Country voice sarcastically.

"There are others-sons of gentlemen and esquires-lodged in houses around," said Sir William, "who are not meant for cowl or for mass-priests."

"Yea, forsooth," called Lady Whitburn across the Earl and the Countess, "what for but to make them as feckless as the priests, unfit to handle lance or sword!"

"So, lady, you think that the same hand cannot wield pen and lance," said the Earl.

"I should like to see one of your clerks on a Border foray," laughed the Dame of Dacre. "'Tis all a device of the Frenchwoman!"

"Verily?" said the Earl, in an interrogative tone.

"Ay, to take away the strength and might of Englishmen with this clerkly lore, so that her folk may have the better of them in France; and the poor, witless King gives in to her. And so while the Beauforts rule the roast-"

Salisbury caught her up. "Ay, the roast. Will you partake of these roast partridges, madam?"

They were brought round skewered on a long spit, held by a page for the guest to help herself. Whether by her awkwardness or that of the boy, it so chanced that the bird made a sudden leap from the impalement, and deposited itself in the lap of Lady Whitburn's scarlet kirtle! The fact was proclaimed by her loud rude cry, "A murrain on thee, thou ne'er-do-weel lad," together with a sounding box on the ear.

"'Tis thine own greed, who dost not-"

"Leonard, be still-know thy manners," cried both at once the Earl and Sir William, for, unfortunately, the offender was no other than Leonard Copeland, and, contrary to all the laws of pagedom, he was too angry not to argue the point. "'Twas no doing of mine! She knew not how to cut the bird."

Answering again was a far greater fault than the first, and his father only treated it as his just desert when he was ordered off under the squire in charge to be soundly scourged, all the more sharply for his continuing to mutter, "It was her fault."

And sore and furrowed as was his back, he continued to exclaim, when his friend Edmund of York came to condole with him as usual in all his scrapes, "'Tis she that should have been scourged for clumsiness! A foul, uncouth Border dame! Well, one blessing at least is that now I shall never be wedded to her daughter-let the wench live or die as she lists!"

That was not by any means the opinion of the Lady of Whitburn, and no sooner was the meal ended than, in the midst of the hall, the debate began, the Lady declaring that in all honour Sir William Copeland was bound to affiance his son instantly to her poor daughter, all the more since the injuries he had inflicted to her face could never be done away with. On the other hand, Sir William Copeland was naturally far less likely to accept such a daughter-in-law, since her chances of being an heiress had ceased, and he contended that he had never absolutely accepted the contract, and that there had been no betrothal of the children.

The Earl of Salisbury could not but think that a strictly honourable man would have felt poor Grisell's disaster inflicted by his son's hands all the more reason for holding to the former understanding; but the loud clamours and rude language of Lady Whitburn were enough to set any one in opposition to her, and moreover, the words he said in favour of her side of the question appeared to Copeland merely spoken out of the general enmity of the Nevils to the Beauforts and all their following.

Thus, all the evening Lady Whitburn raged, and appealed to the Earl, whose support she thought cool and unfriendly, while Copeland stood sullen and silent, but determined.

"My lord," she said, "were you a true friend to York and Raby, you would deal with this scowling fellow as we should on the Border."

"We are not on the Border, madam," quietly said Salisbury.

"But you are in your own Castle, and can force him to keep faith. No contract, forsooth! I hate your mincing South Country forms of law." Then perhaps irritated by a little ironical smile which Salisbury could not suppress. "Is this your castle, or is it not? Then bring him and his lad to my poor wench's side, and see their troth plighted, or lay him by the heels in the lowest cell in your dungeon. Then will you do good service to the King and the Duke of York, whom you talk of loving in your shilly-shally fashion."

"Madam," said the Earl, his grave tones coming in contrast to the shrill notes of the angry woman, "I counsel you, in the south at least, to have some respect to these same forms of law. I bid you a fair good-night. The chamberlain will marshal you."

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