The Bewitched Whistle





A child's point of view is so different from that of a grown person,

that the discovery did not make half so much difference to Cis as her

adopted parents expected. In fact it was like a dream to her. She

found her daily life and her surroundings the same, and her chief

interest was--at least apparently--how soon she could escape from

psalter and seam, to play with little Ned, and look out for the elder

boys returning, or watch for the Scottish Queen taking her daily ride.

Once, prompted by Antony, Cis had made a beautiful nosegay of lilies

and held it up to the Queen when she rode in at the gate on her return

from Buxton. She had been rewarded by the sweetest of smiles, but

Captain Talbot had said it must never happen again, or he should be

accused of letting billets pass in posies. The whole place was

pervaded, in fact, by an atmosphere of suspicion, and the vigilance,

which might have been endurable for a few months, was wearing the

spirits and temper of all concerned, now that it had already lasted for

seven or eight years, and there seemed no end to it. Moreover, in

spite of all care, it every now and then became apparent that Queen

Mary had some communication with the outer world which no one could

trace, though the effects endangered the life of Queen Elizabeth, the

peace of the kingdom, and the existence of the English Church. The

blame always fell upon Lord Shrewsbury; and who could wonder that he

was becoming captiously suspicious, and soured in temper, so that even

such faithful kinsmen as Richard Talbot could sometimes hardly bear

with him, and became punctiliously anxious that there should not be the

smallest loophole for censure of the conduct of himself and his family?



The person on whom Master Goatley's visit had left the most impression

seemed to be Humfrey. On the one hand, his father's words had made him

enter into his situation of trust and loyalty, and perceive something

of the constant sacrifice of self to duty that it required, and, on the

other hand, he had assumed a position towards Cis of which he in some

degree felt the force. There was nothing in the opinions of the time

to render their semi-betrothal ridiculous. At the Manor house itself,

Gilbert Talbot and Mary Cavendish had been married when no older than

he was; half their contemporaries were already plighted, and the only

difference was that in the present harassing state of surveillance in

which every one lived, the parents thought that to avow the secret so

long kept might bring about inquiry and suspicion, and they therefore

wished it to be guarded till the marriage could be contracted. As Cis

developed, she had looks and tones which so curiously harmonised, now

with the Scotch, now with the French element in the royal captive's

suite, and which made Captain Richard believe that she must belong to

some of the families who seemed amphibious between the two courts; and

her identification as a Seaton, a Flemyng, a Beatoun, or as a member of

any of the families attached to the losing cause, would only involve

her in exile and disgrace. Besides, there was every reason to think

her an orphan, and a distant kinsman was scarcely likely to give her

such a home as she had at Bridgefield, where she had always been looked

on as a daughter, and was now regarded as doubly their own in right of

their son. So Humfrey was permitted to consider her as peculiarly his

own, and he exerted this right of property by a certain jealousy of

Antony Babington which amused his parents, and teased the young lady.

Nor was he wholly actuated by the jealousy of proprietorship, for he

knew the devotion with which Antony regarded Queen Mary, and did not

wholly trust him. His sense of honour and duty to his father's trust

was one thing, Antony's knight-errantry to the beautiful captive was

another; each boy thought himself strictly honourable, while they moved

in parallel lines and could not understand one another; yet, with the

reserve of childhood, all that passed between them was a secret, till

one afternoon when loud angry sounds and suppressed sobs attracted

Mistress Susan to the garden, where she found Cis crying bitterly, and

little Diccon staring eagerly, while a pitched battle was going on

between her eldest son and young Antony Babington, who were pommelling

each other too furiously to perceive her approach.



"Boys! boys! fie for shame," she cried, with a hand on the shoulder of

each, and they stood apart at her touch, though still fiercely looking

at one another.



"See what spectacles you have made of yourselves!" she continued. "Is

this your treatment of your guest, Humfrey? How is my Lord's page to

show himself at Chatsworth to-morrow with such an eye? What is it all

about?"



Both combatants eyed each other in sullen silence.



"Tell me, Cis. Tell me, Diccon. I will know, or you shall have the

rod as well as Humfrey."



Diccon, who was still in the era of timidity, instead of secretiveness,

spoke out. "He," indicating his brother, "wanted the packet."



"What packet?" exclaimed the mother, alarmed.



"The packet that he (another nod towards Antony) wanted Cis to give

that witch in case she came while he is at Chatsworth."



"It was the dog-whistle," said Cis. "It hath no sound in it, and

Antony would have me change it for him, because Huckster Tibbott may

not come within the gates. I did not want to do so; I fear Tibbott,

and when Humfrey found me crying he fell on Antony. So blame him not,

mother."



"If Humfrey is a jealous churl, and Cis a little fool, there's no help

for it," said Antony, disdainfully turning his back on his late

adversary.



"Then let me take charge of this whistle," returned the lady, moved by

the universal habit of caution, but Antony sprang hastily to intercept

her as she was taking from the little girl a small paper packet tied

round with coloured yarn, but he was not in time, and could only

exclaim, "Nay, nay, madam, I will not trouble you. It is nothing."



"Master Babington," said Susan firmly, "you know as well as I do that

no packet may pass out of the park unopened. If you wished to have the

whistle changed you should have brought it uncovered. I am sorry for

the discourtesy, and ask your pardon, but this parcel may not pass."



"Then," said Antony, with difficulty repressing something much more

passionate and disrespectful, "let me have it again."



"Nay, Master Babington, that would not suit with my duty."



The boy altogether lost his temper. "Duty! duty!" he cried. "I am

sick of the word. All it means is a mere feigned excuse for prying and

spying, and besetting the most beautiful and unhappy princess in the

world for her true faith and true right!"



"Master Antony Babington," said Susan gravely, "you had better take

care what you are about. If those words of yours had been spoken in my

Lord's hearing, they would bring you worse than the rod or bread and

water."



"What care I what I suffer for such a Queen?" exclaimed Antony.



"Suffering is a different matter from saying 'What care I,'" returned

the lady, "as I fear you will learn, Master Antony."



"O mother! sweet mother," said Cis, "you will not tell of him!"--but

mother shook her head.



"Prithee, dear mother," added Humfrey, seeing no relenting in her

countenance, "I did but mean to hinder Cis from being maltreated and a

go-between in this traffic with an old witch, not to bring Tony into

trouble."



"His face is a tell-tale, Humfrey," said Susan. "I meant ere now to

have put a piece of beef on it. Come in, Antony, and let me wash it."



"Thank you, madam, I need nothing here," said Antony, stalking proudly

off; while Humfrey, exclaiming "Don't be an ass, Tony!--Mother, no one

would care to ask what we had given one another black eyes for in a

friendly way," tried to hold him back, and he did linger when Cis added

her persuasions to him not to return the spectacle he was at present.



"If this lady will promise not to betray an unfortunate Queen," he

said, as if permission to deal with his bruises were a great reward.



"Oh! you foolish boy!" exclaimed Mistress Talbot, "you were never meant

for a plotter! you have yourself betrayed that you are her messenger."



"And I am not ashamed of it," said Antony, holding his head high.

"Madam, madam, if you have surprised this from me, you are the more

bound not to betray her. Think, lady, if you were shut up from your

children and friends, would you not seek to send tidings to them?"



"Child, child! Heaven knows I am not blaming the poor lady within

there. I am only thinking what is right."



"Well," said Antony, somewhat hopefully, "if that be all, give me back

the packet, or tear it up, if you will, and there can be no harm done."



"Oh, do so, sweet mother," entreated Cis, earnestly; "he will never bid

me go to Tibbott again."



"Ay," said Humfrey, "then no tales will be told."



For even he, with all his trustworthiness, or indeed because of it,

could not bear to bring a comrade to disgrace; but the dilemma was put

an end to by the sudden appearance on the scene of Captain Richard

himself, demanding the cause of the disturbance, and whether his sons

had been misbehaving to their guest.



"Dear sir, sweet father, do not ask," entreated Cis, springing to him,

and taking his hand, as she was privileged to do; "mother has come, and

it is all made up and over now."



Richard Talbot, however, had seen the packet which his wife was

holding, and her anxious, perplexed countenance, and the perilous

atmosphere of suspicion around him made it incumbent on him to turn to

her and say, "What means this, mother? Is it as Cis would have me

believe, a mere childish quarrel that I may pass over? or what is this

packet?"



"Master Babington saith it is a dog-whistle which he was leaving in

charge with Cis to exchange for another with Huckstress Tibbott," she

answered.



"Feel,--nay, open it, and see if it be not, sir," cried Antony.



"I doubt not that so it is," said the captain; "but you know, Master

Babington, that it is the duty of all here in charge to let no packet

pass the gate which has not been viewed by my lord's officers."



"Then, sir, I will take it back again," said Antony, with a vain

attempt at making his brow frank and clear.



Instead of answering. Captain Talbot took the knife from his girdle,

and cut in twain the yarn that bound the packet. There was no doubt

about the whistle being there, nor was there anything written on the

wrapper; but perhaps the anxiety in Antony's eye, or even the old

association with boatswains, incited Mr. Talbot to put the whistle to

his lips. Not a sound would come forth. He looked in, and saw what

led him to blow with all his force, when a white roll of paper

protruded, and on another blast fell out into his hand.



He held it up as he found it, and looked full at Antony, who exclaimed

in much agitation, "To keep out the dust. Only to keep out the dust.

It is all gibberish--from my old writing-books."



"That will we see," said Richard very gravely.



"Mistress, be pleased to give this young gentleman some water to wash

his face, and attend to his bruises, keeping him in the guest-chamber

without speech from any one until I return. Master Babington, I

counsel you to submit quietly. I wish, and my Lord will wish, to spare

his ward as much scandal as possible, and if this be what you say it

is, mere gibberish from your exercise-books, you will be quit for

chastisement for a forbidden act, which has brought you into suspicion.

If not, it must be as my Lord thinks good."



Antony made no entreaties. Perhaps he trusted that what was

unintelligible to himself might pass for gibberish with others; perhaps

the headache caused by Humfrey's fists was assisting to produce a state

of sullen indifference after his burst of eager chivalry; at any rate

he let Mistress Talbot lead him away without resistance. The other

children would have followed, but their father detained them to hear

the particulars of the commission and the capture. Richard desired to

know from his son whether he had any reason for suspecting underhand

measures; and when Humfrey looked down and hesitated, added, "On your

obedience, boy; this is no slight matter."



"You will not beat Cis, father?" said Humfrey.



"Wherefore should I beat her, save for doing errands that yonder lad

should have known better than to thrust on her?"



"Nay, sir, 'tis not for that; but my mother said she should be beaten

if ever she spake of the fortune yonder Tibbott told her, and we are

sure that she--Tibbott I mean--is a witch, and knows more than she

ought."



"What mean'st thou? Tell me, children;" and Cis, nothing loath, since

she was secured from the beating, related the augury which had left so

deep an impression on her, Humfrey bearing witness that it was before

they knew themselves of Cicely's history.



"But that is not all," added Cicely, seeing Mr. Talbot less impressed

than she expected by these supernatural powers of divination. "She can

change from a woman to a man!"



"In sooth!" exclaimed Richard, startled enough by this information.



"Yea, father," said Cicely, "Faithful Ekins, the carrier's boy, saw

her, in doublet and hose, and a tawny cloak, going along the road to

Chesterfield. He knew her by the halt in her left leg."



"Ha!" said Richard, "and how long hast thou known this?"



"Only yestermorn," said Cis; "it was that which made me so much afraid

to have any dealings with her."



"She shall trouble thee no more, my little wench," said Richard in a

tone that made Humfrey cry out joyously,



"O father! sweet father! wilt thou duck her for a witch? Sink or swim!

that will be rare!"



"Hush, hush! foolish lad," said Richard, "and thou, Cicely, take good

heed that not a word of all this gets abroad. Go to thy mother,

child,--nay, I am not wroth with thee, little one. Thou hast not done

amiss, but bear in mind that nought is ever taken out of the park

without knowledge of me or of thy mother."





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