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
, 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
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,
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Master Babington saith it is a dog-whistle which he was leaving in
charge with Cis to exchange for another with Huckstress Tibbott," she
"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
"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."