The Blast Of The Whistle
Richard Talbot was of course convinced that witchcraft was not likely
to be the most serious part of the misdeeds of Tibbott the huckstress.
Committing Antony Babington to the custody of his wife, he sped on his
way back to the Manor-house, where Lord Shrewsbury was at present
residing, the Countess being gone to view her buildings at Chatsworth,
taking her daughter Bessie with her. He sent in a message desiring to
ak to my lord in his privy chamber.
Francis Talbot came to him. "Is it matter of great moment, Dick?" he
said, "for my father is so fretted and chafed, I would fain not vex him
further to-night.--What! know you not? Here are tidings that my lady
hath married Bess--yes, Bess Cavendish, in secret to my young Lord
Lennox, the brother of this Queen's unlucky husband! How he is to
clear himself before her Grace of being concerned in it, I know not,
for though Heaven wots that he is as innocent as the child unborn, she
will suspect him!"
"I knew she flew high for Mistress Bess," returned Richard.
"High! nothing would serve her save royal blood! My poor father says
as sure as the lions and fleur-de-lis have come into a family, the
headsman's axe has come after them."
"However it is not our family."
"So I tell him, but it gives him small comfort," said Frank, "looking
as he doth on the Cavendish brood as his own, and knowing that there
will be a mighty coil at once with my lady and these two queens. He is
sore vexed to-night, and saith that never was Earl, not to say man, so
baited by woman as he, and he bade me see whether yours be a matter of
such moment that it may not wait till morning or be despatched by me."
"That is for you to say, Master Francis. What think you of this for a
toy?" as he produced the parcel with the whistle and its contents. "I
went home betimes to-day, as you know, and found my boy Humfrey had
just made young Master Babington taste of his fists for trying to make
our little wench pass this packet to yonder huckster-woman who was
succoured some months back by the Queen of Scots."
Francis Talbot silently took the whistle and unrolled the long narrow
strip of paper. "This is the cipher," said he, "the cipher used in
corresponding with her French kin; Phillipps the decipherer showed me
the trick of it when he was at Tutbury in the time of the Duke of
Norfolk's business. Soh! your son hath done good service, Richard.
That lad hath been tampered with then, I thought he was over thick with
the lady in the lodge. Where is he, the young traitor?"
"At Bridgefield, under my wife's ward, having his bruises attended to.
I would not bring him up here till I knew what my Lord would have done
with him. He is but a child, and no doubt was wrought with by sweet
looks, and I trust my Lord will not be hard with him."
"If my father had hearkened to me, he should never have been here,"
said Francis. "His father was an honest man, but his mother was, I
find, a secret recusant, and when she died, young Antony was quite old
enough to have sucked in the poison. You did well to keep him,
Richard; he ought not to return hither again, either in ward or at
"If he were mine, I would send him to school," said Richard, "where the
masters and the lads would soon drive out of him all dreams about
captive princesses and seminary priests to boot. For, Cousin Francis,
I would have you to know that my children say there is a rumour that
this woman Tibbott the huckstress hath been seen in a doublet and hose
"The villain! When is she looked for here again?"
"Anon, I should suppose, judging by the boy leaving this charge with
Cis in case she should come while he is gone to Chatsworth."
"We will take order as to that," said Francis, compressing his lips; "I
know you will take heed, cousin, that she, or he, gets no breath of
warning. I should not wonder if it were Parsons himself!" and he
unfolded the scroll with the air of a man seeking to confirm his
"Can you make anything of it?" asked Richard, struck by its resemblance
to another scroll laid up among his wife's treasures.
"I cannot tell, they are not matters to be read in an hour," said
Francis Talbot, "moreover, there is one in use for the English
traitors, her friends, and another for the French. This looks like the
French sort. Let me see, they are read by taking the third letter in
each second word." Francis Talbot, somewhat proud of his proficiency,
and perfectly certain of the trustworthiness of his cousin Richard,
went on puzzling out the ciphered letters, making Richard set each
letter down as he picked it out, and trying whether they would make
sense in French or English. Both understood French, having learned it
in their page days, and kept it up by intercourse with the French
suite. Francis, however, had to try two or three methods, which, being
a young man, perhaps he was pleased to display, and at last he hit upon
the right, which interpreted the apparent gibberish of the
scroll--excepting that the names of persons were concealed under
soubriquets which Francis Talbot could not always understand--but the
following sentence by and by became clear:--"Quand le matelot vient des
marais, un feu peut eclater dans la meute et dans la melee"--"When the
sailor lands from the fens, a fire might easily break out in the
dog-kennel, and in the confusion" (name could not be read) "could carry
off the tercel gentle."
"La meute," said Francis, "that is their term for the home of us
Talbots, and the sailor in the fens is this Don John of Austria, who
means, after conquering the Dutchmen, to come and set free this tercel
gentle, as she calls herself, and play the inquisitor upon us. On my
honour, Dick, your boy has played the man in making this discovery.
Keep the young traitor fast, and take down a couple of yeomen to lay
hands on this same Tibbott as she calls herself."
"If I remember right," said Richard, "she was said to be the sister or
aunt to one of the grooms or prickers."
"So it was, Guy Norman, methinks. Belike he was the very fellow to set
fire to our kennel. Yea, we must secure him. I'll see to that, and
you shall lay this scroll before my father meantime, Dick. Why, to
fall on such a trail will restore his spirits, and win back her Grace
to believe in his honesty, if my lady's tricks should have made her
Off went Francis with great alacrity, and ere long the Earl was present
with Richard. The long light beard was now tinged with gray, and there
were deep lines round the mouth and temples, betraying how the long
anxiety was telling on him, and rendering him suspicious and querulous.
"Soh! Richard Talbot," was his salutation, "what's the coil now? Can
a man never be left in peace in his own house, between queens and
ladies, plots and follies, but his own kinsfolk and retainers must come
to him on every petty broil among the lads! I should have thought your
boy and young Babington might fight out their quarrels alone without
vexing a man that is near driven distracted as it is."
"I grieve to vex your lordship," said Richard, standing bareheaded,
"but Master Francis thought this scroll worthy of your attention. This
is the manner in which he deciphered it."
"Scrolls, I am sick of scrolls," said the Earl testily. "What! is it
some order for saying mass,--or to get some new Popish image or a skein
of silk? I wear my eyes out reading such as that, and racking my
brains for some hidden meaning!"
And falling on Francis's first attempt at copying, he was scornful of
the whole, and had nearly thrown the matter aside, but when he lit at
last on the sentence about burning the meute and carrying off the
tercel gentle, his brow grew dark indeed, and his inquiries came
thickly one upon the other, both as to Antony Babington and the
In the midst, Frank Talbot returned with the tidings that the pricker
Guy Norman was nowhere to be found. He had last been seen by his
comrades about the time that Captain Richard had returned to the
Manor-house. Probably he had taken alarm on seeing him come back at
that unusual hour, and had gone to carry the warning to his supposed
aunt. This last intelligence made the Earl decide on going down at
once to Bridgefield to examine young Babington before there was time to
miss his presence at the lodge, or to hold any communication with him.
Frank caused horses to be brought round, and the Earl rode down with
Richard by a shaded alley in an ordinary cloak and hat.
My Lord's appearance at Bridgefield was a rarer and more awful event
than was my Lady's, and if Mistress Susan had been warned beforehand,
there is no saying how at the head of her men and maids she would have
scrubbed and polished the floors, and brushed the hangings and
cushions. What then were her feelings when the rider, who dismounted
from his little hackney as unpretendingly as did her husband in the
twilight court, proved to have my Lord's long beard and narrow face!
Curtseying her lowest and with a feeling of consternation and pity, as
she thought of the orphan boy, she accepted his greeting with duteous
welcome as he said, "Kinswoman, I am come to cumber you, whilst I
inquire into this matter. I give your son thanks for the honesty and
faithfulness he hath shown in the matter, as befitted his father's son.
I should wish myself to examine the springald."
Humfrey was accordingly called, and, privately admonished by his father
that he must not allow any scruples about bringing his playmate into
trouble to lead him to withhold his evidence, or shrink from telling
the whole truth as he knew it, Humfrey accordingly stood before the
Earl and made his replies a little sullenly but quite
straightforwardly. He had prevented the whistle from being given to
his sister for the huckstress because the woman was a witch, who
frightened her, and moreover he knew it was against rules. Did he
suspect that the whistle came from the Queen of Scots?
He looked startled, and asked if it were so indeed, and when again
commanded to say why he had thought it possible, he replied that he
knew Antony thought the Queen of Scots a fair and gracious lady.
Did he believe that Antony ever had communication with her or her
people unheard by others?
"Assuredly! Wherefore not, when he carried my Lady Countess's
Lord Shrewsbury bent his brow, but did not further pursue this branch
of the subject, but demanded of Humfrey a description of Tibbott,
huckster or witch, man or woman.
"She wears a big black hood and muffler," said Humfrey, "and hath a
long hooked stick."
"I asked thee not of her muffler, boy, but of her person."
"She hath pouncet boxes and hawks' bells, and dog-whistles in her
basket," proceeded Humfrey, but as the Earl waxed impatient, and
demanded whether no one could give him a clearer account, Richard bade
Humfrey call his mother.
She, however, could say nothing as to the woman's appearance. She had
gone to Norman's cottage to offer her services after the supposed
accident, but had been told that the potticary of the Queen of Scots
had undertaken her cure, and had only seen her huddled up in a heap of
rags, asleep. Since her recovery the woman had been several times at
Bridgefield, but it had struck the mistress of the house that there was
a certain avoidance of direct communication with her, and a preference
for the servants and children. This Susan had ascribed to fear that
she should be warned off for her fortune-telling propensities, or the
children's little bargains interfered with. All she could answer for
was that she had once seen a huge pair of grizzled eyebrows, with light
eyes under them, and that the woman, if woman she were, was tall, and
bent a good deal upon a hooked stick, which supported her limping
steps. Cicely could say little more, except that the witch had a deep
awesome voice, like a man, and a long nose terrible to look at.
Indeed, there seemed to have been a sort of awful fascination about her
to all the children, who feared her yet ran after her.
Antony was then sent for. It was not easy to judge of the expression
of his disfigured countenance, but when thus brought to bay he threw
off all tokens of compunction, and stood boldly before the Earl.
"So, Master Babington, I find you have been betraying the trust I
placed in you--"
"What, trust, my Lord?" said Antony, his bright blue eyes looking back
into those of the nobleman.
"The cockerel crows loud," said the Earl. "What trust, quotha! Is
there no trust implied in the coming and going of one of my household,
when such a charge is committed to me and mine?"
"No one ever gave me any charge," said Antony.
"Dost thou bandy words, thou froward imp?" said the Earl. "Thou hast
not the conscience to deny that there was no honesty in smuggling forth
a letter thus hidden. Deny it not. The treasonable cipher hath been
"I knew nought of what was in it," said the boy.
"I believe thee there, but thou didst know that it was foully disloyal
to me and to her Majesty to bear forth secret letters to disguised
traitors. I am willing to believe that the smooth tongue which hath
deluded many a better man than thou hath led thee astray, and I am
willing to deal as lightly with thee as may be, so thou wilt tell me
openly all thou knowest of this infamous plot."
"I know of no plot, sir."
"They would scarce commit the knowledge to the like of him," said
"May be not," said Lord Shrewsbury, looking at him with a glance that
Antony thought contemptuous, and which prompted him to exclaim, "And if
I did know of one, you may be assured I would never betray it were I
torn with wild horses."
"Betray, sayest thou!" returned the Earl. "Thou hast betrayed my
confidence, Antony, and hast gone as far as in thee lies to betray thy
"My Queen is Mary, the lawful Queen of us all," replied Antony, boldly.
"Ho! Sayest thou so? It is then as thou didst trow, cousin, the
foolish lad hath been tampered with by the honeyed tongue. I need not
ask thee from whom thou hadst this letter, boy. We have read it and
know the foul treason therein. Thou wilt never return to the castle
again, but for thy father's sake thou shalt be dealt with less sternly,
if thou wilt tell who this woman is, and how many of these toys thou
hast given to her, if thou knowest who she is."
But Antony closed his lips resolutely. In fact, Richard suspected him
of being somewhat flattered by being the cause of such a commotion, and
actually accused of so grand and manly a crime as high treason. The
Earl could extract no word, and finally sentenced him to remain at
Bridgefield, shut up in his own chamber till he could be dealt with.
The lad walked away in a dignified manner, and the Earl, holding up his
hands, half amused, half vexed, said, "So the spell is on that poor lad
likewise. What shall I do with him? An orphan boy too, and mine old
"With your favour, my Lord," said Richard, "I should say, send him to a
grammar school, where among lads of his own age, the dreams about
captive princesses might be driven from him by hard blows and merry
"That may scarce serve," said the Earl rather severely, for public
schools were then held beneath the dignity of both the nobility and
higher gentry. "I may, however, send him to study at Cambridge under
some trusty pedagogue. Back at the castle I cannot have him, so must I
cumber you with him, my good kinswoman, until his face have recovered
your son's lusty chastisement. Also it may be well to keep him here
till we can lay hands on this same huckster-woman, since there may be
need to confront him with her. It were best if you did scour the
country toward Chesterfield for her, while Frank went to York."
Having thus issued his orders, the Earl took a gracious leave of the
lady, mounted his horse, and rode back to Sheffield, dispensing with
the attendance of his kinsman, who had indeed to prepare for an early
start the next morning, when he meant to take Humfrey with him, as not
unlikely to recognise the woman, though he could not describe her.
"The boy merits well to go forth with me," said he. "He hath done
yeoman's service, and proved himself staunch and faithful."
"Was there matter in that scroll?" asked Susan.
"Only such slight matter as burning down the Talbots' kennel, while Don
John of Austria is landing on the coast."
"God forgive them, and defend us!" sighed Susan, turning pale. "Was
that in the cipher?"
"Ay, in sooth, but fear not, good wife. Much is purposed that ne'er
comes to pass. I doubt me if the ship be built that is to carry the
"I trust that Antony knew not of the wickedness?"
"Not he. His is only a dream out of the romances the lads love so
well, of beauteous princesses to be freed, and the like."
"But the woman!"
"Yea, that lies deeper. What didst thou say of her? Wherefore do the
children call her a witch? Is it only that she is grim and ugly?"
"I trow there is more cause than that," said Susan. "It may be that I
should have taken more heed to their babble at first; but I have
questioned Cis while you were at the lodge, and I find that even before
Mate Goatley spake here, this Tibbott had told the child of her being
of lofty race in the north, alien to the Talbots' kennel, holding out
to her presages of some princely destiny."
"That bodeth ill!" said Richard, thoughtfully. "Wife, my soul misgives
me that the hand of Cuthbert Langston is in this."
Susan started. The idea chimed in with Tibbott's avoidance of her
scrutiny, and also with a certain vague sense she had had of having
seen those eyes before. So light-complexioned a man would be easily
disguised, and the halt was accounted for by a report that he had had a
bad fall when riding to join in the Rising in the North. Nor could
there now be any doubt that he was an ardent partisan of the imprisoned
Mary, while Richard had always known his inclination to intrigue. She
could only agree with her husband's opinion, and ask what he would do.
"My duty must be done, kin or no kin," said Richard, "that is if I find
him; but I look not to do that, since Norman is no doubt off to warn
"I marvel whether he hath really learnt who our Cis can be?"
"Belike not! The hint would only have been thrown out to gain power
"Said you that you read the cipher?"
"Master Frank did so."
"Would it serve you to read our scroll?"
"Ah, woman! woman! Why can thy kind never let well alone? I have
sufficient on my hands without reading of scrolls!"
Humfrey's delight was extreme when he found that he was to ride forth
with his father, and half-a-dozen of the earl's yeomen, in search of
the supposed witch. They traced her as far as Chesterfield; but having
met the carrier's waggon on the way, they carefully examined Faithful
Ekins on his report, but all the youth was clear about was the halt and
the orange tawny cloak, and after entering Chesterfield, no one knew
anything of these tokens. There was a large village belonging to a
family of recusants, not far off, where the pursuers generally did lose
sight of suspicious persons; and, perhaps, Richard was relieved, though
his son was greatly chagrined.
The good captain had a sufficient regard for his kinsman to be
unwilling to have to unmask him as a traitor, and to be glad that he
should have effected an escape, so that, at least, it should be others
who should detect him--if Langston indeed it were.
His next charge was to escort young Babington to Cambridge, and deliver
him up to a tutor of his lordship's selection, who might draw the
Popish fancies out of him.
Meantime, Antony had been kept close to the house and garden, and not
allowed any intercourse with any of the young people, save Humfrey,
except when the master or mistress of the house was present; but he did
not want for occupation, for Master Sniggius came down, and gave him a
long chapter of the Book of Proverbs--chiefly upon loyalty, in the
Septuagint, to learn by heart, and translate into Latin and English as
his Saturday's and Sunday's occupation, under pain of a flogging, which
was no light thing from the hands of that redoubted dominie.
Young Babington was half-flattered and half-frightened at the commotion
he had excited. "Am I going to the Tower?" he asked, in a low voice,
awestricken, yet not without a certain ring of self-importance, when he
saw his mails brought down, and was bidden to put on his boots and his
And Captain Talbot had a cruel satisfaction in replying, "No, Master
Babington; the Tower is not for refractory boys. You are going to your
But where the school was to be Richard kept an absolute secret by
special desire, in order that no communication should be kept up
through any of the household. He was to avoid Chatsworth, and to
return as soon as possible to endeavour to trace the supposed
huckster-woman at Chesterfield.
When once away from home, he ceased to treat young Babington as a
criminal, but rode in a friendly manner with him through lanes and over
moors, till the young fellow began to thaw towards him, and even went
so far as to volunteer one day that he would not have brought Mistress
Cicely into the matter if there had been any other sure way of getting
the letter delivered in his absence.
"Ah, boy!" returned Richard, "when once we swerve from the open and
direct paths, there is no saying into what tangles we may bring
ourselves and others."
Antony winced a little, and said, "Whoever says I lied, lies in his
"No one hath said thou wert false in word, but how as to thy deed?"
"Sir," said Antony, "surely when a high emprise and great right is to
be done, there is no need to halt over such petty quibbles."
"Master Babington, no great right was ever done through a little wrong.
Depend on it, if you cannot aid without a breach of trust, it is the
sure sign that it is not the will of God that you should be the one to
Captain Talbot mused whether he should convince or only weary the lad
by an argument he had once heard in a sermon, that the force of Satan's
temptation to our blessed Lord, when showing Him all the kingdoms of
the world, must have been the absolute and immediate vanishing of all
kinds of evil, by a voluntary abdication on the part of the Prince of
this world, instead not only of the coming anguish of the strife, but
of the long, long, often losing, battle which has been waging ever
since. Yet for this great achievement He would not commit the moment's
sin. He was just about to begin when Antony broke in, "Then, sir, you
do deem it a great wrong?"
"That I leave to wiser heads than mine," returned the sailor. "My duty
is to obey my Lord, his duty is to obey her Grace. That is all a plain
man needs to see."
"But an if the true Queen be thus mewed up, sir?" asked Antony. Richard
was too wise a man to threaten the suggestion down as rank treason,
well knowing that thus he should never root it out.
"Look you here, Antony," he said; "who ought to reign is a question of
birth, such as neither of us can understand nor judge. But we know
thus much, that her Grace, Queen Elizabeth, hath been crowned and
anointed and received oaths of fealty as her due, and that is quite
enough for any honest man."
"Even when she keeps in durance the Queen, who came as her guest in
"Nay, Master Antony, you are not old enough to remember that the
durance began not until the Queen of Scots tried to form a party for
herself among the English liegemen. And didst thou know, thou simple
lad, what the letter bore, which thou didst carry, and what it would
bring on this peaceful land?"
Antony looked a little startled when he heard of the burning of the
kennel, but he averred that Don John was a gallant prince.
"I have seen more than one gallant Spaniard under whose power I should
grieve to see any friend of mine."
All the rest of the way Richard Talbot entertained the young gentleman
with stories of his own voyages and adventures, into which he managed
to bring traits of Spanish cruelty and barbarity as shown in the Low
Countries, such as, without actually drawing the moral every time,
might show what was to be expected if Mary of Scotland and Don John of
Austria were to reign over England, armed with the Inquisition.
Antony asked a good many questions, and when he found that the captain
had actually been an eye-witness of the state of a country harried by
the Spaniards, he seemed a good deal struck.
"I think if I had the training of him I could make a loyal Englishman
of him yet," said Richard Talbot to his wife on his return. "But I
fear me there is that in his heart and his conscience which will only
grow, while yonder sour-faced doctor, with whom I had to leave him at
Cambridge, preaches to him of the perdition of Pope and Papists."
"If his mother were indeed a concealed Papist," said Susan, "such
sermons will only revolt the poor child."
"Yea, truly. If my Lord wanted to make a plotter and a Papist of the
boy he could scarce find a better means. I myself never could away
with yonder lady's blandishments. But when he thinks of her in
contrast to yonder divine, it would take a stronger head than his not
to be led away. The best chance for him is that the stir of the world
about him may put captive princesses out of his head."