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

near Chesterfield."

"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

huckstering woman.

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

Richard Talbot.

"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

friend's son."

"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

Don hither."

"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

over her."

"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

travelling dress.

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

do it."

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

dire distress?"

"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."