Unknown to history a st.., p.6

Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland, page 6

 

Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland
 



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  CHAPTER VI.

  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 heradopted parents expected. In fact it was like a dream to her. Shefound her daily life and her surroundings the same, and her chiefinterest was--at least apparently--how soon she could escape frompsalter and seam, to play with little Ned, and look out for the elderboys returning, or watch for the Scottish Queen taking her daily ride.Once, prompted by Antony, Cis had made a beautiful nosegay of liliesand held it up to the Queen when she rode in at the gate on her returnfrom Buxton. She had been rewarded by the sweetest of smiles, butCaptain Talbot had said it must never happen again, or he should beaccused of letting billets pass in posies. The whole place waspervaded, in fact, by an atmosphere of suspicion, and the vigilance,which might have been endurable for a few months, was wearing thespirits and temper of all concerned, now that it had already lasted forseven or eight years, and there seemed no end to it. Moreover, inspite of all care, it every now and then became apparent that QueenMary had some communication with the outer world which no one couldtrace, though the effects endangered the life of Queen Elizabeth, thepeace of the kingdom, and the existence of the English Church. Theblame always fell upon Lord Shrewsbury; and who could wonder that hewas becoming captiously suspicious, and soured in temper, so that evensuch faithful kinsmen as Richard Talbot could sometimes hardly bearwith him, and became punctiliously anxious that there should not be thesmallest loophole for censure of the conduct of himself and his family?

  The person on whom Master Goatley's visit had left the most impressionseemed to be Humfrey. On the one hand, his father's words had made himenter into his situation of trust and loyalty, and perceive somethingof the constant sacrifice of self to duty that it required, and, on theother hand, he had assumed a position towards Cis of which he in somedegree felt the force. There was nothing in the opinions of the timeto render their semi-betrothal ridiculous. At the Manor house itself,Gilbert Talbot and Mary Cavendish had been married when no older thanhe was; half their contemporaries were already plighted, and the onlydifference was that in the present harassing state of surveillance inwhich every one lived, the parents thought that to avow the secret solong kept might bring about inquiry and suspicion, and they thereforewished it to be guarded till the marriage could be contracted. As Cisdeveloped, she had looks and tones which so curiously harmonised, nowwith the Scotch, now with the French element in the royal captive'ssuite, and which made Captain Richard believe that she must belong tosome of the families who seemed amphibious between the two courts; andher identification as a Seaton, a Flemyng, a Beatoun, or as a member ofany of the families attached to the losing cause, would only involveher in exile and disgrace. Besides, there was every reason to thinkher an orphan, and a distant kinsman was scarcely likely to give hersuch a home as she had at Bridgefield, where she had always been lookedon as a daughter, and was now regarded as doubly their own in right oftheir son. So Humfrey was permitted to consider her as peculiarly hisown, and he exerted this right of property by a certain jealousy ofAntony Babington which amused his parents, and teased the young lady.Nor was he wholly actuated by the jealousy of proprietorship, for heknew the devotion with which Antony regarded Queen Mary, and did notwholly trust him. His sense of honour and duty to his father's trustwas one thing, Antony's knight-errantry to the beautiful captive wasanother; each boy thought himself strictly honourable, while they movedin parallel lines and could not understand one another; yet, with thereserve of childhood, all that passed between them was a secret, tillone afternoon when loud angry sounds and suppressed sobs attractedMistress Susan to the garden, where she found Cis crying bitterly, andlittle Diccon staring eagerly, while a pitched battle was going onbetween her eldest son and young Antony Babington, who were pommellingeach other too furiously to perceive her approach.

  "Boys! boys! fie for shame," she cried, with a hand on the shoulder ofeach, and they stood apart at her touch, though still fiercely lookingat one another.

  "See what spectacles you have made of yourselves!" she continued. "Isthis your treatment of your guest, Humfrey? How is my Lord's page toshow himself at Chatsworth to-morrow with such an eye? What is it allabout?"

  Both combatants eyed each other in sullen silence.

  "Tell me, Cis. Tell me, Diccon. I will know, or you shall have therod 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 givethat witch in case she came while he is at Chatsworth."

  "It was the dog-whistle," said Cis. "It hath no sound in it, andAntony would have me change it for him, because Huckster Tibbott maynot 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 helpfor it," said Antony, disdainfully turning his back on his lateadversary.

  "Then let me take charge of this whistle," returned the lady, moved bythe universal habit of caution, but Antony sprang hastily to intercepther as she was taking from the little girl a small paper packet tiedround with coloured yarn, but he was not in time, and could onlyexclaim, "Nay, nay, madam, I will not trouble you. It is nothing."

  "Master Babington," said Susan firmly, "you know as well as I do thatno packet may pass out of the park unopened. If you wished to have thewhistle changed you should have brought it uncovered. I am sorry forthe discourtesy, and ask your pardon, but this parcel may not pass."

  "Then," said Antony, with difficulty repressing something much morepassionate 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 amsick of the word. All it means is a mere feigned excuse for prying andspying, and besetting the most beautiful and unhappy princess in theworld for her true faith and true right!"

  "Master Antony Babington," said Susan gravely, "you had better takecare what you are about. If those words of yours had been spoken in myLord's hearing, they would bring you worse than the rod or bread andwater."

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

  "Suffering is a different matter from saying 'What care I,'" returnedthe lady, "as I fear you will learn, Master Antony."

  "O mother! sweet mother," said Cis, "you will not tell of him!"--butmother shook her head.

  "Prithee, dear mother," added Humfrey, seeing no relenting in hercountenance, "I did but mean to hinder Cis from being maltreated and ago-between in this traffic with an old witch, not to bring Tony intotrouble."

  "His face is a tell-tale, Humfrey," said Susan. "I meant ere now tohave 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 proudlyoff; while Humfrey, exclaiming "Don't be an ass, Tony!--Mother, no onewould care to ask what we had given one another black eyes for in afriendly way," tried to hold him back, and he did linger when Cis addedher persuasions to him not to return the spectacle he was at present.

  "If this lady will promise not to betray an unfortunate Queen," hesaid, as if permission to deal with his bruises were a great reward.

  "Oh! you foolish boy!" exclaimed Mistress Talbot, "you were never meantfor 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 morebound not to betray her. Think, lady, if you were shut up from yourchildren and friends, would you not seek to send tidings to them?"

  "Child, child! Heaven knows I am not blaming the poor lady withinthere. I am only thi
nking what is right."

  "Well," said Antony, somewhat hopefully, "if that be all, give me backthe 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 bidme 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 putan end to by the sudden appearance on the scene of Captain Richardhimself, demanding the cause of the disturbance, and whether his sonshad 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, andit is all made up and over now."

  Richard Talbot, however, had seen the packet which his wife washolding, and her anxious, perplexed countenance, and the perilousatmosphere of suspicion around him made it incumbent on him to turn toher and say, "What means this, mother? Is it as Cis would have mebelieve, a mere childish quarrel that I may pass over? or what is thispacket?"

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

  "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, MasterBabington, that it is the duty of all here in charge to let no packetpass the gate which has not been viewed by my lord's officers."

  "Then, sir, I will take it back again," said Antony, with a vainattempt 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 doubtabout the whistle being there, nor was there anything written on thewrapper; but perhaps the anxiety in Antony's eye, or even the oldassociation with boatswains, incited Mr. Talbot to put the whistle tohis lips. Not a sound would come forth. He looked in, and saw whatled him to blow with all his force, when a white roll of paperprotruded, and on another blast fell out into his hand.

  He held it up as he found it, and looked full at Antony, who exclaimedin 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 washhis face, and attend to his bruises, keeping him in the guest-chamberwithout speech from any one until I return. Master Babington, Icounsel you to submit quietly. I wish, and my Lord will wish, to sparehis ward as much scandal as possible, and if this be what you say itis, mere gibberish from your exercise-books, you will be quit forchastisement 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 wasunintelligible to himself might pass for gibberish with others; perhapsthe headache caused by Humfrey's fists was assisting to produce a stateof sullen indifference after his burst of eager chivalry; at any ratehe let Mistress Talbot lead him away without resistance. The otherchildren would have followed, but their father detained them to hearthe particulars of the commission and the capture. Richard desired toknow from his son whether he had any reason for suspecting underhandmeasures; and when Humfrey looked down and hesitated, added, "On yourobedience, 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 ladshould have known better than to thrust on her?"

  "Nay, sir, 'tis not for that; but my mother said she should be beatenif ever she spake of the fortune yonder Tibbott told her, and we aresure that she--Tibbott I mean--is a witch, and knows more than sheought."

  "What mean'st thou? Tell me, children;" and Cis, nothing loath, sinceshe was secured from the beating, related the augury which had left sodeep an impression on her, Humfrey bearing witness that it was beforethey knew themselves of Cicely's history.

  "But that is not all," added Cicely, seeing Mr. Talbot less impressedthan she expected by these supernatural powers of divination. "She canchange 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, sawher, in doublet and hose, and a tawny cloak, going along the road toChesterfield. 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 afraidto have any dealings with her."

  "She shall trouble thee no more, my little wench," said Richard in atone 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 goodheed 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 doneamiss, but bear in mind that nought is ever taken out of the parkwithout knowledge of me or of thy mother."

 

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