Blind Man’s B(l)uff

Way back in the mists of time. When I had a career and an audience. I wrote a novel.

The below was one of the early scenes. A set-up scene.

The pay-off came much later.

I LOVED writing these 3 characters. OK. I loved every single character because writers write out the many parts of themselves.

I WAS Wat (he was just 19 in this scene) and I WAS taught by many George Villiers.

The lesson here is BELIEVE IN YOURSELF even when playing blindman’s b(l)uff.

P.S. My sources told me that in the 17th c the runners wore bells to confuse IT!


Blind man’s buff is played in a spacious area, such as outdoors or in a large room, in which one player, designated as “It”, is blindfolded and gropes around attempting to touch the other players without being able to see them, while the other players scatter and try to avoid the person who is “it”, hiding in plain sight and sometimes teasing them to influence them to change direction.[1]

When the “it” player catches someone, the caught player becomes “it” and the catcher flees from them.


May 1622 – Whitehall Palace, London. 

George Villiers, Marquis of Buckingham, had decided, for reasons known only to himself, to hold a jingling match in his rooms at the palace of Whitehall. And it was Wat Montagu’s task to set out the arena. 

‘We need more rope,’ said Buckingham, yawning in his chair. ‘If the enclosure’s too small then it’ll be over before it’s begun. Come on, Walter of my heart. More enthusiasm is demanded. Shake a leg.’ 

Wat threw down a handful of silk pennants onto pale marquetry wood and came to stand over his patron, fists on hips. 

‘Jesus wept.’ It came out as an undignified squawk. ‘A goose and a greasy pole would’ve been easier. Shall I move the walls too?’ 

Buckingham wafted. ‘No, leave the walls for now. But a greasy goose, yes. I’m liking that idea.’

‘The pole is covered in grease,’ said Wat flatly. ‘Not the goose. And you only like the idea because you know how much I hate those damned birds. Vicious, horrible, treacherous things.’

‘We need more rope,’ repeated Buckingham. He pointed upwards, towards the far wall. ‘Time passes on swift moving wings. And mighty Rome was once saved by a flock of geese. Damned, vicious things.’ 

Wat scooped up the slippery pile of small flags and, stomping back the way he had come, he threw them at an occupied carpenter. After a whole morning of it, hours… long, teeth-clenching hours of it, he finally let loose and cursed in English, French, then, whole-heartedly and with great relish, in German.  

‘I can hear you, Walter,’ Buckingham called.  

It was another punishment. Weeks after returning from Paris, Wat was still being punished. But he was learning. His report from those early April days had contained every word listened to and every sight seen. He had even included that meeting with Robert at the cabaret, the beef marrow pasty, the fight, and how uncomfortable his room had been. The weather, how many post-horses, the state of the roads. Every penny, sou and pistole spent was meticulously receipted and accounted for. The strange, secret package had been nursed all the way home and delivered intact.

And what did this unbearable cock-alley do? This man who liked to act as if he had been born in the middle of the week and was forever looking both ways for Sunday? After five full minutes of lawn shirt, double silk doublet busting laughter, Buckingham – sponsor, patron and self-proclaimed saviour of Walter Montagu, second son of Viscount Mandeville – had torn the report into tiny pieces and showered it all over Wat’s head. 

‘And now this is all he thinks I’m good for,’ said Wat under his breath. 

One day. One day soon he would be free of every part of it. 

 ‘Bells.’  The word echoed around the room.  ‘Walter,’ shouted Buckingham, on his feet now, hands flapping. ‘Forget the rope. Tinkle, tinkle. Where are my bloody bells?’ 

One day soon. Wat let his arms droop uselessly as he re-crossed the room. 

‘Your bells are behind you. In that lumpy bag,’ he said. Then, catching a colourful movement at the corner of his eye. ‘Oh, bloody no. Not him. Not now.’ 

He obviously was not learning quickly enough. His mouth still sometimes spoke regrettable thoughts. A useless spy. It was too much to hope that this patron from hell could miss the slip. 

‘Henry Rich. Welcome and warm welcome to my most favourite person in the whole world.’ Buckingham glowed. ‘Look, Walter, it’s our best friend, Henry.’ 

‘We need more rope,’ said Wat. 

Buckingham grabbed hold of Wat’s arm and held him still. ‘You,’ he called, pointing across the floor. ‘Yes, you over there with the hammer. Fetch another coil or two.’ 

Henry Rich was smiling all over his facile, gorgeous face. He carried his expertly tailored, high mode clothes and eye-busting jewels with practiced grace. Ambergris came into Wat’s nostrils, all the way down to his stomach. Sickening. Wherever he goes, he looks who looks. Buckingham slapped Henry’s back. 

‘I’m thinking of putting the bells on Walter first.’ He was bright, iridescent. Slightly baleful. ‘Do you think he’s quick and clever enough, Henry, to escape blindfolded fools?’ 

Wat suffered Rich’s long up and down glance in wooden silence and stiffened. Yes. Oh my God. Yes. He understood now. Another test. The shredded report, the insults, the humiliations. All of it.  Even the unspoken expectation that Wat Montagu wanted to resign his post. Put bells on me, master, and laugh.  Jaw unclenched, stomach righted, Wat raised his head to look Buckingham straight in those part night, part day eyes.  His reward came in a short, knowing nod.  

At last. Walter of my heart. Now, stop doubting yourself. 

‘I want to put bells on Lucy Hay too,’ said Buckingham to Henry.

A sniff and a nod came. ‘Your enclosure is a bit small,’ Henry said, frowning. ‘I know that most people give twenty minutes per game but have you ever considered a half hour, George?’

‘Brilliant.’ Buckingham jumped up and twirled. ‘One belled quarry, eight blind hunters. No, no. Six hunters. And fewer bells. Henry Rich, you’ve saved my night’s entertainment. The King will love it. Sweet, dear Jamie has been very down these past few days and I’ve despaired finding ways to make him happy again.’ 

Wat closed his eyes for a very short but profitable moment on Henry’s high scorn. When he opened them again, it was to see Buckingham rooting and jangling behind his chair. They were silver bells with a high and perfect pitch.  A hand emerged. 

‘Tinkle, tinkle,’ said George Villiers, Marquis of Buckingham, straightening. ‘I’d string them on you too, Henry darling, but you’re much too pretty. Ah, I have it. How about Gondomar and his fistula? Reesk yer life an’ darrrre to die.’ 

Henry smiled, showing perfect teeth. ‘Your Spanish accent, George,’ he said, ‘needs working on.’ 

‘So does Gondomar,’ Buckingham said, somewhat soberly. He poked Wat’s chest. ‘When the illustrious Ambassador of Spain and sweet Jamie stop playing the two Diegos and drinking from the same bottle, you and I shall lure the Lord Count Serpent Gondomar into my library with the promise of fino and obscure Latin texts.’ 

‘Is that with or without his bells, Sir?’ asked Wat Montagu.

BROOKES, GRETA (2014-01-28T22:58:59). Weave a Garland of my Vows: The Life & Times of Marie de Rohan . Unknown. Kindle Edition. 

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