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Master Skylark by John Bennett

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A Story of Shakspere's Time






























There was an unwonted buzzing in the east end of Stratford on that next
to the last day of April, 1596. It was as if some one had thrust a stick
into a hive of bees and they had come whirling out to see.

The low stone guard-wall of old Clopton bridge, built a hundred years
before by rich Sir Hugh, sometime Mayor of London, was lined with
straddling boys, like strawberries upon a spear of grass, and along the
low causeway from the west across the lowland to the town, brown-faced,
barefoot youngsters sat beside the roadway with their chubby legs
a-dangle down the mossy stones, staring away into the south across the
grassy levels of the valley of the Stour.

Punts were poling slowly up the Avon to the bridge; and at the outlets
of the town, where the streets came down to the waterside among the
weeds, little knots of men and serving-maids stood looking into the
south and listening. Some had waited for an hour, some for two; yet
still there was no sound but the piping of the birds in white-thorn
hedges, the hollow lowing of kine knee-deep in grassy meadows, and the
long rush of the river through the sedge beside the pebbly shore; and
naught to see but quiet valleys, primrose lanes, and Warwick orchards
white with bloom, stretching away to the misty hills.

But still they stood and looked and listened.

The wind came stealing up out of the south, soft and warm and sweet and
still, moving the ripples upon the river with gray gusts; and, scudding
free before the wind, a dog came trotting up the road with wet pink
tongue and sidelong gait. At the throat of Clopton bridge he stopped and
scanned the way with dubious eye, then clapped his tail between his legs
and bolted for the town. The laughing shout that followed him into the
Warwick road seemed not to die away, but to linger in the air like the
drowsy hum of bees--a hum that came and went at intervals upon the
shifting wind, and grew by littles, taking body till it came unbroken as
a long, low, distance-muffled murmur from the south, so faint as
scarcely to be heard.

Nick Attwood pricked his keen young ears. "They're coming, Robin--hark
'e to the trampling!"

Robin Getley held his breath and turned his ear toward the south. The
far-off murmur was a mutter now, defined and positive, and, as the two
friends listened, grew into a drumming roll, and all at once above it
came a shrill, high sound like the buzzing of a gnat close by the ear.

Little Tom Davenant dropped from the finger-post, and came running up
from the fork of the Banbury road, his feet making little white puffs in
the dust as he flew. "They are coming! they are coming!" he shrieked
as he ran.

Then up to his feet sprang Robin Getley, upon the saddle-backed
coping-stones, his hand upon Nick Attwood's head to steady himself, and
looked away where the rippling Stour ran like a thread of silver beside
the dust-buff London road, and the little church of Atherstone stood
blue against the rolling Cotswold Hills.

"They are coming! they are coming!" shrilled little Tom, and scrambled
up the coping like a squirrel up a rail.

A stir ran out along the guard-wall, some crying out, some starting up.
"Sit down! sit down!" cried others, peering askance at the water
gurgling green down below. "Sit down, or we shall all be off!"

Robin held his hand above his eyes. A cloud of dust was rising from the
London road and drifting off across the fields like smoke when the old
ricks burn in damp weather--a long, broad-sheeted mist; and in it were
bits of moving gold, shreds of bright colors vaguely seen, and silvery
gleams like the glitter of polished metal in the sun. And as he looked
the shifty wind came down out of the west again and whirled the cloud of
dust away, and there he saw a long line of men upon horses coming at an
easy canter up the highway. Just as he had made this out the line came
rattling to a stop, the distant drumming of hoofs was still, and as the
long file knotted itself into a rosette of ruddy color amid the April
green, a clear, shrill trumpet blew and blew again.

"They are coming!" shouted Robin, "they are coming!" and, turning, waved
his cap.

A shout went up along the bridge. Those down below came clambering up,
the punts came poling with a rush of foam, and a ripple ran along the
edge of Stratford town like the wind through a field of wheat. Windows
creaked and doors swung wide, and the workmen stopped in the
garden-plots to lean upon their mattocks and to look.

"They are coming!" bellowed Rafe Hickathrift, the butcher's boy,
standing far out in the street, with his red hands to his mouth for a
trumpet, "they are coming!" and at that the doors of Bridge street grew
alive with eager eyes.

At early dawn the Oxford carrier had brought the news that the players
of the Lord High Admiral were coming up to Stratford out of London from
the south, to play on May-day there; and this was what had set the town
to buzzing like a swarm. For there were in England then but three great
companies, the High Chamberlain's, the Earl of Pembroke's men, and the
stage-players of my Lord Charles Howard, High Admiral of the Realm; and
the day on which they came into a Midland market-town to play was one to
mark with red and gold upon the calendar of the uneventful year.

Away by the old mill-bridge there were fishermen angling for dace and
perch; but when the shout came down from the London road they dropped
their poles and ran, through the willows and over the gravel, splashing
and thrashing among the rushes and sandy shallows, not to be last when
the players came. And old John Carter coming down the Warwick road with
a load of hay, laid on the lash until piebald Dobbin snorted in dismay
and broke into a lumbering run to reach the old stone bridge in time.

The distant horsemen now were coming on again, riding in double file.
They had flung their banners to the breeze, and on the changing wind,
with the thumping of horses' hoofs, came by snatches the sound of a
kettledrummer drawing his drumhead tight, and beating as he drew, and
the muffled blasts of a trumpeter proving his lips.

Fynes Morrison and Walter Stirley, who had gone to Cowslip lane to meet
the march, were running on ahead, and shouting as they ran: "There's
forty men, and sumpter-mules! and, oh, the bravest banners and
attire--and the trumpets are a cloth-yard long! Make room for us, make
room for us, and let us up!"

A bowshot off, the trumpets blew a blast so high, so clear, so keen,
that it seemed a flame of fire in the air, and as the brassy fanfare
died away across the roofs of the quiet town, the kettledrums clanged,
the cymbals clashed, and all the company began to sing the famous old
song of the hunt:

"The hunt is up, the hunt is up,
Sing merrily we, the hunt is up!
The wild birds sing,
The dun deer fling,
The forest aisles with music ring!
Tantara, tantara, tantara!

"Then ride along, ride along,
Stout and strong!
Farewell to grief and care;
With a rollicking cheer
For the high dun deer
And a life in the open air!
Tantara, the hunt is up, lads;
Tantara, the bugles bray!
Tantara, tantara, tantara,
Hio, hark away!"

The first of the riders had reached old Clopton bridge, and the banners
strained upon their staves in the freshening river-wind. The trumpeters
and the drummers led, their horses prancing, white plumes waving in the
breeze, and the April sunlight dancing on the brazen horns and the
silver bellies of the kettledrums.

Then came the banners of the company, curling down with a silky swish,
and unfurling again with a snap, like a broad-lashed whip. The greatest
one was rosy red, and on it was a gallant ship upon a flowing sea,
bearing upon its mainsail the arms of my Lord Charles Howard, High
Admiral of England. Upon its mate was a giant-bearded man with a fish's
tail, holding a trident in his hand and blowing upon a shell, the Triton
of the seas which England ruled; this flag was bright sea-blue. The
third was white, and on it was a red wild rose with a golden heart, the
common standard of the company.


After the flags came twoscore men, the players of the Admiral, the
tiring-men, grooms, horse-boys, and serving-knaves, well mounted on good
horses, and all of them clad in scarlet tabards blazoned with the
coat-armor of their master. Upon their caps they wore the famous badge
of the Howards, a rampant silver demi-lion; and beneath their tabards at
the side could be seen their jerkins of many-colored silk, their
silver-buckled belts, and long, thin Spanish rapiers, slapping their
horses on the flanks at every stride. Their legs were cased in
high-topped riding-boots of tawny cordovan, with gilt spurs, and the
housings of their saddles were of blue with the gilt anchors of the
admiralty upon them. On their bridles were jingling bits of steel, which
made a constant tinkling, like a thousand little bells very far away.

Some had faces smooth as boys and were quite young; and others wore
sharp-pointed beards with stiff-waxed mustaches, and were older men,
with a tinge of iron in their hair and lines of iron in their faces,
hardened by the life they led; and some, again, were smooth-shaven, so
often and so closely that their faces were blue with the beard beneath
the skin. But, oh, to Nicholas Attwood and the rest of Stratford boys,
they were a dashing, rakish, admirable lot, with the air of something
even greater than lords, and a keen knowingness in their sparkling,
worldly eyes that made a common wise man seem almost a fool beside them!

And so they came riding up out of the south:

"Then ride along, ride along,
Stout and strong!
Farewell to grief and care;
With a rollicking cheer
For the high dun deer
And a life in the open air!"

"Hurrah! hurrah! God save the Queen!"

A dropping shout went up the street like an arrow-flight scattering over
the throng; and the players, waving their scarlet caps until the long
line tossed like a poppy-garden in a summer rain, gave a cheer that
fairly set the crockery to dancing upon the shelves of the stalls in
Middle Bow.

"Hurrah!" shouted Nicholas Attwood, his blue eyes shining with delight.
"Hurrah, hurrah, for the Admiral's men!" And high in the air he threw
his cap, as a wild cheer broke from the eddying crowd, and the arches of
the long gray bridge rang hollow with the tread of hoofs. Whiff, came
the wind; down dropped the hat upon the very saddle-peak of one tall
fellow riding along among the rest. Catching it quickly as it fell, he
laughed and tossed it back; and when Nick caught it whirling in the air,
a shilling jingled from it to the ground.

Then up Fore Bridge street they all trooped after into Stratford town.

"Oh," cried Robin, "it is brave, brave!"

"Brave?" cried Nick. "It makes my very heart jump. And see, Robin, 'tis
a shilling, a real silver shilling--oh, what fellows they all be! Hurrah
for the Lord High Admiral's men!"



Nick Attwood's father came home that night bitterly wroth.

The burgesses of the town council had ordered him to build a chimney
upon his house, or pay ten shillings fine; and shillings were none too
plenty with Simon Attwood, the tanner of Old Town.

"Soul and body o' man!" said he, "they talk as if they owned the world,
and a man could na live upon it save by their leave. I must build my
fire in a pipe, or pay ten shillings fine? Things ha' come to a pretty
pass--a pretty pass, indeed!" He kicked the rushes that were strewn upon
the floor, and ground the clay with his heel. "This litter will ha' to
be all took out. Atkins will be here at six i' the morning to do the
job, and a lovely mess he will make o' the house!"

"Do na fret thee, Simon," said Mistress Attwood, gently. "The rushes
need a changing, and I ha' pined this long while to lay the floor wi'
new clay from Shottery common. 'Tis the sweetest earth! Nick shall take
the hangings down, and right things up when the chimley 's done."

So at cockcrow next morning Nick slipped out of his straw bed, into his
clothes, and down the winding stair, while his parents were still asleep
in the loft, and, sousing his head in the bucket at the well, began his
work before the old town clock in the chapel tower had yet struck four.

The rushes had not been changed since Easter, and were full of dust and
grease from the cooking and the table. Even the fresher sprigs of mint
among them smelled stale and old. When they were all in the barrow, Nick
sighed with relief and wiped his hands upon the dripping grass.

It had rained in the night,--a soft, warm rain,--and the air was full of
the smell of the apple-bloom and pear from the little orchard behind the
house. The bees were already humming about the straw-bound hives along
the garden wall, and a misguided green woodpecker clung upside down to
the eaves, and thumped at the beams of the house.

It was very still there in the gray of the dawn. He could hear the rush
of the water through the sedge in the mill-race, and then, all at once,
the roll of the wheel, the low rumble of the mill-gear, and the cool
whisper of the wind in the willows.

When he went back into the house again the painted cloths upon the wall
seemed dingier than ever compared with the clean, bright world outside.
The sky-blue coat of the Prodigal Son was brown with the winter's smoke;
the Red Sea towered above Pharaoh's ill-starred host like an inky
mountain; and the homely maxims on the next breadth--"Do no Wrong,"
"Beware of Sloth," "Overcome Pride," and "Keep an Eye on the
Pence"--could scarcely be read.

Nick jumped up on the three-legged stool and began to take them down.
The nails were crooked and jammed in the wall, and the last came out
with an unexpected jerk. Losing his balance, Nick caught at the
table-board which leaned against the wall; but the stool capsized, and
he came down on the floor with such a flap of tapestry that the ashes
flew out all over the room.

He sat up dazed, and rubbed his elbows, then looked around and began to

He could hear heavy footsteps overhead. A door opened, and his father's
voice called sternly from the head of the stair: "What madcap folly art
thou up to now?"

"I be up to no folly at all," said Nick, "but down, sir. I fell from the
stool. There is no harm done."

"Then be about thy business," said Attwood, coming slowly down the

He was a gaunt man, smelling of leather and untanned hides. His short
iron-gray hair grew low down upon his forehead, and his hooked nose,
grim wide mouth, and heavy under jaw gave him a look at once forbidding
and severe. His doublet of serge and his fustian hose were stained with
liquor from the vats, and his eyes were heavy with sleep.

The smile faded from Nick's face. "Shall I throw the rushes into the
street, sir?" "Nay; take them to the muck-hill. The burgesses ha' made
a great to-do about folk throwing trash into the highways. Soul and body
o' man!" he growled, "a man must ask if he may breathe. And good hides
going a-begging, too!"

Nick hurried away, for he dreaded his father's sullen moods.

The swine were squealing in their styes, the cattle bawled about the
straw-thatched barns in Chapel lane, and long files of gabbling ducks
waddled hurriedly down to the river through the primroses under the
hedge. He could hear the milkmaids calling in the meadows; and when he
trundled slowly home the smoke was creeping up in pale-blue threads from
the draught-holes in the wall.

The tanner's house stood a little back from the thoroughfare, in that
part of Stratford-on-Avon where the south end of Church street turns
from Bull lane toward the river. It was roughly built of timber and
plaster, the black beams showing through the yellow lime in curious
squares and triangles. The roof was of red tiles, and where the
spreading elms leaned over it the peaked gable was green with moss.

At the side of the house was a garden of lettuce; beyond the garden a
rough wall on which the grass was growing. Sometimes wild primroses grew
on top of this wall, and once a yellow daffodil. Beyond the wall were
other gardens owned by thrifty neighbors, and open lands in common to
them all, where foot-paths wandered here and there in a free,
haphazard way.

Behind the house was a well and a wood-pile, and along the lane ran a
whitewashed paling fence with a little gate, from which the path went up
to the door through rows of bright, old-fashioned flowers.

Nick's mother was getting the breakfast. She was a gentle woman with a
sweet, kind face, and a little air of quiet dignity that made her doubly
dear to Nick by contrast with his father's unkempt ways. He used to
think that, in her worsted gown, with its falling collar of Antwerp
linen, and a soft, silken coif upon her fading hair, she was the most
beautiful woman in all the world.

She put one arm about his shoulders, brushed back his curly hair, and
kissed him on the forehead.

"Thou art mine own good little son," said she, tenderly, "and I will
bake thee a cake in the new chimley on the morrow for thy

Then she helped him fetch the trestles from the buttery, set the board,
spread the cloth, and lay the wooden platters, pewter cups, and old horn
spoons in place. Breakfast being ready, she then called his father from
the yard. Nick waited deftly upon them both, so that they were soon done
with the simple meal of rye-bread, lettuce, cheese, and milk.

As he carried away the empty platters and brought water and a towel for
them to wash their hands, he said quietly, although his eyes were bright
and eager, "The Lord High Admiral's company is to act a stage-play at
the guildhall to-morrow before Master Davenant the Mayor and the town

Simon Attwood said nothing, but his brows drew down.

"They came yestreen from London town by Oxford way to play in Stratford
and at Coventry, and are at the Swan Inn with Master Geoffrey
Inchbold--oh, ever so many of them, in scarlet jerkins, and cloth of
gold, and doublets of silk laced up like any lord! It is a very good
company, they say."

Mistress Attwood looked quickly at her husband. "What will they play?"
she asked.

"I can na say surely, mother--'Tamburlane,' perhaps, or 'The Troublesome
Reign of Old King John.' The play will be free, father--may I go, sir?"

"And lose thy time from school?"

"There is no school to-morrow, sir."

"Then have ye naught to do, that ye waste the day in idle folly?" asked
the tanner, sternly.

"I will do my work beforehand, sir," replied Nick, quietly, though his
hand trembled a little as he brushed up the crumbs.

"It is May-day, Simon," interceded Mistress Attwood, "and a bit of
pleasure will na harm the lad."

"Pleasure?" said the tanner, sharply. "If he does na find pleasure
enough in his work, his book, and his home, he shall na seek it of low
rogues and strolling scape-graces."

"But, Simon," said Mistress Attwood, "'tis the Lord Admiral's own
company--surely they are not all graceless! And," she continued with
very quiet dignity, "since mine own cousin Anne Hathaway married Will
Shakspere the play-actor, 'tis scarcely kind to call all players
rogues and low."

"No more o' this, Margaret," cried Attwood, flushing angrily. "Thou art
ever too ready with the boy's part against me. He shall na go--I'll find
a thing or two for him to do among the vats that will take this taste
for idleness out of his mouth. He shall na go: so that be all there is
on it." Rising abruptly, he left the room.

Nick clenched his hands.

"Nicholas," said his mother, softly.

"Yes, mother," said he; "I know. But he should na flout thee so! And,
mother, the Queen goes to the play--father himself saw her at Coventry
ten years ago. Is what the Queen does idle folly?"

His mother took him by the hand and drew him to her side, with a smile
that was half a sigh. "Art thou the Queen?"

"Nay," said he; "and it's all the better for England, like enough. But
surely, mother, it can na be wrong--"

"To honour thy father?" said she, quickly, laying her finger across his
lips. "Nay, lad; it is thy bounden duty."

Nick turned and looked up at her wonderingly. "Mother," said he, "art
thou an angel come down out of heaven?"

"Nay," she answered, patting his flushed cheek; "I be only the every-day
mother of a fierce little son who hath many a hard, hard lesson to
learn. Now eat thy breakfast--thou hast been up a long while."

Nick kissed her impetuously and sat down, but his heart still rankled
within him.

All Stratford would go to the play. He could hear the murmur of voices
and music, the bursts of laughter and applause, the tramp of happy feet
going up the guildhall stairs to the Mayor's show. Everybody went in
free at the Mayor's show. The other boys could stand on stools and see
it all. They could hold horses at the gate of the inn at the September
fair, and so see all the farces. They could see the famous Norwich
puppet-play. But he--what pleasure did he ever have? A tawdry pageant by
a lot of clumsy country bumpkins at Whitsuntide or Pentecost, or a silly
school-boy masque at Christmas, with the master scolding like a heathen
Turk. It was not fair.

And now he'd have to work all May-day. May-day out of all the year! Why,
there was to be a May-pole and a morris-dance, and a roasted calf, too,
in Master Wainwright's field, since Margery was chosen Queen of the May.
And Peter Finch was to be Robin Hood, and Nan Rogers Maid Marian, and
wear a kirtle of Kendal green--and, oh, but the May-pole would be brave;
high as the ridge of the guildschool roof, and hung with ribbons like a
rainbow! Geoffrey Hall was to lead the dance, too, and the other boys
and girls would all be there. And where would he be? Sousing hides in
the tannery vats. Truly his father was a hard man!

He pushed the cheese away.



Little John Summer had a new horn-book that cost a silver penny. The
handle was carven and the horn was clear as honey. The other little boys
stood round about in speechless envy, or murmured their A B C's and "ba
be bi's" along the chapel steps. The lower-form boys were playing
leap-frog past the almshouse, and Geoffrey Gosse and the vicar's son
were in the public gravel-pit, throwing stones at the robins in the
Great House elms across the lane.

Some few dull fellows sat upon the steps behind the school-house,
anxiously poring over their books. But the larger boys of the Fable
Class stood in an excited group beneath the shadow of the overhanging
second story of the grammar-school, talking all at once, each louder
than the other, until the noise was deafening.

"Oh, Nick, such goings on!" called Robin Getley, whose father was a
burgess, as Nick Attwood came slowly up the street, saying his sentences
for the day over and over to himself in hopeless desperation, having had
no time to learn them at home. "Stratford Council has had a quarrel,
and there's to be no stage-play after all."

"What?" cried Nick, in amazement. "No stage-play? And why not?"

"Why," said Robin, "it was just this way--my father told me of it. Sir
Thomas Lucy, High Sheriff of Worcester, y' know, rode in from Charlcote
yesternoon, and with him Sir Edward Greville of Milcote. So the
burgesses made a feast for them at the Swan Inn. Sir Thomas fetched a
fine, fat buck, and the town stood good for ninepence wine and twopence
bread, and broached a keg of sturgeon. And when they were all met
together there, eating, and drinking, and making merry--what? Why, in
came my Lord Admiral's players from London town, ruffling it like high
dukes, and not caring two pops for Sir Thomas, or Sir Edward, or for
Stratford burgesses all in a heap; but sat them down at the table
straightway, and called for ale, as if they owned the place; and not
being served as soon as they desired, they laid hands upon Sir Thomas's
server as he came in from the buttery with his tray full, and took both
meat and drink."

"What?" cried Nick.

"As sure as shooting, they did!" said Robin; "and when Sir Thomas's
gentry yeomen would have seen to it--what? Why, my Lord Admiral's
master-player clapped his hand to his poniard-hilt, and dared them come
and take it if they could."

"To Sir Thomas Lucy's men?" exclaimed Nick, aghast.

"Ay, to their teeth! Sir Edward sprang up then, and said it was a shame
for players to behave so outrageously in Will Shakspere's own home town.
And at that Sir Thomas, who, y' know, has always misliked Will, flared
up like a bull at a red rag, and swore that all stage-players be
runagate rogues, anyway, and Will Shakspere neither more nor less than a
deer-stealing scape-gallows."

"Surely he did na say that in Stratford Council?" protested Nick.

"Ay, but he did--that very thing," said Robin; "and when that was out,
the master-player sprang upon the table, overturning half the ale, and
cried out that Will Shakspere was his very own true friend, and the
sweetest fellow in all England, and that whosoever gainsaid it was a
hemp-cracking rascal, and that he would prove it upon his back with a
quarter-staff whenever and wherever he chose, be he Sir Thomas Lucy, St.
George and the Dragon, Guy of Warwick, and the great dun cow, all rolled
up in one!"

"Robin Getley, is this the very truth, or art thou cozening me?"

"Upon my word, it is the truth," said Robin. "And that's not all. Sir
Edward cried out 'Fie!' upon the player for a saucy varlet; but the
fellow only laughed, and bowed quite low, and said that he took no
offense from Sir Edward for saying that, since it could not honestly be
denied, but that Sir Thomas did not know the truth from a truckle-bed in
broad daylight, and was but the remnant of a gentleman to boot."

"The bold-faced rogue!"

"Ay, that he is," nodded Robin; "and for his boldness Sir Thomas
straightway demanded that the High Bailiff refuse the company license to
play in Stratford."

"Refuse the Lord High Admiral's players?"

"Marry, no one else. And then Master John Shakspere, wroth at what Sir
Thomas had said of his son Will, vowed that he would send a letter down
to London town, and lay the whole coil before the Lord High Admiral
himself. For ever since that he was High Bailiff, the best companies of
England had always been bidden to play in Stratford, and it would be an
ill thing now to refuse the Lord Admiral's company after granting
licenses to both my Lord Pembroke's and the High Chamberlain's."

"And so it would," spoke up Walter Roche; "for there are our own
townsmen, Richard and Cuthbert Burbage, who are cousins of mine, and
John Hemynge and Thomas Greene, besides Will Shakspere and his brother
Edmund, all playing in the Lord Chamberlain's company in London before
the Queen. It would be a black score against them all with the Lord
Admiral--I doubt not he would pay them out."

"That he would," said Robin, "and so said my father and Alderman Henry
Walker, who, y' know, is Will Shakspere's own friend. And some of the
burgesses who cared not a rap for that were afeard of offending the Lord
Admiral. But Sir Thomas vowed that my Lord Howard was at Cadiz with
Walter Raleigh and the young Earl of Sussex, and would by no means hear
of it. So Master Bailiff Stubbes, who, 'tis said, doth owe Sir Thomas
forty pound, and is therefore under his thumb, forthwith refused the
company license to play in Stratford guildhall, inn-yard, or common. And
at that the master-player threw his glove into Master Stubbes's face,
and called Sir Thomas a stupid old bell-wether, and Stratford burgesses
silly sheep for following wherever he chose to jump."

"And so they be," sneered Hal Saddler.

"How?" cried Robin, hotly. "My father is a burgess. Dost thou call him a
sheep, Hal Saddler?"

"Nay, nay," stammered Hal, hastily; "'twas not thy father I meant."

"Then hold thy tongue with both hands," said Robin, sharply, "or it will
crack thy pate for thee some of these fine days."

"But come, Robin," asked Nick, eagerly, "what became of the quarrel?"

"Well, when the master-player threw his glove into Master Stubbes's
face, the Chief Constable seized him for contempt of Stratford Council,
and held him for trial. At that some cried 'Shame!' and some 'Hurrah!'
but the rest of the players fled out of town in the night, lest their
baggage be taken by the law and they be fined."

"Whither did they go?" asked Nick, both sorry and glad to hear that they
were gone.

"To Coventry, and left the master-player behind in gaol."

"Why, they dare na use him so--the Lord Admiral's own man!"

"Ay, that they don't! Why, hark 'e, Nick! This morning, since Sir
Thomas has gone home, and the burgesses' heads have all cooled down from
the sack and the clary they were in last night, la! but they are in a
pretty stew, my father says, for fear that they have given offense to
the Lord Admiral. So they have spoken the master-player softly, and
given him his freedom out of hand, and a long gold chain to twine about
his cap, to mend the matter with, beside."

"Whee-ew!" whistled Nick. "I wish I were a master-player!"

"Oh, but he will not be pleased, and says he will have his revenge on
Stratford town if he must needs wait until the end of the world or go to
the Indies after it. And he has had his breakfast served in Master
Geoffrey Inchbold's own room at the Swan, and swears that he will walk
the whole way to Coventry sooner than straddle the horse that the
burgesses have sent him to ride."

"What! Is he at the inn? Why, let's go down and see him."

"Master Brunswood says that he will birch whoever cometh late," objected
Hal Saddler.

"Birch?" groaned Nick. "Why, he does nothing but birch! A fellow can na
say his '_sum, es, est_' without catching it. And as for getting through
the 'genitivo' and 'vocativo' without a downright threshing--" He
shrugged his shoulders ruefully as he remembered his unlearned lesson.
Everything had gone wrong with him that morning, and the thought of the
birching that he was sure to get was more than he could bear. "I will
na stand it any longer--I'll run away!"

Kit Sedgewick laughed ironically. "And when the skies fall we'll catch
sparrows, Nick Attwood," said he. "Whither wilt thou run?"

Stung by his tone of ridicule, Nick out with the first thing that came
into his head. "To Coventry, after the stage-players," said he,

The whole crowd gave an incredulous hoot.

Nick's face flushed. To be crossed at home, to be birched at school, to
work all May-day in the tannery vats, and to be laughed at--it was
too much.

"Ye think that I will na? Well, I'll show ye! 'Tis only eight miles to
Warwick, and hardly more than that beyond--no walk at all; and Diccon
Haggard, my mother's cousin, lives in Coventry. So out upon your musty
Latin--English is good enough for me this day! There's bluebells blowing
in the dingles, and cuckoo-buds no end. And while ye are all grinding at
your old Aesop I shall be roaming over the hills wherever I please."

As he spoke he thought of the dark, wainscoted walls of the school-room
with their narrow little windows overhead, of the foul-smelling floors
of the tannery in Southam's lane, and his heart gave a great, rebellious
leap. "Ay," said he, exultantly, "I shall be out where the birds can
sing and the grass is green, and I shall see the stage-play, while ye
will be mewed up all day long in school, and have nothing but a beggarly
morris and a farthing May-pole on the morrow."

"Oh, no doubt, no doubt," said Hal Saddler, mockingly "We shall have
but bread and milk, and thou shalt have--a most glorious threshing from
thy father when thou comest home again!"

That was the last straw to Nick's unhappy heart.

"'Tis a threshing either way," said he, squaring his shoulders
doggedly. "Father will thresh me if I run away, and Master Brunswood
will thresh me if I don't. I'll not be birched four times a week for
merely tripping on a word, and have nothing to show for it but stripes.
If I must take a threshing, I'll have my good day's game out first."

"But wilt thou truly go to Coventry, Nick?" asked Robin Getley,
earnestly, for he liked Nick more than all the rest.

"Ay, truly, Robin--that I will"; and, turning, Nick walked swiftly away
toward the market-place, never looking back.



At the Bridge street crossing Nick paused irresolute. Around the public
pump a chattering throng of housewives were washing out their towels and
hanging them upon the market-cross to dry. Along the stalls in Middle
Row the grumbling shopmen were casting up their sales from tallies
chalked upon their window-ledges, or cuffing their tardy apprentices
with no light hand.

John Gibson's cart was hauling gravel from the pits in Henley street to
mend the causeway at the bridge, which had been badly washed by the late
spring floods, and the fine sand dribbled from the cart-tail like the
sand in an hour-glass.

Here and there loutish farm-hands waited for work; and at the corner two
or three stout cudgel-men leaned upon their long staves, although the
market was two days closed, and there was not a Coventry merchant in
sight to be driven away from Stratford trade.

Goody Baker with her shovel and broom of twigs was sweeping up the
market litter in the square. Nick wondered if his own mother's back
would be so bent when she grew old.

"Whur be-est going, Nick?"

Roger Dawson sat astride a stick of timber in front of Master Geoffrey
Thompson's new house, watching Tom Carpenter the carver cut fleur-de-lis
and curling traceries upon the front wall beams. He was a
tenant-farmer's son, this Roger, and a likely good-for-naught.

"To Coventry," said Nick, curtly.

"Wilt take a fellow wi' thee?"

Poor company might be better than none.

"Come on."

Roger lumbered to his feet and trotted after.

"No school to-day?" he asked.

"Not for me," answered Nick, shortly, for he did not care to talk about

"Faither wull na have I go to school, since us ha' comed to town, an'
plough-land sold for grazings," drawled Roger; "Muster Pine o' Welford
saith that I ha' learned as much as faither ever knowed, an' 'tis enow
for I. Faither saith it maketh saucy rogues o' sons to know more than
they's own dads."

Nick wondered if it did. His own father could neither read nor write,
while he could do both and had some Latin, too. At the thought of the
Latin he made a wry face.

"Joe Carter be-eth in the stocks," said Roger, peering through the
jeering crowd about the pillory and post; "a broke Tom Samson's pate wi'
's ale-can yestreen."


But Nick pushed on. A few ruddy-faced farmers and drovers from the
Bed Horse Vale still lingered at the Boar Inn door and by the tap-room
of the Crown; and in the middle of the street a crowd of salters,
butchers, and dealers in hides, with tallow-smeared doublets and
doubtful hose, were squabbling loudly about the prices set upon
their wares.

In the midst of them Nick saw his father, and scurried away into Back
Bridge street as fast as he could, feeling very near a sneak, but far
from altering his purpose.

"Job Hortop," said Simon Attwood to his apprentice at his side, looking
out suddenly over the crowd, "was that my Nick yonder?"

"Nay, master, could na been," said Job, stolidly; "Nick be-eth in school
by now--the clock ha' struck. 'Twas Dawson's Hodge and some like



The land was full of morning sounds as the lads trudged along the
Warwick road together. An ax rang somewhere deep in the woods of Arden;
cart-wheels ruttled on the stony road; a blackbird whistled shrilly in
the hedge, and they heard the deep-tongued belling of hounds far off in
Fulbroke park.

Now and then a heron, rising from the river, trailed its long legs
across the sky, or a kingfisher sparkled in his own splash. Once a
lonely fisherman down by the Avon started a wild duck from the sedge,
and away it went pattering up-stream with frightened wings and red feet
running along the water. And then a river-rat plumped into the stream
beneath the willows, and left a long string of bubbles behind him.

Nick's ill humor soon wore off as he breathed the fresh air, moist from
lush meadows, and sweet from hedges pink and white with hawthorn bloom.
The thought of being pent up on such a day grew more and more
unbearable, and a blithe sense of freedom from all restraint blunted the
prick of conscience.

"Why art going to Coventry, Nick?" inquired Roger suddenly, startled by
a thought coming into his wits like a child by a bat in the room.

"To see the stage-play that the burgesses would na allow in Stratford."

"Wull I see, too?"

"If thou hast eyes--the Mayor's show is free."

"Oh, feckins, wun't it be fine?" gaped Hodge. "Be it a tailors' show,
Nick, wi' Herod the King, and a rope for to hang Judas? An' wull they
set the world afire wi' a torch, an' make the earth quake fearful wi' a
barrel full o' stones? Or wull it be Sin in a motley gown a-thumping the
Black Man over the pate wi' a bladder full o' peasen--an' angels wi'
silver wingses, an' saints wi' goolden hair? Or wull it be a giant nine
yards high, clad in the beards o' murdered kings, like granny saith she
used to see?"

"Pshaw! no," said Nick; "none of those old-fashioned things. These be
players from London town, and I hope they'll play a right good English
history-play, like 'The Famous Victories of Henry Fift,' to turn a
fellow's legs all goose-flesh!"

Hodge stopped short in the road. "La!" said he, "I'll go no furder if
they turn me to a goose. I wunnot be turned goose, Nick Attwood--an' a
plague on all witches, says I!"

"Oh, pshaw!" laughed Nick; "come on. No witch in the world could turn
thee bigger goose than thou art now. Come along wi' thee; there be no
witches there at all."

"Art sure thou 'rt not bedaffing me?" hesitated Hodge. "Good, then; I
be na feared. Art sure there be no witches?"

"Why," said Nick, "would Master Burgess John Shakspere leave his son
Will to do with witches?"

"I dunno," faltered Hodge; "a told Muster Robin Bowles it was na right
to drownd 'em in the river."

Nick hesitated. "Maybe it kills the fish," said he; "and Master Will
Shakspere always liked to fish. But they burn witches in London, Hodge,
and he has na put a stop to it--and he's a great man in London town."

Hodge came on a little way, shaking his head like an old sheep in a
corner. "Wully Shaxper a great man?" said he. "Why, a's name be cut on
the old beech-tree up Snitterfield lane, where's uncle Henry Shaxper
lives, an' 'tis but poorly done. I could do better wi' my own whittle."

"Ay, Hodge," cried Nick; "and that's about all thou canst do. Dost think
that a man's greatness hangs on so little a thing as his sleight of hand
at cutting his name on a tree?"

"Wull, maybe; maybe not; but if a be a great man, Nick Attwood, a might
do a little thing passing well--so there, now!"

Nick pondered for a moment. "I do na know," said he, slowly; "heaps of
men can do the little things, but parlous few the big. So some one must
be bigging it, or folks would all sing very small. And he doeth the big
most beautiful, they say. They call him the Swan of Avon."

"Avon swans be mostly geese," said Hodge, vacantly.

"Now, look 'e here, Hodge Dawson, don't thou be calling Master Will
Shakspere goose. He married my own mother's cousin, and I will na
have it."

"La, now," drawled Hodge, staring, "'tis nowt to me. Thy Muster Wully
Shaxper may be all the long-necked fowls in Warrickshire for all I care.
And, anyway, I'd like to know, Nick Attwood, since when hath a been
'_Muster_ Shaxper'--that ne'er-do-well, play-actoring fellow?"

"Ne'er-do-well? It is na so. When he was here last summer he was bravely
dressed, and had a heap of good gold nobles in his purse. And he gave
Rick Hawkins, that's blind of an eye, a shilling for only holding
his horse."

"Oh, ay," drawled Hodge; "a fool and a's money be soon parted."

"Will Shakspere is no fool," declared Nick, hotly. "He's made a peck o'
money there in London town, and 's going to buy the Great House in
Chapel lane, and come back here to live."

"Then a 's a witless azzy!" blurted Hodge. "If a 's so great a man
amongst the lords and earlses, a 'd na come back to Stratford. An' I say
a 's a witless loon--so there!"

Nick whirled around in the road. "And I say, Hodge Dawson," he exclaimed
with flashing eyes, "that 'tis a shame for a lout like thee to so
miscall thy thousand-time betters. And what's more, thou shalt unsay
that, or I will make thee swallow thy words right here and now!"

"I'd loike to see thee try," Hodge began; but the words were scarcely
out of his mouth when he found himself stretched on the grass, Nick
Attwood bending over him.

"There! thou hast seen it tried. Now come, take that back, or I will
surely box thine ears for thee."

Hodge blinked and gaped, collecting his wits, which had scattered to the
four winds. "Whoy," said he, vaguely, "if 'tis all o' that to thee, I
take it back."

Nick rose, and Hodge scrambled clumsily to his feet. "I'll na go wi'
thee," said he, sulkily; "I will na go whur I be whupped."

Nick turned on his heel without a word, and started on.

"An' what's more," bawled Hodge after him, "thy Muster Wully Shaxper
be-eth an old gray goose, an' boo to he, says I!"

As he spoke he turned, dived through the thin hedge, and galloped across
the field as if an army were at his heels.

Nick started back, but quickly paused. "Thou needst na run," he called;
"I've not the time to catch thee now. But mind ye this, Hodge Dawson:
when I do come back, I'll teach thee who thy betters be--Will Shakspere
first of all!"

"Well crowed, well crowed, my jolly cockerel!" on a sudden called a
keen, high voice beyond the hedge behind him.

Nick, startled, whirled about just in time to see a stranger leap the
hedge and come striding up the road.



He had trim, straight legs, this stranger, and a slender, lithe body in
a tawny silken jerkin. Square-shouldered, too, was he, and over one
shoulder hung a plum-colored cloak bordered with gold braid. His long
hose were the color of his cloak, and his shoes were russet leather,
with rosettes of plum, and such high heels as Nick had never seen
before. His bonnet was of tawny velvet, with a chain twisted round it,
fastened by a jeweled brooch through which was thrust a curly
cock-feather. A fine white Holland-linen shirt peeped through his jerkin
at the throat, with a broad lace collar; and his short hair curled
crisply all over his head. He had a little pointed beard, and the ends
of his mustache were twisted so that they stood up fiercely on either
side of his sharp nose. At his side was a long Italian poniard in a
sheath of russet leather and silver filigree, and he had a reckless,
high and mighty fling about his stride that strangely took the eye.

Nick stood, all taken by surprise, and stared.

The stranger seemed to like it, but scowled nevertheless. "What! How
now?" he cried sharply. "Dost like or like me not?"

"Why, sir," stammered Nick, utterly lost for anything to say--"why,
sir,--" and knowing nothing else to do, he took off his cap and bowed.

"Come, come," snapped the stranger, stamping his foot, "I am a swashing,
ruffling, desperate Dick, and not to be made a common jest for Stratford
dolts to giggle at What! These legs, that have put on the very gentleman
in proud Verona's streets, laid in Stratford's common stocks, like a
silly apprentice's slouching heels? Nay, nay; some one should taste old
Bless-his-heart here first!" and with that he clapped his hand upon the
hilt of his poniard, with a wonderful swaggering tilt of his shoulders.
"Dost take me, boy?"

"Why, sir," hesitated Nick, no little awed by the stranger's wild words
and imperious way, "ye surely are the master-player."

"There!" cried the stranger, whirling about, as if defying some one in
the hedge. "Who said I could not act? Why, see, he took me at a touch!
Say, boy," he laughed, and turned to Nick, "thou art no fool. Why, boy,
I say I love thee now for this, since what hath passed in Stratford. A
murrain on the town! Dost hear me, boy?--a black murrain on the town!"
And all at once he made such a fierce stride toward Nick, gritting his
white teeth, and clapping his hand upon his poniard, that Nick drew back
afraid of him.


"But nay," hissed the stranger, and spat with scorn, "a town like
that is its own murrain--let it sicken on itself!"

He struck an attitude, and waved his hand as if he were talking quite as
much to the trees and sky as he was to Nick Attwood, and looked about
him as if waiting for applause. Then all at once he laughed,--a
rollicking, merry laugh,--and threw off his furious manner as one does
an old coat. "Well, boy," said he, with a quiet smile, looking kindly at
Nick, "thou art a right stanch little friend to all of us stage-players.
And I thank thee for it in Will Shakspere's name; for he is the sweetest
fellow of us all."

His voice was simple, frank, and free--so different from the mad tone in
which he had just been ranting that Nick caught his breath
with surprise.

"Nay, lad, look not so dashed," said the master-player, merrily; "that
was only old Jem Burbage's mighty tragic style; and I--I am only Gaston
Carew, hail-fellow-well-met with all true hearts. Be known to me, lad;
what is thy name? I like thy open, pretty face."

Nick flushed. "Nicholas Attwood is my name, sir."

"Nicholas Attwood? Why, it is a good name. Nick Attwood,--young Nick,--I
hope Old Nick will never catch thee--upon my word I do, and on the
remnant of mine honour! Thou hast taken a player's part like a man, and
thou art a good fellow, Nicholas Attwood, and I love thee. So thou art
going to Coventry to see the players act? Surely thine is a nimble wit
to follow fancy nineteen miles. Come; I am going to Coventry to join my
fellows. Wilt thou go with me, Nick, and dine with us this night at the
best inn in all Coventry--the Blue Boar? Thou hast quite plucked up my
downcast heart for me, lad, indeed thou hast; for I was sore of
Stratford town--and I shall not soon forget thy plucky fending for our
own sweet Will. Come, say thou wilt go with me."

"Indeed, sir," said Nick, bowing again, his head all in a whirl of
excitement at this wonderful adventure, "indeed I will, and that right
gladly, sir." And with heart beating like a trip-hammer he walked along,
cap in hand, not knowing that his head was bare.

The master-player laughed a simple, hearty laugh. "Why, Nick," said he,
laying his hand caressingly upon the boy's shoulder, "I am no such great
to-do as all that--upon my word, I'm not! A man of some few parts,
perhaps, not common in the world; but quite a plain fellow, after all.
Come, put off this high humility and be just friendly withal. Put on thy
cap; we are but two good faring-fellows here."

So Nick put on his cap, and they went on together, Nick in the seventh
heaven of delight.

About a mile beyond Stratford, Welcombe wood creeps down along the left.
Just beyond, the Dingles wind irregularly up from the foot-path below to
the crest of Welcombe hill, through straggling clumps and briery
hollows, sweet with nodding bluebells, ash, and hawthorn.

Nick and the master-player paused a moment at the top to catch their
breath and to look back.

Stratford and the valley of the Avon lay spread before them like a
picture of peace, studded with blossoming orchards and girdled with
spring. Northward the forest of Arden clad the rolling hills. Southward
the fields of Feldon stretched away to the blue knolls beyond which lay
Oxford and Northamptonshire. The ragged stretches of Snitterfield downs
scrambled away to the left; and on the right, beyond Bearley, were the
wooded uplands where Guy of Warwick and Heraud of Arden slew the wild ox
and the boar. And down through the midst ran the Avon southward, like a
silver ribbon slipped through Kendal green, to where the Stour comes
down, past Luddington, to Bidford, and away to the misty hills.

"Why," exclaimed the master-player--"why, upon my word, it is a fair
town--as fair a town as the heart of man could wish. Wish? I wish 't
were sunken in the sea, with all its pack of fools! Why," said he,
turning wrathfully upon Nick, "that old Sir Thingumbob of thine, down
there, called me a caterpillar on the kingdom of England, a vagabond,
and a common player of interludes! Called me vagabond! Me! Why, I have
more good licenses than he has wits. And as to Master Bailiff Stubbes, I
have permits to play from more justices of the peace than he can shake a
stick at in a month of Sundays!" He shook his fist wrathfully at the
distant town, and gnawed his mustache until one side pointed up and the
other down. "But, hark 'e, boy, I'll have my vengeance on them all--ay,
that will I, upon my word, and on the remnant of mine honour--or else my
name's not Gaston Carew!"

"Is it true, sir," asked Nick, hesitatingly, "that they despitefully
handled you?"

"With their tongues, ay," said Carew, bitterly; "but not otherwise." He
clapped his hand upon his poniard, and threw back his head defiantly.
"They dared not come to blows--they knew my kind! Yet John Shakspere is
no bad sort--he knoweth what is what. But Master Bailiff Stubbes, I
ween, is a long-eared thing that brays for thistles. I'll thistle him!
He called Will Shakspere rogue. Hast ever looked through a red glass?"

"Nay," said Nick.

"Well, it turns the whole world red. And so it is with Master Stubbes.
He looks through a pair of rogue's eyes and sees the whole world rogue.
Why, boy," cried the master-player, vehemently, "he thought to buy my
tongue! Marry, if tongues were troubles he has bought himself a peck!
What! Buy my silence? Nay, he'll see a deadly flash of silence when I
come to my Lord the Admiral again!"



It was past high noon, and they had long since left Warwick castle far
behind. "Nicholas," said the master-player, in the middle of a stream of
amazing stories of life in London town, "there is Blacklow knoll." He
pointed to a little hill off to the left.

Nick stared; he knew the tale: how grim old Guy de Beauchamp had Piers
Gaveston's head upon that hill for calling him the Black Hound of Arden.

"Ah!" said Carew, "times have changed since then, boy, when thou couldst
have a man's head off for calling thee a name--or I would have yon
Master Bailiff Stubbes's head off short behind the ears--and Sir Thomas
Lucy's too!" he added, with a sudden flash of anger, gritting his teeth
and clenching his hand upon his poniard. "But, Nicholas, hast
anything to eat?"

"Nothing at all, sir."

Master Carew pulled from his pouch some barley-cakes and half a small
Banbury cheese, yellow as gold and with a keen, sharp savour. "'Tis
enough for both of us," said he, as they came to a shady little wood
with a clear, mossy-bottomed spring running down into a green meadow
with a mild noise, murmuring among the stones. "Come along, Nicholas;
we'll eat it under the trees."

He had a small flask of wine, but Nick drank no wine, and went down to
the spring instead. There was a wild bird singing in a bush there, and
as he trotted down the slope it hushed its wandering tune. Nick took the
sound up softly, and stood by the wet stones a little while, imitating
the bird's trilling note, and laughing to hear it answer timidly, as if
it took him for some great new bird without wings. Cocking its shy head
and watching him shrewdly with its beady eye, it sat, almost persuaded
that it was only size which made them different, until Nick clapped his
cap upon his head and strolled back, singing as he went.

It was only the thread of an old-fashioned madrigal which he had often
heard his mother sing, with quaint words long since gone out of style
and hardly to be understood, and between the staves a warbling, wordless
refrain which he had learned out on the hills and in the
fields, picked up from a bird's glad-throated morning-song.

He had always sung the plain-tunes in church without taking any
particular thought about it; and he sang easily, with a clear young
voice which had a full, flute-like note in it like the high, sweet song
of a thrush singing in deep woods.

Gaston Carew, the master-player, was sitting with his back against an
oak, placidly munching the last of the cheese, when Nick began to sing.
He started, straightening up as if some one had called him suddenly out
of a sound sleep, and, turning his head, listened eagerly.

Nick mocked the wild bird, called again with a mellow, warbling trill,
and then struck up the quaint old madrigal with the bird's song running
through it. Carew leaped to his feet, with a flash in his dark eyes. "My
soul! my soul!" he exclaimed in an excited undertone. "It is not--nay,
it cannot be--why, 'tis--it is the boy! Upon my heart, he hath a skylark
prisoned in his throat! _Well sung, well sung, Master Skylark!"_ he
cried, clapping his hands in real delight, as Nick came singing up the
bank. "Why, lad, I vow I thought thou wert up in the sky somewhere, with
wings to thy back! Where didst thou learn that wonder-song?"

Nick colored up, quite taken aback. "I do na know, sir," said he;
"mother learned me part, and the rest just came, I think, sir."

The master-player, his whole face alive and eager, now stared at
Nicholas Attwood as fixedly as Nick had stared at him.

It was a hearty little English lad he saw, about eleven years of age,
tall, slender, trimly built, and fair. A gray cloth cap clung to the
side of his curly yellow head, and he wore a sleeveless jerkin of
dark-blue serge, gray home-spun hose, and heelless shoes of russet
leather. The white sleeves of his linen shirt were open to the elbow,
and his arms were lithe and brown. His eyes were frankly clear and
blue, and his red mouth had a trick of smiling that went straight to a
body's heart.

"Why, lad, lad," cried Carew, breathlessly, "thou hast a very fortune in
thy throat!"

Nick looked up in great surprise; and at that the master-player broke
off suddenly and said no more, though such a strange light came creeping
into his eyes that Nick, after meeting his fixed stare for a moment,
asked uneasily if they would not better be going on.

Without a word the master-player started. Something had come into his
head which seemed to more than fill his mind; for as he strode along he
whistled under his breath and laughed softly to himself. Then again he
snapped his fingers and took a dancing step or two across the road, and
at last fell to talking aloud to himself, though Nick could not make out
a single word he said, for it was in some foreign language.

"Nicholas," he said suddenly, as they passed the winding lane that leads
away to Kenilworth--"Nicholas, dost know any other songs like that?"

"Not just like that, sir," answered Nick, not knowing what to make of
his companion's strange new mood; "but I know Master Will Shakspere's
'Then nightly sings the staring owl, tu-who, tu-whit, tu-who!' and 'The
ousel-cock so black of hue, with orange-tawny bill,' and then, too, I
know the throstle's song that goes with it."

"Why, to be sure--to be sure thou knowest old Nick Bottom's song, for
isn't thy name Nick? Well met, both song and singer--well met, I say!
Nay," he said hastily, seeing Nick about to speak; "I do not care to
hear thee talk. Sing me all thy songs. I am hungry as a wolf for songs.
Why, Nicholas, I must have songs! Come, lift up that honeyed throat of
thine and sing another song. Be not so backward; surely I love thee,
Nick, and thou wilt sing all of thy songs for me."

He laid his hand on Nick's shoulder in his kindly way, and kept step
with him like a bosom friend, so that Nick's heart beat high with pride,
and he sang all the songs he knew as they walked along.

Carew listened intently, and sometimes with a fierce eagerness that
almost frightened the boy; and sometimes he frowned, and said under his
breath, "Tut, tut, that will not do!" but oftener he laughed without a
sound, nodding his head in time to the lilting tune, and seeming vastly
pleased with Nick, the singing, and last, but not least, with himself.

And when Nick had ended the master-player had not a word to say, but for
half a mile gnawed his mustache in nervous silence, and looked Nick all
over with a long and earnest look.

Then suddenly he slapped his thigh, and tossed his head back boldly.
"I'll do it," he said; "I'll do it if I dance on air for it! I'll have
it out of Master Stubbes and canting Stratford town, or may I never
thrive! My soul! it is the very thing. His eyes are like twin holidays,
and he breathes the breath of spring. Nicholas, Nicholas
Skylark,--Master Skylark,--why, it is a good name, in sooth, a very
good name! I'll do it--I will, upon my word, and on the remnant of
mine honour!"

"Did ye speak to me, sir?" asked Nick, timidly.

"Nay, Nicholas; I was talking to the moon."

"Why, sir, the moon has not come yet," said Nick, staring into the
western sky.

"To be sure," replied Master Carew, with a queer laugh. "Well, the
silvery jade has missed the first act."

"Oh," cried Nick, reminded of the purpose of his long walk, "what will
ye play for the Mayor's play, sir?"

"I don't know," replied Carew, carelessly; "it will all be done before I
come. They will have had the free play this afternoon, so as to catch
the pence of all the May-day crowd to-morrow."

Nick stopped in the road, and his eyes filled up with tears, so quick
and bitter was the disappointment. "Why," he cried, with a tremble in
his tired voice, "I thought the free play would be on the morrow--and
now I have not a farthing to go in!"

"Tut, tut, thou silly lad!" laughed Carew, frankly; "am I thy friend for
naught? What! let thee walk all the way to Coventry, and never see the
play? Nay, on my soul! Why, Nick, I love thee, lad; and I'll do for thee
in the twinkling of an eye. Canst thou speak lines by heart? Well, then,
say these few after me, and bear them in thy mind."

And thereupon he hastily repeated some half a dozen disconnected lines
in a high, reciting tone.

"Why, sir," cried Nick, bewildered, "it is a part!"

"To be sure," said Carew, laughing, "it is a part--and a part of a very
good whole, too--a comedy by young Tom Heywood, that would make a graven
image split its sides with laughing; and do thou just learn that part,
good Master Skylark, and thou shalt say it in to-morrow's play."

"What, Master Carew!" gasped Nick. "I--truly? With the Lord Admiral's

"Why, to be sure!" cried the master-player, in great glee, clapping him
upon the back. "Didst think I meant a parcel of dirty tinkers? Nay, lad;
thou art just the very fellow for the part--my lady's page should be a
pretty lad, and, soul o' me, thou art that same! And, Nick, thou shalt
sing Tom Heywood's newest song. It is a pretty song; it is a lark-song
like thine own."

Nick could hardly believe his ears. To act with the Lord Admiral's
company! To sing with them before all Coventry! It passed the wildest
dream that he had ever dreamed. What would the boys in Stratford say?
Aha! they would laugh on the other side of their mouths now!

"But will they have me, sir?" he asked doubtfully.

"Have thee?" said Master Carew, haughtily. "If I say go, thou shalt go.
I am master here. And I tell thee, Nick, that thou shalt see the play,
and be the play, in part, and--well, we shall see what we shall see."

With that he fell to humming and chuckling to himself, as if he had
swallowed a water-mill, while Nick turned ecstatic cart-wheels along the
grass beside the road, until presently Coventry came in sight.



The ancient city of Coventry stands upon a little hill, with old St.
Michael's steeple and the spire of Holy Trinity church rising above it
against the sky; and as the master-player and the boy came climbing
upward from the south, walls, towers, chimneys, and red-tiled roofs were
turned to gold by the glow of the setting sun.

To Nick it seemed as if a halo overhung the town--a ruddy glory and a
wonder bright; for here the Grey Friars of the great monastery had
played their holy mysteries and miracle-plays for over a hundred years;
here the trade-guilds had held their pageants when the friars' day was
done; here were all the wonders that old men told by winter fires.

People were coming and going through the gates like bees about a hive,
and in the distance Nick could hear the sound of many voices, the rush
of feet, wheels, and hoofs, and the shrill pipe of music. Here and there
were little knots of country folk making holiday: a father and mother
with a group of rosy children; a lad and his lass, spruce in new
finery, and gay with bits of ribbon--merry groups that were ever
changing. Gay banners flapped on tall ash staves. The suburb fields were
filled with booths and tents and stalls and butts for archery. The very
air seemed eager with the eve of holiday.

But what to Nick was breathless wonder was to Carew only a twice-told
tale; so he pushed through the crowded thoroughfares, amid a throng that
made Nick's head spin round, and came quickly to the Blue Boar Inn.

The court was crowded to the gates with horses, travelers, and
serving-men; and here and there and everywhere rushed the busy
innkeeper, with a linen napkin fluttering on his arm, his cap half off,
and in his hot hand a pewter flagon, from which the brown ale dripped in
spatters on his fat legs as he flew.

"They're here," said Carew, looking shrewdly about; "for there is
Gregory Goole, my groom, and Stephen Magelt, the tire-man. In with thee,

He put Nick before him with a little air of patronage, and pushed him
into the room.

It was a large, low chamber with heavy beams overhead, hung with leather
jacks and pewter tankards. Around the walls stood rough tables, at which
a medley of guests sat eating, drinking, dicing, playing at cards, and
talking loudly all at once, while the tapster and the cook's knave sped
wildly about.

At a great table in the midst of the riot sat the Lord High Admiral's
players--a score or more loud-swashing gallants, richly clad in ruffs
and bands, embroidered shirts, Italian doublets slashed and laced,
Venetian hose, gay velvet caps with jeweled bands, and every man a
poniard or a rapier at his hip. Nick felt very much like a little brown
sparrow in a flock of gaudy Indian birds.

The board was loaded down with meat and drink, and some of the players
were eating with forks, a new trick from the London court, which Nick
had never seen before. But all the diners looked up when Carew's face
was recognized, and welcomed him with a deafening shout.

He waved his hand for silence.

"Thanks for these kind plaudits, gentle friends," said he, with a
mocking air; "I have returned."

"Yes; we see that ye have, Gaston," they all shouted, and laughed again.

"Ay," said he, thrusting his hand into his pouch, "ye fled, and left me
to be spoiled by the spoiler, but ye see I have left the
spoiler spoiled."

Lifting his hand triumphantly, he shook in their faces the golden chain
that the burgesses of Stratford had given him, and then, laying his hand
upon Nick's shoulder, bowed to them all, and to him with courtly grace,
and said: "Be known, be known, all! Gentlemen, my Lord Admiral's
Players, Master Nicholas Skylark, the sweetest singer in all the kingdom
of England!"

Nick's cheeks flushed hotly, and his eyes fell; for they all stared
curiously, first at him, and then at Carew standing up behind him, and
several grinned mockingly and winked in a knowing way. He stole a look
at Carew; but the master-player's face was frank and quite unmoved, so
that Nick felt reassured.

"Why, sirs," said Carew, as some began to laugh and to speak to one
another covertly, "it is no jest. He hath a sweeter voice than Cyril
Davy's, the best woman's-voice in all London town. Upon my word, it is
the sweetest voice a body ever heard--outside of heaven and the holy
angels!" He lowered his tone and bowed his head a little. "I'll stake
mine honour on it!"

"Hast any, Gaston?" called a jeering voice, whereat the whole room

But Carew cried again in a high voice that would be heard above the
noise: "Now, hark 'e; what I say is so. It is, upon my word, and on the
remnant of mine honour! And to-morrow ye shall see, for Master Skylark
is to sing and play with us."

When he had said that, nothing would do but Nick must sit down and eat
with them; so they made a place for him and for Master Carew.

Nick bent his head and said a grace, at which some of them laughed,
until Carew shook his head with a stern frown; and before he ate he
bowed politely to them all, as his mother had taught him to do. They all
bowed mockingly, and hilariously offered him wine, which, when he
refused, they pressed upon him, until Carew stopped them, saying that he
would have no more of that. As he spoke he clapped his hand upon his
poniard and scowled blackly. They all laughed, but offered Nick no more
wine; instead, they picked him choice morsels, and made a great deal of
him, until his silly young head was quite turned, and he sat up and gave
himself a few airs--not many, for Stratford was no great place in which
to pick up airs.

When they had eaten they wanted Nick to sing; but again Carew
interposed. "Nay," said he; "he hath just eaten his fill, so he cannot
sing. Moreover, he is no jackdaw to screech in such a cage as this. He
shall not sing until to-morrow in the play."

At this some of the leading players who held shares in the venture
demurred, doubting if Nick could sing at all; but--"Hark 'e," said
Master Carew, shortly, clapping his hand upon his poniard, "I say that
he can. Do ye take me?"

So they said no more; and shortly after he took Nick away, and left them
over their tankards, singing uproariously.

The Blue Boar Inn had not a bed to spare, nor had the players kept a
place for Carew; at which he smiled grimly, said he'd not forget it, and
took lodgings for himself and Nick at the Three Tuns in the next street.

Nick spoke indeed of his mother's cousin, with whom he had meant to
stay, but the master-player protested warmly; so, little loath, and much
flattered by the attentions of so great a man, Nick gave over the idea
and said no more about it.

When the chamberlain had shown them to their room and they were both
undressed, Nick knelt beside the bed and said a prayer, as he always did
at home. Carew watched him curiously. It was quiet there, and the light
dim; Nick was young, and his yellow hair was very curly. Carew could
hear the faint breath murmuring through the boy's lips as he prayed, and
while he stared at the little white figure his mouth twitched in a queer
way. But he tossed his head, and muttered to himself, "What, Gaston
Carew, turning soft? Nay, nay. I'll do it--on my soul, I will!" rolled
into bed, and was soon fast asleep.

* * * * *

As for Nick, what with the excitement of the day, the dazzling fancies
in his brain, his tired legs, the weird night noises in the town, and
strange, tremendous dreams, he scarce could get to sleep at all; but
toward morning he fell into a refreshing doze, and did not wake until
the town was loud with May.



It was soon afternoon. All Coventry was thronged with people keeping
holiday, and at the Blue Boar a scene of wild confusion reigned.

Tap-room and hall were crowded with guests, and in the cobbled court
horses innumerable stamped and whinnied. The players, with knitted
brows, stalked about the quieter nooks, going over their several parts,
and looking to their costumes, which were for the most part upon their
backs; while the thumping and pounding of the carpenters at work upon
the stage in the inn-yard were enough to drive a quiet-loving
person wild.

Nick scarcely knew whether he were on his head or on his heels. The
master-player would not let him eat at all after once breaking his fast,
for fear it might affect his voice, and had him say his lines a hundred
times until he had them pat. Then he was off, directing here, there, and
everywhere, until the court was cleared of all that had no business
there, and the last surreptitious small boy had been duly projected
from the gates by Peter Hostler's hobnailed boot.

"Now, Nick," said Carew, coming up all in a gale, and throwing a
sky-blue silken cloak about Nick's shoulders, "thou'lt enter here"; and
he led him to a hallway door just opposite the gates. "When Master
Whitelaw, as the Duke, calls out, 'How now, who comes?--I'll match him
for the ale!' be quickly in and answer to thy part; and, marry, boy,
don't miss thy cues, or--tsst, thy head's not worth a peascod!" With
that he clapped his hand upon his poniard and glared into Nick's eyes,
as if to look clear through to the back of the boy's wits. Nick heard
his white teeth grind, and was all at once very much afraid of him, for
he did indeed look dreadful.

So Nicholas Attwood stood by the entry door, with his heart in his
throat, waiting his turn.

He could hear the pages in the courtyard outside shouting for stools for
their masters, and squabbling over the best places upon the stage. Then
the gates creaked, and there came a wild rush of feet and a great crying
out as the 'prentices and burghers trooped into the inn-yard, pushing
and crowding for places near the stage. Those who had the money bawled
aloud for farthing stools. The rest stood jostling in a wrangling crowd
upon the ground, while up and down a girl's shrill voice went all the
time, crying high, "Cherry ripe, cherry ripe! Who'll buy my sweet May

Then there was another shout, and a rattling tread of feet along the
wooden balconies that ran around the walls of the inn-yard, and cries
from the apprentices below: "Good-day, fair Master Harrington! Good-day,
Sir Thomas Parkes! Good-day, sweet Mistress Nettleby and Master
Nettleby! Good-day, good-day, good-day!" for the richer folk were coming
in at twopence each, and all the galleries were full. And then he heard
the baker's boy with sugared cakes and ginger-nuts go stamping up
the stairs.

The musicians in the balcony overhead were tuning up. There was a flute,
a viol, a gittern, a fiddle, and a drum; and behind the curtain, just
outside the door, Nick could hear the master-player's low voice giving
hasty orders to the others.

So he said his lines all over to himself, and cleared his throat. Then
on a sudden a shutter opened high above the orchestra, a trumpet blared,
the kettledrum crashed, and he heard a loud voice shout:

"Good citizens of Coventry, and high-born gentles all: know ye now that
we, the players of the company of His Grace, Charles, Lord Howard, High
Admiral of England, Ireland, Wales, Calais, and Boulogne, the marches of
Normandy, Gascony, and Aquitaine, Captain-General of the Navy and the
Seas of Her Gracious Majesty the Queen--"

At that the crowd in the courtyard cheered and cheered again.

"--will, with your kind permission, play forthwith the laughable comedy
of 'The Three Grey Gowns,' by Master Thomas Heywood, in which will be
spoken many good things, old and new, and a brand-new song will be sung.
Now, hearken all--the play begins!"

The trumpet blared, the kettledrum crashed again, and as a sudden hush
fell over the throng without Nick heard the voices of the players
going on.

It was a broad farce, full of loud jests and nonsense, a great thwacking
of sticks and tumbling about; and Nick, with his eye to the crack of the
door, listened with all his ears for his cue, far too excited even to
think of laughing at the rough jokes, though the crowd in the inn-yard
roared till they held their sides.

Carew came hurrying up, with an anxious look in his restless eyes.

"Ready, Nicholas!" said he, sharply, taking Nick by the arm and lifting
the latch. "Go straight down front now as I told thee--mind thy
cues--speak boldly--sing as thou didst sing for me--and if thou wouldst
not break mine heart, do not fail me now! I have staked it all upon thee
here--and we _must_ win!"

"How now, who comes?" Nick heard a loud voice call outside--the
door-latch clicked behind him--he was out in the open air and down the
stage before he quite knew where he was.

The stage was built against the wall just opposite the gates. It was but
a temporary platform of planks laid upon trestles. One side of it was
against the wall, and around the three other sides the crowd was packed
close to the platform rail.

At the ends, upon the boards, several wealthy gallants sat on high,
three-legged stools, within arm's reach of the players acting there. The
courtyard was a sea of heads, and the balconies were filled with
gentlefolk in holiday attire, eating cakes and chaffing gaily at the
play. All was one bewildered cloud of staring eyes to Nick, and the only
thing which he was sure he saw was the painted sign that hung upon the
curtain at the rear, which in the lack of other scenery announced in
large red print: "This is a Room in Master Jonah Jackdawe's House."

And then he heard the last quick words, "I'll match him for the ale!"
and started on his lines.

It was not that he said so ill what little he had to say, but that his
voice was homelike and familiar in its sound, one of their own, with no
amazing London accent to the words--just the speech of every-day, the
sort that they all knew.

First, some one in the yard laughed out--a shock-headed ironmonger's
apprentice, "Whoy, bullies, there be hayseed in his hair. 'Tis took off
pasture over-soon. I fecks! they've plucked him green!"

There was a hoarse, exasperating laugh. Nick hesitated in his lines. The
player at his back tried to prompt him, but only made the matter worse,
and behind the green curtain at the door a hand went "clap" upon a
dagger-hilt. The play lagged, and the crowd began to jeer. Nick's heart
was full of fear and of angry shame that he had dared to try. Then all
at once there came a brief pause, in which he vaguely realized that no
one spoke. The man behind him thrust him forward, and whispering
wrathfully, "Quick, quick--sing up, thou little fool!" stepped back and
left him there alone.


A viol overhead took up the time, the gittern struck a few sharp
notes. This unexpected music stopped the noise, and all was still. Nick
thought of his mother's voice singing on a summer's evening among the
hollyhocks, and as the viol's droning died away he drew a deep breath
and began to sing the words of "Heywood's newest song":

"Pack, clouds, away, and welcome, day;
With night we banish sorrow;
Sweet air, blow soft; mount, lark, aloft,
To give my love good-morrow!"

It was only a part of a madrigal, the air to which they had fitted the
words,--the same air that Nick had sung in the woods,--a thing scarce
meant ever to be sung alone, a simple strain, a few plain notes, and at
the close one brief, queer, warbling trill like a bird's wild song, that
rose and fell and rose again like a silver ripple.

The instruments were still; the fresh young voice came out alone, and it
was done so soon that Nick hardly knew that he had sung at all. For a
moment no one seemed to breathe. Then there was a very great noise, and
all the court seemed hurling at him. A man upon the stage sprang to his
feet. What they were going to do to him Nick did not know. He gave a
frightened cry, and ran past the green curtain, through the open door,
and into the master-player's excited arms.

"Quick, quick!" cried Carew. "Go back, go back! There, hark!--dost not
hear them call? Quick, out again--they call thee back!" With that he
thrust Nick through the door. The man upon the stage came up, slipped
something into his hand--Nick, all bewildered, knew not what; and there
he stood, quite stupefied, not knowing what to do. Then Carew came out
hastily and led him down the stage, bowing, and pressing his hand to his
heart, and smiling like a summer sunrise; so that Nick, seeing this, did
the same, and bowed as neatly as he could; though, to be sure, his was
only a simple, country-bred bow, and no such ceremonious to-do as Master
Carew's courtly London obeisance.

Every one was standing up and shouting so that not a soul could hear his
ears, until the ironmonger's apprentice bellowed above the rest; "Whoy,
bullies!" he shouted, amid a chorus of cheers and laughter, "didn't I
say 'twas catched out in the fields--it be a skylark, sure enough! Come,
Muster Skylark, sing that song again, an' thou shalt ha' my
brand-new cap!"

Then many voices cried out together, "Sing it again! The Skylark--the

Nick looked up, startled. "Why, Master Carew," said he, with a tremble
in his voice, "do they mean me ?"

Carew put one hand beneath Nick's chin and turned his face up, smiling.
The master-player's cheeks were flushed with triumph, and his dark eyes
danced with pride. "Ay, Nicholas Skylark; 'tis thou they mean."

The viol and the music came again from overhead, and when they ceased
Nick sang the little song once more. And when the master-player had
taken him outside, and the play was over, some fine ladies came and
kissed him, to his great confusion; for no one but his mother or his
kin had ever done so before, and these had much perfume about them, musk
and rose-attar, so that they smelled like rose-mallows in July. The
players of the Lord Admiral's company were going about shaking hands
with Carew and with each other as if they had not met for years, and
slapping one another upon the back; and one came over, a tall, solemn,
black-haired man, he who had written the song, and stood with his feet
apart and stared at Nick, but spoke never a word, which Nick thought was
very singular. But as he turned away he said, with a world of pity in
his voice, "And I have writ two hundred plays, yet never saw thy like.
Lad, lad, thou art a jewel in a wild swine's snout!" which Nick did not
understand at all; nor why Master Carew said so sharply, "Come, Heywood,
hold thy blabbing tongue; we are all in the same sty."

"Speak for thyself, Gat Carew!" answered Master Heywood, firmly. "I'll
have no hand in this affair, I tell thee once for all!"

Master Carew flushed queerly and bit his lip, and, turning hastily away,
took Nick to walk about the town. Nick then, for the first time, looked
into his hand to see what the man upon the stage had given him. It was a
gold rose-noble.



Through the high streets of the third city of the realm Master Gaston
Carew strode as if he were a very king, and Coventry his kingdom.

There was music everywhere,--of pipers and fiddlers, drums, tabrets,
flutes, and horns,--and there were dancing bears upon the corners, with
minstrels, jugglers, chapmen crying their singsong wares, and such a
mighty hurly-burly as Nick had never seen before. And wherever there was
a wonder to be seen, Carew had Nick see it, though it cost a penny a
peep, and lifted him to watch the fencing and quarter-staff play in the
market-place. And at one of the gay booths he bought gilt ginger-nuts
and caraway cakes with currants on the top, and gave them all to Nick,
who thanked him kindly, but said, if Master Carew pleased, he'd rather
have his supper, for he was very hungry.

"Why, to be sure," said Carew, and tossed a silver penny for a scramble
to the crowd; "thou shalt have the finest supper in the town."

Whereupon, bowing to all the great folk they met, and being bowed to
most politely in return, they came to the Three Tuns.

Stared at by a hundred curious eyes, made way for everywhere, and
followed by wondering exclamations of envy, it was little wonder that
Nick, a simple country lad, at last began to think that there was not in
all the world another gentleman so grand as Master Gaston Carew, and
also to have a pleasant notion that Nicholas Attwood was no bad
fellow himself.

The lordly innkeeper came smirking and bobbing obsequiously about, with
his freshest towel on his arm, and took the master-player's order as a
dog would take a bone.

"Here, sirrah," said Carew, haughtily; "fetch us some repast, I care not
what, so it be wholesome food--a green Banbury cheese, some simnel bread
and oat-cakes; a pudding, hark 'e, sweet and full of plums, with honey
and a pasty--a meat pasty, marry, a pasty made of fat and toothsome
eels; and moreover, fellow, ale to wash it down--none of thy penny ale,
mind ye, too weak to run out of the spigot, but snapping good brew--dost
take me?--with beef and mustard, tripe, herring, and a good fat capon
broiled to a turn!"

The innkeeper gaped like a fish.

"How now, sirrah? Dost think I cannot pay thy score?" quoth Carew,

"Nay, nay," stammered the host; "but, sir, where--where will ye put it
all without bursting into bits?"

"Be off with thee!" cried Carew, sharply. "That is my affair. Nay,
Nick," said he, laughing at the boy's, astonished look; "we shall not
burst. What we do not have to-night we'll have in the morning. 'Tis the
way with these inns,--to feed the early birds with scraps,--so the more
we leave from supper the more we'll have for breakfast. And thou wilt
need a good breakfast to ride on all day long."

"Ride?" exclaimed Nick. "Why, sir, I was minded to walk back to
Stratford, and keep my gold rose-noble whole."

"Walk?" cried the master-player, scornfully. "Thou, with thy golden
throat? Nay, Nicholas, thou shalt ride to-morrow like a very king, if I
have to pay for the horse myself, twelvepence the day!" and with that he
began chuckling as if it were a joke.

But Nick stood up, and, bowing, thanked him gratefully; at which the
master-player went from chuckling to laughing, and leered at Nick so
oddly that the boy would have thought him tipsy, save that there had
been nothing yet to drink. And a queer sense of uneasiness came creeping
over him as he watched the master-player's eyes opening and shutting,
opening and shutting, so that one moment he seemed to be staring and the
next almost asleep; though all the while his keen, dark eyes peered out
from between the lids like old dog-foxes from their holes, looking Nick
over from head to foot, and from foot to head again, as if measuring him
with an ellwand.

When the supper came, filling the whole table and the sideboard too,
Nick arose to serve the meat as he was used at home; but, "Nay, Nicholas
Skylark, my honey-throat," cried Carew, "sit thee down! Thou wait on
me--thou songster of the silver tongue? Nay, nay, sweetheart; the knave
shall wait on thee, or I'll wait on thee myself--I will, upon my word!
Why, Nick, I tell thee I love thee, and dost think I'd let thee wait or
walk? nay, nay, thou'lt ride to-morrow like a king, and have all
Stratford wait for thee!" At this he chuckled so that he almost choked
upon a mouthful of bread and meat.

"Canst ride, Nicholas?"

"Fairly, sir."

"Fairly? Fie, modesty! I warrant thou canst ride like a very centaur.
What sayest--I'll ride a ten-mile race with thee to-morrow as we go?"

"Why," cried Nick, "are ye going back to Stratford to play, after all?"

"To Stratford? Nay; not for a bushel of good gold Harry shovel-boards!
Bah! That town is ratsbane and nightshade in my mouth! Nay, we'll not go
back to Stratford town; but we shall ride a piece with thee,
Nicholas,--we shall ride a piece with thee."

Chuckling again to himself, he fell to upon the pasty and said no more.

Nick held his peace, as he was taught to do unless first spoken to; but
he could not help thinking that stage-players, and master-players in
particular, were very queer folk.



Night came down on Stratford town that last sweet April day, and the
pastured kine came lowing home. Supper-time passed, and the cool stars
came twinkling out; but still Nick Attwood did not come.

"He hath stayed to sleep with Robin, Master Burgess Getley's son," said
Mistress Attwood, standing in the door, and staring out into the dusk;
"he is often lonely here."

"He should ha' telled thee on it, then," said Simon Attwood. "This be no
way to do. I've a mind to put him to a trade."

"Nay, Simon," protested his wife; "he may be careless,--he is young
yet,--but Nicholas is a good lad. Let him have his schooling out--he'll
be the better for it."

"Then let him show it as he goes along," said Attwood, grimly, as he
blew the candle out.

But May-day dawned; mid-morning came, mid-afternoon, then supper-time
again; and supper-time crept into dusk--and still no Nicholas Attwood.

His mother grew uneasy; but his father only growled: "We'll reckon up
when he cometh home. Master Brunswood tells me he was na at the school
the whole day yesterday--and he be feared to show his face. I'll _fear_
him with a bit of birch!"

"Do na be too hard with the lad, Simon," pleaded Mistress Attwood. "Who
knows what hath happened to him? He must be hurt, or he'd 'a' come home
to his mother"--and she began to wring her hands. "He may ha' fallen
from a tree, and lieth all alone out on the hill--or, Simon, the Avon!
Thou dost na think our lad be drowned?"

"Fudge!" said Simon Attwood. "Born to hang'll never drown!"

When, however, the next day crept around and still his son did not come
home, a doubt stole into the tanner's own heart. Yet when his wife was
for starting out to seek some tidings of the boy, he stopped her

"Nay, Margaret," said he; "thou shalt na go traipsing around the town
like a hen wi' but one chick. I wull na ha' thee made a laughing-stock
by all the fools in Stratford."

But as the third day rolled around, about the middle of the afternoon
the tanner himself sneaked out at the back door of his tannery in
Southam's lane, and went up into the town.

"Robin Getley," he asked at the guildschool door, "was my son wi' thee

"Nay, Master Attwood. Has he not come back?"

"Come back? From where?"

Robin hung his head.

"From, where?" demanded the tanner. "Come, boy!"

"From Coventry," said Robin, knowing that the truth would out at last,

"He went to see the players, sir," spoke up Hal Saddler, briskly, not
heeding Robin's stealthy kick. "He said he'd bide wi' Diccon Haggard
overnight; an' he said he wished he were a master-player himself,
sir, too."

Simon Attwood, frowning blackly, hurried on. It _was_ Nick, then, whom
he had seen crossing the market-square.

Wat Raven, who swept Clopton bridge, had seen two boys go up the Warwick
road. "One were thy Nick, Muster Attwood," said he, thumping the dirt
from his broom across the coping-stone, "and the other were
Dawson's Hodge."

The angry tanner turned again into the market-place. His brows were
knit, and his eyes were hot, yet his step was heavy and slow. Above all
things, he hated disobedience, yet in his surly way he loved his only
son; and far worse than disobedience, he hated that _his_ son
should disobey.

Astride a beam in front of Master Thompson's house sat Roger Dawson.
Simon Attwood took him by the collar none too gently.

"Here, leave be!" choked Roger, wriggling hard; but the tanner's grip
was like iron. "Wert thou in Coventry May-day?" he asked sternly.

"Nay, that I was na," sputtered Hodge. "A plague on Coventry!"

"Do na lie to me--thou wert there wi' my son Nicholas."

"I was na," snarled Hodge. "Nick Attwood threshed me in the Warrick
road; an' I be no dawg to follow at the heels o' folks as threshes me."

"Where be he, then?" demanded Attwood, with a sudden sinking at heart in
spite of his wrath.

"How should I know? A went away wi' a play-actoring fellow in a

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