Part 3 out of 5
tramping of feet, the splash of oars, the bumping of boats along the
wharves, and the shouts and cries of a thousand voices, stupefied him.
He was standing there motionless in the narrow way, as if dazed by a
heavy fall, when Gaston Carew came running up from the river-front, with
the bandy-legged man at his heels.
"THE CHILDREN OF PAUL'S"
An old gray rat came out of its hole, ran swiftly across the floor, and,
sitting up, crouched there, peering at Nick. He thought its bare, scaly
tail was not a pleasant thing to see; yet he looked at it, with his
elbows on his knees, and his chin in his hands.
He had been locked in for two days now. They had put in plenty of food,
and he had eaten it all; for if he starved to death he would certainly
never get home.
It was quite warm, and the boards had been taken from the window, so
that there was plenty of light. The window faced the north, and in the
night, wakened by some outcry in the street below, Nick had leaned his
log-pillow against the wainscot, and, climbing up, looked out into the
sky. It was clear, for a wonder, and the stars were very bright. The
moon, like a smoky golden platter, rose behind the eastern towers of the
town, and in the north hung the Great Wain pointing at the polar star.
Somewhere underneath those stars was Stratford. The throstles would be
singing in the orchard there now, when the sun was low and the cool
wind came up from the river with a little whispering in the lane. The
purple-gray doves, too, would be cooing softly in the elms over the
cottage gable. In fancy he heard the whistle of their wings as they
flew. But all the sound that came in over the roofs of London town was a
hollow murmur as from a kennel of surly hounds.
Cicely Carew was calling at the door. The rat scurried off to its hole
in the wall.
"What there, Nick! Art thou within?" Cicely called again; but Nick made
"Nick, _dear_ Nick, art crying?"
"No," said he; "I'm not."
There was a short silence.
"Nick, I say, wilt thou be good if I open the door?"
"Then I will open it anyway; thou durstn't be bad to me!"
The bolts thumped, and then the heavy door swung slowly back.
"Why, where art thou?"
He was sitting in the corner behind the door.
"Here," said he.
She came in, but he did not look up.
"Nick," she asked earnestly, "why wilt thou be so bad, and try to run
away from my father?"
"I hate thy father!" said he, and brought his fist down upon his knee.
"Hate him? Oh, Nick! Why?"
"If thou be asking whys," said Nick, bitterly, "why did he steal me away
from my mother?"
"Oh, surely, Nick, that cannot be true--no, no, it cannot be true. Thou
hast forgotten, or thou hast slept too hard and had bad dreams. My
father would not steal a pin. It was a nightmare. Doth thine head hurt
thee?" She came over and stroked his forehead with her cool hand. She
was a graceful child, and gentle in all her ways. "I am sorry thou dost
not feel well, Nick. But my father will come presently, and he will heal
thee soon. Don't cry any more."
"I'm not crying," said Nick, stoutly, though as he spoke a tear ran down
his cheek, and fell upon his hand.
"Then it is the roof leaks," she said, looking up as if she had not seen
his tear-blinded eyes. "But cheer up, Nick, and be a good boy--wilt thou
not? 'Tis dinner-time, and thy new clothes have come; and thou art to
come down now and try them on."
When Nick came out of the tiring-room and found the master-player come,
he knew not what to say or do. "Oh, brave, brave, brave!" cried Cicely,
and danced around him, clapping her hands. "Why, it is a very prince--a
king! Oh, Nick, thou art most beautiful to see!"
And Master Carew's own eyes sparkled; for truly it was a pleasant sight
to see a fair young lad like Nick in such attire.
There was a fine white shirt of Holland linen, and long hose of grayish
blue, with puffed and slashed trunks of velvet so blue as to be almost
black. The sleeveless jerkin was of the same dark color, trellised with
roses embroidered in silk, and loose from breast to broad lace collar so
that the waistcoat of dull gold silk beneath it might show. A cloak of
damask with a silver clasp, a buff-leather belt with a chubby purse hung
to it by a chain, tan-colored slippers, and a jaunty velvet cap with a
short white plume, completed the array. Everything, too, had been laid
down with perfume, so that from head to foot he smelt as sweet and clean
as a drift of rose-mallows.
"My soul!" cried Carew, stepping back and snapping his fingers with
delight. "Thou art the bravest skylark that ever broke a shell! Fine
feathers--fine bird--my soul, how ye do set each other off!" He took
Nick by the shoulders, twirled him around, and, standing off again,
stared at him like a man who has found two pound sterling in a
"I can na pay for them, sir," said Nick, slowly.
"There's nought to pay--it is a gift."
Nick hung his head, much troubled. What could he say; what could he
think? This man had stolen him from home,--ay, made him tremble for his
very life a dozen times,--and with his whole heart he knew he hated
him--yet here, a gift!
"Yes, Nick, it is a gift--and all because I love thee, lad."
"Why, surely! Who could see thee without liking, or hear thy voice and
not love thee? Love thee, Nick? Why, on my word and honour, lad, I love
thee with all my heart."
"Thou hast chosen strange ways to show it, Master Carew," said Nick, and
looked straight up into the master player's eyes.
Carew turned upon his heel and ordered the dinner.
It was a good dinner: fat roast capon stuffed with spiced carrots;
asparagus, biscuit, barley-cakes, and honey; and to end with, a flaky
pie, and Spanish cordial sprinkled with burnt sugar. With such fare and
a keen appetite, a marvelous brand-new suit of clothes, and Cicely
chattering gaily by his side, Nick could not be sulky or doleful long.
He was soon laughing; and Carew's spirits seemed to rise with the boy's.
"Here, here!" he cried, as Nick was served the third time to the pie;
"art hollow to thy very toes? Why, thou'lt eat us out of house and
home--hey, Cicely? Marry come up, I think I'd best take Ned Alleyn's
five shillings for thine hire, after all! What! Five shillings? Set me
in earth and bowl me to death with boiled turnips!--do they think to
play bob-fool with me? Five shillings! A fico for their five
shillings--and this for them!" and he squeezed the end of his thumb
between his fingers. "Cicely, what dost think?--Phil Henslowe had the
face to match Jem Bristow with our Nick!"
"Why, daddy, Jem hath a face like a halibut!"
"And a voice like a husky crow. Why, Nick's mere shadow on the stage is
worth a ton of Jemmy Bristows. 'Twas casting pearls before swine, Nick,
to offer thee to Henslowe and Alleyn; but we've found a better trough
than theirs--hey, Cicely Goldenheart, haven't we? Thou art to be one of
Carew lay back in his chair and laughed. "Paul who? Why, Saint Paul,
Nick,--'tis Paul's Cathedral boys I mean. Marry, what dost say to that?"
"I'd like another barley-cake."
"You'd _what_?" cried the master-player, letting the front legs of his
chair come down on the floor with a thump.
"I'd like another barley-cake," said Nick, quietly, helping himself to
"Upon my word, and on the remnant of mine honour!" ejaculated Carew.
"Tell a man his fortune's made, and he calls for barley-cakes! Why,
thou'dst say 'Pooh!' to a cannon-ball! My faith, boy, dost understand
what this doth mean?"
"Ay," said Nick; "that I be hungry."
"But, Nick, upon my soul, thou art to sing with the Children of Paul's;
to play with the cathedral company; to be a bright particular star in
the sweetest galaxy that ever shone in English sky! Dost take me yet?"
"Ay," said Nick, and sopped the honey with his cake.
Carew played with his glass uneasily, and tapped his heel upon the
floor. "And is that all thou hast to say--hast turned oyster? There's no
R in May--nobody will eat thee! Come, don't make a mouth as though the
honey of the world were all turned gall upon thy tongue. 'Tis the
flood-tide of thy fortune, boy! Thou art to sing before the school
to-morrow, so that Master Nathaniel Gyles may take thy range and worth.
Now, truly, thou wilt do thy very best?"
The bandy-legged man had brought water in a ewer, and poured some in a
basin for Nick to wash his hands. There was a green ribbon in his ear,
and the towel hung across his arm. Nick wiped his hands in silence.
"Come," said Master Carew, with an ugly sharpness in his voice, "thou'lt
sing thy very best?"
"There's nothing else to do," replied Nick, doggedly.
THE SKYLARK'S SONG
Master Nathaniel Gyles, Precentor of St. Paul's, had pipe-stem legs, and
a face like an old parchment put in a box to keep. His sandy hair was
thin and straggling, and his fine cloth hose wrinkled around his
shrunken shanks; but his eye was sharp, and he wore about his neck a
broad gold chain that marked him as no common man.
For Master Nathaniel Gyles was head of the Cathedral schools of acting
and of music, and he stood upon his dignity.
"My duty is laid down," said he, "in most specific terms, sir,--_lex
cathedralis_,--that is to say, by the laws of the cathedral; and has
been, sir, since the reign of Richard the Third. _Primus Magister
Scholarum, Custos Morum, Quartus Custos Rotulorum_,--so the title
stands, sir; and I know my place."
He pushed Nick into the anteroom, and turned to Carew with an irritated
"I likewise know, sir, what is what. In plain words, Master Gaston
Carew, ye have grossly misrepresented this boy to me, to the waste of
much good time. Why, sir, he does not dance a step, and cannot act
"Soft, Master Gyles--be not so fast!" said Carew, haughtily, drawing
himself up, with his hand on his poniard; "dost mean to tell me that I
have lied to thee? Marry, sir, thy tongue will run thee into a blind
alley! I told thee that the boy could sing, but not that he could act
"Pouf, sir,--words! I know my place: one peg below the dean, sir,
nothing less: '_Magister, et cetera'_--'tis so set down. And I tell
thee, sir, he has no training, not a bit; can't tell a pricksong from a
bottle of hay; doesn't know a canon from a crocodile, or a fugue from a
hole in the ground!"
"Oh, fol-de-riddle de fol-de-rol! What has that to do with it? I tell
thee, sir, the boy can sing."
"And, sir, I say I know my place. Music does not grow like weeds."
"And fa-la-las don't make a voice."
"What! How? Wilt thou teach me?" The master's voice rose angrily. "Teach
me, who learned descant and counterpoint in the Gallo-Belgic schools,
sir; the best in all the world! Thou, who knowest not a staccato from a
stick of liquorice!"
Carew shrugged his shoulders impatiently. "Come, Master Gyles, this is
fool play. I told thee that the boy could sing, and thou hast not yet
heard him try. Thou knowest right well I am no such simple gull as to
mistake a jay for a nightingale; and I tell thee, sir, upon my word,
and on the remnant of mine honour, he has the voice that thou dost need
if thou wouldst win the favor of the Queen. He has the voice, and thou
the thingumbobs to make the most of it. Don't be a fool, now; hear him
sing. That's all I ask. Just hear him once. Thou'lt pawn thine ears to
hear him twice."
The music-school stood within the old cathedral grounds. Through the
windows came up distantly the murmur of the throng in Paul's Yard. It
was mid-afternoon, quite warm; blundering flies buzzed up and down the
lozenged panes, and through the dark hall crept the humming sound of
childish voices reciting eagerly, with now and then a sharp, small cry
as some one faltered in his lines and had his fingers rapped. Somewhere
else there were boyish voices running scales, now up, now down, without
a stop, and other voices singing harmonies, two parts and three
together, here and there a little flat from weariness.
The stairs were very dark, Nick thought, as they went up to another
floor; but the long hall they came into there was quite bright with
At one end was a little stage, like the one at the Rose play-house, with
a small gallery for musicians above it; but everything here was painted
white and gold, and was most scrupulously clean. The rush-strewn floor
was filled with oaken benches, and there were paintings hanging upon the
wall, portraits of old head-masters and precentors. Some of them were so
dark with time that Nick wondered if they had been blackamoors.
Master Gyles closed the great door and pulled a cord that hung by the
stage. A bell jangled faintly somewhere in the wall. Nick heard the
muffled voices hush, and then a shuffling tramp of slippered feet came
up the outer stair.
"Pouf!" said the precentor, crustily. "_Tempus fugit_--that is to say,
we have no time to waste. So, marry, boy, _venite, exultemus_--in other
words, if thou canst sing, be up and at it. Come, _cantate_--sing, I bid
thee, and that instanter--if thou canst sing at all."
The under-masters and monitors were pushing the boys into their seats.
Carew pointed to the stage. "Thou'lt do thy level best!" he said in a
low, hard tone, and something clashed beneath his cloak like steel
Nick went up the steps behind the screen. It seemed cold in the room; he
had not noticed it before. Yet there were sweat-drops upon his forehead.
He felt as if he were a jackanapes he had seen once at the Stratford
fair, which wore a crimson jerkin and a cap. The man who had the
jackanapes played upon a pipe and a tabor; and when he said, "Dance!"
the jackanapes danced, for it was sorely afraid of the man. Yet when
Nick looked around and did not see the master-player anywhere in the
hall, he felt exceedingly lonely all at once without him, though he both
feared and hated him.
There still was a shuffling of feet and a low talking; but soon it
became very quiet, and they all seemed to be waiting for him to begin.
He did not care, but supposed he might as well: what else could he do?
There was a clock somewhere ticking quickly with its sharp, metallic
ring. As he listened, lonely, his heart cried out for home. In his
fancy the wind seemed rippling over the Avon, and the elm-leaves rustled
like rain upon the roof above his bed. There were red and white
wild-roses in the hedge, and in the air a smell of clover and of
new-mown hay. The mowers would be working in the clover in the
moonlight. He could almost see the sweep of the shining scythes, and
hear the chink-a-chank, chink-a-chank of the whetstone on the long,
curving blades. Chink-a-chank, chink-a-chank--'twas but the clock, and
he in London town.
Carew, sitting there behind the carven prompter's-screen, put down his
head between his hands and listened. There were murmurings a little
while, then silence. Would the boy never begin? He pressed his knuckles
into his temples and waited. Bow Bells rang out the hour; but the room
was as still as a deep sleep. Would the boy never begin?
The precentor sniffed. It was a contemptuous, incredulous sniff. Carew
looked up--his lips white, a fierce red spot in each cheek. He was
talking to himself. "By the whistle of the Lord High Admiral!" he
said--but there he stopped and held his breath. Nick was singing.
Only the old madrigal, with its half-forgotten words that other
generations sang before they fell asleep. How queer it sounded there! It
was a very simple tune, too; yet, as he sang, the old precentor started
from his chair and pressed his wrinkled hands together against his
breast. He quite forgot the sneer upon his face, and it went fading out
like breath from a frosty pane.
He had twelve boys who could sing a hundred songs at sight from
unfamiliar notes; who kept the beat and marked the time as if their
throats were pendulums; could syncopate and floriate as readily as
breathe. And this was only a common country song.
But--"That voice, that voice!" he panted to himself: for old Nat Gyles
was music-mad; melody to him was like the very breath of life. And the
boy's high, young voice, soft as a flute and silver clear, throbbed in
the air as if his very heart were singing out of his body in the sound.
And then, like the skylark rising, up, up it went, and up, up, up, till
the older choristers held their breath and feared that the vibrant tone
would break, so slender, film-like was the trembling thread of the boy's
wild skylark song. But no; it trembled there, high, sweet, and clear, a
moment in the air; and then came running, rippling, floating down, as
though some one had set a song on fire in the sky, and dropped it
quivering and bright into a shadow world. Then suddenly it was gone, and
the long hall was still.
The old precentor stepped beyond the screen.
Gaston Carew's face was in his hands, and his shoulders shook
convulsively. "I'll leave thee go, lad,_--ma foi_, I'll leave thee go.
But, nay, I dare not leave thee go!"
Some one came and tapped him on the shoulder. It was the sub-precentor.
"Master Gyles would speak with thee, sir," said he, in a low tone, as if
half afraid of the sound of his own voice in the quiet that was in
Carew drew his hand hastily over his face, as if to take the old one off
and put a new one on, then arose and followed the man.
[Illustration: "'THAT VOICE, THAT VOICE,' NAT GYLES PANTED TO
The old precentor stood with his hands still clasped against his
breast. "_Mirabile_!" he was saying with bated breath. "It is
impossible, and I have dreamed! Yet _credo_--I believe--_quia
impossibile est_--because it is impossible. Tell me, Carew, do I wake or
dream--or, stay, was it a soul I heard? Ay, Carew, 'twas a soul: the
lad's own white, young soul. My faith, I said he was of no account!
_Satis verborum_--say no more. _Humanum est errare_--I am a poor old
fool; and there's a sour bug flown in mine eye that makes it water so!"
He wiped his eyes, for the tears were running down his cheeks.
"Thou'lt take him, then?" asked Carew.
"Take him?" cried the old precentor, catching the master-player by the
hand. "Marry, that will I; a voice like that grows not on every bush.
Take him? Pouf! I know my place--he shall be entered on the rolls
"Good!" said Carew. "I shall have him learn to dance, and teach him how
to act myself. He stays with me, ye understand; thy school fare is
miserly. I'll dress him, too; for these students' robes are shabby
stuff. But for the rest--"
"Trust me," said Master Gyles; "he shall be the first singer of them
all. He shall be taught--but who can teach the lark its song, and not do
horrid murder on it? Faith, Carew, I'll teach the lad myself; ay, all I
know. I studied in the best schools in the world."
"And, hark 'e, Master Gyles," said Carew, sternly all at once; "thou'lt
come no royal placard and seizure on me--ye have sworn. The boy is mine
to have and to hold with all that he earns, in spite of thy
For the kings of old had given the masters of this school the right to
take for St. Paul's choir whatever voices pleased them, wherever they
might be found, by force if not by favor, barring only the royal singers
at Windsor; and when men have such privileges it is best to be wary how
one puts temptation in their way.
"Thou hadst mine oath before I even saw the boy," said the precentor,
haughtily. "Dost think me perjured--_Primus Magister Scholarum, Custos
Morum, Quartus Custos Rotulorum?_ Pouf! I know my place. My oath's my
oath. But, soft; enough--here comes the boy. Who could have told a
skylark in such popinjay attire?"
A NEW LIFE
And now a strange, new life began for Nicholas Attwood, in some things
so grand and kind that he almost hated to dislike it.
It was different in every way from the simple, pinching round in
Stratford, and full of all the comforts of richness and plenty that make
life happy--excepting home and mother.
Master Gaston Carew would have nothing but the best, and what he wanted,
whether he needed it or not; so with him money came like a summer rain,
and went like water out of a sieve: for he was a wild blade.
They ate their breakfast when they pleased; dined at eleven, like the
nobility; supped at five, as was the fashion of the court. They had
wheat-bread the whole week round, as only rich folk could afford, with
fruit and berries in their season, and honey from the Surrey bee-farms
that made one's mouth water with the sight of it dripping from the flaky
comb; and on Fridays spitchcocked eels, pickled herrings, and plums,
with simnel-cakes, poached eggs and milk, cream cheese and cordial,
like very kings; so that Nick could not help thriving.
The master-player very seldom left him by himself to mope or to be
melancholy; but, while ever vaguely promising to let him go, did
everything in his power to make him rather wish to stay; so that Nick
was constantly surprised by the free-handed kindness of this man whom he
had every other reason in the world, he thought, for deeming his
When there were any new curiosities in Fleet street,--wild men with
rings in their noses, wondrous fishes, puppet-shows, or red-capped
baboons whirling on a pole,--Carew would have Nick see them as well as
Cicely; and often took them both to Bartholomew's Fair, where there was
a giant eating raw beef and a man dancing upon a rope high over the
heads of the people. He would have had Nick every Thursday to the
bear-baiting in the Paris Garden circus beside; but one sight of that
brutal sport made the boy so sick that they never went again, but to the
stage-plays at the Rose instead, which Nick enjoyed immensely, for Carew
himself acted most excellently, and Master Tom Heywood always came and
spoke kindly to the lonely boy.
For, in spite of all, Nick's heart ached so at times that he thought it
would surely break with longing for his mother. And at night, when all
the house was still and dark, and he alone in bed, all the little,
unconsidered things of home--the beehives and the fragrant mint beside
the kitchen door, the smell of the baking bread or frying carrots, the
sound of the red-cheeked harvest apples dropping in the orchard, and the
plump of the old bucket in the well--came back to him so vividly that
many a time he cried himself to sleep, and could not have forgotten
if he would.
On Midsummer Day there was a Triumph on the river at Westminster, with a
sham-fight and a great shooting of guns and hurling of balls of
wild-fire. The Queen was there, and the ambassadors of France and
Venice, with the Duke of Lennox and the Earls of Arundel and
Southampton. Master Carew took a wherry to Whitehall, and from the green
there they watched the show.
The Thames was fairly hidden by the boats, and there was a grand state
bark all trimmed with silk and velvet for the Queen to be in to see the
pastime. But as for that, all Nick could make out was the high carved
stern of the bark, painted with England's golden lions, and the bark was
so far away that he could not even tell which was the Queen.
Coming home by Somerset House, a large barge passed them with many
watermen rowing, and fine carpets about the seats; and in it the old
Lord Chamberlain and his son my Lord Hunsdon, who, it was said, was to
be the Lord Chamberlain when his father died; for the old lord was
failing, and the Queen liked handsome young men about her.
In the barge, beside their followers, were a company of richly dressed
gentlemen, who were having a very gay time together, and seemed to
please the old Lord Chamberlain exceedingly with the things they said.
They were somebodies, as Nick could very well see from their carriage
and address; and, so far as the barge allowed, they were all clustered
about one fellow in the seat by my Lord Hunsdon. He seemed to be the
chiefest spokesman of them all, and every one appeared very glad indeed
to be friendly with him. My Lord Hunsdon himself made free with his own
nobility, and sat beside him arm in arm.
What he was saying they were too far away to hear in the shouting and
splash; but those with him in the barge were listening as eagerly as
children to a merry tale. Sometimes they laughed until they held their
sides; and then again as suddenly they were very quiet, and played
softly with their tankards and did not look at one another as he went
gravely on telling his story. Then all at once he would wave his hand
gaily, and his smile would sparkle out; and the whole company, from the
old Lord Chamberlain down, would brighten up again, as if a new dawn had
come over the hills into their hearts from the light of his hazel eyes.
Nick made no doubt that this was some young earl rolling in wealth; for
who else could have such listeners? Yet there was, nevertheless,
something so familiar in his look that he could not help staring at him
as the barge came thumping through the jam.
They passed along an oar's-length or two away; and as they came abeam,
Carew, rising, doffed his hat, and bowed politely to them all.
In spite of his wild life, he was a striking, handsome man.
The old Lord Chamberlain said something to his son, and pointed with his
hand. All the company in the barge turned round to look; and he who had
been talking stood up quickly with his hand upon the young lord's arm,
and, smiling, waved his cap.
Nick gave a sharp cry.
Then the barge pushed through, and shot away down stream like a wild
"Why, Nick," exclaimed Cicely, "how dreadful thou dost look!" and,
frightened, she caught him by the hand. "Why, oh!--what is it,
Nick--thou art not ill?"
"It was Will Shakspere!" cried Nick, and sank into the bottom of the
wherry with his head upon the master-player's knee. "Oh, Master Carew,"
he cried, "will ye never leave me go?"
Carew laid his hand upon the boy's head, and patted it gently.
"Why, Nick," said he, and cleared his throat, "is not this better than
"Oh, Master Carew--mother's there!" was the reply.
There was no sound but the thud of oars in the rowlocks and the hollow
bubble of the water at the stern, for they had fallen out of the hurry
and were coming down alone.
"Is thy mother a good woman, Nick?" asked Cicely.
Carew was staring out into the fading sky. "Ay, sweetheart," he answered
in a queer, husky voice, suddenly putting one arm about her and the
other around Nick's shoulders. "None but a good mother could have so
good a son."
"Then thou wilt send him home, daddy?" asked Cicely.
Carew took her hand in his, but answered nothing.
They had come to the landing.
THE MAKING OP A PLAYER
Master Will Shakspere was in town! The thought ran through Nick
Attwood's head like a half-remembered tune. Once or twice he had all but
sung it instead of the words of his part. Master Will Shakspere was
Could he but just find Master Shakspere, all his trouble would be over;
for the husband of his mother's own cousin would see justice done him in
spite of the master-player and the bandy-legged man with the ribbon in
his ear--of that he was sure.
But there seemed small chance of its coming about; for the doors of
Gaston Carew's house were locked and barred by day and by night, as much
to keep Nick in as to keep thieves out; and all day long, when Carew was
away, the servants went about the lower halls, and Gregory Goole's
uncanny face peered after him from every shadowy corner; and when he
went with Carew anywhere, the master-player watched him like a hawk,
while always at his heels he could hear the clump, clump, clump of the
bandy-legged man following after him.
Even were he free to go as he pleased, he knew not where to turn; for
the Lord Chamberlain's company would not be at the Blackfriars
play-house until Martinmas; and before that time to look for even Master
Will Shakspere at random in London town would be worse than hunting for
a needle in a haystack.
To be sure, he knew that the Lord Chamberlain's men were still playing
at the theater in Shoreditch; for Master Carew had taken Cicely there to
see the "Two Gentlemen of Verona." But just where Shoreditch was, Nick
had only the faintest idea--somewhere away off by Finsbury Fields,
beyond the city walls to the north of London town--and all the wide
world seemed north of London town; and the way thither lay through a
bewildering tangle of streets in which the din and the rush of the crowd
were never still.
From a hopeless chase like that Nick shrank back like a snail into its
shell. He was not too young to know that there were worse things than to
be locked in Gaston Carew's house. It were better to be a safe-kept
prisoner there than to be lost in the sinks of London. And so, knowing
this, he made the best of it.
But Master Shakspere was come back to town, and that was something. It
seemed somehow less lonely just to think of it.
Yet in truth he had but little time to think of it; for the
master-player kept him closely at his strange, new work, and taught him
daily with the most amazing patience.
[Illustration: "NOBODY BREAKS NOBODY'S HEARTS IN OLD JO-OHN SMITHSES
SHO-OP,' DRAWLED THE SMITH, IN HIS DEEP VOICE; NOR STEALS
He had Nick learn no end of stage parts off by heart, with their cues
and "business," entrances and exits; and worked fully as hard as his
pupil, reading over every sentence twenty times until Nick had the
accent perfectly. He would have him stamp, too, and turn about, and
gesture in accordance with the speech, until the boy's arms ached, going
with him through the motions one by one, over and over again,
unsatisfied, but patient to the last, until Nick wondered. "Nick, my
lad," he would often say, with a tired but determined smile, "one little
thing done wrong may spoil the finest play, as one bad apple rots the
barrelful. We'll have it right, or not at all, if it takes a month
So, often, he kept Nick before a mirror for an hour at a time, making
faces while he spoke his lines, smiling, frowning, or grimacing as best
seemed to fit the part, until the boy grew fairly weary of his own
looks. Then sometimes, more often as the time slipped by, Carew would
clap his hands with a boyish laugh, and have a pie brought and a cup of
Spanish cordial for them both, declaring that he loved the lad with all
his heart, upon the remnant of his honour: from which Nick knew that he
was coming on.
Cicely Carew's governess was a Mistress Agnes Anstey. By birth she had
been a Harcourt of Ankerwyke, and she was therefore everywhere esteemed
fit by birth and breeding to teach the young mind when to bow and when
to beckon. She came each morning to the house, and Carew paid her double
shillings to see to it that Nick learned such little tricks of cap and
cloak as a lady's page need have, the carriage best fitted for his
place, and how to come into a room where great folks were. Moreover, how
to back out again, bowing, and not fall over the stools--which was no
little art, until Nick caught the knack of peeping slyly between his
legs when he bowed.
His hair, too, was allowed to grow long, and was combed carefully every
day by the tiring-woman; and soon, as it was naturally curly, it fell in
rolling waves about his neck.
On the heels of the governess came M'sieu de Fleury, who, it was said,
had been dancing-master to Hatton, the late Lord Chancellor of England,
and had taught him those tricks with his nimble heels which had capered
him into the Queen's good graces, and so got him the chancellorship.
M'sieu spoke dreadful English, but danced like the essence of agility,
and taught both Nick and Cicely the latest Italian coranto, playing the
tune upon his queer little pochette.
Cicely already danced like a pixy, and laughed merrily at her comrade's
first awkward antics, until he flushed with embarrassment. At that she
instantly became grave, and, when M'sieu had gone, came across the room,
and putting her arm about Nick, said repentantly, "Don't thou mind me,
Nick. Father saith the French all laugh too soon at nothing; and I have
caught it from my mother's blood. A boy is not good friends with his
feet as a girl is; but thou wilt do beautifully, I know; and M'sieu
shall teach us the galliard together."
And often, after the lesson was over and M'sieu departed, she would
have Nick try his steps over and over again in the great room, while she
stood upon the stool to make her tall, and cried, "Sa--sa!" as the
master did, scolding and praising him by turns, or jumping down in
pretty impatience to tuck up her little silken skirts and show him the
step herself; while the cook's knave and the scullery-maids peeped at
the door and cried: "La, now, look 'e, Moll!" at every coupee.
It made a picture quaint and pretty to see them dancing there. The smoky
light, stealing in through the narrow casements over the woodwork dark
with age, dropped in little yellow chequers upon old chests of oak, of
walnut, and of strange, purple-black wood from foreign lands, giving a
weird life to the griffins and twisted traceries carved upon their
sides. High-backed, narrow chairs stood along the wall, with cushioned
stools inlaid with shell. Twinklings of light glinted from the brass
candlesticks. On the wall above the wainscot the faded hangings wavered
in the draught, crusted thickly with strange embroidered flowers. And
dancing there together in the semi-gloom, the children seemed quaint
little figures stepped down from the tapestry at the touch of a
And so the time went slipping by, very pleasantly upon the whole, and
Nick's young heart grew stout again within his breast; for he was strong
and well, and in those days the very air was full of hope, and no man
knew what might betide with the rising of to-morrow's sun.
Every day, from two till three o'clock, he was at Master Gyles's
private singing-room at the old cathedral school, learning to read music
at first sight, and to sing offhand the second, third, and fourth parts
of queer intermingled fugues or wonderfully constructed canons.
At first his head felt stuffed like a feasted glutton with all the
learning that the old precentor poured into it; but by and by he found
it plain enough, and no very difficult thing to follow up the prickings
in the paper with his voice, and to sing parts written at fifths and
fourths and thirds with other voices as easily as to carry a song alone.
But still he sang best his own unpointed songs, the call and challenge
of the throstle and the merle, the morning glory of the lark, songs that
were impossible to write. And those were the songs that the precentor
was at the greatest pains to have him sing in perfect tones, making him
open his mouth like a little round and let the music float out
Like the master-player, nothing short of perfection pleased old
Nathaniel Gyles, and Nick's voice often wavered with sheer weariness as
he ran his endless scales and sang absurd fa-la-la-las while his teacher
beat the time in the air with his lean forefinger like a grim automaton.
The old man, too, was chary of his praise, though Nick tried hard to
please him, and it was only by little things he told his satisfaction.
He touzed the ears of the other boys, and sometimes smartly thumped
their crowns; but with Nick he only nipped his ruddy cheek between his
thumb and finger, or laid his hand upon his shoulder when the hard day's
work was done, saying, "_Satis cantorum_--it is enough. Now be off to
thy nest, sir; and do not forget to wash thy throat with good cold water
* * * * *
All this time the busy sand kept running in the glass. July was gone,
and August at its heels. The hot breath of the summer had cooled, and
the sun no longer burned the face when it came in through the windows.
Nick often shut his eyes and let the warm light fall upon his closed
lids. It made a ruddy glow like the wild red poppies that grow in the
pale green rye. In fancy he could almost smell the queer, rancid odor of
the crimson bloom crushed beneath the feet of the farmers' boys who cut
the butter-yellow mustard from among the bearded grain.
"Heigh-ho and alackaday!" thought Nick. "It is better in the country
than in town!" For there was no smell in all the town like the clean,
sweet smell of the open fields just after a summer rain, no colors like
the bright heart's-ease and none-so-pretty, or the honeysuckle over the
cottage door, and no song ever to be heard among the sooty chimney-pots
like the song of the throstle piping to the daisies on the hill.
But he had little time to dream such dreams, for every day from four to
six o'clock the children's company played and sang in public, at their
own school-hall, or in the courtyard of the Mitre Inn on Bread street
near St. Paul's.
They were the pets of London town, and their playing-place was thronged
day after day. For the bright young faces and sweet, unbroken voices of
the richly costumed lads made a spot in sordid London life like a pot of
posies in a window on a dark street; so that both the high and the low,
the rich and the poor, came in to see them play and dance, to hear them
sing, and to laugh again at the witty things which were written for
them to say.
The songs that were set for Nick to sing were always short, sweet,
simple things that even the dull-eyed, toil-worn folk upon the rough
plank benches in the pit could understand. Many a silver shilling came
clinking down at the heels of the other boys from the galleries of the
inn, where the people of the better classes, wealthy merchants, ladies
and their dashing gallants, watched the children's company; but when
Nick's songs were done the common people down below seemed all gone
daft. They tossed red apples after him, ripe yellow pears, fat purple
plums by handfuls, called him by name and brought him back, and cried
for more and more and more, until the old precentor shook his head
behind the prompters-screen, and waved Nick off with a forbidding frown.
Yet all the while he chuckled to himself until it seemed as if his dry
old ribs would rattle in his sides; and every day, before Nick sang, he
had him up to his little room for a broken egg and a cup of
"To clear thy voice and to cheer the cockles of thine heart," said he;
"and to tune that pretty throat of thine _ad gustum Reginae_--which is
to say, 'to the Queen's own taste,'--God bless Her Majesty!"
The other boys were cast for women's parts, for women never acted then;
and a queer sight it was to Nick to see his fellows in great
farthingales of taffeta and starchy cambric that rustled as they
walked, with popinjay blue ribbon in their hair, and flowered stomachers
sparkling with paste jewels.
And, truth, it was no easy thing to tell them from the real affair, or
to guess the made from the maiden, so slender and so graceful were they
all, with their ruffs and their muffs and their feathered fans, and all
the airs and mincing graces of the daintiest young miss.
But old Nat Gyles would never have Nick Attwood play the girl. "The lad
is good enough for me just as he is," said he; and that was all there
was of it.
THE WANING OF THE YEAR
In September the Lord Admiral's company made a tour of the Midlands
during the great English fairing-time; but Carew did not go with them.
For, though still by name master-player with Henslowe and Alleyn, his
business with them had come to be but little more than pocketing his
share of the profits; and for the rest, nothing but to take Nick daily
to and from St. Paul's, and to draw his wages week by week.
Of those wages Nick saw never a penny: Carew took good care of that. Yet
he gave him everything that any boy could need, and bought him whatever
he fancied the instant he so much as expressed a wish for it: which, in
truth, was not much; for Nick had lived in only a country town, and knew
not many things to want.
But with money a-plenty thus coming so easily into his hands,--money for
dicing, for luxuries, for all his wild sports, money for Cicely, money
for keeps, money to play chuckie-stones with if he chose,--there was no
bridle to Gaston Carew's wild career. His boon companions were
spendthrifts and gamesters, dissolute fellows, of whom the least said
soonest mended; and with them he was brawling early and late, very often
all night long. And though money came in fast, he wasted it faster, so
that matters went from bad to worse. Duns came spying about his door,
and bailiffs hunted after him around the town with unpaid tradesmen's
bills. Yet still he laughed and clapped his hand upon his poniard in the
old bold way.
September faded away in wistful haze along the Hampstead hills. The
Admiral's men came riding back with keen October ringing at their heels,
and all the stalls were full of red-cheeked apples striped with emerald
and gold. November followed, with its nipping frost, and all St.
George's merry green fields turned brown and purple-gray. The old year
was waning fast.
The Queen's Day was but a poor holiday, in spite of the shut-up shops;
for it was grown so cold with sleet and rain that it was hard to get
about, the gutters and streets being very foul, and the by-lanes
impassable. And now the children of Paul's gave no more plays in the
yard of the Mitre Inn, but sang in their own warm hall; for winter
was at hand.
There came black nights when an ugly wind moaned in the shivering
chimneys and howled across the peaked roofs, nights when there was no
playing at the Rose, but it was hearty to be by the fire. Then sometimes
Carew sat at home all evening long, with Cicely upon his knee, and told
strange tales of lands across the sea, where he had traveled when he was
young, and where none spoke English but chance travelers, and even the
loudest shouting could not serve to make the people understand.
While he spun these wondrous yarns Nick would curl up on the hearth and
blow the crackling fire, sometimes staring at the master-player's
stories, sometimes laughing to himself at the funny faces carved upon
the sides of the chubby Dutch bellows, and sometimes neither laughing
nor listening, but thinking silently of home. Then Carew, looking at him
there, would quickly turn his face away and tell another tale.
But oftener the master-player stayed all night at the Falcon Inn with
Dick Jones, Tom Hearne, Humphrey Jeffs, and other reckless roysterers,
dicing and flipping shillings at shovel-board until his finger-nails
were sore. Then Nick would read aloud to Cicely out of the "Hundred
Merry Tales," or pop old riddles at her puzzled head until she,
laughing, cried, "Enough!" But most of all he liked the story of brave
Guy of Warwick, and would tell it again and again, with other legends of
Arden Wood, till bedtime came.
In the gray of the morning Carew would come home, unshaven and
leaden-eyed, with his bandy-legged varlet trotting like a watch-dog at
his heels; and then, if the gaming had gone well, he was a lord, an
earl, a duke, at least, so merry and so sprightly would he be withal;
but if the dice had fallen wrong, he would by turns be raving mad or
sodden as a sunken pie.
Yet, be his temper what it might, he was but one thing always to Cicely,
and doffed ill humor like a shabby hat when she came running to meet
him in the shadows of the hall; so that when he came into the lighted
room, with her upon his shoulder, his face was smiles, his step a
frolic, and his bearing that of a happy boy.
But day by day the weather grew worse, with snow and ice paving the
streets with a glassy glare and choking the frozen drains; and there was
trouble and want among the poor in the wretched alleys near Carew's
house: for fuel was high and food scarce, and there were many deaths, so
that the knell was tolling constantly.
Cicely cried until her eyes were red for the very sadness of it all,
since she might do nothing for them, and hated the sound of the
"Pshaw, Cicely!" said Nick; "why should ye cry? Ye do na know them; so
ye need na care."
"But, Nick," said she, "_nobody_ seems to care! And, sure, _somebody_
ought to care; for it may be some one's mother that is dead."
At that Nick felt a very queer choking in his own throat, and did not
rest quite easy in his mind until he had given the silver buckle from
his cloak to a boy who stood crying with cold and hunger in the street,
and begged a farthing of him for the love of the good God.
Then came a thaw, with mist and fog so thick that people were lost in
their own streets, and knocked at their next-door neighbor's gate to ask
the way home. All day long, down by the Thames drums beat upon the
wharves and bells ding-donged to guide the watermen ashore; but most of
those who needs must fare abroad went over London Bridge, because
there, although they might in no wise see, it felt, at least, as if the
world were still beneath their feet.
At noon the air was muddy brown, with a bitter taste like watered smoke;
at night it was a blinding pall; and though, after mid-December, by
order of the Council, every alderman and burgess hung a light before his
door, torches, links, and candles only sputtered feebly in the gloom, of
no more use than jack-o'-lanterns gone astray, and none but blind men
knew the roads.
The city watch was doubled everywhere; and all night long their shouts
went up and down--"'Tis what o'clock, and a foggy night!"--and right and
left their hurrying staves came thumping helplessly along the walls to
answer cries of "Murder!" and of "Help! Watch! Help!" For under cover of
the fog great gangs of thieves came down from Hampstead Heath, and
robberies were done in the most frequented thoroughfares, between the
very lights set up by the corporation; so that it was dangerous to go
about save armed and wary as a cat in a crowd.
While such foul days endured there was no singing at St. Paul's, nor
stage-plays anywhere, save at Blackfriars play-house, which was roofed
against the weather. And even there at last the fog crept in through
cracks and crannies until the players seemed but moving shadows talking
through a choking cloud; and Master Will Shakspere's famous new piece of
"Romeo and Juliet," which had been playing to crowded houses, taking ten
pound twelve the day, was fairly smothered off the boards. Nick was
eager to be out in all this blindman's holiday; but, "Nay," said Carew;
"not so much as thy nose. A fog like this would steal the croak from a
raven's throat, let alone the sweetness from a honey-pot like thine--and
bottom crust is the end of pie!" With which, bang went the door, creak
went the key, and Carew was off to the Falcon Inn.
* * * * *
So went the winter weather, and so went Carew; for there was no denying
that both had fallen into a very bad way. Yet another change came
creeping over Carew all unaware.
Nick's face had from the first attracted him; and now, living with the
boy day after day, housed up, a prisoner, yet cheerful through it all,
the master-player began to feel what in a better man had been the prick
of conscience, but in him was only an indefinite uneasiness like a
blunted cockle-bur. For the lad's patient perseverance at his work, his
delight in singing, and the tone of longing threaded through his voice,
crept into the master-player's heart in spite of him; and Nick's gentle
ways with Cicely touched him more than all the rest: for if there was
one thing in all the world that Gaston Carew truly loved, it was his
daughter Cicely. So for her sake, as well as for Nick's own, the
master-player came to love the lad. And this was shown in queer ways.
In the wainscot of the dining-hall there was a carven panel just above
the Spanish chest. At night, when the house was still and all the rest
asleep, Carew often came and stood before this panel, with a queer,
hesitating look upon his hard, bold face; and stretching out his hand,
would press upon the head of a cherub cut in the bevel edge. Whereupon
the panel slipped away within the wainscot, leaving a little closet in
the hollow of the wall, in which a few strange things were stowed: an
empty flask, an inlaid rosewood box, a little slipper, and a dusty
gittern with its strings all snapped and a faded ribbon tied about
The rosewood box he would take down, and with it open in his lap would
sit beside the fire like a man within a dream, until the hearth grew
white and cold, and the draught had blown the ashes out in streaks
across the floor. In the box was a woman's riding-glove and a miniature
upon ivory, Cicely's mother's face, painted at Paris in other days.
One night, while they were sitting all together by the fire, Nick and
Cicely snug in the chimney-seat, Carew spoke up suddenly out of a little
silence which had fallen upon them all. "Nick," said he, quite softly,
with a look on his face as if he were thinking of other things, "I
wonder if thou couldst play?"
"What, sir?" asked Nick; "a game?" and made the bellows whistle in his
"Nay, lad; a gittern."
Nick and Cicely looked up, for his manner was very odd.
"Why, sir, I do na know. I could try. I ha' heard one played, and it is
passing sweet." "Ay, Nick, 'tis passing sweet," said Carew,
quickly--and no more; but spoke of France, how the lilies grow in the
ditches there, and the tall trees stand like soldiers by the road that
runs to the land of sunny hills and wine; and of the radiant women
there, with hair like night and eyes like the summer stars. Then all at
once he stopped as if some one had clapped a hand upon his mouth, and
sat and stared into the fire.
But in the morning at breakfast there was a gittern at Nick's place--a
rare old yellow gittern, with silver scrolls about the tail-piece, ivory
pegs, and a head that ended in an angel's face. It was strung with
bright new silver strings, but near the bridge of it there was a little
rut worn into the wood by the tips of the fingers that had rested there
while playing, and the silken shoulder-ribbon was faded and worn.
Nick stopped, then put out both his hands as if to touch it, yet did
not, being half afraid.
"Tut, take it up!" said Carew, sharply, though he had not seemed to
heed. "Take it up--it is for thee."
"For me?" cried Nick--"not for mine own?"
Carew turned and struck the table with his hand, as if suddenly wroth.
"Why should I say it was for thee? if it were not to be thine own?"
"But, Master Carew--" Nick began.
"'Master Carew' fiddlesticks! Hold thy prate. Do I know my own mind, or
do I filter my wits through thee? Did I not say that it is thine? Good,
then--'tis thine, although it were thrice somebody else's; and thrice as
much thy very own through having other owners. Dost hear? Well, then,
enough--we'll have no words about it!"
Rising abruptly as he spoke, he clapped his hat upon his head and left
the room, Nick standing there beside the table, staring after him, with
the gittern in his hands.
TO SING BEFORE THE QUEEN
"Sir Fly hangs dead on the window-pane;
The frost doth wind his shroud;
Through the halls of his little summer house
The north wind cries aloud.
We will bury his bones in the mouldy wall,
And mourn for the noble slain:
A southerly wind and a sunny sky--
Buzz! up he comes again!
Oh, Master Fly!"
Nick looked up from the music-rack and shivered. He had forgotten the
fire in studying his song, and the blackened ends of the burnt-out logs
lay smouldering on the hearth. The draught, too, whistled shrilly under
the door, in spite of the rushes that he had piled along the crack.
The fog had been gone for a week. It was snapping cold; and through the
peep-holes he had thawed upon the window-pane with his breath, he could
see the hoar-frost lying in the shadow of the wall in the court below.
How forlorn the green old dial looked out there alone in the cold, with
the winter dust whirling around it in little eddies upon the wind! The
dial was fringed with icicles, like an old man's beard; and even the
creeping shadow on its face, which told mid-afternoon, seemed frozen
where it fell.
Mid-afternoon already, and he so much to do! Nick pulled his cloak about
him, and turned to his song again:
"Sir Fly hangs dead on the window-pane;
The frost doth wind his shroud--"
But there he stopped; for the boys were singing in the great hall below,
and the whole house rang with the sound of the roaring chorus:
"Down-a-down, hey, down-a-down,
Hey derry derry down-a-down!"
Nick put his fingers in his ears, and began all over again:
"Sir Fly hangs dead on the window-pane;
The frost doth wind his shroud;
Through the halls of his little summer house
The north wind cries aloud."
But it was no use; all he could hear was:
"Down-a-down, hey, down-a-down,
Hey derry derry down-a-down!"
How could a fellow study in a noise like that? He gave it up in despair,
and kicking the chunks together, stood upon the hearth, warming his
hands by the gathering blaze while he listened to the song:
"Cold's the wind, and wet's the rain;
Saint Hugh, be our good speed!
Ill is the weather that bringeth no gain,
Nor helps good hearts in need.
"Down-a-down, hey, down-a-down,
Hey derry derry down-a-down!"
He could hear Colley Warren above them all. What a voice the boy had!
Like a golden horn blowing in the fresh of a morning breeze. It made
Nick tingle, he could not tell why. He and Colley often sang together,
and their voices made a quivering in the air like the ringing of a bell.
And often, while they sang, the viols standing in the corner of the room
would sound aloud a deep, soft note in harmony with them, although
nobody had touched the strings; so that the others cried out that the
instruments were bewitched, and would not let the boys sing any more.
Colley Warren was Nick's best friend--a dark-eyed, quiet lad, as gentle
as a girl, and with a mouth like a girl's mouth, for which the others
sometimes mocked him, though they loved him none the less.
It was not because his voice was loud that it could be so distinctly
heard; but it was nothing like the rest, and came through all the others
like sunshine through a mist. Nick pulled the stool up closer, and sat
down in the chimney-corner, humming a second to the tune, and blowing
little glory-holes in the embers with the bellows. He liked the smell
of a wood fire, and liked to toast his toes. He was a trifle drowsy,
too, now that he was warm again to the marrow of his bones; perhaps he
dozed a little.
But suddenly he came to himself again with a sense of a great stillness
fallen over everything--no singing in the room below, and silence
everywhere but in the court, where there was a trampling as of horses
standing at the gate. And while he was still lazily wondering, a great
cheer broke out in the room below, and there was a stamping of feet like
cattle galloping over a bridge; and then, all at once, the door opened
into the hallway at the foot of the stair, and the sound burst out as
fire bursts from the cock-loft window of a burning barn, and through the
noise and over it Colley Warren's voice calling him by name: "Skylark!
Nick Skylark! Ho there, Nick! where art thou?"
He sprang to the door and kicked the rushes away. All the hall was full
of voices, laughing, shouting, singing, and cheering. There were
footsteps coming up the stair. "What there, Skylark! Ho, boy! Nick,
where art thou?" he could hear Colley calling above them all. Out he
popped his nose: "Here I am, Colley--what's to do? _Whatever in the
world!_" and he ducked his head like a mandarin; for whizz--flap! two
books came whirling up the stair and thumped against the panel by
"The news--the news, Nick! Have ye heard the news?" the lads were
shouting as if possessed. "We're going to court! Hurrah, hurrah!" And
some, with their arms about one another, went whirling out at the door
and around the windy close like very madcaps, cutting such capers that
the horses standing at the gate kicked up their heels, and jerked the
horse-boys right and left like bundles of hay.
Nick leaned over the railing and stared.
"Come down and help us sing!" they cried. "Come down and shout with us
in the street!"
"I can na come down--there's work to do!"
"Thy 'can na' be hanged, and thy work likewise! Come down and sing, or
we'll fetch thee down. The Queen hath sent for us!"
"The Queen--hath sent--for us?"
"Ay, sent for us to come to court and play on Christmas day! Hurrah for
At that shrill cheer the startled horses fairly plunged into the street,
and the carts that were passing along the way were jammed against the
opposite wall. The carriers bellowed, the horse-boys bawled, the people
came running to see the row, and the apprentices flew out of the shops
bareheaded, waving their dirty aprons and cheering lustily, just for the
fun of the chance to cheer.
"It's true!" called Colley, his dark eyes dancing like stars on the sea.
"Come down, Nick, and sing in the street with us all! We are going to
Greenwich Palace on Christmas day to play before the Queen and the
court--for the first time, Nick, in a good six years; and we're not to
work till the new masque comes from the Master of the Revels! Come down,
Nick, and sing with us out in the street; for we're going to court,
we're going to court to sing before the Queen! Hurrah, hurrah!"
"Hurrah for good Queen Bess!" cried Nick; and up went his cap and down
went he on the baluster-rail like a runaway sled, head first into the
crowd, who caught him laughing as he came. Then all together they
cantered out like a parcel of colts in a fresh, green field, and sang in
the street before the school till the people cheered themselves hoarse
to hear such music on such a wintry day; sang until there was no other
business on all the thoroughfare but just to listen to their songs; sang
until the under-masters came out with their staves and drove them into
the school again, to keep them from straining their throats by singing
so loudly and so long in the frosty open air.
But a fig for staves and for under-masters! The boys clapped fast the
gates behind them, and barred the under-masters out in the street,
singing twice as loudly as before, and mocking at them with wry faces
through the bars; and then trooped off up the old precentor's private
stair and sang at his door until the old man could not hear his own
ears, and came out storming and grim as grief.
But when he saw the boys all there, and heard them cheering him three
times three, he could not storm to save his life, but only stood there,
black and thin, against the yellow square of light, smiling a quaint
smile that half was wrinkles and half was pride, shaking his lean
forefinger at them as if he were beating time, and nodding until his
head seemed almost nodding off.
"Hurrah for Master Nathaniel Gyles!" they shouted.
"_Primus Magister Scholarum, Custos Morum, Quartus Custos Rotulorum_,"
said the old man softly to himself, the firelight from behind him
falling in a glory on his thin white hair. "Be off, ye rogues! Ye are
not fit to waste good language on; or, faith, I'd Latin ye all as dumb
as fishes in the depths of the briny sea!"
"Hurrah for the fishes in the sea!"
"Soft, ye knaves! Save thy throats for good Queen Bess!"
"Hurrah for good Queen Bess!"
"Be still, I say, ye good-for-nothing varlets; or ye sha'n't have pie
and ale to-night. But marry, now, ye _shall_ have pie--ay, pie and ale
without a stint; for ye are good lads, and ye have pleased the Queen at
last; and I am as proud of ye as a peacock is of his own tail!"
"Hurrah for the Queen--and the pie--and the ale! Hurrah for the peacock
and his tail!" shouted the boys; and straightway, seeing that they had
made a rhyme, they gave a cheer shriller and longer than all the others
put together, and went clattering down the stairway, singing at the top
of their lungs:
Hurrah for the Queen, and the pie and the ale!
Hurrah for the peacock, hurrah for his tail!
Hurrah for hurrah, and hurrah again--
We're going to court on Christmas day
To sing before the Queen!"
"Good lads, good lads!" said the old precentor to himself, as he turned
back into his little room. His eyes were shining proudly in the
candle-light, yet the tears were running down his cheeks. A queer old
man, Nat Gyles, and dead this many a long, long year; yet that night no
man was happier than he.
But Master Gaston Carew, who had come for Nick, stood in the gathering
dusk by the gate below, and stared up at the yellow square of light with
a troubled look upon his reckless face.
THE QUEEN'S PLAISANCE
It was a frosty morning when they all marched down to the boats that
bumped along Paul's wharf.
The roofs of London were white with frost and rosy with the dawn. In the
shadow of the walls the air lay in still pools of smoky blue; and in the
east the horizon stretched like a swamp of fire. The winking lights on
London Bridge were pale. The bridge itself stood cold and gray,
mysterious and dim as the stream below, but here and there along its
crest red-hot with a touch of flame from the burning eastern sky. Out of
the river, running inland with the tide, came steamy shreds that drifted
here and there. Then over the roofs of London town the sun sprang up
like a thing of life, and the veil of twilight vanished in bright day
with a million sparkles rippling on the stream.
Warm with piping roast and cordial, keen with excitement, and blithe
with the sharp, fresh air, the red-cheeked lads skipped and chattered
along the landing like a flock of sparrows alighted by chance in a land
"Into the wherries, every one!" cried the old precentor. _"Ad unum
omnes_, great and small!"
"Into the wherries!" echoed the under-masters.
"Into the wherries, my bullies!" roared old Brueton the boatman, fending
off with a rusty hook as red as his bristling beard. "Into the wherries,
yarely all, and we's catch the turn o' the tide! 'Tis gone high
Then away they went, three wherries full, and Master Gyles behind them
in a brisk sixpenny tilt-boat, resplendent in new ash-colored hose, a
cloak of black velvet fringed with gold, and a brand-new periwig curled
and frizzed like a brush-heap in a gale of wind.
How they had worked for the last few days! New songs, new dances, new
lines to learn; gallant compliments for the Queen, who was as fond of
flattery as a girl; new clothes, new slippers and caps to try, and a
thousand what-nots more. The school had hummed like a busy mill from
morning until night. And now that the grinding was done and they had
come at last to their reward,--the hoped-for summons to the court, which
had been sought so long in vain,--the boys of St. Paul's bubbled with
glee until the under-masters were in a cold sweat for fear their
precious charges would pop from the wherries into the Thames, like so
many exuberant corks.
They cheered with delight as London Bridge was shot and the boats went
flying down the Pool, past Billingsgate and the oystermen, the White
Tower and the Traitors' Gate, past the shipping, where brown,
foreign-looking faces stared at them above sea-battered bulwarks.
The sun was bright and the wind was keen; the air sparkled, and all the
world was full of life. Hammers beat in the builders' yards; wild
bargees sang hoarsely as they drifted down to the Isle of Dogs; and in
slow ships that crept away to catch the wind in the open stream below,
with tawny sails drooping and rimmed with frost, they heard the hail of
The tide ran strong, and the steady oars carried them swiftly down.
London passed; then solitary hamlets here and there; then dun fields
running to the river's edge like thirsty deer.
In Deptford Reach some lords who were coming down by water passed them,
racing with a little Dutch boat from Deptford to the turn. Their boats
had holly-bushes at their prows and holiday garlands along their sides.
They were all shouting gaily, and the stream was bright with their
scarlet cloaks, Lincoln-green jerkins, and gold embroidery. But they
were very badly beaten, at which they laughed, and threw the Dutchmen a
handful of silver pennies. Thereupon the Dutchmen stood up in their boat
and bowed like jointed ninepins; and the lords, not to be outdone, stood
up likewise in their boats and bowed very low in return, with their
hands upon their breasts. Then everybody on the river laughed, and the
boys gave three cheers for the merry lords and three more for the sturdy
Dutchmen. The Dutchmen shouted back, "Goot Yule!" and bowed and bowed
until their boat turned round and went stern foremost down the stream,
so that they were bowing to the opposite bank, where no one was at all.
At this the rest all laughed again till their sides ached, and cheered
them twice as much as they had before.
And while they were cheering and waving their caps, the boatmen rested
upon their oars and let the boats swing with the tide, which thereabout
set strong against the shore, and a trumpeter in the Earl of Arundel's
barge stood up and blew upon a long horn bound with a banner of blue
Instantly he had blown, another trumpet answered from the south, and
when Nick turned, the shore was gay with men in brilliant livery. Beyond
was a wood of chestnut-trees as blue and leafless as a grove of spears;
and in the plain between the river and the wood stood a great palace of
gray stone, with turrets, pinnacles, and battlemented walls, over the
topmost tower of which a broad flag, blazoned with golden lions and
silver lilies square for square, whipped the winter wind. Amid a group
of towers large and small a lofty stack poured out a plume of sea-coal
smoke against the milky sky, and on the countless windows in the wall
the sunlight flashed with dazzling radiance.
There were people on the battlements, and at the port between two towers
where the Queen went in and out the press was so thick that men's heads
looked like the cobbles in the street.
The shore was stayed with piling and with timbers like a wharf, so that
a hundred boats might lie there cheek by jowl and scarcely rub their
paint. The lords made way, and the children players came ashore through
an aisle of uplifted oars. They were met by the yeomen of the guard,
tall, brawny fellows clad in red, with golden roses on their breasts and
backs, and with them marched up to the postern two and two, Master Gyles
the last of all, as haughty as a Spanish don come courting fair
A smoking dinner was waiting them, of whitebait with red pepper, and a
yellow juice so sour that Nick's mouth drew up in a knot; but it was
very good. There were besides, silver dishes full of sugared red
currants, and heaps of comfits and sweetmeats, which Master Gyles would
not allow them even to touch, and saffron cakes with raisins in them,
and spiced hot cordial out of tiny silver cups. Bareheaded pages clad in
silk and silver lace waited upon them as if they were fledgling kings;
but the boys were too hungry to care for that or to try to put on airs,
and waded into the meat and drink as if they had been starved for a
But when they were done Nick saw that the table off which they had eaten
was inlaid with pearl and silver filigree, and that the table-cloth was
of silk with woven metal-work and gems set in it worth more than a
thousand crowns. He was very glad he had eaten first, for such wonderful
service would have taken away his appetite.
And truly a wonderful palace was the Queen's Plaisance, as Greenwich
House was called. Elizabeth was born in it, and so loved it most of all.
There she pleased oftenest to receive and grant audiences to envoys from
foreign courts. And there, on that account, as was always her proud,
jealous way, she made a blinding show of glory and of wealth, of
science, art, and power, that England, to the eyes which saw her there,
might stand in second place to no dominion in the world, however rich
It was a very house of gold.
Over the door where the lads marched in was the Queen's device, a golden
rose, with a motto set below in letters of gold, "Dieu et mon droit";
and upon the walls were blazoned coats of noble arms on branching golden
trees, of purest metal and finest silk, costly beyond compare. The royal
presence-chamber shone with tapestries of gold, of silver, and of
oriental silks, of as many shifting colors as the birds of paradise, and
wrought in exquisite design, The throne was set with diamonds, with
rubies, garnets, and sapphires, glittering like a pastry-crust of stars,
and garnished with gold-lace work, pearls, and ornament; and under the
velvet canopy which hung above the throne was embroidered in
seed-pearls, "Vivat Regina Elizabetha!" There was no door without a
gorgeous usher, no room without a page, no corridor without a guard, no
post without a man of noble birth to fill it.
On the walls of the great gallery were masterly paintings of great folk,
globes showing all the stars fast in the sky, and drawings of the world
and all its parts, so real that one could see the savages in the New
World hanging to the under side by their feet, like flies upon the
ceiling. How they stuck was more than Nick could make out; and where
they landed if they chanced to slip and fall troubled him a deal, until
in the sheer multiplication of wonders he could not wonder any more.
When they came to rehearse in the afternoon the stage was hung with
stiff, rich silks that had come in costly cedar chests from the looms of
old Cathay; and the curtain behind which the players came and went was
broidered with gold thread in flowers and birds like meteors for
splendor. The gallery, too, where the musicians sat, was draped with
silk and damask.
Some of the lads would have made out by their great airs as if this were
all a common thing to them; but Nick stared honestly with round eyes,
and went about with cautious feet, chary of touching things, and feeling
very much out of place and shy.
It was all too grand, too wonderful,--amazing to look upon, no doubt,
and good to outface foreign envy with, but not to be endured every day
nor lived with comfortably. And as the day went by, each passing moment
with new marvels, Nick grew more and more uneasy for some simple little
nook where he might just sit down and be quiet for a while, as one could
do at home, without fine pages peering at him from the screens, or
splendid guards patrolling at his heels wherever he went, or obsequious
ushers bowing to the floor at every turn, and asking him what he might
be pleased to wish. And by the time night fell and the attendant came to
light them to their beds, he felt like a fly on the rim of a wheel that
went so fast he could scarcely get his breath or see what passed him by,
yet of which he durst not let go.
The palace was much too much for him.
CHRISTMAS WITH QUEEN BESS
Christmas morning came and went as if on swallow-wings, in a gale of
royal merriment. Four hundred sat to dinner that day in Greenwich halls,
and all the palace streamed with banners and green garlands.
Within the courtyard two hundred horses neighed and stamped around a
water-fountain playing in a bowl of ice and evergreen. Grooms and pages,
hostlers and dames, went hurry-scurrying to and fro; cooks, bakers, and
scullions steamed about, leaving hot, mouth-watering streaks of
fragrance in the air; bluff men-at-arms went whistling here and there;
and serving-maids with rosy cheeks ran breathlessly up and down the
The palace stirred like a mighty pot that boils to its utmost verge, for
the hour of the revelries was come.
Over the beech-wood and far across the black heath where Jack Cade
marshaled the men of Kent, the wind trembled with the boom of the castle
bell. Within the walls of the palace its clang was muffled by a sound of
voices that rose and fell like the wind upon the sea.
The ambassadors of Venice and France were there, with their courtly
trains. The Lord High Constable of England was come to sit below the
Queen. The earls, too, of Southampton, Montgomery, Pembroke, and
Huntington were there; and William Cecil, Lord Burleigh, the Queen's
High Treasurer, to smooth his care-lined forehead with a Yuletide jest.
Up from the entry ports came shouts of "Room! room! room for my Lord
Strange! Room for the Duke of Devonshire!" and about the outer gates
there was a tumult like the cheering of a great crowd.
The palace corridors were lined with guards. Gentlemen pensioners under
arms went flashing to and fro. Now and then through the inner throng
some handsome page with wind-blown hair and rainbow-colored cloak pushed
to the great door, calling: "Way, sirs, way for my Lord--way for my Lady
of Alderstone!" and one by one, or in blithe groups, the courtiers, clad
in silks and satins, velvets, jewels, and lace of gold, came up through
the lofty folding-doors to their places in the hall.
There, where the Usher of the Black Rod stood, and the gentlemen of the
chamber came and went with golden chains about their necks, was bowing
and scraping without stint, and reverent civility; for men that were
wise and noble were passing by, men that were handsome and brave; and
ladies sweet as a summer day, and as fair to see as spring, laughed by
their sides and chatted behind their fans, or daintily nibbled comfits,
lacking anything to say.
The windows were all curtained in, making a night-time in midday; and
from the walls and galleries flaring links and great bouquets of candles
threw an eddying flood of yellow light across the stirring scene. From
clump to clump of banner-staves and burnished arms, spiked above the
wainscot, garlands of red-berried holly, spruce, and mistletoe were
twined across the tapestry, till all the room was bound about with a
chain of living green.
There were sweet odors floating through the air, and hazy threads of
fragrant smoke from perfumes burning in rich braziers; and under foot
was the crisp, clean rustle of new rushes.
From time to time, above the hum of voices, came the sound of music from
a room beyond--cornets and flutes, fifes, lutes, and harps, with an
organ exquisitely played, and voices singing to it; and from behind the
players' curtain, swaying slowly on its rings at the back of the stage,
came a murmur of whispering childish voices, now high in eager
questioning, now low, rehearsing some doubtful fragment of a song.
Behind the curtain it was dark--not total darkness, but twilight; for a
dull glow came down overhead from the lights in the hall without, and
faint yellow bars went up and down the dusk from crevices in the screen.
The boys stood here and there in nervous groups. Now and then a sharp
complaint was heard from the tire-woman when an impatient lad would not
stand still to be dressed.
Master Gyles went to and fro, twisting the manuscript of the Revel in
his hands, or pausing kindly to pat some faltering lad upon the back.
Nick and Colley were peeping by turns through a hole in the screen at
the throng in the audience-chamber.
They could see a confusion of fans, jewels, and faces, and now and again
could hear a burst of subdued laughter over the steadily increasing buzz
of voices. Then from the gallery above, all at once there came a murmur
of instruments tuning together; a voice in the corridor was heard
calling, "Way here, way here!" in masterful tones; the tall
folding-doors at the side of the hall swung wide, and eight dapper pages
in white and gold came in with the Master of Revels. After them came
fifty ladies and noblemen clad in white and gold, and a guard of
gentlemen pensioners with glittering halberds.
There was a sharp rustle. Every head in the audience-chamber louted low.
Nick's heart gave a jump--for the Queen was there!
She came with an air that was at once serious and royal, bearing herself
haughtily, yet with a certain grace and sprightliness that became her
very well. She was quite tall and well made, and her quickly changing
face was long and fair, though wrinkled and no longer young. Her
complexion was clear and of an olive hue; her nose was a little hooked;
her firm lips were thin; and her small black eyes, though keen and
bright, were pleasant and merry withal. Her hair was a coppery, tawny
red, and false, moreover. In her ears hung two great pearls; and there
was a fine small crown studded with diamonds upon her head, beside a
necklace of exceeding fine gold and jewels about her neck. She was
attired in a white silk gown bordered with pearls the size of beans, and
over it wore a mantle of black silk, cunningly shot with silver threads.
Her ruff was vast, her farthingale vaster; and her train, which was very
long, was borne by a marchioness who made more ado about it than
Elizabeth did of ruling her realm.
"The Queen!" gasped Colley.
"Dost think I did na know it?" answered Nick, his heart beginning to
beat tattoo as he stared through the peep-hole in the screen.
He saw the great folk bowing like a gardenful of flowers in a storm, and
in its midst Elizabeth erect, speaking to those about her in a lively
and good-humored way, and addressing all the foreigners according to
their tongue--in French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch; but hers was funny
Dutch, and while she spoke she smiled and made a joke upon it in Latin,
at which they all laughed heartily, whether they understood what it
meant or not. Then, with her ladies in waiting, she passed to a dais
near the stage, and stood a moment, stately, fair, and proud, while all
her nobles made obeisance, then sat and gave a signal for the players
"Rafe Fullerton!" the prompter whispered shrilly; and out from behind
the screen slipped Rafe, the smallest of them all, and down the stage to
speak the foreword of the piece. He was frightened, and his voice shook
as he spoke, but every one was smiling, so he took new heart.
"It is a masque of Summer-time and Spring," said he, "wherein both
claim to be best-loved, and have their say of wit and humor, and each
her part of songs and dances suited to her time, the sprightly galliard
and the nimble jig for Spring, the slow pavone, the stately peacock
dance, for Summer-time. And win who may, fair Summer-time or merry
Spring, the winner is but that beside our Queen!"--with which he snapped
his fingers in the faces of them all--"God save Queen Bess!"
At that the Queen's eyes twinkled, and she nodded, highly pleased, so
that every one clapped mightily.
The play soon ran its course amid great laughter and applause. Spring
won. The English ever loved her best, and the quick-paced galliard took
their fancy, too. "Up and be doing!" was its tune, and it gave one a
chance to cut fine capers with his heels.
Then the stage stood empty and the music stopped.
At this strange end a whisper of surprise ran through the hall. The
Queen tapped with the inner side of her rings upon the broad arm of her
chair. From the look on her face she was whetting her tongue. But before
she could speak, Nick and Colley, dressed as a farmer boy and girl, with
a garland of house-grown flowers about them, came down the stage from
the arras, hand in hand, bowing.
The audience-chamber grew very still--_this_ was something new. Nick
felt a swallowing in his throat, and Colley's hand winced in his grip.
There was no sound but a silky rustling in the room.
Then suddenly the boys behind the players' curtain laughed together,
not loud, but such a jolly little laugh that all the people smiled to
hear it. After the laughter came a hush.
Then the pipes overhead made a merry sound as of shepherds piping on
oaten straws in new grass where there are daisies; and there was a
little elfish laughter of clarionets, and a fluttering among the cool
flutes like spring wind blowing through crisp young leaves in April. The
harps began to pulse and throb with a soft cadence like raindrops
falling into a clear pool where brown leaves lie upon the bottom and
bubbles float above green stones and smooth white pebbles. Nick lifted
up his head and sang.
It was a happy little song of the coming and the triumph of the spring.
The words were all forgotten long ago. They were not much: enough to
serve the turn, no more; but the notes to which they went were like barn
swallows twittering under the eaves, goldfinches clinking in purple
weeds beside old roads, and robins singing in common gardens at dawn.
And wherever Nick's voice ran Colley's followed, the pipes laughing
after them a note or two below; while the flutes kept gurgling softly to
themselves as a hill brook gurgles through the woods, and the harps ran
gently up and down like rain among the daffodils. One voice called, the
other answered; there were echo-like refrains; and as they sang Nick's
heart grew full. He cared not a stiver for the crowd, the golden palace,
or the great folk there--the Queen no more--he only listened for
Colley's voice coming up lovingly after his own and running away when he
followed it down, like a lad and a lass through the bloom of the May.
And Colley was singing as if his heart would leap out of his round mouth
for joy to follow after the song they sung, till they came to the end
and the skylark's song.
There Colley ceased, and Nick went singing on alone, forgetting, caring
for, heeding nought but the song that was in his throat.
The Queen's fan dropped from her hand upon the floor. No one saw it or
picked it up. The Venetian ambassador scarcely breathed.
Nick came down the stage, his hands before him, lifted as if he saw the
very lark he followed with his song, up, up, up into the sun. His cheeks
were flushed and his eyes were wet, though his voice was a song and a
laugh in one.
Then they were gone behind the curtain, into the shadow and the twilight
there, Colley with his arms about Nick's neck, not quite laughing, not
quite sobbing. The manuscript of the Revel lay torn in two upon the
floor, and Master Gyles had a foot upon each piece.
In the hall beyond the curtain was a silence that was deeper than a
hush, a stillness rising from the hearts of men.
Then Elizabeth turned in the chair where she sat. Her eyes were as
bright as a blaze. And out of the sides of her eyes she looked at the
Venetian ambassador. He was sitting far out on the edge of his chair,
and his lips had fallen apart. She laughed to herself. "It is a good
song, signor," said she, and those about her started at the sound of her
voice. "_Chi tace confessa--_it is so! There are no songs like English
songs--there is no spring like an English spring--there is no land like
England, _my_ England!" She clapped her hands. "I will speak with those
lads," said she.
Straightway certain pages ran through the press and came behind the
curtain where Nick and Colley stood together, still trembling with the
music not yet gone out of them, and brought them through the hall to
where the Queen sat, every one whispering, "Look!" as they passed.
On the dais they knelt together, bowing, side by side. Elizabeth, with a
kindly smile, leaning a little forward, raised them with her slender
hand. "Stand, dear lads," said she, heartily. "Be lifted up by thine own
singing, as our hearts have been uplifted by thy song. And name me the
price of that same song--'twas sweeter than the sweetest song we ever
"Or ever shall hear again," said the Venetian ambassador, under his
breath, rubbing his forehead as if just wakening out of a dream.
"Come," said Elizabeth, tapping Colley's cheek with her fan, "what wilt
thou have of me, fair maid?"
Colley turned red, then very pale. "That I may stay in the palace
forever and sing for your Majesty," said he. His fingers shivered
"Now that is right prettily asked," she cried, and was well pleased.
"Thou shalt indeed stay for a singing page in our household--a voice and
a face like thine are merry things upon a rainy Monday. And thou, Master
Lark," said she, fanning the hair back from Nick's forehead with her
perfumed fan--"thou that comest up out of the field with a song like the
angels sing--what wilt thou have: that thou mayst sing in our choir and
play on the lute for us?"
Nick looked up at the torches on the wall, drawing a deep, long breath.
When he looked down again his eyes were dazzled and he could not see
"What wilt thou have?" he heard her ask.
"Let me go home," said he.
There were red and green spots in the air. He tried to count them, since
he could see nothing else, and everything was very still; but they all
ran into one purple spot which came and went like a firefly's glow, and
in the middle of the purple spot he saw the Queen's face coming
"Surely, boy, that is an ill-considered speech," said she, "or thou dost
deem us very poor, or most exceeding stingy!" Nick hung his head, for
the walls seemed tapestried with staring eyes. "Or else this home of
thine must be a very famous place."
The maids of honour tittered. Further off somebody laughed. Nick looked
up, and squared his shoulders.
They had rubbed the cat the wrong way.
It is hard to be a stranger in a palace, young, country-bred, and
laughed at all at once; but down in Nick Attwood's heart was a stubborn
streak that all the flattery on earth could not cajole nor ridicule
efface. He might be simple, shy, and slow, but what he loved he loved:
that much he knew; and when they laughed at him for loving home they
seemed to mock not him, but home--and _that_ touched the fighting-spot.
"I would rather be there than here," said he.
The Queen's face flushed. "Thou art more curt than courteous," said she.
"Is it not good enough for thee here?"
"I could na live in such a place."
The Queen's eyes snapped. "In such a place? Marry, art thou so choice?
These others find no fault with the life."
"Then they be born to it," said Nick, "or they could abide no more than
I--they would na fit."
"Haw, haw!" said the Lord High Constable.
The Queen shot one quick glance at him. "Old pegs have been made to fit
new holes before to-day," said she; "and the trick can be done again."
The Constable smothered the rest of that laugh in his hand, "But come,
boy, speak up; what hath put thee so out of conceit with our
"There is na one thing likes me here. I can na bide in a place so fine,
for there's not so much as a corner in it feels like home. I could na
sleep in the bed last night."
"What, how? We commanded good beds!" exclaimed Elizabeth, angrily, for
the Venetian ambassador was smiling in his beard. "This shall be
"Oh, it _was_ a good bed--a very good bed indeed, your Majesty!" cried
Nick. "But the mattress puffed up like a cloud in a bag, and almost
smothered me; and it was so soft and so hot that it gave me a fever."
Elizabeth leaned back in her chair and laughed. The Lord High Constable
hastily finished the laugh that he had hidden in his hand. Everybody
laughed. "Upon my word," said the Queen, "it is an odd skylark cannot
sleep in feathers! What didst thou do, forsooth?"
"I slept in the coverlid on the floor," said Nick. "It was na hurt,--I
dusted the place well,--and I slept like a top."
"Now verily," laughed Elizabeth, "if it be floors that thou dost desire,
we have acres to spare--thou shalt have thy pick of the lot. Come, we
are ill used to begging people to be favored--thou'lt stay?"
Nick shook his head.
"_Ma foi!"_ exclaimed the Queen, "it is a queer fancy makes a face at
such a pleasant dwelling! What is it sticks in thy throat?"
Nick stood silent. What was there to say? If he came here he never would
see Stratford town again; and _this_ was no abiding-place for him. They
would not even let him go to the fountain himself to draw water with
which to wash, but fetched it, three at a time, in a silver ewer and a
copper basin with towels and a flask of perfume.
Elizabeth was tapping with her fan. "Thou art be-dazzled like," she
said. "Think twice--preferment does not gooseberry on the hedge-row
every day; and this is a rare chance which hangs ripening on thy tongue.
Consider well. Come, thou wilt accept?"
Nick slowly shook his head.
"Go then, if thou wilt go!" said she; and as she spoke she shrugged her
shoulders, illy pleased, and turning toward Colley, took him by the hand
and drew him closer to her, smiling at his guise. "Thy comrade hath
"He hath no mother," Nick said quietly, loosing his hold at last on
Colley's hand. "I would rather have my mother than his wit."
Elizabeth turned sharply back. Her keen eyes were sparkling, yet soft.
"Thou art no fool," said she.
A little murmur ran through the room.
She sat a moment, silent, studying his face. "Or if thou art, upon my
word I like the breed. It is a stubborn, froward dog; but Hold-fast is
his name. Ay, sirs," she said, and sat up very straight, looking into
the faces of her court, "Brag is a good dog, but Hold-fast is better. A
lad who loves his mother thus makes a man who loveth his native
land--and it's no bad streak in the blood. Master Skylark, thou shalt
have thy wish; to London thou shalt go this very night."
"I do na live in London," Nick began.
"What matters the place?" said she. "Live wheresoever thine heart doth
please. It is enough--so. Thou mayst kiss our hand." She held her hand
out, bright with jewels. He knelt and kissed it as if it were all a
doing in a dream, or in some unlikely story he had read. But a long
while after he could smell the perfume from her slender fingers on
Then a page standing by him touched his arm as he arose, and bowing
backward from the throne, came with him to the curtain and the rest. Old
Master Gyles was standing there apart. It was too dark to see his face,
but he laid his hand upon Nick's head.
"Thy cake is burned to a coal," said he.
BACK TO GASTON CAREW
So they marched back out of the palace gates, down to the landing-place,
the last red sunlight gleaming on the basinets of the tall halberdiers
who marched on either side.
Nick looked out toward London, where the river lay like a serpent,
bristling with masts; and beyond the river and the town to the forests
of Epping and Hainault; and beyond the forests to the hills, where the
waning day still lingered in a mist of frosty blue. At their back,
midway of the Queen's park, stood up the old square tower Mirefleur, and
on its top one yellow light like the flame of a gigantic candle. The day
seemed builded of memories strange and untrue.
A belated gull flapped by them heavily, and the red sun went down.
England was growing lonely. A great barge laden with straw came out of
the dusk, and was gone without a sound, its ghostly sail drawing in a
wind that the wherry sat too low to feel. Nick held his breath as the
barge went by: it was unreal, fantastical.
Then the river dropped between its banks, and the woods and the hills
were gone. The tide ran heavily against the shore, and the wake of the
wherry broke the floating stars into cold white streaks and zigzag
ripplings of raveled light that ran unsteadily after them. The craft at
anchor in the Pool had swung about upon the flow, and pointed down to
Greenwich. A hush had fallen upon the never-ending bustle of the town;
and the air was full of a gray, uncanny afterglow which seemed to come
up out of the water, for the sky was grown quite dark.
They were all wrapped in their boat-cloaks, tired and silent. Now and
then Nick dipped his fingers into the cold water over the gunwale.
This was the end of the glory.
He wished the boat would go a little faster. Yet when they came to the
landing he was sorry.
The man-at-arms who went with him to Master Carew's house was one of the
Earl of Arundel's men, in a stiff-wadded jacket of heron-blue, with the
earls colors richly worked upon its back and his badge upon the sleeves.
Prowlers gave way before him in the streets, for he was broad and tall
and mighty, and the fear of any man was not in the look of his eye.
As they came up the slow hill, Nick sighed, for the long-legged
man-at-arms walked fast. "What, there!" said he, and clapped Nick on the
shoulder with his bony hand; "art far spent, lad? Why, marry, get thee
upon my back. I'll jog thee home in the shake of a black sheep's tail."
So Nick rode home upon the back of the Earl of Arundel's man-at-arms;
and that, too, seemed a dream like all the rest.
When they came to Master Carew's house the street was dark, and Nick's
foot was asleep. He stamped it, tingling, upon the step, and the empty
passage echoed with the sound. Then the earl's man beat the door with
the pommel of his dagger-hilt, and stood with his hands upon his hips,
carelessly whistling a little tune.
Nick heard a sound of some one coming through the hall, and felt that at
last the day was done. A tired wonder wakened in his heart at how so
much had come to pass in such a little while; yet more he wondered why
it had ever come to pass at all. And what was the worth of it, anyway,
now it was over and gone?
Then the door opened, and he went in.
Master Gaston Carew himself had come to the door, walking quickly
through the hallway, with a queer, nervous twitching in his face. But
when he made out through the dusk that it was Nick, he seemed in no wise
moved, and said quite simply, as he gave the man-at-arms a penny: "Oh,
is it thou? Why, we have heard somewhat of thee; and upon my word I
thought, since thou wert grown so great, thou wouldst come home in a
coach-and-four, all blowing horns!"
Nevertheless he drew Nick quickly in, and kissed him thrice; and after
he had kissed him kept fast hold of his hand until they came together
through the hall into the great room where Cicely was sitting quite
dismally in the chimney-seat alone.
[Illustration: "SO NICK RODE HOME UPON THE BACK OF THE EARL OF ARUNDEL'S
"There, Nick," said he; "tell her thyself that thou hast come back. She
thought she had lost thee for good and all, and hath sung, 'Hey ho, my
heart is full of woe!' the whole twilight, and would not be comforted.
Come, Cicely, doff thy doleful willow--the proverb lies. 'Out of sight,
out of mind'--fudge! the boy's come back again! A plague take
But when the children were both long since abed, and all the house was
still save for the scamper of rats in the wall, the heavy door of Nick's
room opened stealthily, with a little grating upon the uneven sill, and
Master Carew stood there, peeping in, his hand upon the bolt outside.
He held a rush-light in the other. Its glimmer fell across the bed upon
Nick's tousled hair; and when the master-player saw the boy's head upon
the pillow he started eagerly, with brightening eyes. "My soul!" he
whispered to himself, a little quaver in his tone, "I would have sworn
my own desire lied to me, and that he had not come at all! It cannot
be--yet, verily, I am not blind. _Ma foil_ it passeth understanding--a
freed skylark come back to its cage! I thought we had lost him forever."
Nick stirred in his sleep. Carew set the light on the floor. "Thou
fool!" said he, and he fumbled at his pouch; "thou dear-beloved little
fool! To catch the skirts of glory in thine hand, and tread the heels of
happy chance, and yet come back again to ill-starred twilight--and to
me! Ai, lad, I would thou wert my son--mine own, own son; yet Heaven
spare thee father such as I! For, Nick, I love thee. Yet thou dost hate
me like a poison thing. And still I love thee, on my word, and on the
remnant of mine honour!" His voice was husky. "Let thee go?--send thee
back?--eat my sweet and have it too?--how? Nay, nay; thy happy cake
would be my dough--it will not serve." He shook his head, and looked
about to see that all was fast. "Yet, Nick, I say I love thee, on
Slipping to the bedside with stealthy step, he laid a fat little Banbury
cheese and some brown sweet cakes beside Nick's pillow; then came out
hurriedly and barred the door.
The fire in the great hall had gone out, and the room was growing cold.
The table stood by the chimney-side, where supper had been laid, Carew
brought a napkin from the linen-chest, and spread it upon the board.
Then he went to the server's screen and looked behind it, and tried the
latches of the doors; and having thus made sure that all was safe, came
back to the table again, and setting the rush-light there, turned the
contents of his purse into the napkin.
There were both gold and silver. The silver he put back into the purse
again; the gold he counted carefully; and as he counted, laying the
pieces one by one in little heaps upon the cloth, he muttered under his
breath, like a small boy adding up his sums in school, saying over and
over again, "One for me, and one for thee, and two for Cicely Carew. One
for me, and one for thee, and two for Cicely Carew"; and told the coins
off in keeping with the count, so that the last pile was as large as
both the others put together. Then slowly ending, "None for me, and one
for thee, and two for Cicely Carew," he laid the last three nobles
with the rest.
Then he arose and stood a moment listening to the silence in the house.
An old he rat that was gnawing a rind on the hearth looked up, and ran a
little nearer to his hole. "Tsst! come back," said Carew, "I'm no cat!"
and from the sliding panel in the wall took out a buckskin bag tied like
a meal-sack with a string.
As he slipped the knot the throat of the bag sagged down, and a gold
piece jangled on the floor. Carew started as if all his nerves had
leaped within him at the unexpected sound, and closed the panel like a
flash. Then, setting his foot upon the fallen coin, he stopped its
spinning, and with one hand on his poniard, peering right and left, blew
the candle out.
A little while he stood and listened in the dark; a little while his
feet went to and fro in the darkness. The wind cried in the chimney. Now
and then the casements shivered. The timbers in the wall creaked with
the cold, and the boards in the stairway cracked. Then the old he rat
came back to his rind, and his mate came out of the crack in the wall,