Part 4 out of 5
working her whiskers hungrily and snuffing the smell of the candle-drip;
for there was no sound, and the coast of rat-land was clear.
AT THE FALCON INN
And then there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold;
And ice mast-high came floating by,
As green as emerald.
So says that wonder-ballad of the sea.
But over London came a gale that made the chimneys rock; and after it
came ice and snow, sharp, stinging sleet, and thumping hail, with
sickening winds from the gray west, sour yellow fogs, and plunging rain,
till all the world was weary of the winter and the cold.
But winter could not last forever. March crept onward, and the streets
of London came up out of the slush again with a glad surprise of
cobblestones. The sickly mist no longer hung along the river; and
sometimes upon a breezy afternoon it was pleasant and fair, the sun
shone warmly on one's back, and the rusty sky grew bluer overhead. The
trees in Paris Garden put out buds; the lilac-tips began to swell; there
was a stirring in the roadside grass, and now and then a questing bird
went by upon the wind, piping a little silver thread of song. Nick's
heart grew hungry for the woods of Arden and the gathering rush of the
waking water-brooks among the old dead leaves. The rain beat in at his
window, but he did not care for that, and kept it open day and night;
for when he wakened in the dark he loved to feel the fingers of the wind
across his face.
Sometimes the moonlight through the ragged clouds came in upon the
floor, and in the hurry of the wind he almost fancied he could hear the
Avon, bank-full, rushing under the old mill-bridge.
Then one day there came a shower with a warm south wind, sweet and
healthful and serene; and through the shower, out of the breaking
clouds, a sun-gleam like a path of gold straight down to the heart of
London town; and on the south wind, down that path of gold, came April.
That night the wind in the chimney fluted a glad, new tune; and when
Nick looked out at his casement the free stars danced before him in the
sky. And when he felt that fluting wind blow warm and cool together on
his cheek, the chimneys mocked him, and the town was hideous.
* * * * *
It fell upon an April night, when the moon was at its full, that Master
Carew had come to the Falcon Inn, on the Southwark side of the river,
and had brought Nick with him for the air. Master Heywood was along, and
it was very pleasant there.
The night breeze smelled of green fields, and the inn was thronged with
company. The windows were bright, and the air was full of voices. Tables
had been brought out into the garden and set beneath the arbor toward
the riverside. The vines of the arbor were shooting forth their first
pink-velvet leaves, and in the moonlight their shadows fell like
lacework across the linen cloths, blurred by the glow of the lanterns
hung upon the posts.
The folds in the linen marked the table-tops with squares like a
checker-board, and Nick stood watching from the tap-room door, as if it
were a game. Not that he cared for any game; but that watching dulled
the teeth of the hunger in his heart to be out of the town and back
among the hills of Warwickshire, now that the spring was there.
"What, there!--a pot of sack!" cried one gay fellow with a
silver-bordered cloak. "A pot of sack?" cried out another with a feather
like a rose-bush in his cap; "two pots ye mean, my buck!" "Ods-fish my
skin!" bawled out a third--"ods-fish my skin! Two pots of beggarly sack
on a Saturday night and a moon like this? Three pots, say I--and make it
malmsey, at my cost! What, there, knave! the table full of pots--I'll
pay the score."
At that they all began to laugh and to slap one another on the back, and
to pound with their fists upon the board until the pewter tankards
hopped; and when the tapster's knave came back they were singing at the
top of their lungs, for the spring had gotten into their wits, and they
were beside themselves with merriment.
Master Tom Heywood had a little table to himself off in a corner, and
was writing busily upon a new play. "A sheet a day," said he, "doth do
a wonder in a year"; so he was always at it.
Gaston Carew sat beyond, dicing with a silky rogue who had the coldest,
hardest face that Nick had ever seen. His eyes were black and beady as a
rat's, and were circled about by a myriad of little crowfoot lines; and
his hooked nose lay across his thin blue lips like a finger across a
slit in a dried pie. His long, slim hands were white as any woman's; and
his fingers slipped among the laces at his cuffs like a weasel in a
They had been playing for an hour, and the game had gone beyond all
reason. The other players had put aside the dice to watch the two, and
the nook in which their table stood was ringed with curious faces. A
lantern had been hung above, but Carew had had it taken down, as its
bottom made a shadow on the board. Carew's face was red and white by
turns; but the face of the other had no more color than candle-wax.
At the end of the arbor some one was strumming upon a gittern. It was
strung in a different key from that in which the men were singing, and
the jangle made Nick feel all puckered up inside. By and by the playing
ceased, and the singers came to the end of their song. In the brief hush
the sharp rattle of the dice sounded like the patter of cold hail
against the shutter in the lull of a winter storm.
Then there came a great shouting outside, and, looking through the
arbor, Nick saw two couriers on galloway nags come galloping over the
bowling-green to the arbor-side, calling for ale. They drank it in
their saddles, while their panting horses sniffed at the fresh young
grass. Then they galloped on. Through the vines, as he looked after
them, Nick could see the towers of London glittering strangely in the
moonlight. It was nearly high tide, and up from the river came the sound
of women's voices and laughter, with the pulse-like throb of oars and
the hoarse calling of the watermen.
In the great room of the inn behind him the gallants were taking their
snuff in little silver ladles, and talking of princesses they had met,
and of whose coach they had ridden home in last from tennis at my
lord's. Some were eating, some were drinking, and some were puffing at
long clay pipes, while others, by twos, locked arm in arm, went
swaggering up and down the room, with a huge talking of foreign lands
which they had never so much as seen.
"A murrain on the luck!" cried Carew, suddenly. "Can I throw nothing but
threes and fours?"
A muffled stir ran round. Nick turned from the glare of the open door,
and looked out into the moonlight. It seemed quite dark at first. The
master-player's face was bitter white, and his fingers were tapping a
queer staccato upon the table-top.
"A plague on the bedlam dice!" said he. "I think they are bewitched."
"Huff, ruff, and snuff!" the other replied. "Don't get the
mubble-fubbles, Carew: there's nought the matter with the dice."
A man came down from the tap-room door. Nick stepped aside to let him
pass. He was a player, by his air.
He wore a riding-cloak of Holland cloth, neither so good nor so bad as a
riding-cloak might be, but under it a handsome jerkin overlaid with
lace, and belted with a buff girdle in which was a light Spanish rapier.
His boots were russet cordovan, mid-thigh tall, and the rowels of his
clinking spurs were silver stars. He was large of frame, and his curly
hair was short and brown; so was his pointed beard. His eyes were
singularly bright and fearless, and bluff self-satisfaction marked his
stride; but his under lip was petulant, and he flicked his boot with his
riding-whip as he shouldered his way along.
"Ye cannot miss the place, sir," called the tapster after him. "'Tis
just beyond Ned Alleyn's, by the ditch. Ye'll never mistake the ditch,
sir--Billingsgate is roses to it."
"Oh, I'll find it fast enough," the stranger answered; "but he should
have sent to meet me, knowing I might come at any hour. 'Tis a felon
place for thieves; and I've not heart to skewer even a goose on such a
night as this."
At the sudden breaking of voices upon the silence, Carew looked up, with
a quarrel ripe for picking in his eye. But seeing who spoke, such a
smile came rippling from the corners of his mouth across his dark,
unhappy face that it was as if a lamp of welcome had been lighted there.
"What, Ben!" he cried; "thou here? Why, bless thine heart, old gossip,
'tis good to see an honest face amid this pack of rogues."
There was a surly muttering in the crowd. Carew threw his head back
haughtily and set his knuckles to his hip. "A pack of rogues, I say," he
repeated sharply; "and a fig for the whole pack!" There was a certain
wildness in his eyes. No one stirred or made reply.
"Good! Gaston," laughed the stranger, with a shrug; "picking thy company
still, I see, for quantity, and not for quality. No, thank 'e; none of
the tap for me. My Lord Hunsdon was made chamberlain in his father's
stead to-day, and I'm off hot-foot with the news to Will's."
He gathered his cloak about him, and was gone.
"Ye've lost," said the man who was dicing with Carew.
Nick stepped down from the tap-room door. His ears were tingling with
the sound: "I'm off hot-foot with the news to Will's."
"Hot-foot with the news to Will's"?
To "Will's"? "Will" who?
The man was a player, by his air.
Nick hurriedly looked around. Carew's wild eyes were frozen upon the
dice. The bandy-legged man was drinking at a table near the door. The
crimson ribbon in his ear looked like a patch of blood.
He saw Nick looking at him, and made a horrible face. He would have
sworn likewise, but there was half a quart of ale in his can; so he
turned it up and drank instead. It was a long, long drink, and half his
face was buried in the pot.
When he put it down the boy was gone.
IN THE TWINKLING OF AN EYE
In a garden near the old bear-yard, among tall rose-trees which would
soon be in bloom, a merry company of men were sitting around a table
which stood in the angle of a quick-set hedge beside a path graveled
with white stones and bordered with mussel-shells.
There was a house hard by with creamy-white walls, green-shuttered
windows, and a red-tiled roof. The door of the house was open, showing a
little ruddy fire upon a great hearth, kindled to drive away the damp;
and in the windows facing the garden there were lights shining warmly
out among the rose-trees.
The table was spread with a red damask cloth, on which were a tray of
raisins and nuts and a small rally of silver cups. Above the table an
apple-tree nodded its new leaves, and from an overhanging bough a
lantern hung glowing like a great yellow bee.
There was a young fellow with a white apron and a jolly little whisper
of a whistle on his puckered lips going around with a plate of cakes and
a tray of honey-bowls; and the men were eating and drinking and
chatting together so gaily, and seemed to be all such good friends, that
it was a pleasant thing just to see them sitting there in their
comfortable leather-bottomed chairs, taking life easily because the
spring had come again.
One tall fellow was smoking a pipe. He held the bowl in one hand, and
kept tamping down the loose tobacco with his forefinger. Now and again
he would be so eagerly talking he would forget that his finger was in
the bowl, and it would be burned. He would take it out with a look of
quaint surprise, whereat the rest all roared. Another was a fat, round
man who chuckled constantly to himself, as if this life were all a joke;
and there was a quite severe, important-seeming, oldish man who said,
"Hem--hem!" from time to time, as if about to speak forthwith, yet never
spoke a word. There was also among the rest a raw-boned, lanky fellow
who had bitten the heart out of an oat-cake and held the rim of it in
his fingers like a new moon, waving it around while he talked, until the
little man beside him popped it deftly out of his grasp and ate it
before the other saw where it was gone. But when he made out what was
become of that oat-cake he rose up solemnly, took the little man by the
collar as a huntsman takes a pup, and laid him softly in the grass
without a word.
What a laughing and going-on was then! It was as if they all were
growing young again. And in the middle of the row a head popped over the
quick-set hedge, and a most stentorian voice called out, "Here, here! Go
slow--I want a piece of that!"
They all looked up, and the moment they spied that laughing face and
cloak of Holland cloth, raised a shout of "What, there!" "Well met!"
"Come in, Ben." "Where hast thou tarried so long?" and the like; while
the waiter ran to open the gate and let the stranger in.
A quiet man with a little chestnut-colored beard and hazel eyes, which
lit up quickly at sight of the stranger over the hedge, arose from his
place by the table and went down the path with hands outstretched to
"Welcome, welcome, hurly-burly Ben," said he. "We've missed thee from
the feast. Art well? And what's the good word?"
"Ah, Will, thou gentle rogue!" the other cried, catching the hands of
the quiet man and holding him off while he looked at him there. "How
thou stealest one's heart with the glance of thine eye! I was going to
give thee a piece of my mind; but a plague, old heart! who could chide
thee to thy face? Am I well? Ay, exceedingly well. And the news? Jove!
the best that was baked at the Queen's to-day, and straight from the
oven-door! The thing is done--huff, puff, and away we go! But come
on--this needs telling to the rest."
They came up the path together, the big man crunching the mussel-shells
beneath his sturdy tread, and so into the circle of yellow light that
came down from the lantern among the apple-leaves, the big man with his
arm around the quiet man's shoulders, holding his hand; for the quiet
man was not so large as the other, although withal no little man
himself, and very well built and straight.
His tabard was black, without sleeves, and his doublet was scarlet
silk. His collar and wrist-bands were white Holland linen turned loosely
back, and his face was frank and fair and free. He was not old, but his
hair was thin upon his brow. His nose and his full, high forehead were
as cleanly cut as a finely chiseled stone; and his sensitive mouth had a
curve that was tender and sad, though he smiled all the while, a glimpse
of his white teeth showing through, and his little mustache twitching
with the ripple of his long upper lip. His flowing hair was
chestnut-colored, like his beard, and curly at the ends; and his
melancholy eyelids told of study and of thought; but under them the
kindly eyes were bright with pleasant fancy.
"What, there, all of you!" said he; "a good investment for your ears!"
"Out with it, Will!" they cried, and whirled around.
"The Queen hath made Lord Hunsdon chamberlain," the big man said.
An instant's hush fell on the garden. No one spoke; but they caught each
other by the hand, and, suddenly, the silence there seemed somehow
louder than a shout.
"We'll build the new Globe play-house, lads, and sweep the Bankside
clean from end to end!" a sturdy voice broke sharply on the hush. And
then they cheered--a cheer so loud that people on the river stopped
their boats, and came ashore asking where the fire was. And over all the
cheering rose the big man's voice; for the quiet man was silent, and the
big man cheered for two.
"Pull up thy rose-bushes, Will," cried one, "and set out laurels in
their stead--thou'lt need them all for crowns."
"Ay, Will, our savor is not gone--Queen Bess knows salt!"
"With Will and Ben for meat and crust, and the rest of us for seasoning,
the court shall say it never ate such master pie!"
"We'll make the walls of Whitehall ring come New Year next, or Twelfth
Night and Shrove Tuesday."
"Ay, that we will, old gossip! Here's to thee!"
"Here's to the company, all of us!"
"And a health to the new Lord Chamberlain!"
"God save the Queen!"
With that, they shook each other's hands, as merry as men could be, and
laughed, because their hearts ran short of words; for these were young
Lord Hunsdon's men, late players to the Queen in the old Lord
Chamberlain's troupe; who, for a while deprived of favor by _his_ death,
were now, by this succession of his son, restored to prestige at the
court, and such preferment as none beside them ever won, not even the
Earl of Pembroke's company.
There was Kemp, the stout tragedian; gray John Lowin, the walking-man;
Diccon Burbage, and Cuthbert his brother, master-players and managers;
Robin Armin, the humorsome jester; droll Dick Tarlton, the king of
fools. There was Blount, and Pope, and Hemynge, and Thomas Greene, and
Joey Taylor, the acting-boy, deep in the heart of a honey-bowl, yet who
one day was to play "Hamlet" as no man ever has played it since. And
there were others, whose names and doings have vanished with them; and
beside these--"What, merry hearts!" the big man cried, and clapped his
neighbor on the back; "we'll have a supper at the Mermaid Inn. We'll
feast on reason, reason on the feast, toast the company with wit, and
company the wit with toast--why, pshaw, we are good fellows all!" He
laughed, and they laughed with him. _That_ was "rare Ben Jonson's" way.
"There's some one knocking, master," said the boy.
A quick tap-tapping rattled on the wicket-gate.
"Who is it?" asked the quiet man.
"'Tis Edmund with the news," cried one.
"I've dished him," said Ben Jonson.
"'Tis Condell come to raise our wages," said Robin Armin, with a grin.
"Thou'lt raise more hopes than wages, Rob," said Tarlton, mockingly.
"It is a boy," the waiter said, "who saith that he must see thee,
master, on his life."
The quiet man arose.
"Sit down, Will," said Greene; "he'll pick thy pocket with a doleful
"There's nothing in it, Tom, to pick."
"Then give him no more than half," said Armin, soberly, "lest he
"He saith he comes from Stratford town," the boy went on.
"Then tell him to go back again," said Master Ben Jonson; "we've sucked
the sweet from Stratford town--be off with his seedy dregs!"
"Go bring him in," said the quiet man.
"Nay, Will, don't have him in. This makes the third within the
month--wilt father all the strays from Stratford town? Here, Ned, give
him this shilling, and tell him to be off to his cony-burrow as fast as
his legs can trot."
"We'll see him first," said the quiet man, stopping the other's shilling
with his hand.
"Oh, Willy-nilly!" the big man cried; "wilt be a kite to float all the
draggle-tails that flutter down from Warwickshire?"
"Why, Ben," replied the quiet man, "'tis not the kite that floats the
tail, but the wind which floats both kite and tail. Thank God, we've
caught the rising wind; so, hey for draggle-tails!--we'll take up all
The waiter was coming up the path, and by his side, a little back,
bareheaded and flushed with running, came Nicholas Attwood. He had
followed the big man through the fields from the gates of the
He stopped at the edge of the lantern's glow and looked around
uncertain, for the light was in his eyes.
"Come, boy, what is it?" asked Ben Jonson.
Nick peered through the brightness. "Master Will--Master Will
Shakspere!" he gasped.
"_Well, my lady_," said the quiet man; "_what wilt thou have of me_?"
Nick Attwood had come to his fellow-townsman at last.
Over the hedge where the lantern shone through the green of the
apple-leaves came a sound of voices talking fast, a listening hush, then
a clapping of hands, with mingled cries of "Good boy!" "Right, lad; do
not leave her till thou must!" and at the last, "What! take thee home to
thy mother, lad? Ay, marry, that will I!" And the _last_ was the voice
of the quiet man.
Then followed laughter and scraps of song, merry talking, and good
cheer, for they all made glad together.
* * * * *
Across the fields beyond the hedge the pathway ran through Paris Garden,
stark and clear in the white moon-shine, save here and there where the
fog from the marsh crept down to meet the river-mist, and blotted out
the landscape as it went. In the north lay London, stirring like a
troubled sea. In the south was drowsy silence, save for the crowing of
the cocks, and now and then the baying of a hound far off. The smell of
bears was on the air; the river-wind breathed kennels. The Swan
play-house stood up, a great, blue blank against the sky. The sound of
voices was remote. The river made a constant murmur in the murk beyond
the landing-place; the trees moved softly.
Low in the west, the lights of the Falcon Inn were shrunk to pin-pricks
in the dark. They seemed to wink and to shut their eyes. It was too far
to see the people passing by.
On a sudden one light winked and did not open any more; and through the
night a faint, far cry came drifting down the river-wind--a long, thin
cry, like the wavering screech of an owl--a shrill, high, ugly sound;
the lights began to wink, wink, wink, to dance, to shift, to gather into
one red star. Out of the darkness came a wisp of something moving in
Where the moonlight lay it scudded like the shadow of a windy cloud, now
lost to sight, now seen again. Out of the shadow came a man, with hands
outstretched and cap awry, running as if he were mad. As he ran he
looked from side to side, and turned his head for the keener ear. He was
When he reached the ditch he paused in fault, ran on a step or two, went
back, stood hesitating there, clenching his hands in the empty wind,
listening; for the mist was grown so thick that he could scarcely see.
But as he stood there doubtfully, uncertain of the way, catching the
wind in his nervous hands, and turning about in a little space like an
animal in a cage, over the hedge through the apple-boughs a boy's clear
voice rose suddenly, singing a rollicking tune, with a snapping of
fingers and tapping of feet in time to its merry lilt.
Then the man in the mist, when he heard that clear, high voice, turned
swiftly to it, crying out, "The Skylark! Zooks! It is the place!" and
ran through the fog to where the lantern glimmered through the hedge.
The light fell in a yellow stream across his face. He was pale as a
ghost. "What, there, within! What, there!" he panted. "Shakspere!
Jonson! Any one!"
The song stopped short. "Who's there?" called the voice of the quiet
"'Tis I, Tom Heywood. there's to-do for players at the Falcon Inn.
Gaston Carew hath stabbed Fulk Sandells, for cheating at the dice, as
dead as a door-nail, and hath been taken by the watch!"
THE LAST OF GASTON CAREW
It was Monday morning, and a beautiful day.
Master Will Shakspere was reading a new play to Masters Ben Jonson and
Diccon Burbage at the Mermaid Inn.
Thomas Pope, the player, and Peter Hemynge, the manager, were there with
them at the table under the little window. The play was a comedy of a
wicked money-lender named Shylock; but it was a comedy that made Nick
shudder as he sat on the bench by the door and listened to it through
happy thoughts of going home.
Sunday had passed like a wondrous dream. He was free. Master Carew was
done for. On Saturday morning Master Will Shakspere would set out on the
journey to Stratford town, for his regular summer visit there; and Nick
was going with him--going to Stratford--going home!
The comedy-reading went on. Master Burbage, his moving face alive,
leaned forward on his elbows, nodding now and then, and saying, "Fine,
fine!" under his breath. Master Pope was making faces suited to the
words, not knowing that he did so. Nick watched him, fascinated.
A man came hurrying down Cheapside, and peered in at the open door. It
was Master Dick Jones of the Admiral's company. He looked worried and as
if he had not slept. His hair was uncombed, and the skin under his eyes
hung in little bags. He squinted so that he might see from the broad
daylight outside into the darker room.
"Gaston Carew wants to see thee, Skylark," said he, quickly, seeing Nick
beside the door.
Nick drew back. It seemed as if the master-player must be lying in wait
outside to catch him if he stirred abroad.
"He says that he must see thee without fail, and that straightway. He is
in Newgate prison. Wilt come?"
Nick shook his head.
"But he says indeed he _must_ see thee. Come, Skylark, I will bring thee
back. I am no kidnapper. Why, it is the last thing he will ever ask of
thee. 'Tis hard to refuse so small a favor to a doomed man."
"Thou'lt surely fetch me back?"
"Here, Master Will Shakspere," called the Admiral's player; "I am to
fetch the boy to Carew in Newgate on an urgent matter. My name is
Jones--Dick Jones, of Henslowe's company. Burbage knows me. I'll bring
Master Shakspere nodded, reading on; and Burbage waved his hand,
impatient of interruption. Nick arose and went with Jones.
As they came up Newgate street to the crossing of Giltspur and the Old
Bailey, the black arch of the ancient gate loomed grimly against the
sky, its squinting window-slits peering down like the eyes of an old
ogre. The bell of St. Sepulchre's was tolling, and there was a crowd
about the door, which opened, letting out a black cart in which was a
priest praying and a man in irons going to be hanged on Tyburn Hill. His
sweating face was ashen gray; and when the cart came to the church door
they gave him mockingly a great bunch of fresh, bright flowers. Nick
could not bear to watch.
The turnkey at the prison gate was a crop-headed fellow with jowls like
a bulldog, and no more mercy in his face than a chopping-block. "Gaston
Carew, the player?" he growled. "Ye can't come in without a permit from
"We must," said Jones.
"Must?" said the turnkey. "I am the only one who says 'must' in
Newgate!" and slammed the door in their faces.
The player clinked a shilling on the bar.
"It was a boy he said would come," growled the turnkey through the
wicket, pocketing the shilling; "so just the boy goes up. A shilling's
worth, ye mind, and not another wink." He drew Nick in, and dropped
It was a foul, dark place, and full of evil smells. Drops of water stood
on the cold stone walls, and a green mould crept along the floor. The
air was heavy and dank, and it began to be hard for Nick to breathe. The
men in the dungeons were singing a horrible song, and in the corner was
a half-naked fellow shackled to the floor. "Give me a penny," he said,
"or I will curse thee." Nick shuddered.
"Up with thee," said the turnkey, gruffly, unlocking the door to the
The common room above was packed with miserable wretches, fighting,
dancing, gibbering like apes. Some were bawling ribald songs, others
moaning with fever. The strongest kept the window-ledges near light and
air by sheer main force, and were dicing on the dirty sill. The turnkey
pushed and banged his way through them, Nick clinging desperately to
In a cell at the end of the corridor there was a Spanish renegade who
cursed the light when the door was opened, and cursed the darkness when
it closed. "Cesare el Moro, Cesare el Moro," he was saying over and over
again to himself, as if he feared that he might forget his own name.
Carew was in the middle cell, ironed hand and foot. He had torn his
sleeves and tucked the lace under the rough edges of the metal to keep
it from chafing the skin. He sat on a pile of dirty straw, with his face
in his folded arms upon his knees. By his side was a broken biscuit and
an empty stone jug. He had his fingers in his ears to shut out the
tolling of the knell for the man who had gone to be hanged.
The turnkey shook the bars. "Here, wake up!" he said.
Carew looked up. His eyes were swollen, and his face was covered with a
two days' beard. He had slept in his clothes, and they were full of
broken straw and creases. But his haggard face lit up when he saw the
boy, and he came to the grating with an eager exclamation: "And thou
hast truly come? To the man thou dost hate so bitterly, but wilt not
hate any more. Come, Nick, thou wilt not hate me any more. 'Twill not
be worth thy while, Nick; the night is coming fast."
"Why, sir," said Nick, "it is not so dark outside--'tis scarcely noon;
and thou wilt soon be out."
"Out? Ay, on Tyburn Hill," said the master-player, quietly. "I've spent
my whole life for a bit of hempen cord. I've taken my last cue. Last
night, at twelve o'clock, I heard the bellman under the prison walls
call my name with the names of those already condemned. The play is
nearly out, Nick, and the people will be going home. It has been a wild
play, Nick, and ill played."
"Here, if ye've anything to say, be saying it," said the turnkey. "'Tis
a shilling's worth, ye mind."
Carew lifted up his head in the old haughty way, and clapped his
shackled hand to his hip--they had taken his poniard when he came into
the gaol. A queer look came over his face; taking his hand away, he
wiped it hurriedly upon his jerkin. There were dark stains upon
"Ye sent for me, sir," said Nick.
Carew passed his hand across his brow. "Yes, yes, I sent for thee. I
have something to tell thee, Nick." He hesitated, and looked through the
bars at the boy, as if to read his thoughts. "Thou'lt be good and true
to Cicely--thou'lt deal fairly with my girl? Why, surely, yes." He
paused again, as if irresolute. "I'll trust thee, Nick. We've taken
money, thou and I; good gold and silver--tsst! what's that?" He
Nick heard no sound but the Spaniard's cursing.
"'Tis my fancy," Carew said. "Well, then, we've taken much good money,
Nick; and I have not squandered all of it. Hark'e--thou knowest the old
oak wainscot in the dining-hall, and the carven panel by the Spanish
chest? Good, then! Upon the panel is a cherubin, and--tsst! what's
that, I say?"
There was a stealthy rustling in the right-hand cell. The fellow in it
had his ear pressed close against the bars. "He is listening,"
The fellow cursed and shook his fist, and then, when Master Carew
dropped his voice and would have gone on whispering, set up so loud a
howling and clanking of his chains that the lad could not make out one
word the master-player said.
"Peace, thou dog!" cried Carew, and kicked the grating. But the fellow
only yelled the louder.
Carew looked sorely troubled. "I dare not let him hear," said he. "The
very walls of Newgate leak."
"_Yak, yah, yah, thou gallows-bird!_"
"Yet I must tell thee, Nick."
"_Yah, yah, dangle-rope!_"
"Stay! would Will Shakspere come? Why, here, I'll send him word. He'll
come--Will Shakspere never bore a grudge; and I shall so soon go where
are no grudges, envy, storms, or noise, but silence and the soft lap of
everlasting sleep. He'll come--Nick, bid him come, upon his life, to
the Old Bailey when I am taken up."
Nick nodded. It was strange to have his master beg.
Carew was looking up at a thin streak of light that came in through the
narrow window at the stair. "Nick," said he, huskily, "last night I
dreamed I heard thee singing; but 'twas where there was a sweet, green
field and a stream flowing through a little wood. Methought 'twas on the
road past Warwick toward Coventry. Thou'lt go there some day and
remember Gaston Carew, wilt not, lad? And, Nick, for thine own mother's
sake, do not altogether hate him; he was not so bad a man as he might
easily have been."
"Come," growled the turnkey, who was pacing up and down like a surly
bear; "have done. 'Tis a fat shilling's worth."
"'Twas there I heard thee sing first, Nick," said Carew, holding to the
boy's hands through the bars. "I'll never hear thee sing again."
"Why, sir, I'll sing for thee now," said Nick, choking.
The turnkey was coming back when Nick began suddenly to sing. He looked
up, staring. Such a thing dumfounded him. He had never heard a song like
that in Newgate. There were rules in prison. "Here, here," he cried, "be
still!" But Nick sang on.
The groaning, quarreling, and cursing were silent all at once. The guard
outside, who had been sharpening his pike upon the window-ledge, stopped
the shrieking sound. Silence like a restful sleep fell upon the weary
place. Through dark corridors and down the mildewed stairs the quaint
old song went floating as a childhood memory into an old man's dream;
and to Gaston Carew's ear it seemed as if the melody of earth had all
been gathered in that little song--all but the sound of the voice of his
It ceased, and yet a gentle murmur seemed to steal through the mouldy
walls, of birds and flowers, sunlight and the open air, of once-loved
mothers, and of long-forgotten homes. The renegade had ceased his
cursing, and was whispering a fragment of a Spanish prayer he had not
heard for many a day.
Carew muttered to himself. "And now old cares are locked in charmed
sleep, and new griefs lose their bitterness, to hear thee sing--to hear
thee sing. God bless thee, Nick!"
"'Tis three good shillings' worth o' time," the turnkey growled, and
fumbled with the keys. "All for one shilling, too," said he, and kicked
the door-post sulkily. "But a plague, I say, a plague! 'Tis no one's
business but mine. I've a good two shillings' worth in my ears. 'Tis
thirty year since I ha' heard the like o' that. But what's a gaol
for?--man's delight? Nay, nay. Here, boy, time's up! Come out o' that."
But he spoke so low that he scarcely heard himself; and going to the end
of the corridor, he marked at random upon the wall.
"Oh, Nick, I love thee," said the master-player, holding the boy's hands
with a bitter grip. "Dost thou not love me just a little? Come, lad, say
that thou lovest me."
[Illustration: "'WHY, SIR, I'LL SING FOR THEE NOW.' SAID NICK,
CHOKING."] "Nay, Master Carew," Nick answered soberly, "I do na love
thee, and I will na say I do, sir; but I pity thee with all my heart.
And, sir, if thy being out would keep me stolen, still I think I'd wish
thee out--for Cicely. But, Master Carew, do na break my hands."
The master-player loosed his grasp. "I will not seek to be excused to
thee," he said huskily. "I've prisoned thee as that clod prisons me;
but, Nick, the play is almost out, down comes the curtain on my heels,
and thy just blame will find no mark. Yet, Nick, now that I am fast and
thou art free, it makes my heart ache to feel that 'twas not I who set
thee free. Thou canst go when pleaseth thee, and thank me nothing for
it. And, Nick, as my sins be forgiven me, I truly meant to set thee free
and send thee home. I did, upon my word, and on the remnant of
"Time's good and up, sirs," said the turnkey, coming back.
Carew thrust his hand into his breast.
"I must be going, sir," said Nick.
"Ay, so thou must--all things must go. Oh, Nick, be friendly with me
now, if thou wert never friendly before. Kiss me, lad. There--now thy
hand." The master-player clasped it closely in his own, and pressing
something into the palm, shut down the fingers over it. "Quick! Keep it
hid," he whispered. "'Tis the chain I had from Stratford's burgesses, to
some good usage come at last."
"Must I come and fetch thee out?" growled the turnkey.
"I be coming, sir."
"Thou'lt send Will Shakspere? And, oh, Nick," cried Carew, holding him
yet a little longer, "thou'lt keep my Cicely from harm?"
"I'll do my best," said Nick, his own eyes full.
The turnkey raised his heavy bunch of keys. "I'll ding thee out o' this"
And the last Nick Attwood saw of Gaston Carew was his wistful eyes
hunting down the stairway after him, and his hand, with its torn fine
laces, waving at him through the bars.
And when he came to the Mermaid Inn Master Shakspere's comedy was done,
and Master Ben Jonson was telling a merry tale that made the tapster
sick with laughing.
That Master Will Shakspere should be so great seemed passing strange to
Nick, he felt so soon at home with him. It seemed as if the master-maker
of plays had a magic way of going out to and about the people he met,
and of fitting his humor to them as though he were a glover with their
measure in his hand.
With Nick he was nothing all day long but a jolly, wise, and
gentle-hearted boy, wearing his greatness like an old cloth coat, as if
it were a long-accustomed thing, and quite beyond all pride, and went
about his business in a very simple way. But in the evening when the
wits were met together at his house, and Nick sat on the hindmost bench
and watched the noble gentlemen who came to listen to the sport, Master
Will Shakspere seemed to have the knack of being ever best among them
all, yet of never too much seeming to be better than the rest.
And though, for the most part, he said but little, save when some pet
fancy moved him, when he did speak his conversation sparkled like a
little meadow brook that drew men's best thoughts out of them like
water from a spring.
And when they fell to bantering, he could turn the fag-end of another
man's nothing to good account in a way so shrewd that not even Master
Ben Jonson could better him--and Master Ben Jonson set up for a wit. But
Master Shakspere came about as quickly as an English man-of-war, dodged
here and there on a breath of wind, and seemed quite everywhere at once;
while Master Jonson tacked and veered, and loomed across the elements
like a great galleon, pouring forth learned broadsides with a most
prodigious boom, riddling whatever was in the way, to be sure, but often
quite missing the point--because Master Shakspere had come about, hey,
presto, change! and was off with the argument, point and all, upon a
totally different tack.
Then "Tush!" and "Fie upon thee, Will!" Master Jonson would cry with his
great bluff-hearted laugh, "thou art a regular flibbertigibbet! I'll
catch thee napping yet, old heart, and fill thee so full of pepper-holes
that thou wilt leak epigrams. But quits--I must be home, or I shall
catch it from my wife. Faith, Will, thou shouldst see my little Ben!"
"I'll come some day," Master Shakspere would say; "give him my love";
and his mouth would smile, though his eyes were sad, for his own son
Hamnet was dead.
Then, when the house was still again, and all had said good-by, Nick
doffed his clothes and laid him down to sleep in peace. Yet he often
wakened in the night, because his heart was dancing so.
In the morning, when the world began to stir outside, and the early
light came in at the window, he slipped out of bed across the floor, and
threw the casement wide. Over the river, and over the town, and over the
hills that lay blue in the north, was Stratford!
The damp, cool air from the garden below seemed a primrose whiff from
the lane behind his father's house. He could hear the cocks crowing in
Surrey, and the lowing of the kine. There was a robin singing in a bush
under the window, and there was some one in the garden with a pair of
pruning-shears. Snip-snip! snip-snip! he heard them going. The light in
the east was pink as a peach-bloom and too intense to bear.
"Good-morrow, Master Early-bird!" a merry voice called up to him, and a
nosegay dropped on the window-ledge at his side. He looked down. There
in the path among the rose-trees was Master Will Shakspere, laughing. He
had on an ancient leathern jacket and a hat with a hole in its crown;
and the skirts of the jacket were dripping with dew from the bushes.
"Good-morrow, sir," said Nick, and bowed. "It is a lovely day."
"Most beautiful indeed! How comes the sun?"
"Just up, sir; the river is afire with it now. O-oh!" Nick held his
breath, and watched the light creep down the wall, darting long bars of
rosy gold through the snowy bloom of the apple-trees, until it rested
upon Master Shakspere's face, and made a fleeting glory there.
Then Master Shakspere stretched himself a little in the sun, laughing
softly, and said, "It is the sweetest music in the world--morning,
spring, and God's dear sunshine; it starteth kindness brewing in the
heart, like sap in a withered bud. What sayest, lad? We'll fetch the
little maid to-day; and then--away for Stratford town!"
* * * * *
But when Master Shakspere and Nicholas Attwood came to Gaston Carew's
house, the constables had taken charge, the servants were scattering
hither and thither, and Cicely Carew was gone.
The bandy-legged man, the butler said, had come on Sunday in great
haste, and packing up his goods, without a word of what had befallen his
master, had gone away, no one knew whither, and had taken Cicely with
him. Nor had they questioned what he did, for they all feared the rogue,
and judged him to have authority.
Nick caught a moment at the lintel of the door. The house was full of
voices, and the sound of trampling feet went up and down from room to
room; but all he heard was Gaston Carew's worn voice saying, "Thou'lt
keep my Cicely from harm?"
THE BANDY-LEGGED MAN
Until night fell they sought the town over for a trace of Cicely; but
all to no avail. The second day likewise.
The third day passed, and still there were no tidings. Master
Shakspere's face grew very grave, and Nick's heart sickened till he
quite forgot that he was going home.
But on the morning of the fourth day, which chanced to be the 1st of
May, as he was standing in the door of a printer's stall in St. Paul's
Churchyard, watching the gaily dressed holiday crowds go up and down,
while Robin Dexter's apprentices bound white-thorn boughs about the
brazen serpent overhead, he spied the bandy-legged man among the rout
that passed the north gate by St. Martin's le Grand.
He had a yellow ribbon in his ear, and wore a bright plum-colored cloak,
at sight of which Nick cried aloud, for it was the very cloak which
Master Gaston Carew wore when he first met him in the Warwick road. The
rogue was making for the way which ran from Cheapside to the river, and
was walking very fast.
"Master Shakspere! Master Shakspere!" Nick called out. But Master
Shakspere was deep in the proofs of a newly published play, and did
The yellow ribbon fluttered in the sun--was gone behind the churchyard
"Quick, Master Shakspere! quick!" Nick cried; but the master-writer
frowned at the inky page; for the light in the printer's shop was dim,
and the proof was very bad.
The ribbon was gone down the river-way--and with it the hope of finding
Cicely. Nick shot one look into the stall. Master Shakspere, deep in his
proofs, was deaf to the world outside. Nick ran to the gate at the top
of his speed. In the crowd afar off a yellow spot went fluttering like a
butterfly along a country road. Without a single second thought, he
followed it as fast as his legs could go.
Twice he lost it in the throng. But the yellow patch bobbed up again in
the sunlight far beyond, and led him on, and on, and on, a breathless
chase, down empty lanes and alley-ways, through unfrequented courts,
among the warehouses and wharf-sheds along the river-front, into the
kennels of Billingsgate, where the only sky was a ragged slit between
the leaning roofs. His heart sank low and lower as they went, for only
thieves and runagates who dared not face the day in honest streets were
gathered in wards like these.
In a filthy purlieu under Fish-street Hill, where mackerel-heads and
herrings strewed the drains, and sour kits of whitebait stood
fermenting in the sun, the bandy-legged man turned suddenly into a dingy
court, and when Nick reached the corner of the entry-way was gone as
though the earth had swallowed him.
Nick stopped dismayed, and looked about, His forehead was wet and his
breath was gone. He had no idea where they were, but it was a dismal
hole. Six forbidding doorways led off from the unkempt court, and a
rotting stairway sagged along the wall. A crop-eared dog, that lay in
the sun beside a broken cart, sprang up with its hair all pointing to
its head, and snarled at him with a vicious grin. "Begone, thou cur!" he
cried, and let drive with a stone. The dog ran under the cart, and
crouched there barking at him.
Through an open door beyond there came a sound of voices as of people in
some further thoroughfare. Perchance the bandy-legged man had passed
that way? He ran across the court, and up the steps; but came back
faster than he went, for the passageway there was blind and black, a
place unspeakable for dirt, and filled with people past description. A
woman peered out after him with red eyes blinking in the sun. "Ods
bobs!" she croaked, "a pretty thing! Come hither, knave; I want the
buckle off thy cloak."
Nick, shuddering, started for the street. But just as he reached the
entry-port a door in the courtyard opened, and the bandy-legged man came
out with a bag upon his back, leading Cicely by the hand.
Seeing Nick, he gave a cry, believing himself pursued, and made for the
open door again; but almost instantly perceiving the boy to be alone,
slammed shut the door and followed him instead, dragging Cicely over the
stones, and shouting hoarsely, "Stop there! stop!"
Nick's heart came up in his very throat. His legs went water-weak. He
ran for the open thoroughfare without once looking back. Yet while he
ran he heard Cicely cry out suddenly in pain, "Oh, Gregory, Gregory,
thou art hurting me so!" and at the sound the voice of Gaston Carew rang
like a bugle in his ears: "Thou'lt keep my Cicely from harm?" He stopped
as short as if he had butted his head against a wall, whirled on his
heel, stood fast, though he was much afraid; and standing there, his
head thrown back and his fists tight clenched, as if some one had struck
him in the face, he waited until they came to where he was. "Thou
hulking, cowardly rogue!" said he to the bandy-legged man.
But the bandy-legged man caught him fast by the arm, and hurried on into
the street, scanning it swiftly up and down. "Two birds with one stone,
by hen!" he chuckled, when he saw that the coast was clear. "They'll
fetch a pretty penny by and by."
Poor Cicely smiled through her tears at Nick. "I knew thou wouldst come
for me soon," said she. "But where is my father?"
"He's dead as a herring," snarled Gregory.
"That's a lie," said Nick; "he is na dead."
"Don't call me liar, knave--by hen, I'll put a stopper on thy voice!"
"Thou wilt na put a stopper on a jug!" cried Nick, his heart so hot for
Cicely that he quite forgot himself. "I'd sing so well without a
voice--it would butter thy bread for thee! Loose my arm, thou rogue."
"Not for a thousand golden crowns! I'm no tom-noddy, to be gulled. And,
hark 'e, be less glib with that 'rogue' of thine, or I'll baste thy back
"Oh, don't beat Nick!" gasped Cicely.
"Do na fret for me," said Nick; "I be na feared of the cowardly rogue!"
Crack! the man struck him across the face. Nick's eyes flashed hot as a
fire-coal. He set his teeth, but he did not flinch. "Do na thou strike
me again, _thou rogue!_" said he.
As he spoke, on a sudden his heart leaped up and his fear was utterly
gone. In its place was a something fierce and strange--a bitter
gladness, a joy that stung and thrilled him like great music in the
night. A tingling ran from head to foot; the little hairs of his flesh
stood up; he trampled the stones as he hurried on. In his breast his
heart was beating like a bell; his breath came hotly, deep and slow; the
whole world widened on his gaze. Oh, what a thing is the heart of a boy!
how quickly great things are done therein! One instant, put him to the
touch--the thing is done, and he is nevermore the same. Like a keen,
cold wind that blows through a window in the night, life's courage had
breathed on Nick Attwood's heart; the _man_ that slept in the heart of
the boy awoke and was aware. The old song roared in Nick's ears:
Sir Francis Drake sailed round the world,
Round the world, round the world;
John Hawkins fought the "Victory,"
And we ha' beaten Spain!
Whither they were going he did not know. Whither they were going he did
not care. He was English: this was England still! He set his teeth and
threw back his shoulders. "I be na feared of him!" said he.
"But my father will come for us soon, won't he, Nick?" faltered Cicely.
"Eigh! just don't he wish that he might!" laughed Goole.
"Oh, ay," said she, and nodded bravely to herself; "he may be very busy
now, and so he cannot come. But presently he will come for me and fetch
me home again." She gave a joyous little skip. "To fetch me home
again--ay, surely, my father will come for me anon."
A lump came up in Nick Attwood's throat. "But what hath he done to thee,
Cicely, and where is thy pretty gown?" he asked, as they hurried on
through the crooked way; for the gown she wore was in rags.
Cicely choked down a sob. "He hath kept me locked up in a horrible
place, where an old witch came in the night and stole my clothes away.
And he says that if money doth not come for me soon he will turn me out
"To starve? Nay, Cicely; I will na leave thee starve. I'll go with thee
wherever he taketh thee; I'll fend for thee with all my might and main,
and none shall harm thee if I can help. So cheer up--we will get away!
Thou needst na gripe me so, thou rogue; I am going wherever she goes."
"I'll see that ye do," growled the bandy-legged man. "But take the other
hand of her, thou jackanapes, and fetch a better pace than this--I'll
not be followed again."
His tone was bold, but his eyes were not; for they were faring through
the slums toward Whitechapel way, and the hungry crowd eyed Nick's silk
cloak greedily. One burly rascal with a scar across his face turned back
and snatched at it. For his own safety's sake, the bandy-legged man
struck up into a better thoroughfare, where he skulked along like a fox
overtaken by dawn, fearing to meet some dog he knew.
"Oh, Gregory, go slow!" pleaded Cicely, panting for breath, and
stumbling over the cobblestones. Goole's only answer was a scowl. Nick
trotted on sturdily, holding her hand, and butting his shoulder against
the crowd so that she might not be jostled; for the press grew thick and
thicker as they went. All London was a-Maying, and the foreigners from
Soho, too. Up in the belfries, as they passed, the bells were clanging
until the whole town rang like a smithy on the eve of war, for madcap
apprentices had the ropes, and were ringing for exercise.
Thicker and thicker grew the throng, as though the sea were sweeping
through the town. Then, at the corner of Mincing Lane, where the
cloth-workers' shops were thick, all at once there came an uproarious
din of men's voices singing together:
"Three merry boys, and three merry boys,
And three merry boys are we,
As ever did sing in a hempen string
Beneath the gallows-tree!"
And before the bandy-legged man could chance upon a doorway in which to
stand out of the rush, they were pressed against the wall flat as cakes
by a crowd of bold apprentices in holiday attire going out to a wager of
archery to be shot in Finsbury Fields.
At first all Nick could see was legs: red legs, yellow legs, blue legs,
green legs, long legs, strong legs--in truth, a very many of all sorts
of legs, all stepping out together like a hundred-bladed shears; for
these were the Saddlers of Cheapside and the Cutters of Mincing Lane,
tall, ruddy-faced fellows, all armed with clubs, which they twirled and
tossed and thwacked one another with in sport. Some wore straw hats with
steeple-crowns, and some flat caps of green and white, or red and
orange-tawny. Some had long yew bows and sheaves of arrows decked with
garlands; and they were all exceedingly daubed in the face with dripping
cherry-juice and with cheese, which they munched as they strode along.
"What, there, Tom Webster, I say," cried one, catching sight of Cicely's
face, "here is a Queen o' the May for thee!"
His broad-shouldered comrade stopped in the way, and with him all the
rest. "My faith, Jem Armstrong, 'tis the truth, for once in thy life!"
quoth he, and stared at Cicely. Her cheeks were flushed, and her panting
red lips were fallen apart so that her little white teeth showed
through. Her long, dark lashes cast shadow circles under her eyes. Her
curly hair in elfin locks tossed all about her face, and through it was
tied a crimson ribbon, mocking the quick color of the blood which came
and went beneath her delicate skin. "My faith!" cried Tommy Webster,
"her face be as fair as a K in a copy-book! Hey, bullies, what? let's
make her queen!"
"A queen?" "What queen?" "Where is a queen?" "I granny! Tom Webster hath
catched a queen!" "Where is she, Tom?" "Up with her, mate, and let a
"Hands off, there!" snarled the bandy-legged man.
"Up with her, Tom!" cried out the strapping fellow at his back. "A queen
it is; and a right good smacking toll all round--I have not bussed a
maid this day! Up with her, Tom!"
"Stand back, ye rogues, and let us pass!"
But alas and alack for the bandy-legged man! He could not ruffle and
swagger it off as Gaston Carew had done of old; a London apprentice was
harder nuts than his cowardly heart could crack.
"Stand back, ye rogues!" he cried again.
"Rogues? Rogues? Who calls us rogues? Hi, Martin Allston, crack me his
"Good masters," faltered Gregory, seeing that bluster would not serve,
"I meant ye no offense. I pr'ythee, do not keep a father and his
children from their dying mother's bed!"
"Nay--is that so?" asked Webster, sobering instantly "Here, lads, give
way--their mother be a-dying."
The crowd fell back. "Ah, sirs," whined Goole, scarce hiding the joy in
his face, "she'll thank ye with her dying breath. Get on, thou knave!"
he muttered fiercely in Nick's ear.
But Nick stood fast, and caught Tom Webster by the arm. "The fellow
lieth in his throat," said he. "My mother is in Stratford town; and
Cicely's mother is dead."
"Thou whelp!" cried the bandy-legged man, and aimed a sudden blow at
Nick, "I'll teach thee to hold thy tongue."
"Oh, no, ye won't," quoth Thomas Webster, interposing his long oak
staff, and thrusting the fellow away so hard that he thumped against the
wall; "there is no school on holidays! Thou'lt teach nobody here to hold
his tongue but thine own self--and start at that straightway. Dost take
me?--say? Now, Jacky Sprat, what's all the coil about? Hath this sweet
fellow kidnapped thee?"
"Nay, sir, not me, but Cicely; and do na leave him take her, sir, for he
treats her very ill!"
"The little rascal lies," sneered Goole, though his lips were the color
of lead; "I am her legal guardian!"
"What! How? Thou wast her father but a moment since!"
"Nay, nay," Goole stammered, turning a sickly hue; "her father's nearest
friend, I said,--he gave her in my charge."
"My father's friend!" cried Cicely. "Thou? Thou? His common groom! Why,
he would not give my finger in thy charge."
"He is the wiser daddy, then!" laughed Jemmy Armstrong, "for the fellow
hath a T for Tyburn writ upon his face."
The eyes of the bandy-legged man began to shift from side to side; but
still he put a bold front on. "Stand off," said he, and tried to thrust
Tom Webster back. "Thou'lt pay the piper dear for this! The knave is a
lying vagabond. He hath stolen this pack of goods."
"Why, fie for shame!" cried Cicely, and stamped her little foot. "Nick
doth not steal, and thou knowest it, Gregory Goole! It is thou who hast
stolen my pretty clothes, and the wine from my father's house!"
"Good, sweetheart!" quoth Tom Webster, eying the bandy-legged man with a
curious snap in his honest eyes. "So the rascal hath stolen other things
than thee? I thought that yellow bow of his was tied tremendous high!
Why, mates, the dog is a branded rogue--that ribbon is tied through the
hole in his ear!"
Gregory Goole made a dash through the throng where the press was least.
Thump! went Tommy Webster's club, and a little puff of dust went up from
Gregory's purple cloak. But he was off so sharply, and dodged with such
amazing skill, that most of the blows aimed at his head hummed through
the empty air, or thwacked some stout apprentice in the ribs as they all
went whooping after him. He was out of the press and away like a deer
down a covert lane between two shops ere one could say, "Jack, Robin's
son," and left the stout apprentices at every flying leap. So presently
they all gave over the chase, and came back with the bag he had dropped
as he ran; and were so well pleased with themselves for what they had
done that they gave three cheers for all the Cloth-workers and Saddlers
in London, and then three more for Cicely and Nick. They would no doubt
have gone right on and given three for the bag likewise, being strongly
in the humor of it; but "Hi, Tom Webster!" shouted one who could hardly
speak for cherries and cheese and puffing, "what's gone with the queen
we're to have so fast, and the toll that we're to take?"
Tom Webster pulled at his yellow beard, for he saw that Cicely was no
common child, and of gentler birth than they. "I do not think she'll
bide the toll," said he, in half apology.
"What! is there anything to pay?" she asked with a rueful quaver in her
voice. "Oh, Nick, there is to pay!"
"We have no money, sirs," said Nick; "I be very sorry."
"If my father were here," said Cicely, "he would give thee a handful of
silver; but I have not a penny to my name." She looked up into Tom
Webster's face. "But, sir," said she, and laid her hand upon his arm,
"if ye care, I will kiss thee upon the cheek."
"Why, marry come up! My faith!" quoth he, and suddenly blushed--to his
own surprise the most of all--"why, what? Who'd want a sweeter penny
for his pains?" But "Here--nay, nay!" the others cried; "ye've left us
out. Fair play, fair play!"
All Cicely could see was a forest of legs that filled the lane from wall
to wall, and six great fellows towering over her. "Why, sirs," cried
she, confusedly, while her face grew rosy red, "ye all shall kiss my
"If what?" they roared.
"If ye will but wipe your faces clean."
At the shout of laughter they sent up the constable of the cloth-men's
ward awoke from a sudden dream of war and bloody insurrection, and came
down Cheapside bawling, "Peace, in the name of the Queen!" But when he
found it was only the apprentices of Mincing Lane out Maying, he stole
away around a shop, and made as if it were some other fellow.
They took the humor of it like a jolly lot of bears, and all came
crowding round about, wiping their mouths on what came first, with a
lick and a promise,--kerchief, doublet, as it chanced,--laughing, and
shouldering each to be first. "Up with the little maid there, Tom!" they
Cicely gave him both her hands, and--"Upsydaisy!"--she was on the top of
the corner post, where she stood with one hand on his brawny shoulder to
steady herself, like a flower growing by a wall, bowing gravely all
about, and holding out her hand to be kissed with as graceful an air as
a princess born, and withal a sweet, quaint dignity that abashed the
Some one or two came blustering as if her hand were not enough; but
Jemmy Armstrong rapped them so sharply over the pate, with "Soft, ye
loons, her hand!" that they dabbed at her little finger-tips, and were
out of his reach in a jiffy, rubbing their polls with a sheepish grin;
for Jemmy Armstrong's love-pats would have cracked a hazelnut.
Some came again a second time. One came even a third. But Cicely knew
him by his steeple-hat, and tucked her hand behind her, saying, "Fie,
sir, thou art greedy!" Whereupon the others laughed and punched him in
the ribs with their clubs, until he bellowed, "Quits! We'll all be late
to the archery if we be not trotting on."
Nick's face fell at the merry shout of "Finsbury, Finsbury, ho!" "I dare
na try to take her home alone," said he; "that rogue may lie in wait
"Oh, Nick, he is not coming back?" cried Cicely; and with that she threw
her arms around Tom Webster's neck. "Oh, take us with thee, sir--don't
leave us all alone!"
Webster pulled his yellow beard. "Nay, lass, it would not do," said he;
"we'll be mad larks by evening. But there, sweetheart, don't weep no
more! That rogue shall not catch thee again, I promise that."
"Why, Tom," quoth Armstrong, "what's the coil? We'll leave them at the
Boar's Head Inn with sixpence each until their friends can come for
them. Hey, mates, up Great East Cheap!" And off they marched to the
Boar's Head Inn.
A SUDDEN RESOLVE
Nick and Cicely were sitting on a bench in the sun beside the tap-room
door, munching a savory mutton-pie which Tommy Webster had bought for
them. Beside them over the window-sill the tapster twirled his spigot
cheerfully, and in the door the carrier was bidding the
Around the inn-yard stood a row of heavy, canvas-covered wains and
lumbering two-wheeled carts, each surmounted by a well-armed guard, and
drawn by six strong horses with harness stout as cannon-leathers. The
hostlers stood at the horses' heads, chewing at wisps of barley-straw as
though their other fare was scant, which, from their sleek rotundity,
was difficult to believe. The stable-boy, with a pot of slush, and a
head of hair like a last year's haycock, was hastily greasing a
forgotten wheel; while, out of the room where the servants ate, the
drivers came stumbling down the steps with a mighty smell of onions and
brawn. The weekly train from London into the north was ready to be off.
A portly, well-clad countryman, with a shrewd but good-humored
countenance, and a wife beside him round and rosy of face as he, came
bustling out of the private door. "How far yet, Master John?" he asked
as he buckled on his cloak. "Forty-two miles to Oxford, sir," replied
the carrier. "We must be off if we're to lie at Uxbridge overnight; for
there hath been rain beyond, sir, and the roads be werry deep."
Nick stared at the man for Oxford. Forty-two miles to Oxford! And Oxford
lay to the south of Stratford fifty miles and two. Ninety-four miles
from Stratford town! Ninety-four miles from home!
"When will my father come for us, Nick?" asked Cicely, turning her hand
in the sun to see the red along the edges of her fingers.
"Indeed, I can na tell," said Nick; "Master Will Shakspere is coming
anon, and I shall go with him."
"And leave me by myself?"
"Nay; thou shalt go, too. Thou'lt love to see his garden and the
rose-trees--it is like a very country place. He is a merry gentleman,
and, oh, so kind! He is going to take me home."
"But my father will take us home when he comes."
"To Stratford town, I mean."
"Away from daddy and me? Why, Nick!"
"But my mother is in Stratford town."
Cicely was silent. "Then I think I would go, too," she said quite
softly, looking down as if there were a picture on the ground. "When
one's mother is gone there is a hurting-place that nought doth ever
come into any more--excepting daddy, and--and thee. We shall miss thee,
Nick, at supper-times. Thou'lt come back soon?"
"I am na coming back."
"Not coming back?" She laid the mutton-pie down on the bench.
"No--I am na coming back"
She looked at him as if she had not altogether understood.
Nick turned away. A strange uneasiness had come upon him, as if some one
were staring at him fixedly. But no one was. There was a Dutchman in the
gate who had not been there just before. "He must have sprung up out of
the ground," thought Nick, "or else he is a very sudden Dutchman!" He
had on breeches like two great meal-sacks, and a Flemish sea-cloth
jacket full of wrinkles, as if it had been lying in a chest. His back
was turned, and Nick could not help smiling, for the fellow's shanks
came out of his breeches' bottoms like the legs of a letter A. He looked
like a pudding on two skewers.
Cicely slowly took up the mutton-pie once more, but did not eat. "Is na
the pasty good?" asked Nick.
"Not now," said she.
Nick turned away again.
The Dutchman was not in the gate. He had crossed the inn-yard suddenly,
and was sitting close within the shadow of the wall, though the sunny
side was pleasanter by far. His wig was hanging down about his face,
and he was talking with the tapster's knave, a hungry-looking fellow
clad in rusty black as if some one were dead, although it was a holiday
and he had neither kith nor kin. The knave was biting his under lip and
staring straight at Nick.
"And will I never see thee more?" asked Cicely.
"Oh, yes," said Nick; "oh, yes."
But he did not know whether she ever would or no.
"Gee-wup, Dobbin! Yoicks, Ned! Tschk--tschk!" The leading cart rolled
slowly through the gate. A second followed it. The drivers made a
cracking with their whips, and all the guests came out to see them off.
But the Dutchman, as the rest came out, arose, and with the tapster's
knave went in at a narrow entrance beyond the tap-room steps.
"And when will Master Shakspere come for thee?" asked Cicely once more,
the cold pie lying in her lap.
"I do na know. How can I tell? Do na bother me so!" cried Nick, and dug
his heels into the cracks between the paving-stones; for after all that
had come to pass the starting of the baggage-train had made him sick
Cicely looked up at him; she thought she had not heard aright. He was
staring after the last cart as it rolled through the inn-yard gate; his
throat was working, and his eyes were full of tears.
"Why, Nick!" said she, "art crying?"
"Nay," said he, "but very near," and dashed his hand across his face.
"Everything doth happen so all-at-once--and I am na big enough, Cicely.
Oh, Cicely, I would I were a mighty king--I'd make it all up
"Perhaps thou wilt be some day, Nick," she answered quietly. "Thou'ldst
make a very lovely king. I could be queen; and daddy should be Lord
Admiral, and own the finest play-house in the town."
But Nick was staring at the tap-room door. A voice somewhere had
startled him. The guests were gone, and none was left but the tapster's
knave leaning against the inner wall.
"Thy mother should come to live with us, and thy father, and all thy
kin," said Cicely, dreamily smiling; "and the people would love us,
there would be no more war, and we should be happy forevermore."
But Nick was listening,--not to her,--and his face was a little pale. He
felt a strange, uneasy sense of some one staring at his back. He whirled
about--looked in at the tap-room window. For an instant a peering face
was there; then it was gone--there was only the Dutchman's frowzy wig
and striped woolen cap. But the voice he had heard and the face he had
seen were the voice and the face of Gregory Goole.
"I should love to see thy mother, Nick," said Cicely.
He got up steadily, though his heart was jolting his very ribs. "Thou
shalt right speedily!" said he.
The carts were standing in a line. The carrier came down the steps with
his stirrup-cup in hand. Nick's heart gave a sudden, wild, resolute
leap, and he touched the carrier on the arm. "What will ye charge to
carry two as far as Stratford town?" he asked. His mouth was dry as a
dusty road, for the Dutchman had risen from his seat and was coming
toward the door.
"I do na haul past Oxford," said the man.
"To Oxford, then--how much? Be quick!" Nick thrust his hand into his
breast where he carried the burgesses' chain.
"Eightpence the day, for three days out--two shilling 'tis, and find
yourself; it is an honest fare."
The tapster's knave came down the steps; the Dutchman stood within the
shadow of the door.
"Wilt carry us for this?" Nick cried, and thrust the chain into the
He gasped and almost let it fall. "Beshrew my heart! Gadzooks!" said he,
"art thou a prince in hiding, boy? 'T would buy me, horses, wains, and
all. Why, man alive, 'tis but a nip o' this!"
"Good, then," said Nick, "'tis done--we'll go. Come, Cicely, we're
Staring, the carrier followed him, weighing the chain in his hairy hand.
"Who art thou, boy?" he cried again. "This matter hath a queer look."
"'Twas honestly come by, sir," cried Nick, no longer able to conceal a
quiver in his voice, "and my name is Nicholas Attwood; I come from
"Stratford-on-Avon? Why, art kin to Tanner Simon Attwood there, Attwood
of Old Town?"
"He is my father, sir. Oh, leave us go with thee--take the whole
Slap went the carrier's cap in the dirt! "Leave thee go wi' me?
Gadzooks!" he cried, "my name be John Saddler--why, what? my daddy
liveth in Chapel lane, behind Will Underhill's. I stole thy father's
apples fifteen years. What! go wi' me? Get on the wain, thou little
fool--get on all the wains I own, and a plague upon thine eightpence,
lad! Why, here; Hal telled me thou wert dead, or lost, or some such
fairy tale! Up on the sheepskin, both o' ye!"
The Dutchman came from the tap-room door and spoke to the tapster's
knave; but the words which he spoke to that tapster's knave were
anything but Dutch.
At Kensington watering-place, five miles from London town, Nick held the
pail for the horses of the Oxford man. "Hello, my buck!" quoth he, and
stared at Nick; "where under the sun didst pop from all at once?" and,
looking up, spied Cicely upon the carrier's wain. "What, John!" he
shouted, "thou saidst there were no more!"
"No more there weren't, sir," said John, "but there be now"; and out
with the whole story.
"Well, I ha' farmed for fifty year," cried honest Roger Clout, "yet
never have I seen the mate to yonder little maid, nor heard the like o'
such a tale! Wife, wife!" he cried, in a voice as round and full of
hearty cheer as one who calls his own cattle home across his own fat
fields. "Come hither, Moll--here's company for thee. For sure, John,
they'll ride wi' Moll and I; 'tis godsend--angels on a baggage-cart!
Moll ha' lost her only one, and the little maid will warm the cockles o'
her heart, say nought about mine own. La, now, she is na feared o' me;
God bless thee, child! Look at her, Moll--as sweet as honey and the
cream o' the brindle cow."
So they rode with kindly Roger Clout and his good wife by Hanwell,
Hillingdon Hill, and Uxbridge, where they rested at the inn near old St.
Margaret's, Cicely with Mistress Clout, and Nick with her good man. And
in the morning there was nothing to pay, for Roger Clout had footed all
Then on again, through Beaconsfield and High Wycombe, into and over the
Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire. In parts the land was passing fair,
with sheep in flocks upon the hills, and cattle knee-deep in the grass;
but otherwhere the way was wild, with bogs and moss in all the deeps,
and dense beech forests on the heights; and more than once the guards
made ready their match-locks warily. But stout John Saddler's train was
no soft cakes for thieves, and they came up through Bucks scot-free.
At times it drizzled fitfully, and the road was rough and bad; but the
third day was a fair, sweet day, and most exceeding bright and fresh.
The shepherds whistled on the hills, and the milkmaids sang in the
winding lanes among the white-thorn hedges, the smell of which was
everywhere. The singing, the merry voices calling, the comfortable
lowing of the kine, the bleating of the sheep, the clinking of the
bridle-chains, and the heavy ruttle of the carts filled the air with
life and cheer. The wind was blowing both warm and cool; and, oh, the
blithe breeze of the English springtime! Nick went up the green hills,
and down the white dells like a leaf in the wind, now ahead and now
behind the winding train, or off into the woods and over the fields for
a posy-bunch for Cicely, calling and laughing back at her, and filling
her lap with flowers and ferns until the cart was all one great,
As for Cicely, Nick was there, so she was very well content. She had
never gone a-visiting in all her life before; and she would see Nick's
mother, and the flowers in the yard, the well, and that wondrous stream,
the Avon, of which Nick talked so much. "Stratford is a fair, fair town,
though very full of fools," her father often said. But she had nothing
to do with the fools, and daddy would come for her again; so her
laughter bubbled like a little spring throughout the livelong day.
As the sun went down in the yellow west they came into Oxford from the
south on the easterly side. The Cherwell burned with the orange light
reflected from the sky, and the towers of the famous town of olden
schools and scholars stood up black-purple against the western glow,
with rims of gold on every roof and spire.
Up the High street into the corn-market rolled the tired train, and
turned into the rambling square of the old Crown Inn near Carfax church,
a large, substantial hostelry, one of merry England's best,
clean-chambered, homelike, full of honest cheer.
There was a shout of greeting everywhere. The hostlers ran to walk the
horses till they cooled, and to rub them down before they fed, for they
were all afoam. Master Davenant himself saw to the storing of the wains;
and Mistress Davenant, a comely dame, with smooth brown hair and ruddy
cheeks, and no less wit than sprightly grace, was in the porch to meet
the company. "Well, good Dame Clout," said she, "art home again? What
tales we'll have! Didst see Tom Lane? No? Pshaw! But buss me, Moll;
we've missed thy butter parlously." And then quite free she kissed both
Nick and Cicely.
"What, there, Dame Davenant!" cried Roger Clout, "art passing them
around?" and laughed, "Do na forget me."
"Nay, nay," she answered, "but I'm out. Here, Nan," she called to the
smutty-faced scullery-maid, "a buss for Master Clout; his own Moll's
busses be na fine enough since he hath been to town."
So, joking, laughing, they went in; while plain John Saddler backed out
of the porch as sooty Nan came running up, for fear the jilt might offer
somewhat of the sort to him, and was off in haste to see to his teams,"
There's no leaving it to the boys," said he, "for they'd rub 'em down
wi' a water-pail, and give 'em straw to drink."
When the guests all came to the fourpenny table to sup, Nick spoke to
Master Roger Clout. "Ye've done enough for us, sir; thank ye with all my
heart; but I've a turn will serve us here, and, sir, I'd rather stand on
mine own legs. Ye will na mind?" And when they all were seated at the
board, he rose up stoutly at the end, and called out brave and clear:
"Sirs, and good dames all, will ye be pleased to have some music while
ye eat? For, if ye will, the little maid and I will sing you the latest
song from London town, a merry thing, with a fine trolly-lolly, sirs,
to glad your hearts with hearing."
Would they have music? To be sure! Who would not music while he ate must
be a Flemish dunderkopf, said they. So Nick and Cicely stood at one side
of the room upon a bench by the server's board, and sang together, while
he played upon Mistress Davenant's gittern:
"Hey, laddie, hark to the merry, merry lark!
How high he singeth clear:
'Oh, a morn in spring is the sweetest thing
That cometh in all the year!
Oh, a morn in spring is the sweetest thing
That cometh in all the year!'
"Ring, ting! it is the merry springtime;
How full of heart a body feels!
Sing hey, trolly-lolly! oh, to live is to be jolly,
When springtime cometh with the summer at her heels!
"God save us all, my jolly gentlemen,
We'll merry be to-day;
For the cuckoo sings till the greenwood rings,
And it is the month of May!
For the cuckoo sings till the greenwood rings,
And it is the month of May!"
Then the men at the table all waved their pewter pots, and thumped upon
the board, roaring, "Hey, trolly-lolly! oh, to live is to be jolly!"
until the rafters rang.
1. Hey! lad-die, hark, to the mer-ry, mer-ry lark, How high he sing-eth
clear. O a morn in Spring is the sweeter thing That cometh in all the
year; O a morn in Spring is the sweet-est thing That com-eth in all
Ring! Ting! It is the mer-ry Spring-time. How full of heart a bod-y
feels! Sing hey trol-ly lol-ly! O to live is to be jol-ly, When
Spring-time cometh with the Summer at her heels!
2. God save us all, my jol-ly gen-tle-men! We'll mer-ry be to-day; For
the cuc-koo sings till the greenwood rings, And it is the month of May;
For the cuc-koo sings till the greenwood rings, And it is the month
_Repeat Refrain after 2d Stanza._]
"What, lad!" cried good Dame Davenant, "come, stay with me all year and
sing, thou and this little maid o' thine. 'Twill cost thee neither cash
nor care. Why, thou'ldst fill the house with such a throng as it hath
never seen!" And in the morning she would not take a penny for their
lodging nor their keep. "Nay, nay," said she; "they ha' brought good
custom to the house, and left me a brave little tale to tell for many a
good long year. We inns-folk be not common penny-grabbers; marry, no!"
and, furthermore, she made interest with a carrier to give them a lift
to Woodstock on their way.
When they came to Woodstock the carrier set them down by the gates of a
park built round by a high stone wall over which they could not see, and
with his wain went in at the gate, leaving them to journey on together
through a little rain-shower.
The land grew flatter than before. There were few trees upon the hills,
and scarcely any springs at which to drink, but much tender grass, with
countless sheep nibbling everywhere. The shower was soon blown away; the
sun came out; and a pleasant wind sprang up out of the south. Here and
there beside some cottage wall the lilacs bloomed, and the later
orchard-trees were apple-pink and cherry-white with May.
They came to a puddle in the road where there was a dance of
butterflies. Cicely clapped her hands with glee. A goldfinch dipped
across the path like a little yellow streak of laughter in the sun. "Oh,
Nick, what is it?" she cried.
"A bird," said he.
"A truly bird?" and she clasped her hands. "Will it ever come again?"
"Again? Oh, yes, or, la! another one--there's plenty in the weeds."
And so they fared all afternoon, until at dusk they came to Chipping
Norton across the fields, a short cut to where the thin blue
supper-smoke curled up. The mists were rising from the meadows; earth
and sky were blending on the hills; a little silver sickle moon hung in
the fading violet, low in the western sky. Under an old oak in a green
place a fiddler and a piper were playing, and youths and maidens were
dancing in the brown light. Some little chaps were playing
blindman's-buff near by, and the older folk were gathered by the tree.
Nick came straight to where they stood, and bowing, he and Cicely
together, doffed his cap, and said in his most London tone, "We bid ye
all good-e'en, good folk."
His courtly speech and manner, as well as his clothes and Cicely's
jaunty gown, no little daunted the simple country folk. Nobody spoke,
but, standing silent, all stared at the two quaint little vagabonds as
mild kine stare at passing sheep in a quiet lane.
"We need somewhat to eat this night, and we want a place to sleep," said
Nick. "The beds must be right clean--we have good appetites. If ye can
do for us, we will dance for you anything that ye may desire--the
'Queen's Own Measure,' 'La Donzella,' the new 'Allemand' of my Lord
Pembroke, a pavone or a tinternell, or the 'Galliard of Savoy.' Which
doth it please you, mistresses?" and he bowed to the huddling young
women, who scarcely knew what to make of it.
"La! Joan," whispered one, "he calleth thee 'mistress'! Speak up,
wench." But Joan stoutly held her peace.
"Or if ye will, the little maid will dance the coranto for you, straight
from my Lord Chancellor's dancing-master; and while she dances I
"Why, hark 'e, Rob," spoke out one motherly dame, "they two do look
clean-like. Children, too--who'd gi' them stones when they beg for
bread? I'll do for them this night myself; and thou, the good man, and
Kit can sleep in the hutch. So there, dears; now let's see the Lord
"'Tis not a tantrums, goody," said Nick, politely, "but a coranto."
"La! young master, what's the odds, just so we sees it done? Some folks
calls whittles 'knives,' and thinks 't wunnot cut theys fingers!"
Nick took his place at the side of the ring. "Now, Cicely!" said he.
"Thou'lt call 'Sa--sa!' and give me the time of the coup d'archet?" she
whispered, timidly hesitant, as she stepped to the midst of the ring.
"Ay, then," said he, "'tis off, 'tis off!" and struck up a lively tune,
snapping his fingers for the time.
Cicely, bowing all about her, slowly began to dance.
It was a pretty sight to see: her big eyes wide and earnest, her cheeks
a little flushed, her short hair curling, and her crimson gown
fluttering about her as she danced the quaint running step forward and
back across the grass, balancing archly, with her hands upon her hips
and a little smile upon her lips, in the swaying motion of the coupee,
courtesying gracefully as one tiny slippered foot peeped out from her
rustling skirt, tapping on the turf, now in front and now behind. Nick
sang like a blackbird in the hedge. And how those country lads and
lasses stared to see such winsome, dainty grace! "La me!" gaped one,
"'tis fairy folk--she doth na even touch the ground!" "The pretty dear!"
the mothers said. "Doll, why canst thou na do the like, thou lummox?"
"Tut," sighed the buxom Doll, "I have na wingses on my feet!"
Then Cicely, breathless, bowed, and ran to Nick's side asking, "Was it
all right, Nick?"
"Right?" said he, and stroked her hair; "'twas better than thou didst
ever dance it for M'sieu."
"For why?" said she, and flushed, with a quick light in her eyes; "for
why--because this time I danced for thee."
The country folk, enchanted, called for more and more.
Nick sang another song, and he and Cicely danced the galliard together,
while the piper piped and the fiddler fiddled away like mad; and the
moon went down, and the cottage doors grew ruddy with the light inside.
Then Dame Pettiford gave them milk and oat-cakes in a bowl, a bit of
honey in the comb, and a cup of strawberries; and Cicely fell fast
asleep with the last of the strawberries in her hand.
So they came up out of the south through Shipston-on-Stour, in the
main-traveled way, and with every mile Nick felt home growing nearer.
Streams sprang up in the meadow-lands, with sedgy islands, and lines of
silvery willows bordering their banks. Flocks and herds cropped beneath
tofts of ash and elm and beech. Snug homes peeped out of hazel copses by
the road. The passing carts had a familiar look, and at Alderminster
Nick saw a man he thought he recognized.
Before he knew that he was there they topped Edge Hill.
There lay Stratford! as he had left it lying; not one stick or stack or
stone but he could put his finger on and say, "This place I know!" Green
pastures, grassy levels, streams, groves, mills, the old grange and the
manor-house, the road that forked in three, and the hills of Arden
beyond it all. There was the tower of the guildhall chapel above the
clustering, dun-thatched roofs among the green and blossom-white; to
left the spire of Holy Trinity sprang up beside the shining Avon. Bull
Lane he made out dimly, and a red-tiled roof among the trees. "There,
Cicely," he said, "_there--there!_" and laughed a queer little shaky
laugh next door to crying for joy.
Wat Raven was sweeping old Clopton bridge. "Hullo, there, Wat! I be come
home again!" Nick cried. Wat stared at him, but knew him not at all.
Around the corner, and down High street. Fynes Morrison burst in at the
guildschool door. "Nick Attwood's home!" he shouted; and his eyes were
like two plates.
Then the last lane--and the smoke from his father's house!
The garden gate stood open, and there was some one working in the yard.
"It is my father, Cicely," he laughed. "Father!" he cried, and hurried
in the lane.
Simon Attwood straightened up and looked across the fence. His arms were
held a little out, and his hands hung down with bits of moist earth
clinging to them. His brows were darker than a year before, and his hair
was grown more gray; his back, too, stooped. "Art thou a-calling me?"
Nick laughed. "Why, father, do ye na know me?" he cried out. "'Tis
I--'tis Nick--come home!"
Two steps the stern old tanner took--two steps to the latchet-gate. Not
one word did he speak; but he set his hand to the latchet-gate and
closed it in Nick's face.
Down the path and under the gate the rains had washed a shallow rut in
the earth. Two pebbles, loosened by the closing of the gate, rolled down
the rut and out upon the little spreading fan of sand that whitened in
There was the house with the black beams checkering its yellow walls.
There was the old bench by the door, and the lettuce in the garden-bed.
There were the beehives, and the bees humming among the orchard boughs.
"Why, father, what!" cried Nick, "dost na know me yet? See, 'tis I,
Nick, thy son."
A strange look came into the tanner's face. "I do na know thee, boy," he
answered heavily; "thou canst na enter here."
"But, father, indeed 'tis I!"
Simon Attwood looked across the town; yet he did not see the town:
across the town into the sky, yet he did not see the sky, nor the
drifting banks of cloud, nor the sunlight shining on the clouds. "I say
I do na know thee," he replied; "be off to the place whence ye
Nick's hand was almost on the latch. He stopped. He looked up into his
father's face. "Why, father, I've come home!" he gasped.
The gate shook in the tanner's grip. "Have I na telled thee twice I do
na know thee, boy? No house o' mine shall e'er be home for thee. Thou
hast no part nor parcel here. Get thee out o' my sight."
"Oh, father, father, what do ye mean?" cried Nick, his lips scarcely
able to shape the words.
"Do na ye 'father' me no more," said Simon Attwood, bitterly; "I be na
father to stage-playing, vagabond rogues. And be gone, I say. Dost hear?
Must I e'en thrust thee forth?" He raised his hand as if to strike.
Nick fell away from the latchet-gate, dumb-stricken with amazement,
shame, and grief.
"Oh, Nick," cried Cicely, "come away--the wicked, wicked man!"
"It is my father, Cicely."
She stared at him. "And thou dost hate _my_ father so? Oh, Nick! oh,
"Will ye be gone?" called Simon Attwood, half-way opening the gate;
"must I set constables on thee?"
Nick did not move. A numbness had crept over him like palsy. Cicely
caught him by the hand. "Come, let us go back to my father," she said.
"He will not turn us out."
Scarcely knowing what he did, he followed her, stumbling in the level
path as though he were half blind or had been beaten upon the head. He
did not cry. This was past all crying. He let himself be led along--it
made no matter where.
In Chapel lane there was a crowd along the Great House wall; and on the
wall Ned Cooke and Martin Addenbroke were sitting. There were heads of
people moving on the porch and in the court, and the yard was all
a-bustle and to-do. But there was nobody in the street, and no one
looked at Nick and Cicely.
The Great House did look very fair in the sun of that May day, with its
homely gables of warm red brick and sunburnt timber, its cheery roof of
Holland tile, and with the sunlight flashing from the diamond panes that
were leaded into the sashes of the great bay-window on the eastern
In the garden all was stir-about and merry voices. There was a little
green court before the house, and a pleasant lawn coming down to the
lane from the doorway porch. The house stood to the left of the
entry-drive, and the barn-yard to the right was loud with the blithe
crowing of the cocks. But the high brick wall shut out the street where
Nick and Cicely trudged dolefully along, and to Nick the lane seemed
very full of broken crockery and dirt, and the sunlight all a mockery.
The whole of the year had not yet been so dark as this, for there had
ever been the dream of coming home. But _now_--he suffered himself to be
led along; that was enough.
They had come past the Great House up from Chapel street, when a girl
came out of the western gate, and with her hand above her eyes looked
after them. She seemed in doubt, but looked again, quite searchingly.
Then, as one who is not sure, but does not wish to miss a chance, called
out, "Nick Attwood! Nick Attwood!"
Cicely looked back to see who called. She did not know the girl, but saw
her beckon. "There is some one calling, Nick," said she.
Nick stopped in a hopeless sort of way, and looked back down the street.
When he had turned so that the girl at the gate could see his face, she
left the gate wide open behind her, and came running quickly up the
street after them. As she drew nearer he saw that it was Susanna
Shakspere, though she was very much grown since he had seen her last. He
watched her running after them as if it were none of his affair. But
when she had caught up with them, she took him by the shoulder smartly
and drew him back toward the gate. "Why, Nicholas Attwood," she cried,
all out of breath, "come straightway into the house with me. My father
hath been hunting after thee the whole way up from London town!"
A STRANGE DAY
There in the Great House garden under the mulberry-trees stood Master
Will Shakspere, with Masters Jonson, Burbage, Hemynge, Condell, and a
goodly number more, who had just come up from London town, as well as
Alderman Henry Walker of Stratford, good old John Combe of the college,
and Michael Drayton, the poet of Warwick. For Master Shakspere had that
morning bought the Great House, with its gardens and barns, of Master
William Underhill, for sixty pounds sterling, and was making a great
feast for all his friends to celebrate the day.
The London players all clapped their hands as Nick and Cicely came up
the garden-path, and, "Upon my word, Will," declared Master Jonson, "the
lad is a credit to this old town of thine. A plucky fellow, I say, a
right plucky fellow. Found the lass and brought her home all safe and
sound--why, 'tis done like a true knight-errant!"
[Illustration: "MASTER SHAKSPERE MET THEM WITH OUTSTRETCHED HANDS."]
Master Shakspere met them with outstretched hands. "Thou young rogue,"
said he, smiling, "how thou hast forestalled us! Why, here we have
been weeping for thee as lost, strayed, or stolen; and all the while
thou wert nestling in the bosom of thine own sweet home. How is the
beloved little mother?"
"I ha' na seen my mother," faltered Nick. "Father will na let me in."
"My father will na have me any more, sir--saith I shall never be his son
again. Oh, Master Shakspere, why did they steal me from home?"
They were all crowding about now, and Master Shakspere had hold of the
boy. "Why, what does this mean?" he asked. "What on earth has happened?"
Between the two children, in broken words, the story came out.
"Why, this is a sorry tale!" said Master Shakspere. "Does the man not
know that thou wert stolen, that thou wert kept against thy will, that
thou hast trudged half-way from London for thy mother's sake?"
"He will na leave me tell him, sir. He would na even listen to me!"
"The muckle shrew!" quoth Master Jonson. "Why, I'll have this out with
him! By Jupiter, I'll read him reason with a vengeance!" With a clink of
his rapier he made as if to be off at once.
"Nay, Ben," said Master Shakspere; "cool thy blood--a quarrel will not
serve. This tanner is a bitter-minded, heavy-handed man--he'd only throw
thee in a pickling-vat"
"What? Then he'd never tan another hide!"
"And would that serve the purpose, Ben? The cure should better the
disease--the children must be thought about."
"The children? Why, as for them," said Master Jonson, in his blunt,
outspoken way, "I'll think thee a thought offhand to serve the turn.
What? Why, this tanner calls us vagabonds. Vagabonds, forsooth! Yet
vagabonds are gallows-birds, and gallows-birds are ravens. And ravens,