Part 2 out of 7
"Moreover the last iron we had from that knave Mepham is nought. It
works short under the hammer."
"That shall be seen to, Kit. The rest of the budget to-morrow. I
must on to my mother."
For at the doorway, at the head of the stairs, there stood the still
trim and active figure of an old woman, with something of the mouse
likeness seen in her grand-daughter, in the close cap, high hat, and
cloth dress, that sumptuary opinion, if not law, prescribed for the
burgher matron, a white apron, silver chain and bunch of keys at her
girdle. Due and loving greetings passed between mother and son,
after the longest and most perilous absence of Master Headley's
life, and he then presented Giles, to whom the kindly dame offered
hand and cheek, saying, "Welcome, my young kinsman, your good father
was well known and liked here. May you tread in his steps!"
"Thanks, good mistress," returned Giles. "I am thought to have a
pretty taste in the fancy part of the trade. My Lord of Montagu--"
Before he could get any farther, Mistress Headley was inquiring what
was the rumour she had heard of robbers and dangers that had beset
her son, and he was presenting the two young Birkenholts to her.
"Brave boys! good boys," she said, holding out her hands and kissing
each according to the custom of welcome, "you have saved my son for
me, and this little one's father for her. Kiss them, Dennet, and
"It was the poor dog," said the child, in a clear little voice,
drawing back with a certain quaint coquetting shyness; "I would
rather kiss him."
"Would that thou couldst, little mistress," said Stephen. "My poor
"Was he thine own? Tell me all about him," said Dennet, somewhat
She stood between the two strangers looking eagerly up with
sorrowfully interested eyes, while Stephen, out of his full heart,
told of his faithful comradeship with his hound from the infancy of
both. Her father meanwhile was exchanging serious converse with her
grandmother, and Giles finding himself left in the background,
began: "Come hither, pretty coz, and I will tell thee of my Lady of
Salisbury's dainty little hounds."
"I care not for dainty little hounds," returned Dennet; "I want to
hear of the poor faithful dog that flew at the wicked robber."
"A mighty stir about a mere chance," muttered Giles.
"I know what YOU did," said Dennet, turning her bright brown eyes
full upon him. "You took to your heels."
Her look and little nod were so irresistibly comical that the two
brothers could not help laughing; whereupon Giles Headley turned
upon them in a passion.
"What mean ye by this insolence, you beggars' brats picked up on the
"Better born than thou, braggart and coward that thou art!" broke
forth Stephen, while Master Headley exclaimed, "How now, lads? No
Three voices spoke at once.
"They were insolent."
"He reviled our birth."
"Father! they did but laugh when I told cousin Giles that he took to
his heels, and he must needs call them beggars' brats picked up on
"Ha! ha! wench, thou art woman enough already to set them together
by the ears," said her father, laughing. "See here, Giles Headley,
none who bears my name shall insult a stranger on my hearth."
Stephen however had stepped forth holding out his small stock of
coin, and saying, "Sir, receive for our charges, and let us go to
the tavern we passed anon."
"How now, boy! Said I not ye were my guests?"
"Yea, sir, and thanks; but we can give no cause for being called
beggars nor beggars' brats."
"What beggary is there in being guests, my young gentlemen?" said
the master of the house. "If any one were picked up on the heath,
it was I. We owned you for gentlemen of blood and coat armour, and
thy brother there can tell thee that, ye have no right to put an
affront on me, your host, because a rude prentice from a country
town hath not learnt to rule his tongue."
Giles scowled, but the armourer spoke with an authority that imposed
on all, and Stephen submitted, while Ambrose spoke a few words of
thanks, after which the two brothers were conducted by an external
stair and gallery to a guest-chamber, in which to prepare for
The room was small, but luxuriously filled beyond all ideas of the
young foresters, for it was hung with tapestry, representing the
history of Joseph; the bed was curtained, there was a carved chest
for clothes, a table and a ewer and basin of bright brass with the
armourer's mark upon it, a twist in which the letter H and the
dragon's tongue and tail were ingeniously blended. The City was far
in advance of the country in all the arts of life, and only the more
magnificent castles and abbeys, which the boys had never seen,
possessed the amount of comforts to be found in the dwellings of the
superior class of Londoners. Stephen was inclined to look with
contempt upon the effeminacy of a churl merchant.
"No churl," returned Ambrose, "if manners makyth man, as we saw at
"Then what do they make of that cowardly clown, his cousin?"
Ambrose laughed, but said, "Prove we our gentle blood at least by
not brawling with the fellow. Master Headley will soon teach him to
know his place."
"That will matter nought to us. To-morrow shall we be with our
uncle Hal. I only wish his lord was not of the ghostly sort, but
perhaps he may prefer me to some great knight's service. But oh!
Ambrose, come and look. See! The fellow they call Smallbones is
come out to the fountain in the middle of the court with a bucket in
each hand. Look! Didst ever see such a giant? He is as big and
brawny as Ascapart at the bar-gate at Southampton. See! he lifts
that big pail full and brimming as though it were an egg shell. See
his arm! 'Twere good to see him wield a hammer! I must look into
his smithy before going forth to-morrow."
Stephen clenched his fist and examined his muscles ere donning his
best mourning jerkin, and could scarce be persuaded to complete his
toilet, so much was he entertained with the comings and goings in
the court, a little world in itself, like a college quadrangle. The
day's work was over, the forges out, and the smiths were lounging
about at ease, one or two sitting on a bench under a large elm-tree
beside the central well, enjoying each his tankard of ale. A few
more were watching Poppet being combed down, and conversing with the
newly-arrived grooms. One was carrying a little child in his arms,
and a young man and maid sitting on the low wall round the well,
seemed to be carrying on a courtship over the pitcher that stood
waiting to be filled. Two lads were playing at skittles, children
were running up and down the stairs and along the wooden galleries,
and men and women went and came by the entrance gateway between the
two effigies of knights in armour. Some were servants bringing helm
or gauntlet for repair, or taking the like away. Some might be
known by their flat caps to be apprentices, and two substantial
burgesses walked in together, as if to greet Master Headley on his
return. Immediately after, a man-cook appeared with white cap and
apron, bearing aloft a covered dish surrounded by a steamy cloud,
followed by other servants bearing other meats; a big bell began to
sound, the younger men and apprentices gathered together and the
brothers descended the stairs, and entered by the big door into the
same large hall where they had been received. The spacious hearth
was full of green boughs, with a beaupot of wild rose, honeysuckle,
clove pinks and gilliflowers; the lower parts of the walls were hung
with tapestry representing the adventures of St. George; the
mullioned windows had their upper squares filled with glass, bearing
the shield of the City of London, that of the Armourers' Company,
the rose and portcullis of the King, the pomegranate of Queen
Catharine, and other like devices. Others, belonging to the
Lancastrian kings, adorned the pendants from the handsome open roof
and the front of a gallery for musicians which crossed one end of
the hall in the taste of the times of Henry V. and Whittington.
Far more interesting to the hungry travellers was it that the long
table, running the whole breadth of the apartment, was decked with
snowy linen, trenchers stood ready with horns or tankards beside
them, and loaves of bread at intervals, while the dishes were being
placed on the table. The master and his entire establishment took
their meals together, except the married men, who lived in the
quadrangle with their families. There was no division by the salt-
cellar, as at the tables of the nobles and gentry, but the master,
his family and guests, occupied the centre, with the hearth behind
them, where the choicest of the viands were placed; next after them
were the places of the journeymen according to seniority, then those
of the apprentices, household servants, and stable-men, but the
apprentices had to assist the serving-men in waiting on the master
and his party before sitting down themselves. There was a dignity
and regularity about the whole, which could not fail to impress
Stephen and Ambrose with the weight and importance of a London
burgher, warden of the Armourers' Company, and alderman of the Ward
of Cheap. There were carved chairs for himself, his mother, and the
guests, also a small Persian carpet extending from the hearth beyond
their seats. This article filled the two foresters with amazement.
To put one's feet on what ought to be a coverlet! They would not
have stepped on it, had they not been kindly summoned by old
Mistress Headley to take their places among the company, which
consisted, besides the family, of the two citizens who had entered,
and of a priest who had likewise dropped in to welcome Master
Headley's return, and had been invited to stay to supper. Young
Giles, as a matter of course, placed himself amongst them, at which
there were black looks and whispers among the apprentices, and even
Mistress Headley wore an air of amazement.
"Mother," said the head of the family, speaking loud enough for all
to hear, "you will permit our young kinsman to be placed as our
guest this evening. To-morrow he will act as an apprentice, as we
all have done in our time."
"I never did so at home!" cried Giles, in his loud, hasty voice.
"I trow not," dryly observed one of the guests.
Giles, however, went on muttering while the priest was pronouncing a
Latin grace, and thereupon the same burgess observed, "Never did I
see it better proved that folk in the country give their sons no
"Have patience with him, good Master Pepper," returned Mr. Headley.
"He hath been an only son, greatly cockered by father, mother, and
sisters, but ere long he will learn what is befiting."
Giles glared round, but he met nothing encouraging. Little Dennet
sat with open mouth of astonishment, her grandmother looked shocked,
the household which had been aggrieved by his presumption laughed at
his rebuke, for there was not much delicacy in those days; but
something generous in the gentle blood of Ambrose moved him to some
amount of pity for the lad, who thus suddenly became conscious that
the tie he had thought nominal at Salisbury, a mere preliminary to
municipal rank, was here absolute subjection, and a bondage whence
there was no escape. His was the only face that Giles met which had
any friendliness in it, but no one spoke, for manners imposed
silence upon youth at table, except when spoken to; and there was
general hunger enough prevailing to make Mistress Headley's fat
capon the most interesting contemplation for the present.
The elders conversed, for there was much for Master Headley to hear
of civic affairs that had passed in his absence of two months, also
of all the comings and goings, and it was ascertained that my Lord
Archbishop of York was at his suburban abode, York House, now
It was a very late supper for the times, not beginning till seven
o'clock, on account of the travellers; and as soon as it was
finished, and the priest and burghers had taken their leave, Master
Headley dismissed the household to their beds, although daylight was
CHAPTER VI. A SUNDAY IN THE CITY
"The rod of Heaven has touched them all,
The word from Heaven is spoken:
Rise, shine and sing, thou captive thrall,
Are not thy fetters broken?"
On Sunday morning, when the young Birkenholts awoke, the whole air
seemed full of bells from hundreds of Church and Minster steeples.
The Dragon Court wore a holiday air, and there was no ring of
hammers at the forges; but the men who stood about were in holiday
attire: and the brothers assumed their best clothes.
Breakfast was not a meal much accounted of. It was reckoned
effeminate to require more than two meals a day, though, just as in
the verdurer's lodge at home, there was a barrel of ale on tap with
drinking horns beside it in the hall, and on a small round table in
the window a loaf of bread, to which city luxury added a cheese, and
a jug containing sack, with some silver cups beside it, and a
pitcher of fair water. Master Headley, with his mother and
daughter, was taking a morsel of these refections, standing, and in
out-door garments, when the brothers appeared at about seven o'clock
in the morning.
"Ha! that's well," quoth he, greeting them. "No slugabeds, I see.
Will ye come with us to hear mass at St. Faith's?" They agreed, and
Master Headley then told them that if they would tarry till the next
day in searching out their uncle, they could have the company of
Tibble Steelman, who had to see one of the captains of the guard
about an alteration of his corslet, and thus would have every
opportunity of facilitating their inquiries for their uncle.
The mass was an ornate one, though not more so than they were
accustomed to at Beaulieu. Ambrose had his book of devotions,
supplied by the good monks who had brought him up, and old Mrs.
Headley carried something of the same kind; but these did not
necessarily follow the ritual, and neither quiet nor attention was
regarded as requisite in "hearing mass." Dennet, unchecked, was
exchanging flowers from her Sunday posy with another little girl,
and with hooded fingers carrying on in all innocence the satirical
pantomime of Father Francis and Sister Catharine; and even Master
Headley himself exchanged remarks with his friends, and returned
greetings from burgesses and their wives while the celebrant
priest's voice droned on, and the choir responded--the peals of the
organ in the Minster above coming in at inappropriate moments, for
there they were in a different part of High Mass using the Liturgy
peculiar to St. Paul's.
Thinking of last week at Beaulieu, Ambrose knelt meantime with his
head buried in his hands, in an absorption of feeling that was not
perhaps wholly devout, but which at any rate looked more like
devotion than the demeanour of any one around. When the Ite missa
est was pronounced, and all rose up, Stephen touched him and he
rose, looking about, bewildered.
"So please you, young sir, I can show you another sort of thing by
and by," said in his ear Tibble Steelman, who had come in late, and
marked his attitude.
They went up from St. Faith's in a flood of talk, with all manner of
people welcoming Master Headley after his journey, and thence came
back to dinner which was set out in the hall very soon after their
return from church. Quite guests enough were there on this occasion
to fill all the chairs, and Master Headley intimated to Giles that
he must begin his duties at table as an apprentice, under the
tuition of the senior, a tall young fellow of nineteen, by name
Edmund Burgess. He looked greatly injured and discomfited, above
all when he saw his two travelling companions seated at the table--
though far lower than the night before; nor would he stir from where
he was standing against the wall to do the slightest service,
although Edmund admonished him sharply that unless he bestirred
himself it would be the worse for him.
When the meal was over, and grace had been said, the boards were
removed from their trestles, and the elders drew round the small
table in the window with a flagon of sack and a plate of wastel
bread in their midst to continue their discussion of weighty Town
Council matters. Every one was free to make holiday, and Edmund
Burgess good-naturedly invited the strangers to come to Mile End,
where there was to be shooting at the butts, and a match at
singlestick was to come off between Kit Smallbones and another
giant, who was regarded as the champion of the brewer's craft.
Stephen was nothing loth, especially if he might take his own
crossbow; but Ambrose never had much turn for these pastimes and was
in no mood for them. The familiar associations of the mass had
brought the grief of orphanhood, homelessness, and uncertainty upon
him with the more force. His spirit yearned after his father, and
his heart was sick for his forest home. Moreover, there was the
duty incumbent on a good son of saying his prayers for the repose of
his father's soul. He hinted as much to Stephen, who, boy-like,
answered, "Oh, we'll see to that when we get into my Lord of York's
house. Masses must be plenty there. And I must see Smallbones
floor the brewer."
Ambrose could trust his brother under the care of Edmund Burgess,
and resolved on a double amount of repetitions of the appointed
intercessions for the departed.
He was watching the party of youths set off, all except Giles
Headley, who sulkily refused the invitations, betook himself to a
window and sat drumming on the glass, while Ambrose stood leaning on
the dragon balustrade, with his eyes dreamily following the merry
lads out at the gateway.
"You are not for such gear, sir," said a voice at his ear, and he
saw the scathed face of Tibble Steelman beside him.
"Never greatly so, Tibble," answered Ambrose. "And my heart is too
heavy for it now."
"Ay, ay, sir. So I thought when I saw you in St. Faith's. I have
known what it was to lose a good father in my time."
Ambrose held out his hand. It was the first really sympathetic word
he had heard since he had left Nurse Joan.
"'Tis the week's mind of his burial," he said, half choked with
tears. "Where shall I find a quiet church where I may say his De
profundis in peace?"
"Mayhap," returned Tibble, "the chapel in the Pardon churchyard
would serve your turn. 'Tis not greatly resorted to when mass time
is over, when there's no funeral in hand, and I oft go there to read
my book in quiet on a Sunday afternoon. And then, if 'tis your
will, I will take you to what to my mind is the best healing for a
"Nurse Joan was wont to say the best for that was a sight of the
true Cross, as she once beheld it at Holy Rood church at
Southampton," said Ambrose.
"And so it is, lad, so it is," said Tibble, with a strange light on
his distorted features.
So they went forth together, while Giles again hugged himself in his
doleful conceit, marvelling how a youth of birth and nurture could
walk the streets on a Sunday with a scarecrow such as that!
The hour was still early, there was a whole summer afternoon before
them; and Tibble, seeing how much his young companion was struck
with the grand vista of church towers and spires, gave him their
names as they stood, though coupling them with short dry comments on
the way in which their priests too often perverted them.
The Cheap was then still in great part an open space, where boys
were playing, and a tumbler was attracting many spectators; while
the ballad-singer of yesterday had again a large audience, who
laughed loudly at every coarse jest broken upon mass-priests and
Ambrose was horrified at the stave that met his ears, and asked how
such profanity could be allowed. Tibble shrugged his shoulders, and
cited the old saying, "The nearer the church"--adding, "Truth hath a
voice, and will out."
"But surely this is not the truth?"
"'Tis mighty like it, sir, though it might be spoken in a more
"What's this?" demanded Ambrose. "'Tis a noble house."
"That's the Bishop's palace, sir--a man that hath much to answer
"Liveth he so ill a life then?"
"Not so. He is no scandalous liver, but he would fain stifle all
the voices that call for better things. Ay, you look back at yon
ballad-monger! Great folk despise the like of him, never guessing
at the power there may be in such ribald stuff; while they would
fain silence that which might turn men from their evil ways while
yet there is time."
Tibble muttered this to himself, unheeded by Ambrose, and then
presently crossing the church-yard, where a grave was being filled
up, with numerous idle children around it, he conducted the youth
into a curious little chapel, empty now, but with the Host enthroned
above the altar, and the trestles on which the bier had rested still
standing in the narrow nave.
It was intensely still and cool, a fit place indeed for Ambrose's
filial devotions, while Tibble settled himself on the step, took out
a little black book, and became absorbed. Ambrose's Latin
scholarship enabled him to comprehend the language of the round of
devotions he was rehearsing for the benefit of his father's soul;
but there was much repetition in them, and he had been so trained as
to believe their correct recital was much more important than
attention to their spirit, and thus, while his hands held his
rosary, his eyes were fixed upon the walls where was depicted the
Dance of Death. In terrible repetition, the artist had aimed at
depicting every rank or class in life as alike the prey of the
grisly phantom. Triple-crowned pope, scarlet-hatted cardinal,
mitred prelate, priests, monks, and friars of every degree;
emperors, kings, princes, nobles, knights, squires, yeomen, every
sort of trade, soldiers of all kinds, beggars, even thieves and
murderers, and, in like manner, ladies of every degree, from the
queen and the abbess, down to the starving beggar, were each
represented as grappled with, and carried off by the crowned
skeleton. There was no truckling to greatness. The bishop and
abbot writhed and struggled in the grasp of Death, while the miser
clutched at his gold, and if there were some nuns, and some poor
ploughmen who willingly clasped his bony fingers and obeyed his
summons joyfully, there were countesses and prioresses who tried to
beat him off, or implored him to wait. The infant smiled in his
arms, but the middle-aged fought against his scythe.
The contemplation had a most depressing effect on the boy, whose
heart was still sore for his father. After the sudden shock of such
a loss, the monotonous repetition of the snatching away of all
alike, in the midst of their characteristic worldly employments, and
the anguish and hopeless resistance of most of them, struck him to
the heart. He moved between each bead to a fresh group; staring at
it with fixed gaze, while his lips moved in the unconscious hope of
something consoling; till at last, hearing some uncontrollable sobs,
Tibble Steelman rose and found him crouching rather than kneeling
before the figure of an emaciated hermit, who was greeting the
summons of the King of Terrors, with crucifix pressed to his breast,
rapt countenance and outstretched arms, seeing only the Angel who
hovered above. After some minutes of bitter weeping, which choked
his utterance, Ambrose, feeling a friendly hand on his shoulder,
exclaimed in a voice broken by sobs, "Oh, tell me, where may I go to
become an anchorite! There's no other safety! I'll give all my
portion, and spend all my time in prayer for my father and the other
poor souls in purgatory."
Two centuries earlier, nay, even one, Ambrose would have been
encouraged to follow out his purpose. As it was, Tibble gave a
little dry cough and said, "Come along with me, sir, and I'll show
you another sort of way."
"I want no entertainment!" said Ambrose, "I should feel only as if
he," pointing to the phantom, "were at hand, clutching me with his
deadly claw," and he looked over his shoulder with a shudder.
There was a box by the door to receive alms for masses on behalf of
the souls in purgatory, and here he halted and felt for the pouch at
his girdle, to pour in all the contents; but Steelman said, "Hold,
sir, are you free to dispose of your brother's share, you who are
purse-bearer for both?"
"I would fain hold my brother to the only path of safety."
Again Tibble gave his dry cough, but added, "He is not in the path
of safety who bestows that which is not his own but is held in
trust. I were foully to blame if I let this grim portrayal so work
on you as to lead you to beggar not only yourself, but your brother,
with no consent of his."
For Tibble was no impulsive Italian, but a sober-minded Englishman
of sturdy good sense, and Ambrose was reasonable enough to listen
and only drop in a few groats which he knew to be his own.
At the same moment, a church bell was heard, the tone of which
Steelman evidently distinguished from all the others, and he led the
way out of the Pardon churchyard, over the space in front of St.
Paul's. Many persons were taking the same route; citizens in gowns
and gold or silver chains, their wives in tall pointed hats;
craftsmen, black-gowned scholarly men with fur caps, but there was a
much more scanty proportion of priests, monks or friars, than was
usual in any popular assemblage. Many of the better class of women
carried folding stools, or had them carried by their servants, as if
they expected to sit and wait.
"Is there a procession toward? or a relic to be displayed?" asked
Ambrose, trying to recollect whose feast-day it might be.
Tibble screwed up his mouth in an extraordinary smile as he said,
"Relic quotha? yea, the soothest relic there be of the Lord and
Master of us all."
"Methought the true Cross was always displayed on the High Altar,"
said Ambrose, as all turned to a side aisle of the noble nave.
"Rather say hidden," muttered Tibble. "Thou shalt have it
displayed, young sir, but neither in wood nor gilded shrine. See,
here he comes who setteth it forth."
From the choir came, attended by half a dozen clergy, a small, pale
man, in the ordinary dress of a priest, with a square cap on his
head. He looked spare, sickly, and wrinkled, but the furrows traced
lines of sweetness, his mouth was wonderfully gentle, and there was
a keen brightness about his clear grey eye. Every one rose and made
obeisance as he passed along to the stone stair leading to a pulpit
projecting from one of the columns.
Ambrose saw what was coming, though he had only twice before heard
preaching. The children of the ante-reformation were not called
upon to hear sermons; and the few exhortations given in Lent to the
monks of Beaulieu were so exclusively for the religious that
seculars were not invited to them. So that Ambrose had only once
heard a weary and heavy discourse there plentifully garnished with
Latin; and once he had stood among the throng at a wake at
Millbrook, and heard a begging friar recommend the purchase of
briefs of indulgence and the daily repetition of the Ave Maria by a
series of extraordinary miracles for the rescue of desperate
sinners, related so jocosely as to keep the crowd in a roar of
laughter. He had laughed with the rest, but he could not imagine
his guide, with the stern, grave eyebrows, writhen features and
earnest, ironical tone, covering--as even he could detect--the
deepest feeling, enjoying such broad sallies as tickled the slow
merriment of village clowns and forest deer-stealers.
All stood for a moment while the Paternoster was repeated. Then the
owners of stools sat down on them, some leant on adjacent pillars,
others curled themselves on the floor, but most remained on their
feet as unwilling to miss a word, and of these were Tibble Steelman
and his companion.
Omnis qui facit peccatum, servus est peccati, followed by the
rendering in English, "Whosoever doeth sin is sin's bond thrall."
The words answered well to the ghastly delineations that seemed
stamped on Ambrose's brain and which followed him about into the
nave, so that he felt himself in the grasp of the cruel fiend, and
almost expected to feel the skeleton claw of Death about to hand him
over to torment. He expected the consolation of hearing that a
daily "Hail Mary," persevered in through the foulest life, would
obtain that beams should be arrested in their fall, ships fail to
sink, cords to hang, till such confession had been made as should
insure ultimate salvation, after such a proportion of the flames of
purgatory as masses and prayers might not mitigate.
But his attention was soon caught. Sinfulness stood before him not
as the liability to penalty for transgressing an arbitrary rule, but
as a taint to the entire being, mastering the will, perverting the
senses, forging fetters out of habit, so as to be a loathsome horror
paralysing and enchaining the whole being and making it into the
likeness of him who brought sin and death into the world. The
horror seemed to grow on Ambrose, as his boyish faults and errors
rushed on his mind, and he felt pervaded by the contagion of the
pestilence, abhorrent even to himself. But behold, what was he
hearing now? "The bond thrall abideth not in the house for ever,
but the Son abideth ever. Si ergo Filius liberavit, vere liberi
eritis." "If the Son should make you free, then are ye free
indeed." And for the first time was the true liberty of the
redeemed soul comprehensibly proclaimed to the young spirit that had
begun to yearn for something beyond the outside. Light began to
shine through the outward ordinances; the Church; the world, life,
and death, were revealed as something absolutely new; a redeeming,
cleansing, sanctifying power was made known, and seemed to inspire
him with a new life, joy, and hope. He was no longer feeling
himself necessarily crushed by the fetters of death, or only
delivered from absolute peril by a mechanism that had lost its
heart, but he could enter into the glorious liberty of the sons of
God, in process of being saved, not in sin but FROM sin.
It was an era in his life, and Tibble heard him sobbing, but with
very different sobs from those in the Pardon chapel. When it was
over, and the blessing given, Ambrose looked up from the hands which
had covered his face with a new radiance in his eyes, and drew a
long breath. Tibble saw that he was like one in another world, and
gently led him away.
"Who is he? What is he? Is he an angel from Heaven?" demanded the
boy, a little wildly, as they neared the southern door.
"If an angel be a messenger of God, I trow he is one," said Tibble.
"But men call him Dr. Colet. He is Dean of St. Paul's Minster, and
dwelleth in the house you see below there."
"And are such words as these to be heard every Sunday?"
"On most Sundays doth he preach here in the nave to all sorts of
"I must--I must hear it again!" exclaimed Ambrose.
"Ay, ay," said Tibble, regarding him with a well-pleased face. "You
are one with whom it works."
"Every Sunday!" repeated Ambrose. "Why do not all--your master and
all these," pointing to the holiday crowds going to and fro--"why do
they not all come to listen?"
"Master doth come by times," said Tibble, in the tone of irony that
was hard to understand. "He owneth the dean as a rare preacher."
Ambrose did not try to understand. He exclaimed again, panting as
if his thoughts were too strong for his words--"Lo you, that
preacher--dean call ye him?--putteth a soul into what hath hitherto
been to me but a dead and empty framework."
Tibble held out his hand almost unconsciously, and Ambrose pressed
it. Man and boy, alike they had felt the electric current of that
truth, which, suppressed and ignored among man's inventions, was
coming as a new revelation to many, and was already beginning to
convulse the Church and the world.
Ambrose's mind was made up on one point. Whatever he did, and
wherever he went, he felt the doctrine he had just heard as needful
to him as vital air, and he must be within reach of it. This, and
not the hermit's cell, was what his instinct craved. He had always
been a studious, scholarly boy, supposed to be marked out for a
clerical life, because a book was more to him than a bow, and he had
been easily trained in good habits and practices of devotion; but
all in a childish manner, without going beyond simple receptiveness,
until the experiences of the last week had made a man of him, or
more truly, the Pardon chapel and Dean Colet's sermon had made him a
new being, with the realities of the inner life opened before him.
His present feeling was relief from the hideous load he had felt
while dwelling on the Dance of Death, and therewith general goodwill
to all men, which found its first issue in compassion for Giles
Headley, whom he found on his return seated on the steps--moody and
"Would that you had been with us," said Ambrose, sitting down beside
him on the step. "Never have I heard such words as to-day."
"I would not be seen in the street with that scarecrow," murmured
Giles. "If my mother could have guessed that he was to be set over
me, I had never come here."
"Surely you knew that he was foreman."
"Yea, but not that I should be under him--I whom old Giles vowed
should be as his own son--I that am to wed yon little brown moppet,
and be master here! So, forsooth," he said, "now he treats me like
any common low-bred prentice."
"Nay," said Ambrose, "an if you were his son, he would still make
you serve. It's the way with all craftsmen--yea and with
gentlemen's sons also. They must be pages and squires ere they can
"It never was the way at home. I was only bound prentice to my
father for the name of the thing, that I might have the freedom of
the city, and become head of our house."
"But how could you be a wise master without learning the craft?"
"What are journeymen for?" demanded the lad. "Had I known how Giles
Headley meant to serve me, he might have gone whistle for a husband
for his wench. I would have ridden in my Lady of Salisbury's
"You might have had rougher usage there than here," said Ambrose.
"Master Headley lays nothing on you but what he has himself proved.
I would I could see you make the best of so happy a home."
"Ay, that's all very well for you, who are certain of a great man's
"Would that I were certified that my brother would be as well off as
you, if you did but know it," said Ambrose. "Ha! here come the
dishes! 'Tis supper time come on us unawares, and Stephen not
returned from Mile End!"
Punctuality was not, however, exacted on these summer Sunday
evenings, when practice with the bow and other athletic sports were
enjoined by Government, and, moreover, the youths were with so
trustworthy a member of the household as Kit Smallbones.
Sundry City magnates had come to supper with Master Headley, and
whether it were the effect of Ambrose's counsel, or of the example
of a handsome lad who had come with his father, one of the
worshipful guild of Merchant Taylors, Giles did vouchsafe to bestir
himself in waiting, and in consideration of the effort it must have
cost him, old Mrs. Headley and her son did not take notice of his
blunders, but only Dennet fell into a violent fit of laughter, when
he presented the stately alderman with a nutmeg under the impression
that it was an overgrown peppercorn. She suppressed her mirth as
well as she could, poor little thing, for it was a great offence in
good manners, but she was detected, and, only child as she was, the
consequence was the being banished from the table and sent to bed.
But when, after supper was over, Ambrose went out to see if there
were any signs of the return of Stephen and the rest, he found the
little maiden curled up in the gallery with her kitten in her arms.
"Nay!" she said, in a spoilt-child tone, "I'm not going to bed
before my time for laughing at that great oaf! Nurse Alice says he
is to wed me, but I won't have him! I like the pretty boy who had
the good dog and saved father, and I like you, Master Ambrose. Sit
down by me and tell me the story over again, and we shall see Kit
Smallbones come home. I know he'll have beaten the brewer's
Before Ambrose had decided whether thus far to abet rebellion, she
jumped up and cried: "Oh, I see Kit! He's got my ribbon! He has
won the match!"
And down she rushed, quite oblivious of her disgrace, and Ambrose
presently saw her uplifted in Kit Smallbones' brawny arms to utter
Stephen was equally excited. His head was full of Kit Smallbones'
exploits, and of the marvels of the sports he had witnessed and
joined in with fair success. He had thought Londoners poor
effeminate creatures, but he found that these youths preparing for
the trained bands understood all sorts of martial exercises far
better than any of his forest acquaintance, save perhaps the hitting
of a mark. He was half wild with a boy's enthusiasm for Kit
Smallbones and Edmund Burgess, and when, after eating the supper
that had been reserved for the late comers, he and his brother
repaired to their own chamber, his tongue ran on in description of
the feats he had witnessed and his hopes of emulating them, since he
understood that Archbishop as was my Lord of York, there was a tilt-
yard at York House. Ambrose, equally full of his new feelings,
essayed to make his brother a sharer in them, but Stephen entirely
failed to understand more than that his book-worm brother had heard
something that delighted him in his own line of scholarship, from
which Stephen had happily escaped a year ago!
CHAPTER VII. YORK HOUSE
"Then hath he servants five or six score,
Some behind and some before;
A marvellous great company
Of which are lords and gentlemen,
With many grooms and yeomen
And also knaves among them."
Contemporary Poem on Wolsey.
Early were hammers ringing on anvils in the Dragon Court, and all
was activity. Master Headley was giving his orders to Kit
Smallbones before setting forth to take the Duke of Buckingham's
commands; Giles Headley, very much disgusted, was being invested
with a leathern apron, and entrusted to Edmund Burgess to learn
those primary arts of furbishing which, but for his mother's vanity
and his father's weakness, he would have practised four years
sooner. Tibble Steelman was superintending the arrangement of half
a dozen corslets, which were to be carried by three stout porters,
under his guidance, to what is now Whitehall, then the residence of
the Archbishop of York, the king's prime adviser, Thomas Wolsey.
"Look you, Tib," said the kind-hearted armourer, "if those lads find
not their kinsman, or find him not what they look for, bring them
back hither, I cannot have them cast adrift. They are good and
brave youths, and I owe a life to them."
Tibble nodded entire assent, but when the boys appeared in their
mourning suits, with their bundles on their backs, they were sent
back again to put on their forest green, Master Headley explaining
that it was reckoned ill-omened, if not insulting, to appear before
any great personage in black, unless to enhance some petition
directly addressed to himself. He also bade them leave their
fardels behind, as, if they tarried at York House, these could be
easily sent after them.
They obeyed--even Stephen doing so with more alacrity than he had
hitherto shown to Master Headley's behests; for now that the time
for departure had come, he was really sorry to leave the armourer's
household. Edmund Burgess had been very good-natured to the raw
country lad, and Kit Smallbones was, in his eyes, an Ascapart in
strength, and a Bevis in prowess and kindliness. Mistress Headley
too had been kind to the orphan lads, and these two days had given a
feeling of being at home at the Dragon. When Giles wished them a
moody farewell, and wished he were going with them, Stephen
returned, "Ah! you don't know when you are well off."
Little Dennet came running down after them with two pinks in her
hands. "Here's a sop-in-wine for a token for each of you young
gentlemen," she cried, "for you came to help father, and I would you
were going to stay and wed me instead of Giles."
"What, both of us, little maid?" said Ambrose, laughing, as he
stooped to receive the kiss her rosy lips tendered to him.
"Not but what she would have royal example," muttered Tibble aside.
Dennet put her head on one side, as considering. "Nay, not both;
but you are gentle and courteous, and he is brave and gallant--and
Giles there is moody and glum, and can do nought."
"Ah! you will see what a gallant fellow Giles can be when thou hast
cured him of his home-sickness by being good to him," said Ambrose,
sorry for the youth in the universal laughter at the child's plain
And thus the lads left the Dragon, amid friendly farewells. Ambrose
looked up at the tall spire of St. Paul's with a strong
determination that he would never put himself out of reach of such
words as he had there drunk in, and which were indeed spirit and
life to him.
Tibble took them down to the St. Paul's stairs on the river, where
at his whistle a wherry was instantly brought to transport them to
York stairs, only one of the smiths going any further in charge of
the corslets. Very lovely was their voyage in the brilliant summer
morning, as the glittering water reflected in broken ripples church
spire, convent garden, and stately house. Here rows of elm-trees
made a cool walk by the river side, there strawberry beds sloped
down the Strand, and now and then the hooded figures of nuns might
be seen gathering the fruit. There, rose the round church of the
Temple, and the beautiful gardens surrounding the buildings, half
monastic, half military, and already inhabited by lawyers. From a
barge at the Temple stairs a legal personage descended, with a
square beard, and open, benevolent, shrewd face, before whom Tibble
removed his cap with eagerness, saying to Ambrose, "Yonder is Master
More, a close friend of the dean's, a good and wise man, and forward
in every good work."
Thus did they arrive at York House. Workmen were busy on some
portions of it, but it was inhabited by the great Archbishop, the
king's chief adviser. The approach of the boat seemed to be
instantly notified, as it drew near the stone steps giving entrance
to the gardens, with an avenue of trees leading up to the principal
Four or five yeomen ran down the steps, calling out to Tibble that
their corslets had tarried a long time, and that Sir Thomas Drury
had been storming for him to get his tilting armour into order.
Tibble followed the man who had undertaken to conduct him through a
path that led to the offices of the great house, bidding the boys
keep with him, and asking for their uncle Master Harry Randall.
The yeoman shook his head. He knew no such person in the household,
and did not think there ever had been such. Sir Thomas Drury was
found in the stable court, trying the paces of the horse he intended
to use in the approaching joust. "Ha! old Wry-mouth," he cried,
"welcome at last! I must have my new device damasked on my shield.
Come hither, and I'll show it thee."
Private rooms were seldom enjoyed, even by knights and gentlemen, in
such a household, and Sir Thomas could only conduct Tibble to the
armoury, where numerous suits of armour hung on blocks, presenting
the semblance of armed men. The knight, a good-looking personage,
expatiated much on the device he wished to dedicate to his lady-
love, a pierced heart with a forget-me-not in the midst, and it was
not until the directions were finished that Tibble ventured to
mention the inquiry for Randall.
"I wot of no such fellow," returned Sir Thomas, "you had best go to
the comptroller, who keeps all the names." Tibble had to go to this
functionary at any rate, to obtain an order for payment for the
corslets he had brought home. Ambrose and Stephen followed him
across an enormous hall, where three long tables were being laid for
The comptroller of the household, an esquire of good birth, with a
stiff little ruff round his neck, sat in a sort of office inclosed
by panels at the end of the hall. He made an entry of Tibble's
account in a big book, and sent a message to the cofferer to bring
the amount. Then Tibble again put his question on behalf of the two
young foresters, and the comptroller shook his head. He did not
know the name. "Was the gentleman" (he chose that word as he looked
at the boys) "layman or clerk?" "Layman, certainly," said Ambrose,
somewhat dismayed to find how little, on interrogation, he really
"Was he a yeoman of the guard, or in attendance on one of my lord's
nobles in waiting?"
"We thought he had been a yeoman," said Ambrose.
"See," said the comptroller, stimulated by a fee administered by
Tibble, "'tis just dinner time, and I must go to attend on my Lord
Archbishop; but do you, Tibble, sit down with these striplings to
dinner, and then I will cast my eye over the books, and see if I can
find any such name. What, hast not time? None ever quits my lord's
without breaking his fast."
Tibble had no doubt that his master would be willing that he should
give up his time for this purpose, so he accepted the invitation.
The tables were by this time nearly covered, but all stood waiting,
for there flowed in from the great doorway of the hall a gorgeous
train--first, a man bearing the double archiepiscopal cross of York,
fashioned in silver, and thick with gems--then, with lofty mitre
enriched with pearls and jewels, and with flowing violet lace-
covered robes came the sturdy square-faced ruddy prelate, who was
then the chief influence in England, and after him two glittering
ranks of priests in square caps and richly embroidered copes, all in
accordant colours. They were returning, as a yeoman told Tibble,
from some great ecclesiastical ceremony, and dinner would be served
"That for which Ralf Bowyer lives!" said a voice close by, "He would
fain that the dial's hands were Marie bones, the face blancmange,
wherein the figures should be grapes of Corinth!"
Stephen looked round and saw a man close beside him in what he knew
at once to be the garb of a jester. A tall scarlet velvet cap, with
three peaks, bound with gold braid, and each surmounted with a
little gilded bell, crowned his head, a small crimson ridge to
indicate the cock's comb running along the front. His jerkin and
hose were of motley, the left arm and right leg being blue, their
opposites, orange tawny, while the nether stocks and shoes were in
like manner black and scarlet counterchanged. And yet, somehow,
whether from the way of wearing it, or from the effect of the gold
embroidery meandering over all, the effect was not distressing, but
more like that of a gorgeous bird. The figure was tall, lithe, and
active, the brown ruddy face had none of the blank stare of vacant
idiocy, but was full of twinkling merriment, the black eyes laughed
gaily, and perhaps only so clearsighted and shrewd an observer as
Tibble would have detected a weakness of purpose about the mouth.
There was a roar of laughter at the gibe, as indeed there was at
whatever was uttered by the man whose profession was to make mirth.
"Thou likest thy food well enough thyself, quipsome one," muttered
"Hast found one who doth not, Ralf? Then should he have a free gift
of my bauble," responded the jester, shaking on high that badge,
surmounted with the golden head of an ass, and jingling with bells.
"How now, friend Wry-mouth? 'Tis long since thou wert here! This
house hath well-nigh been forced to its ghostly weapons for lack of
thy substantial ones. Where hast thou been?"
"At Salisbury, good Merryman."
"Have the Wilts men raked the moon yet out of the pond? Did they
lend thee their rake, Tib, that thou hast raked up a couple of green
Forest palmer worms, or be they the sons of the man in the moon,
raked out and all astray?"
"Mayhap, for we met them with dog and bush," said Tibble, "and they
dropped as from the moon to save my poor master from the robbers on
Bagshot heath! Come now, mine honest fellow, aid me to rake, as
thou sayest, this same household. They are come up from the Forest,
to seek out their uncle, one Randall, who they have heard to be in
this meine. Knowest thou such a fellow?"
"To seek a spider in a stubble-field! Truly he needs my bauble who
sent them on such an errand," said the jester, rather slowly, as if
to take time for consideration. "What's your name, my Forest
"Birkenholt, sir," answered Ambrose, "but our uncle is Harry
"Here's fools enow to take away mine office," was the reply.
"Here's a couple of lads would leave the greenwood and the free oaks
and beeches, for this stinking, plague-smitten London."
"We'd not have quitted it could we have tarried at home," began
Ambrose; but at that moment there was a sudden commotion, a
trampling of horses was heard outside, a loud imperious voice
demanded, "Is my Lord Archbishop within?" a whisper ran round, "the
King," and there entered the hall with hasty steps, a figure never
to be forgotten, clad in a hunting dress of green velvet embroidered
with gold, with a golden hunting horn slung round his neck.
Henry VIII. was then in the splendid prime of his youth, in his
twenty-seventh year, and in the eyes, not only of his own subjects,
but of all others, the very type of a true king of men. Tall, and
as yet of perfect form for strength, agility, and grace; his
features were of the beautiful straight Plantagenet type, and his
complexion of purely fair rosiness, his large well-opened blue eyes
full at once of frankness and keenness, and the short golden beard
that fringed his square chin giving the manly air that otherwise
might have seemed wanting to the feminine tinting of his regular
lineaments. All caps were instantly doffed save the little bonnet
with one drooping feather that covered his short, curled, yellow
hair; and the Earl of Derby, who was at the head of Wolsey's
retainers, made haste, bowing to the ground, to assure him that my
Lord Archbishop was but doffing his robes, and would be with his
Grace instantly. Would his Grace vouchsafe to come on to the privy
chamber where the dinner was spread?
At the same moment Quipsome Hal sprang forward, exclaiming, "How
now, brother and namesake? Wherefore this coil? Hath cloth of gold
wearied yet of cloth of frieze? Is she willing to own her right to
this?" as he held out his bauble.
"Holla, old Blister! art thou there?" said the King, good-
humouredly. "What! knowest not that we are to have such a wedding
as will be a sight for sore eyes!"
"Sore! that's well said, friend Hal. Thou art making progress in
mine art! Sore be the eyes wherein thou wouldst throw dust."
Again the King laughed, for every one knew that his sister Mary had
secretly been married to the Duke of Suffolk for the last two
months, and that this public marriage and the tournament that was to
follow were only for the sake of appearances. He laid his hand
good-naturedly on the jester's shoulder as he walked up the hall
towards the Archbishop's private apartments, but the voices of both
were loud pitched, and bits of the further conversation could be
picked up. "Weddings are rife in your family," said the jester,
"none of you get weary of fitting on the noose. What, thou thyself,
Hal? Ay, thou hast not caught the contagion yet! Now ye gods
forefend! If thou hast the chance, thou'lt have it strong."
Therewith the Archbishop, in his purple robes, appeared in the
archway at the other end of the hall, the King joined him, and still
followed by the jester, they both vanished. It was presently made
known that the King was about to dine there, and that all were to
sit down to eat. The King dined alone with the Archbishop as his
host; the two noblemen who had formed his suite joined the first
table in the higher hall; the knights that of the steward of the
household, who was of knightly degree, and with whom the superior
clergy of the household ate; and the grooms found their places among
the vast array of yeomen and serving-men of all kinds with whom
Tibble and his two young companions had to eat. A week ago, Stephen
would have contemned the idea of being classed with serving-men and
grooms, but by this time he was quite bewildered, and anxious enough
to be thankful to keep near a familiar face on any terms, and to
feel as if Tibble were an old friend, though he had only known him
for five days.
Why the King had come had not transpired, but there was a whisper
that despatches from Scotland were concerned in it. The meal was a
lengthy one, but at last the King's horses were ordered, and
presently Henry came forth, with his arm familiarly linked in that
of the Archbishop, whose horse had likewise been made ready that he
might accompany the King back to Westminster. The jester was close
at hand, and as a parting shaft he observed, while the King mounted
his horse, "Friend Hal! give my brotherly commendations to our
Madge, and tell her that one who weds Anguish cannot choose but cry
Wherewith, affecting to expect a stroke from the King's whip, he
doubled himself up, performed the contortion now called turning a
coachwheel, then, recovering himself, put his hands on his hips and
danced wildly on the steps; while Henry, shaking his whip at him,
laughed at the only too obvious pun, for Anguish was the English
version of Angus, the title of Queen Margaret's second husband, and
it was her complaints that had brought him to his counsellor.
The jester then, much to the annoyance of the two boys, thought
proper to follow them to the office of the comptroller, and as that
dignitary read out from his books the name of every Henry, and of
all the varieties of Ralf and Randolf among the hundred and eighty
persons composing the household, he kept on making comments. "Harry
Hempseed, clerk to the kitchen; ay, Hempseed will serve his turn one
of these days. Walter Randall, groom of the chamber; ah, ha! my
lads, if you want a generous uncle who will look after you well,
there is your man! He'll give you the shakings of the napery for
largesse, and when he is in an open-handed mood, will let you lie on
the rushes that have served the hall. Harry of Lambeth, yeoman of
the stable. He will make you free of all the taverns in Eastchepe."
And so on, accompanying each remark with a pantomime mimicry of the
air and gesture of the individual. He showed in a second the
contortions of Harry Weston in drawing the bow, and in another the
grimaces of Henry Hope, the choir man, in producing bass notes, or
the swelling majesty of Randall Porcher, the cross-bearer, till it
really seemed as if he had shown off the humours of at least a third
of the enormous household. Stephen had laughed at first, but as
failure after failure occurred, the antics began to weary even him,
and seem unkind and ridiculous as hope ebbed away, and the appalling
idea began to grow on him of being cast loose on London without a
friend or protector. Ambrose felt almost despairing as he heard in
vain the last name. He would almost have been willing to own Hal
the scullion, and his hopes rose when he heard of Hodge Randolph,
the falconer, but alas, that same Hodge came from Yorkshire.
"And mine uncle was from the New Forest in Hampshire," he said.
"Maybe he went by the name of Shirley," added Stephen, "'tis where
his home was."
But the comptroller, unwilling to begin a fresh search, replied at
once that the only Shirley in the household was a noble esquire of
the Warwickshire family.
"You must e'en come back with me, young masters," said Tibble, "and
see what my master can do for you."
"Stay a bit," said the fool. "Harry of Shirley! Harry of Shirley!
Methinks I could help you to the man, if so be as you will deem him
worth the finding," he added, suddenly turning upside down, and
looking at them standing on the palms of his hands, with an
indescribable leer of drollery, which in a moment dashed all the
hopes with which they had turned to him. "Should you know this
minks of yours?" he added.
"I think I should," said Ambrose. "I remember best how he used to
carry me on his shoulder to cull mistletoe for Christmas."
"Ah, ha! A proper fellow of his inches now, with yellow hair?"
"Nay," said Ambrose, "I mind that his hair was black, and his eyes
as black as sloes--or as thine own, Master Jester."
The jester tumbled over into a more extraordinary attitude than
before, while Stephen said -
"John was wont to twit us with being akin to Gipsy Hal."
"I mean a man sad and grave as the monks of Beaulieu," said the
"He!" they both cried. "No, indeed! He was foremost in all
sports." "Ah!" cried Stephen, "mind you not, Ambrose, his teaching
us leap-frog, and aye leaping over one of us himself, with the other
in his arms?"
"Ah! sadly changed, sadly changed," said the jester, standing
upright, with a most mournful countenance. "Maybe you'd not thank
me if I showed him to you, young sirs, that is, if he be the man."
"Nay! is he in need, or distress?" cried the brothers.
"Poor Hal!" returned the fool, shaking his head with mournfulness in
"Oh, take us to him, good--good jester," cried Ambrose. "We are
young and strong. We will work for him."
"What, a couple of lads like you, that have come to London seeking
for him to befriend you--deserving well my cap for that matter.
Will ye be guided to him, broken and soured--no more gamesome, but a
sickly old runagate?"
"Of course," cried Ambrose. "He is our mother's brother. We must
care for him."
"Master Headley will give us work, mayhap," said Stephen, turning to
Tibble. "I could clean the furnaces."
"Ah, ha! I see fools' caps must hang thick as beech masts in the
Forest," cried the fool, but his voice was husky, and he turned
suddenly round with his back to them, then cut three or four
extraordinary capers, after which he observed--"Well, young
gentlemen, I will see the man I mean, and if he be the same, and be
willing to own you for his nephews, he will meet you in the Temple
Gardens at six of the clock this evening, close to the rose-bush
with the flowers in my livery--motley red and white."
"But how shall we know him?"
"D'ye think a pair of green caterpillars like you can't be marked--
unless indeed the gardener crushes you for blighting his roses."
Wherewith the jester quitted the scene, walking on his hands, with
his legs in the air.
"Is he to be trusted?" asked Tibble of the comptroller.
"Assuredly," was the answer; "none hath better wit than Quipsome
Hal, when he chooseth to be in earnest. In very deed, as I have
heard Sir Thomas More say, it needeth a wise man to be fool to my
Lord of York."
CHAPTER VIII. QUIPSOME HAL
"The sweet and bitter fool
Will presently appear,
The one in motley here
The other found out there."
There lay the quiet Temple Gardens, on the Thames bank, cut out in
formal walks, with flowers growing in the beds of the homely kinds
beloved by the English. Musk roses, honeysuckle and virgin's bower,
climbed on the old grey walls; sops-in-wine, bluebottles, bachelor's
buttons, stars of Bethlehem and the like, filled the borders; May
thorns were in full sweet blossom; and near one another were the two
rose bushes, one damask and one white Provence, whence Somerset and
Warwick were said to have plucked their fatal badges; while on the
opposite side of a broad grass-plot was another bush, looked on as a
great curiosity of the best omen, where the roses were streaked with
alternate red and white, in honour, as it were, of the union of York
By this rose-tree stood the two young Birkenholts. Edmund Burgess
having, by his master's desire, shown them the way, and passed them
in by a word and sign from his master, then retired unseen to a
distance to mark what became of them, they having promised also to
return and report of themselves to Master Headley.
They stood together earnestly watching for the coming of the uncle,
feeling quite uncertain whether to expect a frail old broken man, or
to find themselves absolutely deluded, and made game of by the
The gardens were nearly empty, for most people were sitting over
their supper-tables after the business of the day was over, and only
one or two figures in black gowns paced up and down in conversation.
"Come away, Ambrose," said Stephen at last. "He only meant to make
fools of us! Come, before he comes to gibe us for having heeded a
moment. Come, I say--here's this man coming to ask us what we are
For a tall, well-made, well-dressed personage in the black or sad
colour of a legal official, looking like a prosperous householder,
or superior artisan, was approaching them, some attendant, as the
boys concluded belonging to the Temple. They expected to be turned
out, and Ambrose in an apologetic tone, began, "Sir, we were bidden
to meet a--a kinsman here."
"And even so am I," was the answer, in a grave, quiet tone, "or
rather to meet twain."
Ambrose looked up into a pair of dark eyes, and exclaimed "Stevie,
Stevie, 'tis he. 'Tis uncle Hal."
"Ay, 'tis all you're like to have for him," answered Harry Randall,
enfolding each in his embrace. "Lad, how like thou art to my poor
sister! And is she indeed gone--and your honest father too--and
none left at home but that hunks, little John? How and when died
"Two years agone come Lammastide," answered Stephen. "There was a
deadly creeping fever and ague through the Forest. We two sickened,
and Ambrose was so like to die that Diggory went to the abbey for
the priest to housel and anneal him, but by the time Father Simon
came he was sound asleep, and soon was whole again. But before we
were on our legs, our blessed mother took the disease, and she
passed away ere many days were over. Then, though poor father took
not that sickness, he never was the same man again, and only twelve
days after last Pasch-tide he was taken with a fit and never spake
Stephen was weeping by this time, and his uncle had a hand on his
shoulder, and with tears in his eyes, threw in ejaculations of pity
and affection. Ambrose finished the narrative with a broken voice
indeed, but as one who had more self-command than his brother,
perhaps than his uncle, whose exclamations became bitter and angry
as he heard of the treatment the boys had experienced from their
half-brother, who, as he said, he had always known as a currish
mean-spirited churl, but scarce such as this.
"Nor do I think he would have been, save for his wife, Maud Pratt of
Hampton," said Ambrose. "Nay, truly also, he deemed that we were
only within a day's journey of council from our uncle Richard at
"Richard Birkenholt was a sturdy old comrade! Methinks he would
give Master Jack a piece of his mind."
"Alack, good uncle, we found him in his dotage, and the bursar of
Hyde made quick work with us, for fear, good Father Shoveller said,
that we were come to look after his corrody."
"Shoveller--what, a Shoveller of Cranbury? How fell ye in with
Ambrose told the adventures of their journey, and Randall exclaimed
"By my bau--I mean by my faith--if ye have ill-luck in uncles, ye
have had good luck in friends."
"No ill-luck in thee, good, kind uncle," said Stephen, catching at
his hand with the sense of comfort that kindred blood gives.
"How wottest thou that, child? Did not I--I mean did not Merryman
tell you, that mayhap ye would not be willing to own your uncle?"
"We deemed he was but jesting," said Stephen. "Ah!"
For a sudden twinkle in the black eyes, an involuntary twist of the
muscles of the face, were a sudden revelation to him. He clutched
hold of Ambrose with a sudden grasp; Ambrose too looked and recoiled
for a moment, while the colour spread over his face.
"Yes, lads. Can you brook the thought!--Harry Randall is the poor
Stephen, whose composure had already broken down, burst into tears
again, perhaps mostly at the downfall of all his own expectations
and glorifications of the kinsman about whom he had boasted.
Ambrose only exclaimed "O uncle, you must have been hard pressed."
For indeed the grave, almost melancholy man, who stood before them,
regarding them wistfully, had little in common with the lithe
tumbler full of absurdities whom they had left at York House.
"Even so, my good lad. Thou art right in that," said he gravely.
"Harder than I trust will ever be the lot of you two, my sweet
Moll's sons. She never guessed that I was come to this."
"O no," said Stephen. "She always thought thou--thou hadst some
high preferment in--"
"And so I have," said Randall with something of his ordinary humour.
"There's no man dares to speak such plain truth to my lord--or for
that matter to King Harry himself, save his own Jack-a-Lee--and he,
being a fool of nature's own making, cannot use his chances, poor
rogue! And so the poor lads came up to London hoping to find a
gallant captain who could bring them to high preferment, and found
nought but--Tom Fool! I could find it in my heart to weep for them!
And so thou mindest clutching the mistletoe on nunk Hal's shoulder.
I warrant it groweth still on the crooked May bush? And is old
They answered his questions, but still as if under a great shock,
and presently he said, as they paced up and down the garden walks,
"Ay, I have been sore bestead, and I'll tell you how it came about,
boys, and mayhap ye will pardon the poor fool, who would not own you
sooner, lest ye should come in for mockery ye have not learnt to
brook." There was a sadness and pleading in his tone that touched
Ambrose, and he drew nearer to his uncle, who laid a hand on his
shoulder, and presently the other on that of Stephen, who shrank a
little at first, but submitted. "Lads, I need not tell you why I
left fair Shirley and the good greenwood. I was a worse fool then
than ever I have been since I wore the cap and bells, and if all had
been brought home to me, it might have brought your father and
mother into trouble--my sweet Moll who had done her best for me. I
deemed, as you do now, that the way to fortune was open, but I found
no path before me, and I had tightened my belt many a time, and was
not much more than a bag of bones, when, by chance, I fell in with a
company of tumblers and gleemen. I sang them the old hunting-song,
and they said I did it tunably, and, whereas they saw I could
already dance a hornpipe and turn a somersault passably well, the
leader of the troop, old Nat Fire-eater, took me on, and methinks he
did not repent--nor I neither--save when I sprained my foot and had
time to lie by and think. We had plenty to fill our bellies and put
on our backs; we had welcome wherever we went, and the groats and
pennies rained into our caps. I was Clown and Jack Pudding and
whatever served their turn, and the very name of Quipsome Hal drew
crowds. Yea, 'twas a merry life! Ay, I feel thee wince and shrink,
my lad; and so should I have shuddered when I was of thine age, and
hoped to come to better things."
"Methinks 'twere better than this present," said Stephen rather
"I had my reasons, boy," said Randall, speaking as if he were
pleading his cause with their father and mother rather than with two
such young lads. "There was in our company an old man-at-arms who
played the lute and the rebeck, and sang ballads so long as hand and
voice served him, and with him went his grandchild, a fair and
honest little maiden, whom he kept so jealously apart that 'twas
long ere I knew of her following the company. He had been a
franklin on my Lord of Warwick's lands, and had once been burnt out
by Queen Margaret's men, and just as things looked up again with
him, King Edward's folk ruined all again, and slew his two sons.
When great folk play the fool, small folk pay the scot, as I din
into his Grace's ears whenever I may. A minion of the Duke of
Clarence got the steading, and poor old Martin Fulford was turned
out to shift as best he might. One son he had left, and with him he
went to the Low Countries, where they would have done well had they
not been bitten by faith in the fellow Perkin Warbeck. You've heard
"Yea," said Ambrose; "the same who was taken out of sanctuary at
Beaulieu, and borne off to London. Father said he was marvellous
like in the face to all the kings he had ever seen hunting in the
"I know not; but to the day of his death old Martin swore that he
was a son of King Edward's, and they came home again with the men
the Duchess of Burgundy gave Perkin--came bag and baggage, for young
Fulford had wedded a fair Flemish wife, poor soul! He left her with
his father nigh to Taunton ere the battle, and he was never heard of
more, but as he was one of the few men who knew how to fight, belike
he was slain. Thus old Martin was left with the Flemish wife and
her little one on his hands, for whose sake he did what went against
him sorely, joined himself to this troop of jugglers and players, so
as to live by the minstrelsy he had learnt in better days, while his
daughter-in-law mended and made for the company and kept them in
smart and shining trim. By the time I fell in with them his voice
was well-nigh gone, and his hand sorely shaking, but Fire-eating
Nat, the master of our troop, was not an ill-natured fellow, and the
glee-women's feet were well used to his rebeck. Moreover, the Fire-
eater had an eye to little Perronel, though her mother had never let
him train her--scarce let him set an eye on her; and when Mistress
Fulford died, poor soul, of ague, caught when we showed off before
the merry Prior of Worcester, her last words were that Perronel
should never be a glee-maiden. Well, to make an end of my tale, we
had one day a mighty show at Windsor, when the King and Court were
at the castle, and it was whispered to me at the end that my Lord
Archbishop's household needed a jester, and that Quipsome Hal had
been thought to make excellent fooling. I gave thanks at first, but
said I would rather be a free man, not bound to be a greater fool
than Dame Nature made me all the hours of the day. But when I got
back to the Garter, what should I find but that poor old Martin had
been stricken with the dead palsy while he was playing his rebeck,
and would never twang a note more; and there was pretty Perronel
weeping over him, and Nat Fire-eater pledging his word to give the
old man bed, board, and all that he could need, if so be that
Perronel should be trained to be one of his glee-maidens, to dance
and tumble and sing. And there was the poor old franklin shaking
his head more than the palsy made it shake already, and trying to
frame his lips to say, 'rather they both should die.'"
"Oh, uncle, I wot now what thou didst!" cried Stephen.
"Yea, lad, there was nought else to be done. I asked Master Fulford
to give me Perronel, plighting my word that never should she sing or
dance for any one's pleasure save her own and mine, and letting him
know that I came of a worthy family. We were wedded out of hand by
the priest that had been sent for to housel him, and in our true
names. The Fire-eater was fiery enough, and swore that, wedded or
not, I was bound to him, that he would have both of us, and would
not drag about a helpless old man unless he might have the wench to
do his bidding. I verily believe that, but for my being on the
watch and speaking a word to two or three stout yeomen of the king's
guard that chanced to be crushing a pot of sack at the Garter, he
would have played some villainous trick on us. They gave a hint to
my Lord of York's steward, and he came down and declared that the
Archbishop required Quipsome Hal, and would--of his grace--send a
purse of nobles to the Fire-eater, wherewith he was to be off on the
spot without more ado, or he might find it the worse for him, and
they, together with mine host's good wife, took care that the rogue
did not carry away Perronel with him, as he was like to have done.
To end my story, here am I, getting showers of gold coins one day
and nought but kicks and gibes the next, while my good woman keeps
house nigh here on the banks of the Thames with Gaffer Martin. Her
Flemish thrift has set her to the washing and clear-starching of the
lawyers' ruffs, whereby she makes enough to supply the defects of my
scanty days, or when I have to follow my lord's grace out of her
reach, sweet soul. There's my tale, nevoys. And now, have ye a
hand for Quipsome Hal?"
"O uncle! Father would have honoured thee!" cried Stephen.
"Why didst thou not bring her down to the Forest?" said Ambrose.
"I conned over the thought," said Randall, "but there was no way of
living. I wist not whether the Ranger might not stir up old tales,
and moreover old Martin is ill to move. We brought him down by boat
from Windsor, and he has never quitted the house since, nor his bed
for the last two years. You'll come and see the housewife? She
hath a supper laying out for you, and on the way we'll speak of what
ye are to do, my poor lads."
"I'd forgotten that," said Stephen.
"So had not I," returned his uncle; "I fear me I cannot aid you to
preferment as you expected. None know Quipsome Hal by any name but
that of Harry Merryman, and it were not well that ye should come in
there as akin to the poor fool."
"No," said Stephen, emphatically.
"Your father left you twenty crowns apiece?"
"Ay, but John hath all save four of them."
"For that there's remedy. What saidst thou of the Cheapside
armourer? His fellow, the Wry-mouth, seemed to have a care of you.
Ye made in to the rescue with poor old Spring."
"Even so," replied Ambrose, "and if Stevie would brook the thought,
I trow that Master Headley would be quite willing to have him bound
as his apprentice."
"Well said, my good lad!" cried Hal. "What sayest thou, Stevie?"
"I had liefer be a man-at-arms."
"That thou couldst only be after being sorely knocked about as
horseboy and as groom. I tried that once, but found it meant kicks,
and oaths, and vile company--such as I would not have for thy
mother's son, Steve. Headley is a well-reported, God-fearing man,
and will do well by thee. And thou wilt learn the use of arms as
well as handle them."
"I like Master Headley and Kit Smallbones well enough," said
Stephen, rather gloomily, "and if a gentleman must be a prentice,
weapons are not so bad a craft for him."
"Whittington was a gentleman," said Ambrose.
"I am sick of Whittington," muttered Stephen.
"Nor is he the only one," said Randall; "there's Middleton and Pole-
-ay, and many another who have risen from the flat cap to the open
helm, if not to the coronet. Nay, these London companies have rules
against taking any prentice not of gentle blood. Come in to supper
with my good woman, and then I'll go with thee and hold converse
with good Master Headley, and if Master John doth not send the fee
freely, why then I know of them who shall make him disgorge it. But
mark," he added, as he led the way out of the gardens, "not a breath
of Quipsome Hal. Down here they know me as a clerk of my lord's
chamber, sad and sober, and high in his trust, and therein they are
not far out."
In truth, though Harry Randall had been a wild and frolicsome youth
in his Hampshire home, the effect of being a professional buffoon
had actually made it a relaxation of effort to him to be grave,
quiet, and slow in movement; and this was perhaps a more effectual
disguise than the dark garments, and the false brown hair, beard,
and moustache, with which he concealed the shorn and shaven
condition required of the domestic jester. Having been a player, he
was well able to adapt himself to his part, and yet Ambrose had
considerable doubts whether Tibble had not suspected his identity
from the first, more especially as both the lads had inherited the
same dark eyes from their mother, and Ambrose for the first time
perceived a considerable resemblance between him and Stephen, not
only in feature but in unconscious gesture.
Ambrose was considering whether he had better give his uncle a hint,
lest concealment should excite suspicion; when, niched as it were
against an abutment of the wall of the Temple courts, close to some
steps going down to the Thames, they came upon a tiny house, at
whose open door stood a young woman in the snowiest of caps and
aprons over a short black gown, beneath which were a trim pair of
blue hosen and stout shoes; a suspicion of yellow hair was allowed
to appear framing the honest, fresh, Flemish face, which beamed a
"Here they be! here be the poor lads, Pernel mine." She held out
her hand, and offered a round comfortable cheek to each, saying,
"Welcome to London, young gentlemen."
Good Mistress Perronel did not look exactly the stuff to make a
glee-maiden of, nor even the beauty for whom to sacrifice
everything, even liberty and respect. She was substantial in form,
and broad in face and mouth, without much nose, and with large
almost colourless eyes. But there was a wonderful look of
heartiness and friendliness about her person and her house; the boys
had never in their lives seen anything so amazingly and spotlessly
clean and shining. In a corner stood an erection like a dark oaken
cupboard or wardrobe, but in the middle was an opening about a yard
square through which could be seen the night-capped face of a white-
headed, white-bearded old man, propped against snowy pillows. To
him Randall went at once, saying, "So, gaffer, how goes it? You see
I have brought company, my poor sister's sons--rest her soul!"
Gaffer Martin mumbled something to them incomprehensible, but which
the jester comprehended, for he called them up and named them to
him, and Martin put out a bony hand, and gave them a greeting.
Though his speech and limbs had failed him, his intelligence was
evidently still intact, and there was a tenderly-cared-for look
about him, rendering his condition far less pitiable than that of
Richard Birkenholt, who was so palpably treated as an incumbrance.
The table was already covered with a cloth, and Perronel quickly
placed on it a yellow bowl of excellent beef broth, savoury with
vegetables and pot-herbs, and with meat and dumplings floating in
it. A lesser bowl was provided for each of the company, with horn
spoons, and a loaf of good wheaten bread, and a tankard of excellent
ale. Randall declared that his Perronel made far daintier dishes
than my Lord Archbishop's cook, who went every day in silk and
He explained to her his views on the armourer, to which she agreed
with all her might, the old gentleman in bed adding something which
the boys began to understand, that there was no worthier nor more
honourable condition than that of an English burgess, specially in
the good town of London, where the kings knew better than to be ever
at enmity with their good towns.
"Will the armourer take both of you?" asked Mistress Randall.
"Nay, it was only for Stephen we devised it," said Ambrose.
"And what wilt thou do?"
"I wish to be a scholar," said Ambrose.
"A lean trade," quoth the jester; "a monk now or a friar may be a
right jolly fellow, but I never yet saw a man who throve upon
"I had rather study than thrive," said Ambrose rather dreamily.
"He wotteth not what he saith," cried Stephen.
"Oh ho! so thou art of that sort!" rejoined his uncle. "I know
them! A crabbed black and white page is meat and drink to them!
There's that Dutch fellow, with a long Latin name, thin and weazen
as never was Dutchman before; they say he has read all the books in
the world, and can talk in all the tongues, and yet when he and Sir
Thomas More and the Dean of St. Paul's get together at my lord's
table one would think they were bidding for my bauble. Such
excellent fooling do they make, that my lord sits holding his
"The Dean of St. Paul's!" said Ambrose, experiencing a shock.
"Ay! He's another of your lean scholars, and yet he was born a
wealthy man, son to a Lord Mayor, who, they say, reared him alone
out of a round score of children."
"Alack! poor souls," sighed Mistress Randall under her breath, for,
as Ambrose afterwards learnt, her two babes had scarce seen the
light. Her husband, while giving her a look of affection, went on--
"Not that he can keep his wealth. He has bestowed the most of it on
Stepney church, and on the school he hath founded for poor children,
nigh to St. Paul's."
"Could I get admittance to that school?" exclaimed Ambrose.
"Thou art a big fellow for a school," said his uncle, looking him
over. "However, faint heart never won fair lady."
"I have a letter from the Warden of St. Elizabeth's to one of the
clerks of St. Paul's," added Ambrose. "Alworthy is his name."
"That's well. We'll prove that same," said his uncle. "Meantime,
if ye have eaten your fill, we must be on our way to thine armourer,
nevoy Stephen, or I shall be called for."
And after a private colloquy between the husband and wife, Ambrose
was by both of them desired to make the little house his home until
he could find admittance into St. Paul's School, or some other. He
demurred somewhat from a mixture of feelings, in which there was a
certain amount of Stephen's longing for freedom of action, and
likewise a doubt whether he should not thus be a great inconvenience
in the tiny household--a burden he was resolved not to be. But his
uncle now took a more serious tone.
"Look thou, Ambrose, thou art my sister's son, and fool though I be,
thou art bound in duty to me, and I to have charge of thee, nor will
I--for the sake of thy father and mother--have thee lying I know not
where, among gulls, and cutpurses, and beguilers of youth here in
this city of London. So, till better befals thee, and I wot of it,
thou must be here no later than curfew, or I will know the reason
"And I hope the young gentleman will find it no sore grievance,"
said Perronel, so good-humouredly that Ambrose could only protest
that he had feared to be troublesome to her, and promise to bring
his bundle the next day.
CHAPTER IX. ARMS SPIRITUAL AND TEMPORAL
"For him was leifer to have at his bedde's hedde
Twenty books clothed in blacke or redde
Of Aristotle and his philosophie
Than robes riche or fiddle or psalterie."
Master Headley was found spending the summer evening in the bay
window of the hall. Tibble sat on a three-legged stool by him,
writing in a crabbed hand, in a big ledger, and Kit Smallbones
towered above both, holding in his hand a bundle of tally-sticks.
By the help of these, and of that accuracy of memory which writing
has destroyed, he was unfolding, down to the very last farthing, the
entire account of payments and receipts during his master's absence,
the debtor and creditor account being preserved as perfectly as if
he had always had a pen in his huge fingers, and studied book-
keeping by double or single entry.
On the return of the two boys with such an apparently respectable
member of society as the handsome well-dressed personage who
accompanied them, little Dennet, who had been set to sew her sampler
on a stool by her grandmother, under penalty of being sent off to
bed if she disturbed her father, sprang up with a little cry of
gladness, and running up to Ambrose, entreated for the tales of his
good greenwood Forest, and the pucks and pixies, and the girl who
daily shared her breakfast with a snake and said, "Eat your own
side, Speckleback." Somehow, on Sunday night she had gathered that
Ambrose had a store of such tales, and she dragged him off to the
gallery, there to revel in them, while his brother remained with her
Though Master Stephen had begun by being high and mighty about
mechanical crafts, and thought it a great condescension to consent
to be bound apprentice, yet when once again in the Dragon court, it
looked so friendly and felt so much like a home that he found
himself very anxious that Master Headley should not say that he
could take no more apprentices at present, and that he should be
satisfied with the terms uncle Hal would propose. And oh! suppose
Tibble should recognise Quipsome Hal!
However, Tibble was at this moment entirely engrossed by the
accounts, and his master left him and his big companion to unravel
them, while he himself held speech with his guest at some distance--
sending for a cup of sack, wherewith to enliven the conversation.
He showed himself quite satisfied with what Randall chose to tell of
himself as a well known "housekeeper" close to the Temple, his wife
a "lavender" there, while he himself was attached to the suite of
the Archbishop of York. Here alone was there any approach to
shuffling, for Master Headley was left to suppose that Randall
attended Wolsey in his capacity of king's counsellor, and therefore,
having a house of his own, had not been found in the roll of the
domestic retainers and servants. He did not think of inquiring
further, the more so as Randall was perfectly candid as to his own
inferiority of birth to the Birkenholt family, and the circumstances
under which he had left the Forest.
Master Headley professed to be quite willing to accept Stephen as an
apprentice, with or without a fee; but he agreed with Randall that
it would be much better not to expose him to having it cast in his
teeth that he was accepted out of charity; and Randall undertook to
get a letter so written and conveyed to John Birkenholt that he
should not dare to withhold the needful sum, in earnest of which
Master Headley would accept the two crowns that Stephen had in hand,
as soon as the indentures could be drawn out by one of the many
scriveners who lived about St. Paul's.
This settled, Randall could stay no longer, but he called both
nephews into the court with him. "Ye can write a letter?" he said.
"Ay, sure, both of us; but Ambrose is the best scribe," said
"One of you had best write then. Let that cur John know that I have
my Lord of York's ear, and there will be no fear but he will give
it. I'll find a safe hand among the clerks, when the judges ride to
hold the assize. Mayhap Ambrose might also write to the Father at
Beaulieu. The thing had best be bruited."
"I wished to do so," said Ambrose. "It irked me to have taken no
leave of the good Fathers."
Randall then took his leave, having little more than time to return
to York House, where the Archbishop might perchance come home
wearied and chafed from the King, and the jester might be missed if
not there to put him in good humour.
The curfew sounded, and though attention to its notes was not
compulsory by law, it was regarded as the break-up of the evening
and the note of recall in all well-ordered establishments. The
apprentices and journeymen came into the court, among them Giles
Headley, who had been taken out by one of the men to be provided
with a working dress, much to his disgust; the grandmother summoned
little Dennet and carried her off to bed. Stephen and Ambrose bade
good-night, but Master Headley and his two confidential men remained
somewhat longer to wind up their accounts. Doors were not, as a
rule, locked within the court, for though it contained from forty to
fifty persons, they were all regarded as a single family, and it was
enough to fasten the heavily bolted, iron-studded folding doors of
the great gateway leading into Cheapside, the key being brought to
the master like that of a castle, seven minutes, measured by the
glass, after the last note of the curfew in the belfry outside St.
The summer twilight, however, lasted long after this time of grace,
and when Tibble had completed his accountant's work, and Smallbones'
deep voiced "Goodnight, comrade," had resounded over the court, he
beheld a figure rise up from the steps of the gallery, and Ambrose's
voice said: "May I speak to thee, Tibble? I need thy counsel."
"Come hither, sir," said the foreman, muttering to himself,
"Methought 'twas working in him! The leaven! the leaven!"
Tibble led the way up one of the side stairs into the open gallery,
where he presently opened a door, admitting to a small, though high
chamber, the walls of bare brick, and containing a low bed, a small
table, a three-legged stool, a big chest, and two cupboards, also a
cross over the head of the bed. A private room was a luxury neither
possessed nor desired by most persons of any degree, and only
enjoyed by Tibble in consideration of his great value to his master,
his peculiar tastes, and the injuries he had received. In point of
fact, his fall had been owing to a hasty blow, given in a passion by
the master himself when a young man. Dismay and repentance had made
Giles Headley a cooler and more self-controlled man ever since, and
even if Tibble had not been a superior workman, he might still have
been free to do almost anything he chose. Tibble gave his visitor
the stool, and himself sat down on the chest, saying: "So you have
found your uncle, sir."
"Ay," said Ambrose, pausing in some expectation that Tibble would
mention some suspicion of his identity; but if the foreman had his
ideas on the subject he did not disclose them, and waited for more
"Tibble!" said Ambrose, with a long gasp, "I must find means to hear
more of him thou tookedst me to on Sunday."
"None ever truly tasted of that well without longing to come back to
it," quoth Tibble. "But hath not thy kinsman done aught for thee?"
"Nay," said Ambrose, "save to offer me a lodging with his wife, a
good and kindly lavender at the Temple."
"So far am I free," said Ambrose, "and I am glad of it. I have a
letter here to one of the canons, one Master Alworthy, but ere I
seek him I would know somewhat from thee, Tibble. What like is he?"
"I cannot tell, sir," said Tibble. "The canons are rich and many,
and a poor smith like me wots little of their fashions."
"Is it true," again asked Ambrose, "that the Dean--he who spake
those words yesterday--hath a school here for young boys?"
"Ay. And a good and mild school it be, bringing them up in the name
and nurture of the Holy Child Jesus, to whom it is dedicated."
"Then they are taught this same doctrine?"
"I trow they be. They say the Dean loves them like the children of
his old age, and declares that they shall be made in love with holy
lore by gentleness rather than severity."
"Is it likely that this same Alworthy could obtain me entrance
"Alack, sir, I fear me thou art too old. I see none but little lads
among them. Didst thou come to London with that intent?"
"Nay, for I only wist to-day that there was such a school. I came
with I scarce know what purpose, save to see Stephen safely
bestowed, and then to find some way of learning myself. Moreover, a
change seems to have come on me, as though I had hitherto been
walking in a dream."
Tibble nodded, and Ambrose, sitting there in the dark, was moved to
pour forth all his heart, the experience of many an ardent soul in
those spirit searching days. Growing up happily under the care of
the simple monks of Beaulieu he had never looked beyond their
somewhat mechanical routine, accepted everything implicitly, and
gone on acquiring knowledge with the receptive spirit but dormant
thought of studious boyhood as yet unawakened, thinking that the
studious clerical life to which every one destined him would only be
a continuation of the same, as indeed it had been to his master,
Father Simon. Not that Ambrose expressed this, beyond saying, "They
are good and holy men, and I thought all were like them, and fear
that was all!"
Then came death, for the first time nearly touching and affecting
the youth, and making his soul yearn after further depths, which he
might yet have found in the peace of the good old men, and the holy
rites and doctrine that they preserved; but before there was time
for these things to find their way into the wounds of his spirit,
his expulsion from home had sent him forth to see another side of
monkish and clerkly life.
Father Shoveller, kindly as he was, was a mere yeoman with nothing
spiritual about him; the monks of Hyde were, the younger, gay
comrades, only trying how loosely they could sit to their vows; the
elder, churlish and avaricious; even the Warden of Elizabeth College
was little more than a student. And in London, fresh phases had
revealed themselves; the pomp, state, splendour and luxury of
Archbishop Wolsey's house had been a shock to the lad's ideal of a
bishop drawn from the saintly biographies he had studied at
Beaulieu; and he had but to keep his ears open to hear endless
scandals about the mass priests, as they were called, since they
were at this time very unpopular in London, and in many cases
deservedly so. Everything that the boy had hitherto thought the way
of holiness and salvation seemed invaded by evil and danger, and
under the bondage of death, whose terrible dance continued to haunt
"I saw it, I saw it;" he said, "all over those halls at York House.
I seemed to behold the grisly shape standing behind one and another,
as they ate and laughed; and when the Archbishop and his priests and
the King came in it seemed only to make the pageant complete! Only
now and then could I recall those blessed words, 'Ye are free
indeed.' Did he say from the bondage of death?"
"Yea," said Tibble, "into the glorious freedom of God's children."
"Thou knowst it. Thou knowst it, Tibble. It seems to me that life
is no life, but living death, without that freedom! And I MUST hear
of it, and know whether it is mine, yea, and Stephen's, and all whom
I love. O Tibble, I would beg my bread rather than not have that
freedom ever before mine eyes."
"Hold it fast! hold it fast, dear sir," said Tibble, holding out his
hands with tears in his eyes, and his face working in a manner that
happily Ambrose could not see.
"But how--how? The barefoot friar said that for an Ave a day, our
Blessed Lady will drag us back from purgatory. I saw her on the
wall of her chapel at Winchester saving a robber knight from the
sea, yea and a thief from the gallows; but that is not being free."
"Fond inventions of pardon-mongers," muttered Tibble.
"And is one not free when the priest hath assoilsied him?" added
"If, and if--" said Tibble. "But bone shall make me trow that
shrift in words, without heart-sorrow for sin, and the Latin heard
with no thought of Him that bore the guilt, can set the sinner free.
'Tis none other that the Dean sets forth, ay, and the book that I
have here. I thank my God," he stood up and took off his cap
reverently, "that He hath opened the eyes of another!"
His tone was such that Ambrose could have believed him some devout
almost inspired hermit rather than the acute skilful artisan he
appeared at other times; and in fact, Tibble Steelman, like many
another craftsman of those days, led a double life, the outer one
that of the ordinary workman, the inner one devoted to those lights
that were shining unveiled and new to many; and especially here in
the heart of the City, partly from the influence of Dean Colet's
sermons and catechisings at St. Paul's, but also from remnants of
Lollardism, which had never been entirely quenched. The ordinary
clergy looked at it with horror, but the intelligent and thoughtful
of the burgher and craftsman classes studied it with a passionate
fervour which might have sooner broken out and in more perilous
forms save for the guidance it received in the truly Catholic and
open-spirited public teachings of Colet, in which he persisted in
spite of the opposition of his brother clergy.
Not that as yet the inquirers had in the slightest degree broken
with the system of the Church, or with her old traditions. They
were only beginning to see the light that had been veiled from them,
and to endeavour to clear the fountain from the mire that had fouled
it; and there was as yet no reason to believe that the aspersions
continually made against the mass priests and the friars were more
than the chronic grumblings of Englishmen, who had found the same
faults in them for the last two hundred years.
"And what wouldst thou do, young sir?" presently inquired Tibble.
"That I came to ask thee, good Tibble. I would work to the best of
my power in any craft so I may hear those words and gain the key to
all I have hitherto learnt, unheeding as one in a dream. My purpose
had been to be a scholar and a clerk, but I must see mine own way,
and know whither I am being carried, ere I can go farther."
Tibble writhed and wriggled himself about in consideration. "I
would I wist how to take thee to the Dean himself," he said, "but I
am but a poor man, and his doctrine is 'new wine in old bottles' to
the master, though he be a right good man after his lights. See
now, Master Ambrose, meseemeth that thou hadst best take thy letter
first to this same priest. It may be that he can prefer thee to
some post about the minster. Canst sing?"
"I could once, but my voice is nought at this present. If I could
but be a servitor at St. Paul's School!"
"It might be that the will which hath led thee so far hath that post
in store for thee, so bear the letter to Master Alworthy. And if he
fail thee, wouldst thou think scorn of aiding a friend of mine who
worketh a printing-press in Warwick Inner Yard? Thou wilt find him
at his place in Paternoster Row, hard by St. Paul's. He needeth one
who is clerk enough to read the Latin, and the craft being a new one
'tis fenced by none of those prentice laws that would bar the way to
thee elsewhere, at thy years."
"I should dwell among books!"
"Yea, and holy books, that bear on the one matter dear to the true
heart. Thou might serve Lucas Hansen at the sign of the Winged
Staff till thou hast settled thine heart, and then it may be the way
would be opened to study at Oxford or at Cambridge, so that thou
couldst expound the faith to others."
"Good Tibble, kind Tibble, I knew thou couldst aid me! Wilt thou
speak to this Master Hansen for me?"
Tibble, however, held that it was more seemly that Ambrose should
first try his fate with Master Alworthy, but in case of this not
succeeding, he promised to write a billet that would secure
attention from Lucas Hansen.
"I warn thee, however, that he is Low Dutch," he added, "though he
speaketh English well." He would gladly have gone with the youth,
and at any other time might have been sent by his master, but the
whole energies of the Dragon would be taken up for the next week by
preparations for the tilting-match at court, and Tibble could not be
spared for another working hour.
Ambrose, as he rose to bid his friend good-night, could not help
saying that he marvelled that one such as he could turn his mind to
such vanities as the tilt-yard required.
"Nay," said Tibble, "'twas the craft I was bred to--yea, and I have
a good master; and the Apostle Paul himself--as I've heard a
preacher say--bade men continue in the state wherein they were, and
not be curious to chop and change. Who knoweth whether in God's
sight, all our wars and policies be no more than the games of the
tilt-yard. Moreover, Paul himself made these very weapons read as
good a sermon as the Dean himself. Didst never hear of the shield
of faith, and helmet of salvation, and breastplate of righteousness?
So, if thou comest to Master Hansen, and provest worthy of his
trust, thou wilt hear more, ay, and maybe read too thyself, and send
forth the good seed to others," he murmured to himself, as he guided