Part 3 out of 7
his visitor across the moonlit court up the stairs to the chamber
where Stephen lay fast asleep.
CHAPTER X. TWO VOCATIONS
"The smith, a mighty man is he
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands."
Stephen's first thought in the morning was whether the ex voto
effigy of poor Spring was put in hand, while Ambrose thought of
Tibble's promised commendation to the printer. They both, however,
found their affairs must needs wait. Orders for weapons for the
tilting-match had come in so thickly the day before that every hand
must be employed on executing them, and the Dragon court was ringing
again with the clang of hammers and screech of grind-stones.
Stephen, though not yet formally bound, was to enter on his
apprentice life at once; and Ambrose was assured by Master Headley
that it was of no use to repair to any of the dignified clergy of
St. Paul's before mid-day, and that he had better employ the time in
writing to his elder brother respecting the fee. Materials were
supplied to him, and he used them so as to do credit to the monks of
Beaulieu, in spite of little Dennet spending every spare moment in
watching his pen as if he were performing some cabalistic operation.
He was a long time about it. There were two letters to write, and
the wording of thorn needed to be very careful, besides that the old
court hand took more time to frame than the Italian current hand,
and even thus, when dinner-time came, at ten o'clock, the household
was astonished to find that he had finished all that regarded
Stephen, though he had left the letters open, until his own venture
should have been made.
Stephen flung himself down beside his brother hot and panting,
shaking his shoulder-blades and declaring that his arms felt ready
to drop out. He had been turning a grindstone ever since six
o'clock. The two new apprentices had been set on to sharpening the
weapon points as all that they were capable of, and had been bidden
by Smallbones to turn and hold alternately, but "that oaf Giles
Headley," said Stephen, "never ground but one lance, and made me go
on turning, threatening to lay the butt about mine ears if I
"The lazy lubber!" cried Ambrose. "But did none see thee, or
couldst not call out for redress?"
"Thou art half a wench thyself, Ambrose, to think I'd complain.
Besides, he stood on his rights as a master, and he is a big
"That's true," said Ambrose, "and he might make it the worse for
"I would I were as big as he," sighed Stephen, "I would soon show
him which was the better man."
Perhaps the grinding match had not been as unobserved as Stephen
fancied, for on returning to work, Smallbones, who presided over all
the rougher parts of the business, claimed them both. He set
Stephen to stand by him, sort out and hand him all the rivets needed
for a suit of proof armour that hung on a frame, while he required
Giles to straighten bars of iron heated to a white heat. Ere long
Giles called out for Stephen to change places, to which Smallbones
coolly replied, "Turnabout is the rule here, master."
"Even so," replied Giles, "and I have been at work like this long
enough, ay, and too long!"
"Thy turn was a matter of three hours this morning," replied Kit--
not coolly, for nobody was cool in his den, but with a brevity which
provoked a laugh.
"I shall see what my cousin the master saith!" cried Giles in great
"Ay, that thou wilt," returned Kit, "if thou dost loiter over thy
business, and hast not those bars ready when called for."
"He never meant me to be put on work like this, with a hammer that
breaks mine arm."
"What! crying out for THAT!" said Edmund Burgess, who had just come
in to ask for a pair of tongs. "What wouldst say to the big hammer
that none can wield save Kit himself?"
Giles felt there was no redress, and panted on, feeling as if he
were melting away, and with a dumb, wild rage in his heart, that
could get no outlet, for Smallbones was at least as much bigger than
he as he was than Stephen. Tibble was meanwhile busy over the
gilding and enamelling of Buckingham's magnificent plate armour in
Italian fashion, but he had found time to thrust into Ambrose's hand
an exceedingly small and curiously folded billet for Lucas Hansen,
the printer, in case of need. "He would be found at the sign of the
Winged Staff, in Paternoster Row," said Tibble, "or if not there
himself, there would be his servant who would direct Ambrose to the
place where the Dutch printer lived and worked." No one was at
leisure to show the lad the way, and he set out with a strange
feeling of solitude, as his path began decisively to be away from
that of his brother.
He did not find much difficulty in discovering the quadrangle on the
south side of the minster where the minor canons lived near the
deanery; and the porter, a stout lay brother, pointed out to him the
doorway belonging to Master Alworthy. He knocked, and a young man
with a tonsured head but a bloated face opened it. Ambrose
explained that he had brought a letter from the Warden of St.
Elizabeth's College at Winchester.
"Give it here," said the young man.
"I would give it to his reverence himself," said Ambrose.
"His reverence is taking his after-dinner nap and may not be
disturbed," said the man.
"Then I will wait," said Ambrose.
The door was shut in his face, but it was the shady side of the
court, and he sat down on a bench and waited. After full an hour
the door was opened, and the canon, a good-natured looking man, in a
square cap, and gown and cassock of the finest cloth, came slowly
out. He had evidently heard nothing of the message, and was taken
by surprise when Ambrose, doffing his cap and bowing low, gave him
the greeting of the Warden of St. Elizabeth's and the letter.
"Hum! Ha! My good friend--Fielder--I remember him. He was always
a scholar. So he hath sent thee here with his commendations. What
should I do with all the idle country lads that come up to choke
London and feed the plague? Yet stay--that lurdane Bolt is getting
intolerably lazy and insolent, and methinks he robs me! What canst
do, thou stripling?"
"I can read Latin, sir, and know the Greek alphabeta."
"Tush! I want no scholar more than enough to serve my mass. Canst
"Not now; but I hope to do so again."
"When I rid me of Bolt there--and there's an office under the
sacristan that he might fill as well as another knave--the fellow
might do for me well enow as a body servant," said Mr. Alworthy,
speaking to himself. "He would brush my gowns and make my bed, and
I might perchance trust him with my marketings, and by and by there
might be some office for him when he grew saucy and idle. I'll
prove him on mine old comrade's word."
"Sir," said Ambrose, respectfully, "what I seek for is occasion for
study. I had hoped you could speak to the Dean, Dr. John Colet, for
some post at his school."
"Boy," said Alworthy, "I thought thee no such fool! Why crack thy
brains with study when I can show thee a surer path to ease and
preferment? But I see thou art too proud to do an old man a
service. Thou writst thyself gentleman, forsooth, and high blood
will not stoop."
"Not so, sir," returned Ambrose, "I would work in any way so I could
study the humanities, and hear the Dean preach. Cannot you commend
me to his school?"
"Ha!" exclaimed the canon, "this is your sort, is it? I'll have
nought to do with it! Preaching, preaching! Every idle child's
head is agog on preaching nowadays! A plague on it! Why can't
Master Dean leave it to the black friars, whose vocation 'tis, and
not cumber us with his sermons for ever, and set every lazy lad
thinking he must needs run after them? No, no, my good boy, take my
advice. Thou shalt have two good bellyfuls a day, all my cast
gowns, and a pair of shoes by the year, with a groat a month if thou
wilt keep mine house, bring in my meals, and the like, and by and
by, so thou art a good lad, and runst not after these new-fangled
preachments which lead but to heresy, and set folk racking their
brains about sin and such trash, we'll get thee shorn and into minor
orders, and who knows what good preferment thou mayst not win in due
"Sir, I am beholden to you, but my mind is set on study."
"What kin art thou to a fool?" cried the minor canon, so startling
Ambrose that he had almost answered, and turning to another
ecclesiastic whose siesta seemed to have ended about the same time,
"Look at this varlet, Brother Cloudesley! Would you believe it? He
comes to me with a letter from mine old friend, in consideration of
which I offer him that saucy lubber Bolt's place, a gown of mine own
a year, meat and preferment, and, lo you, he tells me all he wants
is to study Greek, forsooth, and hear the Dean's sermons!"
The other canon shook his head in dismay at such arrant folly.
"Young stripling, be warned," he said. "Know what is good for thee.
Greek is the tongue of heresy."
"How may that be, reverend sir," said Ambrose, "when the holy
Apostles and the Fathers spake and wrote in the Greek?"
"Waste not thy time on him, brother," said Mr. Alworthy. "He will
find out his error when his pride and his Greek forsooth have
brought him to fire and faggot."
"Ay! ay!" added Cloudesley. "The Dean with his Dutch friend and his
sermons, and his new grammar and accidence, is sowing heretics as
thick as groundsel."
Wherewith the two canons of the old school waddled away, arm in arm,
and Bolt put out his head, leered at Ambrose, and bade him shog off,
and not come sneaking after other folk's shoes.
Sooth to say, Ambrose was relieved by his rejection. If he were not
to obtain admission in any capacity to St. Paul's School, he felt
more drawn to Tibble's friend the printer; for the self-seeking
luxurious habits into which so many of the beneficed clergy had
fallen were repulsive to him, and his whole soul thirsted after that
new revelation, as it were, which Colet's sermon had made to him.
Yet the word heresy was terrible and confusing, and a doubt came
over him whether he might not be forsaking the right path, and be
lured aside by false lights.
He would think it out before he committed himself. Where should he
do so in peace? He thought of the great Minster, but the nave was
full of a surging multitude, and there was a loud hum of voices
proceeding from it, which took from him all inclination to find his
way to the quieter and inner portions of the sanctuary.
Then he recollected the little Pardon Church, where he had seen the
Dance of Death on the walls; and crossing the burial-ground he
entered, and, as he expected, found it empty, since the hours for
masses for the dead were now past. He knelt down on a step,
repeated the sext office, in warning for which the bells were
chiming all round, covering his face with his hands, and thinking
himself back to Beaulieu; then, seating himself on a step, leaning
against the wall, he tried to think out whether to give himself up
to the leadings of the new light that had broken on him, or whether
to wrench himself from it. Was this, which seemed to him truth and
deliverance, verily the heresy respecting which rumours had come to
horrify the country convents? If he had only heard of it from
Tibble Wry-mouth, he would have doubted, in spite of its power over
him, but he had heard it from a man, wise, good, and high in place,
like Dean Colet. Yet to his further perplexity, his uncle had
spoken of Colet as jesting at Wolsey's table. What course should he
take? Could he bear to turn away from that which drew his soul so
powerfully, and return to the bounds which seem to him to be grown
so narrow, but which he was told were safe? Now that Stephen was
settled, it was open to him to return to St. Elizabeth's College,
but the young soul within him revolted against the repetition of
what had become to him unsatisfying, unless illumined by the
brightness he seemed to have glimpsed at.
But Ambrose had gone through much unwonted fatigue of late, and
while thus musing he fell asleep, with his head against the wall.
He was half wakened by the sound of voices, and presently became
aware that two persons were examining the walls, and comparing the
paintings with some others, which one of them had evidently seen.
If he had known it, it was with the Dance of Death on the bridge of
"I question," said a voice that Ambrose had heard before, "whether
these terrors be wholesome for men's souls."
"For priests' pouches, they be," said the other, with something of a
"Alack, when shall we see the day when the hope of paradise and
dread of purgatory shall be no longer made the tools of priestly
gain; and hatred of sin taught to these poor folk, instead of
servile dread of punishment."
"Have a care, my Colet," answered the yellow bearded foreigner;
"thou art already in ill odour with those same men in authority; and
though a Dean's stall be fenced from the episcopal crook, yet there
is a rod at Rome which can reach even thither."
"I tell thee, dear Erasmus, thou art too timid; I were well content
to leave house and goods, yea, to go to prison or to death, could I
but bring home to one soul, for which Christ died, the truth and
hope in every one of those prayers and creeds that our poor folk are
taught to patter as a senseless charm."
"These are strange times," returned Erasmus. "Methinks yonder
phantom, be he skeleton or angel, will have snatched both of us away
ere we behold the full issue either of thy preachings, or my Greek
Testament, or of our More's Utopian images. Dost thou not feel as
though we were like children who have set some mighty engine in
motion, like the great water-wheels in my native home, which,
whirled by the flowing streams of time and opinion, may break up the
whole foundations, and destroy the oneness of the edifice?"
"It may be so," returned Colet. "What read we? 'The net brake'
even in the Master's sight, while still afloat on the sea. It was
only on the shore that the hundred and fifty-three, all good and
sound, were drawn to His feet."
"And," returned Erasmus, "I see wherefore thou hast made thy
children at St. Paul's one hundred and fifty and three."
The two friends were passing out. Their latter speeches had scarce
been understood by Ambrose, even if he heard them, so full was he of
conflicting feelings, now ready to cast himself before their feet,
and entreat the Dean to help him to guidance, now withheld by
bashfulness, unwillingness to interrupt, and ingenuous shame at
appearing like an eavesdropper towards such dignified and venerable
personages. Had he obeyed his first impulse, mayhap his career had
been made safer and easier for him, but it was while shyness chained
his limbs and tongue that the Dean and Erasmus quitted the chapel,
and the opportunity of accosting them had slipped away.
Their half comprehended words had however decided him in the part he
should take, making him sure that Colet was not controverting the
formularies of the Church, but drawing out those meanings which in
repetition by rote were well-nigh forgotten. It was as if his
course were made clear to him.
He was determined to take the means which most readily presented
themselves of hearing Colet; and leaving the chapel, he bent his
steps to the Row which his book-loving eye had already marked.
Flanking the great Cathedral on the north, was the row of small open
stalls devoted to the sale of books, or "objects of devotion," all
so arranged that the open portion might be cleared, and the stock-
in-trade locked up if not carried away. Each stall had its own
sign, most of them sacred, such as the Lamb and Flag, the Scallop
Shell, or some patron saint, but classical emblems were oddly
intermixed, such as Minerva's AEgis, Pegasus, and the Lyre of
Apollo. The sellers, some middle-aged men, some lads, stretched out
their arms with their wares to attract the passengers in the street,
and did not fail to beset Ambrose. The more lively looked at his
Lincoln green and shouted verses of ballads at him, fluttering broad
sheets with verses on the lamentable fate of Jane Shore, or Fair
Rosamond, the same woodcut doing duty for both ladies, without mercy
to their beauty. The scholastic judged by his face and step that he
was a student, and they flourished at him black-bound copies of
Virgilius Maro, and of Tully's Offices, while others, hoping that he
was an incipient clerk, offered breviaries, missals or portuaries,
with the Use of St. Paul's, or of Sarum, or mayhap St. Austin's
Confessions. He made his way along, with his eye diligently heedful
of the signs, and at last recognised the Winged Staff, or caduceus
of Hermes, over a stall where a couple of boys in blue caps and
gowns and yellow stockings were making a purchase of a small, grave-
looking, elderly but bright cheeked man, whose yellow hair and beard
were getting intermingled with grey. They were evidently those St.
Paul's School boys whom Ambrose envied so much, and as they finished
their bargaining and ran away together, Ambrose advanced with a
salutation, asked if he did not see Master Lucas Hansen, and gave
him the note with the commendations of Tibble Steelman the armourer.
He was answered with a ready nod and "yea, yea," as the old man
opened the billet and cast his eyes over it; then scanning Ambrose
from head to foot, said with some amazement, "But you are of gentle
blood, young sir."
"I am," said Ambrose; "but gentle blood needs at times to work for
bread, and Tibble let me hope that I might find both livelihood for
the body and for the soul with you, sir."
"Is it so?" asked the printer, his face lighting up. "Art thou
willing to labour and toil, and give up hope of fee and honour, if
so thou mayst win the truth?"
Ambrose folded his hands with a gesture of earnestness, and Lucas
Hansen said, "Bless thee, my son! Methinks I can aid thee in thy
quest, so thou canst lay aside," and here his voice grew sharper and
more peremptory, "all thy gentleman's airs and follies, and serve--
ay, serve and obey."
"I trust so," returned Ambrose; "my brother is even now becoming
prentice to Master Giles Headley, and we hope to live as honest men
by the work of our hands and brains."
"I forgot that you English herren are not so puffed up with pride
and scorn like our Dutch nobles," returned the printer. "Canst live
sparingly, and lie hard, and see that thou keepst the house clean,
not like these English swine?"
"I hope so," said Ambrose, smiling; "but I have an uncle and aunt,
and they would have me lie every night at their house beside the
"What is thine uncle?"
"He hath a post in the meine of my Lord Archbishop of York," said
Ambrose, blushing and hesitating a little. "He cometh to and fro to
his wife, who dwells with her old father, doing fine lavender's work
for the lawyer folk therein."
It was somewhat galling that this should be the most respectable
occupation that could be put forward, but Lucas Hansen was evidently
reassured by it. He next asked whether Ambrose could read Latin,
putting a book into his hand as he did so; Ambrose read and
construed readily, explaining that he had been trained at Beaulieu.
"That is well!" said the printer; "and hast thou any Greek?"
"Only the alphabeta," said Ambrose, "I made that out from a book at
Beaulieu, but Father Simon knew no more, and there was nought to
"Even so," replied Hansen, "but little as thou knowst 'tis as much
as I can hope for from any who will aid me in my craft. 'Tis I
that, as thou hast seen, furnish for the use of the children at the
Dean's school of St. Paul's. The best and foremost scholars of them
are grounded in their Greek, that being the tongue wherein the Holy
Gospels were first writ. Hitherto I have had to get me books for
their use from Holland, whither they are brought from Basle, but I
have had sent me from Hamburg a fount of type of the Greek
character, whereby I hope to print at home, the accidence, and
mayhap the Dialogues of Plato, and it might even be the sacred
Gospel itself, which the great Doctor, Master Erasmus, is even now
collating from the best authorities in the universities."
Ambrose's eyes kindled with unmistakable delight. "You have the
accidence!" he exclaimed. "Then could I study the tongue even while
working for you! Sir, I would do my best! It is the very
opportunity I seek."
"Fair and softly," said the printer with something of a smile.
"Thou art new to cheapening and bargaining, my fair lad. Thou hast
spoken not one word of the wage."
"I recked not of that," said Ambrose. "'Tis true, I may not burthen
mine uncle and aunt, but verily, sir, I would live on the humblest
fare that will keep body and soul together so that I may have such
"How knowst thou what the opportunity may be?" returned Lucas,
drily. "Thou art but a babe! Some one should have a care of thee.
If I set thee to stand here all day and cry what d'ye lack? or to
carry bales of books twixt this and Warwick Inner Yard, thou wouldst
have no ground to complain."
"Nay, sir," returned Ambrose, "I wot that Tibble Steelman would
never send me to one who would not truly give me what I need."
"Tibble Steelman is verily one of the few who are both called and
chosen," replied Lucas, "and I think thou art the same so far as
green youth may be judged, since thou art one who will follow the
word into the desert, and never ask for the loaves and fishes.
Nevertheless, I will take none advantage of thy youth and zeal, but
thou shalt first behold what thou shalt have to do for me, and then
if it still likes thee, I will see thy kindred. Hast no father?"
Ambrose explained, and at that moment Master Hansen's boy made his
appearance, returning from an errand; the stall was left in his
charge, while the master took Ambrose with him into the precincts of
what had once been the splendid and hospitable mansion of the great
king-maker, Warwick, but was now broken up into endless little
tenements with their courts and streets, though the baronial
ornaments and the arrangement still showed what the place had been.
Entering beneath a wide archway, still bearing the sign of the Bear
and Ragged Staff, Lucas led the way into what must have been one of
the courts of offices, for it was surrounded with buildings and
sheds of different heights and sizes, and had on one side a deep
trough of stone, fed by a series of water-taps, intended for the use
of the stables. The doors of one of these buildings was unlocked by
Master Hansen, and Ambrose found himself in what had once perhaps
been part of a stable, but had been partitioned off from the rest.
There were two stalls, one serving the Dutchman for his living room,
the other for his workshop. In one corner stood a white earthenware
stove--so new a spectacle to the young forester that he supposed it
to be the printing press. A table, shiny with rubbing, a wooden
chair, a couple of stools, a few vessels, mirrors for brightness,
some chests and corner cupboards, a bed shutting up like a box and
likewise highly polished, completed the furniture, all arranged with
the marvellous orderliness and neatness of the nation. A curtain
shut off the opening to the other stall, where stood a machine with
a huge screw, turned by leverage. Boxes of type and piles of paper
surrounded it, and Ambrose stood and looked at it with a sort of
awe-struck wonder and respect as the great fount of wisdom. Hansen
showed him what his work would be, in setting up type, and by and by
correcting after the first proof. The machine could only print four
pages at a time, and for this operation the whole strength of the
establishment was required. Moreover, Master Hansen bound, as well
as printed his books. Ambrose was by no means daunted. As long as
he might read as well as print, and while he had Sundays at St.
Paul's to look to, he asked no more--except indeed that his gentle
blood stirred at the notion of acting salesman in the book-stall,
and Master Hansen assured him with a smile that Will Wherry, the
other boy, would do that better than either of them, and that he
would be entirely employed here.
The methodical master insisted however on making terms with the
boy's relations; and with some misgivings on Ambrose's part, the
two--since business hours were almost over--walked together to the
Temple and to the little house, where Perronel was ironing under her
Ambrose need not have doubted. The Dutch blood on either side was
stirred; and the good housewife commanded the little printer's
respect as he looked round on a kitchen as tidy as if it were in his
own country. And the bargain was struck that Ambrose Birkenholt
should serve Master Hansen for his meals and two pence a week, while
he was to sleep at the little house of Mistress Randall, who would
keep his clothes and linen in order.
And thus it was that both Ambrose and Stephen Birkenholt had found
their vocations for the present, and both were fervent in them.
Master Headley pshawed a little when he heard that Ambrose had
engaged himself to a printer and a foreigner; and when he was told
it was to a friend of Tibble's, only shook his head, saying that
Tib's only fault was dabbling in matters of divinity, as if a plain
man could not be saved without them! However, he respected the lad
for having known his own mind and not hung about in idleness, and he
had no opinion of clerks, whether monks or priests. Indeed, the low
esteem in which the clergy as a class were held in London was one of
the very evil signs of the times. Ambrose was invited to dine and
sup at the Dragon court every Sunday and holiday, and he was glad to
accept, since the hospitality was so free, and he thus was able to
see his brother and Tibble; besides that, it prevented him from
burthening Mistress Randall, whom he really liked, though he could
not see her husband, either in his motley or his plain garments,
without a shudder of repulsion.
Ambrose found that setting up type had not much more to do with the
study of new books than Stephen's turning the grindstone had with
fighting in the lists; and the mistakes he made in spelling from
right to left, and in confounding the letters, made him despair, and
prepare for any amount of just indignation from his master; but he
found on the contrary that Master Hansen had never had a pupil who
made so few blunders on the first trial, and augured well of him
from such a beginning. Paper was too costly, and pressure too
difficult, for many proofs to be struck off, but Hansen could read
and correct his type as it stood, and assured Ambrose that practice
would soon give him the same power; and the correction was thus
completed, when Will Wherry, a big, stout fellow, came in to dinner-
-the stall being left during that time, as nobody came for books
during the dinner-hour, and Hansen, having an understanding with his
next neighbour, by which they took turns to keep guard against
The master and the two lads dined together on the contents of a
cauldron, where pease and pork had been simmering together on the
stove all the morning. Their strength was then united to work the
press and strike off a sheet, which the master scanned, finding only
one error in it. It was a portion of Lilly's Grammar, and Ambrose
regarded it with mingled pride and delight, though he longed to go
further into those deeper revelations for the sake of which he had
Master Hansen then left the youths to strike off a couple of hundred
sheets, after which they were to wash the types and re-arrange the
letters in the compartments in order, whilst he returned to the
stall. The customers requiring his personal attention were
generally late ones. When all this was accomplished, and the pot
put on again in preparation for supper, the lads might use the short
time that remained as they would, and Hansen himself showed Ambrose
a shelf of books concealed by a blue curtain, whence he might read.
Will Wherry showed unconcealed amazement that this should be the
taste of his companion. He himself hated the whole business, and
would never have adopted it, but that he had too many brothers for
all to take to the water on the Thames, and their mother was too
poor to apprentice them, and needed the small weekly pay the
Dutchman gave him. He seemed a good-natured, dull fellow, whom no
doubt Hansen had hired for the sake of the strong arms, developed by
generations of oarsmen upon the river. What he specially disliked
was that his master was a foreigner. The whole court swarmed with
foreigners, he said, with the utmost disgust, as if they were
noxious insects. They made provisions dear, and undersold honest
men, and he wondered the Lord Mayor did not see to it and drive them
out. He did not SO much object to the Dutch, but the Spaniards--no
words could express his horror of them.
By and by, Ambrose going out to fetch some water from the conduit,
found standing by it a figure entirely new to him. It was a young
girl of some twelve or fourteen years old, in the round white cap
worn by all of her age and sex; but from beneath it hung down two
thick plaits of the darkest hair he had ever seen, and though the
dress was of the ordinary dark serge with a coloured apron, it was
put on with an air that made it look like some strange and beautiful
costume on the slender, lithe, little form. The vermilion apron was
further trimmed with a narrow border of white, edged again with deep
blue, and it chimed in with the bright coral earrings and necklace.
As Ambrose came forward the creature tried to throw a crimson
handkerchief over her head, and ran into the shelter of another
door, but not before Ambrose had seen a pair of large dark eyes so
like those of a terrified fawn that they seemed to carry him back to
the Forest. Going back amazed, he asked his companion who the girl
he had seen could have been.
Will stared. "I trow you mean the old blackamoor sword-cutler's
wench. He is one of those pestilent strangers. An 'Ebrew Jew who
worships Mahound and is too bad for the Spanish folk themselves."
This rather startled Ambrose, though he knew enough to see that the
accusations could not both be true, but he forgot it in the delight,
when Will pronounced the work done, of drawing back the curtain and
feasting his eyes upon the black backs of the books, and the black-
letter brochures that lay by them. There were scarcely thirty, yet
he gloated on them as on an inexhaustible store, while Will,
whistling wonder at his taste, opined that since some one was there
to look after the stove, and the iron pot on it, he might go out and
have a turn at ball with Hob and Martin.
Ambrose was glad to be left to go over his coming feast. There was
Latin, English, and, alas! baffling Dutch. High or Low it was all
the same to him. What excited his curiosity most was the
Enchiridion Militis Christiani of Erasmus--in Latin of course, and
that he could easily read--but almost equally exciting was a Greek
and Latin vocabulary; or again, a very thin book in which he
recognised the New Testament in the Vulgate. He had heard chapters
of it read from the graceful stone pulpit overhanging the refectory
at Beaulieu, and, of course, the Gospels and Epistles at mass, but
they had been read with little expression and no attention; and that
Sunday's discourse had filled him with eagerness to look farther;
but the mere reading the titles of the books was pleasure enough for
the day, and his master was at home before he had fixed his mind on
anything. Perhaps this was as well, for Lucas advised him what to
begin with, and how to divide his studies so as to gain a knowledge
of the Greek, his great ambition, and also to read the Scripture.
The master was almost as much delighted as the scholar, and it was
not till the curfew was beginning to sound that Ambrose could tear
himself away. It was still daylight, and the door of the next
dwelling was open. There, sitting on the ground cross-legged, in an
attitude such as Ambrose had never seen, was a magnificent old man,
with a huge long white beard, wearing, indeed, the usual dress of a
Londoner of the lower class, but the gown flowed round him in a
grand and patriarchal manner, corresponding with his noble, somewhat
aquiline features; and behind him Ambrose thought he caught a
glimpse of the shy fawn he had seen in the morning.
CHAPTER XI. AY DI ME GRENADA
"In sooth it was a thing to weep
If then as now the level plain
Beneath was spreading like the deep,
The broad unruffled main.
If like a watch-tower of the sun
Above, the Alpuxarras rose,
Streaked, when the dying day was done,
"With evening's roseate snows."
When Mary Tudor, released by death from her first dreary marriage,
contracted for her brother's pleasure, had appeased his wrath at her
second marriage made to please herself, Henry VIII. was only too
glad to mark his assent by all manner of festivities; and English
chroniclers, instead of recording battles and politics, had only to
write of pageantries and tournaments during the merry May of the
year 1515--a May, be it remembered, which, thanks to the old style,
was at least ten days nearer to Midsummer than our present month.
How the two queens and all their court had gone a-maying on
Shooter's Hill, ladies and horses poetically disguised and labelled
with sweet summer titles, was only a nine days' wonder when the
Birkenholts had come to London, but the approaching tournament at
Westminster on the Whitsun holiday was the great excitement to the
whole population, for, with all its faults, the Court of bluff King
Hal was thoroughly genial, and every one, gentle and simple, might
participate in his pleasures.
Seats were reserved at the lists for the city dignitaries and their
families, and though old Mistress Headley professed that she ought
to have done with such vanities, she could not forbear from going to
see that her son was not too much encumbered with the care of little
Dennet, and that the child herself ran into no mischief. Master
Headley himself grumbled and sighed, but he put himself into his
scarlet gown, holding that his presence was a befitting attention to
the king, glad to gratify his little daughter, and not without a
desire to see how his workmanship--good English ware--held out
against "mail and plate of Milan steel," the fine armour brought
home from France by the new Duke of Suffolk. Giles donned his best
in the expectation of sitting in the places of honour as one of the
family, and was greatly disgusted when Kit Smallbones observed,
"What's all that bravery for? The tilting match quotha? Ha! ha! my
young springald, if thou see it at all, thou must be content to gaze
as thou canst from the armourers' tent, if Tibble there chooses to
be cumbered with a useless lubber like thee."
"I always sat with my mother when there were matches at Clarendon,"
muttered Giles, who had learnt at least that it was of no use to
complain of Smallbones' plain speaking.
"If folks cocker malapert lads at Sarum we know better here," was
"I shall ask the master, my kinsman," returned the youth.
But he got little by his move. Master Headley told him, not
unkindly, for he had some pity for the spoilt lad, that not the Lord
Mayor himself would take his own son with him while yet an
apprentice. Tibble Steelman would indeed go to one of the
attendants' tents at the further end of the lists, where repairs to
armour and weapons might be needed, and would take an assistant or
two, but who they might be must depend on his own choice, and if
Giles had any desire to go, he had better don his working dress.
In fact, Tibble meant to take Edmund Burgess and one workman for
use, and one of the new apprentices for pleasure, letting them
change in the middle of the day. The swagger of Giles actually
forfeited for him the first turn, which--though he was no favourite
with the men--would have been granted to his elder years and his
relationship to the master; but on his overbearing demand to enter
the boat which was to carry down a little anvil and charcoal
furnace, with a few tools, rivets, nails, and horse-shoes, Tibble
coolly returned that he needed no such gay birds; but if Giles chose
to be ready in his leathern coat when Stephen Birkenholt came home
at midday, mayhap he might change with him.
Stephen went joyously in the plainest of attire, though Tibble in
fur cap, grimy jerkin, and leathern apron was no elegant steersman;
and Edmund, who was at the age of youthful foppery, shrugged his
shoulders a little, and disguised the garments of the smithy with
his best flat cap and newest mantle.
They kept in the wake of the handsome barge which Master Headley
shared with his friend and brother alderman, Master Hope the draper,
whose young wife, in a beautiful black velvet hood and shining blue
satin kirtle, was evidently petting Dennet to her heart's content,
though the little damsel never lost an opportunity of nodding to her
friends in the plainer barge in the rear.
The Tudor tilting matches cost no lives, and seldom broke bones.
They were chiefly opportunities for the display of brilliant
enamelled and gilt armour, at the very acme of cumbrous
magnificence; and of equally gorgeous embroidery spread out over the
vast expanse provided by elephantine Flemish horses. Even if the
weapons had not been purposely blunted, and if the champions had
really desired to slay one another, they would have found the task
very difficult, as in effect they did in the actual game of war.
But the spectacle was a splendid one, and all the apparatus was
ready in the armourers' tent, marked by St. George and the Dragon.
Tibble ensconced himself in the innermost corner with a "tractate,"
borrowed from his friend Lucas, and sent the apprentices to gaze
their fill at the rapidly filling circles of seats. They saw King
Harry, resplendent in gilded armour--"from their own anvil, true
English steel," said Edmund, proudly--hand to her seat his sister
the bride, one of the most beautiful women then in existence, with a
lovely and delicate bloom on her fair face and exquisite Plantagenet
features. No more royally handsome creatures could the world have
offered than that brother and sister, and the English world
appreciated them and made the lists ring with applause at the fair
lady who had disdained foreign princes to wed her true love, an
He--the cloth of frieze--in blue Milanese armour, made to look as
classical as possible, and with clasps and medals engraven from
antique gems--handed in Queen Katharine, whose dark but glowing
Spanish complexion made a striking contrast to the dazzling fairness
of her young sister-in-law. Near them sat a stout burly figure in
episcopal purple, and at his feet there was a form which nearly took
away all Stephen's pleasure for the time. For it was in motley, and
he could hear the bells jingle, while the hot blood rose in his
cheeks in the dread lest Burgess should detect the connection, or
recognise in the jester the grave personage who had come to
negotiate with Mr. Headley for his indentures, or worse still, that
the fool should see and claim him.
However, Quipsome Hal seemed to be exchanging drolleries with the
young dowager of France, who, sooth to say, giggled in a very
unqueenly manner at jokes which made the grave Spanish-born queen
draw up her stately head, and converse with a lady on her other
hand--an equally stately lady, somewhat older, with the straight
Plantagenet features, and by her side a handsome boy, who, though
only eight or nine years was tonsured, and had a little scholar's
gown. "That," said Edmund, "is my Lady Countess of Salisbury, of
whom Giles Headley prates so much."
A tournament, which was merely a game between gorgeously equipped
princes and nobles, afforded little scope for adventure worthy of
record, though it gave great diversion to the spectators. Stephen
gazed like one fascinated at the gay panoply of horse and man with
the huge plumes on the heads of both, as they rushed against one
another, and he shared with Edmund the triumph when the lance from
their armoury held good, the vexation if it were shivered. All
would have been perfect but for the sight of his uncle, playing off
his drolleries in a manner that gave him a sense of personal
To escape from the sight almost consoled him when, in the pause
after the first courses had been run, Tibble told him and Burgess to
return, and send Headley and another workman with a fresh bundle of
lances for the afternoon's tilting. Stephen further hoped to find
his brother at the Dragon court, as it was one of those holidays
that set every one free, and separation began to make the brothers
value their meetings.
But Ambrose was not at the Dragon court, and when Stephen went in
quest of him to the Temple, Perronel had not seen him since the
early morning, but she said he seemed so much bitten with the little
old man's scholarship that she had small doubt that he would be
found poring over a book in Warwick Inner Yard.
Thither therefore did Stephen repair. The place was nearly
deserted, for the inhabitants were mostly either artisans or that
far too numerous race who lived on the doles of convents, on the
alms of churchgoers, and the largesses scattered among the people on
public occasions, and these were for the most part pursuing their
vocation both of gazing and looking out for gain among the
spectators outside the lists. The door that Stephen had been shown
as that of Ambrose's master was, however, partly open, and close
beside it sat in the sun a figure that amazed him. On a small mat
or rug, with a black and yellow handkerchief over her head, and
little scarlet legs crossed under a blue dress, all lighted up by
the gay May sun, there slept the little dark, glowing maiden, with
her head best as it leant against the wall, her rosy lips half open,
her long black plaits on her shoulders.
Stepping up to the half-open door, whence he heard a voice reading,
his astonishment was increased. At the table were his brother and
his master, Ambrose with a black book in hand, Lucas Hansen with
some papers, and on the ground was seated a venerable, white-bearded
old man, something between Stephen's notions of an apostle and of a
magician, though the latter idea predominated at sight of a long
parchment scroll covered with characters such as belonged to no
alphabet that he had ever dreamt of. What were they doing to his
brother? He was absolutely in an enchanter's den. Was it a pixy at
the door, guarding it? "Ambrose!" he cried aloud.
Everybody started. Ambrose sprang to his feet, exclaiming,
"Stephen!" The pixy gave a little scream and jumped up, flying to
the old man, who quietly rolled up his scroll.
Lucas rose up as Ambrose spoke.
"Thy brother?" said he.
"Yea--come in search of me," said Ambrose.
"Thou hadst best go forth with him," said Lucas.
"It is not well that youth should study over long," said the old
man. "Thou hast aided us well, but do thou now unbend the bow.
Peace be with thee, my son."
Ambrose complied, but scarcely willingly, and the instant they had
made a few steps from the door, Stephen exclaimed in dismay, "Who--
what was it? Have they bewitched thee, Ambrose?"
Ambrose laughed merrily. "Not so. It is holy lore that those good
men are reading."
"Nay now, Ambrose. Stand still--if thou canst, poor fellow," he
muttered, and then made the sign of the cross three times over his
brother, who stood smiling, and said, "Art satisfied Stevie? Or
wilt have me rehearse my Credo?" Which he did, Stephen listening
critically, and drawing a long breath as he recognised each word,
pronounced without a shudder at the critical points. "Thou art safe
so far," said Stephen. "But sure he is a wizard. I even beheld his
familiar spirit--in a fair shape doubtless--like a pixy! Be not
deceived, brother. Sorcery reads backwards--and I saw him so read
from that scroll of his. Laughest thou! Nay! what shall I do to
free thee? Enter here!"
Stephen dragged his brother, still laughing, into the porch of the
nearest church, and deluged him with holy water with such good will,
that Ambrose, putting up his hands to shield his eyes, exclaimed,
"Come now, have done with this folly, Stephen--though it makes me
laugh to think of thy scared looks, and poor little Aldonza being
taken for a familiar spirit." And Ambrose laughed as he had not
laughed for weeks.
"But what is it, then?"
"The old man is of thy calling, or something like it, Stephen, being
that he maketh and tempereth sword-blades after the prime Damascene
or Toledo fashion, and the familiar spirit is his little daughter."
Stephen did not however look mollified. "Swordblades! None have a
right to make them save our craft. This is one of the rascaille
Spaniards who have poured into the city under favour of the queen to
spoil and ruin the lawful trade. Though could you but have seen,
Ambrose, how our tough English ashwood in King Harry's hand--from
our own armoury too--made all go down before it, you would never
uphold strangers and their false wares that CAN only get the better
"How thou dost harp upon sorcery!" exclaimed Ambrose. "I must tell
thee the good old man's story as 'twas told to me, and then wilt
thou own that he is as good a Christian as ourselves--ay, or better-
-and hath little cause to love the Spaniards."
"Come on, then," said Stephen. "Methought if we went towards
Westminster we might yet get where we could see the lists. Such a
rare show, Ambrose, to see the King in English armour, ay, and
Master Headley's, every inch of it, glittering in the sun, so that
one could scarce brook the dazzling, on his horse like a rock
shattering all that came against him! I warrant you the lances
cracked and shivered like faggots under old Purkis's bill-hook. And
that you should liefer pore over crabbed monkish stuff with yonder
old men! My life on it, there must be some spell!"
"No more than of old, when I was ever for book and thou for bow,"
said Ambrose; "but I'll make thee rueful for old Michael yet. Hast
heard tell of the Moors in Spain?"
"Moors--blackamoors who worship Mahound and Termagant. I saw a
blackamoor last week behind his master, a merchant of Genoa, in
Paul's Walk. He looked like the devils in the Miracle Play at
Christ Church, with blubber lips and wool for hair. I marvelled
that he did not writhe and flee when he came within the Minster, but
Ned Burgess said he was a christened man."
"Moors be not all black, neither be they all worshippers of
Mahound," replied Ambrose.
However, as Ambrose's information, though a few degrees more correct
and intelligent than his brother's, was not complete, it will be
better not to give the history of Lucas's strange visitors in his
They belonged to the race of Saracen Arabs who had brought the arts
of life to such perfection in Southern Spain, but who had received
the general appellation of Moors from those Africans who were
continually reinforcing them, and, bringing a certain Puritan
strictness of Mohammedanism with them, had done much towards
destroying the highest cultivation among them before the Spanish
kingdoms became united, and finally triumphed over them. During the
long interval of two centuries, while Castille was occupied by
internal wars, and Aragon by Italian conquests, there had been
little aggression on the Moorish borderland, and a good deal of
friendly intercourse both in the way of traffic and of courtesy, nor
had the bitter persecution and distrust of new converts then set in,
which followed the entire conquest of Granada. Thus, when Ronda was
one of the first Moorish cities to surrender, a great merchant of
the unrivalled sword-blades whose secret had been brought from
Damascus, had, with all his family, been accepted gladly when he
declared himself ready to submit and receive baptism. Miguel
Abenali was one of the sons, and though his conversion had at first
been mere compliance with his father's will and the family
interests, he had become sufficiently convinced of Christian truth
not to take part with his own people in the final struggle. Still,
however, the inbred abhorrence of idolatry had influenced his manner
of worship, and when, after half a life-time, Granada had fallen,
and the Inquisition had begun to take cognisance of new Christians
from among the Moors as well as the Jews, there were not lacking
spies to report the absence of all sacred images or symbols from the
house of the wealthy merchant, and that neither he nor any of his
family had been seen kneeling before the shrine of Nuestra Senora.
The sons of Abenali did indeed feel strongly the power of the
national reaction, and revolted from the religion which they saw
cruelly enforced on their conquered countrymen. The Moor had been
viewed as a gallant enemy, the Morisco was only a being to be
distrusted and persecuted; and the efforts of the good Bishop of
Granada, who had caused the Psalms, Gospels, and large portions of
the Breviary to be translated into Arabic, were frustrated by the
zeal of those who imagined that heresy lurked in the vernacular, and
perhaps that objections to popular practices might be strengthened.
By order of Cardinal Ximenes, these Arabic versions were taken away
and burnt; but Miguel Abenali had secured his own copy, and it was
what he there learnt that withheld him from flying to his countrymen
and resuming their faith when he found that the Christianity he had
professed for forty years was no longer a protection to him. Having
known the true Christ in the Gospel, he could not turn back to
Mohammed, even though Christians persecuted in the Name they so
The crisis came in 1507, when Ximenes, apparently impelled by the
dread that simulated conformity should corrupt the Church, quickened
the persecution of the doubtful "Nuevos Cristianos," and the Abenali
family, who had made themselves loved and respected, received
warning that they had been denounced, and that their only hope lay
The two sons, high-spirited young men, on whom religion had far less
hold than national feeling, fled to the Alpuxarra Mountains, and
renouncing the faith of the persecutors, joined their countrymen in
their gallant and desperate warfare. Their mother, who had long
been dead, had never been more than an outward Christian; but the
second wife of Abenali shared his belief and devotion with the
intelligence and force of character sometimes found among the
Moorish ladies of Spain. She and her little ones fled with him in
disguise to Cadiz, with the precious Arabic Scriptures rolled round
their waists, and took shelter with an English merchant, who had had
dealings in sword-blades with Senor Miguel, and had been entertained
by him in his beautiful Saracenic house at Ronda with Eastern
hospitality. This he requited by giving them the opportunity of
sailing for England in a vessel laden with Xeres sack; but the
misery of the voyage across the Bay of Biscay in a ship fit for
nothing but wine, was excessive, and creatures reared in the lovely
climate and refined luxury of the land of the palm and orange,
exhausted too already by the toils of the mountain journey, were
incapable of enduring it, and Abenali's brave wife and one of her
children were left beneath the waves of the Atlantic. With the one
little girl left to him, he arrived in London, and the
recommendation of his Cadiz friend obtained for him work from a
dealer in foreign weapons, who was not unwilling to procure them
nearer home. Happily for him, Moorish masters, however rich, were
always required to be proficients in their own trade; and thus
Miguel, or Michael as he was known in England, was able to maintain
himself and his child by the fabrication of blades that no one could
distinguish from those of Damascus. Their perfection was a work of
infinite skill, labour, and industry, but they were so costly, that
their price, and an occasional job of inlaying gold in other metal,
sufficed to maintain the old man and his little daughter. The
armourers themselves were sometimes forced to have recourse to him,
though unwillingly, for he was looked on with distrust and dislike
as an interloper of foreign birth, belonging to no guild. A
Biscayan or Castillian of the oldest Christian blood incurred
exactly the same obloquy from the mass of London craftsmen and
apprentices, and Lucas himself had small measure of favour, though
Dutchmen were less alien to the English mind than Spaniards, and his
trade did not lead to so much rivalry and competition.
As much of this as Ambrose knew or understood he told to Stephen,
who listened in a good deal of bewilderment, understanding very
little, but with a strong instinct that his brother's love of
learning was leading him into dangerous company. And what were they
doing on this fine May holiday, when every one ought to be out
"Well, if thou wilt know," said Ambrose, pushed hard, "there is one
Master William Tindal, who hath been doing part of the blessed
Evangel into English, and for better certainty of its correctness,
Master Michael was comparing it with his Arabic version, while I
overlooked the Latin."
"O Ambrose, thou wilt surely run into trouble. Know you not how
nurse Joan used to tell us of the burning of the Lollard books?"
"Nay, nay, Stevie, this is no heresy. 'Tis such work as the great
scholar, Master Erasmus, is busied on--ay, and he is loved and
honoured by both the Archbishops and the King's grace! Ask Tibble
Steelman what he thinks thereof."
"Tibble Steelman would think nought of a beggarly stranger calling
himself a sword cutler, and practising the craft without
prenticeship or license," said Stephen, swelling with indignation.
"Come on, Ambrose, and sweep the cobwebs from thy brain. If we
cannot get into our own tent again, we can mingle with the
outskirts, and learn how the day is going, and how our lances and
breastplates have stood where the knaves' at the Eagle have gone
like reeds and egg-shells--just as I threw George Bates, the
prentice at the Eagle yesterday, in a wrestling match at the butts
with the trick old Diggory taught me."
CHAPTER XII. A KING IN A QUAGMIRE
For my pastance
Hunt, sing, and dance,
My heart is set
All godly sport
To my comfort.
Who shall me let?
THE KING'S BALADE, attributed to Henry VIII.
Life was a rough, hearty thing in the early sixteenth century,
strangely divided between thought and folly, hardship and splendour,
misery and merriment, toil and sport.
The youths in the armourer's household had experienced little of
this as yet in their country life, but in London they could not but
soon begin to taste both sides of the matter. Master Headley
himself was a good deal taken up with city affairs, and left the
details of his business to Tibble Steelman and Kit Smallbones,
though he might always appear on the scene, and he had a wonderful
knowledge of what was going on.
The breaking-in and training of the two new country lads was
entirely left to them and to Edmund Burgess. Giles soon found that
complaints were of no avail, and only made matters harder for him,
and that Tibble Steelman and Kit Smallbones had no notion of
favouring their master's cousin.
Poor fellow, he was very miserable in those first weeks. The actual
toil, to which he was an absolute novice, though nominally three
years an apprentice, made his hands raw, and his joints full of
aches, while his groans met with nothing but laughter; and he
recognised with great displeasure, that more was laid on him than on
Stephen Birkenholt. This was partly in consideration of Stephen's
youth, partly of his ready zeal and cheerfulness. His hands might
be sore too, but he was rather proud of it than otherwise, and his
hero worship of Kit Smallbones made him run on errands, tug at the
bellows staff, or fetch whatever was called for with a bright
alacrity that won the foremen's hearts, and it was noted that he who
was really a gentleman, had none of the airs that Giles Headley
Giles began by some amount of bullying, by way of slaking his wrath
at the preference shown for one whom he continued to style a
beggarly brat picked up on the heath; but Stephen was good-humoured,
and accustomed to give and take, and they both found their level, as
well in the Dragon court as among the world outside, where the
London prentices were a strong and redoubtable body, with rude, not
to say cruel, rites of initiation among themselves, plenty of
rivalries and enmities between house and house, guild and guild, but
a united, not to say ferocious, esprit de corps against every one
else. Fisticuffs and wrestlings were the amenities that passed
between them, though always with a love of fair play so long as no
cowardice, or what was looked on as such, was shown, for there was
no mercy for the weak or weakly. Such had better betake themselves
at once to the cloister, or life was made intolerable by constant
jeers, blows, baiting and huntings, often, it must be owned,
Stephen and Giles had however passed through this ordeal. The
letter to John Birkenholt had been despatched by a trusty clerk
riding with the Judges of Assize, whom Mistress Perronel knew might
be safely trusted, and who actually brought back a letter which
might have emanated from the most affectionate of brothers, giving
his authority for the binding Stephen apprentice to the worshipful
Master Giles Headley, and sending the remainder of the boy's
Stephen was thereupon regularly bound apprentice to Master Headley.
It was a solemn affair, which took place in the Armourer's Hall in
Coleman Street, before sundry witnesses. Harry Randall, in his
soberest garb and demeanour, acted as guardian to his nephew, and
presented him, clad in the regulation prentice garb--"flat round
cap, close-cut hair, narrow falling bands, coarse side coat, close
hose, cloth stockings," coat with the badge of the Armourers'
Company, and Master Headley's own dragon's tail on the sleeve, to
which was added a blue cloak marked in like manner. The
instructions to apprentices were rehearsed, beginning, "Ye shall
constantly and devoutly on your knees every day serve God, morning
and evening"--pledging him to "avoid evil company, to make speedy
return when sent on his master's business, to be fair, gentle and
lowly in speech and carriage with all men," and the like.
Mutual promises were interchanged between him and his master,
Stephen on his knees; the indentures were signed, for Quipsome Hal
could with much ado produce an autograph signature, though his
penmanship went no further, and the occasion was celebrated by a
great dinner of the whole craft at the Armourers' Hall, to which the
principal craftsmen who had been apprentices, such as Tibble
Steelman and Kit Smallbones, were invited, sitting at a lower table,
while the masters had the higher one on the dais, and a third was
reserved for the apprentices after they should have waited on their
masters--in fact it was an imitation of the orders of chivalry,
knights, squires, and pages, and the gradation of rank was as
strictly observed as by the nobility. Giles, considering the feast
to be entirely in his honour, though the transfer of his indentures
had been made at Salisbury, endeavoured to come out in some of his
bravery, but was admonished that such presumption might be punished,
the first time, at his master's discretion, the second time, by a
whipping at the Hall of his Company, and the third time by six
months being added to the term of his apprenticeship.
Master Randall was entertained in the place of honour, where he
comported himself with great gravity, though he could not resist
alarming Stephen with an occasional wink or gesture as the boy
approached in the course of the duties of waiting at the upper
board--a splendid sight with cups and flagons of gold and silver,
with venison and capons and all that a City banquet could command
before the invention of the turtle.
There was drinking of toasts, and among the foremost was that of
Wolsey, who had freshly received his nomination of cardinal, and
whose hat was on its way from Rome--and here the jester could not
help betraying his knowledge of the domestic policy of the
household, and telling the company how it had become known that the
scarlet hat was actually on the way, but in a "varlet's budget--a
mere Italian common knave, no better than myself," quoth Quipsome
Hal, whereat his nephew trembled standing behind his chair,
forgetting that the decorous solid man in the sad-coloured gown and
well-crimped ruff, neatest of Perronel's performances, was no such
base comparison for any varlet. Hal went on to describe, however,
how my Lord of York had instantly sent to stay the messenger on his
handing at Dover, and equip him with all manner of costly silks by
way of apparel, and with attendants, such as might do justice to his
freight, "that so," he said, "men may not rate it but as a scarlet
cock's comb, since all men be but fools, and the sole question is,
who among them hath wit enough to live by his folly." Therewith he
gave a wink that so disconcerted Stephen as nearly to cause an upset
of the bowl of perfumed water that he was bringing for the washing
Master Headley, however, suspected nothing, and invited the grave
Master Randall to attend the domestic festival on the presentation
of poor Spring's effigy at the shrine of St. Julian. This was to
take place early in the morning of the 14th of September, Holy Cross
Day, the last holiday in the year that had any of the glory of
summer about it, and on which the apprentices claimed a prescriptive
right to go out nutting in St. John's Wood, and to carry home their
spoil to the lasses of their acquaintance.
Tibble Steelman had completed the figure in bronze, with a silver
collar and chain, not quite without protest that the sum had better
have been bestowed in alms. But from his master's point of view
this would have been giving to a pack of lying beggars and thieves
what was due to the holy saint; no one save Tibble, who could do and
say what he chose, could have ventured on a word of remonstrance on
such a subject; and as the full tide of iconoclasm, consequent on
the discovery of the original wording of the second commandment, had
not yet set in, Tibble had no more conscientious scruple against
making the figure, than in moulding a little straight-tailed lion
for Lord Harry Percy's helmet.
So the party in early morning heard their mass, and then, repairing
to St. Julian's pillar, while the rising sun came peeping through
the low eastern window of the vaulted Church of St. Faith, Master
Headley on his knees gave thanks for his preservation, and then put
forward his little daughter, holding on her joined hands the figure
of poor Spring, couchant, and beautifully modelled in bronze with
all Tibble's best skill.
Hal Randall and Ambrose had both come up from the little home where
Perronel presided, for the hour was too early for the jester's
absence to be remarked in the luxurious household of the Cardinal
elect, and he even came to break his fast afterwards at the Dragon
court, and held such interesting discourse with old Dame Headley on
the farthingales and coifs of Queen Katharine and her ladies, that
she pronounced him a man wondrous wise and understanding, and
declared Stephen happy in the possession of such a kinsman.
"And whither away now, youngsters?" he said, as he rose from table.
"To St. John's Wood! The good greenwood, uncle," said Ambrose.
"Thou too, Ambrose?" said Stephen joyfully. "For once away from
thine ink and thy books!"
"Ay," said Ambrose, "mine heart warms to the woodlands once more.
Uncle, would that thou couldst come."
"Would that I could, boy! We three would show these lads of
Cockayne what three foresters know of wood craft! But it may not
be. Were I once there the old blood might stir again and I might
bring you into trouble, and ye have not two faces under one hood as
I have! So fare ye well, I wish you many a bagful of nuts!"
The four months of city life, albeit the City was little bigger than
our moderate sized country towns, and far from being an unbroken
mass of houses, had yet made the two young foresters delighted to
enjoy a day of thorough country in one another's society. Little
Dennet longed to go with them, but the prentice world was far too
rude for little maidens to be trusted in it, and her father held out
hopes of going one of these days to High Park as he called it, while
Edmund and Stephen promised her all their nuts, and as many
blackberries as could be held in their flat caps.
"Giles has promised me none," said Dennet, with a pouting lip, "nor
"Why sure, little mistress, thou'lt have enough to crack thy teeth
on!" said Edmund Burgess.
"They OUGHT to bring theirs to me," returned the little heiress of
the Dragon court with an air of offended dignity that might have
suited the heiress of the kingdom.
Giles, who looked on Dennet as a kind of needful appendage to the
Dragon, a piece of property of his own, about whom he need take no
trouble, merely laughed and said, "Want must be thy master then."
But Ambrose treated her petulance in another fashion. "Look here,
pretty mistress," said he, "there dwells by me a poor little maid
nigh about thine age, who never goeth further out than to St. Paul's
minster, nor plucketh flower, nor hath sweet cake, nor manchet
bread, nor sugar-stick, nay, and scarce ever saw English hazel-nut
nor blackberry. 'Tis for her that I want to gather them."
"Is she thy master's daughter?" demanded Dennet, who could admit the
claims of another princess.
"Nay, my master hath no children, but she dwelleth near him."
"I will send her some, and likewise of mine own comfits and cakes,"
said Mistress Dennet. "Only thou must bring all to me first."
Ambrose laughed and said, "It's a bargain then, little mistress?"
"I keep my word," returned Dennet marching away, while Ambrose
obeyed a summons from good-natured Mistress Headley to have his
wallet filled with bread and cheese like those of her own prentices.
Off went the lads under the guidance of Edmund Burgess, meeting
parties of their own kind at every turn, soon leaving behind them
the City bounds, as they passed under New Gate, and by and by
skirting the fields of the great Carthusian monastery, or Charter
House, with the burial-ground given by Sir Walter Manny at the time
of the Black Death. Beyond came marshy ground through which they
had to pick their way carefully, over stepping-stones--this being no
other than what is now the Regent's Park, not yet in any degree
drained by the New River, but all quaking ground, overgrown with
rough grass and marsh-plants, through which Stephen and Ambrose
bounded by the help of stout poles with feet and eyes well used to
bogs, and knowing where to look for a safe footing, while many a
flat-capped London lad floundered about and sank over his yellow
ankles or left his shoes behind him, while lapwings shrieked pee-
wheet, and almost flapped him with their broad wings, and moorhens
dived in the dark pools, and wild ducks rose in long families.
Stephen was able to turn the laugh against his chief adversary and
rival, George Bates of the Eagle, who proposed seeking for the
lapwing's nest in hopes of a dainty dish of plovers' eggs; being too
great a cockney to remember that in September the contents of the
eggs were probably flying over the heather, as well able to shift
for themselves as their parents.
Above all things the London prentices were pugnacious, but as every
one joined in the laugh against George, and he was, besides, stuck
fast on a quaking tussock of grass, afraid to proceed or advance, he
could not have his revenge. And when the slough was passed, and the
slight rise leading to the copse of St. John's Wood was attained,
behold, it was found to be in possession of the lower sort of lads,
the black guard as they were called. They were of course quite as
ready to fight with the prentices as the prentices were with them,
and a battle royal took place, all along the front of the hazel
bushes--in which Stephen of the Dragon and George of the Eagle
fought side by side. Sticks and fists were the weapons, and there
were no very severe casualties before the prentices, being the
larger number as well as the stouter and better fed, had routed
their adversaries, and driven them off towards Harrow.
There was crackling of boughs and filling of bags, and cracking of
nuts, and wild cries in pursuit of startled hare or rabbit, and
though Ambrose and Stephen indignantly repelled the idea of St.
John's Wood being named in the same day with their native forest, it
is doubtful whether they had ever enjoyed themselves more; until
just as they were about to turn homeward, whether moved by his
hostility to Stephen, or by envy at the capful of juicy
blackberries, carefully covered with green leaves, George Bates,
rushing up from behind, shouted out "Here's a skulker! Here's one
of the black guard! Off to thy fellows, varlet!" at the same time
dealing a dexterous blow under the cap, which sent the blackberries
up into Ambrose's face. "Ha! ha!" shouted the ill-conditioned
fellow. "So much for a knave that serves rascally strangers! Here!
hand over that bag of nuts!"
Ambrose was no fighter, but in defence of the bag that was to
purchase a treat for little Aldonza, he clenched his fists, and bade
George Bates come and take them if he would. The quiet scholarly
boy was, however, no match for the young armourer, and made but poor
reply to the buffets of his adversary, who had hold of the bag, and
was nearly choking him with the string round his neck.
However, Stephen had already missed his brother, and turning round,
shouted out that the villain Bates was mauling him, and rushed back,
falling on Ambrose's assailant with a sudden well-directed pounding
that made him hastily turn about, with cries of "Two against one!"
"Not at all," said Stephen. "Stand by, Ambrose; I'll give the
coward his deserts."
In fact, though the boys were nearly of a size, George somewhat the
biggest, Stephen's country activity, and perhaps the higher spirit
of his gentle blood, generally gave him the advantage, and on this
occasion he soon reduced Bates to roar for mercy.
"Thou must purchase it!" said Stephen. "Thy bag of nuts, in return
for the berries thou hast wasted!"
Peaceable Ambrose would have remonstrated, but Stephen was
implacable. He cut the string, and captured the bag, then with a
parting kick bade Bates go after his comrades, for his Eagle was
nought but a thieving kite.
Bates made off pretty quickly, but the two brothers tarried a little
to see how much damage the blackberries had suffered, and to repair
the losses as they descended into the bog by gathering some choice
"I marvel these fine fellows 'scaped our company," said Stephen
"Are we in the right track, thinkst thou? Here is a pool I marked
not before," said Ambrose anxiously.
"Nay, we can't be far astray while we see St. Paul's spire and the
Tower full before us," said Stephen. "Plainer marks than we had at
"That may be. Only where is the safe footing?" said Ambrose. "I
wish we had not lost sight of the others!"
"Pish! what good are a pack of City lubbers!" returned Stephen.
"Don't we know a quagmire when we see one, better than they do?"
"Hark, they are shouting for us."
"Not they! That's a falconer's call. There's another whistle!
See, there's the hawk. She's going down the wind, as I'm alive,"
and Stephen began to bound wildly along, making all the sounds and
calls by which falcons were recalled, and holding up as a lure a
lapwing which he had knocked down. Ambrose, by no means so
confident in bog-trotting as his brother, stood still to await him,
hearing the calls and shouts of the falconer coming nearer, and
presently seeing a figure, flying by the help of a pole over the
pools and dykes that here made some attempt at draining the waste.
Suddenly, in mid career over one of these broad ditches, there was a
collapse, and a lusty shout for help as the form disappeared.
Ambrose instantly perceived what had happened, the leaping pole had
broken to the downfall of its owner. Forgetting all his doubts as
to bogholes and morasses, he grasped his own pole, and sprang from
tussock to tussock, till he had reached the bank of the ditch or
water-course in which the unfortunate sportsman was floundering. He
was a large, powerful man, but this was of no avail, for the slough
afforded no foothold. The further side was a steep built up of
sods, the nearer sloped down gradually, and though it was not
apparently very deep, the efforts of the victim to struggle out had
done nothing but churn up a mass of black muddy water in which he
sank deeper every moment, and it was already nearly to his shoulders
when with a cry of joy, half choked however, by the mud, he cried,
"Ha! my good lad! Are there any more of ye?"
"Not nigh, I fear," said Ambrose, beholding with some dismay the
breadth of the shoulders which were all that appeared above the
"Soh! Lie down, boy, behind that bunch of osier. Hold out thy
pole. Let me see thine hands. Thou art but a straw, but, our Lady
be my speed! Now hangs England on a pair of wrists!"
There was a great struggle, an absolute effort for life, and but for
the osier stump Ambrose would certainly have been dragged into the
water, when the man had worked along the pole, and grasping his
hands, pulled himself upwards. Happily the sides of the dyke became
harder higher up, and did not instantly yield to the pressure of his
knees, and by the time Ambrose's hands and shoulders felt nearly
wrenched from their sockets, the stem of the osier had been
attained, and in another minute, the rescued man, bareheaded,
plastered with mud, and streaming with water, sat by him on the
bank, panting, gasping, and trying to gather breath and clear his
throat from the mud he had swallowed.
"Thanks, good lad, well done," he articulated. "Those fellows!
where are they?" And feeling in his bosom, he brought out a gold
whistle suspended by a chain. "Blow it," he said, taking off the
chain, "my mouth is too full of slime."
Ambrose blew a loud shrill call, but it seemed to reach no one but
Stephen, whom he presently saw dashing towards them.
"Here is my brother coming, sir," he said, as he gave his endeavours
to help the stranger to free himself from the mud that clung to him,
and which was in some places thick enough to be scraped off with a
knife. He kept up a continual interchange of exclamations at his
plight, whistles and shouts for his people, and imprecations on
their tardiness, until Stephen was near enough to show that the hawk
had been recovered, and then he joyfully called out, "Ha! hast thou
got her? Why, flat-caps as ye are, ye put all my fellows to shame!
How now, thou errant bird, dost know thy master, or take him for a
mud wall? Kite that thou art, to have led me such a dance! And
what's your name, my brave lads? Ye must have been bred to wood-
Ambrose explained both their parentage and their present occupation,
but was apparently heeded but little. "Wot ye how to get out of
this quagmire?" was the question.
"I never was here before, sir," said Stephen; "but yonder lies the
Tower, and if we keep along by this dyke, it must lead us out
"Well said, boy, I must be moving, or the mud will dry on me, and I
shall stand here as though I were turned to stone by the Gorgon's
head! So have with thee! Go on first, master hawk-tamer. What
will bear thee will bear me!"
There was an imperative tone about him that surprised the brothers,
and Ambrose looking at him from head to foot, felt sure that it was
some great man at the least, whom it had been his hap to rescue.
Indeed, he began to have further suspicions when they came to a pool
of clearer water, beyond which was firmer ground, and the stranger
with an exclamation of joy, borrowed Stephen's cap, and, scooping up
the water with it, washed his face and head, disclosing the golden
hair and beard, fair complexion, and handsome square face he had
seen more than once before.
He whispered to Stephen "'Tis the King!"
"Ha! ha!" laughed Henry, "hast found him out, lads? Well, it may
not be the worse for ye. Pity thou shouldst not be in the Forest
still, my young falconer, but we know our good city of London to
well to break thy indentures. And thou--"
He was turning to Ambrose when further shouts were heard. The King
hallooed, and bade the boys do so, and in a few moments more they
were surrounded by the rest of the hawking party, full of dismay at
the king's condition, and deprecating his anger for having lost him.
"Yea," said Henry; "an it had not been for this good lad, ye would
never have heard more of the majesty of England! Swallowed in a
quagmire had made a new end for a king, and ye would have to brook
the little Scot."
The gentlemen who had come up were profuse in lamentations. A horse
was brought up for the king's use, and he prepared to mount, being
in haste to get into dry clothes. He turned round, however, to the
boys, and said, "I'll not forget you, my lads. Keep that!" he
added, as Ambrose, on his knee, would have given him back the
whistle, "'tis a token that maybe will serve thee, for I shall know
it again. And thou, my black-eyed lad--My purse, Howard!"
He handed the purse to Stephen--a velvet hag richly wrought with
gold, and containing ten gold angels, besides smaller money--bidding
them divide, like good brothers as he saw they were, and then
galloped off with his train.
Twilight was coming on, but following in the direction of the
riders, the boys were soon on the Islington road. The New Gate was
shut by the time they reached it, and their explanation that they
were belated after a nutting expedition would not have served them,
had not Stephen produced the sum of twopence which softened the
surliness of the guard.
It was already dark, and though curfew had not yet sounded,
preparations were making for lighting the watch-fires in the open
spaces and throwing chains across the streets, but the little door
in the Dragon court was open, and Ambrose went in with his brother
to deliver up his nuts to Dennet and claim her promise of sending a
share to Aldonza.
They found their uncle in his sober array sitting by Master Headley,
who was rating Edmund and Giles for having lost sight of them, the
latter excusing himself by grumbling out that he could not be
marking all Stephen's brawls with George Bates.
When the two wanderers appeared, relief took the form of anger, and
there were sharp demands why they had loitered. Their story was
listened to with many exclamations: Dennet jumped for joy, her
grandmother advised that the angels should be consigned to her own
safe keeping, and when Master Headley heard of Henry's scruples
about the indentures, he declared that it was a rare wise king who
knew that an honest craft was better than court favour.
"Yet mayhap he might do something for thee, friend Ambrose," added
the armourer. "Commend thee to some post in his chapel royal, or
put thee into some college, since such is thy turn. How sayst thou,
Master Randall, shall he send in this same token, and make his
"If a foo--if a plain man may be heard where the wise hath spoken,"
said Randall, "he had best abstain. Kings love not to be minded of
mishaps, and our Hal's humour is not to be reckoned on! Lay up the
toy in case of need, but an thou claim overmuch he may mind thee in
a fashion not to thy taste."
"Sure our King is of a more generous mould!" exclaimed Mrs. Headley.
"He is like other men, good mistress, just as you know how to have
him, and he is scarce like to be willing to be minded of the taste
of mire, or of floundering like a hog in a salt marsh. Ha! ha!" and
Quipsome Hal went off into such a laugh as might have betrayed his
identity to any one more accustomed to the grimaces of his
professional character, but which only infected the others with the
same contagious merriment. "Come thou home now," he said to
Ambrose; "my good woman hath been in a mortal fright about thee, and
would have me come out to seek after thee. Such are the women folk,
Master Headley. Let them have but a lad to look after, and they'll
bleat after him like an old ewe that has lost her lamb."
Ambrose only stayed for Dennet to divide the spoil, and though the
blackberries had all been lost or crushed, the little maiden kept
her promise generously, and filled the bag not only with nuts but
with three red-checked apples, and a handful of comfits, for the
poor little maid who never tasted fruit or sweets.
CHAPTER XIII. A LONDON HOLIDAY
"Up then spoke the apprentices tall
Living in London, one and all."
Another of the many holidays of the Londoners was enjoyed on the
occasion of the installation of Thomas Wolsey as Cardinal of St.
Cecilia, and Papal Legate.
A whole assembly of prelates and "lusty gallant gentlemen" rode out
to Blackheath to meet the Roman envoy, who, robed in full splendour,
with St. Peter's keys embroidered on back and breast and on the
housings of his mule, appeared at the head of a gallant train in the
papal liveries, two of whom carried the gilded pillars, the insignia
of office, and two more, a scarlet and gold-covered box or casket
containing the Cardinal's hat. Probably no such reception of the
dignity was ever prepared elsewhere, and all was calculated to give
magnificent ideas of the office of Cardinal and of the power of the
Pope to those who had not been let into the secret that the
messenger had been met at Dover; and thus magnificently fitted out
to satisfy the requirements of the butcher's son of Ipswich, and of
one of the most ostentatious of courts.
Old Gaffer Martin Fulford had muttered in his bed that such pomp had
not been the way in the time of the true old royal blood, and that
display had come in with the upstart slips of the Red Rose--as he
still chose to style the Tudors; and he maundered away about the
beauty and affability of Edward IV. till nobody could understand
him, and Perronel only threw in her "ay, grandad," or "yea, gaffer,"
when she thought it was expected of her.
Ambrose had an unfailing appetite for the sermons of Dean Colet, who
was to preach on this occasion in Westminster Abbey, and his uncle
had given him counsel how to obtain standing ground there, entering
before the procession. He was alone, his friends Tibble and Lucas
both had that part of the Lollard temper which loathed the pride and
wealth of the great political clergy, and in spite of their
admiration for the Dean they could not quite forgive his taking part
in the pomp of such a rare show.
But Ambrose's devotion to the Dean, to say nothing of youthful
curiosity, outweighed all those scruples, and as he listened, he was
carried along by the curious sermon in which the preacher likened
the orders of the hierarchy below to that of the nine orders of the
Angels, making the rank of Cardinal correspond to that of the
Seraphim, aglow with love. Of that holy flame, the scarlet robes
were the type to the spiritualised mind of Colet, while others saw
in them only the relic of the imperial purple of old Rome; and some
beheld them as the token that Wolsey was one step nearer the supreme
height that he coveted so earnestly. But the great and successful
man found himself personally addressed, bidden not to be puffed up
with his own greatness, and stringently reminded of the highest
Example of humility, shown that he that exalteth himself shall be
abased, and he that humbleth himself be exalted. The preacher
concluded with a strong personal exhortation to do righteousness and
justice alike to rich and poor, joined with truth and mercy, setting
God always before him.
The sermon ended, Wolsey knelt at the altar, and Archbishop Wareham,
who, like his immediate predecessors, held legatine authority,
performed the act of investiture, placing the scarlet hat with its
many hoops and tassels on his brother primate's head, after which a
magnificent Te Deum rang through the beautiful church, and the
procession of prelates, peers, and ecclesiastics of all ranks in
their richest array formed to escort the new Cardinal to banquet at
his palace with the King and Queen.
Ambrose, stationed by a column, let the throng rush, tumble, and
jostle one another to behold the show, till the Abbey was nearly
empty, while he tried to work out the perplexing question whether
all this pomp and splendour were truly for the glory of God, or
whether it were a delusion for the temptation of men's souls. It
was a debate on which his old and his new guides seemed to him at
issue, and he was drawn in both directions--now by the beauty,
order, and deep symbolism of the Catholic ritual, now by the
spirituality and earnestness of the men among whom he lived. At one
moment the worldly pomp, the mechanical and irreverent worship, and
the gross and vicious habits of many of the clergy repelled him; at
another the reverence and conservatism of his nature held him fast.
Presently he felt a hand on his shoulder, and started, "Lost in a
stud, as we say at home, boy," said the jester, resplendent in a
bran new motley suit. "Wilt come in to the banquet? 'Tis open
house, and I can find thee a seat without disclosing the kinship
that sits so sore on thy brother. Where is he?"
"I have not seen him this day."
"That did I," returned Randall, "as I rode by on mine ass. He was
ruffling it so lustily that I could not but give him a wink, the
which my gentleman could by no means stomach! Poor lad! Yet there
be times, Ambrose, when I feel in sooth that mine office is the only
honourable one, since who besides can speak truth? I love my lord;
he is a kind, open-handed master, and there's none I would so
willingly serve, whether by jest or earnest, but what is he but that
which I oft call him in joke--the greater fool than I, selling peace
and ease, truth and hope, this life and the next, for yonder scarlet
hat, which is after all of no more worth than this jingling head-
gear of mine."
"Deafening the spiritual ears far more, it may be," said Ambrose,
"since humiles exallaverint."
It was no small shock that there, in the midst of the nave, the
answer was a bound, like a ball, almost as high as the capital of
the column by which they stood. "There's exaltation!" said Randall
in a low voice, and Ambrose perceived that some strangers were in
sight. "Come, seek thy brother out, boy, and bring him to the
banquet. I'll speak a word to Peter Porter, and he'll let you in.
There'll be plenty of fooling all the afternoon, before my namesake
King Hal, who can afford to be an honester man in his fooling than
any about him, and whose laugh at a hearty jest is goodly to hear."
Ambrose thanked him and undertook the quest. They parted at the
great west door of the Abbey, where, by way of vindicating his own
character for buffoonery, Randall exclaimed, "Where be mine ass?"
and not seeing the animal, immediately declared, "There he is!" and
at the same time sprang upon the back and shoulders of a gaping and
astonished clown who was gazing at the rear of the procession.
The crowd applauded with shouts of coarse laughter, but a man, who
seemed to belong to the victim, broke in with an angry oath, and
"How now, sir?"
"I cry you mercy," quoth the jester; "'twas mine own ass I sought,
and if I have fallen on thine, I will but ride him to York House and
then restore him. So ho! good jackass," crossing his ankles on the
poor fellow's chest so that he could not be shaken off.
The comrade lifted a cudgel, but there was a general cry of "My Lord
Cardinal's jester, lay not a finger on him!"
But Harry Randall was not one to brook immunity on the score of his
master's greatness. In another second he was on his feet, had
wrested the staff from the hands of his astounded beast of burden,
flourished it round his head after the most approved manner of
Shirley champions at Lyndhurst fair, and called to his adversary to
It did not take many rounds before Hal's dexterity had floored his
adversary, and the shouts of "Well struck, merry fool!" "Well
played, Quipsome Hal!" were rising high when the Abbot of
Westminster's yeomen were seen making way through the throng, which
fell back in terror on either side as they came to seize on the
brawlers in their sacred precincts.
But here again my Lord Cardinal's fool was a privileged person, and
no one laid a hand on him, though his blood being up, he would,
spite of his gay attire, have enjoyed a fight on equal terms. His
quadruped donkey was brought up to him amid general applause, but
when he looked round for Ambrose, the boy had disappeared.
The better and finer the nature that displayed itself in Randall,
the more painful was the sight of his buffooneries to his nephew,
and at the first leap, Ambrose had hurried away in confusion. He
sought his brother here, there, everywhere, and at last came to the
conclusion that Stephen must have gone home to dinner. He walked
quickly across the fields separating Westminster from the City of
London, hoping to reach Cheapside before the lads of the Dragon
should have gone out again; but just as he was near St. Paul's,
coming round Amen Corner, he heard the sounds of a fray. "Have at
the country lubbers! Away with the moonrakers! Flat-caps, come
on!" "Hey! lads of the Eagle! Down with the Dragons! Adders
There was a kicking, struggling mass of blue backs and yellow legs
before him, from out of which came "Yah! Down with the Eagles!
Cowards! Kites! Cockneys!" There were plenty of boys, men, women
with children in their arms hallooing on, "Well done, Eagle!" "Go
The word Dragon filled the quiet Ambrose with hot impulse to defend
his brother. All his gentle, scholarly habits gave way before that
cry, and a shout that he took to be Stephen's voice in the midst of
He was fairly carried out of himself, and doubling his fists, fell
on the back of the nearest boys, intending to break through to his
brother, and he found an unexpected ally. Will Wherry's voice
called out, "Have with you, comrade!"--and a pair of hands and arms
considerably stouter and more used to fighting than his own, began
to pommel right and left with such good will that they soon broke
through to the aid of their friends; and not before it was time, for
Stephen, Giles, and Edmund, with their backs against the wall, were
defending themselves with all their might against tremendous odds;
and just as the new allies reached them, a sharp stone struck Giles
in the eye, and levelled him with the ground, his head striking
against the wall. Whether it were from alarm at his fall, or at the
unexpected attack in the rear, or probably from both causes, the
assailants dispersed in all directions without waiting to perceive
how slender the succouring force really was.
Edmund and Stephen were raising up the unlucky Giles, who lay quite
insensible, with blood pouring from his eye. Ambrose tried to wipe
it away, and there were anxious doubts whether the eye itself were
safe. They were some way from home, and Giles was the biggest and
heaviest of them all.
"Would that Kit Smallbones were here!" said Stephen, preparing to
take the feet, while Edmund took the shoulders.
"Look here," said Will Wherry, pulling Ambrose's sleeve, "our yard
is much nearer, and the old Moor, Master Michael, is safe to know
what to do for him. That sort of cattle always are leeches. He
wiled the pain from my thumb when 'twas crushed in our printing
press. Mayhap if he put some salve to him, he might get home on his
Edmund listened. "There's reason in that," he said. "Dost know
this leech, Ambrose?"
"I know him well. He is a good old man, and wondrous wise. Nay, no
black arts; but he saith his folk had great skill in herbs and the
like, and though he be no physician by trade, he hath much of their
"Have with thee, then," returned Edmund, "the rather that Giles is
no small weight, and the guard might come on us ere we reached the
"Or those cowardly rogues of the Eagle might set on us again," added
Stephen; and as they went on their way to Warwick Inner Yard, he
explained that the cause of the encounter had been that Giles had
thought fit to prank himself in his father's silver chain, and thus
George Bates, always owing the Dragon a grudge, and rendered
specially malicious since the encounter on Holy Rood Day, had raised
the cry against him, and caused all the flat-caps around to make a
rush at the gaud as lawful prey.
"'Tis clean against prentice statutes to wear one, is it not?" asked
"Ay," returned Stephen; "yet none of us but would stand up for our
own comrade against those meddling fellows of the Eagle."
"But," added Edmund, "we must beware the guard, for if they looked
into the cause of the fray, our master might be called on to give
Giles a whipping in the Company's hall, this being a second offence
of going abroad in these vanities."
Ambrose went on before to prepare Miguel Abenali, and entreat his
good offices, explaining that the youth's master, who was also his
kinsman, would be sure to give handsome payment for any good offices
to him. He scarcely got out half the words; the grand old Arab
waved his hand and said, "When the wounded is laid before the tent
of Ben Ali, where is the question of recompense? Peace be with
thee, my son! Bring him hither. Aldonza, lay the carpet yonder,
and the cushions beneath the window, where I may have light to look
to his hurt."
Therewith he murmured a few words in an unknown tongue, which, as
Ambrose understood, were an invocation to the God of Abraham to
bless his endeavours to heal the stranger youth, but which happily
were spoken before the arrival of the others, who would certainly
have believed them an incantation.
The carpet though worn threadbare, was a beautiful old Moorish rug,
once glowing with brilliancy, and still rich in colouring, and the
cushion was of thick damask faded to a strange pale green. All in
that double-stalled partition, once belonging to the great earl's
war-horses, was scrupulously clean, for the Christian Moor had
retained some of the peculiar virtues born of Mohammedanism and of
high civilisation. The apprentice lads tramped in much as if they
had been entering a wizard's cave, though Stephen had taken care to
assure Edmund of his application of the test of holy water.
Following the old man's directions, Edmund and Stephen deposited
their burden on the rug. Aldonza brought some warm water, and
Abenali washed and examined the wound, Aldonza standing by and
handing him whatever he needed, now and then assisting with her
slender brown hands in a manner astonishing to the youths, who stood
by anxious and helpless, white their companion began to show signs
of returning life.
Abenali pronounced that the stone had missed the eyeball, but the
cut and bruise were such as to require constant bathing, and the
blow on the head was the more serious matter, for when the patient
tried to raise himself he instantly became sick and giddy, so that
it would be wise to leave him where he was. This was much against
the will of Edmund Burgess, who shared all the prejudices of the
English prentice against the foreigner--perhaps a wizard and rival
in trade; but there was no help for it, and he could only insist
that Stephen should mount guard over the bed until he had reported
to his master, and returned with his orders. Therewith he departed,
with such elaborate thanks and courtesies to the host, as betrayed a
little alarm in the tall apprentice, who feared not quarter-staff,
nor wrestler, and had even dauntlessly confronted the masters of his
Stephen, sooth to say, was not very much at ease; everything around
had such a strange un-English aspect, and he imploringly muttered,
"Bide with me, Am!" to which his brother willingly assented, being
quite as comfortable in Master Michael's abode as by his aunt's own
Giles meanwhile lay quiet, and then, as his senses became less
confused, and he could open one eye, he looked dreamily about him,
and presently began to demand where he was, and what had befallen
him, grasping at the hand of Ambrose as if to hold fast by something
familiar; but he still seemed too much dazed to enter into the
explanation, and presently murmured something about thirst. Aldonza
came softly up with a cup of something cool. He looked very hard at
her, and when Ambrose would have taken it from her hand to give it
to him, he said, "Nay! SHE!"
And SHE, with a sweet smile in her soft, dark, shady eyes, and on
her full lips, held the cup to his lips far more daintily and
dexterously than either of his boy companions could have done; then
when he moaned and said his head and eye pained him, the white-
bearded elder came and bathed his brow with the soft sponge. It
seemed all to pass before him like a dream, and it was not much
otherwise with his unhurt companions, especially Stephen, who
followed with wonder the movements made by the slippered feet of
father and daughter upon the mats which covered the stone flooring
of the old stable. The mats were only of English rushes and flags,
and had been woven by Abenali and the child; but loose rushes
strewing the floor were accounted a luxury in the Forest, and even
at the Dragon court the upper end of the hall alone had any
covering. Then the water was heated, and all such other operations
carried on over a curious round vessel placed over charcoal; the
window and the door had dark heavy curtains; and a matted partition
cut off the further stall, no doubt to serve as Aldonza's chamber.
Stephen looked about for something to assure him that the place
belonged to no wizard enchanter, and was glad to detect a large
white cross on the wall, with a holy-water stoup beneath it, but of
images there were none.
It seemed to him a long time before Master Headley's ruddy face,
full of anxiety, appeared at the door.
Blows were, of course, no uncommon matter; perhaps so long as no
permanent injury was inflicted, the master-armourer had no objection
to anything that might knock the folly out of his troublesome young
inmate; but Edmund had made him uneasy for the youth's eye, and
still more so about the quarters he was in, and he had brought a
mattress and a couple of men to carry the patient home, as well as
Steelman, his prime minister, to advise him.
He had left all these outside, however, and advanced, civilly and
condescendingly thanking the sword-cutler, in perfect ignorance that
the man who stood before him had been born to a home that was an
absolute palace compared with the Dragon court. The two men were a
curious contrast. There stood the Englishman with his sturdy form
inclining, with age, to corpulence, his broad honest face telling of
many a civic banquet, and his short stubbly brown grizzled heard;
his whole air giving a sense of worshipful authority and weight; and
opposite to him the sparely made, dark, thin, aquiline-faced, white-
bearded Moor, a far smaller man in stature, yet with a patriarchal
dignity, refinement, and grace in port and countenance, belonging as
it were to another sphere.
Speaking English perfectly, though with a foreign accent, Abenali
informed Master Headley that his young kinsman would by Heaven's
blessing soon recover without injury to the eye, though perhaps a
scar might remain.
Mr. Headley thanked him heartily for his care, and said that he had
brought men to carry the youth home, if he could not walk; and then
he went up to the couch with a hearty "How now, Giles? So thou hast
had hard measure to knock the foolery out of thee, my poor lad. But
come, we'll have thee home, and my mother will see to thee."
"I cannot walk," said Giles, heavily, hardly raising his eyes, and
when he was told that two of the men waited to bear him home, he
only entreated to be let alone. Somewhat sharply, Mr. Headley
ordered him to sit up and make ready, but when he tried to do so, he
sank back with a return of sickness and dizziness.
Abenali thereupon intreated that he might be left for that night,
and stepping out into the court so as to be unheard by the patient,
explained that the brain had had a shock, and that perfect quiet for
some hours to come was the only way to avert a serious illness,
possibly dangerous. Master Headley did not like the alternative at
all, and was a good deal perplexed. He beckoned to Tibble Steelman,
who had all this time been talking to Lucas Hansen, and now came up
prepared with his testimony that this Michael was a good man and
true, a godly one to boot, who had been wealthy in his own land and
was a rare artificer in his own craft.
"Though he hath no license to practise it here," threw in Master
Headley, sotto voce; but he accepted the assurance that Michael was
a good Christian, and, with his daughter, regularly went to mass;
and since better might not be, he reluctantly consented to leave
Giles under his treatment, on Lucas reiterating the assurance that
he need have no fears of magic or foul play of any sort. He then
took the purse that hung at his girdle, and declared that Master
Michael (the title of courtesy was wrung from him by the stately
appearance of the old man) must be at no charges for his cousin.
But Abenali with a grace that removed all air of offence from his
manner, returned thanks for the intention, but declared that it
never was the custom of the sons of Ali to receive reward for the
hospitality they exercised to the stranger within their gates. And
so it was that Master Headley, a good deal puzzled, had to leave his
apprentice under the roof of the old sword-cutler for the night at
"'Tis passing strange," said he, as he walked back; "I know not what
my mother will say, but I wish all may be right. I feel--I feel as
if I had left the lad Giles with Abraham under the oak tree, as we
saw him in the miracle play!"
This description did not satisfy Mrs. Headley, indeed she feared
that her son was likewise bewitched; and when, the next morning,
Stephen, who had been sent to inquire for the patient, reported him
better, but still unable to be moved, since he could not lift his
head without sickness, she became very anxious. Giles was
transformed in her estimate from a cross-grained slip to poor Robin
Headley's boy, the only son of a widow, and nothing would content
her but to make her son conduct her to Warwick Inner Yard to inspect
matters, and carry thither a precious relic warranted proof against
It was with great trepidation that the good old dame ventured, but
the result was that she was fairly subdued by Abenali's patriarchal
dignity. She had never seen any manners to equal his, not EVEN when
King Edward the Fourth had come to her father's house at the
Barbican, chucked her under the chin, and called her a dainty duck!
It was Aldonza, however, who specially touched her feelings. Such a
sweet little wench, with the air of being bred in a kingly or
knightly court, to be living there close to the very dregs of the
city was a scandal and a danger--speaking so prettily too, and
knowing how to treat her elders. She would be a good example for
Dennet, who, sooth to say, was getting too old for spoilt-child
sauciness to be always pleasing, while as to Giles, he could not be
in better quarters. Mrs. Headley, well used to the dressing of the
burns and bruises incurred in the weapon smiths' business, could not
but confess that his eye had been dealt with as skilfully as she
could have done it herself.
CHAPTER XIV. THE KNIGHT OF THE BADGER