Part 4 out of 7
"I am a gentleman of a company."
Giles Headley's accident must have amounted to concussion of the
brain, for though he was able to return to the Dragon in a couple of
days, and the cut over his eye was healing fast, he was weak and
shaken, and did not for several weeks recover his usual health. The
noise and heat of the smithy were distressing to him, and there was
no choice but to let him lie on settles, sun himself on the steps,
and attempt no work.
It had tamed him a good deal. Smallbones said the letting out of
malapert blood was wholesome, and others thought him still under a
spell; but he seemed to have parted with much of his arrogance,
either because he had not spirits for self-assertion, or because
something of the grand eastern courtesy of Abenali had impressed
him. For intercourse with the Morisco had by no means ceased.
Giles went, as long as the injury required it, to have the hurt
dressed, and loitered in the Inner Yard a long time every day, often
securing some small dainty for Aldonza--an apple, a honey cake, a
bit of marchpane, a dried plum, or a comfit. One day he took her a
couple of oranges. To his surprise, as he entered, Abenali looked
up with a strange light in his eyes, and exclaimed, "My son! thy
scent is to my nostrils as the court of my father's house!" Then, as
he beheld the orange, he clasped his hands, took it in them, and
held it to his breast, pouring out a chant in an unknown tongue,
while the tears flowed down his cheeks.
"Father, father!" Aldonza cried, terrified, while Giles marvelled
whether the orange worked on him like a spell. But he perceived
their amazement, and spoke again in English, "I thank thee, my son!
Thou hast borne me back for a moment to the fountain in my father's
house, where ye grow, ye trees of the unfading leaf, the spotless
blossom, and golden fruit! Ah Ronda! Ronda! Land of the sunshine,
the deep blue sky, and snow-topped hills! Land where are the graves
of my father and mother! How pines and sickens the heart of the
exile for thee! O happy they who died beneath the sword or flame,
for they knew not the lonely home-longing of the exile. Ah! ye
golden fruits! One fragrant breath of thee is as a waft of the joys
of my youth! Are ye foretastes of the fruits of Paradise, the true
home to which I may yet come, though I may never, never see the
towers and hills of Ronda more?"
Giles knew not what to make of this outburst. He kept it to himself
as too strange to be told. The heads of the family were willing
that he should carry these trifles to the young child of the man who
would accept no reward for his hospitality. Indeed, Master Headley
spent much consideration on how to recompense the care bestowed on
Giles suggested that Master Michael had just finished the most
beautiful sword blade he had ever seen, and had not yet got a
purchaser for it; it was far superior to the sword Tibble had just
completed for my Lord of Surrey. Thereat the whole court broke into
an outcry; that any workman should be supposed to turn out any kind
of work surpassing Steelman's was rank heresy, and Master Headley
bluntly told Giles that he knew not what he was talking of! He
might perhaps purchase the blade by way of courtesy and return of
kindness, but--good English workmanship for him!
However, Giles was allowed to go and ask the price of the blade, and
bring it to be looked at. When he returned to the court he found,
in front of the building where finished suits were kept for display,
a tall, thin, wiry, elderly man, deeply bronzed, and with a scar on
his brow. Master Headley and Tibble were both in attendance, Tib
measuring the stranger, and Stephen, who was standing at a
respectful distance, gave Giles the information that this was the
famous Captain of Free-lances, Sir John Fulford, who had fought in
all the wars in Italy, and was going to fight in them again, but
wanted a suit of "our harness."
The information was hardly needed, for Sir John, in a voice loud
enough to lead his men to the battle-field, and with all manner of
strong asseverations in all sorts of languages, was explaining the
dints and blows that had befallen the mail he had had from Master
Headley eighteen years ago, when he was but a squire; how his helmet
had endured tough blows, and saved his head at Novara, but had been
crushed like an egg shell by a stone from the walls at Barletta,
which had nearly been his own destruction: and how that which he at
present wore (beautifully chased and in a classical form) was taken
from a dead Italian Count on the field of Ravenna, but always sat
amiss on him; and how he had broken his good sword upon one of the
rascally Swiss only a couple of months ago at Marignano. Having
likewise disabled his right arm, and being well off through the
payment of some ransoms, he had come home partly to look after his
family, and partly to provide himself with a full suit of English
harness, his present suit being a patchwork of relics of numerous
battle-fields. Only one thing he desired, a true Spanish sword, not
only Toledo or Bilboa in name, but nature. He had seen execution
done by the weapons of the soldiers of the Great Captain, and been
witness to the endurance of their metal, and this made him demand
whether Master Headley could provide him with the like.
Giles took the moment for stepping forward and putting Abenali's
work into the master's hand. The Condottiere was in raptures. He
pronounced it as perfect a weapon as Gonzalo de Cordova himself
could possess; showed off its temper and his own dexterity by
piercing and cutting up an old cuirass, and invited the bystanders
to let him put it to further proof by letting him slice through an
apple placed on the open palm of the hand.
Giles's friendship could not carry him so far as to make the
venture; Kit Smallbones observed that he had a wife and children,
and could not afford to risk his good right hand on a wandering
soldier's bravado; Edmund was heard saying, "Nay, nay, Steve, don't
be such a fool," but Stephen was declaring he would not have the
fellow say that English lads hung back from what rogues of France
and Italy would dare.
"No danger for him who winceth not," said the knight.
Master Headley, a very peaceful citizen in his composition in spite
of his trade, was much inclined to forbid Stephen from the
experiment, but he refrained, ashamed and unwilling to daunt a high
spirit; and half the household, eager for the excitement, rushed to
the kitchen in quest of apples, and brought out all the women to
behold, and add a clamour of remonstrance. Sir John, however,
insisted that they should all be ordered back again. "Not that the
noise and clamour of women folk makes any odds to me," said the grim
old warrior, "I've seen too many towns taken for that, but it might
make the lad queasy, and cost him a thumb or so."
Of course this renewed the dismay and excitement, and both Tibble
and his master entreated Stephen to give up the undertaking if he
felt the least misgiving as to his own steadiness, arguing that they
should not think him any more a craven than they did Kit Smallbones
or Edmund Burgess. But Stephen's mind was made up, his spirit was
high, and he was resolved to go through with it.
He held out his open hand, a rosy-checked apple was carefully laid
on it. The sword flashed through the air--divided in half the apple
which remained on Stephen's palm. There was a sharp shriek from a
window, drowned in the acclamations of the whole court, while the
Captain patted Stephen on the shoulder, exclaiming, "Well done, my
lad. There's the making of a tall fellow in thee! If ever thou art
weary of making weapons and wouldst use them instead, seek out John
Fulford, of the Badger troop, and thou shalt have a welcome. Our
name is the Badger, because there's no troop like us for digging out
mines beneath the walls."
A few months ago such an invitation would have been bliss to
Stephen. Now he was bound in all honour and duty to his master, and
could only thank the knight of the Badger, and cast a regretful eye
at him, as he drank a cup of wine, and flung a bag of gold and
silver, supplemented by a heavy chain, to Master Headley, who
prudently declined working for Free Companions, unless he were paid
beforehand; and, at the knight's request, took charge of a
sufficient amount to pay his fare back again to the Continent. Then
mounting a tall, lean, bony horse, the knight said he should call
for his armour on returning from Somerset, and rode off, while
Stephen found himself exalted as a hero in the eyes of his
companions for an act common enough at feats of arms among modern
cavalry, but quite new to the London flat-caps. The only sufferer
was little Dennet, who had burst into an agony of crying at the
sight, needed that Stephen should spread out both hands before her,
and show her the divided apple, before she would believe that his
thumb was in its right place, and at night screamed out in her sleep
that the ill-favoured man was cutting off Stephen's hands.
The sword was left behind by Sir John in order that it might be
fitted with a scabbard and belt worthy of it; and on examination,
Master Headley and Tibble both confessed that they could produce
nothing equal to it in workmanship, though Kit looked with contempt
at the slight weapon of deep blue steel, with lines meandering on it
like a watered silk, and the upper part inlaid with gold wire in
exquisite arabesque patterns. He called it a mere toy, and muttered
something about sorcery, and men who had been in foreign parts not
thinking honest weight of English steel good enough for them.
Master Headley would not trust one of the boys with the good silver
coins that had been paid as the price of the sword--French crowns
and Milanese ducats, with a few Venetian gold bezants--but he bade
them go as guards to Tibble, for it was always a perilous thing to
carry a sum of money through the London streets. Tibble was not an
unwilling messenger. He knew Master Michael to be somewhat of his
own way of thinking, and he was a naturally large-minded man who
could appreciate skill higher than his own without jealousy.
Indeed, he and his master held a private consultation on the mode of
establishing a connection with Michael and profiting by his ability.
To have lodged him at the Dragon court and made him part of the
establishment might have seemed the most obvious way, but the dogged
English hatred and contempt of foreigners would have rendered this
impossible, even if Abenali himself would have consented to give up
his comparative seclusion and live in a crowd and turmoil.
But he was thankful to receive and execute orders from Master
Headley, since so certain a connection would secure Aldonza from
privation such as the child had sometimes had to endure in the
winter; when, though the abstemious Eastern nature needed little
food, there was great suffering from cold and lack of fuel. And
Tibble moreover asked questions and begged for instructions in some
of the secrets of the art. It was an effort to such a prime
artificer as Steelman to ask instruction from any man, especially a
foreigner, but Tibble had a nature of no common order, and set
perfection far above class prejudice; and moreover, he felt Abenali
to be one of those men who had their inner eyes devotedly fixed on
the truth, though little knowing where the quest would lead them.
On his side Abenali underwent a struggle. "Woe is me!" he said.
"Wottest thou, my son, that the secrets of the sword of light and
swiftness are the heritage that Abdallah Ben Ali brought from
Damascus in the hundred and fifty-third year of the flight of him
whom once I termed the prophet; nor have they departed from our
house, but have been handed on from father to son. And shall they
be used in the wars of the stranger and the Christian?"
"I feared it might be thus," said Tibble.
"And yet," went on the old man, as if not hearing him, "wherefore
should I guard the secret any longer? My sons? Where are they?
They brooked not the scorn and hatred of the Castillian which
poisoned to them the new faith. They cast in their lot with their
own people, and that their bones may lie bleaching on the mountains
is the best lot that can have befallen the children of my youth and
hope. The house of Miguel Abenali is desolate and childless, save
for the little maiden who sits by my hearth in the land of my exile!
Why should I guard it longer for him who may wed her, and whom I may
never behold? The will of Heaven be done! Young man, if I bestow
this knowledge on thee, wilt thou swear to be as a father to my
daughter, and to care for her as thine own?"
It was a good while since Tibble had been called a young man, and as
he listened to the flowing Eastern periods in their foreign
enunciation, he was for a moment afraid that the price of the secret
was that he should become the old Moor's son-in-law! His seared and
scarred youth had precluded marriage, and he entertained the low
opinion of women frequent in men of superior intellect among the
uneducated. Besides, the possibilities of giving umbrage to Church
authorities were dawning on him, and he was not willing to form any
domestic ties, so that in every way such a proposition would have
been unwelcome to him. But he had no objection to pledge himself to
fatherly guardianship of the pretty child in case of a need that
might never arise. So he gave the promise, and became a pupil of
Abenali, visiting Warwick Inner Yard with his master's consent
whenever he could be spared, while the workmanship at the Dragon
began to profit thereby.
The jealousy of the Eagle was proportionately increased. Alderman
Itillyeo, the head of the Eagle, was friendly enough to Mr. Headley,
but it was undeniable that they were the rival armourers of London,
dividing the favours of the Court equally between them, and the
bitterness of the emulation increased the lower it went in the
establishment. The prentices especially could hardly meet without
gibes and sneers, if nothing worse, and Stephen's exploit had a
peculiar flavour because it was averred that no one at the Eagle
would have done the like.
But it was not till the Sunday that Ambrose chanced to hear of the
feat, at which he turned quite pale, but he was prouder of it than
any one else, and although he rejoiced that he had not seen it
performed, he did not fail to boast of it at home, though Perronel
began by declaring that she did not care for the mad pranks of
roistering prentices; but presently she paused, as she stirred her
grandfather's evening posset, and said, "What saidst thou was the
strange soldier's name?"
"Fulford--Sir John Fulford" said Ambrose. "What? I thought not of
it, is not that Gaffer's name?"
"Fulford, yea! Mayhap--" and Perronel sat down and gave an odd sort
of laugh of agitation--"mayhap 'tis mine own father."
"Shouldst thou know him, good aunt?" cried Ambrose, much excited.
"Scarce," she said. "I was not seven years old when he went to the
wars--if so be he lived through the battle--and he reeked little of
me, being but a maid. I feared him greatly and so did my mother.
'Twas happier with only Gaffer! Where saidst thou he was gone?"
Ambrose could not tell, but he undertook to bring Stephen to answer
all queries on the subject. His replies that the Captain was gone
in quest of his family to Somersetshire settled the matter, since
there had been old Martin Fulford's abode, and there John Fulford
had parted with his wife and father. They did not, however, tell
the old man of the possibility of his son's being at home, he had
little memory, and was easily thrown into a state of agitation;
besides, it was a doubtful matter how the Condottiere would feel as
to the present fortunes of the family. Stephen was to look out for
his return in quest of his suit of armour, inform him of his
father's being alive, and show him the way to the little house by
the Temple Gardens; but Perronel gave the strictest injunctions that
her husband's profession should not be explained. It would be quite
enough to say that he was of the Lord Cardinal's household.
Stephen watched, but the armour was finished and Christmas passed by
before anything was seen of the Captain. At last, however, he did
descend on the Dragon court, looking so dilapidated that Mr. Headley
rejoiced in the having received payment beforehand. He was louder
voiced and fuller of strange oaths than ever, and in the utmost
haste, for he had heard tidings that "there was to be a lusty game
between the Emperor and the Italians, and he must have his share."
Stephen made his way up to speak to him, and was received with "Ha,
my gallant lad! Art weary of hammer and anvil? Wouldst be a brave
Badger, slip thine indentures, and hear helm and lance ring in good
"Not so, sir," said Stephen, "but I have been bidden to ask if thou
hast found thy father?"
"What's that to thee, stripling? When thou hast cut thy wisdom
teeth, thou'lt know old fathers be not so easy found. 'Twas a wild
goose chase, and I wot not what moved me to run after it. I met
jolly comrades enough, bumpkins that could drink with an honest
soldier when they saw him, but not one that ever heard the name of
"Sir," said Stephen, "I know an old man named Fulford. His
granddaughter is my uncle's wife, and they dwell by the Temple."
The intelligence seemed more startling and less gratifying than
Stephen had expected. Sir John demanded whether they were poor, and
declared that he had better have heard of them when his purse was
fuller. He had supposed that his wife had given him up and found a
fresh mate, and when he heard of her death, he made an exclamation
which might be pity, but had in it something of relief. He showed
more interest about his old father; but as to his daughter, if she
had been a lad now, a' might have been a stout comrade by this time,
ready to do the Badger credit. Yea, his poor Kate was a good lass,
but she was only a Flemish woman and hadn't the sense to rear aught
but a whining little wench, who was of no good except to turn fools'
heads, and she was wedded and past all that by this time.
Stephen explained that she was wedded to one of the Lord Cardinal's
"Ho!" said the Condottiere, pausing, "be that the butcher's boy that
is pouring out his gold to buy scarlet hats, if not the three
crowns. 'Tis no bad household wherein to have a footing. Saidst
thou I should find my wench and the old Gaffer there?"
Stephen had to explain, somewhat to the disappointment of the
Captain, who had, as it appeared, in the company of three or four
more adventurous spirits like himself, taken a passage in a vessel
lying off Gravesend, and had only turned aside to take up his new
armour and his deposit of passage-money. He demurred a little, he
had little time to spare, and though, of course, he could take boat
at the Temple Stairs, and drop down the river, he observed that it
would have been a very different thing to go home to the old man
when he first came back with a pouch full of ransoms and plunder,
whereas now he had barely enough to carry him to the place of
meeting with his Badgers. And there was the wench too--he had
fairly forgotten her name. Women were like she wolves for greed
when they had a brood of whelps.
Stephen satisfied him that there was no danger on that score, and
heard him muttering, that it was no harm to secure a safe harbour in
case a man hadn't the luck to be knocked on the head ere he grew too
old to trail a pike. And he would fain see the old man.
So permission was asked for Stephen to show the way to Master
Randall's, and granted somewhat reluctantly, Master Headley saying,
"I'll have thee back within an hour, Stephen Birkenholt, and look
thou dost not let thy brain be set afire with this fellow's windy
talk of battles and sieges, and deeds only fit for pagans and
"Ay!" said Tibble, perhaps with a memory of the old fable, "better
be the trusty mastiff than the wolf."
And like the wolf twitting the mastiff with his chain, the soldier
was no sooner outside the door of the Dragon court before he began
to express his wonder how a lad of mettle could put up with a flat
cap, a blue gown, and the being at the beck and call of a greasy
burgher, when a bold, handsome young knave like him might have the
world before him and his stout pike.
Stephen was flattered, but scarcely tempted. The hard selfishness
and want of affection of the Condottiere shocked him, while he
looked about, hoping some of his acquaintance would see him in
company with this tall figure clanking in shining armour, and with a
knightly helmet and gilt spurs. The armour, new and brilliant,
concealed the worn and shabby leathern dress beneath, and gave the
tall, spare figure a greater breadth, diminishing the look of a
hungry wolf which Sir John Fulford's aspect suggested. However, as
he passed some of the wealthier stalls, where the apprentices,
seeing the martial figure, shouted, "What d'ye lack, sir knight?"
and offered silk and velvet robes and mantles, gay sword knots, or
even rich chains, under all the clamour, Stephen heard him swearing
by St. George what a place this would be for a sack, if his Badgers
were behind him.
"If that poor craven of a Warbeck had had a spark of valour in him,"
quoth he, as he passed a stall gay with bright tankards and flagons,
"we would have rattled some of that shining gear about the lazy
citizens' ears! He, jolly King Edward's son! I'll never give faith
to it! To turn his back when there was such a booty to be had for
"He might not have found it so easy. Our trainbands are sturdy
enough," said Stephen, whose esprit de corps was this time on the
Londoners' side, but the knight of the Badger snapped his fingers,
and said, "So much for your burgher trainbands! All they be good
for with their show of fight is to give honest landsknechts a good
reason to fall on to the plunder, if so be one is hampered by a
squeamish prince. But grammercy to St. George, there be not many of
that sort after they he once fleshed!"
Perhaps a year ago, when fresh from the Forest, Stephen might have
been more captivated by the notion of adventure and conquest. Now
that he had his place in the community and looked on a civic
position with wholesome ambition, Fulford's longings for havoc in
these peaceful streets made his blood run cold. He was glad when
they reached their destination, and he saw Perronel with bare arms,
taking in some linen cuffs and bands from a line across to the
opposite wall. He could only call out, "Good naunt, here he be!"
Perronel turned round, the colour rising in her cheeks, with an
obeisance, but trembling a good deal. "How now, wench? Thou art
grown a buxom dame. Thou makst an old man of me," said the soldier
with a laugh. "Where's my father? I have not the turning of a cup
to stay, for I'm come home poor as a cat in a plundered town, and am
off to the wars again; but hearing that the old man was nigh at
hand, I came this way to see him, and let thee know thou art a
knight's daughter. Thou art indifferent comely, girl, what's thy
name? but not the peer of thy mother when I wooed her as one of the
bonny lasses of Bruges."
He gave a kind of embrace, while she gave a kind of gasp of
"Welcome, sir," and glanced somewhat reproachfully at Stephen for
not having given her more warning. The cause of her dismay was
plain as the Captain, giving her no time to precede him, strode into
the little chamber, where Hal Randall, without his false beard or
hair, and in his parti-coloured hose, was seated by the cupboard-
like bed, assisting old Martin Fulford to take his midday meal.
"Be this thine husband, girl? Ha! ha! He's more like a jolly friar
come in to make thee merry when the good man is out!" exclaimed the
visitor, laughing loudly at his own rude jest; but heeding little
either Hal's appearance or his reply, as he caught the old man's
bewildered eyes, and heard his efforts to utter his name.
For eighteen years had altered John Fulford less than either his
father or his daughter, and old Martin recognised him instantly, and
held out the only arm he could use, while the knight, softened,
touched, and really feeling more natural affection than Stephen had
given him credit for, dropped on his knee, breaking into indistinct
mutterings with rough but hearty greetings, regretting that he had
not found his father sooner, when his pouch was full, lamenting the
change in him, declaring that he must hurry away now, but promising
to come back with sacks of Italian ducats to provide for the old
Those who could interpret the imperfect utterance, now further
choked by tears and agitation, knew that there was a medley of
broken rejoicings, blessings, and weepings, in the midst of which
the soldier, glad perhaps to end a scene where he became
increasingly awkward and embarrassed, started up, hastily kissed the
old man on each of his withered cheeks, gave another kiss to his
daughter, threw her two Venetian ducats, bidding her spend them for
the old man, and he would bring a pouchful more next time, and
striding to the door, bade Stephen call a boat to take him down to
Randall, who had in the meantime donned his sober black gown in the
inner chamber, together with a dark hood, accompanied his newly
found father-in-law down the river, and Stephen would fain have gone
too, but for the injunction to return within the hour.
Perronel had hurried back to her grandfather's side to endeavour to
compose him after the shock of gladness. But it had been too much
for his enfeebled powers. Another stroke came on before the day was
over, and in two or three days more old Martin Fulford was laid to
rest, and his son's ducats were expended on masses for his soul's
CHAPTER XV. HEAVE HALF A BRICK AT HIM
"For strangers then did so increase,
By reason of King Henry's queen,
And privileged in many a place
To dwell, as was in London seen.
Poor tradesmen had small dealing then
And who but strangers bore the bell,
Which was a grief to Englishmen
To see them here in London dwell."
Ill May Day, by CHURCHILL, a Contemporary Poet.
Time passed on, and Edmund Burgess, who had been sent from York to
learn the perfection of his craft, completed his term and returned
to his home, much regretted in the Dragon court, where his good
humour and good sense had generally kept the peace, both within and
Giles Headley was now the eldest prentice. He was in every way
greatly improved, thoroughly accepting his position, and showing
himself quite ready both to learn and to work; but he had not the
will or the power of avoiding disputes with outsiders, or turning
them aside with a merry jest; and rivalries and quarrels with the
armoury at the Eagle began to increase. The Dragon, no doubt,
turned out finer workmanship, and this the Eagle alleged was wholly
owing to nefarious traffic with the old Spanish or Moorish sorcerer
in Warwick Inner Yard, a thing unworthy of honest Englishmen. This
made Giles furious, and the cry never failed to end in a fight, in
which Stephen supported the cause of the one house, and George Bates
and his comrades of the other.
It was the same with even the archery at Mile End, where the butts
were erected, and the youth contended with the long bow, which was
still considered as the safeguard of England. King Henry often
looked in on these matches, and did honour to the winners. One
match there was in especial, on Mothering Sunday, when the champions
of each guild shot against one another at such a range that it
needed a keen eye to see the popinjay--a stuffed bird at which they
Stephen was one of these, his forest lore having always given him an
advantage over many of the others. He even was one of the last
three who were to finish the sport by shooting against one another.
One was a butcher named Barlow. The other was a Walloon, the best
shot among six hundred foreigners of various nations, all of whom,
though with little encouragement, joined in the national sport on
these pleasant spring afternoons. The first contest threw out the
Walloon, at which there were cries of ecstasy; now the trial was
between Barlow and Stephen, and in this final effort, the distance
of the pole to which the popinjay was fastened was so much increased
that strength of arm told as much as accuracy of aim, and Stephen's
seventeen years' old muscles could not, after so long a strain, cope
with those of Ralph Barlow, a butcher of full thirty years old. His
wrist and arm began to shake with weariness, and only one of his
three last arrows went straight to the mark, while Barlow was as
steady as ever, and never once failed. Stephen was bitterly
disappointed, his eyes filled with tears, and he flung himself down
on the turf feeling as if the shouts of "A Barlow! a Barlow!" which
were led by the jovial voice of King Harry himself, were all
exulting over him.
Barlow was led up to the king, who hailed him "King of Shoreditch,"
a title borne by the champion archer ever after, so long as
bowmanship in earnest lasted. A tankard which the king filled with
silver pieces was his prize, but Henry did not forget No. 2.
"Where's the other fellow?" he said. "He was but a stripling, and
to my mind, his feat was a greater marvel than that of a stalwart
fellow like Barlow."
Half a dozen of the spectators, among them the cardinal's jester,
hurried in search of Stephen, who was roused from his fit of
weariness and disappointment by a shake of the shoulder as his uncle
jingled his bells in his ears, and exclaimed, "How now, here I own a
cousin!" Stephen sat up and stared with angry, astonished eyes, but
only met a laugh. "Ay, ay, 'tis but striplings and fools that have
tears to spend for such as this! Up, boy! Dye hear? The other Hal
is asking for thee."
And Stephen, hastily brushing away his tears, and holding his flat
cap in his hand, was marshalled across the mead, hot, shy, and
indignant, as the jester mopped and mowed, and cut all sorts of
antics before him, turning round to observe in an encouraging voice,
"Pluck up a heart, man! One would think Hal was going to cut oft
thine head!" And then, on arriving where the king sat on his horse,
"Here he is, Hal, such as he is come humbly to crave thy gracious
pardon for hitting the mark no better! He'll mend his ways, good my
lord, if your grace will pardon him this time."
"Ay, marry, and that will I," said the king. "The springald bids
fair to be King of Shoreditch by the time the other fellow
abdicates. How old art thou, my lad?"
"Seventeen, an it please your grace," said Stephen, in the gruff
voice of his age.
"And thy name?"
"Stephen Birkenholt, my liege," and he wondered whether he would be
recognised; but Henry only said -
"Methinks I've seen those sloe-black eyes before. Or is it only
that the lad is thy very marrow, quipsome one?"
"The which," returned the jester, gravely, while Stephen tingled all
over with dismay, "may account for the tears the lad was wasting at
not having the thews of the fellow double his age! But I envy him
not! Not I! He'll never have wit for mine office, but will come in
second there likewise."
"I dare be sworn he will," said the king. "Here, take this, my good
lad, and prank thee in it when thou art out of thy time, and goest
a-hunting in Epping!"
It was a handsome belt with a broad silver clasp, engraven with the
Tudor rose and portcullis; and Stephen bowed low and made his
acknowledgments as best he might.
He was hailed with rapturous acclamations by his own contemporaries,
who held that he had saved the credit of the English prentice world,
and insisted on carrying him enthroned on their shoulders back to
Cheapside, in emulation of the journeymen and all the butcher kind,
who were thus bearing home the King of Shoreditch.
Shouts, halloos, whistles, every jubilant noise that youth and
boyhood could invent, were the triumphant music of Stephen on his
surging and uneasy throne, as he was shifted from one bearer to
another when each in turn grew tired of his weight. Just, however,
as they were nearing their own neighbourhood, a counter cry broke
out, "Witchcraft! His arrows are bewitched by the old Spanish
sorcerer! Down with Dragons and Wizards!" And a handful of mud
came full in the face of the enthroned lad, aimed no doubt by George
Bates. There was a yell and rush of rage, but the enemy was in
numbers too small to attempt resistance, and dashed off before their
pursuers, only pausing at safe corners to shout Parthian darts of
"Wizards!" "Magic!" "Sorcerers!" "Heretics!"
There was nothing to be done but to collect again, and escort
Stephen, who had wiped the mud off his face, to the Dragon court,
where Dennet danced on the steps for joy, and Master Headley, not a
little gratified, promised Stephen a supper for a dozen of his
particular friends at Armourers' Hall on the ensuing Easter Sunday.
Of course Stephen went in search of his brother, all the more
eagerly because he was conscious that they had of late drifted apart
a good deal. Ambrose was more and more absorbed by the studies to
which Lucas Hansen led him, and took less and less interest in his
brother's pursuits. He did indeed come to the Sunday's dinner
according to the regular custom, but the moment it was permissible
to leave the board he was away with Tibble Steelman to meet friends
of Lucas, and pursue studies, as if, Stephen thought, he had not
enough of books as it was. When Dean Colet preached or catechised
in St. Paul's in the afternoon they both attended and listened, but
that good man was in failing health, and his wise discourses were
Where they were at other times, Stephen did not know, and hardly
cared, except that he had a general dislike to, and jealousy of,
anything that took his brother's sympathy away from him. Moreover
Ambrose's face was thinner and paler, he had a strange absorbed
look, and often even when they were together seemed hardly to attend
to what his brother was saying.
"I will make him come," said Stephen to himself, as he went with
swinging gait towards Warwick Inner Yard, where, sure enough, he
found Ambrose sitting at the door, frowning over some black letter
which looked most uninviting in the eyes of the apprentice, and he
fell upon his brother with half angry, half merry reproofs for
wasting the fine spring afternoon over such studies.
Ambrose looked up with a dreamy smile and greeted his brother; but
all the time Stephen was narrating the history of the match (and he
DID tell the fate of each individual arrow of his own or Barlow's)
his eyes were wandering back to the crabbed page in his hand, and
when Stephen impatiently wound up his history with the invitation to
supper on Easter Sunday, the reply was, "Nay, brother, thanks, but
that I cannot do."
"Cannot!" exclaimed Stephen.
"Nay, there are other matters in hand that go deeper."
"Yea, I know whatever concerns musty books goes deeper with thee
than thy brother," replied Stephen, turning away much mortified.
Ambrose's warm nature was awakened. He held his brother by the arm
and declared himself anything but indifferent to him, but he owned
that he did not love noise and revelry, above all on Sunday.
"Thou art addling thy brains with preachings!" said Stephen. "Pray
Heaven they make not a heretic of thee. But thou mightest for once
have come to mine own feast."
Ambrose, much perplexed and grieved at thus vexing his brother,
declared that he would have done so with all his heart, but that
this very Easter Sunday there was coming a friend of Master Hansen's
from Holland; who was to tell them much of the teaching in Germany,
which was so enlightening men's eyes.
"Yea, truly, making heretics of them, Mistress Headley saith,"
returned Stephen. "O Ambrose, if thou wilt run after these books
and parchments, canst not do it in right fashion, among holy monks,
as of old?"
"Holy monks!" repeated Ambrose. "Holy monks! Where be they?"
Stephen stared at him.
"Hear uncle Hal talk of monks whom he sees at my Lord Cardinal's
table! What holiness is there among them? Men, that have vowed to
renounce all worldly and carnal things flaunt like peacocks and
revel like swine--my Lord Cardinal with his silver pillars foremost
of them! He poor and mortified! 'Tis verily as our uncle saith, he
plays the least false and shameful part there!"
"Ambrose, Ambrose, thou wilt be distraught, poring over these
matters that were never meant for lads like us! Do but come and
drive them out for once with mirth and good fellowship."
"I tell thee, Stephen, what thou callest mirth and good fellowship
do but drive the pain in deeper. Sin and guilt be everywhere. I
seem to see the devils putting foul words on the tongue and ill
deeds in the hands of myself and all around me, that they may accuse
us before God. No, Stephen, I cannot, cannot come, I must go where
I can hear of a better way."
"Nay," said Stephen, "what better way can there be than to be
shriven--clean shriven--and then houselled, as I was ere Lent, and
trust to be again on next Low Sunday morn? That's enough for a
plain lad." He crossed himself reverently, "Mine own Lord pardoneth
and cometh to me."
But the two minds, one simple and practical, the other sensitive and
speculative, did not move in the same atmosphere, and could not
understand one another. Ambrose was in the condition of excitement
and bewilderment produced by the first stirrings of the Reformation
upon enthusiastic minds. He had studied the Vulgate, made out
something of the Greek Testament, read all fragments of the Fathers
that came in his way, and also all the controversial "tractates,"
Latin or Dutch, that he could meet with, and attended many a secret
conference between Lucas and his friends, when men, coming from
Holland or Germany, communicated accounts of the lectures and
sermons of Dr. Martin Luther, which already were becoming widely
He was wretched under the continual tossings of his mind. Was the
entire existing system a vast delusion, blinding the eyes and
destroying the souls of those who trusted to it; and was the only
safety in the one point of faith that Luther pressed on all, and
ought all that he had hitherto revered to crumble down to let that
alone be upheld? Whatever he had once loved and honoured at times
seemed to him a lie, while at others real affection and veneration,
and dread of sacrilege, made him shudder at himself and his own
doubts! It was his one thought, and he passionately sought after
all those secret conferences which did but feed the flame that
The elder men who were with him were not thus agitated. Lucas's
convictions had not long been fixed. He did not court observation
nor do anything unnecessarily to bring persecution on himself, but
he quietly and secretly acted as an agent in dispersing the Lollard
books and those of Erasmus, and lived in the conviction that there
would one day be a great crash, believing himself to be doing his
part by undermining the structure, and working on undoubtingly.
Abenali was not aggressive. In fact, though he was reckoned among
Lucas's party, because of his abstinence from all cult of saints or
images, and the persecution he had suffered, he did not join in
their general opinions, and held aloof from their meetings. And
Tibble Steelman, as has been before said, lived two lives, and that
as foreman at the Dragon court, being habitual to him, and requiring
much thought and exertion, the speculations of the reformers were to
him more like an intellectual relaxation than the business of life.
He took them as a modern artisan would in this day read his
newspaper, and attend his club meeting.
Ambrose, however, had the enthusiastic practicalness of youth. On
that which he fully believed, he must act, and what did he fully
Boy as he was--scarcely yet eighteen--the toils and sports that
delighted his brother seemed to him like toys amusing infants on the
verge of an abyss, and he spent his leisure either in searching in
the Vulgate for something to give him absolute direction, or in
going in search of preachers, for, with the stirring of men's minds,
sermons were becoming more frequent.
There was much talk just now of the preaching of one Doctor Beale,
to whom all the tradesmen, journeymen, and apprentices were
resorting, even those who were of no special religious tendencies.
Ambrose went on Easter Tuesday to hear him preach at St. Mary's
Spitall. The place was crowded with artificers, and Beale began by
telling them that he had "a pitiful bill," meaning a letter, brought
to him declaring how aliens and strangers were coming in to inhabit
the City and suburbs, to eat the bread from poor fatherless
children, and take the living from all artificers and the
intercourse from merchants, whereby poverty was so much increased
that each bewaileth the misery of others. Presently coming to his
text, "Coelum coeli Domini, terram autem dedit filiis hominis" (the
Heaven of Heavens is the Lord's, the earth hath He given to the
children of men), the doctor inculcated that England was given to
Englishmen, and that as birds would defend their nests, so ought
Englishmen to defend themselves, AND TO HURT AND GRIEVE ALIENS FOR
THE COMMON WEAL! The corollary a good deal resembled that of "hate
thine enemy" which was foisted by "them of the old time" upon "thou
shalt love thy neighbour." And the doctor went on upon the text,
"Pugna pro patria," to demonstrate that fighting for one's country
meant rising upon and expelling all the strangers who dwelt and
traded within it. Many of these foreigners were from the Hanse
towns which had special commercial privileges, there were also
numerous Venetians and Genoese, French and Spaniards, the last of
whom were, above all, the objects of dislike. Their imports of
silks, cloth of gold, stamped leather, wine and oil, and their
superior skill in many handicrafts, had put English wares out of
fashion; and their exports of wool, tin, and lead excited equal
jealousy, which Dr. Beale, instigated as was well known by a broker
named John Lincoln, was thus stirring up into fierce passion. His
sermon was talked of all over London; blacker looks than ever were
directed at the aliens, stones and dirt were thrown at them, and
even Ambrose, as he walked along the street, was reviled as the
Dutchkin's knave. The insults became each day more daring and
outrageous. George Bates and a skinner's apprentice named Studley
were caught in the act of tripping up a portly old Flanderkin and
forthwith sent to Newgate, and there were other arrests, which did
but inflame the smouldering rage of the mob. Some of the wealthier
foreigners, taking warning by the signs of danger, left the City,
for there could be no doubt that the whole of London and the suburbs
were in a combustible condition of discontent, needing only a spark
to set it alight.
It was just about this time that a disreputable clerk--a lewd
priest, as Hall calls him--a hanger-on of the house of Howard, was
guilty of an insult to a citizen's wife as she was quietly walking
home through the Cheap. Her husband and brother, who were nearer at
hand than he guessed, avenged the outrage with such good wills that
this disgrace to the priesthood was left dead on the ground. When
such things happened, and discourses like Beale's were heard, it was
not surprising that Ambrose's faith in the clergy as guides received
CHAPTER XVI. MAY EVE
"The rich, the poor, the old, the young,
Beyond the seas though born and bred,
By prentices they suffered wrong,
When armed thus, they gather'd head."
Ill May Day.
May Eve had come, and little Dennet Headley was full of plans for
going out early with her young playfellows to the meadow to gather
May dew in the early morning, but her grandmother, who was in bed
under a heavy attack of rheumatism, did not like the reports brought
to her, and deferred her consent to the expedition.
In the afternoon there were tidings that the Lord Mayor, Sir Thomas
Rest had been sent for to my Lord Cardinal, who just at this time,
during the building at York House, was lodging in his house close to
Temple Bar. Some hours later a message came to Master Alderman
Headley to meet the Lord Mayor and the rest of the Council at the
Guildhall. He shook himself into his scarlet gown, and went off,
puffing and blowing, and bidding Giles and Stephen take heed that
they kept close, and ran into no mischief.
But they agreed, and Kit Smallbones with them, that there could be
no harm in going into the open space of Cheapside and playing out a
match with bucklers between Giles and Wat Ball, a draper's prentice
who had challenged him. The bucklers were huge shields, and the
weapons were wooden swords. It was an exciting sport, and brought
out all the youths of Cheapside in the summer evening, bawling out
encouragement, and laying wagers on either side. The curfew rang,
but there were special privileges on May Eve, and the game went on
louder than ever.
There was far too much noise for any one to hear the town crier, who
went along jingling his bell, and shouting, "O yes! O yes! O yes!
By order of the Lord Mayor and Council, no householder shall allow
any one of his household to be abroad beyond his gate between the
hours of nine o'clock at night and seven in the morning," or if any
of the outermost heard it, as did Ambrose who was on his way home to
his night quarters, they were too much excited not to turn a deaf
ear to it.
Suddenly, however, just as Giles was preparing for a master-stroke,
he was seized roughly by the shoulder and bidden to give over. He
looked round. It was an alderman, not his master, but Sir John
Mundy, an unpopular, harsh man.
"Wherefore?" demanded Giles.
"Thou shalt know," said the alderman, seizing his arm to drag him to
the Counter prison, but Giles resisted. Wat Ball struck at Sir
John's arm with his wooden sword, and as the alderman shouted for
the watch and city-guard, the lads on their side raised their cry,
"Prentices and Clubs! Flat-caps and Clubs!" Master Headley,
struggling along, met his colleague, with his gown torn into shreds
from his back, among a host of wildly yelling lads, and panting,
"Help, help, brother Headley!" With great difficulty the two
aldermen reached the door of the Dragon, whence Smallbones sallied
out to rescue them, and dragged them in.
"The boys!--the boys!" was Master Headley's first cry, but he might
as well have tried to detach two particular waves from a surging
ocean as his own especial boys from the multitude on that wild
evening. There was no moon, and the twilight still prevailed, but
it was dark enough to make the confusion greater, as the cries
swelled and numbers flowed into the open space of Cheapside. In the
words of Hall, the chronicler, "Out came serving-men, and watermen,
and courtiers, and by XI of the chock there were VI or VII hundreds
in Cheap. And out of Pawle's Churchyard came III hundred which wist
not of the others." For the most part all was invoked in the semi-
darkness of the summer night, but here and there light came from an
upper window on some boyish face, perhaps full of mischief, perhaps
somewhat bewildered and appalled. Here and there were torches,
which cast a red glare round them, but whose smoke blurred
everything, and seemed to render the darkness deeper.
Perhaps if the tumult had only been of the apprentices, provoked by
Alderman Mundy's interference, they would soon have dispersed, but
the throng was pervaded by men with much deeper design, and a cry
arose--no one knew from whence--that they would break into Newgate
and set free Studley and Bates.
By this time the torrent of young manhood was quite irresistible by
any force that had yet been opposed to it. The Mayor and Sheriffs
stood at the Guildhall, and read the royal proclamation by the light
of a wax candle, held in the trembling hand of one of the clerks;
but no one heard or heeded them, and the uproar was increased as the
doors of Newgate fell, and all the felons rushed out to join the
At the same time another shout rose, "Down with the aliens!" and
there was a general rush towards St. Martin's gate, in which
direction many lived. There was, however, a pause here, for Sir
Thomas More, Recorder of London, stood in the way before St.
Martin's gate, and with his full sweet voice began calling out and
entreating the lads to go home, before any heads were broken more
than could be mended again. He was always a favourite, and his good
humour seemed to be making some impression, when, either from the
determination of the more evil disposed, or because the inhabitants
of St. Martin's Lane were beginning to pour down hot water, stones,
and brickbats on the dense mass of heads below them, a fresh access
of fury seized upon the mob. Yells of "Down with the strangers!"
echoed through the narrow streets, drowning Sir Thomas's voice. A
lawyer who stood with him was knocked down and much hurt, the doors
were battered down, and the household stuff thrown from the windows.
Here, Ambrose, who had hitherto been pushed helplessly about, and
knocked hither and thither, was driven up against Giles, and, to
avoid falling and being trampled down, clutched hold of him
breathless and panting.
"Thou here!" exclaimed Giles. "Who would have thought of sober
Ambrose in the midst of the fray?" See here, Stevie!"
"Poor old Ambrose!" cried Stephen, "keep close to us! We'll see no
harm comes to thee. 'Tis hot work, eh?"
"Oh, Stephen! could I but get out of the throng to warn my master
and Master Michael!"
Those words seemed to strike Giles Headley. He might have cared
little for the fate of the old printer, but as he heard the screams
of the women in the houses around, he exclaimed, "Ay! there's the
old man and the little maid! We will have her to the Dragon!"
"Or to mine aunt's," said Ambrose.
"Have with thee then," said Giles: "Take his other arm, Steve;" and
locking their arms together the three fought and forced their way
from among the plunderers in St. Martin's with no worse mishap than
a shower of hot water, which did not hurt them much through their
stout woollen coats. They came at last to a place where they could
breathe, and stood still a moment to recover from the struggle, and
vituperate the hot water.
Then they heard fresh howls and yells in front as well as behind.
"They are at it everywhere," exclaimed Stephen. "I hear them
somewhere out by Cornhill."
"Ay, where the Frenchmen live that calender worsted," returned
Giles. "Come on; who knows how it is with the old man and little
"There's a sort in our court that are ready for aught," said
On they hurried in the darkness, which was now at the very deepest
of the night; now and then a torch was borne across the street, and
most of the houses had lights in the upper windows, for few
Londoners slept on that strange night. The stained glass of the
windows of the Churches beamed in bright colours from the Altar
lights seen through them, but the lads made slower progress than
they wished, for the streets were never easy to walk in the dark,
and twice they came on mobs assailing houses, from the windows of
one of which, French shoes and boots were being hailed down. Things
were moderately quiet around St. Paul's, but as they came into
Warwick Lane they heard fresh shouts and wild cries, and at the
archway heading to the inner yard they could see that there was a
huge bonfire in the midst of the court--of what composed they could
not see for the howling figures that exulted round it.
"George Bates, the villain!" cried Stephen, as his enemy in exulting
ferocious delight was revealed for a moment throwing a book on the
fire, and shouting, "Hurrah! there's for the old sorcerer, there's
for the heretics!"
That instant Giles was flying on Bates, and Stephen, with equal, if
not greater fury, at one of his comrades; but Ambrose dashed through
the outskirts of the wildly screaming and shouting fellows, many of
whom were the miscreant population of the mews, to the black yawning
doorway of his master. He saw only a fellow staggering out with the
screw of the press to feed the flame, and hurried on in the din to
call "Master, art thou there?"
There was no answer, and he moved on to the next door, calling again
softly, while all the spoilers seemed absorbed in the fire and the
combat. "Master Michael! 'Tis I, Ambrose!"
"Here, my son," cautiously answered a voice he knew for Lucas
"Oh, master! master!" was his low, heart-stricken cry, as by the
leaping light of a flame he saw the pale face of the old printer,
who drew him in.
"Yea! 'tis ruin, my son," said Lucas. "And would that that were the
The light flashed and flickered through the broken window so that
Ambrose saw that the hangings had been torn down and everything
wrecked, and a low sound as of stifled weeping directed his eyes to
a corner where Aldonza sat with her father's head on her lap.
"Lives he? Is he greatly hurt?" asked Ambrose, awe-stricken.
"The life is yet in him, but I fear me greatly it is passing fast,"
said Lucas, in a low voice. "One of those lads smote him on the
back with a club, and struck him down at the poor maid's feet, nor
hath he moved since. It was that one young Headley is fighting
with," he added.
"Bates! ah! Would that we had come sooner! What! more of this
For just then a tremendous outcry broke forth, and there was a rush
and panic among those who had been leaping round the fire just
before. "The guard!--the King's men!" was the sound they presently
distinguished. They could hear rough abusive voices, shrieks and
trampling of feet. A few seconds more and all was still, only the
fire remained, and in the stillness the suppressed sobs and moans of
Aldonza were heard.
"A light! Fetch a light from the fire!" said Lucas.
Ambrose ran out. The flame was lessening, but he could see the dark
bindings, and the blackened pages of the books he loved so well. A
corner of a page of St. Augustine's Confessions was turned towards
him and lay on a singed fragment of Aldonza's embroidered curtain,
while a little red flame was licking the spiral folds of the screw,
trying, as it were, to gather energy to do more than blacken it.
Ambrose could have wept over it at any other moment, but now he
could only catch up a brand--it was the leg of his master's carved
chair--and run back with it. Lucas ventured to light a lamp, and
they could then see the old man's face pale, but calm and still,
with his long white beard flowing over his breast. There was no
blood, no look of pain, only a set look about the eyes; and Aldonza
cried "Oh, father, thou art better! Speak to me! Let Master Lucas
lift thee up!"
"Nay, my child. I cannot move hand or foot. Let me be thus till
the Angel of Death come for me. He is very near." He spoke in
short sentences. "Water--nay--no pain," he added then, and Ambrose
ran for some water in the first battered fragment of a tin pot he
could find. They bathed his face and he gathered strength after a
time to say "A priest!--oh for a priest to shrive and housel me."
"I will find one," said Ambrose, speeding out into the court over
fragments of the beautiful work for which Abenali was hated, and
over the torn, half-burnt leaves of the beloved store of Lucas. The
fire had died down, but morning twilight was beginning to dawn, and
all was perfectly still after the recent tumult, though for a moment
or two Ambrose heard some distant cries.
Where should he go? Priests indeed were plentiful, but both his
friends were in bad odour with the ordinary ones. Lucas had avoided
both the Lenten shrift and Easter Communion, and what Miguel might
have done, Ambrose was uncertain. Some young priests had actually
been among the foremost in sacking the dwellings of the unfortunate
foreigners, and Ambrose was quite uncertain whether he might not
fall on one of that stamp--or on one who might vex the old man's
soul--perhaps deny him the Sacraments altogether. As he saw the
pale lighted windows of St. Paul's, it struck him to see whether any
one were within. The light might be only from some of the tapers
burning perpetually, but the pale light in the north-east, the
morning chill, and the clock striking three, reminded him that it
must be the hour of Prime, and he said to himself, "Sure, if a
priest be worshipping at this hour, he will be a good and merciful
man. I can but try."
The door of the transept yielded to his hand. He came forward,
lighted through the darkness by the gleam of the candles, which cast
a huge and awful shadow from the crucifix of the rood-screen upon
the pavement. Before it knelt a black figure in prayer. Ambrose
advanced in some awe and doubt how to break in on these devotions,
but the priest had heard his step, rose and said, "What is it, my
son? Dost thou seek sanctuary after these sad doings?"
"Nay, reverend sir," said Ambrose. "'Tis a priest for a dying man
I seek;" and in reply to the instant question, where it was, he
explained in haste who the sufferer was, and how he had received a
fatal blow, and was begging for the Sacraments. "And oh, sir!" he
added, "he is a holy and God-fearing man, if ever one lived, and
hath been cruelly and foully entreated by jealous and wicked folk,
who hated him for his skill and industry."
"Alack for the unhappy lads; and alack for those who egged them on,"
said the priest. "Truly they knew not what they did. I will come
with thee, my good youth. Thou hast not been one of them?"
"No, truly sir, save that I was carried along and could not break
from the throng. I work for Lucas Hansen, the Dutch printer, whom
they have likewise plundered in their savage rage."
"'Tis well. Thou canst then bear this," said the priest, taking a
thick wax candle. Then reverently advancing to the Altar, whence he
took the pyx, or gold case in which the Host was reserved, he
lighted the candle, which he gave, together with his stole, to the
youth to bear before him.
Then, when the light fell full on his features, Ambrose with a
strange thrill of joy and trust perceived that it was no other than
Dean Colet, who had here been praying against the fury of the
people. He was very thankful, feeling intuitively that there was no
fear but that Abenali would be understood, and for his own part, the
very contact with the man whom he revered seemed to calm and soothe
him, though on that solemn errand no word could be spoken. Ambrose
went on slowly before, his dark head uncovered, the priestly stole
hanging over his arm, his hands holding aloft the tall candle of
virgin wax, while the Dean followed closely with feeble steps,
looking frail and worn, but with a grave, sweet solemnity on his
face. It was a perfectly still morning, and as they slowly paced
along, the flame burnt steadily with little flickering, while the
pure, delicately-coloured sky overhead was becoming every moment
lighter, and only the larger stars were visible. The houses were
absolutely still, and the only person they met, a lad creeping
homewards after the fray, fell on his knees bareheaded as he
perceived their errand. Once or twice again sounds came up from the
city beneath, like shrieks or wailing breaking strangely on that
fair peaceful May morn; but still that pair went on till Ambrose had
guided the Dean to the yard, where, except that the daylight was
revealing more and more of the wreck around, all was as he had left
it. Aldonza, poor child, with her black hair hanging loose like a
veil, for she had been startled from her bed, still sat on the
ground making her lap a pillow for the white-bearded head, nobler
and more venerable than ever. On it lay, in the absolute immobility
produced by the paralysing blow, the fine features already in the
solemn grandeur of death, and only the movement of the lips under
the white flowing beard and of the dark eyes showing life.
Dean Colet said afterwards that he felt as if he had been called to
the death-bed of Israel, or of Barzillai the Gileadite, especially
when the old man, in the Oriental phraseology he had never entirely
lost, said, "I thank Thee, my God, and the God of my fathers, that
Thou hast granted me that which I had prayed for."
The Dutch printer was already slightly known to the Dean, having
sold him many books. A few words were exchanged with him, but it
was plain that the dying man could not be moved, and that his
confession must he made on the lap of the young girl. Colet knelt
over him so as to be able to hear, while Lucas and Ambrose withdraw,
but were soon called back for the remainder of the service for the
dying. The old man's face showed perfect peace. All worldly
thought and care seemed to have been crushed out of him by the blow,
and he did not even appear to think of the unprotected state of his
daughter, although he blessed her with solemn fervour immediately
after receiving the Viaticum--then lay murmuring to himself
sentences which Ambrose, who had learnt much from him, knew to be
from his Arabic breviary about palm-branches, and the twelve manner
of fruits of the Tree of Life.
It was a strange scene--the grand, calm, patriarchal old man, so
peaceful on his dark-haired daughter's lap in the midst of the
shattered home in the old feudal stable. All were silent a while in
awe, but the Dean was the first to move and speak, calling Lucas
forward to ask sundry questions of him.
"Is there no good woman," he asked, "who could be with this poor
child and take her home, when her father shall have passed away?"
"Mine uncle's wife, sir," said Ambrose, a little doubtfully. "I
trow she would come--since I can certify her that your reverence
holds him for a holy man."
"I had thy word for it," said the Dean. "Ah! reply not, my son, I
see well how it may be with you here. But tell those who will take
the word of John Colet that never did I mark the passing away of one
who had borne more for the true holy Catholic faith, nor held it
more to his soul's comfort."
For the Dean, a man of vivid intelligence, knew enough of the
Moresco persecutions to be able to gather from the words of Lucas
and Ambrose, and the confession of the old man himself, a far more
correct estimate of Abenali's sufferings, and constancy to the
truth, than any of the more homebred wits could have divined. He
knew, too, that his own orthodoxy was so called in question by the
narrower and more unspiritual section of the clergy that only the
appreciative friendship of the King and the Cardinal kept him
securely in his position.
Ambrose sped away, knowing that Perronel would be quite satisfied.
He was sure of her ready compassion and good-will, but she had so
often bewailed his running after learning and possibly heretical
doctrine, that he had doubted whether she would readily respond to a
summons, on his own authority alone, to one looked on with so much
suspicion as Master Michael. Colet intimated his intention of
remaining a little longer to pray with the dying man, and further
wrote a few words on his tablets, telling Ambrose to leave them with
one of the porters at his house as he went past St. Paul's.
It was broad daylight now, a lovely May morning, such as generally
called forth the maidens, small and great, to the meadows to rub
their fresh cheeks with the silvery dew, and to bring home kingcups,
cuckoo flowers, blue bottles, and cowslips for the Maypoles that
were to be decked. But all was silent now, not a house was open,
the rising sun made the eastern windows of the churches a blaze of
light, and from the west door of St. Paul's the city beneath seemed
sleeping, only a wreath or two of smoke rising. Ambrose found the
porter looking out for his master in much perturbation. He groaned
as he looked at the tablets, and heard where the Dean was, and said
that came of being a saint on earth. It would be the death of him
ere long! What would old Mistress Colet, his mother, say? He would
have detained the youth with his inquiries, but Ambrose said he had
to speed down to the Temple on an errand from the Dean, and hurried
away. All Ludgate Hill was now quiet, every house closed, but here
and there lay torn shreds of garments, or household vessels.
As he reached Fleet Street, however, there was a sound of horses'
feet, and a body of men-at-arms with helmets glancing in the sun
were seen. There was a cry, "There's one! That's one of the lewd
younglings! At him!"
And Ambrose to his horror and surprise saw two horsemen begin to
gallop towards him, as if to ride him down. Happily he was close to
a narrow archway leading to an alley down which no war-horse could
possibly make its way, and dashing into it and round a corner, he
eluded his pursuers, and reached the bank of the river, whence,
being by this time experienced in the by-ways of London, he could
easily reach Perronel's house.
She was standing at her door looking out anxiously, and as she saw
him she threw up her hands in thanksgiving to our Lady that here he
was at last, and then turned to scold him. "O lad, lad, what a
night thou hast given me! I trusted at least that thou hadst wit to
keep out of a fray and to let the poor aliens alone, thou that art
always running after yonder old Spaniard. Hey! what now? Did they
fall on him! Fie! Shame on them!--a harmless old man like that."
"Yea, good aunt, and what is more, they have slain him, I fear me,
Amidst many a "good lack" and exclamation of pity and indignation
from Perronel, Ambrose told his tale of that strange night, and
entreated her to come with him to do what was possible for Abenali
and his daughter. She hesitated a little; her kind heart was
touched, but she hardly liked to leave her house, in case her
husband should come in, as he generally contrived to do in the early
morning, now that the Cardinal's household was lodged so near her.
Sheltered as she was by the buildings of the Temple, she had heard
little or nothing of the noise of the riot, though she had been
alarmed at her nephew's absence, and an officious neighbour had run
in to tell her first that the prentice lads were up and sacking the
houses of the strangers, and next that the Tower was firing on them,
and the Lord Mayor's guard and the gentlemen of the Inns of Court
were up in arms to put them down. She said several times, "Poor
soul!" and "Yea, it were a shame to leave her to the old Dutchkin,"
but with true Flemish deliberation she continued her household
arrangements, and insisted that the bowl of broth, which she set on
the table, should be partaken of by herself and Ambrose before she
would stir a step. "Not eat! Now out on thee, lad! what good dost
thou think thou or I can do if we come in faint and famished, where
there's neither bite nor sup to be had? As for me, not a foot will
I budge, till I have seen thee empty that bowl. So to it, my lad!
Thou hast been afoot all night, and lookst so grimed and ill-
favoured a varlet that no man would think thou camest from an honest
wife's house. Wash thee at the pail! Get thee into thy chamber and
put on clean garments, or I'll not walk the street with thee! 'Tis
not safe--thou wilt be put in ward for one of the rioters."
Everybody who entered that little house obeyed Mistress Randall, and
Ambrose submitted, knowing it vain to resist, and remembering the
pursuit he had recently escaped; yet the very refreshment of food
and cleanliness revealed to him how stiff and weary were his limbs,
though he was in no mood for rest. His uncle appeared at the door
just as he had hoped Perronel was ready.
"Ah! there's one of you whole and safe!" he exclaimed. "Where is
"Stephen?" exclaimed Ambrose. "I saw him last in Warwick Inner
Yard." And in a few words he explained. Hal Randall shook his
head. "May all be well," he exclaimed, and then he told how Sir
Thomas Parr had come at midnight and roused the Cardinal's household
with tidings that all the rabble of London were up, plundering and
murdering all who came in their way, and that he had then ridden on
to Richmond to the King with the news. The Cardinal had put his
house into a state of defence, not knowing against whom the riot
might be directed--and the jester had not been awakened till too
late to get out to send after his wife, besides which, by that time,
intelligence had come in that the attack was directed entirely on
the French and Spanish merchants and artificers in distant parts of
the city and suburbs, and was only conducted by lads with no better
weapons than sticks, so that the Temple and its precincts were in no
danger at all.
The mob had dispersed of its own accord by about three or four
o'clock, but by that hour the Mayor had got together a force, the
Gentlemen of the Inns of Court and the Yeomen of the Tower were up
in arms, and the Earl of Shrewsbury had come in with a troop of
horse. They had met the rioters, and had driven them in herds like
sheep to the different prisons, after which Lord Shrewsbury had come
to report to the Cardinal that all was quiet, and the jester having
gathered as much intelligence as he could, had contrived to slip
into the garments that concealed his motley, and to reach home. He
gave ready consent to Perronel's going to the aid of the sufferers
in Warwick Inner Yard, especially at the summons of the Dean of St.
Paul's, and even to her bringing home the little wench. Indeed, he
would escort her thither himself for he was very anxious about
Stephen, and Ambrose was so dismayed by the account he gave as to
reproach himself extremely for having parted company with his
brother, and never having so much as thought of him as in peril,
while absorbed in care for Abenali. So the three set out together,
when no doubt the sober, solid appearance which Randall's double
suit of apparel and black gown gave him, together with his wife's
matronly and respectable look, were no small protection to Ambrose,
for men-at-arms were prowling about the streets, looking hungry to
pick up straggling victims, and one actually stopped Randall to
interrogate him as to who the youth was, and what was his errand.
Before St. Paul's they parted, the husband and wife going towards
Warwick Inner Yard, whither Ambrose, fleeter of foot, would follow,
so soon as he had ascertained at the Dragon court whether Stephen
was at home.
Alas! at the gate he was hailed with the inquiry whether he had seen
his brother or Giles. The whole yard was disorganised, no work
going on. The lads had not been seen all night, and the master
himself had in the midst of his displeasure and anxiety been
summoned to the Guildhall. The last that was known was Giles's
rescue, and the assault on Alderman Mundy. Smallbones and Steelman
had both gone in different directions to search for the two
apprentices, and Dennet, who had flown down unheeded and unchecked
at the first hope of news, pulled Ambrose by the sleeve, and
exclaimed, "Oh! Ambrose, Ambrose! they can never hurt them! They
can never do any harm to our lads, can they?"
Ambrose hoped for the same security, but in his dismay, could only
hurry after his uncle and aunt.
He found the former at the door of the old stable--whence issued
wild screams and cries. Several priests and attendants were there
now, and the kind Dean with Lucas was trying to induce Aldonza to
relax the grasp with which she embraced the body, whence a few
moments before the brave and constant spirit had departed. Her
black hair hanging over like a veil, she held the inanimate head to
her bosom, sobbing and shrieking with the violence of her Eastern
nature. The priest who had been sent for to take care of the
corpse, and bear it to the mortuary of the Minster, wanted to move
her by force; but the Dean insisted on one more gentle experiment,
and beckoned to the kindly woman, whom he saw advancing with eyes
full of tears. Perronel knelt down by her, persevered when the poor
girl stretched out her hand to beat her off, crying, "Off! go!
Leave me my father! O father, father, joy of my life! my one only
hope and stay, leave me not! Wake! wake, speak to thy child, O my
Though the child had never seen or heard of Eastern wailings over
the dead, yet hereditary nature prompted her to the lamentations
that scandalised the priests and even Lucas, who broke in with "Fie,
maid, thou mournest as one who hath no hope." But Dr. Colet still
signed to them to have patience, and Perronel somehow contrived to
draw the girl's head on her breast and give her a motherly kiss,
such as the poor child had never felt since she, when almost a babe,
had been lifted from her dying mother's side in the dark stifling
hold of the vessel in the Bay of Biscay. And in sheer surprise and
sense of being soothed she ceased her cries, listened to the tender
whispers and persuasions about holy men who would care for her
father, and his wishes that she should be a good maid--till at last
she yielded, let her hands be loosed, allowed Perronel to lift the
venerable head from her knee, and close the eyes--then to gather her
in her arms, and lead her to the door, taking her, under Ambrose's
guidance, into Lucas's abode, which was as utterly and mournfully
dismantled as their own, but where Perronel, accustomed in her
wandering days to all sorts of contrivances, managed to bind up the
streaming hair, and, by the help of her own cloak, to bring the poor
girl into a state in which she could be led through the streets.
The Dean meantime had bidden Lucas to take shelter at his own house,
and the old Dutchman had given a sort of doubtful acceptance.
Ambrose, meanwhile, half distracted about his brother, craved
counsel of the jester where to seek him.
CHAPTER XVII. ILL MAY DAY
"With two and two together tied,
Through Temple Bar and Strand they go,
To Westminster, there to be tried,
With ropes about their necks also."
Ill May Day.
And where was Stephen? Crouching, wretched with hunger, cold,
weariness, blows, and what was far worse, sense of humiliation and
disgrace, and terror for the future, in a corner of the yard of
Newgate--whither the whole set of lads, surprised in Warwick Inner
Court by the law students of the Inns of Court, had been driven like
so many cattle, at the sword's point, with no attention or
perception that he and Giles had been struggling AGAINST the
Yet this fact made them all the more forlorn. The others, some
forty in number, their companions in misfortune, included most of
the Barbican prentices, who were of the Eagle faction, special
enemies alike to Abenali and to the Dragon, and these held aloof
from Headley and Birkenholt, nay, reviled them for the attack which
they declared had caused the general capture.
The two lads of the Dragon had, in no measured terms, denounced the
cruelty to the poor old inoffensive man, and were denounced in their
turn as friends of the sorcerer. But all were too much exhausted by
the night's work to have spirit for more than a snarling encounter
of words, and the only effect was that Giles and Stephen were left
isolated in their misery outside the shelter of the handsome arched
gateway under which the others congregated.
Newgate had been rebuilt by Whittington out of pity to poor
prisoners and captives. It must have been unspeakably dreadful
before, for the foulness of the narrow paved court, shut in by
strong walls, was something terrible. Tired, spent, and aching all
over, and with boyish callousness to dirt, still Giles and Stephen
hesitated to sit down, and when at last they could stand no longer,
they rested, leaning against one another. Stephen tried to keep up
hope by declaring that his master would soon get them released, and
Giles alternated between despair, and declarations that he would
have justice on those who so treated his father's son. They dropped
asleep--first one and then the other--from sheer exhaustion, waking
from time to time to realise that it was no dream, and to feel all
the colder and more camped.
By and by there were voices at the gate. Friends were there asking
after their own Will, or John, or Thomas, as the case might be. The
jailer opened a little wicket-window in the heavy door, and, no
doubt for a consideration, passed in food to certain lads whom he
called out, but it did not always reach its destination. It was
often torn away as by hungry wolves. For though the felons had been
let out, when the doors were opened; the new prisoners were not by
any means all apprentices. There were watermen, husbandmen,
beggars, thieves, among them, attracted by the scent of plunder; and
even some of the elder lads had no scruple in snatching the morsel
from the younger ones.
Poor little Jasper Hope, a mischievous little curly-headed idle
fellow, only thirteen, just apprenticed to his brother the draper,
and rushing about with the other youths in the pride of his flat
cap, was one of the sufferers. A servant had been at the door,
promising that his brother would speedily have him released, and
handing in bread and meat, of which he was instantly robbed by
George Bates and three or four more big fellows, and sent away
reeling and sobbing, under a heavy blow, with all the mischief and
play knocked out of him. Stephen and Giles called "Shame!" but were
unheeded, and they could only draw the little fellow up to them, and
assure him that his brother would soon come for him.
The next call at the gate was Headley and Birkenholt--"Master
Headley's prentices--Be they here?"
And at their answer, not only the window, but the door in the gate
was opened, and stooping low to enter, Kit Smallbones came in, and
"Ay, ay, youngsters," said he, "I knew how it would be, by what I
saw elsewhere, so I came with a fee to open locks. How came ye to
get into such plight as this? And poor little Hope too! A fine
pass when they put babes in jail."
"I'm prenticed!" said Jasper, though in a very weak little voice.
"Have you had bite or sup?" asked Kit.
And on their reply, telling how those who had had supplies from home
had been treated, Smallbones observed, "Let them try it," and stood,
at all his breadth, guarding the two youths and little Jasper, as
they ate, Stephen at first with difficulty, in the faintness and
foulness of the place, but then ravenously. Smallbones lectured
them on their folly all the time, and made them give an account of
the night. He said their master was at the Guildhall taking counsel
with the Lord Mayor, and there were reports that it would go hard
with the rioters, for murder and plunder had been done in many
places, and he especially looked at Giles with pity, and asked how
he came to embroil himself with Master Mundy? Still his good-
natured face cheered them, and he promised further supplies. He
also relieved Stephen's mind about his brother, telling of his
inquiry at the Dragon in the morning. All that day the condition of
such of the prisoners as had well-to-do friends was improving.
Fathers, brothers, masters, and servants, came in quest of them,
bringing food and bedding, and by exorbitant fees to the jailers
obtained for them shelter in the gloomy cells. Mothers could not
come, for a proclamation had gone out that none were to babble, and
men were to keep their wives at home. And though there were more
material comforts, prospects were very gloomy. Ambrose came when
Kit Smallbones returned with what Mrs. Headley had sent the
captives. He looked sad and dazed, and clung to his brother, but
said very little, except that they ought to be locked up together,
and he really would have been left in Newgate, if Kit had not laid a
great hand on his shoulder and almost forced him away.
Master Headley himself arrived with Master Hope in the afternoon.
Jasper sprang to his brother, crying, "Simon! Simon! you are come
to take me out of this dismal, evil place?" But Master Hope--a
tall, handsome, grave young man, who had often been much disturbed
by his little brother's pranks--could only shake his head with tears
in his eyes, and, sitting down on the roll of bedding, take him on
his knee and try to console him with the hope of liberty in a few
He had tried to obtain the boy's release on the plea of his extreme
youth, but the authorities were hotly exasperated, and would hear of
no mercy. The whole of the rioters were to be tried three days
hence, and there was no doubt that some would be made an example of,
the only question was, how many?
Master Headley closely interrogated his own two lads, and was
evidently sorely anxious about his namesake, who, he feared, might
be recognised by Alderman Mundy and brought forward as a ringleader
of the disturbance; nor did he feel at all secure that the plea that
he had no enmity to the foreigners, but had actually tried to defend
Lucas and Abenali, would be attended to for a moment, though Lucas
Hansen had promised to bear witness of it. Giles looked perfectly
stunned at the time, unable to take in the idea, but at night
Stephen was wakened on the pallet that they shared with little
Jasper, by hearing him weeping and sobbing for his mother at
Time lagged on till the 4th of May. Some of the poor boys whiled
away their time with dreary games in the yard, sometimes wrestling,
but more often gambling with the dice, that one or two happened to
possess, for the dinners that were provided for the wealthier,
sometimes even betting on what the sentences would be, and who would
be hanged, or who escape.
Poor lads, they did not, for the most part, realise their real
danger, but Stephen was more and more beset with home-sick longing
for the glades and thickets of his native forest, and would keep
little Jasper and even Giles for an hour together telling of the
woodland adventures of those happy times, shutting his eyes to the
grim stone walls, and trying to think himself among the beeches,
hollies, cherries, and hawthorns, shining in the May sun! Giles and
he were chose friends now, and with little Jasper, said their Paters
and Aves together, that they might be delivered from their trouble.
At last, on the 4th, the whole of the prisoners were summoned
roughly into the court, where harsh-hooking men-at-arms proceeded to
bind them together in pairs to be marched through the streets to the
Guildhall. Giles and Stephen would naturally have been put
together, but poor little Jasper cried out so lamentably, when he
was about to be bound to a stranger, that Stephen stepped forward in
his stead, begging that the boy might go with Giles. The soldier
made a contemptuous sound, but consented, and Stephen found that his
companion in misfortune, whose left elbow was tied to his right was
The two lads looked at each other in a strange, rueful manner, and
Stephen said, "Shake hands, comrade. If we are to die, let us bear
George gave a cold, limp, trembling hand. He looked wretched,
subdued, tearful, and nearly starved, for he had no kinsfolk at
hand, and his master was too angry with him, and too much afraid of
compromising himself, to have sent him any supplies. Stephen tried
to unbutton his own pouch, but not succeeding with his left hand,
bade George try with his right. "There's a cake of bread there," he
said. "Eat that, and thou'lt be able better to stand up like a man,
come what will."
George devoured it eagerly. "Ah!" he said, in a stronger voice,
"Stephen Birkenholt, thou art an honest fellow. I did thee wrong.
If ever we get out of this plight!"
Here they were ordered to march, and in a long and doleful
procession they set forth. The streets were lined with men-at-arms,
for all the affections and sympathies of the people were with the
unfortunate boys, and a rescue was apprehended.
In point of fact, the Lord Mayor and aldermen were afraid of the
King's supposing them to have organised the assault on their rivals,
and each was therefore desirous to show severity to any one's
apprentices save his own; while the nobility were afraid of
contumacy on the part of the citizens, and were resolved to crush
down every rioter among them, so that they had filled the city with
their armed retainers. Fathers and mothers, masters and dames,
sisters and fellow prentices, found their doors closely guarded, and
could only look with tearful, anxious eyes, at the processions of
poor youths, many of them mere children, who were driven from each
of the jails to the Guildhall. There when all collected the entire
number amounted to two hundred and seventy-eight, though a certain
proportion of these were grown men, priests, wherrymen and beggars,
who had joined the rabble in search of plunder.
It did not look well for them that the Duke of Norfolk and his son,
the Earl of Surrey, were joined in the commission with the Lord
Mayor. The upper end of the great hall was filled with aldermen in
their robes and chains, with the sheriffs of London and the whole
imposing array, and the Lord Mayor with the Duke sat enthroned above
them in truly awful dignity. The Duke was a hard and pitiless man,
and bore the City a bitter grudge for the death of his retainer, the
priest killed in Cheapside, and in spite of all his poetical fame,
it may be feared that the Earl of Surrey was not of much more
merciful mood, while their men-at-arms spoke savagely of hanging,
slaughtering, or setting the City on fire.
The arraignment was very long, as there were so large a number of
names to be read, and, to the horror of all, it was not for a mere
riot, but for high treason. The King, it was declared, being in
amity with all Christian princes, it was high treason to break the
truce and league by attacking their subjects resident in England.
The terrible punishment of the traitor would thus be the doom of all
concerned, and in the temper of the Howards and their retainers,
there was little hope of mercy, nor, in times like those, was there
even much prospect that, out of such large numbers, some might
A few were more especially cited, fourteen in number, among them
George Bates, Walter Ball, and Giles Headley, who had certainly
given cause for the beginning of the affray. There was no attempt
to defend George Bates, who seemed to be stunned and bewildered
beyond the power of speaking or even of understanding, but as Giles
cast his eyes round in wild, terrified appeal, Master Headley rose
up in his alderman's gown, and prayed leave to be heard in his
defence, as he had witnesses to bring in his favour.
"Is he thy son, good Armourer Headley?" demanded the Duke of
Norfolk, who held the work of the Dragon court in high esteem.
"Nay, my Lord Duke, but he is in the place of one, my near kinsman
and godson, and so soon as his time be up, bound to wed my only
child! I pray you to hear his cause, ere cutting off the heir of an
old and honourable house."
Norfolk and his sons murmured something about the Headley skill in
armour, and the Lord Mayor was willing enough for mercy, but Sir
John Mundy here rose: "My Lord Duke, this is the very young man who
was first to lay hands on me! Yea, my lords and sirs, ye have
already heard how their rude sport, contrary to proclamation, was
the cause of the tumult. When I would have bidden them go home, the
one brawler asks me insolently, 'Wherefore?' the other smote me with
his sword, whereupon the whole rascaille set on me, and as Master
Alderman Headley can testify, I scarce reached his house alive. I
ask should favour overcome justice, and a ringleader, who hath
assaulted the person of an alderman, find favour above others?"
"I ask not for favour," returned Headley, "only that witnesses be
heard on his behalf, ere he be condemned."
Headley, as a favourite with the Duke, prevailed to have permission
to call his witnesses; Christopher Smallbones, who had actually
rescued Alderman Mundy from the mob, and helped him into the Dragon
court, could testify that the proclamation had been entirely unheard
in the din of the youths looking on at the game. And this was
followed up by Lucas Hansen declaring that so far from having
attacked or plundered him and the others in Warwick Inner Yard, the
two, Giles Headley and Stephen Birkenholt, had come to their
defence, and fallen on those who were burning their goods.
On this a discussion followed between the authorities seated at the
upper end of the hall. The poor anxious watchers below could only
guess by the gestures what was being agitated as to their fate, and
Stephen was feeling it sorely hard that Giles should be pleaded for
as the master's kinsman, and he left to so cruel a fate, no one
saying a word for him but unheeded Lucas. Finally, without giving
of judgment, the whole of the miserable prisoners, who had been
standing without food for hours, were marched back, still tied, to
their several prisons, while their guards pointed out the gibbets
where they were to suffer the next day.
Master Headley was not quite so regardless of his younger apprentice
as Stephen imagined. There was a sort of little council held in his
hall when he returned--sad, dispirited, almost hopeless--to find Hal
Randall anxiously awaiting him. The alderman said he durst not
plead for Stephen, lest he should lose both by asking too much, and
his young kinsman had the first right, besides being in the most
peril as having been singled out by name; whereas Stephen might
escape with the multitude if there were any mercy. He added that
the Duke of Norfolk was certainly inclined to save one who knew the
secret of Spanish sword-blades; but that he was fiercely resolved to
be revenged for the murder of his lewd priest in Cheapside, and that
Sir John Mundy was equally determined that Giles should not escape.
"What am I to say to his mother? Have I brought him from her for
this?" mourned Master Headley. "Ay, and Master Randall, I grieve as
much for thy nephew, who to my mind hath done nought amiss. A brave
lad! A good lad, who hath saved mine own life. Would that I could
do aught for him! It is a shame!"
"Father," said Dennet, who had crept to the back of his chair, "the
King would save him! Mind you the golden whistle that the grandame
"The maid hath hit it!" exclaimed Randall. "Master alderman! Let
me but have the little wench and the whistle to-morrow morn, and it
is done. How sayest thou, pretty mistress? Wilt thou go with me
and ask thy cousin's life, and poor Stephen's, of the King?"
"With all my heart, sir," said Dennet, coming to him with
outstretched hands. "Oh! sir, canst thou save them? I have been
vowing all I could think of to our Lady and the saints, and now they
are going to grant it!"
"Tarry a little," said the alderman. "I must know more of this.
Where wouldst thou take my child? How obtain access to the King's
"Worshipful sir, trust me," said Randall. "Thou know'st I am sworn
servant to my Lord Cardinal, and that his folk are as free of the
Court as the King's own servants. If thine own folk will take us up
the river to Richmond, and there wait for us while I lead the maid
to the King, I can well-nigh swear to thee that she will prevail."
The alderman looked greatly distressed. Ambrose threw himself on
his knees before him, and in an agony entreated him to consent,
assuring him that Master Randall could do what he promised. The
alderman was much perplexed. He knew that his mother, who was
confined to her bed by rheumatism, would be shocked at the idea. He
longed to accompany his daughter himself, but for him to be absent
from the sitting of the court might be fatal to Giles, and he could
not bear to lose any chance for the poor youths.
Meantime an interrogative glance and a nod had passed between Tibble
and Randall, and when the alderman looked towards the former, always
his prime minister, the answer was, "Sir, meseemeth that it were
well to do as Master Randall counselleth. I will go with Mistress
Dennet, if such be your will. The lives of two such youths as our
prentices may not lightly be thrown away, while by God's providence
there is any means of striving to save them."
Consent then was given, and it was further arranged that Dennet and
her escort should be ready at the early hour of half-past four, so
as to elude the guards who were placed in the streets; and also
because King Henry in the summer went very early to mass, and then
to some out-of-door sport. Randall said he would have taken his own
good woman to have the care of the little mistress, but that the
poor little orphan Spanish wench had wept herself so sick, that she
could not be left to a stranger.
Master Headley himself brought the child by back streets to the
river, and thence down to the Temple stairs, accompanied by Tibble
Steelman, and a maid-servant on whose presence her grandmother had
insisted. Dennet had hardly slept all night for excitement and
perturbation, and she looked very white, small, and insignificant
for her thirteen years, when Randall and Ambrose met her, and placed
her carefully in the barge which was to take them to Richmond. It
was somewhat fresh in the very early morning, and no one was
surprised that Master Randall wore a large dark cloak as they rowed
up the river. There was very little speech between the passengers;
Dennet sat between Ambrose and Tibble. They kept their heads bowed.
Ambrose's brow was on one hand, his elbow on his knee, but he spared
the other to hold Dennet. He had been longing for the old assurance
he would once have had, that to vow himself to a life of hard
service in a convent would be the way to win his brother's life; but
he had ceased to be able to feel that such bargains were the right
course, or that a convent necessarily afforded sure way of service,
and he never felt mere insecure of the way and means to prayer than
in this hour of anguished supplication.
When they came beyond the City, within sight of the trees of Sheen,
as Richmond was still often called, Randall insisted that Dennet
should eat some of the bread and meat that Tibble had brought in a
wallet for her. "She must look her best," he said aside to the
foreman. "I would that she were either more of a babe or better
favoured! Our Hal hath a tender heart for a babe and an eye for a
He bade the maid trim up the child's cap and make the best of her
array, and presently reached some stairs leading up to the park.
There he let Ambrose lift her out of the boat. The maid would fain
have followed, but he prevented this, and when she spoke of her
mistress having bidden her follow wherever the child went, Tibble
interfered, telling her that his master's orders were that Master
Randall should do with her as he thought meet. Tibble himself
followed until they reached a thicket entirely concealing them from
the river. Halting here, Randall, with his nephew's help, divested
himself of his long gown and cloak, his beard and wig, produced
cockscomb and bauble from his pouch, and stood before the astonished
eyes of Dennet as the jester!
She recoiled upon Tibble with a little cry, "Oh, why should he make
sport of us? Why disguise himself?"
"Listen, pretty mistress," said Randall. "'Tis no disguise, Tibble
there can tell you, or my nephew. My disguise lies there," pointing
to his sober raiment. "Thus only can I bring thee to the King's
presence! Didst think it was jest? Nay, verily, I am as bound to
try to save my sweet Stevie's life, my sister's own gallant son, as
thou canst be to plead for thy betrothed." Dennet winced.
"Ay, Mistress Dennet," said Tibble, "thou mayst trust him, spite of
his garb, and 'tis the sole hope. He could only thus bring thee in.
Go thou on, and the lad and I will fall to our prayers."
Dennet's bosom heaved, but she looked up in the jesters dark eyes,
saw the tears in them, made an effort, put her hand in his, and
said, "I will go with him."
Hal led her away, and they saw Tibble and Ambrose both fall on their
knees behind the hawthorn bush, to speed them with their prayers,
while all the joyous birds singing their carols around seemed to
protest against the cruel captivity and dreadful doom of the young
gladsome spirits pent up in the City prisons.
One full gush of a thrush's song in especial made Dennet's eyes
overflow, which the jester perceived and said, "Nay, sweet maid, no
tears. Kings brook not to be approached with blubbered faces. I
marvel not that it seems hard to thee to go along with such as I,
but let me be what I will outside, mine heart is heavy enough, and
thou wilt learn sooner or later, that fools are not the only folk
who needs must smile when they have a load within."
And then, as much to distract her thoughts and prevent tears as to
reassure her, he told her what he had before told his nephews of the
inducements that had made him Wolsey's jester, and impressed on her
the forms of address.
"Thou'lt hear me make free with him, but that's part of mine office,
like the kitten I've seen tickling the mane of the lion in the
Tower. Thou must say, 'An it please your Grace,' and thou needst
not speak of his rolling in the mire, thou wottest, or it may anger
The girl showed that her confidence became warmer by keeping nearer
to his side, and presently she said, "I must beg for Stephen first,
for 'tis his whistle."
"Blessings on thee, fair wench, for that, yet seest thou, 'tis the
other springald who is in the greater peril, and he is closer to thy
father and to thee."
"He fled, when Stephen made in to the rescue of my father," said
"The saints grant we may so work with the King that he may spare
them both," ejaculated Randall.
By this time the strange pair were reaching the precincts of the
great dwelling-house, where about the wide-open door loitered
gentlemen, grooms, lacqueys, and attendants of all kinds. Randall
"An we go up among all these," he said, "they might make their sport
of us both, so that we might have time. Let us see whether the
little garden postern be open."
Henry VIII. had no fears of his people, and kept his dwellings more
accessible than were the castles of many a subject. The door in the
wall proved to be open, and with an exclamation of joy, Randall
pointed out two figures, one in a white silken doublet and hose,
with a short crimson cloak over his shoulder, the other in scarlet
and purple robes, pacing the walk under the wall--Henry's way of
holding a cabinet council with his prime minister on a summer's
"Come on, mistress, put a brave face on it!" the jester encouraged
the girl, as he led her forward, while the king, catching sight of
them, exclaimed, "Ha! there's old Patch. What doth he there?"
But the Cardinal, impatient of interruption, spoke imperiously,
"What dost thou here, Merriman? Away, this is no time for thy
fooleries and frolics."
But the King, with some pleasure in teasing, and some of the
enjoyment of a schoolboy at a break in his tasks, called out, "Nay,
come hither, quipsome one! What new puppet hast brought hither to
play off on us?"
"Yea, brother Hal," said the jester, "I have brought one to let thee
know how Tom of Norfolk and his crew are playing the fool in the
Guildhall, and to ask who will be the fool to let them wreak their
spite on the best blood in London, and leave a sore that will take
many a day to heal."
"How is this, my Lord Cardinal?" said Henry; "I bade them make an
example of a few worthless hinds, such as might teach the lusty
burghers to hold their lads in bounds and prove to our neighbours
that their churlishness was by no consent of ours."
"I trow," returned the Cardinal, "that one of these same hinds is a
boon companion of the fool's--hinc illae lachrymae, and a speech
that would have befitted a wise man's mouth."
"There is work that may well make even a fool grave, friend Thomas,"
replied the jester.
"Nay, but what hath this little wench to say?" asked the King,
looking down on the child from under his plumed cap with a face set
in golden hair, the fairest and sweetest, as it seemed to her, that
she had ever seen, as he smiled upon her. "Methinks she is too
small to be thy love. Speak out, little one. I love little maids,
I have one of mine own. Hast thou a brother among these misguided
"Not so, an please your Grace," said Dennet, who fortunately was not
in the least shy, and was still too young for a maiden's
shamefastness. "He is to be my betrothed. I would say, one of them
is, but the other--he saved my father's life once."
The latter words were lost in the laughter of the King and Cardinal
at the unblushing avowal of the small, prim-faced maiden.
"Oh ho! So 'tis a case of true love, whereto a King's face must
needs show grace. Who art thou, fair suppliant, and who may this
swain of thine be?"
"I am Dennet Headley, so please your Grace; my father is Giles
Headley the armourer, Alderman of Cheap Ward," said Dennet, doing
her part bravely, though puzzled by the King's tone of banter; "and
see here, your Grace!"
"Ha! the hawk's whistle that Archduke Philip gave me! What of that?
I gave it--ay, I gave it to a youth that came to mine aid, and
reclaimed a falcon for me! Is't he, child?"
"Oh, sir, 'tis he who came in second at the butts, next to Barlow,
'tis Stephen Birkenholt! And he did nought! They bore no ill-will
to strangers! No, they were falling on the wicked fellows who had
robbed and slain good old Master Michael, who taught our folk to
make the only real true Damascus blades welded in England. But the
lawyers of the Inns of Court fell on them all alike, and have driven
them off to Newgate, and poor little Jasper Hope too. And Alderman
Mundy bears ill-will to Giles. And the cruel Duke of Norfolk and
his men swear they'll have vengeance on the Cheap, and there'll be
hanging and quartering this very morn. Oh! your Grace, your Grace,
save our lads! for Stephen saved my father."
"Thy tongue wags fast, little one," said the King, good-naturedly,
"with thy Stephen and thy Giles. Is this same Stephen, the knight
of the whistle and the bow, thy betrothed, and Giles thy brother?"
"Nay, your Grace," said Dennet, hanging her head, "Giles Headley is
my betrothed--that is, when his time is served, he will be--father
sets great store by him, for he is the only one of our name to keep
up the armoury, and he has a mother, Sir, a mother at Salisbury.
But oh, Sir, Sir! Stephen is so good and brave a had! He made in
to save father from the robbers, and he draws the best bow in
Cheapside, and he can grave steel as well as Tibble himself, and
this is the whistle your Grace wots of."
Henry listened with an amused smile that grew broader as Dennet's
voice all unconsciously became infinitely more animated and earnest,
when she began to plead Stephen's cause.
"Well, well, sweetheart," he said, "I trow thou must have the twain
of them, though," he added to the Cardinal, who smiled broadly, "it
might perchance be more for the maid's peace than she wots of now,
were we to leave this same knight of the whistle to be strung up at
once, ere she have found her heart; but in sooth that I cannot do,
owing well nigh a life to him and his brother. Moreover, we may not
have old Headley's skill in weapons lost!"
Dennet held her hands close clasped while these words were spoken
apart. She felt as if her hope, half granted, were being snatched
from her, as another actor appeared on the scene, a gentleman in a
lawyer's gown, and square cap, which he doffed as he advanced and
put his knee to the ground before the King, who greeted him with
"Save you, good Sir Thomas, a fair morning to you."
"They told me your Grace was in Council with my Lord Cardinal," said
Sir Thomas More; "but seeing that there was likewise this merry
company, I durst venture to thrust in, since my business is urgent."
Dennet here forgot court manners enough to cry out, "O your Grace!
your Grace, be pleased for pity's sake to let me have the pardon for
them first, or they'll be hanged and dead. I saw the gallows in
Cheapside, and when they are dead, what good will your Grace's mercy
"I see," said Sir Thomas. "This little maid's errand jumps with
mine own, which was to tell your Grace that unless there be speedy
commands to the Howards to hold their hands, there will be wailing
like that of Egypt in the City. The poor boys, who were but
shouting and brawling after the nature of mettled youth--the most
with nought of malice--are penned up like sheep for the slaughter--
ay, and worse than sheep, for we quarter not our mutton alive,
whereas these poor younglings--babes of thirteen, some of them--be
indicted for high treason! Will the parents, shut in from coming to
them by my Lord of Norfolk's men, ever forget their agonies, I ask
Henry's face grew red with passion. "If Norfolk thinks to act the
King, and turn the city into a shambles,"--with a mighty oath--"he
shall abye it. Here, Lord Cardinal--more, let the free pardon be
drawn up for the two lads. And we will ourselves write to the Lord
Mayor and to Norfolk that though they may work their will on the
movers of the riot--that pestilent Lincoln and his sort--not a
prentice lad shall be touched till our pleasure be known. There
now, child, thou hast won the lives of thy lads, as thou callest
them. Wilt thou rue the day, I marvel? Why cannot some of their
mothers pluck up spirit and beg them off as thou hast done?"
"Yea," said Wolsey. "That were the right course. If the Queen were
moved to pray your Grace to pity the striplings then could the
Spaniards make no plaint of too much clemency being shown."
They were all this time getting nearer the palace, and being now at
a door opening into the hall, Henry turned round. "There, pretty
maid, spread the tidings among thy gossips, that they have a tender-
hearted Queen, and a gracious King. The Lord Cardinal will
presently give thee the pardon for both thy lads, and by and by thou
wilt know whether thou thankest me for it!" Then putting his hand
under her chin, he turned up her face to him, kissed her on each
cheek, and touched his feathered cap to the others, saying, "See
that my bidding be done," and disappeared.