Part 5 out of 7
"It must be prompt, if it be to save any marked for death this
morn," More in a how voice observed to the Cardinal. "Lord Edmund
Howard is keen as a blood-hound on his vengeance."
Wolsey was far from being a cruel man, and besides, there was a
natural antagonism between him and the old nobility, and he liked
and valued his fool, to whom he turned, saying, "And what stake hast
thou in this, sirrah? Is't all pure charity?"
"I'm scarce such a fool as that, Cousin Red Hat," replied Randall,
rallying his powers. "I leave that to Mr. More here, whom we all
know to be a good fool spoilt. But I'll make a clean breast of it.
This same Stephen is my sister's son, an orphan lad of good birth
and breeding--whom, my lord, I would die to save."
"Thou shalt have the pardon instantly, Merriman," said the Cardinal,
and beckoning to one of the attendants who clustered round the door,
he gave orders that a clerk should instantly, and very briefly, make
out the form. Sir Thomas More, hearing the name of Headley, added
that for him indeed the need of haste was great, since he was one of
the fourteen sentenced to die that morning.
Quipsome Hal was interrogated as to how he had come, and the
Cardinal and Sir Thomas agreed that the river would be as speedy a
way of returning as by land; but they decided that a King's
pursuivant should accompany him, otherwise there would be no chance
of forcing his way in time through the streets, guarded by the
As rapidly as was in the nature of a high officer's clerk to produce
a dozen lines, the precious document was indicted, and it was
carried at last to Dennet, bearing Henry's signature and seal. She
held it to her bosom, while, accompanied by the pursuivant, who--
happily for them--was interested in one of the unfortunate fourteen,
and therefore did not wait to stand on his dignity, they hurried
across to the place where they had left the barge--Tibble and
Ambrose joining them on the way. Stephen was safe. Of his life
there could be no doubt, and Ambrose almost repented of feeling his
heart so light while Giles's fate hung upon their speed.
The oars were plied with hearty good-will, but the barge was
somewhat heavy, and by and by coming to a landing-place where two
watermen had a much smaller and lighter boat, the pursuivant advised
that he should go forward with the more necessary persons, leaving
the others to follow. After a few words, the light weights of
Tibble and Dennet prevailed in their favour, and they shot forward
in the little boat.
They passed the Temple--on to the stairs nearest Cheapside--up the
street. There was an awful stillness, only broken by heavy knells
sounding at intervals from the churches. The back streets were
thronged by a trembling, weeping people, who all eagerly made way
for the pursuivant, as he called "Make way, good people--a pardon!"
They saw the broader space of Cheapside. Horsemen in armour guarded
it, but they too opened a passage for the pursuivant. There was to
be seen above the people's heads a scaffold. A fire burnt on it--
the gallows and noosed rope hung above.
A figure was mounting the ladder. A boy! Oh, Heavens! would it be
too late? Who was it? They were still too far off to see. They
might only be cruelly holding out hope to one of the doomed.
The pursuivant shouted aloud--"In the King's name, Hold!" He lifted
Dennet on his shoulder, and bade her wave her parchment. An
overpowering roar arose. "A pardon! a pardon! God save the King!"
Every hand seemed to be forwarding the pursuivant and the child, and
it was Giles Headley, who, loosed from the hold of the executioner,
stared wildly about him, like one distraught.
CHAPTER XVIII. PARDON
"What if;' quoth she, 'by Spanish blood
Have London's stately streets been wet,
Yet will I seek this country's good
And pardon for these young men get.'"
The night and morning had been terrible to the poor boys, who only
had begun to understand what awaited them. The fourteen selected
had little hope, and indeed a priest came in early morning to hear
the confessions of Giles Headley and George Bates, the only two who
were in Newgate.
George Bates was of the stolid, heavy disposition that seems armed
by outward indifference, or mayhap pride. He knew that his case was
hopeless, and he would not thaw even to the priest. But Giles had
been quite unmanned, and when he found that for the doleful
procession to the Guildhall he was to be coupled with George Bates,
instead of either of his room-fellows, he flung himself on Stephen's
neck, sobbing out messages for his mother, and entreaties that, if
Stephen survived, he would be good to Aldonza. "For you will wed
There the jailers roughly ordered him to hold his peace, and dragged
him off to be pinioned to his fellow-sufferer. Stephen was not
called till some minutes later, and had not seen him since. He
himself was of course overshadowed by the awful gloom of
apprehension for himself, and pity for his comrades, and he was
grieved at not having seen or heard of his brother or master, but he
had a very present care in Jasper, who was sickening in the prison
atmosphere, and when fastened to his arm, seemed hardly able to
walk. Leashed as they were, Stephen could only help him by holding
the free hand, and when they came to the hall, supporting him as
much as possible, as they stood in the miserable throng during the
conclusion of the formalities, which ended by the horrible sentence
of the traitor being pronounced on the whole two hundred and
seventy-eight. Poor little Jasper woke for an interval from the
sense of present discomfort to hear it, he seemed to stiffen all
over with the shock of horror, and then hung a dead weight on
Stephen's arm. It would have dragged him down, but there was no
room to fall, and the wretchedness of the lad against whom he
staggered found vent in a surly imprecation, which was lost among
the cries and the entreaties of some of the others. The London
magistracy were some of them in tears, but the indictment for high
treason removed the poor lads from their jurisdiction to that of the
Earl Marshal, and thus they could do nothing to save the fourteen
foremost victims. The others were again driven out of the hall to
return to their prisons; the nearest pair of lads doing their best
to help Stephen drag his burthen along. In the halt outside, to
arrange the sad processions, one of the guards, of milder mood, cut
the cord that bound the lifeless weight to Stephen, and permitted
the child to be laid on the stones of the court, his collar
unbuttoned, and water to be brought. Jasper was just reviving when
the word came to march, but still he could not stand, and Stephen
was therefore permitted the free use of his arms, in order to carry
the poor little fellow. Thirteen years made a considerable load for
seventeen, though Stephen's arms were exercised in the smithy, and
it was a sore pull from the Guildhall. Jasper presently recovered
enough to walk with a good deal of support. When he was laid on the
bed he fell unto an exhausted sleep, while Stephen kneeling, as the
strokes of the knell smote on his ear, prayed--as he had never
prayed before--for his comrade, for his enemy, and for all the
unhappy boys who were being led to their death wherever the outrages
had been committed.
Once indeed there was a strange sound coming across that of the
knell. It almost sounded like an acclamation of joy. Could people
be so cruel, thought Stephen, as to mock poor Giles's agonies?
There were the knells still sounding. How long he did not know, for
a beneficent drowsiness stole over him as he knelt, and he was only
awakened, at the same time as Jasper, by the opening of his door.
He looked up to see three figures--his brother, his uncle, his
master. Were they come to take leave of him? But the one
conviction that their faces beamed with joy was all that he could
gather, for little Jasper sprang up with a scream of terror,
"Stephen, Stephen, save me! They will cut out my heart," and clung
trembling to his breast, with arms round his neck.
"Poor child! poor child!" sighed Master Headley. "Would that I
brought him the same tidings as to thee!"
"Is it so?" asked Stephen, reading confirmation as he looked from
the one to the other. Though he was unable to rise under the weight
of the boy, life and light were coming to his eye, while Ambrose
clasped his hand tightly, chocked by the swelling of his heart in
almost an agony of joy and thankfulness.
"Yea, my good lad," said the alderman. "Thy good kinsman took my
little wench to bear to the King the token he gave thee."
"And Giles?" Stephen asked, "and the rest?"
"Giles is safe. For the rest--may God have mercy on their souls."
These words passed while Stephen rocked Jasper backwards and
forwards, his face hidden on his neck.
"Come home," added Master Headley. "My little Dennet and Giles
cannot yet rejoice till thou art with them. Giles would have come
himself, but he is sorely shaken, and could scarce stand."
Jasper caught the words, and loosing his friend's neck, looked up.
"Oh! are we going home? Come, Stephen. Where's brother Simon? I
want my good sister! I want nurse! Oh! take me home!" For as he
tried to sit up, he fell back sick and dizzy on the bed.
"Alack! alack!" mourned Master Headley; and the jester, muttering
that it was not the little wench's fault, turned to the window, and
burst into tears. Stephen understood it all, and though he felt a
passionate longing for freedom, he considered in one moment whether
there were any one of his fellow prisoners to whom Jasper could be
left, or who would be of the least comfort to him, but could find no
one, and resolved to cling to him as once to old Spring.
"Sir," he said, as he rose to his master, "I fear me he is very
sick. Will they--will your worship give me licence to bide with him
till this ends?"
"Thou art a good-hearted lad," said the alderman with a hand on his
shoulder. "There is no further danger of life to the prentice lads.
The King hath sent to forbid all further dealing with them, and hath
bidden my little maid to set it about that if their mothers beg them
grace from good Queen Katherine, they shall have it. But this poor
child! He can scarce be left. His brother will take it well of
thee if thou wilt stay with him till some tendance can be had. We
can see to that. Thanks be to St. George and our good King, this
good City is our own again!"
The alderman turned away, and Ambrose and Stephen exchanged a
passionate embrace, feeling what it was to be still left to one
another. The jester too shook his nephew's hand, saying, "Boy, boy,
the blessing of such as I is scarce worth the having, but I would
thy mother could see thee this day."
Stephen was left with these words and his brother's look to bear him
through a trying time.
For the "Captain of Newgate" was an autocrat, who looked on his
captives as compulsory lodgers, out of whom he was entitled to wring
as much as possible--as indeed he had no other salary, nor means of
maintaining his underlings, a state of things which lasted for two
hundred years longer, until the days of James Oglethorpe and John
Howard. Even in the rare cases of acquittals, the prisoner could
not be released till he had paid his fees, and that Giles Headley
should have been borne off from the scaffold itself in debt to him
was an invasion of his privileges, which did not dispose him to be
favourable to any one connected with that affair; and he liked to
show his power and dignity even to an alderman.
He was found sitting in a comfortable tapestried chamber, handsomely
dressed in orange and brown, and with a smooth sleek countenance and
the appearance of a good-natured substantial citizen.
He only half rose from his big carved chair, and touched without
removing his cap, to greet the alderman, as he observed, without the
accustomed prefix of your worship--"So, you are come about your
prentice's fees and dues. By St. Peter of the Fetters, 'tis an
irksome matter to have such a troop of idle, mischievous, dainty
striplings thrust on one, giving more trouble, and making more call
and outcry than twice as many honest thieves and pickpurses."
"Be assured, sir, they will scarce trouble you longer than they can
help," said Master Headley.
"Yea, the Duke and my Lord Edmund are making brief work of them,"
quoth the jailer. "Ha!" with an oath, "what's that? Nought will
daunt those lads till the hangman is at their throats."
For it was a real hurrah that reached his ears. The jester had got
all the boys round him in the court, and was bidding them keep up a
good heart, for their lives were safe, and their mothers would beg
them off. Their shouts did not tend to increase the captain's good
humour, and though he certainly would not have let out Alderman
Headley's remaining apprentice without his fee, he made as great a
favour of permission, and charged as exorbitantly, for a pardoned
man to remain within his domains as if they had been the most costly
and delightful hostel in the kingdom.
Master Hope, who presently arrived, had to pay a high fee for leave
to bring Master Todd, the barber-surgeon, with him to see his
brother; but though he offered a mark a day (a huge amount at that
time) the captain was obdurate in refusing to allow the patient to
be attended by his own old nurse, declaring that it was contrary to
discipline, and (what probably affected him much more) one such
woman could cause more trouble than a dozen felons. No doubt it was
true, for she would have insisted on moderate cleanliness and
comfort. No other attendant whom Mr. Hope could find would endure
the disgrace, the discomfort, and alarm of a residence in Newgate
for Jasper's sake; so that the drapers gratitude to Stephen
Birkenholt, for voluntarily sharing the little fellow's captivity,
was great, and he gave payment to one or two of the officials to
secure the two lads being civilly treated, and that the provisions
sent in reached them duly.
Jasper did not in general seem very ill by day, only heavy, listless
and dull, unable to eat, too giddy to sit up, and unable to help
crying like a babe, if Stephen left him for a moment; but he never
fell asleep without all the horror and dread of the sentence coming
over him. Like all the boys in London, he had gazed at executions
with the sort of curiosity that leads rustic lads to run to see pigs
killed, and now the details came over him in semi-delirium, as acted
out on himself, and he shrieked and struggled in an anguish which
was only mitigated by Stephen's reassurances, caresses, even
scoldings. The other youths, relieved from the apprehension of
death, agreed to regard their detention as a holiday, and not being
squeamish, turned the yard into a playground, and there they
certainly made uproar, and played pranks, enough to justify the
preference of the captain for full grown criminals. But Stephen
could not join them, for Jasper would not spare him for an instant,
and he himself, though at first sorely missing employment and
exercise, was growing drowsy and heavy limbed in his cramped life
and the evil atmosphere, even the sick longings for liberty were
gradually passing away from him, so that sometimes he felt as if he
had lived here for ages and known no other life, though no sooner
did he lie down to rest, and shut his eyes, than the trees and green
glades of the New Forest rose before him, with all the hollies
shining in the summer light, or the gorse making a sheet of gold.
The time was not in reality so very long. On the 7th of May, John
Lincoln, the broker, who had incited Canon Peale to preach against
the foreigners, was led forth with several others of the real
promoters of the riot to the centre of Cheapside, where Lincoln was
put death, but orders were brought to respite the rest; and, at the
same time, all the armed men were withdrawn, the City began to
breathe, and the women who had been kept within doors to go abroad
The Recorder of London and several aldermen were to meet the King at
his manor at Greenwich. This was the mothers' opportunity. The
civic dignitaries rode in mourning robes, but the wives and mothers,
sweethearts and sisters, every woman who had a youth's life at
stake, came together, took boat, and went down the river, a strange
fleet of barges, all containing white caps, and black gowns and
hoods, for all were clad in the most correct and humble citizen's
"Never was such a sight," said Jester Randall, who had taken care to
secure a view, and who had come with his report to the Dragon court.
"It might have been Ash Wednesday for the look of them, when they
landed and got into order. One would think every prentice lad had
got at least three mothers, and four or five aunts and sisters! I
trow, verily, that half of them came to look on at the other half,
and get a sight of Greenwich and the three queens. However, be that
as it might, not one of them but knew how to open the sluices.
Queen Katharine noted well what was coming, and she and the Queens
of Scotland and France sat in the great chamber with the doors open.
And immediately there's a knock at the door, and so soon as the
usher opens it, in they come, three and three, every good wife of
them with her napkin to her eyes, and working away with her sobs.
Then Mistress Todd, the barber-surgeon's wife, she spoke for all,
being thought to have the more courtly tongue, having been tirewoman
to Queen Mary ere she went to France. Verily her husband must have
penned the speech for her--for it began right scholarly, and
flowery, with a likening of themselves to the mothers of Bethlehem
(lusty innocents theirs, I trow!), but ere long the good woman
faltered and forgot her part, and broke out 'Oh! madam, you that are
a mother yourself, for the sake of your own sweet babe, give us back
our sons.' And therewith they all fell on their knees, weeping and
wringing their hands, and crying out, 'Mercy, mercy! For our
Blessed Lady's sake, have pity on our children!' till the good
Queen, with the tears running down her cheeks for very ruth, told
them that the power was not in her hands, but the will was for them
and their poor sons, and that she would strive so to plead for them
with the King as to win their freedom. Meantime, there were the
aldermen watching for the King in his chamber of presence, till
forth he came, when all fell on their knees, and the Recorder spake
for them, casting all the blame on the vain and light persons who
had made that enormity. Thereupon what does our Hal but make
himself as stern as though he meant to string them all up in a line.
'Ye ought to wail and be sorry,' said he, 'whereas ye say that
substantial persons were not concerned, it appeareth to the
contrary. You did wink at the matter,' quoth he, 'and at this time
we will grant you neither favour nor good-will.' However, none who
knew Hal's eye but could tell that 'twas all very excellent fooling,
when he bade them get to the Cardinal. Therewith, in came the three
queens, hand in hand, with tears in their eyes, so as they might
have been the three queens that bore away King Arthur, and down they
went on their knees, and cried aloud 'Dear sir, we who are mothers
ourselves, beseech you to set the hearts at ease of all the poor
mothers who are mourning for their sons.' Whereupon, the door being
opened, came in so piteous a sound of wailing and lamentation as our
Harry's name must have been Herod to withstand! 'Stand up, Kate,'
said he, 'stand up, sisters, and hark in your ear. Not a hair of
the silly lads shall be touched, but they must bide lock and key
long enough to teach them and their masters to keep better ward.'
And then when the queens came back with the good tidings, such a
storm of blessings was never heard, laughings and cryings, and the
like, for verily some of the women seemed as distraught for joy as
ever they had been for grief and fear. Moreover, Mistress Todd
being instructed of her husband, led up Mistress Hope to Queen Mary,
and told her the tale of how her husband's little brother, a mere
babe, lay sick in prison--a mere babe, a suckling as it were--and
was like to die there, unless the sooner delivered, and how our
Steve was fool enough to tarry with the poor child, pardoned though
he be. Then the good lady wept again, and 'Good woman,' saith she
to Mistress Hope, 'the King will set thy brother free anon. His
wrath is not with babes, nor with lads like this other of whom thou
"So off was she to the King again, and though he and his master
pished and pshawed, and said if one and another were to be set free
privily in this sort, there would be none to come and beg for mercy
as a warming to all malapert youngsters to keep within bounds, 'Nay,
verily,' quoth I, seeing the moment for shooting a fool's bolt among
them, 'methinks Master Death will have been a pick-lock before you
are ready for them, and then who will stand to cry mercy?'
The narrative was broken off short by a cry of jubilee in the court.
Workmen, boys, and all were thronging together, Kit Smallbones' head
towering in the midst. Vehement welcomes seemed in progress.
"Stephen! Stephen!" shouted Dennet, and flew out of the hall and
down the steps.
"The lad himself!" exclaimed the jester, leaping down after her.
"Stephen, the good boy!" said Master Headley, descending more
slowly, but not less joyfully.
Yes, Stephen himself it was, who had quietly walked into the court.
Master Hope and Master Todd had brought the order for Jasper's
release, had paid the captain's exorbitant fees for both, and, while
the sick boy was carried home in a litter, Stephen had entered the
Dragon court through the gates, as if he were coming home from an
errand; though the moment he was recognised by the little four-year
old Smallbones, there had been a general rush and shout of ecstatic
welcome, led by Giles Headley, who fairly threw himself on Stephen's
neck, as they met like comrades after a desperate battle. Not one
was there who did not claim a grasp of the boy's hand, and who did
not pour out welcomes and greetings, while in the midst, the
released captive looked, to say the truth, very spiritless, faded,
dusty, nay dirty. The court seemed spinning round with him, and the
loud welcomes roared in his ears. He was glad that Dennet took one
hand, and Giles the other, declaring that he must be led to the
He muttered something about being in too foul trim to go near her,
but Dennet held him fast, and he was too dizzy to make much
resistance. Old Mrs. Headley was better again, though not able to
do much but sit by the fire kept burning to drive away the plague
which was always smouldering in London.
She held out her hands to Stephen, as he knelt down by her. "Take
an old woman's blessing, my good youth," she said. "Right glad am I
to see thee once more. Thou wilt not be the worse for the pains
thou hast spent on the little lad, though they have tried thee
Stephen, becoming somewhat less dazed, tried to fulfil his long
cherished intention of thanking Dennet for her intercession, but the
instant he tried to speak, to his dismay and indignation, tears
choked his voice, and he could do nothing but weep, as if, thought
he, his manhood had been left behind in the jail.
"Vex not thyself," said the old dame, as she saw him struggling with
his sobs. "Thou art worn out--Giles here was not half his own man
when he came out, nor is he yet. Nay, beset him not, children. He
should go to his chamber, change these garments, and rest ere
Stephen was fain to obey, only murmuring an inquiry for his brother,
to which his uncle responded that if Ambrose were at home, the
tidings would send him to the Dragon instantly; but he was much with
his old master, who was preparing to leave England, his work here
The jester then took leave, accepting conditionally an invitation to
supper. Master Headley, Smallbones, and Tibble now knew who he was,
but the secret was kept from all the rest of the household, lest
Stephen should be twitted with the connection.
Cold water was not much affected by the citizens of London, but
smiths' and armourers' work entailed a freer use of it than less
grimy trades; and a bath and Sunday garments made Stephen more like
himself, though still he felt so weary and depressed that he missed
the buoyant joy of release to which he had been looking forward.
He was sitting on the steps, leaning against the rail, so much tired
that he hoped none of his comrades would notice that he had come
out, when Ambrose hurried into the court, having just heard tidings
of his freedom, and was at his side at once. The two brothers sat
together, leaning against one another as if they had all that they
could wish or long for. They had not met for more than a week, for
Ambrose's finances had not availed to fee the turnkeys to give him
"And what art thou doing, Ambrose?" asked Stephen, rousing a little
from his lethargy. "Methought I heard mine uncle say thine
occupation was gone?"
"Even so," replied Ambrose. "Master Lucas will sail in a week's
time to join his brother at Rotterdam, bearing with him what he hath
been able to save out of the havoc. I wot not if I shall ever see
the good man more."
"I am glad thou dost not go with him," said Stephen, with a hand on
his brother's leather-covered knee.
"I would not put seas between us," returned Ambrose. "Moreover,
though I grieve to lose my good master, who hath been so scurvily
entreated here, yet, Stephen, this trouble and turmoil hath brought
me that which I longed for above all, even to have speech with the
Dean of St. Paul's."
He then told Stephen how he had brought Dean Colet to administer the
last rites to Abenali, and how that good man had bidden Lucas to
take shelter at the Deanery, in the desolation of his own abode.
This had led to conversation between the Dean and the printer;
Lucas, who distrusted all ecclesiastics, would accept no patronage.
He had a little hoard, buried in the corner of his stall, which
would suffice to carry him to his native home and he wanted no more;
but he had spoken of Ambrose, and the Dean was quite ready to be
interested in the youth who had led him to Abenali.
"He had me to his privy chamber," said Ambrose, "and spake to me as
no man hath yet spoken--no, not even Tibble. He let me utter all my
mind, nay, I never wist before even what mine own thoughts were till
he set them before me--as it were in a mirror."
"Thou wast ever in a harl," said Stephen, drowsily using the
Hampshire word for whirl or entanglement.
"Yea. On the one side stood all that I had ever believed or learnt
before I came hither of the one true and glorious Mother-Church to
whom the Blessed Lord had committed the keys of His kingdom, through
His holy martyrs and priests to give us the blessed host and lead us
in the way of salvation. And on the other side, I cannot but see
the lewd and sinful and worldly lives of the most part, and hear the
lies whereby they amass wealth and turn men from the spirit of truth
and holiness to delude them into believing that wilful sin can be
committed without harm, and that purchase of a parchment is as good
as repentance. That do I see and hear. And therewith my master
Lucas and Dan Tindall, and those of the new light, declare that all
has been false even from the very outset, and that all the pomp and
beauty is but Satan's bait, and that to believe in Christ alone is
all that needs to justify us, casting all the rest aside. All
seemed a mist, and I was swayed hither and thither till the more I
read and thought, the greater was the fog. And this--I know not
whether I told it to yonder good and holy doctor, or whether he knew
it, for his eyes seemed to see into me, and he told me that he had
felt and thought much the same. But on that one great truth, that
faith in the Passion is salvation, is the Church built, though
sinful men have hidden it by their errors and lies as befell before
among the Israelites, whose law, like ours, was divine. Whatever is
entrusted to man, he said, will become stained, soiled, and twisted,
though the power of the Holy Spirit will strive to renew it. And
such an outpouring of cleansing and renewing power is, he saith,
abroad in our day. When he was a young man, this good father, so he
said, hoped great things, and did his best to set forth the truth,
both at Oxford and here, as indeed he hath ever done, he and the
good Doctor Erasmus striving to turn men's eyes back to the
simplicity of God's Word rather than to the arguments and deductions
of the schoolmen. And for the abuses of evil priests that have
sprung up, my Lord Cardinal sought the Legatine Commission from our
holy father at Rome to deal with them. But Dr. Colet saith that
there are other forces at work, and he doubteth greatly whether this
same cleansing can be done without some great and terrible rending
and upheaving, that may even split the Church as it were asunder--
since judgment surely awaiteth such as will not be reformed. But,
quoth he, 'our Mother-Church is God's own Church and I will abide by
her to the end, as the means of oneness with my Lord and Head, and
do thou the same, my son, for thou art like to be more sorely tried
than will a frail old elder like me, who would fain say his Nunc
Dimittis, if such be the Lord's will, ere the foundations be cast
Ambrose had gone on rehearsing all these words with the absorption
of one to whom they were everything, till it occurred to him to
wonder that Stephen had listened to so much with patience and
assent, and then, looking at the position of head and hands, he
perceived that his brother was asleep, and came to a sudden halt.
This roused Stephen to say, "Eh? What? The Dean, will he do aught
"Yea," said Ambrose, recollecting that there was little use in
returning to the perplexities which Stephen could not enter into.
"He deemed that in this mood of mine, yea, and as matters now be at
the universities, I had best not as yet study there for the
priesthood. But he said he would commend me to a friend whose life
would better show me how the new gives life to the old than any man
he wots of."
"One of thy old doctors in barnacles, I trow," said Stephen.
"Nay, verily. We saw him t'other night perilling his life to stop
the poor crazy prentices, and save the foreigners. Dennet and our
uncle saw him pleading for them with the King."
"What! Sir Thomas More?"
"Ay, no other. He needs a clerk for his law matters, and the Dean
said he would speak of me to him. He is to sup at the Deanery to-
morrow, and I am to be in waiting to see him. I shall go with a
lighter heart now that thou art beyond the clutches of the captain
"Speak no more of that!" said Stephen, with a shudder. "Would that
I could forget it!"
In truth Stephen's health had suffered enough to change the bold,
high-spirited, active had, so that he hardly knew himself. He was
quite incapable of work all the next day, and Mistress Headley began
to dread that he had brought home jail fever, and insisted on his
being inspected by the barber-surgeon, Todd, who proceeded to bleed
the patient, in order, as he said, to carry off the humours
contracted in the prison. He had done the same by Jasper Hope, and
by Giles, but he followed the treatment up with better counsel,
namely, that the lads should all be sent out of the City to some
farm where they might eat curds and whey, until their strength
should be restored. Thus they would be out of reach of the sweating
sickness which was already in some of the purlieus of St.
Katharine's Docks, and must be specially dangerous in their lowered
Master Hope came in just after this counsel had been given. He had
a sister married to the host of a large prosperous inn near Windsor,
and he proposed to send not only Jasper but Stephen thither, feeling
how great a debt of gratitude he owed to the lad. Remembering well
the good young Mistress Streatfield, and knowing that the Antelope
was a large old house of excellent repute, where she often lodged
persons of quality attending on the court or needing country air,
Master Headley added Giles to the party at his own expense, and
wished also to send Dennet for greater security, only neither her
grandmother nor Mrs. Hope could leave home.
It ended, however, in Perronel Randall being asked to take charge of
the whole party, including Aldonza. That little damsel had been in
a manner confided to her both by the Dean of St. Paul's and by
Tibble Steelman--and indeed the motherly woman, after nursing and
soothing her through her first despair at the loss of her father,
was already loving her heartily, and was glad to give her a place in
the home which Ambrose was leaving on being made an attendant on Sir
For the interview at the Deanery was satisfactory. The young man,
after a good supper, enlivened by the sweet singing of some chosen
pupils of St. Paul's school, was called up to where the Dean sat,
and with him, the man of the peculiarly sweet countenance, with the
noble and deep expression, yet withal, something both tender and
humorous in it.
They made him tell his whole life, and asked many questions about
Abenali, specially about the fragment of Arabic scroll which had
been clutched in his hand even as he lay dying. They much regretted
never having known of his existence till too late. "Jewels lie
before the unheeding!" said More. Then Ambrose was called on to
show a specimen of his own penmanship, and to write from Sir
Thomas's dictation in English and in Latin. The result was that he
was engaged to act as one of the clerks Sir Thomas employed in his
occupations alike as lawyer, statesman, and scholar.
"Methinks I have seen thy face before," said Sir Thomas, looking
keenly at him. "I have beheld those black eyes, though with a
Ambrose blushed deeply. "Sir, it is but honest to tell you that my
mother's brother is jester to my Lord Cardinal."
"Quipsome Hal Merriman! Patch as the King calleth him!" exclaimed
Sir Thomas. "A man I have ever thought wore the motley rather from
excess, than infirmity, of wit."
"Nay, sir, so please you, it was his good heart that made him a
jester," said Ambrose, explaining the story of Randall and his
Perronel in a few words, which touched the friends a good deal, and
the Dean remembered that she was in charge of the little Moresco
girl. He lost nothing by dealing thus openly with his new master,
who promised to keep his secret for him, then gave him handsel of
his salary, and bade him collect his possessions, and come to take
up his abode in the house of the More family at Chelsea.
He would still often see his brother in the intervals of attending
Sir Thomas to the courts of law, but the chief present care was to
get the boys into purer air, both to expedite their recovery and to
ensure them against being dragged into the penitential company who
were to ask for their lives on the 22nd of May, consisting of such
of the prisoners who could still stand or go--for jail-fever was
making havoc among them, and some of the better-conditioned had been
released by private interest. The remainder, not more than half of
the original two hundred and seventy-eight, were stripped to their
shirts, had halters hung round their necks, and then, roped together
as before, were driven through the streets to Westminster, where the
King sat enthroned. There, looking utterly miserable, they fell on
their knees before him, and received his pardon for their
misdemeanours. They returned to their masters, and so ended that
Ill May-day, which was the longer remembered because one Churchill,
a ballad-monger in St. Paul's Churchyard, indited a poem on it,
wherein he swelled the number of prentices to two thousand, and of
the victims to two hundred. Will Wherry, who escaped from among the
prisoners very forlorn, was recommended by Ambrose to the work of a
carter at the Dragon, which he much preferred to printing.
CHAPTER XIX. AT THE ANTELOPE
"Say, Father Thames, for thou hast seen
Full many a sprightly race,
Disporting on thy margent green,
The paths of pleasure trace."
Master Hope took all the guests by boat to Windsor, and very soon
the little party at the Antelope was in a state of such perfect
felicity as became a proverb with them all their lives afterwards.
It was an inn wherein to take one's ease, a large hostel full of
accommodation for man and horse, with a big tapestried room of
entertainment below, where meals were taken, with an oriel window
with a view of the Round Tower, and above it a still more charming
one, known as the Red Rose, because one of the Dukes of Somerset had
been wont to lodge there. The walls were tapestried with the story
of St. Genoveva of Brabant, fresh and new on Mrs. Streatfield's
marriage; there was a huge bed with green curtains of that dame's
own work, where one might have said
"Above, below, the rose of snow,
Twined with her blushing foe we spread."
so as to avoid all offence. There was also a cupboard or sideboard
of the choicer plate belonging to the establishment, and another
awmry containing appliances for chess and backgammon, likewise two
large chairs, several stools, and numerous chests.
This apartment was given up to Mistress Randall and the two girls,
subject however to the chance of turning out for any very
distinguished guests. The big bed held all three, and the chamber
was likewise their sitting-room, though they took their meals down
stairs, and joined the party in the common room in the evening
whenever they were not out of doors, unless there were guests whom
Perronel did not think desirable company for her charges. Stephen
and Giles were quartered in a small room known as the Feathers,
smelling so sweet of lavender and woodruff that Stephen declared it
carried him back to the Forest. Mrs. Streatfield would have taken
Jasper to tend among her children, but the boy could not bear to be
without Stephen, and his brother advised her to let it be so, and
not try to make a babe of him again.
The guest-chamber below stairs opened at one end into the innyard, a
quadrangle surrounded with stables, outhouses, and offices, with a
gallery running round to give access to the chambers above, where,
when the Court was at Windsor, two or three great men's trains of
retainers might be crowded together.
One door, however, in the side of the guest-chamber had steps down
to an orchard, full of apple and pear trees in their glory of pink
bud and white blossom, borders of roses, gillyflowers, and lilies of
the valley running along under the grey walls. There was a broad
space of grass near the houses, whence could be seen the Round Tower
of the Castle looking down in protection, while the background of
the view was filled up with a mass of the foliage of Windsor forest,
in the spring tints.
Stephen never thought of its being beautiful, but he revelled in the
refreshment of anything so like home, and he had nothing to wish for
but his brother, and after all he was too contented and happy even
to miss him much.
Master Streatfield was an elderly man, fat and easygoing, to whom
talking seemed rather a trouble than otherwise, though he was very
good-natured. His wife was a merry, lively, active woman, who had
been handed over to him by her father like a piece of Flanders
cambric, but who never seemed to regret her position, managed men
and maids, farm and guests, kept perfect order without seeming to do
so, and made great friends with Perronel, never guessing that she
had been one of the strolling company, who, nine or ten years
before, had been refused admission to the Antelope, then crowded
with my Lord of Oxford's followers.
At first, it was enough for the prentices to spend most of their
time in lying about on the grass under the trees. Giles, who was in
the best condition, exerted himself so far as to try to learn chess
from Aldonza, who seemed to be a proficient in the game, and even
defeated the good-natured burly parson who came every evening to the
Antelope, to imbibe slowly a tankard of ale, and hear any news there
She and Giles were content to spend hours over her instructions in
chess on that pleasant balcony in the shade of the house. Though
really only a year older than Dennet Headley, she looked much more,
and was so in all her ways. It never occurred to her to run
childishly wild with delight in the garden and orchard as did
Dennet, who, with little five-years-old Will Streatfield for her
guide and playfellow, rushed about hither and thither, making
acquaintance with hens and chickens, geese and goslings, seeing cows
and goats milked, watching butter churned, bringing all manner of
animal and vegetable curiosities to Stephen to be named and
explained, and enjoying his delight in them, a delight which after
the first few days became more and more vigorous.
By and by there was punting and fishing on the river, strawberry
gathering in the park, explorations of the forest, expeditions of
all sorts and kinds, Jasper being soon likewise well enough to share
in them. The boys and girls were in a kind of fairy hand under
Perronel's kind wing, the wandering habits of whose girlhood made
the freedom of the country far more congenial to her than it would
have been to any regular Londoner.
Stephen was the great oracle, of course, as to the deer respectfully
peeped at in the park, or the squirrels, the hares and rabbits, in
the forest, and the inhabitants of the stream above or below. It
was he who secured and tamed the memorials of their visit--two
starlings for Dennet and Aldonza. The birds were to be taught to
speak, and to do wonders of all kinds, but Aldonza's bird was found
one morning dead, and Giles consoled her by the promise of something
much bigger, and that would talk much better. Two days after he
brought her a young jackdaw. Aldonza clasped her hands and admired
its glossy back and queer blue eye, and was in transports when it
uttered something between "Jack" and "good lack." But Dennet looked
in scorn at it, and said, "That's a bird tamed already. He didn't
catch it. He only bought it! I would have none such! An ugsome
great thieving bird!"
"Nay now, Mistress Dennet," argued Perronel. "Thou hast thy bird,
and Alice has lost hers. It is not meet to grudge it to her."
"I! Grudge it to her!" said Dennet, with a toss of the head. "I
grudge her nought from Giles Headley, so long as I have my Goldspot
that Stephen climbed the wall for, his very self."
And Dennet turned majestically away with her bird--Goldspot only in
the future--perched on her finger; while Perronel shook her head
But they were all children still, and Aldonza was of a nature that
was slow to take offence, while it was quite true that Dennet had
been free from jealousy of the jackdaw, and only triumphant in
Stephen's prowess and her own starling.
The great pleasure of all was a grand stag-hunt, got up for the
diversion of the French ambassadors, who had come to treat for the
espousals of the infant Princess Mary with the baby "Dolphyne."
Probably these illustrious personages did not get half the pleasure
out of it that the Antelope party had. Were they not, by special
management of a yeoman pricker who had recognised in Stephen a
kindred spirit, and had a strong admiration for Mistress Randall,
placed where there was the best possible view of hunters, horses,
and hounds, lords and ladies, King and ambassadors, in their
gorgeous hunting trim? Did not Stephen, as a true verdurer's son,
interpret every note on the horn, and predict just what was going to
happen, to the edification of all his hearers? And when the final
rush took place, did not the prentices, with their gowns rolled up,
dart off headlong in pursuit? Dennet entertained some hope that
Stephen would again catch some runaway steed, or come to the King's
rescue in some way or other, but such chances did not happen every
day. Nay, Stephen did not even follow up the chase to the death,
but left Giles to do that, turning back forsooth because that little
Jasper thought fit to get tired and out of breath, and could not
find his way back alone. Dennet was quite angry with Stephen and
turned her back on him, when Giles came in all glorious, at having
followed up staunchly all day, having seen the fate of the poor
stag, and having even beheld the King politely hand the knife to
Monsieur de Montmorency to give the first stroke to the quarry!
That was the last exploit. There was to be a great tilting match in
honour of the betrothal, and Master Alderman Headley wanted his
apprentices back again, and having been satisfied by a laborious
letter from Dennet, sent per carrier, that they were in good health,
despatched orders by the same means, that they were to hire horses
at the Antelope and return--Jasper coming back at the same time,
though his aunt would fain have kept him longer.
Women on a journey almost always rode double, and the arrangement
came under debate. Perronel, well accustomed to horse, ass, or
foot, undertook to ride behind the child, as she called Jasper, who-
-as a born Londoner--knew nothing of horses, though both the other
prentices did. Giles, who, in right of his name, kindred, and
expectations, always held himself a sort of master, declared that
"it was more fitting that Stephen should ride before Mistiness
Dennet." And to this none of the party made any objection, except
that Perronel privately observed to him that she should have thought
he would have preferred the company of his betrothed.
"I shall have quite enough of her by and by," returned Giles; then
adding, "She is a good little wench, but it is more for her honour
that her father's servant should ride before her."
Perronel held her tongue, and they rode merrily back to London, and
astonished their several homes by the growth and healthful looks of
the young people. Even Giles was grown, though he did not like to
be told so, and was cherishing the down on his chin. But the most
rapid development had been in Aldonza, or Alice, as Perronel
insisted on calling her to suit the ears of her neighbours. The
girl was just reaching the borderland of maidenhood, which came all
the sooner to one of southern birth and extraction, when the great
change took her from being her father's childish darling to be
Perronel's companion and assistant. She had lain down on that fatal
May Eve a child, she rose in the little house by the Temple Gardens,
a maiden, and a very lovely one, with delicate, refined, beautifully
cut features of a slightly aquiline cast, a bloom on her soft
brunette cheek, splendid dark liquid eyes shaded by long black
lashes, under brows as regular and well arched as her Eastern
cousins could have made them artificially, magnificent black hair,
that could hardly be contained in the close white cap, and a lithe
beautiful figure on which the plainest dress sat with an Eastern
grace. Perronel's neighbours did not admire her. They were not
sure whether she were most Saracen, gipsy, or Jew. In fact, she was
as like Rachel at the well as her father had been to a patriarch,
and her descent was of the purest Saracen lineage, but a Christian
Saracen was an anomaly the London mind could not comprehend, and her
presence in the family tended to cast suspicion that Master Randall
himself, with his gipsy eyes, and mysterious comings and goings,
must have some strange connections. For this, however, Perronel
cared little. She had made her own way for many years past, and had
won respect and affection by many good offices to her neighbours,
one of whom had taken her laundry work in her absence.
Aldonza was by no means indocile or incapable. She shared in
Perronel's work without reluctance, making good use of her slender,
dainty brown fingers, whether in cooking, household work, washing,
ironing, plaiting, making or mending the stiff lawn collars and
cuffs in which her hostess's business lay. There was nothing that
she would not do when asked, or when she saw that it would save
trouble to good mother Perronel, of whom she was very fond, and she
seemed serene and contented, never wanting to go abroad; but she was
very silent, and Perronel declared herself never to have seen any
living woman so perfectly satisfied to do nothing. The good dame
herself was industrious, not only from thrift but from taste, and if
not busy in her vocation or in household business, was either using
her distaff or her needle, or chatting with her neighbours--often
doing both at once; but though Aldonza could spin, sew, and
embroider admirably, and would do so at the least request from her
hostess, it was always a sort of task, and she never seemed so happy
as when seated on the floor, with her dark eyes dreamily fixed on
the narrow window, where hung her jackdaw's cage, and the beads of
her rosary passing through her fingers. At first Mistress Randall
thought she was praying, but by and by came to the conviction that
most of the time "the wench was bemused." There was nothing to
complain of in one so perfectly gentle and obedient, and withal,
modest and devout; but the good woman, after having for some time
given her the benefit of the supposition that she was grieving for
her father, began to wonder at such want of activity and animation,
and to think that on the whole Jack was the more talkative
Aldonza had certainly not taught him the phrases he was so fond of
repeating. Giles Headley had undertaken his education, and made it
a reason for stealing down to the Temple many an evening after work
was done, declaring that birds never learnt so well as after dark.
Moreover, he had possessed himself of a chess board, and insisted
that Aldonza should carry on her instructions in the game; he
brought her all his Holy Cross Day gain of nuts, and he used all his
blandishments to persuade Mrs. Randall to come and see the shooting
at the popinjay, at Mile End.
All this made the good woman uneasy. Her husband was away, for the
dread of sweating sickness had driven the Court from London, and she
could only take counsel with Tibble Steelman. It was Hallowmas Eve,
and Giles had been the bearer of an urgent invitation from Dennet to
her friend Aldonza to come and join the diversions of the evening.
There was a large number of young folk in the hall--Jasper Hope
among them--mostly contemporaries of Dennet, and almost children,
all keen upon the sports of the evening, namely, a sort of indoor
quintain, where the revolving beam was decorated with a lighted
candle at one end, and at the other an apple to be caught at by the
players with their mouths, their hands being tied behind them.
Under all the uproarious merriment that each attempt occasioned,
Tibble was about to steal off to his own chamber and his beloved
books, when, as he backed out of the group of spectators, he was
arrested by Mistress Randall, who had made her way into the rear of
the party at the same time.
"Can I have a word with you, privily, Master Steelman?" she asked.
Unwillingly he muttered, "Yea, so please you;" and they retreated to
a window at the dark end of the hall, where Perronel began--"The
alderman's daughter is contracted to young Giles, her kinsman, is
"Not as yet in form, but by the will of the parents," returned
Tibble, impatiently, as he thought of the half-hour's reading which
he was sacrificing to woman's gossip.
"An it be so," returned Perronel, "I would fain--were I Master
Headley--that he spent not so many nights in gazing at mine Alice."
"Forbid him the house, good dame."
"Easier spoken than done," returned Perronel. "Moreover, 'tis
better to let the matter, such as it is, be open in my sight than to
teach them to run after one another stealthily, whereby worse might
"Have they spoken then to one another?" asked Tibble, beginning to
"I trow not. I deem they know not yet what draweth them together."
"Pish, they are mere babes!" quoth Tib, hoping he might cast it off
"Look!" said Perronel; and as they stood on the somewhat elevated
floor of the bay window, they could look over the heads of the other
spectators to the seats where the young girls sat.
Aldonza's beautiful and peculiar contour of head and face rose among
the round chubby English faces like a jessamine among daisies, and
at that moment she was undertaking, with an exquisite smile, the
care of the gown that Giles laid at her feet, ere making his
"There!" said Perronel. "Mark that look on her face! I never see
it save for that same youngster. The children are simple and
guileless thus far, it may be. I dare be sworn that she is, but
they wot not where they will be led on."
"You are right, dame; you know best, no doubt," said Tib, in
helpless perplexity. "I wot nothing of such gear. What would you
"Have the maid wedded at once, ere any harm come of it," returned
Perronel promptly. "She will make a good wife--there will be no
complaining of her tongue, and she is well instructed in all good
"To whom then would you give her?" asked Tibble.
"Ay, that's the question. Comely and good she is, but she is
outlandish, and I fear me 'twould take a handsome portion to get her
dark skin and Moorish blood o'erlooked. Nor hath she aught, poor
maid, save yonder gold and pearl earrings, and a cross of gold that
she says her father bade her never part with."
"I pledged my word to her father," said Tibble, "that I would have a
care of her. I have not cared to hoard, having none to come after
me, but if a matter of twenty or five-and-twenty marks would avail--
"Wherefore not take her yourself?" said Perronel, as he stood
aghast. "She is a maid of sweet obedient conditions, trained by a
scholar even like yourself. She would make your chamber fair and
comfortable, and tend you dutifully."
"Whisht, good woman. 'Tis too dark to see, or you could not speak
of wedlock to such as I. Think of the poor maid!"
"That is all folly! She would soon know you for a better husband
than one of those young feather-pates, who have no care but of
"Nay, mistress," said Tibble, gravely, "your advice will not serve
here. To bring that fair young wench hither, to this very court,
mind you, with a mate loathly to behold as I be, and with the lad
there ever before her, would be verily to give place to the devil."
"But you are the best sword-cutler in London. You could make a
living without service."
"I am bound by too many years of faithful kindness to quit my master
or my home at the Dragon," said Tibble. "Nay, that will not serve,
"Then what can be done?" asked Perronel, somewhat in despair.
"There are the young sparks at the Temple. One or two of them are
already beginning to cast eyes at her, so that I dare not let her
help me carry home my basket, far less go alone. 'Tis not the
wench's fault. She shrinks from men's eyes more than any maid I
ever saw, but if she bide long with me, I wot not what may come of
it. There be rufflers there who would not stick to carry her off!"
Tibble stood considering, and presently said, "Mayhap the Dean might
aid thee in this matter. He is free of hand and kind of heart, and
belike he would dower the maid, and find an honest man to wed her."
Perronel thought well of the suggestion, and decided that after the
mass on All Soul's Day, and the general visiting of the graves of
kindred, she would send Aldonza home with Dennet, whom they were
sure to meet in the Pardon Churchyard, since her mother, as well as
Abenali and Martin Fulford lay there; and herself endeavour to see
Dean Colet, who was sure to be at home, as he was hardly recovered
from an attack of the prevalent disorder.
Then Tibble escaped, and Perronel drew near to the party round the
fire, where the divination of the burning of nuts was going on, but
not successfully, since no pair hitherto put in would keep together.
However, the next contribution was a snail, which had been captured
on the wall, and was solemnly set to crawl on the hearth by Dennet,
"to see whether it would trace a G or an H."
However, the creature proved sullen or sleepy, and no jogging of
hands, no enticing, would induce it to crawl an inch, and the
alderman, taking his daughter on his knee, declared that it was a
wise beast, who knew her hap was fixed. Moreover, it was time for
the rere supper, for the serving-men with the lanterns would be
coming for the young folk.
London entertainments for women or young people had to finish very
early unless they had a strong escort to go home with, for the
streets were far from safe after dark. Giles's great desire to
convoy her home, added to Perronel's determination, and on All
Souls' Day, while knells were ringing from every church in London,
she roused Aldonza from her weeping devotions at her father's grave,
and led her to Dennet, who had just finished her round of prayers at
the grave of the mother she had never known, under the protection of
her nurse, and two or three of the servants. The child, who had
thought little of her mother, while her grandmother was alert and
supplied the tenderness and care she needed, was beginning to yearn
after counsel and sympathy, and to wonder, as she told her beads,
what might have been, had that mother lived. She took Aldonza's
hand, and the two girls threaded their way out of the crowded
churchyard together, while Perronel betook herself to the Deanery of
Good Colet was always accessible to the meanest, but he had been
very ill, and the porter had some doubts about troubling him
respecting the substantial young matron whose trim cap and bodice,
and full petticoats, showed no tokens of distress. However, when
she begged him to take in her message, that she prayed the Dean to
listen to her touching the child of the old man who was slain on May
Eve, he consented; and she was at once admitted to an inner chamber,
where Colet, wrapped in a gown lined with lambskin, sat by the fire,
looking so wan and feeble that it went to the good woman's heart and
she began by an apology for troubling him.
"Heed not that, good dame," said the Dean, courteously, "but sit
thee down and let me hear of the poor child."
"Ah, reverend sir, would that she were still a child--" and Perronel
proceeded to tell her difficulties, adding, that if the Dean could
of his goodness promise one of the dowries which were yearly given
to poor maidens of good character, she would inquire among her
gossips for some one to marry the girl. She secretly hoped he would
take the hint, and immediately portion Aldonza himself, perhaps
likewise find the husband. And she was disappointed that he only
promised to consider the matter and let her hear from him. She went
back and told Tibble that his device was nought, an old scholar with
one foot in the grave knew less of women than even he did!
However it was only four days later, that, as Mrs. Randall was
hanging out her collars to dry, there came up to her from the Temple
stairs a figure whom for a moment she hardly knew, so different was
the long, black garb, and short gown of the lawyer's clerk from the
shabby old green suit that all her endeavours had not been able to
save from many a stain of printer's ink. It was only as he
exclaimed, "Good aunt, I am fain to see thee here!" that she
answered, "What, thou, Ambrose! What a fine fellow thou art! Truly
I knew not thou wast of such good mien! Thou thrivest at Chelsea!"
"Who would not thrive there?" said Ambrose. "Nay, aunt, tarry a
little, I have a message for thee that I would fain give before we
go in to Aldonza."
"From his reverence the Dean? Hath he bethought himself of her?"
"Ay, that hath he done," said Ambrose. "He is not the man to halt
when good may be done. What doth he do, since it seems thou hadst
speech of him, but send for Sir Thomas More, then sitting at
Westminster, to come and see him as soon as the Court brake up, and
I attended my master. They held council together, and by and by
they sent for me to ask me of what conditions and breeding the maid
was, and what I knew of her father?"
"Will they wed her to thee? That were rarely good, so they gave
thee some good office!" cried his aunt.
"Nay, nay," said Ambrose. "I have much to learn and understand ere
I think of a wife--if ever. Nay! But when they had heard all I
could tell them, they looked at one another, and the Dean said, 'The
maid is no doubt of high blood in her own land--scarce a mate for a
London butcher or currier."
"'It were matching an Arab mare with a costard monger's colt,' said
my master, 'or Angelica with Ralph Roisterdoister.'"
"I'd like to know what were better for the poor outlandish maid than
to give her to some honest man," put in Perronel.
"The end of it was," said Ambrose, "that Sir Thomas said he was to
be at the palace the next day, and he would strive to move the Queen
to take her countrywoman into her service. Yea, and so he did, but
though Queen Katharine was moved by hearing of a fatherless maid of
Spain, and at first spake of taking her to wait on herself, yet when
she heard the maid's name, and that she was of Moorish blood, she
would none of her. She said that heresy lurked in them all, and
though Sir Thomas offered that the Dean or the Queen's own chaplain
should question her on the faith, it was all lost labour. I heard
him tell the Dean as much, and thus it is that they bade me come for
thee, and for the maid, take boat, and bring you down to Chelsea,
where Sir Thomas will let her be bred up to wait on his little
daughters till he can see what best may be done for her. I trow his
spirit was moved by the Queen's hardness! I heard the Dean mutter,
'Et venient ab Oriente et Occidente.'"
Perronel hooked alarmed. "The Queen deemed her heretic in grain!
Ah! She is a good wench, and of kind conditions. I would have no
ill befall her, but I am glad to be rid of her. Sir Thomas--he is a
wise man, ay, and a married man, with maidens of his own, and he may
have more wit in the business than the rest of his kind. Be the
"Methinks Sir Thomas would have it so, since this being a holy day,
the courts be not sitting, and he is himself at home, so that he can
present the maid to his lady. And that makes no small odds."
"Yea, but what the lady is makes the greater odds to the maid, I
trow," said Perronel anxiously.
"Fear not on that score. Dame Alice More is of kindly conditions,
and will be good to any whom her lord commends to her; and as to the
young ladies, never saw I any so sweet or so wise as the two elder
ones, specially Mistress Margaret."
"Well-a-day! What must be must!" philosophically observed Perronel.
"Now I have my wish, I could mourn over it. I am loth to part with
the wench; and my man, when he comes home, will make an outcry for
his pretty Ally; but 'tis best so. Come, Alice, girl, bestir
thyself. Here's preferment for thee."
Aldonza raised her great soft eyes in slow wonder, and when she had
heard what was to befall her, declared that she wanted no
advancement, and wished only to remain with mother Perronel. Nay,
she clung to the kind woman, beseeching that she might not be sent
away from the only motherly tenderness she had ever known, and
declaring that she would work all day and all night rather than
leave her; but the more reluctance she showed, the more determined
was Perronel, and she could not but submit to her fate, only adding
one more entreaty that she might take her jackdaw, which was now a
spruce grey-headed bird. Perronel said it would be presumption in a
waiting-woman, but Ambrose declared that at Chelsea there were all
manner of beasts and birds, beloved by the children and by their
father himself, and that he believed the daw would be welcome. At
any rate, if the lady of the house objected to it, it could return
with Mistress Randall.
Perronel hurried the few preparations, being afraid that Giles might
take advantage of the holiday to appear on the scene, and presently
Aldonza was seated in the boat, making no more lamentations after
she found that her fate was inevitable, but sitting silent, with
downcast head, now and then brushing away a stray tear as it stole
down under her long eyelashes.
Meantime Ambrose, hoping to raise her spirits, talked to his aunt of
the friendly ease and kindliness of the new home, where he was
evidently as thoroughly happy as it was in his nature to be. He was
much, in the position of a barrister's clerk, superior to that of
the mere servants, but inferior to the young gentlemen of larger
means, though not perhaps of better birth, who had studied law
regularly, and aspired to offices or to legal practice.
But though Ambrose was ranked with the three or four other clerks,
his functions had more relation to Sir Thomas's literary and
diplomatic avocations than his legal ones. From Lucas Hansen he had
learnt Dutch and French, and he was thus available for copying and
translating foreign correspondence. His knowledge of Latin and
smattering of Greek enabled him to be employed in copying into a
book some of the inestimable letters of Erasmus which arrived from
time to time, and Sir Thomas promoted his desire to improve himself,
and had requested Mr. Clements, the tutor of the children of the
house, to give him weekly lessons in Latin and Greek.
Sir Thomas had himself pointed out to him books calculated to settle
his mind on the truth and catholicity of the Church, and had warned
him against meddling with the fiery controversial tracts which,
smuggled in often through Lucas's means, had set his mind in
commotion. And for the present at least beneath the shadow of the
great man's intelligent devotion, Ambrose's restless spirit was
Of course, he did not explain his state of mind to his aunt, but she
gathered enough to be well content, and tried to encourage Aldonza,
when at length they landed near Chelsea Church, and Ambrose led the
way to an extensive pleasaunce or park, full of elms and oaks, whose
yellow leaves were floating like golden rain in the sunshine.
Presently children's voices guided them to a large chestnut tree.
"Lo you now, I hear Mistress Meg's voice, and where she is, his
honour will ever be," said Ambrose.
And sure enough, among a group of five girls and one boy, all
between fourteen and nine years old, was the great lawyer, knocking
down the chestnuts with a long pole, while the young ones flew about
picking up the burrs from the grass, exclaiming joyously when they
found a full one.
Ambrose explained that of the young ladies, one was Mistress
Middleton, Lady More's daughter by a former marriage, another a
kinswoman. Perronel was for passing by unnoticed; but Ambrose knew
better; and Sir Thomas, leaning on the pole, called out, "Ha, my
Birkenholt, a forester born, knowst thou any mode of bringing down
yonder chestnuts, which being the least within reach, seem in course
the meetest of all."
"I would I were my brother, your honour," said Ambrose, "then would
I climb the thee."
"Thou shouldst bring him one of these days," said Sir Thomas. "But
thou hast instead brought in a fair maid. See, Meg, yonder is the
poor young girl who lost her father on Ill May day. Lead her on and
make her good cheer, while I speak to this good dame."
Margaret More, a slender, dark-eyed girl of thirteen, went forward
with a peculiar gentle grace to the stranger, saying, "Welcome,
sweet maid! I hope we shall make thee happy," and seeing the
mournful countenance, she not only took Aldonza's hand, but kissed
Sir Thomas had exchanged a word or two with Perronel, when there was
a cry from the younger children, who had detected the wicker cage
which Perronel was trying to keep in the background.
"A daw! a daw!" was the cry. "Is't for us?"
"Oh, mistress," faltered Aldonza, "'tis mine--there was one who
tamed it for me, and I promised ever to keep it, but if the good
knight and lady forbid it, we will send it back."
"Nay now, John, Cicely," was Margaret saying, "'tis her own bird!
Wot ye not our father will let us take nought of them that come to
him? Yea, Al-don-za--is not that thy name?--I am sure my father
will have thee keep it."
She led up Aldonza, making the request for her. Sir Thomas smiled.
"Keep thy bird? Nay, that thou shalt. Look at him, Meg, is he not
in fit livery for a lawyer's house? Mark his trim legs, sable
doublet and hose, and grey hood--and see, he hath the very eye of a
councillor seeking for suits, as he looketh at the chestnuts John
holdeth to him. I warrant he hath a tongue likewise. Canst plead
for thy dinner, bird?"
"I love Giles!" uttered the black beak, to the confusion and
indignation of Perronel.
The perverse bird had heard Giles often dictate this avowal, but had
entirely refused to repeat it, till, stimulated by the new
surroundings, it had for the first time uttered it.
"Ah! thou foolish daw! Crow that thou art! Had I known thou hadst
such a word in thy beak, I'd have wrung thy neck sooner than have
brought thee," muttered Perronel. "I had best take thee home
without more ado."
It was too late, however, the children were delighted, and perfectly
willing that Aldonza should own the bird, so they might hear it
speak, and thus the introduction was over. Aldonza and her daw were
conveyed to Dame Alice More, a stout, good-tempered woman, who had
too many dependents about her house to concern herself greatly about
the introduction of another.
And thus Aldonza was installed in the long, low, two-storied red
house which was to be her place of home-like service.
CHAPTER XX. CLOTH OF GOLD ON THE SEAMY SIDE
"Then you lost
The view of earthly glory: men might say
Till this time pomp was single; but now married
To one above itself."--SHAKESPEARE.
If Giles Headley murmured at Aldonza's removal, it was only to
Perronel, and that discreet woman kept it to herself.
In the summer of 1519 he was out of his apprenticeship, and though
Dennet was only fifteen, it was not uncommon for brides to be even
younger. However, the autumn of that year was signalised by a fresh
outbreak of the sweating sickness, apparently a sort of influenza,
and no festivities could be thought of. The King and Queen kept at
a safe distance from London, and escaped, so did the inmates of the
pleasant house at Chelsea; but the Cardinal, who, as Lord
Chancellor, could not entirely absent himself from Westminster, was
four times attacked by it, and Dean Colet, a far less robust man,
had it three times, and sank at last under it. Sir Thomas More went
to see his beloved old friend, and knowing Ambrose's devotion, let
the young man be his attendant. Nor could those who saw the good
man ever forget his peaceful farewells, grieving only for the old
mother who had lived with him in the Deanery, and in the ninetieth
year of her age, thus was bereaved of the last of her twenty-one
children. For himself, he was thankful to be taken away from the
evil times he already beheld threatening his beloved St. Paul's, as
well as the entire Church both in England and abroad; looking back
with a sad sweet smile to the happy Oxford days, when he, with More
"Strained the watchful eye
If chance the golden hours were nigh
By youthful hope seen gleaming round her walls."
"But," said he, as he laid his hand in blessing for the last time on
Ambrose's head, "let men say what they will, do thou cling fast to
the Church, nor let thyself be swept away. There are sure promises
to her, and grace is with her to purify herself, even though it be
obscured for a time. Be not of little faith, but believe that
Christ is with us in the ship, though He seem to be asleep."
He spoke as much to his friend as to the youth, and there can be no
doubt that this consideration was the restraining force with many
who have been stigmatised as half-hearted Reformers, because though
they loved truth, they feared to lose unity.
He was a great loss at that especial time, as a restraining power,
trusted by the innovators, and a personal friend both of King and
Cardinal, and his preaching and catechising were sorely missed at
Tibble Steelman, though thinking he did not go far enough, deplored
him deeply; but Tibble himself was laid by for many days. The
epidemic went through the Dragon court, though some had it lightly,
and only two young children actually died of it. It laid a heavy
hand on Tibble, and as his distaste for women rendered his den
almost inaccessible to Bet Smallbones, who looked after most of the
patients, Stephen Birkenholt, whose nursing capacities had been
developed in Newgate, spent his spare hours in attending him, sat
with him in the evenings, slept on a pallet by his side, carried him
his meals and often administered them, and finally pulled him
through the illness and its effects, which left him much broken and
never likely to be the same man again.
Old Mistress Headley, who was already failing, did not have the
actual disease severely, but she never again left her bed, and died
just after Christmas, sinking slowly away with little pain, and her
memory having failed from the first.
Household affairs had thus shipped so gradually into Dennet's hands
that no change of government was perceptible, except that the keys
hung at the maiden's girdle. She had grown out of the child during
this winter of trouble, and was here, there, and everywhere, the
busy nurse and housewife, seldom pausing to laugh or play except
with her father, and now and then to chat with her old friend and
playfellow, Kit Smallbones. Her childish freedom of manner had
given way to grave discretion, not to say primness, in her behaviour
to her father's guests, and even the apprentices. It was, of
course, the unconscious reaction of the maidenly spirit, aware that
she had nothing but her own modesty to protect her. She was on a
small scale, with no pretensions to beauty, but with a fresh,
honest, sensible young face, a clear skin, and dark eyes that could
be very merry when she would let them, and her whole air and dress
were trimness itself, with an inclination to the choicest materials
permitted to an alderman's daughter.
Things were going on so smoothly that the alderman was taken by
surprise when all the good wives around began to press on him that
it was incumbent on him to lose no time in marrying his daughter to
her cousin, if not before Lent, yet certainly in the Easter
Dennet looked very grave thereon. Was it not over soon after the
loss of the good grandmother? And when her father said, as the
gossips had told him, that she and Giles need only walk quietly down
some morning to St Faith's and plight their troth, she broke out
into her girlish wilful manner, "Would she be married at all without
a merry wedding? No, indeed! She would not have the thing done in
a corner! What was the use of her being wedded, and having to
consort with the tedious old wives instead of the merry wrenches?
Could she not guide the house, and rule the maids, and get in the
stores, and hinder waste, and make the pasties, and brew the
possets? Had her father found the crust hard, or missed his roasted
crab, or had any one blamed her for want of discretion? Nay, as to
that, she was like to be more discreet as she was, with only her
good old father to please, than with a husband to plague her."
On the other hand, Giles's demeanour was rather that of one prepared
for the inevitable than that of an eager bridegroom; and when orders
began to pour in for accoutrements of unrivalled magnificence for
the King and the gentlemen who were to accompany him to Ardres,
there to meet the young King of France just after Whitsuntide,
Dennet was the first to assure her father that there would be no
time to think of weddings till all this was over, especially as some
of the establishment would have to be in attendance to repair
casualties at the jousts.
At this juncture there arrived on business Master Tiptoff, husband
to Giles's sister, bringing greetings from Mrs. Headley at
Salisbury, and inquiries whether the wedding was to take place at
Whitsuntide, in which case she would hasten to be present, and to
take charge of the household, for which her dear daughter was far
too young. Master Tiptoff showed a suspicious alacrity in
undertaking the forwarding of his mother-in-law and her stuff.
The faces of Master Headley and Tib Steelman were a sight, both
having seen only too much of what the housewifery at Salisbury had
been. The alderman decided on the spot that there could be no
marriage till after the journey to France, since Giles was certainly
to go upon it; and lest Mrs. Headley should be starting on her
journey, he said he should despatch a special messenger to stay her.
Giles, who had of course been longing for the splendid pageant,
cheered up into great amiability, and volunteered to write to his
mother, that she had best not think of coming, till he sent word to
her that matters were forward. Even thus, Master Headley was
somewhat insecure. He thought the dame quite capable of coming and
taking possession of his house in his absence, and therefore
resolved upon staying at home to garrison it; but there was then the
further difficulty that Tibble was in no condition to take his place
on the journey. If the rheumatism seized his right arm, as it had
done in the winter, he would be unable to drive a rivet, and there
would be every danger of it, high summer though it were; for though
the party would carry their own tent and bedding, the knights and
gentlemen would be certain to take all the best places, and they
might be driven into a damp corner. Indeed it was not impossible
that their tent itself might be seized, for many a noble or his
attendants might think that beggarly artisans had no right to
comforts which he had been too improvident to afford, especially if
the alderman himself were absent.
Not only did Master Headley really love his trusty foreman too well
to expose him to such chances, but Tibble knew too well that there
were brutal young men to whom his contorted-visage would be an
incitement to contempt and outrage, and that if racked with
rheumatism, he would only be an incumbrance. There was nothing for
it but to put Kit Smallbones at the head of the party. His imposing
presence would keep off wanton insults, but on the other hand, he
had not the moral weight of authority possessed by Tibble, and
though far from being a drunkard, he was not proof against a
carouse, especially when out of reach of his Bet and of his master,
and he was not by any means Tib's equal in fine and delicate
workmanship. But on the other hand, Tib pronounced that Stephen
Birkenholt was already well skilled in chasing metal and the
difficult art of restoring inlaid work, and he showed some black and
silver armour, that was in hand for the King, which fully bore out
"And thou thinkst Kit can rule the lads!" said the alderman, scarce
"One of them at least can rule himself," said Tibble. "They have
both been far more discreet since the fright they got on Ill May
day; and, as for Stephen, he hath seemed to me to have no eyes nor
thought save for his work of late."
"I have marked him," said the master, "and have marvelled what ailed
the lad. His merry temper hath left him. I never hear him singing
to keep time with his hammer, nor keeping the court in a roar with
his gibes. I trust he is not running after the new doctrine of the
hawkers and pedlars. His brother was inclined that way."
"There be worse folk than they, your worship," protested Tib, but he
did not pursue their defence, only adding, "but 'tis not that which
ails young Stephen. I would it were!" he sighed to himself,
"Well," said the good-natured alderman, "it may be he misseth his
brother. The boys will care for this raree-show more than thou or
I, Tib! We've seen enough of them in our day, though verily they
say this is to surpass all that ever were beheld!"
The question of who was to go had not been hitherto decided, and
Giles and Stephen were both so excited at being chosen that all low
spirits and moodiness were dispelled, and the work which went on
almost all night was merrily got through. The Dragon court was in a
perpetual commotion with knights, squires, and grooms, coming in
with orders for new armour, or for old to be furbished, and the
tent-makers, lorimers, mercers, and tailors had their hands equally
full. These lengthening mornings heard the hammer ringing at
sunrise, and in the final rush, Smallbones never went to bed at all.
He said he should make it up in the waggon on the way to Dover.
Some hinted that he preferred the clang of his hammer to the good
advice his Bet lavished on him at every leisure moment to forewarn
him against French wine-pots.
The alderman might be content with the party he sent forth, for Kit
had hardly his equal in size, strength, and good humour. Giles had
developed into a tall, comely young man, who had got rid of his
country slouch, and whose tall figure, light locks, and ruddy cheeks
looked well in the new suit which gratified his love of finery,
sober-hued as it needs must be. Stephen was still bound to the old
prentice garb, though it could not conceal his good mien, the bright
sparkling dark eyes, crisp black hair, healthy brown skin, and lithe
active figure. Giles had a stout roadster to ride on, the others
were to travel in their own waggon, furnished with four powerful
horses, which, if possible, they were to take to Calais, so as to be
independent of hiring. Their needments, clothes, and tools, were
packed in the waggon, with store of lances, and other appliances of
the tourney. A carter and Will Wherry, who was selected as being
supposed to be conversant with foreign tongues, were to attend on
them; Smallbones, as senior journeyman, had the control of the
party, and Giles had sufficiently learnt subordination not to be
likely to give himself dangerous airs of mastership.
Dennet was astir early to see them off, and she had a little gift
for each. She began with her oldest friend. "See here, Kit," she
said, "here's a wallet to hold thy nails and rivets. What wilt thou
say to me for such a piece of stitchery?"
"Say, pretty mistress? Why this!" quoth the giant, and he picked
her up by the slim waist in his great hands, and kissed her on the
forehead. He had done the like many a time nine or ten years ago,
and though Master Headley laughed, Dennet was not one bit
embarrassed, and turned to the next traveller. "Thou art no more a
prentice, Giles, and canst wear this in thy bonnet," she said,
holding out to him a short silver chain and medal of St. George and
"Thanks, gentle maid," said Giles, taking the handsome gift a little
sheepishly. "My bonnet will make a fair show," and he bent down as
she stood on the step, and saluted her lips, then began eagerly
fastening the chain round his cap, as one delighted with the
Stephen was some distance off. He had turned aside when she spoke
to Giles, and was asking of Tibble last instructions about the
restoration of enamel, when he felt a touch on his arm, and saw
Dennet standing by him. She looked up in his face, and held up a
crimson silken purse, with S. B embroidered on it with a wreath of
oak and holly leaves.
With the air that ever showed his gentle blood, Stephen put a knee
to the ground, and kissed the fingers that held it to him, whereupon
Dennet, a sudden burning blush overspreading her face under her
little pointed hood, turned suddenly round and ran into the house.
She was out again on the steps when the waggon finally got under
weigh, and as her eyes met Stephen's, he doffed his flat cap with
one hand, and laid the other on his heart, so that she knew where
her purse had taken up its abode.
Of the Field of the Cloth of Gold not much need be said. To the end
of the lives of the spectators, it was a tale of wonder. Indeed
without that, the very sight of the pavilions was a marvel in
itself, the blue dome of Francis spangled in imitation of the sky,
with sun, moon, and stars; and the feudal castle of Henry, a three
months' work, each surrounded with tents of every colour and pattern
which fancy could devise, with the owners' banners or pennons
floating from the summits, and every creature, man, and horse,
within the enchanted precincts, equally gorgeous. It was the
brightest and the last full display of magnificent pseudo chivalry,
and to Stephen's dazzled eye, seeing it beneath the slant rays of
the setting sun of June, it was a fairy tale come to life. Hal
Randall, who was in attendance on the Cardinal, declared that it was
a mere surfeit of jewels and gold and silver, and that a frieze
jerkin or leathern coat was an absolute refreshment to the sight.
He therefore spent all the time he was off duty in the forge far in
the rear, where Smallbones and his party had very little but hard
work, mending, whetting, furbishing, and even changing devices.
Those six days of tilting when "every man that stood, showed like a
mine," kept the armourers in full occupation night and day, and only
now and then could the youths try to make their way to some spot
whence they could see the tournament.
Smallbones was more excited by the report of fountains of good red
and white wines of all sorts, flowing perpetually in the court of
King Henry's splended mock castle; but fortunately one gulp was
enough for an English palate nurtured on ale and mead, and he was
disgusted at the heaps of country folk, men-at-arms, beggars and
vagabonds of all kinds, who swilled the liquor continually, and, in
loathsome contrast to the external splendours, lay wallowing on the
ground so thickly that it was sometimes hardly possible to move
without treading on them.
"I stumbled over a dozen," said the jester, as he strolled into the
little staked inclosure that the Dragon party had arranged round
their tent for the prosecution of their labours, which were too
important to all the champions not to be respected. "Lance and
sword have not laid so many low in the lists as have the doughty
Baron Burgundy and the heady knight Messire Sherris Sack."
"Villain Verjuice and Varlet Vinegar is what Kit there calls them,"
said Stephen, looking up from the work he was carrying on over a pan
of glowing charcoal.
"Yea," said Smallbones, intermitting his noisy operations, "and the
more of swine be they that gorge themselves on it. I told Jack and
Hob that 'twould be shame for English folk to drown themselves like
French frogs or Flemish hogs."
"Hogs!" returned Randall. "A decent Hampshire hog would scorn to be
lodged as many a knight and squire and lady too is now, pigging it
in styes and hovels and haylofts by night, and pranking it by day
with the best!"
"Sooth enough," said Smallbones. "Yea, we have had two knights and
their squires beseeching us for leave to sleep under our waggon!
Not an angel had they got among the four of them either, having all
their year's income on their backs, and more too. I trow they and
their heirs will have good cause to remember this same Field of
"And what be'st thou doing, nevvy?" asked the jester. "Thy trade
seems as brisk as though red blood were flowing instead of red
"I am doing my part towards making the King into Hercules," said
Stephen, "though verily the tailor hath more part therein than we
have; but he must needs have a breastplate of scales of gold, and
that by to-morrow's morn. As Ambrose would say, 'if he will be a
pagan god, he should have what's-his-name, the smith of the gods, to
work for him.'"
"I heard of that freak," said the jester. "There be a dozen tailors
and all the Queen's tirewomen frizzling up a good piece of cloth of
gold for the lion's mane, covering a club with green damask with
pricks, cutting out green velvet and gummed silk for his garland!
In sooth, these graces have left me so far behind in foolery that I
have not a jest left in my pouch! So here I be, while my Lord
Cardinal is shut up with Madame d'Angouleme in the castle--the real
old castle, mind you--doing the work, leaving the kings and queens
to do their own fooling."
"Have you spoken with the French King, Hal?" asked Smallbones, who
had become a great crony of his, since the anxieties of May Eve.
"So far as I may when I have no French, and he no English! He is a
comely fellow, with a blithe tongue and a merry eye, I warrant you a
chanticleer who will lose nought for lack of crowing. He'll crow
louder than ever now he hath given our Harry a fall."
"No! hath he?" and Giles, Stephen, and Smallbones, all suspended
their work to listen in concern.
"Ay marry, hath he! The two took it into their royal noddles to try
a fall, and wrestled together on the grass, when by some ill hap,
this same Francis tripped up our Harry, so that he was on the sward
for a moment. He was up again forthwith, and in full heart for
another round, when all the Frenchmen burst in gabbling; and, though
their King was willing to play the match out fairly, they wouldn't
let him, and my Lord Cardinal said something about making ill blood,
whereat our King laughed and was content to leave it. As I told
him, we have given the French falls enough to let them make much of
"I hope he will yet give the mounseer a good shaking," muttered
"How now, Will! Who's that at the door? We are on his grace's work
and can touch none other man's were it the King of France himself,
or his Constable, who is finer still."
By way of expressing "No admittance except on business," Smallbones
kept Will Wherry in charge of the door of his little territory,
which having a mud wall on two sides, and a broad brook with quaking
banks on a third, had been easily fenced on the fourth, so as to
protect tent, waggon, horses, and work from the incursions of
idlers. Will however answered, "The gentleman saith he hath kindred
"Ay!" and there pushed in, past the lad a tall, lean form, with a
gay but soiled short cloak over one shoulder, a suit of worn buff, a
cap garnished with a dilapidated black and yellow feather, and a
pair of gilt spurs. "If this be as they told me, where Armourer
Headley's folk lodge--I have here a sort of a cousin. Yea, yonder's
the brave lad who had no qualms at the flash of a good Toledo in a
knight's fist. How now, my nevvy! Is not my daughter's nevvy--
"Save your knighthood!" said Smallbones. "Who would have looked to
see you here, Sir John? Methought you were in the Emperor's
"A stout man-at-arms is of all services," returned Fulford. "I'm
here with half Flanders to see this mighty show, and pick up a few
more lusty Badgers at this encounter of old comrades. Is old
"Nay, he is safe at home, where I would I were," sighed Kit.
"And you are my young master his nephew, who knew where to purvey me
of good steel," added Fulford, shaking Giles's hand. "You are fain,
doubtless, you youngsters, to be forth without the old man. Ha! and
you've no lack of merry company."
Harry Randall's first impulse had been to look to the right and left
for the means of avoiding this encounter, but there was no escape;
and he was moreover in most fantastic motley, arrayed in one of the
many suits provided for the occasion. It was in imitation of a
parrot, brilliant grass-green velvet, touched here and there with
scarlet, yellow, or blue. He had been only half disguised on the
occasion of Fulford's visit to his wife, and he perceived the start
of recognition in the eyes of the Condottiere, so that he knew it
would be vain to try to conceal his identity.
"You sought Stephen Birkenholt," he said. "And you've lit on
something nearer, if so be you'll acknowledge the paraquito that
your Perronel hath mated with."
The Condottiere burst into a roar of laughter so violent that he had
to lean against the mud wall, and hold his sides. "Ha, ha! that I
should be father-in-law to a fool!" and then he set off again.
"That the sober, dainty little wench should have wedded a fool! Ha!
"Sir," cried Stephen hotly, "I would have you to know that mine
uncle here, Master Harry Randall, is a yeoman of good birth, and
that he undertook his present part to support your own father and
child! Methinks you are the last who should jeer at and insult
"Stephen is right," said Giles. "This is my kinsman's tent, and no
man shall say a word against Master Harry Randall therein."
"Well crowed, my young London gamebirds," returned Fulford, coolly.
"I meant no disrespect to the gentleman in green. Nay, I am
mightily beholden to him for acting his part out and taking on
himself that would scarce befit a gentleman of a company--
impedimenta, as we used to say in the grammar school. How does the
old man?--I must find some token to send him."
"He is beyond the reach of all tokens from you save prayers and
masses," returned Randall, gravely.
"Ay? You say not so? Old gaffer dead?" And when the soldier was
told how the feeble thread of life had been snapped by the shock of
joy on his coming, a fit of compunction and sorrow seized him. He
covered his face with his hands and wept with a loudness of grief
that surprised and touched his hearers; and presently began to
bemoan himself that he had hardly a mark in his purse to pay for a
mass; but therewith he proceeded to erect before him the cross hilt
of poor Abenali's sword, and to vow thereupon that the first spoil
and the first ransom, that it should please the saints to send him,
should be entirely spent in masses for the soul of Martin Fulford.
This tribute apparently stilled both grief and remorse, for looking
up at the grotesque figure of Randall, he said, "Methought they told
me, master son, that you were in the right quarters for beads and
masses and all that gear--a varlet of Master Butcher-Cardinal's, or
the like--but mayhap 'twas part of your fooling."
"Not so," replied Randall. "'Tis to the Cardinal that I belong,"
holding out his sleeve, where the scarlet hat was neatly worked,
"and I'll brook no word against his honour."
"Ho! ho! Maybe you looked to have the hat on your own head," quoth
Fulford, waxing familiar, "if your master comes to be Pope after his
own reckoning. Why, I've known a Cardinal get the scarlet because
an ape had danced on the roof with him in his arms!"
"You forget! I'm a wedded man," said Randall, who certainly, in
private life, had much less of the buffoon about him than his
"Impedimentum again," whistled the knight. "Put a halter round her
neck, and sell her for a pot of beer."
"I'd rather put a halter round my own neck for good and all," said
Hal, his face reddening; but among other accomplishments of his
position, he had learnt to keep his temper, however indignant he
"Well--she's a knight's daughter, and preferments will be plenty.
Thou'lt make me captain of the Pope's guard, fair son--there's no
post I should like better. Or I might put up with an Italian
earldom or the like. Honour would befit me quite as well as that
old fellow, Prosper Colonna; and the Badgers would well become the
Pope's scarlet and yellow liveries."
The Badgers, it appeared, were in camp not far from Gravelines,
whence the Emperor was watching the conference between his uncle-in-
law and his chief enemy; and thence Fulford, who had a good many
French acquaintance, having once served under Francis I., had come
over to see the sport. Moreover, he contrived to attach himself to
the armourer's party, in a manner that either Alderman Headley
himself, or Tibble Steelman, would effectually have prevented; but
which Kit Smallbones had not sufficient moral weight to hinder, even
if he had had a greater dislike to being treated as a boon companion
by a knight who had seen the world, could appreciate good ale, and
tell all manner of tales of his experiences.
So the odd sort of kindred that the captain chose to claim with
Stephen Birkenholt was allowed, and in right of it, he was permitted
to sleep in the waggon; and thereupon his big raw-boned charger was
found sharing the fodder of the plump broad-backed cart horses,
while he himself, whenever sport was not going forward for him, or
work for the armourers, sat discussing with Kit the merits or
demerits of the liquors of all nations, either in their own yard or
in some of the numerous drinking booths that had sprung up around.
To no one was this arrangement so distasteful as to Quipsome Hal,
who felt himself in some sort the occasion of the intrusion, and yet
was quite unable to prevent it, while everything he said was treated
as a joke by his unwelcome father-in-law. It was a coarse time, and
Wolsey's was not a refined or spiritual establishment, but it was
decorous, and Randall had such an affection and respect for the
innocence of his sister's young son, that he could not bear to have
him exposed to the company of one habituated to the licentiousness
of the mercenary soldier. At first the jester hoped to remove the
lads from the danger, for the brief remainder of their stay, by
making double exertion to obtain places for them at any diversion
which might be going on when their day's work was ended, and of
these, of course, there was a wide choice, subordinate to the
magnificent masquing of kings and queens. On the last midsummer
evening, while their majesties were taking leave of one another, a
company of strolling players were exhibiting in an extemporary
theatre, and here Hal incited both the youths to obtain seats. The
drama was on one of the ordinary and frequent topics of that, as of
all other times, and the dumb show and gestures were far more
effective than the words, so that even those who did not understand
the language of the comedians, who seemed to be Italians, could
enter into it, especially as it was interspersed with very
An old baron insists on betrothing his daughter and heiress to her
kinsman freshly knighted. She is reluctant, weeps, and is
threatened, singing afterwards her despair (of course she really was
a black-eyed boy). That song was followed by a still more
despairing one from the baron's squire, and a tender interview
between them followed.
Then came discovery, the baron descending as a thunderbolt, the
banishment of the squire, the lady driven at last to wed the young
knight, her weeping and bewailing herself under his ill-treatment,
which extended to pulling her about by the hair, the return of the
lover, notified by a song behind the scenes, a dangerously
affectionate meeting, interrupted by the husband, a fierce clashing
of swords, mutual slaughter by the two gentlemen, and the lady dying
of grief on the top of her lover.
Such was the argument of this tragedy, which Giles Headley
pronounced to be very dreary pastime, indeed he was amusing himself
with an exchange of comfits with a youth who sat next him all the
time--for he had found Stephen utterly deaf to aught but the
tragedy, following every gesture with eager eyes, lips quivering,
and eyes filling at the strains of the love songs, though they were
in their native Italian, of which he understood not a word. He rose
up with a heavy groan when all was over, as if not yet disenchanted,
and hardly answered when his uncle spoke to him afterwards. It was
to ask whether the Dragon party were to return at once to London, or
to accompany the Court to Gravelines, where, it had just been
announced, the King intended to pay a visit to his nephew, the
Neither Stephen nor Giles knew, but when they reached their own
quarters they found that Smallbones had received an intimation that
there might be jousts, and that the offices of the armourers would
be required. He was very busy packing up his tools, but loudly
hilarious, and Sir John Fulford, with a flask of wine beside him,
was swaggering and shouting orders to the men as though he were the
head of the expedition.
Revelations come in strange ways. Perhaps that Italian play might
be called Galeotto to Stephen Birkenholt. It affected him all the
more because he was not distracted by the dialogue, but was only
powerfully touched by the music, and, in the gestures of the lovers,
felt all the force of sympathy. It was to him like a kind of
prophetic mirror, revealing to him the true meaning of all he had
ever felt for Dennet Headley, and of his vexation and impatience at
seeing her bestowed upon a dull and indifferent lout like her
kinsman, who not only was not good enough for her, but did not even
love her, or accept her as anything but his title to the Dragon
court. He now thrilled and tingled from head to foot with the
perceptions that all this meant love--love to Dennet; and in every
act of the drama he beheld only himself, Giles, and Dennet.
Watching at first with a sweet fascination, his feelings changed,
now to strong yearning, now to hot wrath, and then to horror and
dismay. In his troubled sleep after the spectacle, he identified
himself with the lover, sang, wooed, and struggled in his person,
woke with a start of relief, to find Giles snoring safely beside
him, and the watch-dog on his chest instead of an expiring lady. He
had not made unholy love to sweet Dennet, nor imperilled her good
name, nor slain his comrade. Nor was she yet wedded to that oaf,
Giles! But she would be in a few weeks, and then! How was he to
brook the sight, chained as he was to the Dragon court--see Giles
lord it over her, and all of them, see her missing the love that was
burning for her elsewhere. Stephen lost his boyhood on that
evening, and, though force of habit kept him like himself outwardly,
he never was alone, without feeling dazed, and torn in every
direction at once.
CHAPTER XXI. SWORD OR SMITHY
"Darest thou be so valiant as to play the coward with thy indenture,
and to show it a fair pair of heels and run from it?"
Tidings came forth on the parting from the French King that the
English Court was about to move to Gravelines to pay a visit to the
Emperor and his aunt, the Duchess of Savoy. As it was hoped that
jousts might make part of the entertainment, the attendance of the
Dragon party was required. Giles was unfeignedly delighted at this
extension of holiday, Stephen felt that it deferred the day--would
it be of strange joy or pain?--of standing face to face with Dennet;
and even Kit had come to tolerate foreign parts more with Sir John
Fulford to show him the way to the best Flemish ale!
The knight took upon himself the conduct of the Dragons. He
understood how to lead them by routes where all provisions and ale
had not been consumed; and he knew how to swagger and threaten so as
to obtain the best of liquor and provisions at each kermesse--at
least so he said, though it might be doubted whether the Flemings
might not have been more willing to yield up their stores to Kit's
open, honest face and free hand.
However, Fulford seemed to consider himself one with the party; and
he beguiled the way by tales of the doings of the Badgers in Italy
and Savoy, which were listened to with avidity by the lads,
distracting Stephen from the pain at his heart, and filling both
with excitement. They were to have the honour of seeing the Badgers
at Gravelines, where they were encamped outside the city to serve as
a guard to the great inclosure that was being made of canvas
stretched on the masts of ships to mark out the space for a great
banquet and dance.
The weather broke however just as Henry, his wife and his sister,
entered Gravelines; it rained pertinaciously, a tempestuous wind
blew down the erection, and as there was no time to set it up again,
the sports necessarily took place in the castle and town hall.
There was no occasion for the exercise of the armourer's craft, and
as Charles had forbidden the concourse of all save invited guests,
everything was comparatively quiet and dull, though the
entertainment was on the most liberal scale. Lodgings were provided
in the city at the Emperor's expense, and wherever an Englishman was
quartered each night, the imperial officers brought a cast of fine
manchet bread, two great silver pots with wine, a pound of sugar,
white and yellow candles, and a torch. As Randall said, "Charles
gave solid pudding where Francis gave empty praise"!
Smallbones and the two youths had very little to do, save to consume
these provisions and accept the hospitality freely offered to them
at the camp of the Badgers, where Smallbones and the Ancient of the
troop sat fraternising over big flagons of Flemish ale, which did
not visibly intoxicate the honest smith, but kept him in the dull
and drowsy state, which was his idea of the dolce far niente of a
holiday. Meanwhile the two youths were made much of by the
warriors, Stephen's dexterity with the bow and back-sword were shown
off and lauded, Giles's strength was praised, and all manner of new
feats were taught them, all manner of stories told them; and the
shrinking of well-trained young citizens from these lawless me "full
of strange oaths and bearded like the pard," and some very
truculent-looking, had given way to judicious flattery, and to the
attractions of adventure and of a free life, where wealth and honour
awaited the bold.
Stephen was told that the gentleman in him was visible, that he