Part 6 out of 7
ought to disdain the flat cap and blue gown, that here was his
opportunity, and that among the Badgers he would soon be so rich,
famous, glorious, as to wonder that he had ever tolerated the greasy
mechanical life of a base burgher. Respect to his oaths to his
master--Sir John laughed the scruple to scorn; nay, if he were so
tender, he could buy his absolution the first time he had his pouch
full of gold.
"What shall I do?" was the cry of Stephen's heart. "My honour and
my oath. They bind me. SHE would weep. My master would deem me
ungrateful, Ambrose break his heart. And yet who knows but I should
do worse if I stayed, I shall break my own heart if I do. I shall
not see--I may forget. No, no, never! but at least I shall never
know the moment when the lubber takes the jewel he knows not how to
prize! Marches--sieges--there shall I quell this wild beating! I
may die there. At least they will allay this present frenzy of my
And he listened when Fulford and Will Marden, a young English man-
at-arms with whom he had made friends, concerted how he should meet
them at an inn--the sign of the Seven Stars--in Gravelines, and
there exchange his prentice's garb for the buff coat and corslet of
a Badger, with the Austrian black and yellow scarf. He listened,
but he had not promised. The sense of duty to his master, the
honour to his word, always recurred like "first thoughts," though
the longing to escape, the restlessness of hopeless love, the
youthful eagerness for adventure and freedom, swept it aside again
He had not seen his uncle since the evening of the comedy, for Hal
had travelled in the Cardinal's suite, and the amusements being all
within doors, jesters were much in request, as indeed Charles V. was
curious in fools, and generally had at least three in attendance.
Stephen, moreover, always shrank from his uncle when acting
professionally. He had learnt to love and esteem the man during his
troubles, but this only rendered the sight of his buffoonery more
distressing, and as Randall had not provided himself with his home
suit, they were the more cut off from one another. Thus there was
all the less to counteract or show the fallacy of Fulford's
The day had come on the evening of which Stephen was to meet Fulford
and Marden at the Seven Stars and give them his final answer, in
time to allow of their smuggling him out of the city, and sending
him away into the country, since Smallbones would certainly suspect
him to be in the camp, and as he was still an apprentice, it was
possible, though not probable, that the town magistrates might be
incited to make search on inquiry, as they were very jealous of the
luring away of their apprentices by the Free Companies, and moreover
his uncle might move the Cardinal and the King to cause measures to
be taken for his recovery.
Ill at ease, Stephen wandered away from the hostel where Smallbones
was entertaining his friend, the Ancient. He had not gone far down
the street when a familiar figure met his eye, no other than that of
Lucas Hansen, his brother's old master, walking along with a pack on
his back. Grown as Stephen was, the old man's recognition was as
rapid as his own, and there was a clasp of the hand, an exchange of
greeting, while Lucas eagerly asked after his dear pupil, Ambrose.
"Come in hither, and we can speak more at ease," said Lucas, leading
the way up the common staircase of a tall house, whose upper stories
overhung the street. Up and up, Lucas led the way to a room in the
high peaked roof, looking out at the back. Here Stephen recognised
a press, but it was not at work, only a young friar was sitting
there engaged in sewing up sheets so as to form a pamphlet. Lucas
spoke to him in Flemish to explain his own return with the English
"Dost thou dwell here, sir?" asked Stephen. "I thought Rotterdam
was thine home."
"Yea," said Lucas, "so it be, but I am sojourning here to aid in
bearing about the seed of the Gospel, for which I walk through these
lands of ours. But tell me of thy brother, and of the little
Stephen replied with an account of both Ambrose and Aldonza, and
likewise of Tibble Steelman, explaining how ill the last had been in
the winter, and that therefore he could not be with the party.
"I would I had a token to send him," said Lucas; "but I have nought
here that is not either in the Dutch or the French, and neither of
those tongues doth he understand. But thy brother, the good
Ambrose, can read the Dutch. Wilt thou carry him from me this fresh
tractate, showing how many there be that make light of the Apostle
Paul's words not to do evil that good may come?"
Stephen had been hearing rather listlessly, thinking how little the
good man suspected how doubtful it was that he should bear messages
to Ambrose. Now, on that sore spot in his conscience, that sentence
darted like an arrow, the shaft finding "mark the archer little
meant," and with a start, not lost on Lucas, he exclaimed "Saith the
holy Saint Paul that?"
"Assuredly, my son. Brother Cornelis, who is one whose eyes have
been opened, can show you the very words, if thou hast any Latin."
Perhaps to gain time, Stephen assented, and the young friar, with a
somewhat inquisitive look, presently brought him the sentence "Et
non faciamus mala ut veniant bona."
Stephen's Latin was not very fresh, and he hardly comprehended the
words, but he stood gazing with a frown of distress on his brow,
which made Lucas say, "My son, thou art sorely bestead. Is there
aught in which a plain old man can help thee, for thy brother's
sake? Speak freely. Brother Cornelis knows not a word of English.
Dost thou owe aught to any man?"
"Nay, nay--not that," said Stephen, drawn in his trouble and
perplexity to open his heart to this incongruous confidant, "but,
sir, sir, which be the worst, to break my pledge to my master, or to
run into a trial which--which will last from day to day, and may be
too much for me--yea, and for another--at last?"
The colour, the trembling of limb, the passion of voice, revealed
enough to Lucas to make him say, in the voice of one who, dried up
as he was, had once proved the trial, "'Tis love, thou wouldst say?"
"Ay, sir," said Stephen, turning away, but in another moment
bursting forth, "I love my master's daughter, and she is to wed her
cousin, who takes her as her father's chattel! I wist not why the
world had grown dark to me till I saw a comedy at Ardres, where, as
in a mirror, 'twas all set forth--yea, and how love was too strong
for him and for her, and how shame and death came thereof."
"Those players are good for nought but to wake the passions!"
"Nay, methought they warned me," said Stephen. "For, sir,"--he hid
his burning face in his hands as he leant on the back of a chair--"I
wot that she has ever liked me better, far better than him. And
scarce a night have I closed an eye without dreaming it all, and
finding myself bringing evil on her, till I deemed 'twere better I
never saw her more, and left her to think of me as a forsworn
runagate rather than see her wedded only to be flouted--and maybe--
"Poor lad!" said Lucas; "and what wouldst thou do?"
"I have not pledged myself--but I said I would consider of--service
among Fulford's troop," faltered Stephen.
"Among those ruffians--godless, lawless men!" exclaimed Lucas.
"Yea, I know what you would say," returned Stephen, "but they are
brave men, better than you deem, sir."
"Were they angels or saints," said Lucas, rallying his forces, "thou
hast no right to join them. Thine oath fetters thee. Thou hast no
right to break it and do a sure and certain evil to avoid one that
may never befall! How knowst thou how it may be? Nay, if the trial
seem to thee over great, thine apprenticeship will soon be at an
"Not for two years"
"Or thy master, if thou spakest the whole truth, would transfer
thine indentures. He is a good man, and if it be as thou sayest,
would not see his child tried too sorely. God will make a way for
the tempted to escape. They need not take the devil's way."
"Sir," said Stephen, lifting up his head, "I thank you. Thus was
what I needed. I will tell Sir John Fulford that I ought never to
have heeded him."
"Must thou see him again?"
"I must. I am to give him his answer at the Seven Stars. But fear
not me, Master Lucas, he shall not lead me away." And Stephen took
a grateful leave of the little Dutchman, and charged himself with
more messages for Ambrose and Tibble than his overburdened spirit
was likely to retain.
Lucas went down the stairs with him, and as a sudden thought, said
at the foot of them, "'Tis at the Seven Stars thou meetest this
knight. Take an old man's counsel. Taste no liquor there."
"I am no ale bibber," said Stephen.
"Nay, I deemed thee none--but heed my words--captains of
landsknechts in kermesses are scarce to be trusted. Taste not."
Stephen gave a sort of laugh at the precaution, and shook himself
loose. It was still an hour to the time of meeting, and the Ave-
bell was ringing. A church door stood open, and for the first time
since he had been at Gravelines he felt that there would be the calm
he needed to adjust the conflict of his spirits, and comprehend the
new situation, or rather the recurrence to the old one. He seemed
to have recovered his former self, and to be able to perceive that
things might go on as before, and his heart really leapt at finding
he might return to the sight of Dennet and Ambrose and all he loved.
His wishes were really that way; and Fulford's allurements had
become very shadowy when he made his way to the Seven Stars, whose
vine-covered window allowed many loud voices and fumes of beer and
wine to escape into the summer evening air.
The room was perhaps cleaner than an English one would have been,
but it was reeking with heat and odours, and the forest-bred youth
was unwilling to enter, but Fulford and two or three Badgers greeted
him noisily and called on him to partake of the supper they had
"No, sir knight, I thank you," said Stephen. "I am bound for my
quarters, I came but to thank you for your goodness to me, and to
bid you farewell."
"And how as to thy pledge to join us, young man?" demanded Fulford
"I gave no pledge," said Stephen. "I said I would consider of it."
"Faint-hearted! ha! ha!" and the English Badgers translated the word
to the Germans, and set them shouting with derision.
"I am not faint-hearted," said Stephen; "but I will not break mine
oath to my master."
"And thine oath to me? Ha!" said Fulford.
"I sware you no oath, I gave you no word," said Stephen.
"Ha! Thou darest give me the lie, base prentice. Take that!"
And therewith he struck Stephen a crushing blow on the head, which
felled him to the ground. The host and all the company, used to
pot-house quarrels, and perhaps playing into his hands, took little
heed; Stephen was dragged insensible into another room, and there
the Badgers began hastily to divest him of his prentice's gown, and
draw his arms into a buff coat.
Fulford had really been struck with his bravery, and knew besides
that his skill in the armourer's craft would be valuable, so that it
had been determined beforehand that he should--by fair means or
foul--leave the Seven Stars a Badger.
"By all the powers of hell, you have struck too hard, sir. He is
sped," said Marden anxiously.
"Ass! tut!" said Fulford. "Only enough to daze him till he be safe
in our quarters--and for that the sooner the better. Here, call
Anton to take his heels. We'll get him forth now as a fellow of our
"Hark! What's that?"
"Gentlemen," said the host hurrying in, "here be some of the
gentlemen of the English Cardinal, calling for a nephew of one of
them, who they say is in this house."
With an imprecation, Fulford denied all connection with gentlemen of
the Cardinal; but there was evidently an invasion, and in another
moment, several powerful-looking men in the crimson and black velvet
of Wolsey's train had forced their way into the chamber, and the
foremost, seeing Stephen's condition at a glance, exclaimed loudly,
"Thou villain! traitor! kidnapper! This is thy work."
"Ha! ha!" shouted Fulford, "whom have we here? The Cardinal's fool
a masquing! Treat us to a caper, quipsome sir?"
"I'm more like to treat you to the gyves," returned Randall. "Away
with you! The watch are at hand. Were it not for my wife's sake,
they should bear you off to the city jail; the Emperor should know
how you fill your ranks."
It was quite true. The city guard were entering at the street door,
and the host hurried Fulford and his men, swearing and raging, out
at a back door provided for such emergencies. Stephen was beginning
to recover by this time. His uncle knelt down, took his head on his
shoulder, and Lucas washed off the blood and administered a drop of
wine. His first words were:
"Was it Giles? Where is she?"
"Still going over the play!" thought Lucas. "Nay, nay, lad. 'Twas
one of the soldiers who played thee this scurvy trick! All's well
now. Thou wilt soon be able to quit this place."
"I remember now," said Stephen, "Sir John said I gave him the lie
when I said I had given no pledge. But I had not!"
"Thou hast been a brave fellow, and better broken head than broken
troth," said his uncle.
"But how came you here," asked Stephen. "In the nick of time?"
It was explained that Lucas, not doubting Stephen's resolution, but
quite aware of the tricks of landsknecht captains with promising
recruits in view, had gone first in search of Smallbones, but had
found him and the Ancient so deeply engaged in potations from the
liberal supply of the Emperor to all English guests, that there was
no getting him apart, and he was too much muddled to comprehend if
he could have been spoken with.
Lucas then, in desperation, betook himself to the convent where
Wolsey was magnificently lodged. Ill May Day had made him, as well
as others, well acquainted with the relationship between Stephen and
Randall, though he was not aware of the further connection with
Fulford. He hoped, even if unable to see Randall, to obtain help on
behalf of an English lad in danger, and happily he arrived at a
moment when State affairs were going on, and Randall was refreshing
himself by a stroll in the cloister. When Lucas had made him
understand the situation, his dismay was only equalled by his
promptitude. He easily obtained the loan of one of the splendid
suits of scarlet and crimson, guarded with black velvet a hand
broad, which were worn by the Cardinal's secular attendants--for he
was well known by this time in the household to be very far from an
absolute fool, and indeed had done many a good turn to his comrades.
Several of the gentlemen, indignant at the threatened outrage on a
young Englishman, and esteeming the craftsmen of the Dragon,
volunteered to accompany him, and others warned the watch.
There was some difficulty still, for the burgher guards, coming up
puffing and blowing, wanted to carry off the victim and keep him in
ward to give evidence against the mercenaries, whom they regarded as
a sort of wolves, so that even the Emperor never durst quarter them
within one of the cities. The drawn swords of Randall's friends
however settled that matter, and Stephen, though still dizzy, was
able to walk. Thus leaning on his uncle, he was escorted back to
"The villain!" the jester said on the way, "I mistrusted him, but I
never thought he would have abused our kindred in this fashion. I
would fain have come down to look after thee, nevvy, but these kings
and queens are troublesome folk. The Emperor--he is a pale, shame-
faced, solemn lad. Maybe he museth, but he had scarce a word to say
for himself. Our Hal tried clapping on the shoulder, calling him
fair coz, and the like, in his hearty fashion. Behold, what doth he
but turn round with such a look about the long lip of him as my Lord
of Buckingham might have if his scullion made free with him. His
aunt, the Duchess of Savoy, is a merry dame, and a wise! She and
our King can talk by the ell, but as for the Emperor, he speaketh to
none willingly save Queen Katharine, who is of his own stiff Spanish
humour, and he hath eyes for none save Queen Mary, who would have
been his empress had high folk held to their word. And with so
tongue-tied a host, and the rain without, what had the poor things
to do by way of disporting themselves with but a show of fools.
I've had to go through every trick and quip I learnt when I was with
old Nat Fire-eater. And I'm stiffer in the joints and weightier in
the heft than I was in those days when I slept in the fields, and
fasted more than ever Holy Church meant. But, heigh ho! I ought to
be supple enough after the practice of these three days. Moreover,
if it could loose a fool's tongue to have a king and queen for
interpreters, I had them--for there were our Harry and Moll catching
at every gibe as fast as my brain could hatch it, and rendering it
into French as best thy might, carping and quibbling the while
underhand at one another's renderings, and the Emperor sitting by in
his black velvet, smiling about as much as a felon at the hangman's
jests. All his poor fools moreover, and the King's own, ready to
gnaw their baubles for envy! That was the only sport I had! I'm
wearier than if I'd been plying Smallbones' biggest hammer. The
worst of it is that my Lord Cardinal is to stay behind and go on to
Bruges as ambassador, and I with him, so thou must bear my greetings
to thy naunt, and tell her I'm keeping from picking up a word of
French or Flemish lest this same Charles should take a fancy to me
and ask me of my master, who would give away his own head to get the
Pope's fool's cap."
"Wer da? Qui va la?" asked a voice, and the summer twilight
revealed two figures with cloaks held high and drooping Spanish
hats; one of whom, a slender, youthful figure, so far as could be
seen under his cloak, made inquiries, first in Flemish, then in
French, as to what ailed the youth. Lucas replied in the former
tongue, and one of the Englishmen could speak French. The gentleman
seemed much concerned, asked if the watch had been at hand, and
desired Lucas to assure the young Englishman that the Emperor would
be much distressed at the tidings, asked where he was lodged, and
"Ah ha!" muttered the jester, "if my ears deceive me now, I'll never
trust them again! Mynheer Charles knows a few more tricks than he
is fain to show off in royal company. Come on, Stevie! I'll see
thee to thy bed. Old Kit is too far gone to ask after thee. In
sooth, I trow that my sweet father-in-law set his Ancient to nail
him to the wine pot. And Master Giles I saw last with some of the
grooms. I said nought to him, for I trow thou wouldst not have him
know thy plight! I'll be with thee in the morning ere thou partest,
if kings, queens, and cardinals roar themselves hoarse for the
With this promise Hal Randall bestowed his still dulled and half-
stunned nephew carefully on the pallet provided by the care of the
purveyors. Stephen slept dreamily at first, then soundly, and woke
at the sound of the bells of Gravelines to the sense that a great
crisis in his life was over, a strange wild dream of evil dispelled,
and that he was to go home to see, hear, and act as he could, with a
heartache indeed, but with the resolve to do his best as a true and
Smallbones was already afoot--for the start for Calais was to be
made on that very day. The smith was fully himself again, and was
bawling for his subordinates, who had followed his example in
indulging in the good cheer, and did not carry it off so easily.
Giles, rather silent and surly, was out of bed, shouting answers to
Smallbones, and calling on Stephen to truss his points. He was in a
mood not easy to understand, he would hardly speak, and never
noticed the marks of the fray on Stephen's temple--only half hidden
by the dark curly hair. This was of course a relief, but Stephen
could not help suspecting that he had been last night engaged in
some revel about which he desired no inquiries.
Randall came just as the operation was completed. He was in a good
deal of haste, having to restore the groom's dress he wore by the
time the owner had finished the morning toilet of the Lord
Cardinal's palfreys. He could not wait to inquire how Stephen had
contrived to fall into the hands of Fulford, his chief business
being to put under safe charge a bag of coins, the largesse from the
various princes and nobles whom he had diverted--ducats, crowns,
dollars, and angels all jingling together--to be bestowed wherever
Perronel kept her store, a matter which Hal was content not to know,
though the pair cherished a hope some day to retire on it from
"Thou art a good lad, Steve," said Hal. "I'm right glad thou
leavest this father of mine behind thee. I would not see thee such
as he--no, not for all the gold we saw on the Frenchmen's backs."
This was the jester's farewell, but it was some time before the
waggon was under way, for the carter and one of the smiths were
missing, and were only at noon found in an alehouse, both very far
gone in liquor, and one with a black eye. Kit discoursed on
sobriety in the most edifying manner, as at last he drove heavily
along the street, almost the last in the baggage train of the king
and queens--but still in time to be so included in it so as to save
all difficulty at the gates. It was, however, very late in the
evening when they reached Calais, so that darkness was coming on as
they waited their turn at the drawbridge, with a cart full of
scullions and pots and pans before them, and a waggon-load of tents
behind. The warders in charge of the gateway had orders to count
over all whom they admitted, so that no unauthorised person might
enter that much-valued fortress. When at length the waggon rolled
forward into the shadow of the great towered gateway on the outer
side of the moat, the demand was made, who was there? Giles had
always insisted, as leader of the party, on making reply to such
questions, and Smallbones waited for his answer, but none was
forthcoming. Therefore Kit shouted in reply, "Alderman Headley's
wain and armourers. Two journeymen, one prentice, two smiths, two
"Seven!" rejoined the warder. "One--two--three--four--five. Ha!
your company seems to be lacking."
"Giles must have ridden on," suggested Stephen, while Kit, growling
angrily, called on the lazy fellow, Will Wherry, to wake and show
himself. But the officials were greatly hurried, and as long as no
dangerous person got into Calais, it mattered little to them who
might be left outside, so they hurried on the waggon into the narrow
It was well that it was a summer night, for lodgings there were
none. Every hostel was full and all the houses besides. The
earlier comers assured Kit that it was of no use to try to go on.
The streets up to the wharf were choked, and he might think himself
lucky to have his waggon to sleep in. But the horses! And food?
However, there was one comfort--English tongues answered, if it was
only with denials.
Kit's store of travelling money was at a low ebb, and it was nearly
exhausted by the time, at an exorbitant price, he had managed to get
a little hay and water for the horses, and a couple of loaves and a
haunch of bacon among the five hungry men. They were quite content
to believe that Master Giles had ridden on before and secured better
quarters and viands, nor could they much regret the absence of Will
Wherry's wide mouth.
Kit called Stephen to council in the morning. His funds would not
permit waiting for the missing ones, if he were to bring home any
reasonable proportion of gain to his master. He believed that
Master Headley would by no means risk the whole party loitering at
Calais, when it was highly probable that Giles might have joined
some of the other travellers, and embarked by himself.
After all, Kit's store had to be well-nigh expended before the
horses, waggon, and all, could find means to encounter the miseries
of the transit to Dover. Then, glad as he was to be on his native
soil, his spirits sank lower and lower as the waggon creaked on
under the hot sun towards London. He had actually brought home only
four marks to make over to his master; and although he could show a
considerable score against the King and various nobles, these debts
were not apt to be promptly discharged, and what was worse, two
members of his party and one horse were missing. He little knew how
narrow an escape he had had of losing a third!
CHAPTER XXII. AN INVASION
"What shall be the maiden's fate?
Who shall be the maiden's mate?"
No Giles Headley appeared to greet the travellers, though Kit
Smallbones had halted at Canterbury, to pour out entreaties to St.
Thomas, and the vow of a steel and gilt reliquary of his best
workmanship to contain the old shoe, which a few years previously
had so much disgusted Erasmus and his companion.
Poor old fellow, he was too much crest-fallen thoroughly to enjoy
even the gladness of his little children; and his wife made no
secret of her previous conviction that he was too dunderheaded not
to run into some coil, when she was not there to look after him.
The alderman was more merciful. Since there had been no invasion
from Salisbury, he had regretted the not having gone himself to
Ardres, and he knew pretty well that Kit's power lay more in his
arms than in his brain. He did not wonder at the small gain, nor at
the having lost sight of the young man, and confidently expected the
lost ones soon to appear.
As to Dennet, her eyes shone quietly, and she took upon herself to
send down to let Mistress Randall know of her nephew's return, and
invite her to supper to hear the story of his doings. The girl did
not look at all like a maiden uneasy about her lost lover, but much
more like one enjoying for the moment the immunity from a kind of
burthen; and, as she smiled, called for Stephen's help in her little
arrangements, and treated him in the friendly manner of old times,
he could not but wonder at the panic that had overpowered him for a
time like a fever of the mind.
There was plenty to speak of in the glories of the Field of the
Cloth of Gold, and the transactions with the knights and nobles; and
Stephen held his peace as to his adventure, but Dennet's eyes were
sharper than Kit's. She spied the remains of the bruise under his
black curly hair; and while her father and Tib were unravelling the
accounts from Kit's brain and tally-sticks, she got the youth out
into the gallery, and observed, "So thou hast a broken head. See
here are grandmother's lily-leaves in strong waters. Let me lay one
on for thee. There, sit down on the step, then I can reach."
"'Tis well nigh whole now, sweet mistress," said Stephen, complying
however, for it was too sweet to have those little fingers busy
about him, for the offer to be declined.
"How gatst thou the blow?" asked Dennet. "Was it at single-stick?
Come, thou mayst tell me. 'Twas in standing up for some one."
"Nay, mistress, I would it had been."
"Thou hast been in trouble," she said, leaning on the baluster above
him. "Or did ill men set on thee?"
"That's the nearest guess," said Stephen. "'Twas that tall father
of mine aunt's, the fellow that came here for armour, and bought
poor Master Michael's sword."
"And sliced the apple on thine hand. Ay?"
"He would have me for one of his Badgers."
"Thee! Stephen!" It was a cry of pain as well as horror.
"Yea, mistress; and when I refused, the fellow dealt me a blow, and
laid me down senseless, to bear me off willy nilly, but that good
old Lucas Hansen brought mine uncle to mine aid--"
Dennet clasped her hands. "O Stephen, Stephen! Now I know how good
the Lord is. Wot ye, I asked of Tibble to take me daily to St.
Faith's to crave of good St. Julian to have you all in his keeping,
and saith he on the way, 'Methinks, mistress, our dear Lord would
hear you if you spake to Him direct, with no go-between.' I did as
he bade me, Stephen, I went to the high Altar, and prayed there, and
Tibble went with me, and lo, now, He hath brought you back safe. We
will have a mass of thanksgiving on the very morn."
Stephen's heart could not but bound, for it was plain enough for
whom the chief force of these prayers had been offered.
"Sweet mistress," he said, "they have availed me indeed. Certes,
they warded me in the time of sore trial and temptation."
"Nay," said Dennet, "thou COULDST not have longed to go away from
hence with those ill men who live by slaying and plundering?"
The present temptation was to say that he had doubted whether this
course would not have been for the best both for himself and for
her; but he recollected that Giles might be at the gate, and if so,
he should feel as if he had rather have bitten out his tongue than
have let Dennet know the state of the case, so he only answered -
"There be sorer temptations in the world for us poor rogues than
little home-biding house crickets like thee wot of, mistress. Well
that ye can pray for us without knowing all!"
Stephen had never consciously come so near love-making, and his
honest face was all one burning glow with the suppressed feeling,
while Dennet lingered till the curfew warned them of the lateness of
the hour, both with a strange sense of undefined pleasure in the
being together in the summer twilight.
Day after day passed on with no news of Giles or Will Wherry. The
alderman grew uneasy, and sent Stephen to ask his brother to write
to Randall, or to some one else in Wolsey's suite, to make inquiries
at Bruges. But Ambrose was found to have gone abroad in the train
of Sir Thomas More, and nothing was heard till their return six
weeks later, when Ambrose brought home a small packet which had been
conveyed to him through one of the Emperor's suite. It was tied up
with a long tough pale wisp of hair, evidently from the mane or tail
of some Flemish horse, and was addressed, "To Master Ambrose
Birkenholt, menial clerk to the most worshipful Sir Thomas More,
Knight, Under Sheriff of the City of London. These greeting--"
Within, when Ambrose could open the missive, was another small
parcel, and a piece of brown coarse paper, on which was scrawled -
"Good Ambrose Birkenholt,--I pray thee to stand my friend, and let
all know whom it may concern, that when this same billet comes to
hand, I shall be far on the march to High Germany, with a company of
lusty fellows in the Emperor's service. They be commanded by the
good knight, Sir John Fulford.
"If thou canst send tidings to my mother, bid her keep her heart up,
for I shall come back a captain, full of wealth and honour, and that
will be better than hammering for life--or being wedded against mine
own will. There never was troth plight between my master's daughter
and me, and my time is over, so I be quit with them, and I thank my
master for his goodness. They shall all hear of me some of these
days. Will Wherry is my groom, and commends him to his mother. And
so, commending thee and all the rest to Our Lady and the saints,
"Thine to command,
"Man-at-Arms in the Honourable Company of Sir John Fulford, Knight."
On a separate strip was written -
"Give this packet to the little Moorish maid, and tell her that I
will bring her better by and by, and mayhap make her a knight's
lady; but on thy life, say nought to any other."
It was out now! Ambrose's head was more in Sir Thomas's books than
in real life at all times, or he would long ago have inferred
something--from the jackdaw's favourite phrase--from Giles's modes
of haunting his steps, and making him the bearer of small tokens--an
orange, a simnel cake, a bag of walnuts or almonds to Mistress
Aldonza, and of the smiles, blushes, and thanks with which she
greeted them. Nay, had she not burst into tears and entreated to be
spared when Lady More wanted to make a match between her and the big
porter, and had not her distress led Mistress Margaret to appeal to
her father, who had said he should as soon think of wedding the
silver-footed Thetis to Polyphemus. "Tilley valley! Master More,"
the lady had answered, "will all your fine pagan gods hinder the
wench from starving on earth, and leading apes in hell."
Margaret had answered that Aldonza should never do the first, and
Sir Thomas had gravely said that he thought those black eyes would
lead many a man on earth before they came to the latter fate.
Ambrose hid the parcel for her deep in his bosom before he asked
permission of his master to go to the Dragon court with the rest of
"He always was an unmannerly cub," said Master Headley, as he read
the letter. "Well, I've done my best to make a silk purse of a
sow's ear! I've done my duty by poor Robert's son, and if he will
be such a fool as to run after blood and wounds, I have no more to
say! Though 'tis pity of the old name! Ha! what's this? 'Wedded
against my will--no troth plight.' Forsooth, I thought my young
master was mighty slack. He hath some other matter in his mind,
hath he? Run into some coil mayhap with a beggar wench! Well, we
need not be beholden to him. Ha, Dennet, my maid!"
Dennet screwed up her little mouth, and looked very demure, but she
twinkled her bright eyes, and said, "My heart will not break, sir; I
am in no haste to be wed."
Her father pinched her cheek and said she was a silly wench; but
perhaps he marked the dancing step with which the young mistress
went about her household cares, and how she was singing to herself
songs that certainly were not "Willow! willow!"
Ambrose had no scruple in delivering to Aldonza the message and
token, when he overtook her on the stairs of the house at Chelsea,
carrying up a lapful of roses to the still-room, where Dame Alice
More was rejoicing in setting her step-daughters to housewifely
There came a wonderful illumination and agitation over the girl's
usually impassive features, giving all that they needed to make them
"Woe is me!" was, however, her first exclamation. "That he should
have given up all for me! Oh! if I had thought it!" But while she
spoke as if she were shocked and appalled, her eyes belied her
words. They shone with the first absolute certainty of love, and
there was no realising as yet the years of silent waiting and
anxiety that must go by, nay, perhaps an entire lifetime of
uncertainty of her lover's truth or untruth, life or death.
Dame Alice called her, and in a rambling, maundering way, charged
her with loitering and gadding with the young men; and Margaret saw
by her colour and by her eyes that some strange thing had happened
to her. Margaret had, perhaps, some intuition; for was not her
heart very tender towards a certain young barrister by name Roper
whom her father doubted as yet, because of his Lutheran
inclinations. By and by she discovered that she needed Aldonza to
comb out her long dark hair, and ere long, she had heard all the
tale of the youth cured by the girl's father, and all his gifts, and
how Aldonza deemed him too great and too good for her (poor Giles!)
though she knew she should never do more than look up to him with
love and gratitude from afar. And she never so much as dreamt that
he would cast an eye on her save in kindness. Oh yes, she knew what
he had taught the daw to say, but then she was a child, she durst
not deem it more. And Margaret More was more kind and eager than
worldly wise, and she encouraged Aldonza to watch and wait, promised
protection from all enforced suits and suitors, and gave assurances
of shelter as her own attendant as long as the girl should need it.
Master Headley, with some sighing and groaning, applied himself to
write to the mother at Salisbury what had become of her son; but he
had only spent one evening over the trying task, when just as the
supper bell was ringing, with Master Hope and his wife as guests,
there were horses' feet in the court, and Master Tiptoff appeared,
with a servant on another horse, which carried besides a figure in
camlet, on a pillion. No sooner was this same figure lifted from
her steed and set down on the steps, while the master of the house
and his daughter came out to greet her, than she began, "Master
Alderman Headley, I am here to know what you have done with my poor
"Alack, good cousin!"
"Alack me no alacks," she interrupted, holding up her riding rod.
"I'll have no dissembling, there hath been enough of that, Giles
Headley. Thou hast sold him, soul and body, to one of yon cruel,
bloodthirsty plundering, burning captains, that the poor child may
be slain and murthered! Is this the fair promises you made to his
father--wiling him away from his poor mother, a widow, with talking
of teaching him the craft, and giving him your daughter! My son,
Tiptoff here, told me the spousal was delayed and delayed, and he
doubted whether it would ever come off, but I thought not of this
sending him beyond seas, to make merchandise of him. And you call
yourself an alderman! The gown should be stript off the back of
you, and shall be, if there be any justice in London for a widow
"Nay, cousin, you have heard some strange tale," said Master
Headley, who, much as he would have dreaded the attack beforehand,
faced it the more calmly and manfully because the accusation was so
"Ay, so I told her," began her son-in-law, "but she hath been
neither to have nor to hold since the--"
"And how should I be to have or to hold by a nincompoop like thee,"
she said, turning round on him, "that would have me sit down and be
content forsooth, when mine only son is kidnapped to be sold to the
Turks or to work in the galleys, for aught I know."
"Mistress!" here Master Hope's voice came in, "I would counsel you
to speak less loud, and hear before you accuse. We of the City of
London know Master Alderman Headley too well to hear him railed
"Ah! you're all of a piece," she began; but by this time Master
Tiptoff had managed at least to get her into the hall, and had
exchanged words enough with the alderman to assure himself that
there was an explanation, nay, that there was a letter from Giles
himself. This the indignant mother presently was made to
understand--and as the alderman had borrowed the letter in order to
copy it for her, it was given to her. She could not read, and would
trust no one but her son-in-law to read it to her. "Yea, you have
it very pat," she said, "but how am I to be assured 'tis not all
writ here to hoodwink a poor woman like me."
"'Tis Giles's hand," averred Tiptoff.
"And if you will," added the alderman, with wonderful patience, "to-
morrow you may speak with the youth who received it. Come, sit down
and sup with us, and then you shall learn from Smallbones how this
mischance befel, all from my sending two young heads together, and
one who, though a good fellow, could not hold all in rule."
"Ay--you've your reasons for anything," she muttered, but being both
weary and hungry, she consented to eat and drink, while Tiptoff, who
was evidently ashamed of her violence, and anxious to excuse it,
managed to explain that a report had been picked up at Romsey, by a
bare-footed friar from Salisbury, that young Giles Headley had been
seen at Ghent by one of the servants of a wool merchant, riding with
a troop of Free Companions in the Emperor's service. All the rest
was deduced from this intelligence by the dame's own imagination.
After supper she was invited to interrogate Kit and Stephen, and her
grief and anxiety found vent in fierce scolding at the misrule which
had permitted such a villain as Fulford to be haunting and tempting
poor fatherless lads. Master Headley had reproached poor Kit for
the same thing, but he could only represent that Giles, being a
freeman, was no longer under his authority. However, she stormed
on, being absolutely convinced that her son's evasion was every
one's fault but his own. Now it was the alderman for misusing him,
overtasking the poor child, and deferring the marriage, now it was
that little pert poppet, Dennet, who had flouted him, now it was the
bad company he had been led into--the poor babe who had been bred to
The alderman was really sorry for her, and felt himself to blame so
far as that he had shifted the guidance of the expedition to such an
insufficient head as poor Smallbones, so he let her rail on as much
as she would, till the storm exhausted itself, and she settled into
the trust that Giles would soon grow weary and return. The good man
felt bound to show her all hospitality, and the civilities to
country cousins were in proportion to the rarity of their visits.
So Mrs. Headley stayed on after Tiptoff's return to Salisbury, and
had the best view feasible of all the pageants and diversions of
autumn. She saw some magnificent processions of clergy, she was
welcomed at a civic banquet and drank of the loving cup, and she
beheld the Lord Mayor's Show in all its picturesque glory of
emblazoned barges on the river. In fact, she found the position of
denizen of an alderman's household so very agreeable that she did
her best to make it a permanency. Nay, Dennet soon found that she
considered herself to be waiting there and keeping guard till her
son's return should establish her there, and that she viewed the
girl already as a daughter--for which Dennet was by no means obliged
to her! She lavished counsel on her hostess, found fault with the
maidens, criticised the cookery, walked into the kitchen and still-
room with assistance and directions, and even made a strong effort
to possess herself of the keys.
It must be confessed that Dennet was saucy! It was her weapon of
self-defence, and she considered herself insulted in her own house.
There she stood, exalted on a tall pair of pattens before the stout
oaken table in the kitchen where a glowing fire burned; pewter, red
and yellow earthenware, and clean scrubbed trenchers made a goodly
show, a couple of men-cooks and twice as many scullions obeyed her
behests--only the superior of the two first ever daring to argue a
point with her. There she stood, in her white apron, with sleeves
turned up, daintily compounding her mincemeat for Christmas, when in
stalked Mrs. Headley to offer her counsel and aid--but this was lost
in a volley of barking from the long-backed, bandy-legged, turnspit
dog, which was awaiting its turn at the wheel, and which ran
forward, yapping with malign intentions towards the dame's scarlet-
She shook her petticoats at him, but Dennet tittered even while
declaring that Tray hurt nobody. Mrs. Headley reviled the dog, and
then proceeded to advise Dennet that she should chop her citron
finer. Dennet made answer "that father liked a good stout piece of
it." Mistress Headley offered to take the chopper and instruct her
how to compound all in the true Sarum style.
"Grammercy, mistress, but we follow my grand-dame's recipe!" said
Dennet, grasping her implement firmly.
"Come, child, be not above taking a lesson from thine elders!
Where's the goose? What?" as the girl looked amazed, "where hast
thou lived not to know that a live goose should be bled into the
"I have never lived with barbarous, savage folk," said Dennet--and
therewith she burst into an irrepressible fit of laughter, trying in
vain to check it, for a small and mischievous elf, freshly promoted
to the office of scullion, had crept up and pinned a dish-cloth to
the substantial petticoats, and as Mistress Headley whisked round to
see what was the matter, like a kitten after its tail, it followed
her like a train, while she rushed to box the ears of the offender,
"You set him on, you little saucy vixen! I saw it in your eyes.
Let the rascal be scourged."
"Not so," said Dennet, with prim mouth and laughing eyes. "Far be
it from me! But 'tis ever the wont of the kitchen, when those come
there who have no call thither."
Mistress Headley flounced away, dish-cloth and all, to go whimpering
to the alderman with her tale of insults. She trusted that her
cousin would give the pert wench a good beating. She was not a whit
too old for it.
"How oft did you beat Giles, good kinswoman?" said Dennet demurely,
as she stood by her father.
"Whisht, whisht, child," said her father, "this may not be! I
cannot have my guest flouted."
"If she act as our guest, I will treat her with all honour and
courtesy," said the maiden; "but when she comes where we look not
for guests, there is no saying what the black guard may take it on
them to do."
Master Headley was mischievously tickled at the retort, and not
without hope that it might offend his kinswoman into departing; but
she contented herself with denouncing all imaginable evils from
Dennet's ungoverned condition, with which she was prevented in her
beneficence from interfering by the father's foolish fondness. He
would rue the day!
Meantime if the alderman's peace on one side was disturbed by his
visitor, on the other, suitors for Dennet's hand gave him little
rest. She was known to be a considerable heiress, and though
Mistress Headley gave every one to understand that there was a
contract with Giles, and that she was awaiting his return, this did
not deter more wooers than Dennet ever knew of, from making
proposals to her father. Jasper Hope was offered, but he was too
young, and besides, was a mercer--and Dennet and her father were
agreed that her husband must go on with the trade. Then there was a
master armourer, but he was a widower with sons and daughters as old
as Dennet, and she shook her head and laughed at the bare notion.
There also came a young knight who would have turned the Dragon
court into a tilt-yard, and spent all the gold that long years of
prudent toil had amassed.
If Mistress Headley deemed each denial the result of her vigilance
for her son's interests, she was the more impelled to expatiate on
the folly of leaving a maid of sixteen to herself, to let the
household go to rack and ruin; while as to the wench, she might
prank herself in her own conceit, but no honest man would soon look
at her for a wife, if her father left her to herself, without giving
her a good stepmother, or at least putting a kinswoman in authority
The alderman was stung. He certainly had warmed a snake on his
hearth, and how was he to be rid of it? He secretly winked at the
resumption of a forge fire that had been abandoned, because the
noise and smoke incommoded the dwelling-house, and Kit Smallbones
hammered his loudest there, when the guest might be taking her
morning nap; but this had no effect in driving her away, though it
may have told upon her temper; and good-humoured Master Headley was
harassed more than he had ever been in his life.
"It puts me past my patience," said he, turning into Tibble's
special workshop one afternoon. "Here hath Mistress Hillyer of the
Eagle been with me full of proposals that I would give my poor wench
to that scapegrace lad of hers, who hath been twice called to
account before the guild, but who now, forsooth, is to turn over a
"So I wis would the Dragon under him," quoth Tibble.
"I told her 'twas not to be thought of, and then what does the dame
but sniff the air and protest that I had better take heed, for there
may not be so many who would choose a spoilt, misruled maid like
mine. There's the work of yonder Sarum woman. I tell thee, Tib,
never was bull in the ring more baited than am I."
"Yea, sir," returned Tib, "there'll be no help for it till our young
mistress be wed."
"Ay! that's the rub! But I've not seen one whom I could mate with
her--let alone one who would keep up the old house. Giles would
have done that passably, though he were scarce worthy of the wench,
even without--" An expressive shake of the head denoted the rest.
"And now if he ever come home at all, 'twill be as a foul-mouthed,
plundering scarecrow, like the kites of men-at-arms, who, if they
lose not their lives, lose all that makes an honest life in the
Italian wars. I would have writ to Edmund Burgess, but I hear his
elder brother is dead, and he is driving a good traffic at York.
Belike too he is wedded."
"Nay," said Tibble, "I could tell of one who would be true and
faithful to your worship, and a loving husband to Mistress Dennet,
ay, and would be a master that all of us would gladly cleave to.
For he is godly after his lights, and sound-hearted, and wots what
good work be, and can do it."
"That were a son-in-law, Tib! Of who speakest thou? Is he of good
"Yea, of gentle birth and breeding."
"And willing? But that they all are. Wherefore then hath he never
"He hath not yet his freedom."
"Who be it then?"
"He that made this elbow-piece for the suit that Queen Margaret
ordered for the little King of Scots," returned Tibble, producing an
exquisite miniature bit of workmanship.
"Stephen Birkenholt! The fool's nephew! Mine own prentice!"
"Yea, and the best worker in steel we have yet turned out. Since
the sickness of last winter hath stiffened my joints and dimmed mine
eyes, I had rather trust dainty work such as this to him than to
"Stephen! Tibble, hath he set thee on to this?"
"No, sir. We both know too well what becometh us; but when you were
casting about for a mate for my young mistress, I could not but
think how men seek far, and overlook the jewel at their feet."
"He hath nought! That brother of his will give him nought."
"He hath what will be better for the old Dragon and for your
worship's self, than many a bag of gold, sir."
"Thou sayst truly there, Tib. I know him so far that he would not
be the ingrate Jack to turn his back on the old master or the old
man. He is a good lad. But--but--I've ever set my face against the
prentice wedding the master's daughter, save when he is of her own
house, like Giles. Tell me, Tibble, deemst thou that the varlet
hath dared to lift his eyes to the lass?"
"I wot nothing of love!" said Tibble, somewhat grimly. "I have seen
nought. I only told your worship where a good son and a good master
might be had. Is it your pleasure, sir, that we take in a freight
of sea-coal from Simon Collier for the new furnace? His is purest,
if a mark more the chaldron."
He spoke as if he put the recommendation of the son and master on
the same line as that of the coal. Mr. Headley answered the
business matters absently, and ended by saying he would think on the
In Tibble's workroom, with the clatter of a forge close to them,
they had not heard a commotion in the court outside. Dennet had
been standing on the steps cleaning her tame starling's cage, when
Mistress Headley had suddenly come out on the gallery behind her,
hotly scolding her laundress, and waving her cap to show how ill-
starched it was.
The bird had taken fright and flown to the tree in the court; Dennet
hastened in pursuit, but all the boys and children in the court
rushing out after her, her blandishments had no chance, and
"Goldspot" had fluttered on to the gateway. Stephen had by this
time come out, and hastened to the gate, hoping to turn the truant
back from escaping into Cheapside; but all in vain, it flew out
while the market was in full career, and he could only call back to
her that he would not lose sight of it.
Out he hurried, Dennet waiting in a sort of despair by the tree for
a time that seemed to her endless, until Stephen reappeared under
the gate, with a signal that all was well. She darted to meet him.
"Yea, mistress, here he is, the little caitiff. He was just knocked
down by this country lad's cap--happily not hurt. I told him you
would give him a tester for your bird."
"With all my heart!" and Dennet produced the coin. "Oh! Stephen,
are you sure he is safe? Thou bad Goldspot, to fly away from me!
Wink with thine eye--thou saucy rogue! Wottest thou not but for
Stephen they might be blinding thy sweet blue eyes with hot
"His wing is grown since the moulting," said Stephen. "It should be
cut to hinder such mischances."
"Will you do it? I will hold him," said Dennet. "Ah! 'tis pity,
the beauteous green gold-bedropped wing--that no armour of thine can
equal, Stephen, not even that for the little King of Scots. But
shouldst not be so silly a bird, Goldie, even though thou hast thine
excuse. There! Peck not, ill birdling. Know thy friends, Master
And with such pretty nonsense the two stood together, Dennet in her
white cap, short crimson kirtle, little stiff collar, and white bib
and apron, holding her bird upside down in one hand, and with the
other trying to keep his angry beak from pecking Stephen, who, in
his leathern coat and apron, grimed, as well as his crisp black
hair, with soot, stood towering above her, stooping to hold out the
lustrous wing with one hand while he used his smallest pair of
shears with the other to clip the pen-feathers.
"See there, Master Alderman," cried Mistress Headley, bursting on
him from the gallery stairs. "Be that what you call fitting for
your daughter and your prentice, a beggar lad from the heath? I
ever told you she would bring you to shame, thus left to herself.
And now you see it."
Their heads had been near together over the starling, but at this
objurgation they started apart, both crimson in the cheeks, and
Dennet flew up to her father, bird in hand, crying, "O father,
father! suffer her not. He did no wrong. He was cutting my bird's
"I suffer no one to insult my child in her own house," said the
alderman, so much provoked as to be determined to put an end to it
all at once. "Stephen Birkenholt, come here."
Stephen came, cap in hand, red in the face, with a strange tumult in
his heart, ready to plead guilty, though he had done nothing, but
imagining at the moment that his feelings had been actions.
"Stephen," said the alderman, "thou art a true and worthy lad!
Canst thou love my daughter?"
"I--I crave your pardon, sir, there was no helping it," stammered
Stephen, not catching the tone of the strange interrogation, and
expecting any amount of terrible consequences for his presumption.
"Then thou wilt be a faithful spouse to her, and son to me? And
Dennet, my daughter, hast thou any distaste to this youth--though he
bring nought but skill and honesty"
"O, father, father! I--I had rather have him than any other!"
"Then, Stephen Birkenholt and Dennet Headley, ye shall be man and
wife, so soon as the young man's term be over, and he be a freeman--
so he continue to be that which he seems at present. Thereto I give
my word, I, Giles Headley, Alderman of the Chepe Ward, and thereof
ye are witnesses, all of you. And God's blessing on it."
A tremendous hurrah arose, led by Kit Smallbones, from every workman
in the court, and the while Stephen and Dennet, unaware of anything
else, flew into one another's arms, while Goldspot, on whom the
operation had been fortunately completed, took refuge upon Stephen's
"O, Mistress Dennet, I have made you black all over!" was Stephen's
"Heed not, I ever loved the black!" she cried, as her eyes sparkled.
"So I have done what was to thy mind, my lass?" said Master Headley,
who, without ever having thought of consulting his daughter, was
delighted to see that her heart was with him.
"Sir, I did not know fully--but indeed I should never have been so
happy as I am now."
"Sir," added Stephen, putting his knee to the ground, "it nearly
wrung my heart to think of her as belonging to another, though I
never durst utter aught"--and while Dennet embraced her father,
Stephen sobbed for very joy, and with difficulty said in broken
words something about a "son's duty and devotion."
They were broken in upon by Mistress Headley, who, after standing in
mute consternation, fell on them in a fury. She understood the
device now! All had been a scheme laid amongst them for defrauding
her poor fatherless child, driving him away, and taking up this
beggarly brat. She had seen through the little baggage from the
first, and she pitied Master Headley. Rage was utterly ungovernable
in those days, and she actually was flying to attack Dennet with her
nails when the alderman caught her by the wrists; and she would have
been almost too much for him, had not Kit Smallbones come to his
assistance, and carried her, kicking and screaming like a naughty
child, into the house. There was small restraint of temper in those
days even in high life, and below it, there was some reason for the
employment of the padlock and the ducking stool.
Floods of tears restored the dame to some sort of composure; but she
declared she could stay no longer in a house where her son had been
ill-used and deceived, and she had been insulted. The alderman
thought the insult had been the other way, but he was too glad to be
rid of her on any terms to gainsay her, and at his own charge,
undertook to procure horse and escort to convey her safely to
Salisbury the next morning. He advised Stephen to keep out of her
sight for the rest of the day, giving leave of absence, so that the
youth, as one treading on air, set forth to carry to his brother,
his aunt, and if possible, his uncle, the intelligence that he could
as yet hardly believe was more than a happy dream.
CHAPTER XXIII. UNWELCOME PREFERMENT
"I am a poor fallen man, unworthy now
To be thy lord and master. Seek the king!
That sun I pray may never set."
Matters flowed on peaceably with Stephen and Dennet. The alderman
saw no reason to repent his decision, hastily as it had been made.
Stephen gave himself no unseemly airs of presumption, but worked on
as one whose heart was in the business, and Dennet rewarded her
father's trust by her discretion.
They were happily married in the summer of 1522, as soon as
Stephen's apprenticeship was over; and from that time, he was in the
position of the master's son, with more and more devolving on him as
Tibble became increasingly rheumatic every winter, and the alderman
himself grew in flesh and in distaste to exertion.
Ambrose meanwhile prospered with his master, and could easily have
obtained some office in the law courts that would have enabled him
to make a home of his own; but if he had the least inclination to
the love of women, it was all merged in a silent distant worship of
"sweet pale Margaret, rare pale Margaret," the like-minded daughter
of Sir Thomas More--an affection which was so entirely devotion at a
shrine, that it suffered no shock when Sir Thomas at length
consented to his daughter's marriage with William Roper.
Ambrose was the only person who ever received any communication from
Giles Headley. They were few and far between, but when Stephen
Gardiner returned from his embassy to Pope Clement VII., who was
then at Orvieto, one of the suite reported to Ambrose how astonished
he had been by being accosted in good English by one of the imperial
men-at-arms, who were guarding his Holiness in actual though
unconfessed captivity. This person had sent his commendations to
Ambrose, and likewise a laborious bit of writing, which looked as if
he were fast forgetting the art. It bade Ambrose inform his mother
and all his friends and kin that he was well and coming to
preferment, and inclosed for Aldonza a small mother-of-pearl cross
blessed by the Pope. Giles added that he should bring her finer
gifts by and by.
Seven years' constancy! It gave quite a respectability to Giles's
love, and Aldonza was still ready and patient while waiting in
attendance on her beloved mistress.
Ambrose lived on in the colony at Chelsea, sometimes attending his
master, especially on diplomatic missions, and generally acting as
librarian and foreign secretary, and obtaining some notice from
Erasmus on the great scholar's visit to Chelsea. Under such
guidance, Ambrose's opinions had settled down a good deal; and he
was a disappointment to Tibble, whose views advanced proportionably
as he worked less, and read and thought more. He so bitterly
resented and deplored the burning of Tindal's Bible that there was
constant fear that he might bring on himself the same fate,
especially as he treasured his own copy and studied it constantly.
The reform that Wolsey had intended to effect when he obtained the
legatine authority seemed to fall into the background among
political interests, and his efforts had as yet no result save the
suppression of some useless and ill-managed small religious houses
to endow his magnificent project of York College at Oxford, with a
feeder at Ipswich, his native town.
He was waiting to obtain the papacy, when he would deal better with
the abuses. Randall once asked him if he were not waiting to be
King of Heaven, when he could make root and branch work at once.
Hal had never so nearly incurred a flogging!
And in the meantime another influence was at work, an influence only
heard of at first in whispered jests, which made loyal-hearted
Dennet blush and look indignant, but which soon grew to sad earnest,
as she could not but avow, when she beheld the stately pomp of the
two Cardinals, Wolsey and Campeggio, sweep up to the Blackfriars
Convent to sit in judgment on the marriage of poor Queen Katharine.
"Out on them!" she said. "So many learned men to set their wits
against one poor woman!" And she heartily rejoiced when they came
to no decision, and the Pope was appealed to. As to understanding
all the explanations that Ambrose brought from time to time, she
called them quirks and quiddities, and left them to her father and
Tibble to discuss in their chimney corners.
They had seen nothing of the jester for a good while, for he was
with Wolsey, who was attending the King on a progress through the
midland shires. When the Cardinal returned to open the law courts
as Chancellor at the beginning of the autumn term, still Randall
kept away from home, perhaps because he had forebodings that he
could not bear to mention.
On the evening of that very day, London rang with the tidings that
the Great Seal had been taken from the Cardinal, and that he was
under orders to yield up his noble mansion of York House and to
retire to Esher; nay, it was reported that he was to be imprisoned
in the Tower, and the next day the Thames was crowded with more than
a thousand boats filled with people, expecting to see him landed at
the Traitors' Gate, and much disappointed when his barge turned
In the afternoon, Ambrose came to the Dragon court. Even as Stephen
figured now as a handsome prosperous young freeman of the City,
Ambrose looked well in the sober black apparel and neat ruff of a
lawyer's clerk--clerk indeed to the first lawyer in the kingdom, for
the news had spread before him that Sir Thomas More had become Lord
"Thou art come to bear us word of thy promotion--for thy master's is
thine own," said the alderman heartily as he entered, shaking hands
with him. "Never was the Great Seal in better hands."
"'Tis true indeed, your worship," said Ambrose, "though it will lay
a heavy charge on him, and divert him from much that he loveth
better still. I came to ask of my sister Dennet a supper and a bed
for the night, as I have been on business for him, and can scarce
get back to Chelsea."
"And welcome," said Dennet. "Little Giles and Bess have been
wearying for their uncle."
"I must not toy with them yet," said Ambrose, "I have a message for
my aunt. Brother, wilt thou walk down to the Temple with me before
"Yea, and how is it with Master Randall?" asked Dennet. "Be he gone
with my Lord Cardinal?"
"He is made over to the King," said Ambrose briefly. "'Tis that
which I must tell his wife."
"Have with thee, then," said Stephen, linking his arm into that of
his brother, for to be together was still as great an enjoyment to
them as in Forest days. And on the way, Ambrose told what he had
not been willing to utter in full assembly in the hall. He had been
sent by his master with a letter of condolence to the fallen
Cardinal, and likewise of inquiry into some necessary business
connected with the chancellorship. Wolsey had not time to answer
before embarking, but as Sir Thomas had vouched for the messenger's
ability and trustiness, he had bidden Ambrose come into his barge,
and receive his instructions. Thus Ambrose had landed with him,
just as a messenger came riding in haste from the King, with a kind
greeting, assuring his old friend that his seeming disgrace was only
for a time, and for political reasons, and sending him a ring in
token thereof. The Cardinal had fallen on his knees to receive the
message, had snatched a gold chain and precious relic from his own
neck to reward the messenger, and then, casting about for some gift
for the King, "by ill luck," said Ambrose, "his eye lit upon our
uncle, and he instantly declared that he would bestow Patch, as the
Court chooses to call him, on the King. Well, as thou canst guess,
Hal is hotly wroth at the treatment of his lord, whom he truly
loveth; and he flung himself before the Cardinal, and besought that
he might not be sent from his good lord. But the Cardinal was only
chafed at aught that gainsaid him; and all he did was to say he
would have no more ado, he had made his gift. 'Get thee gone,' he
said, as if he had been ordering off a horse or dog. Well-a-day! it
was hard to brook the sight, and Hal's blood was up. He flatly
refused to go, saying he was the Cardinal's servant, but no villain
nor serf to be thus made over without his own will."
"He was in the right there," returned Stephen, hotly.
"Yea, save that by playing the fool, poor fellow, he hath yielded up
the rights of a wise man. Any way, all he gat by it was that the
Cardinal bade two of the yeomen lay hands on him and bear him off.
Then there came on him that reckless mood, which, I trow, banished
him long ago from the Forest, and brought him to the motley. He
fought with them with all his force, and broke away once--as if that
were of any use for a man in motley!--but he was bound at last, and
borne off by six of them to Windsor!"
"And thou stoodst by, and beheld it!" cried Stephen.
"Nay, what could I have done, save to make his plight worse, and
forfeit all chance of yet speaking to him?"
"Thou wert ever cool! I wot that I could not have borne it," said
They told the story to Perronel, who was on the whole elated by her
husband's promotion, declaring that the King loved him well, and
that he would soon come to his senses, though for a wise man, he
certainly had too much of the fool, even as he had too much of the
wise man for the fool.
She became anxious, however, as the weeks passed by without hearing
of or from him, and at length Ambrose confessed his uneasiness to
his kind master, and obtained leave to attend him on the next
summons to Windsor.
Ambrose could not find his uncle at first. Randall, who used to
pervade York House, and turn up everywhere when least expected, did
not appear among the superior serving-men and secretaries with whom
his nephew ranked, and of course there was no access to the state
apartments. Sir Thomas, however, told Ambrose that he had seen
Quipsome Hal among the other jesters, but that he seemed dull and
dejected. Then Ambrose beheld from a window a cruel sight, for the
other fools, three in number, were surrounding Hal, baiting and
teasing him, triumphing over him in fact, for having formerly
outshone them, while he stood among them like a big dog worried by
little curs, against whom he disdained to use his strength.
Ambrose, unable to bear this, ran down stairs to endeavour to
interfere; but before he could find his way to the spot, an arrival
at the gate had attracted the tormentors, and Ambrose found his
uncle leaning against the wall alone. He looked thin and wan, the
light was gone out of his black eyes, and his countenance was in sad
contrast to his gay and absurd attire. He scarcely cheered up when
his nephew spoke to him, though he was glad to hear of Perronel. He
said he knew not when he should see her again, for he had been
unable to secure his suit of ordinary garments, so that even if the
King came to London, or if he could elude the other fools, he could
not get out to visit her. He was no better than a prisoner here, he
only marvelled that the King retained so wretched a jester, with so
heavy a heart.
"Once thou wast in favour," said Ambrose. "Methought thou couldst
have availed thyself of it to speak for the Lord Cardinal."
"What? A senseless cur whom he kicked from him," said Randall.
"'Twas that took all spirit from me, boy. I, who thought he loved
me, as I love him to this day. To send me to be sport for his foes!
I think of it day and night, and I've not a gibe left under my
"Nay," said Ambrose, "it may have been that the Cardinal hoped to
secure a true friend at the King's ear, as well as to provide for
"Had he but said so--"
"Nay, perchance he trusted to thy sharp wit."
A gleam came into Hal's eyes. "It might be so. Thou always wast a
toward lad, Ambrose, and if so, I was cur and fool indeed to baulk
Therewith one of the other fools danced back exhibiting a silver
crown that had just been flung to him, mopping and mowing, and
demanding when Patch would have wit to gain the like. Whereto Hal
replied by pointing to Ambrose and declaring that that gentleman had
given him better than fifty crowns. And that night, Sir Thomas told
Ambrose that the Quipsome one had recovered himself, had been more
brilliant than ever and had quite eclipsed the other fools.
On the next opportunity, Ambrose contrived to pack in his cloak-bag,
the cap and loose garment in which his uncle was wont to cover his
motley. The Court was still at Windsor; but nearly the whole of Sir
Thomas's stay elapsed without Ambrose being able to find his uncle.
Wolsey had been very ill, and the King had relented enough to send
his own physician to attend him. Ambrose began to wonder if Hal
could have found any plea for rejoining his old master; but in the
last hour of his stay, he found Hal curled up listlessly on a window
seat of a gallery, his head resting on his hand.
"Uncle, good uncle! At last! Thou art sick?"
"Sick at heart, lad," said Hal, looking up. "Yea, I took thy
counsel. I plucked up a spirit, I made Harry laugh as of old,
though my heart smote me, as I thought how he was wont to be
answered by my master. I even brooked to jest with the night-crow,
as my own poor lord called this Nan Boleyn. And lo you now, when
his Grace was touched at my lord's sickness, I durst say there was
one sure elixir for such as he, to wit a gold Harry; and that a
King's touch was a sovereign cure for other disorders than the
King's evil. Harry smiled, and in ten minutes more would have taken
horse for Esher, had not Madam Nan claimed his word to ride out
hawking with her. And next, she sendeth me a warning by one of her
pert maids, that I should be whipped, if I spoke to his Grace of
unfitting matters. My flesh could brook no more, and like a born
natural, I made answer that Nan Boleyn was no mistress of mine to
bid me hold a tongue that had spoken sooth to her betters.
Thereupon, what think you, boy? The grooms came and soundly flogged
me for uncomely speech of my Lady Anne! I that was eighteen years
with my Lord Cardinal, and none laid hand on me! Yea, I was beaten;
and then shut up in a dog-hole for three days on bread and water,
with none to speak to, but the other fools jeering at me like a
rogue in a pillory."
Ambrose could hardly speak for hot grief and indignation, but he
wrung his uncle's hand, and whispered that he had hid the loose gown
behind the arras of his chamber, but he could do no more, for he was
summoned to attend his master, and a servant further thrust in to
say, "Concern yourself not for that rogue, sir, he hath been saucy,
and must mend his manners, or he will have worse."
"Away, kind sir," said Hal, "you can do the poor fool no further
good! but only bring the pack about the ears of the mangy hound."
And he sang a stave appropriated by a greater man than he -
"Then let the stricken deer go weep,
The hart ungalled play."
The only hope that Ambrose or his good master could devise for poor
Randall was that Sir Thomas should watch his opportunity and beg the
fool from the King, who might part with him as a child gives away
the once coveted toy that has failed in its hands; but the request
would need circumspection, for all had already felt the change that
had taken place in the temper of the King since Henry had resolutely
undertaken that the wrong should be the right; and Ambrose could not
but dread the effect of desperation on a man whose nature had in it
a vein of impatient recklessness.
It was after dinner, and Dennet, with her little boy and girl, was
on the steps dispensing the salt fish, broken bread, and pottage of
the Lenten meal to the daily troop who came for her alms, when,
among them, she saw, somewhat to her alarm, a gipsy man, who was
talking to little Giles. The boy, a stout fellow of six, was
astride on the balustrade, looking up eagerly into the face of the
man, who began imitating the note of a blackbird. Dennet,
remembering the evil propensities of the gipsy race, called hastily
to her little son to come down and return to her side; but little
Giles was unwilling to move, and called to her, "O mother, come! He
hath a bird-call!" In some perturbation lest the man might be
calling her bird away, Dennet descended the steps. She was about to
utter a sharp rebuke, but Giles held out his hand imploringly, and
she paused a moment to hear the sweet full note of the "ouzel cock,
with orange tawny bill" closely imitated on a tiny bone whistle.
"He will sell it to me for two farthings," cried the boy, "and teach
me to sing on it like all the birds--"
"Yea, good mistress," said the gipsy, "I can whistle a tune that the
little master, ay, and others, might be fain to hear."
Therewith, spite of the wild dress, Dennet knew the eyes and the
voice. And perhaps the blackbird's note had awakened echoes in
another mind, for she saw Stephen, in his working dress, come out to
the door of the shop where he continued to do all the finer work
which had formerly fallen to Tibble's share.
She lifted her boy from his perch, and bade him take the stranger to
his father, who would no doubt give him the whistle. And thus,
having without exciting attention, separated the fugitive from the
rest of her pensioners, she made haste to dismiss them.
She was not surprised that little Giles came running back to her,
producing unearthly notes on the instrument, and telling her that
father had taken the gipsy into his workshop, and said they would
teach him bird's songs by and by.
"Steve, Steve," had been the first words uttered when the boy was
out of hearing, "hast thou a smith's apron and plenty of smut to
bestow on me? None can tell what Harry's mood may be, when he finds
I've given him the slip. That is the reason I durst not go to my
"We will send to let her know. I thought I guessed what black ouzel
'twas! I mind how thou didst make the like notes for us when we
were no bigger than my Giles!"
"Thou hast a kind heart, Stephen. Here! Is thy furnace hot enough
to make a speedy end of this same greasy gipsy doublet? I trust not
the varlet with whom I bartered it for my motley. And a fine
bargain he had of what I trust never to wear again to the end of my
days. Make me a smith complete, Stephen, and then will I tell thee
"We must call Kit into counsel, ere we can do that fully," said
In a few minutes Hal Randall was, to all appearance, a very shabby
and grimy smith, and then he took breath to explain his anxiety and
alarm. Once again, hearing that the Cardinal was to be exiled to
York, he had ventured on a sorry jest about old friends and old wine
being better than new; but the King, who had once been open to plain
speaking, was now incensed, threatened and swore at him! Moreover,
one of the other fools had told him, in the way of boasting, that he
had heard Master Cromwell, formerly the Cardinal's secretary,
informing the King that this rogue was no true "natural" at all, but
was blessed (or cursed) with as good an understanding as other
folks, as was well known in the Cardinal's household, and that he
had no doubt been sent to serve as a spy, so that he was to be
esteemed a dangerous person, and had best be put under ward.
Hal had not been able to discover whether Cromwell had communicated
his name, but he suspected that it might be known to that acute
person, and he could not tell whether his compeer spoke out of a
sort of good-natured desire to warn him, or simply to triumph in his
disgrace, and leer at him for being an impostor. At any rate, being
now desperate, he covered his parti-coloured raiment with the gown
Ambrose had brought, made a perilous descent from a window in the
twilight, scaled a wall with the agility that seemed to have
returned to him, and reached Windsor Forest.
There, falling on a camp of gipsies, he had availed himself of old
experiences in his wild Shirley days, and had obtained an exchange
of garb, his handsome motley being really a prize to the wanderers.
Thus he had been able to reach London; but he did not feel any
confidence that if he were pursued to the gipsy tent he would not be
In this, his sagacity was not at fault, for he had scarcely made his
explanation, when there was a knocking at the outer gate, and a
demand to enter in the name of the King, and to see Alderman Sir
Giles Headley. Several of the stout figures of the yeomen of the
King's guard were seen crossing the court, and Stephen, committing
the charge of his uncle to Kit, threw off his apron, washed his face
and went up to the hall, not very rapidly, for he suspected that
since his father-in-law knew nothing of the arrival, he would best
baffle the inquiries by sincere denials.
And Dennet, with her sharp woman's wit, scenting danger, had whisked
herself and her children out of the hall at the first moment, and
taken them down to the kitchen, where modelling with a batch of
dough occupied both of them.
Meantime the alderman flatly denied the presence of the jester, or
the harbouring of the gipsy. He allowed that the jester was of kin
to his son-in-law, but the good man averred in all honesty that he
knew nought of any escape, and was absolutely certain that no such
person was in the court. Then, as Stephen entered, doffing his cap
to the King's officer, the alderman continued, "There, fair son,
this is what these gentlemen have come about. Thy kinsman, it
seemeth, hath fled from Windsor, and his Grace is mightily incensed.
They say he changed clothes with a gipsy, and was traced hither this
morn, but I have told them the thing is impossible."
"Will the gentlemen search?" asked Stephen. The gentlemen did
search, but they only saw the smiths in full work; and in
Smallbones' forge, there was a roaring glowing furnace, with a bare-
armed fellow feeding it with coals, so that it fairly scorched them,
and gave them double relish for the good wine and beer that was put
out on the table to do honour to them.
Stephen had just with all civility seen them off the premises when
Perronel came sobbing into the court. They had visited her first,
for Cromwell had evidently known of Randall's haunts; they had
turned her little house upside down, and had threatened her hotly in
case she harboured a disloyal spy, who deserved hanging. She came
to consult Stephen, for the notion of her husband wandering about,
as a sort of outlaw, was almost as terrible as the threat of his
Stephen beckoned her to a store-room full of gaunt figures of armour
upon blocks, and there brought up to her his extremely grimy new
There was much gladness between them, but the future had to be
considered. Perronel had a little hoard, the amount of which she
was too shrewd to name to any one, even her husband, but she
considered it sufficient to enable him to fulfil the cherished
scheme of his life, of retiring to some small farm near his old
home, and she was for setting off at once. But Harry Randall
declared that he could not go without having offered his services to
his old master. He had heard of his "good lord" as sick, sad, and
deserted by those whom he had cherished, and the faithful heart was
so true in its loyalty that no persuasion could prevail in making it
"Nay," said the wife, "did he not cast thee off himself, and serve
thee like one of his dogs? How canst thou be bound to him?"
"There's the rub!" sighed Hal. "He sent me to the King deeming that
he should have one full of faithful love to speak a word on his
behalf, and I, brutish oaf as I was, must needs take it amiss, and
sulk and mope till the occasion was past, and that viper Cromwell
was there to back up the woman Boleyn and poison his Grace's ear."
"As if a man must not have a spirit to be angered by such
"Thou forgettest, good wife. No man, but a fool, and to be
entreated as such! Be that as it may, to York I must. I have eaten
of my lord's bread too many years, and had too much kindness from
him in the days of his glory, to seek mine own ease now in his
adversity. Thou wouldst have a poor bargain of me when my heart is
Perronel saw that thus it would be, and that this was one of the
points on which, to her mind, her husband was more than half a
veritable fool after all.
There had long been a promise that Stephen should, in some time of
slack employment, make a visit to his old comrade, Edmund Burgess,
at York; and as some new tools and patterns had to be conveyed
thither, a sudden resolution was come to, in family conclave, that
Stephen himself should convey them, taking his uncle with him as a
serving-man, to attend to the horses. The alderman gave full
consent, he had always wished Stephen to see York, while he himself,
with Tibble Steelman, was able to attend to the business; and while
he pronounced Randall to have a heart of gold, well worth guarding,
he still was glad when the risk was over of the King's hearing that
the runaway jester was harboured at the Dragon. Dennet did not like
the journey for her husband, for to her mind it was perilous, but
she had had a warm affection for his uncle ever since their
expedition to Richmond together, and she did her best to reconcile
the murmuring and wounded Perronel by praises of Randall, a true and
noble heart; and that as to setting her aside for the Cardinal, who
had heeded him so little, such faithfulness only made her more
secure of his true-heartedness towards her. Perronel was moreover
to break up her business, dispose of her house, and await her
husband's return at the Dragon.
Stephen came back after a happy month with his friend, stored with
wondrous tales and descriptions which would last the children for a
month. He had seen his uncle present himself to the Cardinal at
Cawood Castle. It had been a touching meeting. Hal could hardly
restrain his tears when he saw how Wolsey's sturdy form had wasted,
and his round ruddy cheeks had fallen away, while the attitude in
which he sat in his chair was listless and weary, though he fitfully
exerted himself with his old vigour.
Hal on his side, in the dark plain dress of a citizen, was hardly
recognisable, for not only had he likewise grown thinner, and his
brown cheeks more hollow, but his hair had become almost white
during his miserable weeks at Windsor, though he was not much over
forty years old.
He came up the last of a number who presented themselves for the
Archiepiscopal blessing, as Wolsey sat under a large tree in Cawood
Park. Wolsey gave it with his raised fingers, without special heed,
but therewith Hal threw himself on the ground, kissed his feet, and
cried, "My lord, my dear lord, your pardon."
"What hast done, fellow? Speak!" said the Cardinal. "Grovel not
thus. We will be merciful."
"Ah! my lord," said Randall, lifting himself up, but with clasped
hands and tearful eyes, "I did not serve you as I ought with the
King, but if you will forgive me and take me back--"
"How now? How couldst thou serve me? What!"--as Hal made a
familiar gesture--"thou art not the poor fool; Quipsome Patch? How
comest thou here? Methought I had provided well for thee in making
thee over to the King."
"Ah! my lord, I was fool, fool indeed, but all my jests failed me.
How could I make sport for your enemies?"
"And thou hast come, thou hast left the King to follow my fallen
fortunes?" said Wolsey. "My poor boy, he who is sitting in
sackcloth and ashes needs no jester."
"Nay, my lord, nor can I find one jest to break! Would you but let
me be your meanest horse-boy, your scullion!" Hal's voice was cut
short by tears as the Cardinal abandoned to him one hand. The other
was drying eyes that seldom wept.
"My faithful Hal!" he said, "this is love indeed!"
And Stephen ere he came away had seen his uncle fully established,
as a rational creature, and by his true name, as one of the personal
attendants on the Cardinal's bed-chamber, and treated with the
affection he well deserved. Wolsey had really seemed cheered by his
affection, and was devoting himself to the care of his hitherto
neglected and even unvisited diocese, in a way that delighted the
hearts of the Yorkshiremen.
The first idea was that Perronel should join her husband at York,
but safe modes of travelling were not easy to be found, and before
any satisfactory escort offered, there were rumours that made it
prudent to delay. As autumn advanced, it was known that the Earl of
Northumberland had been sent to attach the Cardinal of High Treason.
Then ensued other reports that the great Cardinal had sunk and died
on his way to London for trial; and at last, one dark winter
evening, a sorrowful man stumbled up the steps of the Dragon, and as
he came into the bright light of the fire, and Perronel sprang to
meet him, he sank into a chair and wept aloud.
He had been one of those who had lifted the broken-hearted Wolsey
from his mule in the cloister of Leicester Abbey, he had carried him
to his bed, watched over him, and supported him, as the Abbot of
Leicester gave him the last Sacraments. He had heard and treasured
up those mournful words which are Wolsey's chief legacy to the
world, "Had I but served my God, as I have served my king, He would
not have forsaken me in my old age." For himself, he had the dying
man's blessing, and assurance that nothing had so much availed to
cheer in these sad hours as his faithful love.
Now, Perronel might do what she would with him--he cared not.
And what she did was to set forth with him for Hampshire, on a pair
of stout mules with a strong serving-man behind them.
CHAPTER XXIV. THE SOLDIER
"Of a worthy London prentice
My purpose is to speak,
And tell his brave adventures
Done for his country's sake.
Seek all the world about
And you shall hardly find
A man in valour to exceed
A prentice' gallant mind."
The Homes of a London Prentice.
Six more years had passed over the Dragon court, when, one fine
summer evening, as the old walls rang with the merriment of the
young boys at play, there entered through the gateway a tall, well-
equipped, soldierly figure, which caught the eyes of the little
armourer world in a moment. "Oh, that's a real Milan helmet!"
exclaimed the one lad.
"And oh, what a belt and buff coat!" cried another.
The subject of their admiration advanced muttering, "As if I'd not
been away a week," adding, "I pray you, pretty lads, doth Master
Alderman Headley still dwell here?"
"Yea, sir, he is our grandfather," said the elder boy, holding a
lesser one by the shoulder as he spoke.
"Verily! And what may be your names?"
"I am Giles Birkenholt, and this is my little brother, Dick."
"Even as I thought. Wilt thou run in to your grandsire, and tell
The bigger boy interrupted, "Grandfather is going to bed. He is old
and weary, and cannot see strangers so late. 'Tis our father who
heareth all the orders."
"And," added the little one, with wide open grave eyes, "Mother bade
us run out and play and not trouble father, because uncle Ambrose is
so downcast because they have cut off the head of good Sir Thomas
"Yet," said the visitor, "methinks your father would hear of an old
comrade. Or stay, where be Tibble Steelman and Kit Smallbones?"
"Tibble is in the hall, well-nigh as sad as uncle Ambrose," began
Dick; but Giles, better able to draw conclusions, exclaimed,
"Tibble! Kit! You know them, sir! Oh! are you the Giles Headley
that ran away to be a soldier ere I was born? Kit! Kit! see here--
" as the giant, broader and perhaps a little more bent, but with
little loss of strength, came forward out of his hut, and taking up
the matter just where it had been left fourteen years before,
demanded as they shook hands, "Ah! Master Giles, how couldst thou
play me such a scurvy trick?"
"Nay, Kit, was it not best for all that I turned my back to make way
for honest Stephen?"
By this time young Giles had rushed up the stair to the hall, where,
as he said truly, Stephen was giving his brother such poor comfort
as could be had from sympathy, when listening to the story of the
cheerful, brave resignation of the noblest of all the victims of
Henry VIII. Ambrose had been with Sir Thomas well-nigh to the last,
had carried messages between him and his friends during his
imprisonment, had handed his papers to him at his trial, had been
with Mrs. Roper when she broke through the crowd and fell on his
neck as he walked from Westminster Hall with the axe-edge turned
towards him; had received his last kind farewell, counsel, and
blessing, and had only not been with him on the scaffold because Sir
Thomas had forbidden it, saying, in the old strain of mirth, which
never forsook him, "Nay, come not, my good friend. Thou art of a
queasy nature, and I would fain not haunt thee against thy will."
All was over now, the wise and faithful head had fallen, because it
would not own the wrong for the right; and Ambrose had been brought
home by his brother, a being confounded, dazed, seeming hardly able
to think or understand aught save that the man whom he had above all
loved and looked up to was taken from him, judicially murdered, and
by the King. The whole world seemed utterly changed to him, and as
to thinking or planning for himself, he was incapable of it; indeed,
he looked fearfully ill. His little nephew came up to his father's
knee, pausing, though open-mouthed, and at the first token of
permission, bursting out, "Oh! father! Here's a soldier in the
court! Kit is talking to him. And he is Giles Headley that ran
away. He has a beauteous Spanish leathern coat, and a belt with
silver bosses--and a morion that Phil Smallbones saith to be of
Milan, but I say it is French."
Stephen had no sooner gathered the import of this intelligence than
he sprang down almost as rapidly as his little boy, with his
welcome. Nor did Giles Headley return at all in the dilapidated
condition that had been predicted. He was stout, comely, and well
fleshed, and very handsomely clad and equipped in a foreign style,
with nothing of the lean wolfish appearance of Sir John Fulford.
The two old comrades heartily shook one another by the hand in real
gladness at the meeting. Stephen's welcome was crossed by the
greeting and inquiry whether all was well.
"Yea. The alderman is hale and hearty, but aged. Your mother is
tabled at a religious house at Salisbury."
"I know. I landed at Southampton and have seen her."
"And Dennet," Stephen added with a short laugh, "she could not wait
"No, verily. Did I not wot well that she cared not a fico for me?
I hoped when I made off that thou wouldst be the winner, Steve, and
I am right glad thou art, man."
"I can but thank thee, Giles," said Stephen, changing to the
familiar singular pronoun. "I have oft since thought what a foolish
figure I should have cut had I met thee among the Badgers, after
having given leg bail because I might not brook seeing thee wedded
to her. For I was sore tempted--only thou wast free, and mine
indenture held me fast."
"Then it was so! And I did thee a good turn! For I tell thee,
Steve, I never knew how well I liked thee till I was wounded and
sick among those who heeded neither God nor man! But one word more,
Stephen, ere we go in. The Moor's little maiden, is she still
"Yea," was Stephen's answer. "She is still waiting-maid to Mistress
Roper, daughter to good Sir Thomas More; but alack, Giles, they are
in sore trouble, as it may be thou hast heard--and my poor brother
is like one distraught."
Ambrose did indeed meet Giles like one in a dream. He probably
would have made the same mechanical greeting, if the Emperor or the
Pope had been at that moment presented to him; but Dennet, who had
been attending to her father, made up all that was wanting in
cordiality. She had always had a certain sense of shame for having
flouted her cousin, and, as his mother told her, driven him to death
and destruction, and it was highly satisfactory to see him safe and
sound, and apparently respectable and prosperous.
Moreover, grieved as all the family were for the fate of the
admirable and excellent More, it was a relief to those less closely
connected with him to attend to something beyond poor Ambrose's
sorrow and his talk, the which moreover might be perilous if any
outsider listened and reported it to the authorities as disaffection
to the King. So Giles told his story, sitting on the gallery in the
cool of the summer evening, and marvelling over and over again how
entirely unchanged all was since his first view of the Dragon court
as a proud, sullen, raw lad twenty summers ago. Since that time he
had seen so much that the time appeared far longer to him than to
those who had stayed at home.
It seemed that Fulford had from the first fascinated him more than
any of the party guessed, and that each day of the free life of the
expedition, and of contact with the soldiery, made a return to the
monotony of the forge, the decorous life of a London citizen, and
the bridal with a child, to whom he was indifferent, seem more
intolerable to him. Fulford imagining rightly that the knowledge of
his intentions might deter young Birkenholt from escaping, enjoined
strict secrecy on either lad, not intending them to meet till it
should be too late to return, and therefore had arranged that Giles
should quit the party on the way to Calais, bringing with him Will
Wherry, and the horse he rode.
Giles had then been enrolled among the Badgers. He had little to
tell about his life among them till the battle of Pavia, where he
had had the good fortune to take three French prisoners; but a stray
shot from a fugitive had broken his leg during the pursuit, and he
had been laid up in a merchant's house at Pavia for several months.
He evidently looked back to the time with gratitude, as having
wakened his better associations, which had been well-nigh stifled
during the previous years of the wild life of a soldier of fortune.
His host's young daughter had eyes like Aldonza, and the almost
forgotten possibility of returning to his love a brave and
distinguished man awoke once more. His burgher thrift began to
assert itself again, and he deposited a nest-egg from the ransoms of
his prisoners in the hands of his host, who gave him bonds by which
he could recover the sum from Lombard correspondents in London.
He was bound by his engagements to join the Badgers again, or he
would have gone home on his recovery; and he had shared in the
terrible taking of Rome, of which he declared that he could not
speak--with a significant look at Dennet and her children, who were
devouring his words. He had, however, stood guard over a lady and
her young children whom some savage Spaniards were about to murder,
and the whole family had overpowered him with gratitude, lodged him
sumptuously in their house, and shown themselves as grateful to him
as if he had given them all the treasure which he had abstained from
The sickness brought on by their savage excesses together with the
Roman summer had laid low many of the Badgers. When the Prince of
Orange drew off the army from the miserable city, scarce seven score
of that once gallant troop were in marching order, and Sir John
Fulford himself was dying. He sent for Giles, as less of a demon
than most of the troop, and sent a gold medal, the only fragment of
spoil remaining to him, to his daughter Perronel. To Giles himself
Fulford bequeathed Abenali's well-tested sword, and he died in the
comfortable belief--so far as he troubled himself about the matter
at all--that there were special exemptions for soldiers.
The Badgers now incorporated themselves with another broken body of
Landsknechts, and fell under the command of a better and more
conscientious captain. Giles, who had been horrified rather than
hardened by the experiences of Rome, was found trustworthy and rose
in command. The troop was sent to take charge of the Pope at
Orvieto, and thus it was that he had fallen in with the Englishmen
of Gardiner's suite, and had been able to send his letter to
Ambrose. Since he had found the means of rising out of the slough,
he had made up his mind to continue to serve till he had won some
honour, and had obtained enough to prevent his return as a hungry
His corps became known for discipline and valour. It was trusted
often, was in attendance on the Emperor, and was fairly well paid.
Giles was their "ancient" and had charge of the banner, nor could it
be doubted that he had flourished. His last adventure had been the
expedition to Tunis, when 20,000 Christian captives had been set
free from the dungeons and galleys, and so grand a treasure had been
shared among the soldiery that Giles, having completed the term of
service for which he was engaged, decided on returning to England,
before, as he said, he grew any older, to see how matters were
"For the future," he said, "it depended on how he found things. If
Aldonza would none of him, he should return to the Emperor's
service. If she would go with him, he held such a position that he
could provide for her honourably. Or he could settle in England.
For he had a good sum in the hands of Lombard merchants; having made
over to them spoils of war, ransoms, and arrears when he obtained
them; and having at times earned something by exercising his craft,
which he said had been most valuable to him. Indeed he thought he
could show Stephen and Tibble a few fresh arts he had picked up at
Meantime his first desire was to see Aldonza. She was still at
Chelsea with her mistress, and Ambrose, to his brother's regret,
went thither every day, partly because he could not keep away, and
partly to try to be of use to the family. Giles might accompany
him, though he still looked so absorbed in his trouble that it was
doubtful whether he had really understood what was passing, or that
he was wanted to bring about an interview between his companion and
The beautiful grounds at Chelsea, in their summer beauty, looked
inexpressibly mournful, deprived of him who had planted and
cherished the trees and roses. As they passed along in the barge,
one spot after another recalled More's bright jests or wise words;
above all, the very place where he had told his son-in-law Roper
that he was merry, not because he was safe, but because the fight
was won, and his conscience had triumphed against the King he loved
Giles told of the report that the Emperor had said he would have
given a hundred of his nobles for one such councillor as More, and
the prospect of telling this to the daughters had somewhat cheered
Ambrose. They found a guard in the royal livery at the stairs to
the river, and at the door of the house, but these had been there
ever since Sir Thomas's apprehension. They knew Ambrose Birkenholt,
and made no objection to his passing in and leaving his companion to
walk about among the borders and paths, once so trim, but already
missing their master's hand and eye.
Very long it seemed to Giles, who was nearly despairing, when a
female figure in black came out of one of the side doors, which were
not guarded, and seemed to be timidly looking for him. Instantly he
was at her side.