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working her whiskers hungrily and snuffing the smell of the candle-drip; for there was no sound, and the coast of rat-land was clear.

CHAPTER XXX

AT THE FALCON INN

And then there came both mist and snow, And it grew wondrous cold;
And ice mast-high came floating by, As green as emerald.

So says that wonder-ballad of the sea.

But over London came a gale that made the chimneys rock; and after it came ice and snow, sharp, stinging sleet, and thumping hail, with sickening winds from the gray west, sour yellow fogs, and plunging rain, till all the world was weary of the winter and the cold.

But winter could not last forever. March crept onward, and the streets of London came up out of the slush again with a glad surprise of cobblestones. The sickly mist no longer hung along the river; and sometimes upon a breezy afternoon it was pleasant and fair, the sun shone warmly on one’s back, and the rusty sky grew bluer overhead. The trees in Paris Garden put out buds; the lilac-tips began to swell; there was a stirring in the roadside grass, and now and then a questing bird went by upon the wind, piping a little silver thread of song. Nick’s heart grew hungry for the woods of Arden and the gathering rush of the waking water-brooks among the old dead leaves. The rain beat in at his window, but he did not care for that, and kept it open day and night; for when he wakened in the dark he loved to feel the fingers of the wind across his face.

Sometimes the moonlight through the ragged clouds came in upon the floor, and in the hurry of the wind he almost fancied he could hear the Avon, bank-full, rushing under the old mill-bridge.

Then one day there came a shower with a warm south wind, sweet and healthful and serene; and through the shower, out of the breaking clouds, a sun-gleam like a path of gold straight down to the heart of London town; and on the south wind, down that path of gold, came April.

That night the wind in the chimney fluted a glad, new tune; and when Nick looked out at his casement the free stars danced before him in the sky. And when he felt that fluting wind blow warm and cool together on his cheek, the chimneys mocked him, and the town was hideous.

* * * * *

It fell upon an April night, when the moon was at its full, that Master Carew had come to the Falcon Inn, on the Southwark side of the river, and had brought Nick with him for the air. Master Heywood was along, and it was very pleasant there.

The night breeze smelled of green fields, and the inn was thronged with company. The windows were bright, and the air was full of voices. Tables had been brought out into the garden and set beneath the arbor toward the riverside. The vines of the arbor were shooting forth their first pink-velvet leaves, and in the moonlight their shadows fell like lacework across the linen cloths, blurred by the glow of the lanterns hung upon the posts.

The folds in the linen marked the table-tops with squares like a checker-board, and Nick stood watching from the tap-room door, as if it were a game. Not that he cared for any game; but that watching dulled the teeth of the hunger in his heart to be out of the town and back among the hills of Warwickshire, now that the spring was there.

“What, there!–a pot of sack!” cried one gay fellow with a silver-bordered cloak. “A pot of sack?” cried out another with a feather like a rose-bush in his cap; “two pots ye mean, my buck!” “Ods-fish my skin!” bawled out a third–“ods-fish my skin! Two pots of beggarly sack on a Saturday night and a moon like this? Three pots, say I–and make it malmsey, at my cost! What, there, knave! the table full of pots–I’ll pay the score.”

At that they all began to laugh and to slap one another on the back, and to pound with their fists upon the board until the pewter tankards hopped; and when the tapster’s knave came back they were singing at the top of their lungs, for the spring had gotten into their wits, and they were beside themselves with merriment.

Master Tom Heywood had a little table to himself off in a corner, and was writing busily upon a new play. “A sheet a day,” said he, “doth do a wonder in a year”; so he was always at it.

Gaston Carew sat beyond, dicing with a silky rogue who had the coldest, hardest face that Nick had ever seen. His eyes were black and beady as a rat’s, and were circled about by a myriad of little crowfoot lines; and his hooked nose lay across his thin blue lips like a finger across a slit in a dried pie. His long, slim hands were white as any woman’s; and his fingers slipped among the laces at his cuffs like a weasel in a tangle-patch.

They had been playing for an hour, and the game had gone beyond all reason. The other players had put aside the dice to watch the two, and the nook in which their table stood was ringed with curious faces. A lantern had been hung above, but Carew had had it taken down, as its bottom made a shadow on the board. Carew’s face was red and white by turns; but the face of the other had no more color than candle-wax.

At the end of the arbor some one was strumming upon a gittern. It was strung in a different key from that in which the men were singing, and the jangle made Nick feel all puckered up inside. By and by the playing ceased, and the singers came to the end of their song. In the brief hush the sharp rattle of the dice sounded like the patter of cold hail against the shutter in the lull of a winter storm.

Then there came a great shouting outside, and, looking through the arbor, Nick saw two couriers on galloway nags come galloping over the bowling-green to the arbor-side, calling for ale. They drank it in their saddles, while their panting horses sniffed at the fresh young grass. Then they galloped on. Through the vines, as he looked after them, Nick could see the towers of London glittering strangely in the moonlight. It was nearly high tide, and up from the river came the sound of women’s voices and laughter, with the pulse-like throb of oars and the hoarse calling of the watermen.

In the great room of the inn behind him the gallants were taking their snuff in little silver ladles, and talking of princesses they had met, and of whose coach they had ridden home in last from tennis at my lord’s. Some were eating, some were drinking, and some were puffing at long clay pipes, while others, by twos, locked arm in arm, went swaggering up and down the room, with a huge talking of foreign lands which they had never so much as seen.

“A murrain on the luck!” cried Carew, suddenly. “Can I throw nothing but threes and fours?”

A muffled stir ran round. Nick turned from the glare of the open door, and looked out into the moonlight. It seemed quite dark at first. The master-player’s face was bitter white, and his fingers were tapping a queer staccato upon the table-top.

“A plague on the bedlam dice!” said he. “I think they are bewitched.”

“Huff, ruff, and snuff!” the other replied. “Don’t get the mubble-fubbles, Carew: there’s nought the matter with the dice.”

A man came down from the tap-room door. Nick stepped aside to let him pass. He was a player, by his air.

He wore a riding-cloak of Holland cloth, neither so good nor so bad as a riding-cloak might be, but under it a handsome jerkin overlaid with lace, and belted with a buff girdle in which was a light Spanish rapier. His boots were russet cordovan, mid-thigh tall, and the rowels of his clinking spurs were silver stars. He was large of frame, and his curly hair was short and brown; so was his pointed beard. His eyes were singularly bright and fearless, and bluff self-satisfaction marked his stride; but his under lip was petulant, and he flicked his boot with his riding-whip as he shouldered his way along.

“Ye cannot miss the place, sir,” called the tapster after him. “‘Tis just beyond Ned Alleyn’s, by the ditch. Ye’ll never mistake the ditch, sir–Billingsgate is roses to it.”

“Oh, I’ll find it fast enough,” the stranger answered; “but he should have sent to meet me, knowing I might come at any hour. ‘Tis a felon place for thieves; and I’ve not heart to skewer even a goose on such a night as this.”

At the sudden breaking of voices upon the silence, Carew looked up, with a quarrel ripe for picking in his eye. But seeing who spoke, such a smile came rippling from the corners of his mouth across his dark, unhappy face that it was as if a lamp of welcome had been lighted there. “What, Ben!” he cried; “thou here? Why, bless thine heart, old gossip, ’tis good to see an honest face amid this pack of rogues.”

There was a surly muttering in the crowd. Carew threw his head back haughtily and set his knuckles to his hip. “A pack of rogues, I say,” he repeated sharply; “and a fig for the whole pack!” There was a certain wildness in his eyes. No one stirred or made reply.

“Good! Gaston,” laughed the stranger, with a shrug; “picking thy company still, I see, for quantity, and not for quality. No, thank ‘e; none of the tap for me. My Lord Hunsdon was made chamberlain in his father’s stead to-day, and I’m off hot-foot with the news to Will’s.”

He gathered his cloak about him, and was gone.

“Ye’ve lost,” said the man who was dicing with Carew.

Nick stepped down from the tap-room door. His ears were tingling with the sound: “I’m off hot-foot with the news to Will’s.”

“Hot-foot with the news to Will’s”?

To “Will’s”? “Will” who?

The man was a player, by his air.

Nick hurriedly looked around. Carew’s wild eyes were frozen upon the dice. The bandy-legged man was drinking at a table near the door. The crimson ribbon in his ear looked like a patch of blood.

He saw Nick looking at him, and made a horrible face. He would have sworn likewise, but there was half a quart of ale in his can; so he turned it up and drank instead. It was a long, long drink, and half his face was buried in the pot.

When he put it down the boy was gone.

CHAPTER XXXI

IN THE TWINKLING OF AN EYE

In a garden near the old bear-yard, among tall rose-trees which would soon be in bloom, a merry company of men were sitting around a table which stood in the angle of a quick-set hedge beside a path graveled with white stones and bordered with mussel-shells.

There was a house hard by with creamy-white walls, green-shuttered windows, and a red-tiled roof. The door of the house was open, showing a little ruddy fire upon a great hearth, kindled to drive away the damp; and in the windows facing the garden there were lights shining warmly out among the rose-trees.

The table was spread with a red damask cloth, on which were a tray of raisins and nuts and a small rally of silver cups. Above the table an apple-tree nodded its new leaves, and from an overhanging bough a lantern hung glowing like a great yellow bee.

There was a young fellow with a white apron and a jolly little whisper of a whistle on his puckered lips going around with a plate of cakes and a tray of honey-bowls; and the men were eating and drinking and chatting together so gaily, and seemed to be all such good friends, that it was a pleasant thing just to see them sitting there in their comfortable leather-bottomed chairs, taking life easily because the spring had come again.

One tall fellow was smoking a pipe. He held the bowl in one hand, and kept tamping down the loose tobacco with his forefinger. Now and again he would be so eagerly talking he would forget that his finger was in the bowl, and it would be burned. He would take it out with a look of quaint surprise, whereat the rest all roared. Another was a fat, round man who chuckled constantly to himself, as if this life were all a joke; and there was a quite severe, important-seeming, oldish man who said, “Hem–hem!” from time to time, as if about to speak forthwith, yet never spoke a word. There was also among the rest a raw-boned, lanky fellow who had bitten the heart out of an oat-cake and held the rim of it in his fingers like a new moon, waving it around while he talked, until the little man beside him popped it deftly out of his grasp and ate it before the other saw where it was gone. But when he made out what was become of that oat-cake he rose up solemnly, took the little man by the collar as a huntsman takes a pup, and laid him softly in the grass without a word.

What a laughing and going-on was then! It was as if they all were growing young again. And in the middle of the row a head popped over the quick-set hedge, and a most stentorian voice called out, “Here, here! Go slow–I want a piece of that!”

They all looked up, and the moment they spied that laughing face and cloak of Holland cloth, raised a shout of “What, there!” “Well met!” “Come in, Ben.” “Where hast thou tarried so long?” and the like; while the waiter ran to open the gate and let the stranger in.

A quiet man with a little chestnut-colored beard and hazel eyes, which lit up quickly at sight of the stranger over the hedge, arose from his place by the table and went down the path with hands outstretched to greet him.

“Welcome, welcome, hurly-burly Ben,” said he. “We’ve missed thee from the feast. Art well? And what’s the good word?”

“Ah, Will, thou gentle rogue!” the other cried, catching the hands of the quiet man and holding him off while he looked at him there. “How thou stealest one’s heart with the glance of thine eye! I was going to give thee a piece of my mind; but a plague, old heart! who could chide thee to thy face? Am I well? Ay, exceedingly well. And the news? Jove! the best that was baked at the Queen’s to-day, and straight from the oven-door! The thing is done–huff, puff, and away we go! But come on–this needs telling to the rest.”

They came up the path together, the big man crunching the mussel-shells beneath his sturdy tread, and so into the circle of yellow light that came down from the lantern among the apple-leaves, the big man with his arm around the quiet man’s shoulders, holding his hand; for the quiet man was not so large as the other, although withal no little man himself, and very well built and straight.

His tabard was black, without sleeves, and his doublet was scarlet silk. His collar and wrist-bands were white Holland linen turned loosely back, and his face was frank and fair and free. He was not old, but his hair was thin upon his brow. His nose and his full, high forehead were as cleanly cut as a finely chiseled stone; and his sensitive mouth had a curve that was tender and sad, though he smiled all the while, a glimpse of his white teeth showing through, and his little mustache twitching with the ripple of his long upper lip. His flowing hair was chestnut-colored, like his beard, and curly at the ends; and his melancholy eyelids told of study and of thought; but under them the kindly eyes were bright with pleasant fancy.

“What, there, all of you!” said he; “a good investment for your ears!”

“Out with it, Will!” they cried, and whirled around.

“The Queen hath made Lord Hunsdon chamberlain,” the big man said.

An instant’s hush fell on the garden. No one spoke; but they caught each other by the hand, and, suddenly, the silence there seemed somehow louder than a shout.

“We’ll build the new Globe play-house, lads, and sweep the Bankside clean from end to end!” a sturdy voice broke sharply on the hush. And then they cheered–a cheer so loud that people on the river stopped their boats, and came ashore asking where the fire was. And over all the cheering rose the big man’s voice; for the quiet man was silent, and the big man cheered for two.

“Pull up thy rose-bushes, Will,” cried one, “and set out laurels in their stead–thou’lt need them all for crowns.”

“Ay, Will, our savor is not gone–Queen Bess knows salt!”

“With Will and Ben for meat and crust, and the rest of us for seasoning, the court shall say it never ate such master pie!”

“We’ll make the walls of Whitehall ring come New Year next, or Twelfth Night and Shrove Tuesday.”

“Ay, that we will, old gossip! Here’s to thee!”

“Here’s to the company, all of us!”

“And a health to the new Lord Chamberlain!”

“God save the Queen!”

With that, they shook each other’s hands, as merry as men could be, and laughed, because their hearts ran short of words; for these were young Lord Hunsdon’s men, late players to the Queen in the old Lord Chamberlain’s troupe; who, for a while deprived of favor by _his_ death, were now, by this succession of his son, restored to prestige at the court, and such preferment as none beside them ever won, not even the Earl of Pembroke’s company.

There was Kemp, the stout tragedian; gray John Lowin, the walking-man; Diccon Burbage, and Cuthbert his brother, master-players and managers; Robin Armin, the humorsome jester; droll Dick Tarlton, the king of fools. There was Blount, and Pope, and Hemynge, and Thomas Greene, and Joey Taylor, the acting-boy, deep in the heart of a honey-bowl, yet who one day was to play “Hamlet” as no man ever has played it since. And there were others, whose names and doings have vanished with them; and beside these–“What, merry hearts!” the big man cried, and clapped his neighbor on the back; “we’ll have a supper at the Mermaid Inn. We’ll feast on reason, reason on the feast, toast the company with wit, and company the wit with toast–why, pshaw, we are good fellows all!” He laughed, and they laughed with him. _That_ was “rare Ben Jonson’s” way.

“There’s some one knocking, master,” said the boy.

A quick tap-tapping rattled on the wicket-gate.

“Who is it?” asked the quiet man.

“‘Tis Edmund with the news,” cried one.

“I’ve dished him,” said Ben Jonson.

“‘Tis Condell come to raise our wages,” said Robin Armin, with a grin.

“Thou’lt raise more hopes than wages, Rob,” said Tarlton, mockingly.

“It is a boy,” the waiter said, “who saith that he must see thee, master, on his life.”

The quiet man arose.

“Sit down, Will,” said Greene; “he’ll pick thy pocket with a doleful lie.”

“There’s nothing in it, Tom, to pick.”

“Then give him no more than half,” said Armin, soberly, “lest he squander it!”

“He saith he comes from Stratford town,” the boy went on.

“Then tell him to go back again,” said Master Ben Jonson; “we’ve sucked the sweet from Stratford town–be off with his seedy dregs!”

“Go bring him in,” said the quiet man.

“Nay, Will, don’t have him in. This makes the third within the month–wilt father all the strays from Stratford town? Here, Ned, give him this shilling, and tell him to be off to his cony-burrow as fast as his legs can trot.”

“We’ll see him first,” said the quiet man, stopping the other’s shilling with his hand.

“Oh, Willy-nilly!” the big man cried; “wilt be a kite to float all the draggle-tails that flutter down from Warwickshire?”

“Why, Ben,” replied the quiet man, “’tis not the kite that floats the tail, but the wind which floats both kite and tail. Thank God, we’ve caught the rising wind; so, hey for draggle-tails!–we’ll take up all we can.”

The waiter was coming up the path, and by his side, a little back, bareheaded and flushed with running, came Nicholas Attwood. He had followed the big man through the fields from the gates of the Falcon Inn.

He stopped at the edge of the lantern’s glow and looked around uncertain, for the light was in his eyes.

“Come, boy, what is it?” asked Ben Jonson.

Nick peered through the brightness. “Master Will–Master Will Shakspere!” he gasped.

“_Well, my lady_,” said the quiet man; “_what wilt thou have of me_?”

Nick Attwood had come to his fellow-townsman at last.

Over the hedge where the lantern shone through the green of the apple-leaves came a sound of voices talking fast, a listening hush, then a clapping of hands, with mingled cries of “Good boy!” “Right, lad; do not leave her till thou must!” and at the last, “What! take thee home to thy mother, lad? Ay, marry, that will I!” And the _last_ was the voice of the quiet man.

Then followed laughter and scraps of song, merry talking, and good cheer, for they all made glad together.

* * * * *

Across the fields beyond the hedge the pathway ran through Paris Garden, stark and clear in the white moon-shine, save here and there where the fog from the marsh crept down to meet the river-mist, and blotted out the landscape as it went. In the north lay London, stirring like a troubled sea. In the south was drowsy silence, save for the crowing of the cocks, and now and then the baying of a hound far off. The smell of bears was on the air; the river-wind breathed kennels. The Swan play-house stood up, a great, blue blank against the sky. The sound of voices was remote. The river made a constant murmur in the murk beyond the landing-place; the trees moved softly.

Low in the west, the lights of the Falcon Inn were shrunk to pin-pricks in the dark. They seemed to wink and to shut their eyes. It was too far to see the people passing by.

On a sudden one light winked and did not open any more; and through the night a faint, far cry came drifting down the river-wind–a long, thin cry, like the wavering screech of an owl–a shrill, high, ugly sound; the lights began to wink, wink, wink, to dance, to shift, to gather into one red star. Out of the darkness came a wisp of something moving in the path.

Where the moonlight lay it scudded like the shadow of a windy cloud, now lost to sight, now seen again. Out of the shadow came a man, with hands outstretched and cap awry, running as if he were mad. As he ran he looked from side to side, and turned his head for the keener ear. He was panting hard.

When he reached the ditch he paused in fault, ran on a step or two, went back, stood hesitating there, clenching his hands in the empty wind, listening; for the mist was grown so thick that he could scarcely see.

But as he stood there doubtfully, uncertain of the way, catching the wind in his nervous hands, and turning about in a little space like an animal in a cage, over the hedge through the apple-boughs a boy’s clear voice rose suddenly, singing a rollicking tune, with a snapping of fingers and tapping of feet in time to its merry lilt.

Then the man in the mist, when he heard that clear, high voice, turned swiftly to it, crying out, “The Skylark! Zooks! It is the place!” and ran through the fog to where the lantern glimmered through the hedge. The light fell in a yellow stream across his face. He was pale as a ghost. “What, there, within! What, there!” he panted. “Shakspere! Jonson! Any one!”

The song stopped short. “Who’s there?” called the voice of the quiet man.

“‘Tis I, Tom Heywood. there’s to-do for players at the Falcon Inn. Gaston Carew hath stabbed Fulk Sandells, for cheating at the dice, as dead as a door-nail, and hath been taken by the watch!”

CHAPTER XXXII

THE LAST OF GASTON CAREW

It was Monday morning, and a beautiful day.

Master Will Shakspere was reading a new play to Masters Ben Jonson and Diccon Burbage at the Mermaid Inn.

Thomas Pope, the player, and Peter Hemynge, the manager, were there with them at the table under the little window. The play was a comedy of a wicked money-lender named Shylock; but it was a comedy that made Nick shudder as he sat on the bench by the door and listened to it through happy thoughts of going home.

Sunday had passed like a wondrous dream. He was free. Master Carew was done for. On Saturday morning Master Will Shakspere would set out on the journey to Stratford town, for his regular summer visit there; and Nick was going with him–going to Stratford–going home!

The comedy-reading went on. Master Burbage, his moving face alive, leaned forward on his elbows, nodding now and then, and saying, “Fine, fine!” under his breath. Master Pope was making faces suited to the words, not knowing that he did so. Nick watched him, fascinated.

A man came hurrying down Cheapside, and peered in at the open door. It was Master Dick Jones of the Admiral’s company. He looked worried and as if he had not slept. His hair was uncombed, and the skin under his eyes hung in little bags. He squinted so that he might see from the broad daylight outside into the darker room.

“Gaston Carew wants to see thee, Skylark,” said he, quickly, seeing Nick beside the door.

Nick drew back. It seemed as if the master-player must be lying in wait outside to catch him if he stirred abroad.

“He says that he must see thee without fail, and that straightway. He is in Newgate prison. Wilt come?”

Nick shook his head.

“But he says indeed he _must_ see thee. Come, Skylark, I will bring thee back. I am no kidnapper. Why, it is the last thing he will ever ask of thee. ‘Tis hard to refuse so small a favor to a doomed man.”

“Thou’lt surely fetch me back?”

“Here, Master Will Shakspere,” called the Admiral’s player; “I am to fetch the boy to Carew in Newgate on an urgent matter. My name is Jones–Dick Jones, of Henslowe’s company. Burbage knows me. I’ll bring him back.”

Master Shakspere nodded, reading on; and Burbage waved his hand, impatient of interruption. Nick arose and went with Jones.

As they came up Newgate street to the crossing of Giltspur and the Old Bailey, the black arch of the ancient gate loomed grimly against the sky, its squinting window-slits peering down like the eyes of an old ogre. The bell of St. Sepulchre’s was tolling, and there was a crowd about the door, which opened, letting out a black cart in which was a priest praying and a man in irons going to be hanged on Tyburn Hill. His sweating face was ashen gray; and when the cart came to the church door they gave him mockingly a great bunch of fresh, bright flowers. Nick could not bear to watch.

The turnkey at the prison gate was a crop-headed fellow with jowls like a bulldog, and no more mercy in his face than a chopping-block. “Gaston Carew, the player?” he growled. “Ye can’t come in without a permit from the warden.”

“We must,” said Jones.

“Must?” said the turnkey. “I am the only one who says ‘must’ in Newgate!” and slammed the door in their faces.

The player clinked a shilling on the bar.

“It was a boy he said would come,” growled the turnkey through the wicket, pocketing the shilling; “so just the boy goes up. A shilling’s worth, ye mind, and not another wink.” He drew Nick in, and dropped the bars.

It was a foul, dark place, and full of evil smells. Drops of water stood on the cold stone walls, and a green mould crept along the floor. The air was heavy and dank, and it began to be hard for Nick to breathe. The men in the dungeons were singing a horrible song, and in the corner was a half-naked fellow shackled to the floor. “Give me a penny,” he said, “or I will curse thee.” Nick shuddered.

“Up with thee,” said the turnkey, gruffly, unlocking the door to the stairs.

The common room above was packed with miserable wretches, fighting, dancing, gibbering like apes. Some were bawling ribald songs, others moaning with fever. The strongest kept the window-ledges near light and air by sheer main force, and were dicing on the dirty sill. The turnkey pushed and banged his way through them, Nick clinging desperately to his jerkin.

In a cell at the end of the corridor there was a Spanish renegade who cursed the light when the door was opened, and cursed the darkness when it closed. “Cesare el Moro, Cesare el Moro,” he was saying over and over again to himself, as if he feared that he might forget his own name.

Carew was in the middle cell, ironed hand and foot. He had torn his sleeves and tucked the lace under the rough edges of the metal to keep it from chafing the skin. He sat on a pile of dirty straw, with his face in his folded arms upon his knees. By his side was a broken biscuit and an empty stone jug. He had his fingers in his ears to shut out the tolling of the knell for the man who had gone to be hanged.

The turnkey shook the bars. “Here, wake up!” he said.

Carew looked up. His eyes were swollen, and his face was covered with a two days’ beard. He had slept in his clothes, and they were full of broken straw and creases. But his haggard face lit up when he saw the boy, and he came to the grating with an eager exclamation: “And thou hast truly come? To the man thou dost hate so bitterly, but wilt not hate any more. Come, Nick, thou wilt not hate me any more. ‘Twill not be worth thy while, Nick; the night is coming fast.”

“Why, sir,” said Nick, “it is not so dark outside–’tis scarcely noon; and thou wilt soon be out.”

“Out? Ay, on Tyburn Hill,” said the master-player, quietly. “I’ve spent my whole life for a bit of hempen cord. I’ve taken my last cue. Last night, at twelve o’clock, I heard the bellman under the prison walls call my name with the names of those already condemned. The play is nearly out, Nick, and the people will be going home. It has been a wild play, Nick, and ill played.”

“Here, if ye’ve anything to say, be saying it,” said the turnkey. “‘Tis a shilling’s worth, ye mind.”

Carew lifted up his head in the old haughty way, and clapped his shackled hand to his hip–they had taken his poniard when he came into the gaol. A queer look came over his face; taking his hand away, he wiped it hurriedly upon his jerkin. There were dark stains upon the silk.

“Ye sent for me, sir,” said Nick.

Carew passed his hand across his brow. “Yes, yes, I sent for thee. I have something to tell thee, Nick.” He hesitated, and looked through the bars at the boy, as if to read his thoughts. “Thou’lt be good and true to Cicely–thou’lt deal fairly with my girl? Why, surely, yes.” He paused again, as if irresolute. “I’ll trust thee, Nick. We’ve taken money, thou and I; good gold and silver–tsst! what’s that?” He stopped suddenly.

Nick heard no sound but the Spaniard’s cursing.

“‘Tis my fancy,” Carew said. “Well, then, we’ve taken much good money, Nick; and I have not squandered all of it. Hark’e–thou knowest the old oak wainscot in the dining-hall, and the carven panel by the Spanish chest? Good, then! Upon the panel is a cherubin, and–tsst! what’s that, I say?”

There was a stealthy rustling in the right-hand cell. The fellow in it had his ear pressed close against the bars. “He is listening,” said Nick.

The fellow cursed and shook his fist, and then, when Master Carew dropped his voice and would have gone on whispering, set up so loud a howling and clanking of his chains that the lad could not make out one word the master-player said.

“Peace, thou dog!” cried Carew, and kicked the grating. But the fellow only yelled the louder.

Carew looked sorely troubled. “I dare not let him hear,” said he. “The very walls of Newgate leak.”

“_Yak, yah, yah, thou gallows-bird!_”

“Yet I must tell thee, Nick.”

“_Yah, yah, dangle-rope!_”

“Stay! would Will Shakspere come? Why, here, I’ll send him word. He’ll come–Will Shakspere never bore a grudge; and I shall so soon go where are no grudges, envy, storms, or noise, but silence and the soft lap of everlasting sleep. He’ll come–Nick, bid him come, upon his life, to the Old Bailey when I am taken up.”

Nick nodded. It was strange to have his master beg.

Carew was looking up at a thin streak of light that came in through the narrow window at the stair. “Nick,” said he, huskily, “last night I dreamed I heard thee singing; but ’twas where there was a sweet, green field and a stream flowing through a little wood. Methought ’twas on the road past Warwick toward Coventry. Thou’lt go there some day and remember Gaston Carew, wilt not, lad? And, Nick, for thine own mother’s sake, do not altogether hate him; he was not so bad a man as he might easily have been.”

“Come,” growled the turnkey, who was pacing up and down like a surly bear; “have done. ‘Tis a fat shilling’s worth.”

“‘Twas there I heard thee sing first, Nick,” said Carew, holding to the boy’s hands through the bars. “I’ll never hear thee sing again.”

“Why, sir, I’ll sing for thee now,” said Nick, choking.

The turnkey was coming back when Nick began suddenly to sing. He looked up, staring. Such a thing dumfounded him. He had never heard a song like that in Newgate. There were rules in prison. “Here, here,” he cried, “be still!” But Nick sang on.

The groaning, quarreling, and cursing were silent all at once. The guard outside, who had been sharpening his pike upon the window-ledge, stopped the shrieking sound. Silence like a restful sleep fell upon the weary place. Through dark corridors and down the mildewed stairs the quaint old song went floating as a childhood memory into an old man’s dream; and to Gaston Carew’s ear it seemed as if the melody of earth had all been gathered in that little song–all but the sound of the voice of his daughter Cicely.

It ceased, and yet a gentle murmur seemed to steal through the mouldy walls, of birds and flowers, sunlight and the open air, of once-loved mothers, and of long-forgotten homes. The renegade had ceased his cursing, and was whispering a fragment of a Spanish prayer he had not heard for many a day.

Carew muttered to himself. “And now old cares are locked in charmed sleep, and new griefs lose their bitterness, to hear thee sing–to hear thee sing. God bless thee, Nick!”

“‘Tis three good shillings’ worth o’ time,” the turnkey growled, and fumbled with the keys. “All for one shilling, too,” said he, and kicked the door-post sulkily. “But a plague, I say, a plague! ‘Tis no one’s business but mine. I’ve a good two shillings’ worth in my ears. ‘Tis thirty year since I ha’ heard the like o’ that. But what’s a gaol for?–man’s delight? Nay, nay. Here, boy, time’s up! Come out o’ that.” But he spoke so low that he scarcely heard himself; and going to the end of the corridor, he marked at random upon the wall.

“Oh, Nick, I love thee,” said the master-player, holding the boy’s hands with a bitter grip. “Dost thou not love me just a little? Come, lad, say that thou lovest me.”

[Illustration: “‘WHY, SIR, I’LL SING FOR THEE NOW.’ SAID NICK, CHOKING.”] “Nay, Master Carew,” Nick answered soberly, “I do na love thee, and I will na say I do, sir; but I pity thee with all my heart. And, sir, if thy being out would keep me stolen, still I think I’d wish thee out–for Cicely. But, Master Carew, do na break my hands.”

The master-player loosed his grasp. “I will not seek to be excused to thee,” he said huskily. “I’ve prisoned thee as that clod prisons me; but, Nick, the play is almost out, down comes the curtain on my heels, and thy just blame will find no mark. Yet, Nick, now that I am fast and thou art free, it makes my heart ache to feel that ’twas not I who set thee free. Thou canst go when pleaseth thee, and thank me nothing for it. And, Nick, as my sins be forgiven me, I truly meant to set thee free and send thee home. I did, upon my word, and on the remnant of mine honour!”

“Time’s good and up, sirs,” said the turnkey, coming back.

Carew thrust his hand into his breast.

“I must be going, sir,” said Nick.

“Ay, so thou must–all things must go. Oh, Nick, be friendly with me now, if thou wert never friendly before. Kiss me, lad. There–now thy hand.” The master-player clasped it closely in his own, and pressing something into the palm, shut down the fingers over it. “Quick! Keep it hid,” he whispered. “‘Tis the chain I had from Stratford’s burgesses, to some good usage come at last.”

“Must I come and fetch thee out?” growled the turnkey.

“I be coming, sir.”

“Thou’lt send Will Shakspere? And, oh, Nick,” cried Carew, holding him yet a little longer, “thou’lt keep my Cicely from harm?”

“I’ll do my best,” said Nick, his own eyes full.

The turnkey raised his heavy bunch of keys. “I’ll ding thee out o’ this” said he.

And the last Nick Attwood saw of Gaston Carew was his wistful eyes hunting down the stairway after him, and his hand, with its torn fine laces, waving at him through the bars.

And when he came to the Mermaid Inn Master Shakspere’s comedy was done, and Master Ben Jonson was telling a merry tale that made the tapster sick with laughing.

CHAPTER XXXIII

CICELY DISAPPEARS

That Master Will Shakspere should be so great seemed passing strange to Nick, he felt so soon at home with him. It seemed as if the master-maker of plays had a magic way of going out to and about the people he met, and of fitting his humor to them as though he were a glover with their measure in his hand.

With Nick he was nothing all day long but a jolly, wise, and gentle-hearted boy, wearing his greatness like an old cloth coat, as if it were a long-accustomed thing, and quite beyond all pride, and went about his business in a very simple way. But in the evening when the wits were met together at his house, and Nick sat on the hindmost bench and watched the noble gentlemen who came to listen to the sport, Master Will Shakspere seemed to have the knack of being ever best among them all, yet of never too much seeming to be better than the rest.

And though, for the most part, he said but little, save when some pet fancy moved him, when he did speak his conversation sparkled like a little meadow brook that drew men’s best thoughts out of them like water from a spring.

And when they fell to bantering, he could turn the fag-end of another man’s nothing to good account in a way so shrewd that not even Master Ben Jonson could better him–and Master Ben Jonson set up for a wit. But Master Shakspere came about as quickly as an English man-of-war, dodged here and there on a breath of wind, and seemed quite everywhere at once; while Master Jonson tacked and veered, and loomed across the elements like a great galleon, pouring forth learned broadsides with a most prodigious boom, riddling whatever was in the way, to be sure, but often quite missing the point–because Master Shakspere had come about, hey, presto, change! and was off with the argument, point and all, upon a totally different tack.

Then “Tush!” and “Fie upon thee, Will!” Master Jonson would cry with his great bluff-hearted laugh, “thou art a regular flibbertigibbet! I’ll catch thee napping yet, old heart, and fill thee so full of pepper-holes that thou wilt leak epigrams. But quits–I must be home, or I shall catch it from my wife. Faith, Will, thou shouldst see my little Ben!”

“I’ll come some day,” Master Shakspere would say; “give him my love”; and his mouth would smile, though his eyes were sad, for his own son Hamnet was dead.

Then, when the house was still again, and all had said good-by, Nick doffed his clothes and laid him down to sleep in peace. Yet he often wakened in the night, because his heart was dancing so.

In the morning, when the world began to stir outside, and the early light came in at the window, he slipped out of bed across the floor, and threw the casement wide. Over the river, and over the town, and over the hills that lay blue in the north, was Stratford!

The damp, cool air from the garden below seemed a primrose whiff from the lane behind his father’s house. He could hear the cocks crowing in Surrey, and the lowing of the kine. There was a robin singing in a bush under the window, and there was some one in the garden with a pair of pruning-shears. Snip-snip! snip-snip! he heard them going. The light in the east was pink as a peach-bloom and too intense to bear.

“Good-morrow, Master Early-bird!” a merry voice called up to him, and a nosegay dropped on the window-ledge at his side. He looked down. There in the path among the rose-trees was Master Will Shakspere, laughing. He had on an ancient leathern jacket and a hat with a hole in its crown; and the skirts of the jacket were dripping with dew from the bushes.

“Good-morrow, sir,” said Nick, and bowed. “It is a lovely day.”

“Most beautiful indeed! How comes the sun?”

“Just up, sir; the river is afire with it now. O-oh!” Nick held his breath, and watched the light creep down the wall, darting long bars of rosy gold through the snowy bloom of the apple-trees, until it rested upon Master Shakspere’s face, and made a fleeting glory there.

Then Master Shakspere stretched himself a little in the sun, laughing softly, and said, “It is the sweetest music in the world–morning, spring, and God’s dear sunshine; it starteth kindness brewing in the heart, like sap in a withered bud. What sayest, lad? We’ll fetch the little maid to-day; and then–away for Stratford town!”

* * * * *

But when Master Shakspere and Nicholas Attwood came to Gaston Carew’s house, the constables had taken charge, the servants were scattering hither and thither, and Cicely Carew was gone.

The bandy-legged man, the butler said, had come on Sunday in great haste, and packing up his goods, without a word of what had befallen his master, had gone away, no one knew whither, and had taken Cicely with him. Nor had they questioned what he did, for they all feared the rogue, and judged him to have authority.

Nick caught a moment at the lintel of the door. The house was full of voices, and the sound of trampling feet went up and down from room to room; but all he heard was Gaston Carew’s worn voice saying, “Thou’lt keep my Cicely from harm?”

CHAPTER XXXIV

THE BANDY-LEGGED MAN

Until night fell they sought the town over for a trace of Cicely; but all to no avail. The second day likewise.

The third day passed, and still there were no tidings. Master Shakspere’s face grew very grave, and Nick’s heart sickened till he quite forgot that he was going home.

But on the morning of the fourth day, which chanced to be the 1st of May, as he was standing in the door of a printer’s stall in St. Paul’s Churchyard, watching the gaily dressed holiday crowds go up and down, while Robin Dexter’s apprentices bound white-thorn boughs about the brazen serpent overhead, he spied the bandy-legged man among the rout that passed the north gate by St. Martin’s le Grand.

He had a yellow ribbon in his ear, and wore a bright plum-colored cloak, at sight of which Nick cried aloud, for it was the very cloak which Master Gaston Carew wore when he first met him in the Warwick road. The rogue was making for the way which ran from Cheapside to the river, and was walking very fast.

“Master Shakspere! Master Shakspere!” Nick called out. But Master Shakspere was deep in the proofs of a newly published play, and did not hear.

The yellow ribbon fluttered in the sun–was gone behind the churchyard wall.

“Quick, Master Shakspere! quick!” Nick cried; but the master-writer frowned at the inky page; for the light in the printer’s shop was dim, and the proof was very bad.

The ribbon was gone down the river-way–and with it the hope of finding Cicely. Nick shot one look into the stall. Master Shakspere, deep in his proofs, was deaf to the world outside. Nick ran to the gate at the top of his speed. In the crowd afar off a yellow spot went fluttering like a butterfly along a country road. Without a single second thought, he followed it as fast as his legs could go.

Twice he lost it in the throng. But the yellow patch bobbed up again in the sunlight far beyond, and led him on, and on, and on, a breathless chase, down empty lanes and alley-ways, through unfrequented courts, among the warehouses and wharf-sheds along the river-front, into the kennels of Billingsgate, where the only sky was a ragged slit between the leaning roofs. His heart sank low and lower as they went, for only thieves and runagates who dared not face the day in honest streets were gathered in wards like these.

In a filthy purlieu under Fish-street Hill, where mackerel-heads and herrings strewed the drains, and sour kits of whitebait stood fermenting in the sun, the bandy-legged man turned suddenly into a dingy court, and when Nick reached the corner of the entry-way was gone as though the earth had swallowed him.

Nick stopped dismayed, and looked about, His forehead was wet and his breath was gone. He had no idea where they were, but it was a dismal hole. Six forbidding doorways led off from the unkempt court, and a rotting stairway sagged along the wall. A crop-eared dog, that lay in the sun beside a broken cart, sprang up with its hair all pointing to its head, and snarled at him with a vicious grin. “Begone, thou cur!” he cried, and let drive with a stone. The dog ran under the cart, and crouched there barking at him.

Through an open door beyond there came a sound of voices as of people in some further thoroughfare. Perchance the bandy-legged man had passed that way? He ran across the court, and up the steps; but came back faster than he went, for the passageway there was blind and black, a place unspeakable for dirt, and filled with people past description. A woman peered out after him with red eyes blinking in the sun. “Ods bobs!” she croaked, “a pretty thing! Come hither, knave; I want the buckle off thy cloak.”

Nick, shuddering, started for the street. But just as he reached the entry-port a door in the courtyard opened, and the bandy-legged man came out with a bag upon his back, leading Cicely by the hand.

Seeing Nick, he gave a cry, believing himself pursued, and made for the open door again; but almost instantly perceiving the boy to be alone, slammed shut the door and followed him instead, dragging Cicely over the stones, and shouting hoarsely, “Stop there! stop!”

Nick’s heart came up in his very throat. His legs went water-weak. He ran for the open thoroughfare without once looking back. Yet while he ran he heard Cicely cry out suddenly in pain, “Oh, Gregory, Gregory, thou art hurting me so!” and at the sound the voice of Gaston Carew rang like a bugle in his ears: “Thou’lt keep my Cicely from harm?” He stopped as short as if he had butted his head against a wall, whirled on his heel, stood fast, though he was much afraid; and standing there, his head thrown back and his fists tight clenched, as if some one had struck him in the face, he waited until they came to where he was. “Thou hulking, cowardly rogue!” said he to the bandy-legged man.

But the bandy-legged man caught him fast by the arm, and hurried on into the street, scanning it swiftly up and down. “Two birds with one stone, by hen!” he chuckled, when he saw that the coast was clear. “They’ll fetch a pretty penny by and by.”

Poor Cicely smiled through her tears at Nick. “I knew thou wouldst come for me soon,” said she. “But where is my father?”

“He’s dead as a herring,” snarled Gregory.

“That’s a lie,” said Nick; “he is na dead.”

“Don’t call me liar, knave–by hen, I’ll put a stopper on thy voice!”

“Thou wilt na put a stopper on a jug!” cried Nick, his heart so hot for Cicely that he quite forgot himself. “I’d sing so well without a voice–it would butter thy bread for thee! Loose my arm, thou rogue.”

“Not for a thousand golden crowns! I’m no tom-noddy, to be gulled. And, hark ‘e, be less glib with that ‘rogue’ of thine, or I’ll baste thy back for thee.”

“Oh, don’t beat Nick!” gasped Cicely.

“Do na fret for me,” said Nick; “I be na feared of the cowardly rogue!”

Crack! the man struck him across the face. Nick’s eyes flashed hot as a fire-coal. He set his teeth, but he did not flinch. “Do na thou strike me again, _thou rogue!_” said he.

As he spoke, on a sudden his heart leaped up and his fear was utterly gone. In its place was a something fierce and strange–a bitter gladness, a joy that stung and thrilled him like great music in the night. A tingling ran from head to foot; the little hairs of his flesh stood up; he trampled the stones as he hurried on. In his breast his heart was beating like a bell; his breath came hotly, deep and slow; the whole world widened on his gaze. Oh, what a thing is the heart of a boy! how quickly great things are done therein! One instant, put him to the touch–the thing is done, and he is nevermore the same. Like a keen, cold wind that blows through a window in the night, life’s courage had breathed on Nick Attwood’s heart; the _man_ that slept in the heart of the boy awoke and was aware. The old song roared in Nick’s ears:

Sir Francis Drake sailed round the world, Round the world, round the world;
John Hawkins fought the “Victory,” And we ha’ beaten Spain!

Whither they were going he did not know. Whither they were going he did not care. He was English: this was England still! He set his teeth and threw back his shoulders. “I be na feared of him!” said he.

“But my father will come for us soon, won’t he, Nick?” faltered Cicely.

“Eigh! just don’t he wish that he might!” laughed Goole.

“Oh, ay,” said she, and nodded bravely to herself; “he may be very busy now, and so he cannot come. But presently he will come for me and fetch me home again.” She gave a joyous little skip. “To fetch me home again–ay, surely, my father will come for me anon.”

A lump came up in Nick Attwood’s throat. “But what hath he done to thee, Cicely, and where is thy pretty gown?” he asked, as they hurried on through the crooked way; for the gown she wore was in rags.

Cicely choked down a sob. “He hath kept me locked up in a horrible place, where an old witch came in the night and stole my clothes away. And he says that if money doth not come for me soon he will turn me out to starve.”

“To starve? Nay, Cicely; I will na leave thee starve. I’ll go with thee wherever he taketh thee; I’ll fend for thee with all my might and main, and none shall harm thee if I can help. So cheer up–we will get away! Thou needst na gripe me so, thou rogue; I am going wherever she goes.”

“I’ll see that ye do,” growled the bandy-legged man. “But take the other hand of her, thou jackanapes, and fetch a better pace than this–I’ll not be followed again.”

His tone was bold, but his eyes were not; for they were faring through the slums toward Whitechapel way, and the hungry crowd eyed Nick’s silk cloak greedily. One burly rascal with a scar across his face turned back and snatched at it. For his own safety’s sake, the bandy-legged man struck up into a better thoroughfare, where he skulked along like a fox overtaken by dawn, fearing to meet some dog he knew.

“Oh, Gregory, go slow!” pleaded Cicely, panting for breath, and stumbling over the cobblestones. Goole’s only answer was a scowl. Nick trotted on sturdily, holding her hand, and butting his shoulder against the crowd so that she might not be jostled; for the press grew thick and thicker as they went. All London was a-Maying, and the foreigners from Soho, too. Up in the belfries, as they passed, the bells were clanging until the whole town rang like a smithy on the eve of war, for madcap apprentices had the ropes, and were ringing for exercise.

Thicker and thicker grew the throng, as though the sea were sweeping through the town. Then, at the corner of Mincing Lane, where the cloth-workers’ shops were thick, all at once there came an uproarious din of men’s voices singing together:

“Three merry boys, and three merry boys, And three merry boys are we,
As ever did sing in a hempen string Beneath the gallows-tree!”

And before the bandy-legged man could chance upon a doorway in which to stand out of the rush, they were pressed against the wall flat as cakes by a crowd of bold apprentices in holiday attire going out to a wager of archery to be shot in Finsbury Fields.

At first all Nick could see was legs: red legs, yellow legs, blue legs, green legs, long legs, strong legs–in truth, a very many of all sorts of legs, all stepping out together like a hundred-bladed shears; for these were the Saddlers of Cheapside and the Cutters of Mincing Lane, tall, ruddy-faced fellows, all armed with clubs, which they twirled and tossed and thwacked one another with in sport. Some wore straw hats with steeple-crowns, and some flat caps of green and white, or red and orange-tawny. Some had long yew bows and sheaves of arrows decked with garlands; and they were all exceedingly daubed in the face with dripping cherry-juice and with cheese, which they munched as they strode along.

“What, there, Tom Webster, I say,” cried one, catching sight of Cicely’s face, “here is a Queen o’ the May for thee!”

His broad-shouldered comrade stopped in the way, and with him all the rest. “My faith, Jem Armstrong, ’tis the truth, for once in thy life!” quoth he, and stared at Cicely. Her cheeks were flushed, and her panting red lips were fallen apart so that her little white teeth showed through. Her long, dark lashes cast shadow circles under her eyes. Her curly hair in elfin locks tossed all about her face, and through it was tied a crimson ribbon, mocking the quick color of the blood which came and went beneath her delicate skin. “My faith!” cried Tommy Webster, “her face be as fair as a K in a copy-book! Hey, bullies, what? let’s make her queen!”

“A queen?” “What queen?” “Where is a queen?” “I granny! Tom Webster hath catched a queen!” “Where is she, Tom?” “Up with her, mate, and let a fellow see.”

“Hands off, there!” snarled the bandy-legged man.

“Up with her, Tom!” cried out the strapping fellow at his back. “A queen it is; and a right good smacking toll all round–I have not bussed a maid this day! Up with her, Tom!”

“Stand back, ye rogues, and let us pass!”

But alas and alack for the bandy-legged man! He could not ruffle and swagger it off as Gaston Carew had done of old; a London apprentice was harder nuts than his cowardly heart could crack.

“Stand back, ye rogues!” he cried again.

“Rogues? Rogues? Who calls us rogues? Hi, Martin Allston, crack me his crown!”

“Good masters,” faltered Gregory, seeing that bluster would not serve, “I meant ye no offense. I pr’ythee, do not keep a father and his children from their dying mother’s bed!”

“Nay–is that so?” asked Webster, sobering instantly “Here, lads, give way–their mother be a-dying.”

The crowd fell back. “Ah, sirs,” whined Goole, scarce hiding the joy in his face, “she’ll thank ye with her dying breath. Get on, thou knave!” he muttered fiercely in Nick’s ear.

But Nick stood fast, and caught Tom Webster by the arm. “The fellow lieth in his throat,” said he. “My mother is in Stratford town; and Cicely’s mother is dead.”

“Thou whelp!” cried the bandy-legged man, and aimed a sudden blow at Nick, “I’ll teach thee to hold thy tongue.”

“Oh, no, ye won’t,” quoth Thomas Webster, interposing his long oak staff, and thrusting the fellow away so hard that he thumped against the wall; “there is no school on holidays! Thou’lt teach nobody here to hold his tongue but thine own self–and start at that straightway. Dost take me?–say? Now, Jacky Sprat, what’s all the coil about? Hath this sweet fellow kidnapped thee?”

“Nay, sir, not me, but Cicely; and do na leave him take her, sir, for he treats her very ill!”

“The little rascal lies,” sneered Goole, though his lips were the color of lead; “I am her legal guardian!”

“What! How? Thou wast her father but a moment since!”

“Nay, nay,” Goole stammered, turning a sickly hue; “her father’s nearest friend, I said,–he gave her in my charge.”

“My father’s friend!” cried Cicely. “Thou? Thou? His common groom! Why, he would not give my finger in thy charge.”

“He is the wiser daddy, then!” laughed Jemmy Armstrong, “for the fellow hath a T for Tyburn writ upon his face.”

The eyes of the bandy-legged man began to shift from side to side; but still he put a bold front on. “Stand off,” said he, and tried to thrust Tom Webster back. “Thou’lt pay the piper dear for this! The knave is a lying vagabond. He hath stolen this pack of goods.”

“Why, fie for shame!” cried Cicely, and stamped her little foot. “Nick doth not steal, and thou knowest it, Gregory Goole! It is thou who hast stolen my pretty clothes, and the wine from my father’s house!”

“Good, sweetheart!” quoth Tom Webster, eying the bandy-legged man with a curious snap in his honest eyes. “So the rascal hath stolen other things than thee? I thought that yellow bow of his was tied tremendous high! Why, mates, the dog is a branded rogue–that ribbon is tied through the hole in his ear!”

Gregory Goole made a dash through the throng where the press was least.

Thump! went Tommy Webster’s club, and a little puff of dust went up from Gregory’s purple cloak. But he was off so sharply, and dodged with such amazing skill, that most of the blows aimed at his head hummed through the empty air, or thwacked some stout apprentice in the ribs as they all went whooping after him. He was out of the press and away like a deer down a covert lane between two shops ere one could say, “Jack, Robin’s son,” and left the stout apprentices at every flying leap. So presently they all gave over the chase, and came back with the bag he had dropped as he ran; and were so well pleased with themselves for what they had done that they gave three cheers for all the Cloth-workers and Saddlers in London, and then three more for Cicely and Nick. They would no doubt have gone right on and given three for the bag likewise, being strongly in the humor of it; but “Hi, Tom Webster!” shouted one who could hardly speak for cherries and cheese and puffing, “what’s gone with the queen we’re to have so fast, and the toll that we’re to take?”

Tom Webster pulled at his yellow beard, for he saw that Cicely was no common child, and of gentler birth than they. “I do not think she’ll bide the toll,” said he, in half apology.

“What! is there anything to pay?” she asked with a rueful quaver in her voice. “Oh, Nick, there is to pay!”

“We have no money, sirs,” said Nick; “I be very sorry.”

“If my father were here,” said Cicely, “he would give thee a handful of silver; but I have not a penny to my name.” She looked up into Tom Webster’s face. “But, sir,” said she, and laid her hand upon his arm, “if ye care, I will kiss thee upon the cheek.”

“Why, marry come up! My faith!” quoth he, and suddenly blushed–to his own surprise the most of all–“why, what? Who’d want a sweeter penny for his pains?” But “Here–nay, nay!” the others cried; “ye’ve left us out. Fair play, fair play!”

All Cicely could see was a forest of legs that filled the lane from wall to wall, and six great fellows towering over her. “Why, sirs,” cried she, confusedly, while her face grew rosy red, “ye all shall kiss my hand–if–if–“

“If what?” they roared.

“If ye will but wipe your faces clean.”

At the shout of laughter they sent up the constable of the cloth-men’s ward awoke from a sudden dream of war and bloody insurrection, and came down Cheapside bawling, “Peace, in the name of the Queen!” But when he found it was only the apprentices of Mincing Lane out Maying, he stole away around a shop, and made as if it were some other fellow.

They took the humor of it like a jolly lot of bears, and all came crowding round about, wiping their mouths on what came first, with a lick and a promise,–kerchief, doublet, as it chanced,–laughing, and shouldering each to be first. “Up with the little maid there, Tom!” they roared lustily.

Cicely gave him both her hands, and–“Upsydaisy!”–she was on the top of the corner post, where she stood with one hand on his brawny shoulder to steady herself, like a flower growing by a wall, bowing gravely all about, and holding out her hand to be kissed with as graceful an air as a princess born, and withal a sweet, quaint dignity that abashed the wildest there.

Some one or two came blustering as if her hand were not enough; but Jemmy Armstrong rapped them so sharply over the pate, with “Soft, ye loons, her hand!” that they dabbed at her little finger-tips, and were out of his reach in a jiffy, rubbing their polls with a sheepish grin; for Jemmy Armstrong’s love-pats would have cracked a hazelnut.

Some came again a second time. One came even a third. But Cicely knew him by his steeple-hat, and tucked her hand behind her, saying, “Fie, sir, thou art greedy!” Whereupon the others laughed and punched him in the ribs with their clubs, until he bellowed, “Quits! We’ll all be late to the archery if we be not trotting on.”

Nick’s face fell at the merry shout of “Finsbury, Finsbury, ho!” “I dare na try to take her home alone,” said he; “that rogue may lie in wait for us.”

“Oh, Nick, he is not coming back?” cried Cicely; and with that she threw her arms around Tom Webster’s neck. “Oh, take us with thee, sir–don’t leave us all alone!”

Webster pulled his yellow beard. “Nay, lass, it would not do,” said he; “we’ll be mad larks by evening. But there, sweetheart, don’t weep no more! That rogue shall not catch thee again, I promise that.”

“Why, Tom,” quoth Armstrong, “what’s the coil? We’ll leave them at the Boar’s Head Inn with sixpence each until their friends can come for them. Hey, mates, up Great East Cheap!” And off they marched to the Boar’s Head Inn.

CHAPTER XXXV

A SUDDEN RESOLVE

Nick and Cicely were sitting on a bench in the sun beside the tap-room door, munching a savory mutton-pie which Tommy Webster had bought for them. Beside them over the window-sill the tapster twirled his spigot cheerfully, and in the door the carrier was bidding the serving-maids good-by.

Around the inn-yard stood a row of heavy, canvas-covered wains and lumbering two-wheeled carts, each surmounted by a well-armed guard, and drawn by six strong horses with harness stout as cannon-leathers. The hostlers stood at the horses’ heads, chewing at wisps of barley-straw as though their other fare was scant, which, from their sleek rotundity, was difficult to believe. The stable-boy, with a pot of slush, and a head of hair like a last year’s haycock, was hastily greasing a forgotten wheel; while, out of the room where the servants ate, the drivers came stumbling down the steps with a mighty smell of onions and brawn. The weekly train from London into the north was ready to be off.

A portly, well-clad countryman, with a shrewd but good-humored countenance, and a wife beside him round and rosy of face as he, came bustling out of the private door. “How far yet, Master John?” he asked as he buckled on his cloak. “Forty-two miles to Oxford, sir,” replied the carrier. “We must be off if we’re to lie at Uxbridge overnight; for there hath been rain beyond, sir, and the roads be werry deep.”

Nick stared at the man for Oxford. Forty-two miles to Oxford! And Oxford lay to the south of Stratford fifty miles and two. Ninety-four miles from Stratford town! Ninety-four miles from home!

“When will my father come for us, Nick?” asked Cicely, turning her hand in the sun to see the red along the edges of her fingers.

“Indeed, I can na tell,” said Nick; “Master Will Shakspere is coming anon, and I shall go with him.”

“And leave me by myself?”

“Nay; thou shalt go, too. Thou’lt love to see his garden and the rose-trees–it is like a very country place. He is a merry gentleman, and, oh, so kind! He is going to take me home.”

“But my father will take us home when he comes.”

“To Stratford town, I mean.”

“Away from daddy and me? Why, Nick!”

“But my mother is in Stratford town.”

Cicely was silent. “Then I think I would go, too,” she said quite softly, looking down as if there were a picture on the ground. “When one’s mother is gone there is a hurting-place that nought doth ever come into any more–excepting daddy, and–and thee. We shall miss thee, Nick, at supper-times. Thou’lt come back soon?”

“I am na coming back.”

“Not coming back?” She laid the mutton-pie down on the bench.

“No–I am na coming back”

“Never?”

“Never.”

She looked at him as if she had not altogether understood.

Nick turned away. A strange uneasiness had come upon him, as if some one were staring at him fixedly. But no one was. There was a Dutchman in the gate who had not been there just before. “He must have sprung up out of the ground,” thought Nick, “or else he is a very sudden Dutchman!” He had on breeches like two great meal-sacks, and a Flemish sea-cloth jacket full of wrinkles, as if it had been lying in a chest. His back was turned, and Nick could not help smiling, for the fellow’s shanks came out of his breeches’ bottoms like the legs of a letter A. He looked like a pudding on two skewers.

Cicely slowly took up the mutton-pie once more, but did not eat. “Is na the pasty good?” asked Nick.

“Not now,” said she.

Nick turned away again.

The Dutchman was not in the gate. He had crossed the inn-yard suddenly, and was sitting close within the shadow of the wall, though the sunny side was pleasanter by far. His wig was hanging down about his face, and he was talking with the tapster’s knave, a hungry-looking fellow clad in rusty black as if some one were dead, although it was a holiday and he had neither kith nor kin. The knave was biting his under lip and staring straight at Nick.

“And will I never see thee more?” asked Cicely.

“Oh, yes,” said Nick; “oh, yes.”

But he did not know whether she ever would or no.

“Gee-wup, Dobbin! Yoicks, Ned! Tschk–tschk!” The leading cart rolled slowly through the gate. A second followed it. The drivers made a cracking with their whips, and all the guests came out to see them off. But the Dutchman, as the rest came out, arose, and with the tapster’s knave went in at a narrow entrance beyond the tap-room steps.

“And when will Master Shakspere come for thee?” asked Cicely once more, the cold pie lying in her lap.

“I do na know. How can I tell? Do na bother me so!” cried Nick, and dug his heels into the cracks between the paving-stones; for after all that had come to pass the starting of the baggage-train had made him sick for home.

Cicely looked up at him; she thought she had not heard aright. He was staring after the last cart as it rolled through the inn-yard gate; his throat was working, and his eyes were full of tears.

“Why, Nick!” said she, “art crying?”

“Nay,” said he, “but very near,” and dashed his hand across his face. “Everything doth happen so all-at-once–and I am na big enough, Cicely. Oh, Cicely, I would I were a mighty king–I’d make it all up different somehow!”

“Perhaps thou wilt be some day, Nick,” she answered quietly. “Thou’ldst make a very lovely king. I could be queen; and daddy should be Lord Admiral, and own the finest play-house in the town.”

But Nick was staring at the tap-room door. A voice somewhere had startled him. The guests were gone, and none was left but the tapster’s knave leaning against the inner wall.

“Thy mother should come to live with us, and thy father, and all thy kin,” said Cicely, dreamily smiling; “and the people would love us, there would be no more war, and we should be happy forevermore.”

But Nick was listening,–not to her,–and his face was a little pale. He felt a strange, uneasy sense of some one staring at his back. He whirled about–looked in at the tap-room window. For an instant a peering face was there; then it was gone–there was only the Dutchman’s frowzy wig and striped woolen cap. But the voice he had heard and the face he had seen were the voice and the face of Gregory Goole.

“I should love to see thy mother, Nick,” said Cicely.

He got up steadily, though his heart was jolting his very ribs. “Thou shalt right speedily!” said he.

The carts were standing in a line. The carrier came down the steps with his stirrup-cup in hand. Nick’s heart gave a sudden, wild, resolute leap, and he touched the carrier on the arm. “What will ye charge to carry two as far as Stratford town?” he asked. His mouth was dry as a dusty road, for the Dutchman had risen from his seat and was coming toward the door.

“I do na haul past Oxford,” said the man.

“To Oxford, then–how much? Be quick!” Nick thrust his hand into his breast where he carried the burgesses’ chain.

“Eightpence the day, for three days out–two shilling ’tis, and find yourself; it is an honest fare.”

The tapster’s knave came down the steps; the Dutchman stood within the shadow of the door.

“Wilt carry us for this?” Nick cried, and thrust the chain into the fellow’s hands.

He gasped and almost let it fall. “Beshrew my heart! Gadzooks!” said he, “art thou a prince in hiding, boy? ‘T would buy me, horses, wains, and all. Why, man alive, ’tis but a nip o’ this!”

“Good, then,” said Nick, “’tis done–we’ll go. Come, Cicely, we’re going home!”

Staring, the carrier followed him, weighing the chain in his hairy hand. “Who art thou, boy?” he cried again. “This matter hath a queer look.”

“‘Twas honestly come by, sir,” cried Nick, no longer able to conceal a quiver in his voice, “and my name is Nicholas Attwood; I come from Stratford town.”

“Stratford-on-Avon? Why, art kin to Tanner Simon Attwood there, Attwood of Old Town?”

“He is my father, sir. Oh, leave us go with thee–take the whole chain!”

Slap went the carrier’s cap in the dirt! “Leave thee go wi’ me? Gadzooks!” he cried, “my name be John Saddler–why, what? my daddy liveth in Chapel lane, behind Will Underhill’s. I stole thy father’s apples fifteen years. What! go wi’ me? Get on the wain, thou little fool–get on all the wains I own, and a plague upon thine eightpence, lad! Why, here; Hal telled me thou wert dead, or lost, or some such fairy tale! Up on the sheepskin, both o’ ye!”

The Dutchman came from the tap-room door and spoke to the tapster’s knave; but the words which he spoke to that tapster’s knave were anything but Dutch.

CHAPTER XXXVI

WAYFARING HOME

At Kensington watering-place, five miles from London town, Nick held the pail for the horses of the Oxford man. “Hello, my buck!” quoth he, and stared at Nick; “where under the sun didst pop from all at once?” and, looking up, spied Cicely upon the carrier’s wain. “What, John!” he shouted, “thou saidst there were no more!”

“No more there weren’t, sir,” said John, “but there be now”; and out with the whole story.

“Well, I ha’ farmed for fifty year,” cried honest Roger Clout, “yet never have I seen the mate to yonder little maid, nor heard the like o’ such a tale! Wife, wife!” he cried, in a voice as round and full of hearty cheer as one who calls his own cattle home across his own fat fields. “Come hither, Moll–here’s company for thee. For sure, John, they’ll ride wi’ Moll and I; ’tis godsend–angels on a baggage-cart! Moll ha’ lost her only one, and the little maid will warm the cockles o’ her heart, say nought about mine own. La, now, she is na feared o’ me; God bless thee, child! Look at her, Moll–as sweet as honey and the cream o’ the brindle cow.”

So they rode with kindly Roger Clout and his good wife by Hanwell, Hillingdon Hill, and Uxbridge, where they rested at the inn near old St. Margaret’s, Cicely with Mistress Clout, and Nick with her good man. And in the morning there was nothing to pay, for Roger Clout had footed all the score.

Then on again, through Beaconsfield and High Wycombe, into and over the Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire. In parts the land was passing fair, with sheep in flocks upon the hills, and cattle knee-deep in the grass; but otherwhere the way was wild, with bogs and moss in all the deeps, and dense beech forests on the heights; and more than once the guards made ready their match-locks warily. But stout John Saddler’s train was no soft cakes for thieves, and they came up through Bucks scot-free.

At times it drizzled fitfully, and the road was rough and bad; but the third day was a fair, sweet day, and most exceeding bright and fresh. The shepherds whistled on the hills, and the milkmaids sang in the winding lanes among the white-thorn hedges, the smell of which was everywhere. The singing, the merry voices calling, the comfortable lowing of the kine, the bleating of the sheep, the clinking of the bridle-chains, and the heavy ruttle of the carts filled the air with life and cheer. The wind was blowing both warm and cool; and, oh, the blithe breeze of the English springtime! Nick went up the green hills, and down the white dells like a leaf in the wind, now ahead and now behind the winding train, or off into the woods and over the fields for a posy-bunch for Cicely, calling and laughing back at her, and filling her lap with flowers and ferns until the cart was all one great, sweet-smelling bower.

As for Cicely, Nick was there, so she was very well content. She had never gone a-visiting in all her life before; and she would see Nick’s mother, and the flowers in the yard, the well, and that wondrous stream, the Avon, of which Nick talked so much. “Stratford is a fair, fair town, though very full of fools,” her father often said. But she had nothing to do with the fools, and daddy would come for her again; so her laughter bubbled like a little spring throughout the livelong day.

As the sun went down in the yellow west they came into Oxford from the south on the easterly side. The Cherwell burned with the orange light reflected from the sky, and the towers of the famous town of olden schools and scholars stood up black-purple against the western glow, with rims of gold on every roof and spire.

Up the High street into the corn-market rolled the tired train, and turned into the rambling square of the old Crown Inn near Carfax church, a large, substantial hostelry, one of merry England’s best, clean-chambered, homelike, full of honest cheer.

There was a shout of greeting everywhere. The hostlers ran to walk the horses till they cooled, and to rub them down before they fed, for they were all afoam. Master Davenant himself saw to the storing of the wains; and Mistress Davenant, a comely dame, with smooth brown hair and ruddy cheeks, and no less wit than sprightly grace, was in the porch to meet the company. “Well, good Dame Clout,” said she, “art home again? What tales we’ll have! Didst see Tom Lane? No? Pshaw! But buss me, Moll; we’ve missed thy butter parlously.” And then quite free she kissed both Nick and Cicely.

“What, there, Dame Davenant!” cried Roger Clout, “art passing them around?” and laughed, “Do na forget me.”

“Nay, nay,” she answered, “but I’m out. Here, Nan,” she called to the smutty-faced scullery-maid, “a buss for Master Clout; his own Moll’s busses be na fine enough since he hath been to town.”

So, joking, laughing, they went in; while plain John Saddler backed out of the porch as sooty Nan came running up, for fear the jilt might offer somewhat of the sort to him, and was off in haste to see to his teams,” There’s no leaving it to the boys,” said he, “for they’d rub ’em down wi’ a water-pail, and give ’em straw to drink.”

When the guests all came to the fourpenny table to sup, Nick spoke to Master Roger Clout. “Ye’ve done enough for us, sir; thank ye with all my heart; but I’ve a turn will serve us here, and, sir, I’d rather stand on mine own legs. Ye will na mind?” And when they all were seated at the board, he rose up stoutly at the end, and called out brave and clear: “Sirs, and good dames all, will ye be pleased to have some music while ye eat? For, if ye will, the little maid and I will sing you the latest song from London town, a merry thing, with a fine trolly-lolly, sirs, to glad your hearts with hearing.”

Would they have music? To be sure! Who would not music while he ate must be a Flemish dunderkopf, said they. So Nick and Cicely stood at one side of the room upon a bench by the server’s board, and sang together, while he played upon Mistress Davenant’s gittern:

“Hey, laddie, hark to the merry, merry lark! How high he singeth clear:
‘Oh, a morn in spring is the sweetest thing That cometh in all the year!
Oh, a morn in spring is the sweetest thing That cometh in all the year!’

“Ring, ting! it is the merry springtime; How full of heart a body feels!
Sing hey, trolly-lolly! oh, to live is to be jolly, When springtime cometh with the summer at her heels!

“God save us all, my jolly gentlemen, We’ll merry be to-day;
For the cuckoo sings till the greenwood rings, And it is the month of May!
For the cuckoo sings till the greenwood rings, And it is the month of May!”

Then the men at the table all waved their pewter pots, and thumped upon the board, roaring, “Hey, trolly-lolly! oh, to live is to be jolly!” until the rafters rang.

[Illustration:

1. Hey! lad-die, hark, to the mer-ry, mer-ry lark, How high he sing-eth clear. O a morn in Spring is the sweeter thing That cometh in all the year; O a morn in Spring is the sweet-est thing That com-eth in all the year!

REFRAIN. Piano.

Ring! Ting! It is the mer-ry Spring-time. How full of heart a bod-y feels! Sing hey trol-ly lol-ly! O to live is to be jol-ly, When Spring-time cometh with the Summer at her heels!

2. God save us all, my jol-ly gen-tle-men! We’ll mer-ry be to-day; For the cuc-koo sings till the greenwood rings, And it is the month of May; For the cuc-koo sings till the greenwood rings, And it is the month of May!

_Repeat Refrain after 2d Stanza._]

“What, lad!” cried good Dame Davenant, “come, stay with me all year and sing, thou and this little maid o’ thine. ‘Twill cost thee neither cash nor care. Why, thou’ldst fill the house with such a throng as it hath never seen!” And in the morning she would not take a penny for their lodging nor their keep. “Nay, nay,” said she; “they ha’ brought good custom to the house, and left me a brave little tale to tell for many a good long year. We inns-folk be not common penny-grabbers; marry, no!” and, furthermore, she made interest with a carrier to give them a lift to Woodstock on their way.

When they came to Woodstock the carrier set them down by the gates of a park built round by a high stone wall over which they could not see, and with his wain went in at the gate, leaving them to journey on together through a little rain-shower.

The land grew flatter than before. There were few trees upon the hills, and scarcely any springs at which to drink, but much tender grass, with countless sheep nibbling everywhere. The shower was soon blown away; the sun came out; and a pleasant wind sprang up out of the south. Here and there beside some cottage wall the lilacs bloomed, and the later orchard-trees were apple-pink and cherry-white with May.

They came to a puddle in the road where there was a dance of butterflies. Cicely clapped her hands with glee. A goldfinch dipped across the path like a little yellow streak of laughter in the sun. “Oh, Nick, what is it?” she cried.

“A bird,” said he.

“A truly bird?” and she clasped her hands. “Will it ever come again?”

“Again? Oh, yes, or, la! another one–there’s plenty in the weeds.”

And so they fared all afternoon, until at dusk they came to Chipping Norton across the fields, a short cut to where the thin blue supper-smoke curled up. The mists were rising from the meadows; earth and sky were blending on the hills; a little silver sickle moon hung in the fading violet, low in the western sky. Under an old oak in a green place a fiddler and a piper were playing, and youths and maidens were dancing in the brown light. Some little chaps were playing blindman’s-buff near by, and the older folk were gathered by the tree.

Nick came straight to where they stood, and bowing, he and Cicely together, doffed his cap, and said in his most London tone, “We bid ye all good-e’en, good folk.”

His courtly speech and manner, as well as his clothes and Cicely’s jaunty gown, no little daunted the simple country folk. Nobody spoke, but, standing silent, all stared at the two quaint little vagabonds as mild kine stare at passing sheep in a quiet lane.

“We need somewhat to eat this night, and we want a place to sleep,” said Nick. “The beds must be right clean–we have good appetites. If ye can do for us, we will dance for you anything that ye may desire–the ‘Queen’s Own Measure,’ ‘La Donzella,’ the new ‘Allemand’ of my Lord Pembroke, a pavone or a tinternell, or the ‘Galliard of Savoy.’ Which doth it please you, mistresses?” and he bowed to the huddling young women, who scarcely knew what to make of it.

“La! Joan,” whispered one, “he calleth thee ‘mistress’! Speak up, wench.” But Joan stoutly held her peace.

“Or if ye will, the little maid will dance the coranto for you, straight from my Lord Chancellor’s dancing-master; and while she dances I will sing.”

“Why, hark ‘e, Rob,” spoke out one motherly dame, “they two do look clean-like. Children, too–who’d gi’ them stones when they beg for bread? I’ll do for them this night myself; and thou, the good man, and Kit can sleep in the hutch. So there, dears; now let’s see the Lord Chancellor’s tantrums.”

“‘Tis not a tantrums, goody,” said Nick, politely, “but a coranto.”

“La! young master, what’s the odds, just so we sees it done? Some folks calls whittles ‘knives,’ and thinks ‘t wunnot cut theys fingers!”

Nick took his place at the side of the ring. “Now, Cicely!” said he.

“Thou’lt call ‘Sa–sa!’ and give me the time of the coup d’archet?” she whispered, timidly hesitant, as she stepped to the midst of the ring.

“Ay, then,” said he, “’tis off, ’tis off!” and struck up a lively tune, snapping his fingers for the time.

Cicely, bowing all about her, slowly began to dance.

It was a pretty sight to see: her big eyes wide and earnest, her cheeks a little flushed, her short hair curling, and her crimson gown fluttering about her as she danced the quaint running step forward and back across the grass, balancing archly, with her hands upon her hips and a little smile upon her lips, in the swaying motion of the coupee, courtesying gracefully as one tiny slippered foot peeped out from her rustling skirt, tapping on the turf, now in front and now behind. Nick sang like a blackbird in the hedge. And how those country lads and lasses stared to see such winsome, dainty grace! “La me!” gaped one, “’tis fairy folk–she doth na even touch the ground!” “The pretty dear!” the mothers said. “Doll, why canst thou na do the like, thou lummox?” “Tut,” sighed the buxom Doll, “I have na wingses on my feet!”

Then Cicely, breathless, bowed, and ran to Nick’s side asking, “Was it all right, Nick?”

“Right?” said he, and stroked her hair; “’twas better than thou didst ever dance it for M’sieu.”

“For why?” said she, and flushed, with a quick light in her eyes; “for why–because this time I danced for thee.”

The country folk, enchanted, called for more and more.

Nick sang another song, and he and Cicely danced the galliard together, while the piper piped and the fiddler fiddled away like mad; and the moon went down, and the cottage doors grew ruddy with the light inside. Then Dame Pettiford gave them milk and oat-cakes in a bowl, a bit of honey in the comb, and a cup of strawberries; and Cicely fell fast asleep with the last of the strawberries in her hand.

So they came up out of the south through Shipston-on-Stour, in the main-traveled way, and with every mile Nick felt home growing nearer. Streams sprang up in the meadow-lands, with sedgy islands, and lines of silvery willows bordering their banks. Flocks and herds cropped beneath tofts of ash and elm and beech. Snug homes peeped out of hazel copses by the road. The passing carts had a familiar look, and at Alderminster Nick saw a man he thought he recognized.

Before he knew that he was there they topped Edge Hill.

There lay Stratford! as he had left it lying; not one stick or stack or stone but he could put his finger on and say, “This place I know!” Green pastures, grassy levels, streams, groves, mills, the old grange and the manor-house, the road that forked in three, and the hills of Arden beyond it all. There was the tower of the guildhall chapel above the clustering, dun-thatched roofs among the green and blossom-white; to left the spire of Holy Trinity sprang up beside the shining Avon. Bull Lane he made out dimly, and a red-tiled roof among the trees. “There, Cicely,” he said, “_there–there!_” and laughed a queer little shaky laugh next door to crying for joy.

Wat Raven was sweeping old Clopton bridge. “Hullo, there, Wat! I be come home again!” Nick cried. Wat stared at him, but knew him not at all.

Around the corner, and down High street. Fynes Morrison burst in at the guildschool door. “Nick Attwood’s home!” he shouted; and his eyes were like two plates.

Then the last lane–and the smoke from his father’s house!

The garden gate stood open, and there was some one working in the yard. “It is my father, Cicely,” he laughed. “Father!” he cried, and hurried in the lane.

Simon Attwood straightened up and looked across the fence. His arms were held a little out, and his hands hung down with bits of moist earth clinging to them. His brows were darker than a year before, and his hair was grown more gray; his back, too, stooped. “Art thou a-calling me?” he asked.

Nick laughed. “Why, father, do ye na know me?” he cried out. “‘Tis I–’tis Nick–come home!”

Two steps the stern old tanner took–two steps to the latchet-gate. Not one word did he speak; but he set his hand to the latchet-gate and closed it in Nick’s face.

CHAPTER XXXVII

TURNED ADRIFT

Down the path and under the gate the rains had washed a shallow rut in the earth. Two pebbles, loosened by the closing of the gate, rolled down the rut and out upon the little spreading fan of sand that whitened in the grass.

There was the house with the black beams checkering its yellow walls. There was the old bench by the door, and the lettuce in the garden-bed. There were the beehives, and the bees humming among the orchard boughs.

“Why, father, what!” cried Nick, “dost na know me yet? See, ’tis I, Nick, thy son.”

A strange look came into the tanner’s face. “I do na know thee, boy,” he answered heavily; “thou canst na enter here.”

“But, father, indeed ’tis I!”

Simon Attwood looked across the town; yet he did not see the town: across the town into the sky, yet he did not see the sky, nor the drifting banks of cloud, nor the sunlight shining on the clouds. “I say I do na know thee,” he replied; “be off to the place whence ye ha’ come.”

Nick’s hand was almost on the latch. He stopped. He looked up into his father’s face. “Why, father, I’ve come home!” he gasped.

The gate shook in the tanner’s grip. “Have I na telled thee twice I do na know thee, boy? No house o’ mine shall e’er be home for thee. Thou hast no part nor parcel here. Get thee out o’ my sight.”

“Oh, father, father, what do ye mean?” cried Nick, his lips scarcely able to shape the words.

“Do na ye ‘father’ me no more,” said Simon Attwood, bitterly; “I be na father to stage-playing, vagabond rogues. And be gone, I say. Dost hear? Must I e’en thrust thee forth?” He raised his hand as if to strike.

Nick fell away from the latchet-gate, dumb-stricken with amazement, shame, and grief.

“Oh, Nick,” cried Cicely, “come away–the wicked, wicked man!”

“It is my father, Cicely.”

She stared at him. “And thou dost hate _my_ father so? Oh, Nick! oh, Nick!”

“Will ye be gone?” called Simon Attwood, half-way opening the gate; “must I set constables on thee?”

Nick did not move. A numbness had crept over him like palsy. Cicely caught him by the hand. “Come, let us go back to my father,” she said. “He will not turn us out.”

Scarcely knowing what he did, he followed her, stumbling in the level path as though he were half blind or had been beaten upon the head. He did not cry. This was past all crying. He let himself be led along–it made no matter where.

In Chapel lane there was a crowd along the Great House wall; and on the wall Ned Cooke and Martin Addenbroke were sitting. There were heads of people moving on the porch and in the court, and the yard was all a-bustle and to-do. But there was nobody in the street, and no one looked at Nick and Cicely.

The Great House did look very fair in the sun of that May day, with its homely gables of warm red brick and sunburnt timber, its cheery roof of Holland tile, and with the sunlight flashing from the diamond panes that were leaded into the sashes of the great bay-window on the eastern garden side.

In the garden all was stir-about and merry voices. There was a little green court before the house, and a pleasant lawn coming down to the lane from the doorway porch. The house stood to the left of the entry-drive, and the barn-yard to the right was loud with the blithe crowing of the cocks. But the high brick wall shut out the street where Nick and Cicely trudged dolefully along, and to Nick the lane seemed very full of broken crockery and dirt, and the sunlight all a mockery. The whole of the year had not yet been so dark as this, for there had ever been the dream of coming home. But _now_–he suffered himself to be led along; that was enough.

They had come past the Great House up from Chapel street, when a girl came out of the western gate, and with her hand above her eyes looked after them. She seemed in doubt, but looked again, quite searchingly. Then, as one who is not sure, but does not wish to miss a chance, called out, “Nick Attwood! Nick Attwood!”

Cicely looked back to see who called. She did not know the girl, but saw her beckon. “There is some one calling, Nick,” said she.

Nick stopped in a hopeless sort of way, and looked back down the street.

When he had turned so that the girl at the gate could see his face, she left the gate wide open behind her, and came running quickly up the street after them. As she drew nearer he saw that it was Susanna Shakspere, though she was very much grown since he had seen her last. He watched her running after them as if it were none of his affair. But when she had caught up with them, she took him by the shoulder smartly and drew him back toward the gate. “Why, Nicholas Attwood,” she cried, all out of breath, “come straightway into the house with me. My father hath been hunting after thee the whole way up from London town!”

CHAPTER XXXVIII

A STRANGE DAY

There in the Great House garden under the mulberry-trees stood Master Will Shakspere, with Masters Jonson, Burbage, Hemynge, Condell, and a goodly number more, who had just come up from London town, as well as Alderman Henry Walker of Stratford, good old John Combe of the college, and Michael Drayton, the poet of Warwick. For Master Shakspere had that morning bought the Great House, with its gardens and barns, of Master William Underhill, for sixty pounds sterling, and was making a great feast for all his friends to celebrate the day.

The London players all clapped their hands as Nick and Cicely came up the garden-path, and, “Upon my word, Will,” declared Master Jonson, “the lad is a credit to this old town of thine. A plucky fellow, I say, a right plucky fellow. Found the lass and brought her home all safe and sound–why, ’tis done like a true knight-errant!”

[Illustration: “MASTER SHAKSPERE MET THEM WITH OUTSTRETCHED HANDS.”]

Master Shakspere met them with outstretched hands. “Thou young rogue,” said he, smiling, “how thou hast forestalled us! Why, here we have been weeping for thee as lost, strayed, or stolen; and all the while thou wert nestling in the bosom of thine own sweet home. How is the beloved little mother?”

“I ha’ na seen my mother,” faltered Nick. “Father will na let me in.”

“What? How?”

“My father will na have me any more, sir–saith I shall never be his son again. Oh, Master Shakspere, why did they steal me from home?”

They were all crowding about now, and Master Shakspere had hold of the boy. “Why, what does this mean?” he asked. “What on earth has happened?”

Between the two children, in broken words, the story came out.

“Why, this is a sorry tale!” said Master Shakspere. “Does the man not know that thou wert stolen, that thou wert kept against thy will, that thou hast trudged half-way from London for thy mother’s sake?”

“He will na leave me tell him, sir. He would na even listen to me!”

“The muckle shrew!” quoth Master Jonson. “Why, I’ll have this out with him! By Jupiter, I’ll read him reason with a vengeance!” With a clink of his rapier he made as if to be off at once.

“Nay, Ben,” said Master Shakspere; “cool thy blood–a quarrel will not serve. This tanner is a bitter-minded, heavy-handed man–he’d only throw thee in a pickling-vat”

“What? Then he’d never tan another hide!”

“And would that serve the purpose, Ben? The cure should better the disease–the children must be thought about.”

“The children? Why, as for them,” said Master Jonson, in his blunt, outspoken way, “I’ll think thee a thought offhand to serve the turn. What? Why, this tanner calls us vagabonds. Vagabonds, forsooth! Yet vagabonds are gallows-birds, and gallows-birds are ravens. And ravens,