Citation
Master Skylark

Material Information

Title:
Master Skylark : a story of Shakspere's time
Creator:
Bennett, John, 1865-1956 ( Author, Primary )
Birch, Reginald Bathurst, 1856-1943 ( Illustrator )
Appleton-Century Company ( Publisher )
Place of Publication:
New York
Publisher:
Appleton-Century Co.
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
viii, [3], 302 p., [15] leaves of plates : ill., music ; 20 cm.

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Children -- Conduct of life -- Juvenile fiction ( lcsh )
Conduct of life -- Juvenile fiction ( lcsh )
Singers -- Juvenile fiction ( lcsh )
Dramatists -- Juvenile fiction ( lcsh )
Theater -- Juvenile fiction ( lcsh )
Family -- Juvenile fiction ( lcsh )
Actors -- Juvenile fiction ( lcsh )
Kings and rulers -- Juvenile fiction ( lcsh )
History -- Tudors, 1485-1603 -- Juvenile fiction -- Great Britain ( lcsh )
Social life and customs -- England -- Juvenile fiction -- 16th century ( lcsh )
Baldwin -- 1897
Genre:
novel ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage:
United States -- New York -- New York
Target Audience:
juvenile ( marctarget )

Notes

Summary:
A young boy with an exceptional voice joins a theater group but never loses his desire to be with his family.
Statement of Responsibility:
by John Bennett ; illustrations by Reginald B. Birch.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
This item is presumed to be in the public domain. The University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries respect the intellectual property rights of others and do not claim any copyright interest in this item. Users of this work have responsibility for determining copyright status prior to reusing, publishing or reproducing this item for purposes other than what is allowed by fair use or other copyright exemptions. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions may require permission of the copyright holder. The Smathers Libraries would like to learn more about this item and invite individuals or organizations to contact The Department of Special and Area Studies Collections (special@uflib.ufl.edu) with any additional information they can provide.
Resource Identifier:
026590127 ( ALEPH )
ALG2351 ( NOTIS )
234194667 ( OCLC )

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Full Text




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MASTER SKYLARK





“*MASTER SKYLARK, THOU SHALT HAVE THY WISH,’ SAID QUEEN
ELIZABETH.” (See p. 264.)



MASTER SKYLARK

A Story of
Shakspere’s ‘Time

»

BY

JOHN BENNETT

ILLUSTRATIONS BY REGINALD B. BIRCH



NEW YORK

The Century Co,



Copyright, 1896, 1897, by
THE CENTURY Co.

Copyright, 1897, by
JOHN BENNETT

PRINTED IN U. 8. A.



ALL THAT NICHOLAS ATTWOOD’S MOTHER
WAS TO HIM, AND MORE, MY OWN MOTHER HAS BEEN TO ME
AND TO HER HERE I INSCRIBE THIS BOOK
WITH A NEVER-FAILING LOVE



CHAPTER

I Tue Lorp Apmrrat’s Puaynrs

II
Tif
IV
Vv
VI
VII
VIII
IX

XI
XII
XIII
XIV
XV
XVI
XVII
XVIII
XIX
xX
XXI

| XXIT

CONTENTS

Nicuotas Atrwoop’s Homz
Tse Lasr Straw

Orr FoR CovENTRY

In tap Warwick Roap
Tse MASTER-PLAYER .

“Wet Sune, Master Sxruarxk!”

Tan ApMIRAL’s Company ,
THe May-pay Piay
AFTER THE Phar. : :
DisowNED . . :
A Srranep RivpzE. : :
A DasH ror Frrempom . .
At Bay : : ' :
Lonpon Town . : 7
Ma’w’seLue Cickrty Carnw
CarEw’s OFFER . ; .
Master Hrerwoop Protests
Tum Rosz Piay-HovsE
DISAPPOINTMENT . . :
“Ton CHILDREN oF Paut’s”’
TuHp SxyLarxK’s Sona . .
vii

PAGE

17
25
28
33
39
46
52
60
64
69
79
&7
91
102
113
120
127
134
140
147



viii

CHAPTER

XXII
XXIV
XXV
XXVI
XXVII
XXVIII
XXIX
XXX
XXXI
XXXII
XXXIII
XXXIV
XXXV
XXXVI
XXXVII
XXXVIII
XXXIX

CONTENTS

A New Lirs : : : 5
Tue Maxine or A PLAYER

Tus WANING OF THE YEAR

To SING BEFORE THE QUEEN
Tur QUEEN’S PLAISANCE . .
CHRISTMAS WITH QUEEN BESS
Back to Gaston CarEw

At THE Fatcon Inn . . a
In THE TWINKLING OF AN Erb .
Tue Last oF Gaston CAREW
CicrLty DISAPPEARS

Tur Banpy-LeEGGED Man

A Suppren Rrsoive

Wayrarina Home

TURNED ADRIFT .

A Srranep Day :
Auu’s WELL THAT ENDS WELL .

PAGE

155
161
170
179
187
194
208
214
221
231
241
245
259
266
278
282
288



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

“Master Sxyitark, Tou Saatt Have Tuy Wisu,” Sap QueENn

EnLmaBETH . . . . . uw .OCSCSC«sSCFronnttispiece

FACING PAGE

THe Lorp ApmrraL’s Piarers. Tam TRUMPETERS AND THE
Drummers Lev, THerr Horses Prancina, Waite Pitumes
WAVING INTHE BREEZE. . . . . . .

““Waor Bu-est Gorna, Nick?’? AskED Roger Dawson

“Waar! How Now?” Criep THe STRANGER, SHARPLY. ‘‘Dost
Lrge or Like Met Nor?”

“Nick THoucut or His Moruer’s Sincine on 4 SUMMER’S EvEN-
INGc—Drew a DzEep BreatH AND BeGaNn TO SING

“Nosopy Breaks Nogopy’s Hearts in Oxtp Jo-oHN SMITHSES
SHo-op,” DrawLep THe SMITH, IN HIS DreEp Voice; ‘‘Nor
Srpats Nogsopy, NorHer’”’

“Diccon Hap Orren Maps Nick WHISTLES FROM THE WILLOWS
ALONG THE Avon WHEN Nick was A TODDLER” . . .

Nick Put Onze Lze@ over THe Sint anp Looxep Back z
“Ox, Nick, THov art Most Beavtiruy To Sse!”’ CrreD CicELY
“Tsar Voicn, THAT Voice!’? Nat Gites Panrep To HImMsELF

Nick GavE THE Sitvur Buckie From His Cioax To 4 Boy WxHo
Stroop Crrine wits Co~tp AND HUNGER IN THE STREET .

So Nick Ropz Home upon THE Back or THE EARL or ARUNDEL’S
Man-at-Arms . .

“Way, Sir, I’xu Sine ror Tare Now,” Sar Nick, CHoxine
“Do Na Tuov Srraixe Me Acain, Toou Rogue!” Sar Nick
“Ou, Nick, Wuat Is Ir?” Soe Crrep ee ec eee

Master SHAKSPERE Met THEM WITH OUTSTRETCHED HANDS,

aK

6
26

34

56

88

118
132
142
152

174

210
238
250
272
282



MASTER SKYLARK



MASTER SKYLARK

CHAPTER I
THE LORD ADMIRAL’S PLAYERS

HERE was an unwonted buzzing in the east end of

Stratford on that next to the last day of April, 1596.

It was as if some one had thrust a stick into a hive of
bees and they had come whirling out to see.

The low stone guard-wall of old Clopton bridge, built a
hundred years before by rich Sir Hugh, sometime Mayor
of London, was lined with straddling boys, like strawber-
ries upon a spear of grass, and along the low causeway
from the west across the lowland to the town, brown-faced,
barefoot youngsters sat beside the roadway with their
chubby legs a-dangle down the mossy stones, staring
away into the south across the grassy levels of the valley
of the Stour.

Punts were poling slowly up the Avon to the bridge:
and at the outlets of the town, where the streets came down
to the waterside among the weeds, little knots of men and

serving-maids stood looking into the south and listening.
1 1



2 MASTER SKYLARK

Some had waited for an hour, some for two; yet still
there was no sound but the piping of the birds in white-
thorn hedges, the hollow lowing of kine knee-deep in
grassy meadows, and the long rush of the river through
the sedge beside the pebbly shore; and naught to see but
quiet valleys, primrose lanes, and Warwick orchards white
with bloom, stretching away to the misty hills.

But still they stood and looked and listened.

The wind came stealing up out of the south, soft and
warm and sweet and still, moving the ripples upon the
river with gray gusts; and, scudding free before the wind,
a dog came trotting up the road with wet pink tongue and
sidelong gait. At the throat of Clopton bridge he stopped
and scanned the way with dubious eye, then clapped his
tail between his legs and bolted for the town. The laugh-
ing shout that followed him into the Warwick road seemed
not to die away, but to linger in the air like the drowsy
hum of bees—a hum that came and went at intervals
upon the shifting wind, and grew by littles, taking body
till it came unbroken as a long, low, distance-muffled mur-
mur from the south, so faint as scarcely to be heard.

Nick Attwood pricked his keen young ears. “They ’re
coming, Robin—hark ’e to the trampling!”

Robin Getley held his breath and turned his ear toward
the south. The far-off murmur was a mutter now, defined
and positive, and, as the two friends listened, grew into a
drumming roll, and all at once above it came a shrill, high
sound like the buzzing of a gnat close by the ear.

Little Tom Davenant dropped from the finger-post, and



THE LORD ADMIRAL’S PLAYERS 3

came running up from the fork of the Banbury road, his
feet making little white puffs in the dust as he flew.
“They are coming! they are coming!” he shrieked as he
ran.

Then up to his feet sprang Robin Getley, upon the
saddle-backed coping-stones, his hand upon Nick Att-
wood’s head to steady himself, and looked away where
the rippling Stour ran like a thread of silver beside the
dust-buff London road, and the little church of Atherstone
stood blue against the rolling Cotswold Hills.

“They are coming! they are coming!” shrilled little
Tom, and scrambled up the coping like a squirrel up
a rail.

A stir ran out along the guard-wall, some crying out,
some starting up. “Sit down! sit down!” cried others,
peering askance at the water gurgling green down below.
“Sit down, or we shall all be off!”

Robin held his hand above his eyes. A cloud of dust
was rising from the London road and drifting off across
the fields like smoke when the old ricks burn in damp
weather—a long, broad-sheeted mist; and in it were bits
of moving gold, shreds of bright colors vaguely seen, and
silvery gleams like the glitter of polished metal in the
sun. And as he looked the shifty wind came down out of
the west again and whirled the cloud of dust away, and
there he saw a long line of men upon horses coming at an
easy canter up the highway. Just as he had made this out
the line came rattling to a stop, the distant drumming of
hoofs was still, and as the long file knotted itself into a



4 MASTER SKYLARK

rosette of ruddy color amid the April green, a clear, shrill
trumpet blew and blew again.

“They are coming!” shouted Robin, “they are com-
ing!” and, turning, waved his cap.

A shout went up along the bridge. Those down below
came clambering up, the punts came poling with a rush of
foam, and a ripple ran along the edge of Stratford town
like the wind through a field of wheat. Windows creaked
and doors swung wide, and the workmen stopped in the
garden-plots to lean upon their mattocks and to look.

“They are coming!” bellowed Rafe Hickathrift, the
butcher’s boy, standing far out in the street, with his red
hands to his mouth for a trumpet, “they are coming!”
and at that the doors of Bridge street grew alive with
eager eyes.

At early dawn the Oxford carrier had brought the news
that the players of the Lord High Admiral were coming
up to Stratford out of London from the south, to play on
May-day there; and this was what had set the town to
buzzing like a swarm. For there were in England then
but three great companies, the High Chamberlain’s, the
Earl of Pembroke’s men, and the stage-players of my
Lord Charles Howard, High Admiral of the Realm; and
the day on which they came into a Midland market-town
to play was one to mark with red and gold upon the
calendar of the uneventful year.

Away by the old mill-bridge there were fishermen
angling for dace and perch; but when the shout came
down from the London road they dropped their poles and



THE LORD ADMIRAL’S PLAYERS 5

ran, through the willows and over the gravel, splashing
and thrashing among the rushes and sandy shallows, not
to be last when the players came. And old John Carter,
coming down the Warwick road with a load of hay, laid on
the lash until piebald Dobbin snorted in dismay and broke
into a lumbering run to reach the old stone bridge in time.

The distant horsemen now were coming on again, riding
in double file. They had flung their banners to the breeze,
and on the changing wind, with the thumping of horses’
hoofs, came by snatches the sound of a kettledrummer
drawing his drumhead tight, and beating as he drew, and
the muffled blasts of a trumpeter proving his lips.

Fynes Morrison and Walter Stirley, who had gone to
Cowslip lane to meet the march, were running on ahead,
and shouting as they ran: “There ’s forty men, and
sumpter-mules! and, oh, the bravest banners and attire—
and the trumpets are a cloth-yard long! Make room for
us, make room for us, and let us up!”

A bowshot off, the trumpets blew a blast so high, so
clear, so keen, that it seemed a flame of fire in the air, and
as the brassy fanfare died away across the roofs of the
quiet town, the kettledrums clanged, the cymbals clashed,
and all the company began to sing the famous old song
of the hunt:

“The hunt is up, the hunt is up,
Sing merrily we, the hunt is up!
The wild birds sing,
The dun deer fling,
The forest aisles with musie ring!
Tantara, tantara, tantara !



6 MASTER SKYLARK

“Then ride along, ride along,
Stout and strong!
Farewell to grief and care;
With a rollicking cheer
For the high dun deer
And a life in the open air!
Tantara, the hunt is up, lads;
Tantara, the bugles bray !
Tantara, tantara, tantara,
Hio, hark away!”

The first of the riders had reached old Clopton bridge,
and the banners strained upon their staves in the freshen-
ing river-wind. The trumpeters and the drummers led,
their horses prancing, white plumes waving in the breeze,
and the April sunlight dancing on the brazen horns and
the silver bellies of the kettledrums.

Then came the banners of the company, curling down
with a silky swish, and unfurling again with a snap, like
a broad-lashed whip. The greatest one was rosy red, and
on it was a gallant ship upon a flowing sea, bearing upon
its mainsail the arms of my Lord Charles Howard, High
Admiral of England. Upon its mate was a giant-bearded
man with a fish’s tail, holding a trident in his hand and
blowing upon a shell, the Triton of the seas which Eng-
land ruled; this flag was bright sea-blue. The third was
white, and on it was a red wild rose with a golden heart,
the common standard of the company.

After the flags came twoscore men, the players of the
Admiral, the tiring-men, grooms, horse-boys, and serving-
knaves, well mounted on good horses, and all of them clad





THE LORD ADMIRAL’S PLAYERS. “THE TRUMPETERS AND THE DRUMMERS LED,
THEIR HORSES PRANCING, WHITE PLUMES WAVING IN THE BREEZE.”



THE LORD ADMIRAL’S PLAYERS 7

in scarlet tabards blazoned with the coat-armor of their
master. Upon their caps they wore the famous badge of
the Howards, a rampant silver demi-lion; and beneath
their tabards at the side could be seen their jerkins of
many-colored silk, their silver-buckled belts, and long, thin
Spanish rapiers, slapping their horses on the flanks at
every stride. Their legs were cased in high-topped riding-
boots of tawny cordovan, with gilt spurs, and the housings
of their saddles were of blue with the gilt anchors of the
admiralty upon them. On their bridles were jingling bits
of steel, which made a constant tinkling, like a thousand
little bells very far away.

Some had faces smooth as boys and were quite young;
and others wore sharp-pointed beards with stiff-waxed mus- ~
taches, and were older men, with a tinge of iron in their hair
and lines of iron in their faces, hardened by the life they
led; and some, again, were smooth-shaven, so often and so
closely that their faces were blue with the beard beneath
the skin. But, oh, to Nicholas Attwood and the rest of
Stratford boys, they were a dashing, rakish, admirable lot,
with the air of something even greater than lords, and a
keen knowingness in their sparkling, worldly eyes that
made a common wise man seem almost a fool beside them !

And so they came riding up out of the south:

“Then ride along, ride along,
Stout and strong!
Farewell to grief and care;
With a rollicking cheer

For the high dun deer
And a life in the open air!”



8 MASTER SKYLARK

“Hurrah! hurrah! God save the Queen!”

A dropping shout went up the street like an arrow-flight
scattering over the throng; and the players, waving their
scarlet caps until the long line tossed like a poppy-garden
in a summer rain, gave a cheer that fairly set the crockery
to dancing upon the shelves of the stalls in Middle Row.

“Hurrah!” shouted Nicholas Attwood, his blue eyes
shining with delight. “Hurrah, hurrah, for the Admiral’s
men!” And high in the air he threw his cap, as a wild
cheer broke from the eddying crowd, and the arches of
the long gray bridge rang hollow with the tread of hoofs.
Whiff, came the wind; down dropped the hat upon the
very saddle-peak of one tall fellow riding along among the
rest. Catching it quickly as it fell, he laughed and tossed
it back; and when Nick caught it whirling in the air, a
shilling jingled from it to the ground.

Then up Fore Bridge street they all trooped after into
Stratford town.

“Oh,” eried Robin, “it is brave, brave!”

“Brave?” eried Nick. “It makes my very heart jump.
And see, Robin, ’t is a shilling, a real silver shilling—oh,
what fellows they all be! Hurrah for the Lord High
Admiral’s men!”



CHAPTER II
NICHOLAS ATTWOOD’S HOME

ICK Attwood’s father came home that night bitterly
wroth.

The burgesses of the town council had ordered him to
build a chimney upon his house, or pay ten shillings fine;
and shillings were none too plenty with Simon Attwood,
the tanner of Old Town.

“Soul and body o’ man!” said he, “they talk as if they
owned the world, and a man could na live upon it save by
their leave. I must build my fire in a pipe, or pay ten
shillings fine? Things ha’ come to a pretty pass—a pretty
pass, indeed!” He kicked the rushes that were strewn
upon the floor, and ground the clay with his heel. “This
litter will ha’ to be all took out. Atkins will be here at
six ? the morning to do the job, and a lovely mess he will
make o’ the house!”

“ Do na fret thee, Simon,” said Mistress Attwood, gen-
tly. “The rushes need a changing, and I ha’ pined this
long while to lay the floor wi’ new clay from Shottery
common. "T is the sweetest earth! Nick shall take the

9



10 MASTER SKYLARK

hangings down, and right things up when the chimley ’s
done.”

So at cockcrow next morning Nick slipped out of his
straw bed, into his clothes, and down the winding stair,
while his parents were still asleep in the loft, and, sousing
his head in the bucket at the well, began his work before
the old town clock in the chapel tower had yet struck four.

The rushes had not been changed since Easter, and were
full of dust and grease from the cooking and the table.
Even the fresher sprigs of mint among them smelled stale
and old. When they were all in the barrow, Nick sighed
with relief and wiped his hands upon the dripping grass.

It had rained in the night,—a soft, warm rain,—and
the air was full of the smell of the apple-bloom and pear
from the little orchard behind the house. The bees were
already humming about the straw-bound hives along the
garden wall, and a misguided green woodpecker clung
upside down to the eaves, and thumped at the beams of
the house.

It was very still there in the gray of the dawn. He
could hear the rush of the water through the sedge in the
mill-race, and then, all at once, the roll of the wheel, the
low rumble of the mill-gear, and the cool whisper of the
wind in the willows.

When he went back into the house again the painted
cloths upon the wall seemed dingier than ever compared
with the clean, bright world outside. The sky-blue coat
of the Prodigal Son was brown with the winter’s smoke ;
the Red Sea towered above Pharaoh’s ill-starred host like



NICHOLAS ATTWOOD’S HOME 11

an inky mountain; and the homely maxims on the next
breadth— “ Do no Wrong,” “ Beware of Sloth,” “ Overcome
Pride,” and “Keep an Eye on the Pence”—could scarcely
be read.

Nick jumped up on the three-legged stool and began to
take them down. The nails were crooked and jammed in
the wall, and the last came out with an unexpected jerk.
Losing his balance, Nick caught at the table-board which
leaned against the wall ; but the stool capsized, and he came
down on the floor with such a flap of tapestry that the
ashes flew out all over the room.

He sat up dazed, and rubbed his elbows, then looked
around and began to laugh.

He could hear heavy footsteps overhead. A door
opened, and his father’s voice called sternly from the head
of the stair: “What madcap folly art thou up to now?”

“TI be up to no folly at all,” said Nick, “but down, sir.
J fell from the stool. There ’s no harm done.”

“Then be about thy business,” said Attwood, coming
slowly down the stairs.

He was a gaunt man, smelling of leather and untanned
hides. His short iron-gray hair grew low down upon his
forehead, and his hooked nose, grim wide mouth, and
heavy under jaw gave him a look at once forbidding and
severe. His doublet of serge and his fustian hose were
stained with liquor from the vats, and his eyes were
heavy with sleep.

The smile faded from Nick’s face. “Shall I throw the
rushes into the street, sir?”



12 MASTER SKYLARK

“Nay; take them to the muck-hill. The burgesses ha’
made a great to-do about folk throwing trash into the
highways. Soul and body o’ man!” he growled, “a man
must ask if he may breathe. And good hides going
a-begeing, too!”

Nick hurried away, for he dreaded his father’s sullen
moods.

The swine were squealing in their styes, the cattle
bawled about the straw-thatched barns in Chapel lane,
and long files of gabbling ducks waddled hurriedly down
to the river through the primroses under the hedge. He
could hear the milkmaids calling in the meadows; and
when he trundled slowly home the smoke was creeping up
in pale-blue threads from the draught-holes in the wall.

The tanner’s house stood a little back from the thor-
oughfare, in that part of Stratford-on-Avon where the
south end of Church street turns from Bull lane toward
the river. It was roughly built of timber and plaster, the
black beams showing through the yellow lime in curious
squares and triangles. The roof was of red tiles, and
where the spreading elms leaned over it the peaked gable
was green with moss.

At the side of the house was a garden of lettuce; be-
yond the garden a rough wall on which the grass was
growing. Sometimes wild primroses grew on top of this
wall, and once a yellow daffodil. Beyond the wall were
other gardens owned by thrifty neighbors, and open lands
in common to them all, where foot-paths wandered here
and there in a free, haphazard way.



NICHOLAS ATTWOOD’S HOME 13

Behind the house was a well and a wood-pile, and along
the lane ran a whitewashed paling fence with a little gate,
from which the path went up to the door through rows of
bright, old-fashioned flowers.

Nick’s mother was getting the breakfast. She was a
gentle woman with a sweet, kind face, and a little air of
quiet dignity that made her doubly dear to Nick by con-
trast with his father’s unkempt ways. He used to think
that, in her worsted gown, with its falling collar of Ant-
werp linen, and a soft, silken coif upon her fading hair,
she was the most beautiful woman in all the world.

She put one arm about his shoulders, brushed back his
curly hair, and kissed him on the forehead.

“Thou art mine own good little son,” said she, tenderly,
“and I will bake thee a cake in the new chimley on the
morrow for thy May-day feast.”

Then she helped him fetch the trestles from the buttery,
set the board, spread the cloth, and lay the wooden plat-
ters, pewter cups, and old horn spoons in place. Break-
fast being ready, she then called his father from the
yard. Nick waited deftly upon them both, so that they
were soon done with the simple meal of rye-bread, lettuce,
cheese, and milk.

As he carried away the empty platters and brought
water and a towel for them to wash their hands, he said
quietly, although his eyes were bright and eager, “The
Lord High Admiral’s company is to act astage-play at
the guildhall to-morrow before Master Davenant the
Mayor and the town burgesses.”



14 MASTER SKYLARK

Simon Attwood said nothing, but his brows drew down.

“They came yestreen from London town by Oxford
way to play in Stratford and at Coventry, and are at the
Swan Inn with Master Geoffrey Inchbold—oh, ever so
many of them, in scarlet jerkins, and cloth of gold, and
doublets of silk laced up like any lord! It is avery good
company, they say.”

Mistress Attwood looked quickly at her husband.
“What will they play?” she asked.

“T ean na say surely, mother—‘Tamburlane,’ perhaps,
or ‘The Troublesome Reign of Old King John” The play
will be free, father—may I go, sir?”

“ And lose thy time from school?”

“There is no school to-morrow, sir.”

“Then have ye naught to do, that ye waste the day in
idle folly?” asked the tanner, sternly.

“J will do my work beforehand, sir,” replied Nick,
quietly, though his hand trembled a little as he brushed
up the crumbs.

“Tt is May-day, Simon,” interceded Mistress Attwood,
“and a bit of pleasure will na harm the lad.”

“Pleasure?” said the tanner, sharply. “If he does na
find pleasure enough in his work, his book, and his home,
he shall na seek it of low rogues and strolling scape-
graces.”

“But, Simon,” said Mistress Attwood, “’t is the Lord
Admiral’s own company—surely they are not all graceless!
And,” she continued with very quiet dignity, “since mine
own cousin Anne Hathaway married Will Shakspere the



NICHOLAS ATTWOOD’S HOME 15

play-actor, ’t is scarcely kind to call all players rogues
and low.”

“No more o’ this, Margaret,” cried Attwood, flushing
angrily. “Thou art ever too ready with the boy’s part
against me. He shall na go—I ll find a thing or two for
him to do among the vats that will take this taste for
idleness out of his mouth. He shall na go: so that be all
there is on it.” Rising abruptly, he left the room.

Nick clenched his hands.

“Nicholas,” said his mother, softly.

“Yes, mother,” said he; “I know. But he should na
flout thee so! And, mother, the Queen goes to the play
—father himself saw her at Coventry ten years ago. Is
what the Queen does idle folly?”

His mother took him by the hand and drew him to her
side, with a smile that was half a sigh. “Art thou the
Queen?”

“Nay,” said he; “and it ’s all the better for England,
like enough. But surely, mother, it can na be wrong—”

“To honour thy father?” said she, quickly, laying her
finger across his lips. “Nay, lad; it is thy bounden
duty.”

Nick turned and looked up at her wonderingly.
“Mother,” said he, “art thou an angel come down out of
heaven?”

“Nay,” she answered, patting his flushed cheek; “I be
only the every-day mother of a fierce little son who hath
many a hard, hard lesson to learn. Now eat thy break-
fast—thou hast been up a long while.”



16 MASTER SKYLARK

Nick kissed her impetuously and sat down, but his heart
still rankled within him.

All Stratford would go to the play. He could hear the
murmur of voices and music, the bursts of laughter and
applause, the tramp of happy feet going up the guildhall
stairs to the Mayor’s show. Everybody went in free at the
Mayor’s show. The other boys could stand on stools and
see it all. They could hold horses at the gate of the inn
at the September fair, and so see all the farces. They
could see the famous Norwich puppet-play. But he—what
pleasure did he ever have? A tawdry pageant by a lot of
clumsy country bumpkins at Whitsuntide or Pentecost, or
a silly school-boy masque at Christmas, with the master
scolding like a heathen Turk. It was not fair.

And now he’d have to work all May-day. May-day
out of all the year! Why, there was to be a May-pole
and a morris-dance, and a roasted calf, too, in Master
Wainwright’s field, since Margery was chosen Queen of
the May. And Peter Finch was to be Robin Hood, and
Nan Rogers Maid Marian, and wear a kirtle of Kendal
green—and, oh, but the May-pole would be brave; high as
the ridge of the guildschool roof, and hung with ribbons
like a rainbow! Geoffrey Hall was to lead the dance,
too, and the other boys and girls would all be there. And
where would he be? Sousing hides in the tannery vats.
Truly his father was a hard man!

He pushed the cheese away.



CHAPTER III
THE LAST STRAW

ITTLE John Summer had a new horn-book that cost

a silver penny. The handle was carven and the

horn was clear as honey. The other little boys stood round

about in speechless envy, or murmured their A B C’s and

“ba be bi’s” along the chapel steps. The lower-form boys

were playing leap-frog past the almshouse, and Geoffrey

Gosse and the vicar’s son were in the public gravel-pit,

throwing stones at the robins in the Great House elms
across the lane.

Some few dull fellows sat upon the steps behind the
school-house, anxiously poring over their books. But the
larger boys of the Fable Class stood in an excited group
beneath the shadow of the overhanging second story of
the grammar-school, talking all at once, each louder than
the other, until the noise was deafening.

“Oh, Nick, such goings on!” called Robin Getley,
whose father was a burgess, as Nick Attwood came slowly
up the street, saying his sentences for the day over and

over to himself in hopeless desperation, having had no
2 17 .



18 MASTER SKYLARK

time to learn them at home. “Stratford Council has had
a quarrel, and there ’s to be no stage-play after all.”

“What?” cried Nick, in amazement. “No stage-play?
And why not?”

“Why,” said Robin, “it was just this way—my father
told me ofit. Sir Thomas Lucy, High Sheriff of Worces-
ter, y’ know, rode in from Charlcote yesternoon, and
with him Sir Edward Greville of Milcote. So the bur-
gesses made a feast for them at the Swan Inn. Sir
Thomas fetched a fine, fat buck, and the town stood good
for ninepence wine and twopence bread, and broached a
keg of sturgeon. And when they were all met together
there, eating, and drinking, and making merry—what?
Why, in came my Lord Admiral’s players from London
town, ruffling it like high dukes, and not caring two pops
for Sir Thomas, or Sir Edward, or for Stratford burgesses
all in a heap; but sat them down at the table straightway,
and called for ale, as if they owned the place; and not
being served as soon as they desired, they laid hands upon
Sir Thomas’s server as he came in from the buttery with
his tray full, and took both meat and drink.”

“What?” cried Nick.

“As sure as shooting, they did!” said Robin; “and
when Sir Thomas’s gentry yeomen would have seen to it
—what? Why, my Lord Admiral’s master-player clapped
his hand to his poniard-hilt, and dared them come and
take it if they could.”

“To Sir Thomas Lucy’s men?” exclaimed Nick, aghast.

“Ay, to their teeth! Sir Edward sprang up then, and



THE LAST STRAW 19

said it was a shame for players to penave so outrageously
in Will Shakspere’s own home town. And at that Sir
Thomas, who, y’ know, has always misliked Will, flared
up like a bull at a red rag, and swore that all stage-play-
ers be runagate rogues, anyway, and Will Shakspere
neither more nor less than a deer-stealing scape-gallows.”

“Surely he did na say that in Stratford Council?” pro-
tested Nick.

“Ay, but he did—that very thing,” said Robin; “and
when that was out, the master-player sprang upon the
table, overturning half the ale, and cried out that Will
Shakspere was his very own true friend, and the sweetest
fellow in all England, and that whosoever gainsaid it was
a hemp-cracking rascal, and that he would prove it upon
his back with a quarter-staff whenever and wherever he
chose, be he Sir Thomas Lucy, St. George and the Dragon,
Guy of Warwick, and the great dun cow, all rolled up in
one!”

“Robin Getley, is this the very truth, or art thou cozen-
ing me?”

“Upon my word, it is the truth,” said Robin. “And
that’s not all. Sir Edward cried out ‘Fie!’ upon the
player for a saucy varlet ; but the fellow only laughed, and
bowed quite low, and said that he took no offense from
Sir Edward for saying that, since it could not honestly be
denied, but that Sir Thomas did not know the truth from
a truckle-bed in broad daylight, and was but the remnant
of a gentleman to boot.”

“The bold-faced rogue!”



20 MASTER SKYLARK

“ Ay, that he is,” nodded Robin; “and for his boldness
Sir Thomas straightway demanded that the High Bailiff
refuse the company license to play in Stratford.”

“Refuse the Lord High Admiral’s players?”

“Marry, no one else. And then Master John Shakspere.
wroth at what Sir Thomas had said of his son Will, vowed
that he would send a letter down to London town, and lay
the whole coil before the Lord High Admiral himself.
For ever since that he was High Bailiff, the best compa-
nies of England had always been bidden to play in Strat-
ford, and it would be an ill thing now to refuse the Lord
Admiral’s company after granting licenses to both my
Lord Pembroke’s and the High Chamberlain’s.”

“ And so it would,” spoke up Walter Roche; “for there
are our own townsmen, Richard and Cuthbert Burbage,
who are cousins of mine, and John Hemynge and Thomas
Greene, besides Will Shakspere and his brother Edmund,
all playing in the Lord Chamberlain’s company in London
before the Queen. It would be a black score against them
all with the Lord Admiral—I doubt not he would pay
them out.”

“That he would,” said Robin, “and so said my father
and Alderman Henry Walker, who, y’ know, is Will
Shakspere’s own friend. And some of the burgesses who
cared not a rap for that were afeard of offending the
Lord Admiral. But Sir Thomas vowed that my Lord
Howard was at Cadiz with Walter Raleigh and the young
Earl of Sussex, and would by no means hear of it. So
Master Bailiff Stubbes, who, ’t is said, doth owe Sir Thomas



. THE LAST STRAW 21

forty pound, and is therefore under his thumb, forthwith
refused the company license to play in Stratford guild-
hall, inn-yard, or common. And at that the master-player
threw his glove into Master Stubbes’s face, and called
Sir Thomas a stupid old bell-wether, and Stratford bur-
gesses silly sheep for following wherever he chose to
jump.”

“ And so they be,” sneered Hal Saddler.

“How?” cried Robin, hotly. “My father is a burgess.
Dost thou call him a sheep, Hal Saddler?”

“Nay, nay,” stammered Hal, hastily; “’t was not thy
father I meant.”

“Then hold thy tongue with both hands,” said Robin,
sharply, ‘‘or it will crack thy pate for thee some of these
fine days.”

“But come, Robin,” asked Nick, eagerly, “ what became
of the quarrel?”

“Well, when the master-player threw his glove into
Master Stubbes’s face, the Chief Constable seized him for
contempt of Stratford Council, and held him for trial.
At that some cried ‘Shame!’ and some ‘Hurrah!’ but the
rest of the players fled out of town in the night, lest their
baggage be taken by the law and they be fined.”

“Whither did they go?” asked Nick, both sorry and
glad to hear that they were gone.

“To Coventry, and left the master-player behind in
gaol.”

“Why, they dare na use him so—the Lord Admiral’s
own man!”



22 MASTER SKYLARK

“Ay, that they don’t! Why, hark ’e, Nick! This
morning, since Sir Thomas has gone home, and the bur-
gesses’ heads have all cooled down from the sack and the
clary they were in last night, la! but they are in a pretty
stew, my father says, for fear that they have given offense
to the Lord Admiral. So they have spoken the master-
player softly, and given him his freedom out of hand, and
a long gold chain to twine about his cap, to mend the
matter with, beside.”

“Whee-ew!” whistled Nick. “I wish I were a master-
player !”

“Oh, but he will not be pleased, and says he will have
his revenge on Stratford town if he must needs wait until
the end of the world or go to the Indies after it. And
he has had his breakfast served in Master Geoffrey Inch-
bold’s own room at the Swan, and swears that he will
walk the whole way to Coventry sooner than straddle the
horse that the burgesses have sent him to ride.”

“What! Is he at the inn? Why, let’s go down and
see him.”

“Master Brunswood says that he will birch whoever
cometh late,” objected Hal Saddler.

“Birch?” groaned Nick. “Why, he does nothing but
birch! catching it. And as for getting through the ‘genitivo’
and ‘vocativo’ without a downright threshing—” He
shrugged his shoulders ruefully as he remembered his
unlearned lesson. Everything had gone wrong with him
that morning, and the thought of the birching that he



THE LAST STRAW 23

was sure to get was more than he could bear. “TIwillna
stand it any longer—I’ll run away!”

Kit Sedgewick laughed ironically. “And when the
skies fall well catch sparrows, Nick Attwood,” said he.
“Whither wilt thou run?”

Stung by his tone of ridicule, Nick out with the first
thing that came into his head. “To Coventry, after the
stage-players,” said he, defiantly.

The whole crowd gave an incredulous hoot.

Nick’s face flushed. To be crossed at home, to be
birched at school, to work all May-day in the tannery
vats, and to be laughed at—it was too much.

“Ye think that I will na? Well, I'll show ye! ’T is
only eight miles to Warwick, and hardly more than that
beyond—no walk at all; and Diccon Haggard, my
mother’s cousin, lives in Coventry. So out upon your
musty Latin— English is good enough for me this day!
There’s bluebells blowing in the dingles, and cuckoo-buds
no end. And while ye are all grinding at your old Alsop
I shall be roaming over the hills wherever I please.”

As he spoke he thought of the dark, wainscoted walls
of the school-room with their narrow little windows over-
head, of the foul-smelling floors of the tannery in Southam’s
lane, and his heart gave a great, rebellious leap. “Ay,”
said he, exultantly, “I shall be out where the birds can
sing and the grass is green, and I shall see the stage-play,
while ye will be mewed up all day long in school, and
have nothing but a beggarly morris and a farthing May-
pole on the morrow.”



24 MASTER SKYLARK

“Oh, no doubt, no doubt,” said Hal Saddler, mockingly
“We shall have but bread and milk, and thou shalt have
—a most glorious threshing from thy father when thou
comest home again!”

That was the last straw to Nick’s unhappy heart.

“'T ig a threshing either way,” said he, squaring his
shoulders doggedly. “Father will thresh me if I run
away, and Master Brunswood will thresh me if I don’t.
I'll not be birched four times a week for merely tripping
on a word, and have nothing to show for it but stripes.
If I must take a threshing, Ill have my good day’s game
out first.”

“But wilt thou truly go to Coventry, Nick?” asked
Robin Getley, earnestly, for he liked Nick more than all
the rest.

“Ay, truly, Robin—that I will”; and, turning, Nick
walked swiftly away toward the market-place, never look-
ing back.



CHAPTER IV
OFF FOR COVENTRY

T the Bridge street crossing Nick paused irresolute.
Around the public pump a chattering throng of
housewives were washing out their towels and hanging
them upon the market-cross to dry. Along the stalls in
Middle Row the grumbling shopmen were casting up their
sales from tallies chalked upon their window-ledges, or
euffing their tardy apprentices with no light hand.

John Gibson’s cart was hauling gravel from the pits in
Henley street to mend the causeway at the bridge, which
had been badly washed by the late spring floods, and the
fine sand dribbled from the cart-tail like the sand in av
hour-glass.

Here and there loutish farm-hands waited for work;
and at the corner two or three stout cudgel-men leaned
upon their long staves, although the market was two
days closed, and there was not a Coventry merchant in
sight to be driven away from Stratford trade.

Goody Baker with her shovel and broom of twigs was

sweeping up the market litter in the square. Nick won:
25



26 MASTER SKYLARK

dered if his own mother’s back would be so bent when
she grew old.

“Whur be-est going, Nick?”

Roger Dawson sat astride a stick of timber in front of
Master Geoffrey Thompson’s new house, watching Tom
Carpenter the carver cut fleur-de-lis and curling traceries
upon the front wall beams. He was a tenant-farmer’s
son, this Roger, and a likely good-for-naught.

“To Coventry,” said Nick, curtly

“Wilt take a fellow wi’ thee?”

Poor company might be better than none.

“Come on.”

Roger lumbered to his feet and trotted after.

“No school to-day?” he asked.

“Not for me,” answered Nick, shortly, for he did not
eare to talk about it.

“Faither wull na have I go to school, since us ha’ comed
to town, an’ plough-land sold for grazings,” drawled
Roger; “Muster Pine o’ Welford saith that I ha’ learned
as much as faither ever knowed, an’ ’t is enow for I.
Faither saith it maketh saucy rogues o’ sons to know
more than they’s own dads.”

Nick wondered if it did. His own father could neither
read nor write, while he could do both and had some Latin,
too. At the thought of the Latin he made a wry face.

“Joe Carter be-eth in the stocks,” said Roger, peering
through the jeering crowd about the pillory and post; “a
broke Tom Samson’s pate wi’ ’s ale-can yestreen.”

But Nick pushed on. A few ruddy-faced farmers and







ASKED ROGER DAWSON,”

“WHUR BE-EST GOING, NICK?’



OFF FOR COVENTRY 27

drovers from the Red Horse Vale still lingered at the
Boar Inn door and by the tap-room of the Crown; and in
the middle of the street a crowd of salters, butchers, and
dealers in hides, with tallow-smeared doublets and doubt-
ful hose, were squabbling loudly about the prices set upon
their wares.

In the midst of them Nick saw his father, and scurried
away into Back Bridge street as fast as he could, feeling
very near a sneak, but far from altering his purpose.

“Job Hortop,” said Simon Attwood to his apprentice at
his side, looking out suddenly over the crowd, “ was that
my Nick yonder?”

“Nay, master, could na been,” said Job, stolidly ; “ Nick
be-eth in school by now—the clock ha struck. ’T was
Dawson’s Hodge and some like ne’er-do-well.”



CHAPTER V
IN THE WARWICK ROAD

HE land was full of morning sounds as the lads

trudged along the Warwick road together. An ax

rang somewhere deep in the woods of Arden; cart-wheels

ruttled on the stony road; a blackbird whistled shrilly in

the hedge, and they heard the deep-tongued belling of
hounds far off in Fulbroke park.

Now and then a heron, rising from the river, trailed its
long legs across the sky, or a kingfisher sparkled in his
own splash. Once a lonely fisherman down by the Avon
started a wild duck from the sedge, and away it went pat-
tering up-stream with frightened wings and red feet
running along the water. And then a river-rat plumped
into the stream beneath the willows, and left a long string
of bubbles behind him.

Nick’s ill humor soon wore off as he breathed the fresh
air, moist from lush meadows, and sweet from hedges pink
and white with hawthorn bloom. The thought of being
pent up on such a day grew more and more unbearable,
and a blithe sense of freedom from all restraint blunted

the prick of conscience.
28



IN THE WARWICK ROAD 29

“Why art going to Coventry, Nick?” inquired Roger.
suddenly, startled by a thought coming into his wits like
a child by a bat in the room.

“To see the stage-play that the burgesses would na allow
in Stratford.”

“Wull I see, too?”

“Tf thou hast eyes—the Mayor's show is free.”

“Oh, feckins, wun’t it be fine?” gaped Hodge. “Be it
a tailors’ show, Nick, wi? Herod the King, and a rope for
to hang Judas? An’ wull they set the world afire wi’ a
torch, an’ make the earth quake fearful wi’ a barrel full
o’ stones? Or wullit be Sin in a motley gown a-thumping
the Black Man over the pate wi’ a bladder full 0’ peasen—
aw’ angels wi’ silver wingses, an’ saints wi’ goolden hair?
Or wull it be a giant nine yards high, clad in the beards
o’ murdered kings, like granny saith she used to see?”

“Pshaw! no,” said Nick; “none of those old-fashioned
things. These be players from London town, and I hope
they ll play a right good English history-play, like ‘The
Famous Victories of Henry Fift, to turn a fellow’s legs
all goose-flesh ! ”

Hodge stopped short in the road. “La!” said he, “1711
go no furder if they turn me to a goose. I wunnof be
turned goose, Nick Attwood—an’ a plague on all witches,
says I!”

“Oh, pshaw!” laughed Nick; “come on. No witch in
the world could turn thee bigger goose than thou art now.
Come along wi’ thee; there be no witches there at all.”

“ Art sure thou ’rt not bedaffing me?” hesitated Hodge



30 MASTER SKYLARK

“Good, then; I be na feared. Art sure there be no
witches?”

“Why,” said Nick, “would Master Burgess John Shak-
spere leave his son Will to do with witches?”

“T dunno,” faltered Hodge; “a told Muster Robin
Bowles it was na right to drownd ’em in the river.”

Nick hesitated. “Maybe it kills the fish,” said he; “and
Master Will Shakspere always liked to fish. But they
burn witches in London, Hodge, and he has na put a stop
to it—and he’s a great man in London town.”

Hodge came on a little way, shaking his head like an
old sheep in a corner. “Wully Shaxper a great man?”
said he. “Why, a’s name be cut on the old beech-tree up
Snitterfield lane, where ’s uncle Henry Shaxper lives, an’
% is but poorly done. I could do better wi? my own
whittle.”

“ Ay, Hodge,” cried Nick; “and that’s about all thou
canst do. Dost think that a man’s greatness hangs on so
little a thing as his sleight of hand at cutting his name on
a tree?”

“Wull, maybe; maybe not; but if a be a great man,
Nick Attwood, a might do a little thing passing well—so
there, now!”

Nick pondered for a moment. “Ido na know,” said he,
slowly ; “heaps of men can do the little things, but parlous
few the big. So some one must be bigging it, or folks
would all sing very small. And he doeth the big most
beautiful, they say. They call him the Swan of Avon.”

“ Avon swans be mostly geese,” said Hodge, vacantly.



IN THE WARWICK ROAD 31

“Now, look ’e here, Hodge Dawson, don’t thou be call-
ing Master Will Shakspere goose. He married my own
mother’s cousin, and I will na have it.”

“Ta, now,” drawled Hodge, staring, “’t is nowt to me.
Thy Muster Wully Shaxper may be all the long-necked
fowls in Warrickshire for all I care. And, anyway, I’d
like to know, Nick Attwood, since when hath a been ‘ Mus-
ter Shaxper’—that ne’er-do-well, play-actoring fellow?”

“Ne’er-do-well? It is na so. When he was here last
summer he was bravely dressed, and had a heap of good
gold nobles in his purse. And he gave Rick Hawkins,
that ’s blind of an eye, a shilling for only holding his
horse.”

“Oh, ay,” drawled Hodge; “a fool and a’s money be
soon parted.”

“Will Shakspere is no fool,” declared Nick, hotly.
“He’s made a peck o’ money there in London town, and’s
going to buy the Great House in Chapel lane, and come
back here to live.”

“Then a’s a witless azzy!” blurted Hodge. “If a’s
so great a man amongst the lords and earlses, a ’d na
come back to Stratford. An’ I say a’s a witless loon—
so there!”

Nick whirled around in the road. “And I say, Hodge
Dawson,” he exclaimed with flashing eyes, “that ’t is a
shame for a lout like thee to so miscall thy thousand-time
betters. And what’s more, thou shalt unsay that, or I
will make thee swallow thy words right here and now!”

“T 'd loike to see thee try,” Hodge began; but the words



32 MASTER SKYLARK

were scarcely out of his mouth when he found himself
stretched on the grass, Nick Attwood bending over him.

“There! thou hast seen it tried. Now come, take that
back, or I will surely box thine ears for thee.”

Hodge blinked and gaped, collecting his wits, which
had scattered to the four winds. “Whoy,” said he,
vaguely, “if ’t is all o’ that to thee, I take it back.”

Nick rose, and Hodge scrambled clumsily to his feet.
“TIL na go wi’ thee,” said he, sulkily ; “I will na go whur
I be whupped.”

Nick turned on his heel without a word, and started on.

“ An’ what ’s more,” bawled Hodge after him, “thy
Muster Wully Shaxper be-eth an old gray goose, an’ boo
to he, says I!”

As he spoke he turned, dived through the thin hedge,
and galloped across the field as if an army were at his
heels.

Nick started back, but quickly paused. “Thou needst
na run,” he called; “I’ve not the time to catch thee now.
But mind ye this, Hodge Dawson: when I do come back,
I’ll teach thee who thy betters be—Will Shakspere first
of all!”

“Well crowed, well crowed, my jolly cockerel!” on a
sudden called a keen, high voice beyond the hedge behind
him.

Nick, startled, whirled about just in time to see a
stranger leap the hedge and come striding up the road.



CHAPTER VI
THE MASTER-PLAYER

E had trim, straight legs, this stranger, and a slen-
der, lithe body in a tawny silken jerkin. Square-
shouldered, too, was he, and over one shoulder hung a
plum-colored cloak bordered with gold braid. His long
hose were the color of his cloak, and his shoes were russet
leather, with rosettes of plum, and such high heels as Nick
had never seen before. His bonnet was of tawny velvet,
with a chain twisted round it, fastened by a jeweled brooch
through which was thrust a curly cock-feather. A fine
white Holland-linen shirt peeped through his jerkin at the
throat, with a broad lace collar; and his short hair curled
erisply all over his head. He had a little pointed beard,
and the ends of his mustache were twisted so that they
stood up fiercely on either side of his sharp nose. At his
side was a long Italian poniard in a sheath of russet leather
and silver filigree, and he had a reckless, high and mighty

fling about his stride that strangely took the eye.

Nick stood, all taken by surprise, and stared.
The stranger seemed to like it, but scowled nevertheless.
8 33



34 MASTER SKYLARK

“What! How now?” he cried sharply. “Dost like or
like me not?”

“Why, sir?’ stammered Nick, utterly lost for anything
to say—“why, sir,—” and knowing nothing else to do, he
took off his cap and bowed.

“Come, come,” snapped the stranger, stamping his foot,
“T am a swashing, ruffling, desperate Dick, and not to be
made a common jest for Stratford dolts to giggle at
What! These legs, that have put on the very gentleman
in proud Verona’s streets, laid in Stratford’s common
stocks, like a silly apprentice’s slouching heels? Nay,
nay ; some one should taste old Bless-his-heart here first !”
and with that he clapped his hand upon the hilt of his
poniard, with a wonderful swaggering tilt of his shoulders.
“Dost take me, boy ?”

“Why, sir)’ hesitated Nick, no little awed by the
stranger’s wild words and imperious way, “ye surely are
the master-player.”

“There!” cried the stranger, whirling about, as if defy-
ing some one in the hedge. “Who said I could not act?
Why, see, he took me at a touch! Say, boy,” he laughed,
and turned to Nick, “thou art no fool. Why, boy, I say
I love thee now for this, since what hath passed in Strat-
ford. A murrain on the town! Dost hear me, boy ?—a
black murrain on the town!” And all at once he made
such a fierce stride toward Nick, gritting his white teeth,
and clapping his hand upon his poniard, that Nick drew
back afraid of him.

“But nay,” hissed the stranger, and spat with scorn;





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wes.

¢ ~
ee SN



“«WHAT! HOW NOW?’ CRIED THE STRANGER, SHARPLY. ‘DOST LIKE OR
LIKE ME NOT??”





THE MASTER-PLAYER 35

“a town like that is its own murrain—let it sicken on
itself!”

He struck an attitude, and waved his hand as if he were
talking quite as much to the trees and sky as he was to
Nick Attwood, and looked about him as if waiting for ap-
plause. Then all at once he laughed,—a rollicking, merry
laugh,—and threw off his furious manner as one does an
old coat. “ Well, boy,” said he, with a quiet smile, looking
kindly at Nick, “thou art a right stanch little friend to
all of us stage-players. And I thank thee for it in Will
Shakspere’s name; for he is the sweetest fellow of us all.”

His voice was simple, frank, and free—so different from
the mad tone in which he had just been ranting that Nick
caught his breath with surprise.

“Nay, lad, look not so dashed,” said the master-player,
merrily ; “that was only old Jem Burbage’s mighty tragic
style; and I—I am only Gaston Carew, hail-fellow-well-
met with all true hearts. Be known to me, lad; what is
thy name? I like thy open, pretty face.”

Nick flushed. “Nicholas Attwood is my name, sir.”

“Nicholas Attwood? Why, it is a good name. Nick
Attwood,—young Nick,—I hope Old Nick will never catch
thee—upon my word I do, and on the remnant of mine
honour! Thou hast taken a player’s part like a man, and
thou art a good fellow, Nicholas Attwood, and I love thee.
So thou art going to Coventry to see the players act?
Surely thine is a nimble wit to follow fancy nineteen miles.
Come; I am going to Coventry to join my fellows. Wilt
thou go with me, Nick, and dine with us this night at the



36 MASTER SKYLARK

best inn in all Coventry—the Blue Boar? Thou hast quite
plucked up my downcast heart for me, lad, imdeed thou
hast; for I was sore of Stratford town—aud I shall not
soon forget thy plucky fending for our own sweet Will
Come, say thou wilt go with me.”

“Indeed, sir,’ said Nick, bowing again, his head all in a
whirl of excitement at this wonderful adventure, “indeed
I will, and that right gladly, sir.” And with heart beat-
ing like a trip-hammer he walked along, cap in hand, not
knowing that his head was bare.

The master-player laughed a simple, hearty laugh.
“Why, Nick,” said he, laying his hand caressingly upon
the boy’s shoulder, “I am no such great to-do as all that
—upon my word, I’m not! A man of some few parts,
perhaps, not common in the world; but quite a plain
fellow, after all. Come, put off this high humility and be
just friendly withal. Put on thy cap; we are but two good
faring-fellows here.”

So Nick put on his cap, and they went on together, Nick
in the seventh heaven of delight.

About a mile beyond Stratford, Welecombe wood creeps
down along the left. Just beyond, the Dingles wind
irregularly up from the foot-path below to the crest of
Welcombe hill, through straggling clumps and briery
hollows, sweet with nodding bluebells, ash, and hawthorn

Nick and the master-player paused a moment at the top
to catch their breath and to look back.

Stratford and the valley of the Avon lay spread before
them like a picture of peace, studded with blossoming



THE MASTER-PLAYER 37

orchards and girdled with spring. Northward the forest
of Arden clad the rolling hills. Southward the fields of
Feldon stretched away to the blue knolls beyond which lay
Oxford and Northamptonshire. The ragged stretches of
Snitterfield downs scrambled away to the left; and on the
right, beyond Bearley, were the wooded uplands where
Guy of Warwick and Heraud of Arden slew the wild ox
and the boar. And down through the midst ran the Avon
southward, like a silver ribbon slipped through Kendal
green, to where the Stour comes down, past Luddington.
to Bidford, and away to the misty hills.

“Why,” exclaimed the master-player—“ why, upon my
word, it is a fair town—as fair a town as the heart of man
could wish. Wish? I wish ’t were sunken in the sea,
with all its pack of fools! Why,” said he, turning wrath-
fully upon Nick, “that old Sir Thingumbob of thine, down
there, called me a caterpillar on the kingdom of England,
a vagabond, and a common player of interludes! Called
me vagabond! Me! Why, I have more good licenses
than he has wits. And as to Master Bailiff Stubbes, I
have permits to play from more justices of the peace than
he can shake a stick at in a month of Sundays!” He
shook his fist wrathfully at the distant town, and gnawed
his mustache until one side pointed up and the other down.
“But, hark ’e, boy, I ll have my vengeance on them all—
ay, that will I, upon my word, and on the remnant of mine
honour—or else my name’s not Gaston Carew!”

“Ts it true, sir,” asked Nick, hesitatingly, “that they
despitefully handled you?”



38 MASTER SKYLARK

“With their tongues, ay,” said Carew, bitterly ; “but not
otherwise.” He clapped his hand upon his poniard, and
threw back his head defiantly. “They dared not come to
blows—they knew my kind! Yet John Shakspere is no
bad sort—he knoweth what is what. But Master Bailiff
Stubbes, I ween, is a long-eared thing that brays for
thistles. I ‘ll thistle him! He called Will Shakspere
rogue. Hast ever looked through a red glass?”

“Nay,” said Nick.

“Well, it turns the whole world red. And so it is with
Master Stubbes. He looks through a pair of rogue’s eyes
and sees the whole world rogue. Why, boy,” cried the
master-player, vehemently, “he thought to buy my
tongue! Marry, if tongues were troubles he has bought
himself a peck! What! Buy my silence? Nay, he ’ll
see a deadly flash of silence when I come to my Lord the
Admiral again!”



CHAPTER VII
“WELL SUNG, MASTER SKYLARK!”

T was past high noon, and they had long since left War-
wick castle far behind. “Nicholas,” said the master-
player, in the middle of a stream of amazing stories of life
in London town, “there is Blacklow knoll.” He pointed
to a little hill off to the left.

Nick stared; he knew the tale: how grim old Guy de
Beauchamp had Piers Gaveston’s head upon that hill for
calling him the Black Hound of Arden.

“Ah!” said Carew, “times have changed since then,
boy, when thou couldst have a man’s head off for calling
thee a name—or I would have yon Master Bailiff Stubbes’s
head off short behind the ears—and Sir Thomas Lucy’s
too!” he added, with a sudden flash of anger, gritting his
teeth and clenching his hand upon his poniard. “But,
Nicholas, hast anything to eat?”

“Nothing at all, sir.”

Master Carew pulled from his pouch some barley-cakes
and half a small Banbury cheese, yellow as gold and with
a keen, sharp savour. “’T is enough for both of us,” said

39



40 MASTER SKYLARK

he, as they came to a shady little wood with a clear,
mossy-bottomed spring running down into a green meadow
with a mild noise, murmuring among the stones. “Come
along, Nicholas; we ’ll eat it under the trees.”

He had a small flask of wine, but Nick drank no wine,
and went down to the spring instead. There was a wild
bird singing in a bush there, and as he trotted down the
slope it hushed its wandering tune. Nick took the sound
up softly, and stood by the wet stones a little while,
imitating the bird’s trilling note, and laughing to hear it
answer timidly, as if it took him for some great new bird
without wings. Cocking its shy head and watching him
shrewdly with its beady eye, it sat, almost persuaded that
it was only size which made them different, until Nick
clapped his cap upon his head and strolled back, singing
as he went.

It was only the thread of an old-fashioned madrigal
which he had often heard his mother sing, with quaint
words long since gone out of style and hardly to be un-
derstood, and between the staves a warbling, wordless re-
frain which he had learned out on the hills and in the
fields, picked up from a bird’s glad-throated morning-
song.

He had always sung the plain-tunes in church without
taking any particular thought about it; and he sang
easily, with a clear young voice which had a full, flute-
like note in it like the high, sweet song of a thrush singing
in deep woods.

Gaston Carew, the master-player, was sitting with his



“WELL SUNG, MASTER SKYLARK!” 41

back against an oak, placidly munching the last of the
cheese, when Nick began to sing. He started, straighten-
ing up as if some one had called him suddenly out of a
sound sleep, and, turning his head, listened eagerly.

Nick mocked the wild bird, called again with a mellow,
warbling trill, and then struck up the quaint old madrigal
with the bird’s song running through it. Carew leaped to
his feet, with a flash in his dark eyes. “My soul! my
soul!” he exclaimed in an excited undertone. “It is not
—nay, it cannot be—why, ’t is—it is the boy! Upon my
heart, he hath a skylark prisoned in his throat! Well
sung, well sung, Master Skylark!” he cried, clapping his
hands in real delight, as Nick came singing up the bank.
“Why, lad, I vow I thought thou wert up in the sky some-
where, with wings to thy back! Where didst thou learn
that wonder-song?”

Nick colored up, quite taken aback. “I do na know,
sir,” said he; “mother learned me part, and the rest just
came, I think, sir.”

The master-player, his whole face alive and eager, now
stared at Nicholas Attwood as fixedly as Nick had stared
at him.

It was a hearty little English lad he saw, about eleven
years of age, tall, slender, trimly built, and fair. A gray
cloth cap clung to the side of his curly yellow head, and
he wore a sleeveless jerkin of dark-blue serge, gray home-
spun hose, and heelless shoes of russet leather. The white
sleeves of his linen shirt were open to the elbow, and his
arms were lithe and brown. His eyes were frankly clear



42 MASTER SKYLARK

and blue, and his red mouth had a trick of smiling that
went straight to a body’s heart.

“Why, lad, lad,” cried Carew, breathlessly, “thou hast
a very fortune in thy throat!”

Nick looked up in great surprise ; and at that the master
player broke off suddenly and said no more, though such
a strange light came creeping into his eyes that Nick, after
meeting his fixed stare for a moment, asked uneasily if
they would not better be going on.

Without a word the master-player started. Something
had come into his head which seemed to more than fill his
mind ; for as he strode along he whistled under his breath
and laughed softly to himself. Then again he snapped
his fingers and took a dancing step or two across the road,
and at last fell to talking aloud to himself, though Nick
could not make out a single word he said, for it was in
some foreign language.

“Nicholas,” he said suddenly, as they passed the wind-
ing lane that leads away to Kenilworth—“ Nicholas, dost
know any other songs like that?”

“Not just like that, sir,” answered Nick, not knowing
what to make of his companion’s strange new mood;
“but I know Master Will Shakspere’s ‘Then nightly
sings the staring owl, tu-who, tu-whit, tu-who!’ and
‘The ousel-cock so black of hue, with orange-tawny bill,’
and then, too, I know the throstle’s song that goes with
it.”

“Why, to be sure—to be sure thou knowest old Nick
Bottom’s song, for is n’t thy name Nick? Well met, both



“WELL SUNG, MASTER SKYLARK!” 43

song and singer—well met, I say! Nay,” he said hastily,
seeing Nick about to speak; “I do not care to hear thee
talk. Sing me all thy songs. I am hungry as a wolf for
songs. Why, Nicholas, I must have songs! Come, lift
up that honeyed throat of thine and sing another song.
Be not so backward; surely I love thee, Nick, and thou
wilt sing all of thy songs for me.”

He laid his hand on Nick’s shoulder in his kindly way,
and kept step with him like a bosom friend, so that Nick’s
heart beat high with pride, and he sang all the songs he
knew as they walked along.

Carew listened intently, and sometimes with a fierce
eagerness that almost frightened the boy; and sometimes
he frowned, and said under his breath, “Tut, tut, that
will not do!” but oftener he laughed without a sound,
nodding his head in time to the lilting tune, and seeming
vastly pleased with Nick, the singing, and last, but not
least, with himself.

And when Nick had ended the master-player had not
a word to say, but for half a mile gnawed his mustache in
nervous silence, and looked Nick all over with a long and
earnest look.

Then suddenly he slapped his thigh, and tossed his head
back boldly. “TI/’ll do it,’ he said; “Ill do it if I dance
on air for it! Ill have it out of Master Stubbes and
canting Stratford town, or may I never thrive! My soul!
it is the very thing. His eyes are like twin holidays, and
he breathes the breath of spring. Nicholas, Nicholas Sky-
lark,—Master Skylark, —why, it is a good name, in sooth,



44 MASTER SKYLARK

avery good name! I'll do it—I will, upon my word, and
on the remnant of mine honour!”

“Did ye speak to me, sir?” asked Nick, timidly.

“Nay, Nicholas; I was talking to the moon.”

“Why, sir, the moon has not come yet,” said Nick, star-
ing into the western sky.

“To be sure,” replied Master Carew, with a queer laugh.
“Well, the silvery jade has missed the first act.”

“Oh,” eried Nick, reminded of the purpose of his long

walk, “what will ye play for the Mayor’s play, sir?”
' “T don’t know,” replied Carew, carelessly ; “it will all
be done before I come. They will have had the free play
this afternoon, so as to catch the pence of all the May-day
erowd to-morrow.”

Nick stopped in the road, and his eyes filled up with
tears, so quick and bitter was the disappointment. “Why,”
he cried, with a tremble in his tired voice, “I thought the
free play would be on the morrow—and now I have not a
farthing to go in!”

“Tut, tut, thou silly lad!” laughed Carew, frankly ;
“am I thy friend for naught? What! let thee walk all
the way to Coventry, and never see the play? Nay, on
my soul! Why, Nick, I love thee, lad; and I ll do for
thee in the twinkling of an eye. Canst thou speak lines
by heart? Well, then, say these few after me, and bear
them in thy mind.”

And thereupon he hastily repeated some half a dozen
disconnected lines in a high, reciting tone.

“Why, sir,” cried Nick, bewildered, “it is a part!”



“WELL SUNG, MASTER SKYLARK!” 45

“Po be sure,” said Carew, laughing, “it is a part—and
a part of a very good whole, too—a comedy by young
Tom Heywood, that would make a graven image split its
sides with laughing; and do thou just learn that part,
good Master Skylark, and thou shalt say it in to-morrow’s
play.”

“What, Master Carew!” gasped Nick. “I—truly?
With the Lord Admiral’s players?”

“Why, to be sure!” cried the master-player, in great
glee, clapping him upon the back. “ Didst think I meant
a parcel of dirty tinkers? Nay, lad; thou art just the
very fellow for the part—my lady’s page should be a
pretty lad, and, soul o’ me, thou art that same! And,
Nick, thou shalt sing Tom Heywood’s newest song. It is
a pretty song; it is a lark-song like thine own.”

Nick could hardly believe his ears. To act with the
Lord Admiral’s company! To sing with them before ail
Coventry! It passed the wildest dream that he had ever
dreamed. What would the boys in Stratford say? Aha!
they would laugh on the other side of their mouths now!

“But will they have me, sir?” he asked doubtfully.

“Have thee?” said Master Carew, haughtily. “If I
say go, thou shalt go. Iam master here. And I tell thee,
Nick, that thou shalt see the play, and be the play, in part,
and—well, we shall see what we shall see.”

With that he fell to humming and chuckling to himself,
as if he had swallowed a water-mill, while Nick turned.
ecstatic cart-wheels along the grass beside the road. until
presently Coventry came in sight.



CHAPTER VIII
THE ADMIRAL’S COMPANY

HE ancient city of Coventry stands upon a little hill,
with old St. Michael’s steeple and the spire of Holy
Trinity church rising above it against the sky; and as the
master-player and the boy came climbing upward from
the south, walls, towers, chimneys, and red-tiled roofs
were turned to gold by the glow of the setting sun.

To Nick it seemed as if a halo overhung the town—a
ruddy glory and a wonder bright; for here the Grey Friars
of the great monastery had played their holy mysteries
and miracle-plays for over a hundred years; here the
trade-guilds had held their pageants when the friars’ day
was done; here were all the wonders that old men told by
winter fires.

People were coming and going through the gates like
bees about a hive, and in the distance Nick could hear
the sound of many voices, the rush of feet, wheels, and
hoofs, and the shrill pipe of music. Here and there were
little knots of country folk making holiday: a father and

mother with a group of rosy children; a lad and his lass,
46



THE ADMIRAL’S COMPANY 47

spruce in new finery, and gay with bits of ribbon—merry
groups that were ever changing. Gay banners flapped
on tall ash staves. The suburb fields were filled with
booths and tents and stalls and butts for archery. The
very air seemed eager with the eve of holiday.

But what to Nick was breathless wonder was to Carew
only a twice-told tale; so he pushed through the crowded
thoroughfares, amid a throng that made Nick’s head spin
round, and came quickly to the Blue Boar Inn.

The court was crowded to the gates with horses, trav-
elers, and serving-men ; and here and there and everywhere
rushed the busy innkeeper, with a linen napkin fluttering
on his arm, his cap half off, and in his hot hand a pewter
flagon, from which the brown ale dripped in spatters on
his fat legs as he flew.

“They ’re here,” said Carew, looking shrewdly about;
“for there is Gregory Goole, my groom, and Stephen
Magelt, the tire-man. In with thee, Nicholas.”

He put Nick before him with a little air of patronage,
and pushed him into the room.

It was a large, low chamber with heavy beams overhead,
hung with leather jacks and pewter tankards. Around
the walls stood rough tables, at which a medley of guests
sat eating, drinking, dicing, playing at cards, and talking
loudly all at once, while the tapster and the cook’s knave
sped wildly about.

At a great table in the midst of the riot sat the Lord
High Admiral’s players—a score or more loud-swashing
gallants, richly clad in ruffs and bands, embroidered



48 MASTER SKYLARK

shirts, Italian doublets slashed and laced, Venetian hose,
gay velvet caps with jeweled bands, and every man a pon-
iard or a rapier at his hip. Nick felt very much like a little
brown sparrow in a flock of gaudy Indian birds.

The board was loaded down with meat and drink, and
some of the players were eating with forks, a new trick
from the London court, which Nick had never seen
before. But all the diners looked up when Carew’s face
was recognized, and welcomed him with a deafening
shout.

He waved his hand for silence.

“Thanks for these kind plaudits, gentle friends,” said
he, with a mocking air; “I have returned.”

“Yes; we see that ye have, Gaston,” they all shouted,
and laughed again.

“Ay,” said he, thrusting his hand into his pouch, “ye
fled, and left me to be spoiled by the spoiler, but ye see I
have left the spoiler spoiled.”

Lifting his hand triumphantly, he shook in their faces
the golden chain that the burgesses of Stratford had given
him, and then, laying his hand upon Nick’s shoulder,
bowed to them all, and to him with courtly grace, and said:
“Be known, be known, all! Gentlemen, my Lord Admi-
ral’s Players, Master Nicholas Skylark, the sweetest singer
in all the kingdom of England!”

Nick’s cheeks fiushed hotly, and his eyes fell; for they
all stared curiously, first at him, and then at Carew stand-
ing up behind him, and several grinned mockingly and
winked in a knowing way. He stole a look at Carew; but



THE ADMIRAL’S COMPANY 49

the master-player’s face was frank and quite unmoved, so
that Nick felt reassured.

“Why, sirs,” said Carew, as some began to laugh and to
speak to one another covertly, “it is no jest. He hath a
sweeter voice than Cyril Davy’s, the best woman’s-voice in
all London town. Upon my word, it is the sweetest voice
a body ever heard—outside of heaven and the holy
angels!” He lowered his tone and bowed his head a
little. “I?ll stake mine honour on it!”

“Hast any, Gaston?” called a jeering voice, whereat the
whole room roared.

But Carew cried again in a high voice that would be
heard above the noise: “Now, hark ’e; what I say is so.
It is, upon my word, and on the remnant of mine honour!
And to-morrow ye shall see, for Master Skylark is to sing
and play with us.”

When he had said that, nothing would do but Nick must
sit down and eat with them; so they made a place for him
and for Master Carew.

Nick bent his head and said a grace, at which some of
them laughed, until Carew shook his head with a stern
frown ; and before he ate he bowed politely to them all, as
his mother had taught him to do. They all bowed mock-
ingly, and hilariously offered him wine, which, when he
refused, they pressed upon him, until Carew stopped them,
saying that he would have no more of that. As he spoke
he clapped his hand upon his poniard and scowled biackly.
‘Chey all laughed, but offered Nick no more wine; instead,

they picked him choice morsels, and made a great deal of
4



50 MASTER SKYLARK

him, until his silly young head was quite turned, and he
sat up and gave himself a few airs—not many, for Strat-
ford was no great place in which to pick up airs.

When they had eaten they wanted Nick to sing; but
again Carew interposed. “Nay,” said he; “he hath just
eaten his fill, so he cannot sing. Moreover, he is no jack-
daw to screech in such a cage as this. He shall not sing
until to-morrow in the play.”

At this some of the leading players who held shares in
the venture demurred, doubting if Nick could sing at
all; but—“ Hark ’e,” said Master Carew, shortly, clapping
his hand upon his poniard, “I say that he can. Do ye
take me?”

So they said no more; and shortly after’ he took Nick
away, and left them over their tankards, singing uproar-
iously.

The Blue Boar Inn had not a bed to spare, nor had the
players kept a place for Carew; at which he smiled
grimly, said he ’d not forget it, and took lodgings for
himself and Nick at the Three Tuns in the next street.

Nick spoke indeed of his mother’s cousin, with whom
he had meant to stay, but the master-player protested
warmly ; so, little loath, and much flattered by the atten-
tions of so great a man, Nick gave over the idea and said
no more about it.

When the chamberlain had shown them to their room
and they were both undressed, Nick knelt beside the bed
and said a prayer, as he always did at home. Carew
watched him curiously. It was quiet there, and the light



THE ADMIRAL’S COMPANY 51

dim ; Nick was young, and his yellow hair was very curly.
Carew could hear the faint breath murmuring through
the boy’s lips as he prayed, and while he stared at the little
white figure his mouth twitched in a queer way. But he
tossed his head, and muttered to himself, “What, Gaston
Carew, turning soft? Nay, nay. Ill do it—on my soul,
I will!” rolled into bed, and was soon fast asleep.

As for Nick, what with the excitement of the day, the
dazzling fancies in his brain, his tired legs, the weird night
noises in the town, and strange, tremendous dreams, he
scarce could get to sleep at all; but toward morning he
fell into a refreshing doze, and did not wake until the town
was loud with May.



CHAPTER IX
THE MAY-DAY PLAY

T was soon afternoon. All Coventry was thronged
with people keeping holiday, and at the Blue Boar a
scene of wild confusion reigned.

Tap-room and hall were crowded with guests, and in
the cobbled court horses innumerable stamped and whin-
nied. The players, with knitted brows, stalked about the
quieter nooks, going over their several parts, and looking
to their costumes, which were for the most part upon their
backs; while the thumping and pounding of the carpen-
ters at work upon the stage in the inn-yard were enough
to drive a quiet-loving person wild.

Nick scarcely knew whether he were on his head or on
his heels. The master-player would not let him eat at all
after once breaking his fast, for fear it might affect his
voice, and had him say his lines a hundred times until he
had them pat. Then he was off, directing here, there, and
everywhere, until the court was cleared of all that had no

business there, and the last surreptitious small boy had
52



THE MAY-DAY PLAY 58

been duly projected from the gates by Peter Hostler’s
hobnailed boot.

“Now, Nick,” said Carew, coming up all in a gale, and
throwing a sky-blue silken cloak about Nick’s shoulders,
“thou ‘It enter here”; and he led him to a hallway door
just opposite the gates. “When Master Whitelaw, as the
Duke, calls out, ‘How now, who comes?—I 11 match him
for the ale!’ be quickly in and answer to thy part; and,
marry, boy, don’t miss thy cues, or—tsst, thy head ’s not
worth a peascod!” With that he clapped his hand upon
his poniard and glared into Nick’s eyes, as if to look clear
through to the back of the boy’s wits. Nick heard his
white teeth grind, and was all at once very much afraid of
him, for he did indeed look dreadful.

So Nicholas Attwood stood by the entry door, with his
heart in his throat, waiting his turn.

He could hear the pages in the courtyard outside shout-
ing for stools for their masters, and squabbling over the
best places upon the stage. Then the gates creaked, and
there came a wild rush of feet and a great crying out
as the ’prentices and burghers trooped into the inn-yard,
pushing and crowding for places near the stage. Those
who had the money bawled aloud for farthing stools. The
rest stood jostling in a wrangling crowd upon the ground,
while up and down a girl’s shrill voice went all the time,
erying high, “ Cherry ripe, cherry ripe! Who ‘ll buy my
sweet May cherries?”

Then there was another shout, and a rattling tread of
feet along the wooden balconies that ran around the walls



54 MASTER SKYLARK

of the inn-yard, and cries from the apprentices below:
“Good-day, fair Master Harrington ! Good-day, Sir Thomas
Parkes! Good-day, sweet Mistress Nettleby and Master
Nettleby! Good-day, good-day, good-day ! ” for the richer
folk were coming in at twopence each, and all the gal-
leries were full. And then he heard the baker’s boy with
sugared cakes and ginger-nuts go stamping up the stairs.

The musicians in the balcony overhead were tuning up.
There was a flute, a viol, a gittern, a fiddle, and a drum;
and behind the curtain, just outside the door, Nick could
hear the master-player’s low voice giving hasty orders to
the others.

So he said his lines all over to himself, and cleared his
throat. Then on a sudden a shutter opened high above
the orchestra, a trumpet blared, the kettledrum crashed,
and he heard a loud voice shout:

“Good citizens of Coventry, and high-born gentles all:
know ye now that we, the players of the company of His
Grace, Charles, Lord Howard, High Admiral of England,
Ireland, Wales, Calais, and Boulogne, the marches of Nor-
mandy, Gascony, and Aquitaine, Captain-General of the
Navy and the Seas of Her Gracious Majesty the Queen—”

At that the crowd in the courtyard cheered and cheered
again.

“will, with your kind permission, play forthwith the
laughable comedy of ‘The Three Grey Gowns, by Master
Thomas Heywood, in which will be spoken many good
things, old and new, and a brand-new song will be sung.
Now, hearken all—the play begins!”



THE MAY-DAY PLAY 55

The trumpet blared, the kettledrum crashed again, and
as a sudden hush fell over the throng without Nick heard
the voices of the players going on.

It was a broad farce, full of loud jests and nonsense, a
great thwacking of sticks and tumbling about; and Nick,
with his eye to the crack of the door, listened with all his
ears for his cue, far too excited even to think of laughing
at the rough jokes, though the crowd in the inn-yard
roared till they held their sides.

Carew came hurrying up, with an anxious look in his
restless eyes.

“Ready, Nicholas!” said he, sharply, taking Nick by the
arm and lifting the latch. ‘Go straight down front now
as I told thee—mind thy cues—speak boldly—sing as thou
didst sing for me—and if thou wouldst not break mine
heart, do not failme now! I have staked it all upon thee
here—and we must win!”

“How now, who comes?” Nick heard a loud voice call
outside—the door-latch clicked behind him—he was out in
the open air and down the stage before he quite knew
where he was.

The stage was built against the wall just opposite the
gates. It was but a temporary platform of planks laid
upon trestles. One side of it was against the wall, and
around the three other sides the crowd was packed close
to the platform rail.

At the ends, upon the boards, several wealthy gallants
sat on high, three-legged stools, within arm’s reach of the
players acting there. The courtyard was a sea of heads,



56 MASTER SKYLARK

and the balconies were filled with gentlefolk in holiday
attire, eating cakes and chaffing gaily at the play. All
was one bewildered cloud of staring eyes to Nick, and the
only thing which he was sure he saw was the painted sign
that hung upon the curtain at the rear, which in the lack
of other scenery announced in large red print: “This is a
Room in Master Jonah Jackdawe’s House.”

And then he heard the last quick words, “I ’ll match
him for the ale!” and started on his lines.

It was not that he said so ill what little he had to say,
but that his voice was homelike and familiar in its sound,
one of their own, with no amazing London accent to the
words—just the speech of every-day, the sort that they all
knew.

First, some one in the yard laughed out—a shock-headed
ironmonger’s apprentice, ““ Whoy, bullies, there be hayseed
in his hair. ’T is took off pasture over-soon. I fecks!
they ’ve plucked him green!”

There was a hoarse, exasperating laugh. Nick hesitated
in his lines. The player at his back tried to prompt him,
but only made the matter worse, and behind the green cur-
tain at the door a hand went “clap” upon a dagger-hilt.
The play lagged, and the crowd began to jeer. Nick’s
heart was full of fear and of angry shame that he had
dared to try. Then all at once there came a brief pause,
in which he vaguely realized that no one spoke. The man
behind him thrust him forward, and whispering wrathfully,
“Quick, quick—sing up, thou little fool!” stepped back
and left him there alone.



| i it :
I wl

h



“NICK THOUGHT OF HIS MOTHER’S SINGING ON A SUMMER'S EVENING—DREW
A DEEP BREATH AND BEGAN TC SING.”



THE MAY-DAY PLAY 57

A viol overhead took up the time, the gittern struck a
few sharp notes. This unexpected music stopped the
noise, and all was still. Nick thought of his mother’s
voice singing on a summer’s evening among the hollyhocks,
and as the viol’s droning died away he drew a deep breath
and began to sing the words of “ Heywood’s newest song” :

“Pack, clouds, away, and welcome, day;
With night we banish sorrow ;
Sweet air, blow soft; mount, lark, aloft,
To give my love good-morrow!”

It was only a part of a madrigal, the air to which they
had fitted the words,—the same air that Nick had sung in
the woods,—a thing scarce meant ever to be sung alone, a
simple strain, a few plain notes, and at the close one brief,
queer, warbling trill like a bird’s wild song, that rose and
fell and rose again like a silver ripple.

The instruments were still; the fresh young voice came
out alone, and it was done so soon that Nick hardly knew
that he had sung at all. For a moment no one seemed to
breathe. Then there was a very great noise, and all the
court seemed hurling at him. A man upon the stage
sprang to his feet. What they were going to do to him
Nick did not know. He gave a frightened cry, and ran
past the green curtain, through the open door, and into
the master-player’s excited arms.

“Quick, quick!” cried Carew. “Go back, go back!
There, hark!—dost not hear them call? Quick, out

_again—they call thee back!” With that he thrust Nick
through the door. The man upon the stage came up,



58 MASTER SKYLARK

slipped something into his hand—Nick, all bewildered,
knew not what; and there he stood, quite stupefied, not
knowing what to do. Then Carew came out hastily and
led him down the stage, bowing, and pressing his hand to
his heart, and smiling like a summer sunrise ; so that Nick,
seeing this, did the same, and bowed as neatly as he could ;
though, to be sure, his was only a simple, country-bred
bow, and no such ceremonious to-do as Master Carew’s
courtly London obeisance.

Every one was standing up and shouting so that not a
soul could hear his ears, until the ironmonger’s apprentice
bellowed above the rest; “Whoy, bullies!” he shouted,
amid a chorus of cheers and laughter, “did n’t I say ’t was
catched out in the fields—it be a skylark, sure enough!
Come, Muster Skylark, sing that song again, an’ thou shalt
ha’ my brand-new cap!”

Then many voices cried out together, “Sing it again!
The Skylark—the Skylark!”

Nick looked up, startled. “Why, Master Carew,” said
he, with a tremble in his voice, “do they mean me?”

Carew put one hand beneath Nick’s chin and turned his
face up, smiling. The master-player’s cheeks were flushed
with triumph, and his dark eyes danced with pride. “Ay,
Nicholas Skylark; ’t is thou they mean.”

The viol and the music came again from overhead, and
when they ceased Nick sang the little song once more.
And when the master-player had taken him outside, and
the play was over, some fine ladies came and kissed him,
to his great confusion; for no one but his mother or his



THE MAY-DAY PLAY 59

kin had ever done so before, and these had much perfume
about them, musk and rose-attar, so that they smelled like
rose-mallows in July. The players of the Lord Admiral’s
company were going about shaking hands with Carew and
with each other as if they had not met for years, and slap-
ping one another upon the back ; and one came over, a tall,
solemn, black-haired man, he who had written the song,
and stood with his feet apart and stared at Nick, but spoke
never a word, which Nick thought was very singular.
But as he turned away he said, with a world of pity in his
voice, “ And I have writ two hundred plays, yet never saw
thy like. Lad, lad, thou art a jewel in a wild swine’s
snout!” which Nick did not understand at all; nor why
Master Carew said so sharply, “Come, Heywood, hold thy
blabbing tongue; we are all in the same sty.”

“Speak for thyself, Gat Carew!” answered Master Hey-
wood, firmly. “TI’ll have no hand in this affair, I tell thee
once for all!”

Master Carew flushed queerly and bit his lip, and, turn-
ing hastily away, took Nick to walk about the town. Nick
then, for the first time, looked into his hand to see what
the man upon the stage had given him. It was a gold
rose-noble.



CHAPTER X
AFTER THE PLAY

HROUGH the high streets of the third city of the
realm Master Gaston Carew strode as if he were a
very king, and Coventry his kingdom.

There was music everywhere,—of pipers and fiddlers,
drums, tabrets, flutes, and horns,—and there were dan-
cing bears upon the corners, with minstrels, jugglers,
chapmen crying their singsong wares, and such a mighty
hurly-burly as Nick had never seen before. And wherever
there was a wonder to be seen, Carew had Nick see it,
though it cost a penny a peep, and lifted him to watch the
fencing and quarter-staff play in the market-place. And
at one of the gay booths he bought gilt ginger-nuts and
caraway cakes with currants on the top, and gave them
all to Nick, who thanked him kindly, but said, if Master
Carew pleased, he ’d rather have his supper, for he was
very hungry. :

“Why, to be sure,” said Carew, and tossed a silver penny
for a scramble to the crowd; *‘thou shalt have the finest
supper in the town.”

60



AFTER THE PLAY 61

Whereupon, bowing to all the great folk they met, and
being bowed to most politely in return, they came to the
Three Tuns.

Stared at by a hundred curious eyes, made way for
everywhere, and followed by wondering exclamations of
envy, it was little wonder that Nick, a simple country lad,
at last began to think that there was not in all the world
another gentleman so grand as Master Gaston Carew, and
also to have a pleasant notion that Nicholas Attwood was
no bad fellow himself.

The lordly innkeeper came smirking and bobbing
obsequiously about, with his freshest towel on his arm,
and took the master-player’s order as a dog would take a
bone.

“ Here, sirrah,” said Carew, haughtily; “fetch us some
repast, I care not what, so it be wholesome food—a green
Banbury cheese, some simnel bread and oat-cakes; a
pudding, hark ’e, sweet and full of plums, with honey and
a pasty—a meat pasty, marry, a pasty made of fat and
toothsome eels; and moreover, fellow, ale to wash it down
—none of thy penny ale, mind ye, too weak to run out of
the spigot, but snapping good brew—dost take me ?—with
beef and mustard, tripe, herring, and a good fat capon
broiled to a turn!”

The innkeeper gaped like a fish.

“How now, sirrah? Dost think I cannot pay thy
score?” quoth Carew, sharply.

“Nay, nay,” stammered the host; “but, sir, where—
where will ye put it all without bursting into bits?”



62 MASTER SKYLARK

“Be off with thee!” cried Carew, sharply. “That is
my affair. Nay, Nick,” said he, laughing at the boy’s
astonished look; “we shall not burst. What we do not
have to-night we ’ll have in the morning. ’T is the way
with these inns,—to feed the early birds with scraps,—so
the more we leave from supper the more we ’ll have for
breakfast. And thou wilt need a good breakfast to ride
on all day long.”

“Ride?” exclaimed Nick. “Why, sir, I was minded to
walk back to Stratford, and keep my gold rose-noble
whole.”

“Walk?” cried the master-player, scornfully. “Thou,
with thy golden throat? Nay, Nicholas, thou shalt ride
to-morrow like a very king, if I have to pay for the horse
myself, twelvepence the day!” and with that he began
chuckling as if it were a joke.

But Nick stood up, and, bowing, thanked him gratefully ;
at which the master-player went from chuckling to laugh-
ing, and leered at Nick so oddly that the boy would have
thought him tipsy, save that there had been nothing yet
to drink. And aqueer sense of uneasiness came creeping
over him as he watched the master-player’s eyes opening
and shutting, opening and shutting, so that one moment
he seemed to be staring and the next almost asleep ; though
all the while his keen, dark eyes peered out from between
the lids like old dog-foxes from their holes, looking Nick
over from head to foot, and from foot to head again, as if
measuring him with an ellwand.

When the supper came, filling the whole table and the



AFTER THE PLAY 63

sideboard too, Nick arose to serve the meat as he was used
at home; but, “ Nay, Nicholas Skylark, my honey-throat,”
cried Carew, “sit thee down! Thou wait on me—thou
songster of the silver tongue? Nay, nay, sweetheart; the
knave shall wait on thee, or I ll wait on thee myself—I
will, upon my word! Why, Nick, I tell thee I love thee,
and dost think I’d let thee wait or walk ?—nay, nay, thou It
ride to-morrow like a king, and have all Stratford wait for
thee!” At this he chuckled so that he almost choked upon
a mouthfui of bread and meat.

“Canst ride, Nicholas?”

“Fairly, sir.”

“Fairly? Fie,modesty! Iwarrant thou canst ride like
a very centaur. What sayest—I ‘ll ride a ten-mile race
with thee to-morrow as we go?”

“Why,” cried Nick, “are ye going back to Stratford to
play, after all?”

“To Stratford? Nay; not for a bushel of good gold
Harry shovel-boards! Bah! That town is ratsbane and
nightshade in my mouth! Nay, we ’ll not go back to
Stratford town; but we shall ride a piece with thee,
Nicholas,—we shall ride a piece with thee.”

Chuckling again to himself, he fell to upon the pasty
and said no more.

Nick held his peace, as he was taught to do unless first
spoken to; but he could not help thinking that stage-
players, and master-players in particular, were very
queer folk.



CHAPTER XI
DISOWNED

IGHT came down on Stratford town that last sweet

April day, and the pastured kine came lowing home.

Supper-time passed, and the cool stars came twinkling
out; but still Nick Attwood did not come.

“He hath stayed to sleep with Robin, Master Burgess
Getley’s son,” said Mistress Attwood, standing in the door,
and staring out into the dusk; “he is often lonely here.”

“He should ha’ telled thee on it, then,” said Simon Att-
wood. “This be no way todo. I’ve a mind to put him
to a trade.”

“Nay, Simon,” protested his wife; “he may be careless,
—he is young yet,—but Nicholas is a good lad. Let him
have his schooling out—he ll be the better for it.”

“Then let him show it as he goes along,” said Attwood,
grimly, as he blew the candle out.

But May-day dawned; mid-morning came, mid-after-
noon, then supper-time again; and supper-time crept into
dusk—and still no Nicholas Attwood.

His mother grew uneasy ; but his father only growled :
64



DISOWNED 65

“Well reckon up when he cometh home. Master Bruns-
wood tells me he was na at the school the whole day yes-
terday—and he be feared to show his face. Ill fear him
with a bit of birch!”

“Do na be too hard with the lad, Simon,” pleaded Mis-
tress Attwood. “Who knows what hath happened to him ¢
He must be hurt, or he ’d ’a’ come home to his mother ”—
and she began to wring her hands. “He may ha’ fallen
from a tree, and lieth all alone out on the hill—or, Simon,
the Avon! Thou dost na think our lad be drowned?”

“Fudge!” said Simon Attwood. “Born to hang ’ll
never drown!”

When, however, the next day crept around and still his
son did not come home, a doubt stole into the tanner’s
own heart. Yet when his wife was for starting out to
seek some tidings of the boy, he stopped her wrathfully.

“Nay, Margaret,” said he; “thou shalt na go traipsing
around the town like a hen wi’ but one chick. I wull na ha’
thee made a laughing-stock by all the fools in Stratford.”

But as the third day rolled around, about the middle of
the afternoon the tanner himself sneaked out at the back
door of his tannery in Southam’s lane, and went up into
the town.

“Robin Getley,” he asked at the guildschool door, “was
my son wi’ thee overnight?”

“Nay, Master Attwood. Has he not come back?”

“Come back? From where?”

Robin hung his head.

“From where?” demanded the tanner. “Come, boy!”

&



66 MASTER SKYLARK

“From Coventry,” said Robin, knowing that the truth
would out at last, anyway.

“He went to see the players, sir,” spoke up Hal Saddler,
briskly, not heeding Robin’s stealthy kick. “He said
he ’d bide wi Diccon Haggard overnight; an’ he said he
wished he were a master-player himself, sir, too.”

Simon Attwood, frowning blackly, hurried on. It was
Nick, then, whom he had seen crossing the market-square.

Wat Raven, who swept Clopton bridge, had seen two
boys go up the Warwick road. “One were thy Nick, Mus-
ter Attwood,” said he, thumping the dirt from his broom
across the coping-stone, “and the other were Dawson’s
Hodge.”

The angry tanner turned again into the market-place.
His brows were knit, and his eyes were hot, yet his step
was heavy and slow. Above all things, he hated disobe-
dience, yet in his surly way he loved his only son; and
far worse than disobedience, he hated that his son should
disobey.

Astride a beam in front of Master Thompson’s house
sat Roger Dawson. Simon Attwood took him by the col-
lar none too gently.

“Were, leave be!” choked Roger, wriggling hard; but
the tanner’s grip was like iron. “ Wert thou in Coventry
May-day?” he asked sternly.

“Nay, that I was na,” sputtered Hodge. “A plague on
Coventry !”

“Do na lie to me—thou wert there wi’ my son Nicholas.”

“T was na,” snarled Hodge. “Nick Attwood threshed



DISOWNED 67

me in the Warrick road; an’ I be no dawg to follow at
the heels o’ folks as threshes me.”

“Where be he, then?” demanded Attwood, with a sud-
den sinking at heart in spite of his wrath.

“How should I know? A went away wi’ a play-actor.
ing fellow in a plum-colored cloak; and play-actoring fel-
low said a loved him like a’s own, and patted a’s back,
and flung me hard names, like stones at a lost dawg. Now
le’ me go, Muster Attwood—cross my heart, ’t is all I
know!”

“Ts ’t Nicholas ye seek, Master Attwood?” asked Tom
Carpenter, turning from his fleurs-de-lis. “Why, sir, he’s
gone got famous, sir. I was in Coventry mysel’ May-day ;
and—why, sir, Nick was all the talk! He sang there at
the Blue Boar inn-yard with the Lord High Admiral’s
players, and took a part in the play; and, sir, ye ’d scarce
believe me, but the people went just daft to hear him sing,
sir.”

Simon Attwood heard no more. He walked down High
street in a daze. With hard men bitter blows strike
doubly deep. He stopped before the guildhall school.
The clock struck five ; each iron clang seemed beating upon
his heart. He raised his hand as if to shut the clangor
out, and then his face grew stern and hard. “He hath
gone his own wilful way,” said he, bitterly. “Let him
follow it to the end.”

Mistress Attwood came to meet him, running in the
garden-path. “Nicholas?” was all that she could say.

“Never speak to me of him again,” he said, and passed



68 MASTER SKYLARK

her by into the house. “He hath gone away with a pack
of stage-playing rascals and vagabonds, whither no man
knoweth.”

Taking the heavy Bible down from the shelf, he lit a
rushlight at the fire, although it was still broad daylight,
and sat there with the great book open in his lap until
the sun went down and the chill night wind crept in along
the floor; yet he could not read a single word and never
turned a page.



CHAPTER XII
A STRANGE RIDE

AT-A-TAT-TAT at the first dim hint of dawn went
the chamberlain’s knuckles upon the door. To Nick
it seemed scarce midnight yet, so sound had been his sleep.
Master Carew having gotten into his high-topped rid-
ing-boots with a great puffing and tugging, they washed
their faces at the inn-yard pump by the smoky light of
the hostler’s lantern, and then in a subdued, half-wakened
way made a hearty breakfast off the fragments of the last
night’s feast. Part of the remaining cold meat, cheese,
and cakes Carew stowed in his leather pouch. The rest
he left in the lap of a beggar sleeping beside the door.
The street was dim with a chilly fog, through which a
few pale stars still struggled overhead. The houses were
all shut and barred; nobody was abroad, and the night-
watch slept in comfortable doorways here and there, with
loliing heads and lanterns long gone out. As they came
along the crooked street, a stray cat scurried away with
scared green eyes, and a kenneled hound set up a lonesome
howl.
69



70 MASTER SKYLARK

But the Blue Boar Inn was stirring like an ant-hill, with
firefly lanterns flitting up and down, and a cheery glow
about the open door. The horses of the company, scrubbed
unreasonably clean, snorted and stamped in little
bridled clumps about the courtyard, and the stable-boys,
not scrubbed at all, clanked at the pump or shook out
wrinkled saddle-cloths with most prodigious yawns. The
grooms were buckling up the packs; the chamberlain and
sleepy-lidded maids stood at the door, waiting their fare-
well farthings.

Some of the company yawned in the tap-room; some
yawned out of doors with steaming stirrup-cup in hand;
and some came yawning down the stairways pulling on
their riding-cloaks, booted, spurred, and ready for a long
day’s ride.

“G@ood-morrow, sirs,” said Carew, heartily. ‘“Good-
morrow, sir, to you,” said they, and all came over to speak
to Nicholas in a very kindly way; and one or two patted
him on the cheek and walked away speaking in under-
tones among themselves, keeping one eye on Carew all
the while. And Master Tom Heywood, the play-writer,
came out with a great slice of fresh wheat-bread, thick
with butter and dripping with yellow honey, and gave it
to Nick; and stood there silently with a very queer ex-
pression watching him eat it, until Carew’s groom led up
a stout hackney and a small roan palfrey to the block,
and the master-player, crying impatiently, “Up with thee,
Nick; we must be ambling!” sprang into the saddle of the

gray.



A STRANGE RIDE 71

The sleepy inn-folk roused a bit to send a cheery vol-
ley of, “Fare ye well, sirs; come again,” after the depart-
ing players, and the long cavalcade cantered briskly out
of the inn-yard, in double rank, with a great clinking of
bridle-chains and a drifting odor of wet leather and heavy
perfume.

Nick sat very erect and rode his best, feeling like some
errant knight of the great Round Table, ready to right the
whole world’s wrongs. “But what about the horse?” said
he. ‘We can na keep him in Stratford, sir.”

“Oh, that’s all seen to,” said the master-player. “’T is
to be sent back by the weekly carrier.”

“And where do I turn into the Stratford road, sir?”
asked Nick, as the players clattered down the cobbled
street in a cloud of mist that steamed up so thickly from
the stones that the horses seemed to have no legs, but to
float like boats.

“Some distance further on,” replied Carew, carelessly.
‘OT is not the way we came that thou shalt ride to-day ;
that is t? other end of town, and the gate not open yet.
But the longest way round is the shortest way home, so
let ’s be spurring on.”

At the corner of the street a cross and sleepy cobbler
was strapping a dirty urchin, who bellowed lustily. Nick
winced.

“Hollo!” eried Carew. “ What’s to do?”

“Why, sir,’ said Nick, ruefully, “father will thresh me
well this night.”

“Nay,” said Carew, in a quite decided tone; “that he IL



72 MASTER SKYLARK

not, I promise thee !”—and as he spoke he chuckled softly
to himself.

The man before them turned suddenly around and
grinned queerly; but, catching the master-player’s eye,
whipped his head about like a weather-vane in a gale, and
cantered on.

As they came down the narrow street the watchmen
were just swinging wide the city gates, and gave a cheer
to speed the parting guests, who gave a rouse in turn, and
were soon lost to sight in the mist which hid the valley in
a great gray sea.

“How shall I know where to turn off, sir?” asked Nick,
a little anxiously. “’T is all alike.”

“T ‘ll tell thee,” said the master-player ; “rest thee easy
on that score. I know the road thou art to ride much
better than thou dost thyself.”

He smiled quite frankly as he spoke, and Nick could
not help wondering why the man before them again turned
around and eyed him with that sneaking grin.

He did not like the fellow’s looks. He had scowling
black brows, hair cut as close as if the rats had gnawed it
off, a pair of ill-shaped bandy-legs, a wide, unwholesome
slit of a mouth, and a nose like a raspberry tart. His
whole appearance was servile and mean, and there was asly
malice in his furtive eyes. Besides that, and a thing which
strangely fascinated Nick’s gaze, there was a hole through
the gristle of his right ear, scarred about as if it had been
burned, and through this hole the fellow had tied a bow
of crimson ribbon, like a butterfly alighted upon his ear.



A STRANGE RIDE 73

“A pretty fellow!” said Carew, with a shrug. “He'll
be hard put to dodge the hangman yet; but he’s a right
good fellow in his way, and he has served me—he has
served me.”

The first loud burst of talk had ceased, and all rode
silently along. The air was chill, and Nick was grateful
for the cloak that Carew threw around him. There was
no sound but the beat of many hoofs in the dust-padded
road, and now and then the crowing of a cock somewhere
within the cloaking fog. The stars were gone, and the
sky was lighting up; and all at once, as they rode, the
clouds ahead, low down and to the right, broke raggedly
away and let a red sun-gleam shoot through across the
mist, bathing the riders in dazzling rosy light.

“Why, Master Carew,” cried Nick, no little startled,
“ there comes the sun, almost ahead! We’re riding east-
ward, sir. We ’ve missed the road!”

“Oh, no, we ’ve not,” said Carew; “ nothing of the sort.”
His tone was so peremptory and sharp that Nick said
nothing more, but rode along, vaguely wishing that he
was already clattering down Stratford High street.

The clouds scattered as the sun came up, and the morn-
ing haze drifted away into cool dales, and floated off upon
the breeze. And as the world woke up the players wa-
kened too, and rode gaily along, laughing, singing, and
chattering together, until Nick thought he had never in
all his life before seen such a jolly fellowship. His heart
was blithe as he reined his curveting palfrey by the mas-
ter-player’s side, and watched the sunlight dance and spar-



74 MASTER SKYLARK

kle along the dashing line from dagger-hilts and jeweled
clasps, and the mist-lank plumes curl crisp again in the
warmth of the rising sun.

The master-player, too, had a graceful, taking way of
being half familiar with the lad; he was besides a mar-
velous teller of wonderful tales, and whiled away the
time with jests and quips, mile after mile, till Nick forgot
both road and time, and laughed until his sides were
sore.

Yet slowly, as they rode along, it came home to him
with the passing of the land that this was country new
and strange. So he began to take notice of this and that
beside the way; and as he noticed he began to grow un-
easy. Thrice had he come to Coventry, but surely never
by a road like this.

Yet still the master-player joked and laughed and
pleased the boy with little things—until Nick laughed
too, and let the matter go. At last, however, when they
had ridden fully an hour, they passed a moss-grown abbey
on the left-hand side of the road, a strange old place that
Nick could not recall.

“Are ye sure, Master Carew,” he ventured timidly—
“are ye sure we be na going wrong, sir?” ,

At that the master-player took on so offended an air
that Nick was sorry he had spoken.

“Why, now,” said Carew, haughtily, “if thou dost know
the roads of England better than I, who have trudged and
ridden them all these years, I’ll sit me down and learn of
thee how to follow mine own nose. I tell thee I know the



A STRANGE RIDE 75

road thou art to ride this day better than thou dost thy-
self; and Ill see to it that thou dost come without fail to
the very place that thou art going. I will, upon my word,
and on the remnant of mine honour!”

But in spite of this assurance, and in spite of the mas-
ter-player’s ceaseless stream of gaiety and marvels, Nick
became more and more uneasy. The road was certainly
growing stranger and stranger as they passed. The com-
pany, too, instead of ambling leisurely along, as they had
done at first, were now spurring ahead at a good round
gallop, in answer to a shrill whistle from the master-
player; and the horses were wet with sweat.

They passed a country village, too, that was quite un-
known to Nick, and a great highway running to the north
that he had never seen before; and when they had ridden
for about two hours, the road swerved southward to a
shining ford, and on a little tableland beyond he saw the
gables of a town he did not know.

“Why, Master Carew!” he cried out, half indignant,
half perplexed, and thoroughly frightened, “this is na the
Stratford road at all. I’m going back. I will na ride
another mile!”

As he spoke he wheeled the roan sharply out of the
clattering file with a slash of the rein across the withers,
and started back along the hill past the rest of the com-
pany, who came thumping down behind.

“Stop him! Stop him there!” he heard the master-
player shout, and there was something in the fierce, high
voice that turned his whole heart sick. What right had



76 MASTER SKYLARK

they to stop him? This was not the Stratford road; he
was certain of that now. But “Stop him—stop him
there!” he heard the master-player call, and a wild, un-
reasoning fright came over him. He dug his heels into
the palfrey’s heaving sides and urged him up the hill
through the cloud of dust that came rolling down behind
the horsemen. The hindmost riders had plunged into
those before, and the whole array was struggling, shout-
ing, and wrangling in wild disorder; but out of the flurry
Carew and the bandy-legged man with the ribbon in his
ear spurred furiously and came galloping after him at the
top of their speed.

Nick cried out, and beat the palfrey with the rein; but
the chase was short. They overtook him as he topped the
hill, one on each side, and, leaning over, Carew snatched
the bridle from his hand. “Thou little imp!” he panted,
as he turned the roan around and started down the hill.
“Don’t try this on again!”

“Oh, Master Carew,” gasped Nick, “what are ye going
to do wi me?”

“Do with thee?” cried the master-player, savagely
clapping his hand upon his poniard,—“ why, I am going
to do with thee just whatever I please. Dosthear? And,
hark ’e, this sort of caper doth not please me at all; and
by the whistle of the Lord High Admiral, if thou triest it
on again, thy life is not worth a rotten peascod !”

Unbuckling the rein, he tossed one end to the bandy-
legged man, and holding the other in his own hand, with
Nick riding helpiessly between them, they trotted down the



A STRANGE RIDE 17

hill again, took their old places in the ranks, and spattered
through the shallow ford.

The bandy-legged man had pulled a dagger from be.
neath his coat, and held it under his bridle-rein, shining
through the horse’s mane as they dashed through the stil]
half-sleeping town. Nick was speechless with terror.

Beyond the town’s end they turned sharply to the north-
east, galloping steadily onward for what was perhaps
half an hour, though to Nick it seemed a forever, until
they came out into a great highway running southward.
“Watling street!” he heard the man behind him say, and
knew that they were in the old Roman road that stretched
from London to the north. Still they were galloping,
though long strings dribbled from the horses’ mouths, and
the saddle-leathers dripped with foam. One or two looked
back at him and bit their lips; but Carew’s eyes were hot
and fierce, and his hand was on his poniard. The rest,
after a curious glance or two, shrugged their shoulders
earelessly and galloped on: this affair was Master Gaston
Carew’s business, not theirs.

Until high noon they hurried on with neither stop nor
stay. Then they came toa place where a little brook sang
through the grass by the roadside in a shady nook beneath
some mighty oaks, and there the master-player whistled
for a halt, to give the horses breath and rest, and to water
them at the brook-pools. Some of the players sauntered
up and down to stretch their tired legs, munching meat
and bread ; and some lay down upon the grass and slept a
little. Two of them came, offering Nick some cakes and



78 MASTER SKYLARK

cheese ; but he was crying hard and would neither eat nor
drink, though Carew urged him earnestly. Then Master
Tom Heywood, with an ugly look at Carew, and without
so much as an if-ye-please or a by-your-leave, led Nick up
the brook to a spot where it had not been muddied by the
horses, and made him wash his dusty face and hands in
the cool water and dampen his hair, though he complied
as if in a daze. And indeed Nick rode on through the
long afternoon, clinging helplessly to the pommel of his
saddle, sobbing bitterly until for very weariness he could
no longer sob.

It was after nine o’clock that night when they rode into
Towcester, and all that was to be seen was a butcher’s boy
carting garbage out of the town and whistling to keep his
courage up. The watch had long since gone to sleep
about the silent streets, but a dim light burned in the tap-
room of the Old Brown Cow; and there the players rested
for the night.



CHAPTER XIII
A DASH FOR FREEDOM

ICK awoke from a heavy, burning sleep, aching from

head to foot. The master-player, up and dressed,
stood by the window, scowling grimly out into the ashy
dawn. Nick made haste to rise, but could not stifle a
sharp cry of pain as he staggered to his feet, he was so
racked and sore with riding.

At the boy’s smothered cry Carew turned, and his dark
face softened with a sudden look of pity and concern.
“Why, Nick, my lad,” he cried, and hurried to his side,
“this is too bad, indeed!” and without more words took
him gently in his arms and carried him down to the court-
yard well, where he bathed him softly from neck to heel
in the cold, refreshing water, and wiped him with a soft,
clean towel as tenderly as if he had been the lad’s own
mother. And having dried him thoroughly, he rubbed him
with a waxy ointment that smelled of henbane and poppies,
until the aching was almost gone. So soft and so kind was
he withal that Nick took heart after a little and asked tim-
idly, “And ye will let me go home to-day, sir, will ye not?”

79



80 MASTER SKYLARK

The master-player frowned.

“Please, Master Carew, let me go.”

“Come, come,” said Carew, impatiently, “enough of
this!” and stamped his foot.

“But, oh, Master Carew,” pleaded Nick, with a sob in
his throat, “my mother’s heart will surely break if I do
na come home!”

Carew started, and his mouth twitched queerly
“Rnough, I say—enough!” he cried. “I will not hear;
I ’Ilhave no more. I tell thee hold thy tongue—be dumb!
[’ll-not have ears—thou shalt not speak! Dost hear?”
He dashed the towel to the ground. “I bid thee hold
thy tongue.”

Nick hid his face between his hands, and leaned against
the rough stone wall, a naked, shivering, wretched little
chap indeed. “Oh, mother, mother, mother!” he sobbed
pitifully.

A singular expression came over the master-player’s face.
“T will not hear—I tell thee I will not hear!” he choked,
and, turning suddenly away, he fell upon the sleepy hos-
tler, who was drawing water at the well, and rated him
outrageously, to that astounded worthy’s great amazement

Nick crept into his clothes, and stole away to the kitchen
door. There was a red-faced woman there who bade him
not to cry—’t would soon be breakfast-time. Nick thought
he could not eat at all; but when the savory smell crept
out and filled the chilly air, his poor little empty stomach
would not be denied, and he ate heartily. Master Hey-
wood sat beside him and gave him the choicest bits from



A DASH FOR FREEDOM 81

his own trencher; and Carew himself, seeing that he ate,
looked strangely pleased, and ordered him a tiny mutton-
pie, well spiced. Nick pushed it back indignantly; but
Heywood took the pie and cut it open, saying quietly:
“Come, lad, the good God made the sheep that is in this
pie, not Gaston Carew. Hat it—come, ’t will do thee good!”
and saw him finish the last crumb.

From Towcester south through Northamptonshire is a
pretty country of rolling hills and undulating hollows,
ribboned with pebbly rivers, and dotted with fair parks
and tofts of ash and elm and oak. Straggling villages
now and then were threaded on the road like beads upon
a string, and here and there the air was damp and misty
from the grassy fens along some winding stream.

It was against nature that a healthy, growing lad should
be so much cast down as not to see and be interested in
the strange, new, passing world of things about him; and
little by little Nick roused from his wretchedness and
began to look about him. And a wonder grew within his
brain: why had they stolen him?—where were they tak-
ing him ?—what would they do with him there ?— or would
they soon let him go again?

Every yellow cloud of dust arising far ahead along the
road wrought up his hopes to a Bluebeard pitch, as regu-
larly to fall. First came a cast-off soldier from the war
in the Netherlands, rakishly forlorn, his breastplate full
of rusty dents, his wild hair worn by his steel cap, swag-
gering along on a sorry hack with an old belt full of pis-
tolets, and his long sword thumping Rosinante’s ribs.

B



82 MASTER SKYLARK

Then a peddling chapman, with a dust-white pack and a
cunning Hebrew look, limped by, sulkily doffing his greasy
hat. Two sturdy Midland journeymen, in search of south-
ern handicraft, trudged down with tool-bags over their
shoulders and stout oak staves in hand. Of wretched
beggars and tattered rogues there was an endless string.
But of any help no sign.

Here and there, like a moving dot, a ploughman turned
a belated furrow; or a sweating ditcher leaned upon his
reluctant spade and longed for night; or a shepherd, quite
as silly as his sheep, gawked up the morning hills. But
not a sign of help for Nick.

Once, passing through a little town, he raised a sudden
ery of “Help! Help—they be stealing me away!” But
at that the master-player and the bandy-legged man waved
their hands and set up such a shout that his shrill outcry
was not even heard. And the simple country bumpkins,
standing in a grinning row like so many Old Aunt Sallys
at a fair, pulled off their caps and bowed, thinking it some
company of great lords, and fetched a clownish cheer as
the players galloped by.

Then the hot dust got into Nick’s throat, and he began
to cough. Carew started with a look of alarm. “Come,
come, Nicholas, this will never do—never do in the world;
thou ‘lt spoil thy voice.”

“T do na care,” said Nick.

“But I do,” said Carew, sharply. “So we’ll have no
more of it!” and he clapped his hand upon his poniard.
“But, nay—nay, lad, I did not mean to threaten thee—’t is



A DASH FOR FREEDOM 83

but a jest. Come, smooth thy throat, and do not shriek
no more. We play in old St. Albans town to-night, and
thou art to sing thy song for us again.”

Nick pressed his lips tight shut and shook his head. He
wouid not sing for them again.

“Come, Nick, I’ve promised Tom Heywood that thou
shouldst sing his song; and, lad, there ’s no one left in all
the land to sing it if thou ‘lt not. Tom doth dearly love
thee, lad—why, sure, thou hast seen that! And, Nick, I’ve
promised all the company that thou wouldst sing Tom’s
song with us to-night. ’T will break their hearts if thou
wilt not. Come, Nick, thou ‘It sing it for us all, and set
old Albans town afire!” said Carew, pleadingly.

Nick shook his head.

“Come, Nick,” said Carew, coaxingly, “we must hear
that sweet voice of thine in Albans town to-night. Come,
there ’s a dear, good lad, and give us just one little song!
Come, act the man and sing, as thou alone in all the world
canst sing, in Albans town this night; and on my word,
and on the remnant of mine honour, I ll leave thee go
back to Stratford town to-morrow morning!”

“To Stratford—to-morrow?” stammered Nick, with a
glad, incredulous ery, while his heart leaped up within
him.

“ Ay, verily ; upon my faith as the fine fag-end of a very
proper gentleman—thou shalt go back to Stratford town
to-morrow if thou wilt but do thy turn with us to-night.”

Nick caught the master-player’s arm as they rode along,
almost crying for very joy: “Oh, that I will, sir—and do



84 MASTER SKYLARK

my very best. And, oh, Master Carew, I ha’ thought so
ill o’ thee! Forgive me, sir; I did na know thee well.”

Carew winced. Hastily throwing the rein to Nick, he
left him to master his own array.

As for Nick, as happy as a lark he learned his new
lines as he rode along, Master Carew saying them over to
him from the manuscript and over again until he made
not a single mistake; and was at great pains to teach him
the latest fashionable London way of pronouncing all the
words, and of emphasizing his set phrases. “Nay, nay,”
he would ery laughingly, “not that way, lad; but this:
‘Good my lord, I bring a letter from the duke’—as if
thou hadst indeed a letter, see, and not an empty fist.
And when thou dost hand it to him, do it thus—and not
as if thou wert about to stab him in the paunch with a
cheese-knife!” And at the end he clapped him upon the
back and said again and again that he loved him, that
he was a dear, sweet figure of a lad, and that his voice
among the rest of England’s singers, was like clear honey
dropping into a pot of grease.

But it is a long ride from Towcester to St. Albans town
in Herts, though the road runs through a pleasant, billowy
land of oak-walled lanes, wide pastures, and quiet parks ;
and the steady jog, jog of the little roan began to rack
Nick’s tired bones before the day was done.

Yet when they marched into the quaint old town to the
blare of trumpets and the crash of the kettledrums, all the
long line gaudy with the coat-armour of the Lord High
Admiral beneath their flaunting banners, and the horses



Full Text



:
Ne
i
a
é



MASTER SKYLARK


“*MASTER SKYLARK, THOU SHALT HAVE THY WISH,’ SAID QUEEN
ELIZABETH.” (See p. 264.)
MASTER SKYLARK

A Story of
Shakspere’s ‘Time

»

BY

JOHN BENNETT

ILLUSTRATIONS BY REGINALD B. BIRCH



NEW YORK

The Century Co,
Copyright, 1896, 1897, by
THE CENTURY Co.

Copyright, 1897, by
JOHN BENNETT

PRINTED IN U. 8. A.
ALL THAT NICHOLAS ATTWOOD’S MOTHER
WAS TO HIM, AND MORE, MY OWN MOTHER HAS BEEN TO ME
AND TO HER HERE I INSCRIBE THIS BOOK
WITH A NEVER-FAILING LOVE
CHAPTER

I Tue Lorp Apmrrat’s Puaynrs

II
Tif
IV
Vv
VI
VII
VIII
IX

XI
XII
XIII
XIV
XV
XVI
XVII
XVIII
XIX
xX
XXI

| XXIT

CONTENTS

Nicuotas Atrwoop’s Homz
Tse Lasr Straw

Orr FoR CovENTRY

In tap Warwick Roap
Tse MASTER-PLAYER .

“Wet Sune, Master Sxruarxk!”

Tan ApMIRAL’s Company ,
THe May-pay Piay
AFTER THE Phar. : :
DisowNED . . :
A Srranep RivpzE. : :
A DasH ror Frrempom . .
At Bay : : ' :
Lonpon Town . : 7
Ma’w’seLue Cickrty Carnw
CarEw’s OFFER . ; .
Master Hrerwoop Protests
Tum Rosz Piay-HovsE
DISAPPOINTMENT . . :
“Ton CHILDREN oF Paut’s”’
TuHp SxyLarxK’s Sona . .
vii

PAGE

17
25
28
33
39
46
52
60
64
69
79
&7
91
102
113
120
127
134
140
147
viii

CHAPTER

XXII
XXIV
XXV
XXVI
XXVII
XXVIII
XXIX
XXX
XXXI
XXXII
XXXIII
XXXIV
XXXV
XXXVI
XXXVII
XXXVIII
XXXIX

CONTENTS

A New Lirs : : : 5
Tue Maxine or A PLAYER

Tus WANING OF THE YEAR

To SING BEFORE THE QUEEN
Tur QUEEN’S PLAISANCE . .
CHRISTMAS WITH QUEEN BESS
Back to Gaston CarEw

At THE Fatcon Inn . . a
In THE TWINKLING OF AN Erb .
Tue Last oF Gaston CAREW
CicrLty DISAPPEARS

Tur Banpy-LeEGGED Man

A Suppren Rrsoive

Wayrarina Home

TURNED ADRIFT .

A Srranep Day :
Auu’s WELL THAT ENDS WELL .

PAGE

155
161
170
179
187
194
208
214
221
231
241
245
259
266
278
282
288
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

“Master Sxyitark, Tou Saatt Have Tuy Wisu,” Sap QueENn

EnLmaBETH . . . . . uw .OCSCSC«sSCFronnttispiece

FACING PAGE

THe Lorp ApmrraL’s Piarers. Tam TRUMPETERS AND THE
Drummers Lev, THerr Horses Prancina, Waite Pitumes
WAVING INTHE BREEZE. . . . . . .

““Waor Bu-est Gorna, Nick?’? AskED Roger Dawson

“Waar! How Now?” Criep THe STRANGER, SHARPLY. ‘‘Dost
Lrge or Like Met Nor?”

“Nick THoucut or His Moruer’s Sincine on 4 SUMMER’S EvEN-
INGc—Drew a DzEep BreatH AND BeGaNn TO SING

“Nosopy Breaks Nogopy’s Hearts in Oxtp Jo-oHN SMITHSES
SHo-op,” DrawLep THe SMITH, IN HIS DreEp Voice; ‘‘Nor
Srpats Nogsopy, NorHer’”’

“Diccon Hap Orren Maps Nick WHISTLES FROM THE WILLOWS
ALONG THE Avon WHEN Nick was A TODDLER” . . .

Nick Put Onze Lze@ over THe Sint anp Looxep Back z
“Ox, Nick, THov art Most Beavtiruy To Sse!”’ CrreD CicELY
“Tsar Voicn, THAT Voice!’? Nat Gites Panrep To HImMsELF

Nick GavE THE Sitvur Buckie From His Cioax To 4 Boy WxHo
Stroop Crrine wits Co~tp AND HUNGER IN THE STREET .

So Nick Ropz Home upon THE Back or THE EARL or ARUNDEL’S
Man-at-Arms . .

“Way, Sir, I’xu Sine ror Tare Now,” Sar Nick, CHoxine
“Do Na Tuov Srraixe Me Acain, Toou Rogue!” Sar Nick
“Ou, Nick, Wuat Is Ir?” Soe Crrep ee ec eee

Master SHAKSPERE Met THEM WITH OUTSTRETCHED HANDS,

aK

6
26

34

56

88

118
132
142
152

174

210
238
250
272
282
MASTER SKYLARK
MASTER SKYLARK

CHAPTER I
THE LORD ADMIRAL’S PLAYERS

HERE was an unwonted buzzing in the east end of

Stratford on that next to the last day of April, 1596.

It was as if some one had thrust a stick into a hive of
bees and they had come whirling out to see.

The low stone guard-wall of old Clopton bridge, built a
hundred years before by rich Sir Hugh, sometime Mayor
of London, was lined with straddling boys, like strawber-
ries upon a spear of grass, and along the low causeway
from the west across the lowland to the town, brown-faced,
barefoot youngsters sat beside the roadway with their
chubby legs a-dangle down the mossy stones, staring
away into the south across the grassy levels of the valley
of the Stour.

Punts were poling slowly up the Avon to the bridge:
and at the outlets of the town, where the streets came down
to the waterside among the weeds, little knots of men and

serving-maids stood looking into the south and listening.
1 1
2 MASTER SKYLARK

Some had waited for an hour, some for two; yet still
there was no sound but the piping of the birds in white-
thorn hedges, the hollow lowing of kine knee-deep in
grassy meadows, and the long rush of the river through
the sedge beside the pebbly shore; and naught to see but
quiet valleys, primrose lanes, and Warwick orchards white
with bloom, stretching away to the misty hills.

But still they stood and looked and listened.

The wind came stealing up out of the south, soft and
warm and sweet and still, moving the ripples upon the
river with gray gusts; and, scudding free before the wind,
a dog came trotting up the road with wet pink tongue and
sidelong gait. At the throat of Clopton bridge he stopped
and scanned the way with dubious eye, then clapped his
tail between his legs and bolted for the town. The laugh-
ing shout that followed him into the Warwick road seemed
not to die away, but to linger in the air like the drowsy
hum of bees—a hum that came and went at intervals
upon the shifting wind, and grew by littles, taking body
till it came unbroken as a long, low, distance-muffled mur-
mur from the south, so faint as scarcely to be heard.

Nick Attwood pricked his keen young ears. “They ’re
coming, Robin—hark ’e to the trampling!”

Robin Getley held his breath and turned his ear toward
the south. The far-off murmur was a mutter now, defined
and positive, and, as the two friends listened, grew into a
drumming roll, and all at once above it came a shrill, high
sound like the buzzing of a gnat close by the ear.

Little Tom Davenant dropped from the finger-post, and
THE LORD ADMIRAL’S PLAYERS 3

came running up from the fork of the Banbury road, his
feet making little white puffs in the dust as he flew.
“They are coming! they are coming!” he shrieked as he
ran.

Then up to his feet sprang Robin Getley, upon the
saddle-backed coping-stones, his hand upon Nick Att-
wood’s head to steady himself, and looked away where
the rippling Stour ran like a thread of silver beside the
dust-buff London road, and the little church of Atherstone
stood blue against the rolling Cotswold Hills.

“They are coming! they are coming!” shrilled little
Tom, and scrambled up the coping like a squirrel up
a rail.

A stir ran out along the guard-wall, some crying out,
some starting up. “Sit down! sit down!” cried others,
peering askance at the water gurgling green down below.
“Sit down, or we shall all be off!”

Robin held his hand above his eyes. A cloud of dust
was rising from the London road and drifting off across
the fields like smoke when the old ricks burn in damp
weather—a long, broad-sheeted mist; and in it were bits
of moving gold, shreds of bright colors vaguely seen, and
silvery gleams like the glitter of polished metal in the
sun. And as he looked the shifty wind came down out of
the west again and whirled the cloud of dust away, and
there he saw a long line of men upon horses coming at an
easy canter up the highway. Just as he had made this out
the line came rattling to a stop, the distant drumming of
hoofs was still, and as the long file knotted itself into a
4 MASTER SKYLARK

rosette of ruddy color amid the April green, a clear, shrill
trumpet blew and blew again.

“They are coming!” shouted Robin, “they are com-
ing!” and, turning, waved his cap.

A shout went up along the bridge. Those down below
came clambering up, the punts came poling with a rush of
foam, and a ripple ran along the edge of Stratford town
like the wind through a field of wheat. Windows creaked
and doors swung wide, and the workmen stopped in the
garden-plots to lean upon their mattocks and to look.

“They are coming!” bellowed Rafe Hickathrift, the
butcher’s boy, standing far out in the street, with his red
hands to his mouth for a trumpet, “they are coming!”
and at that the doors of Bridge street grew alive with
eager eyes.

At early dawn the Oxford carrier had brought the news
that the players of the Lord High Admiral were coming
up to Stratford out of London from the south, to play on
May-day there; and this was what had set the town to
buzzing like a swarm. For there were in England then
but three great companies, the High Chamberlain’s, the
Earl of Pembroke’s men, and the stage-players of my
Lord Charles Howard, High Admiral of the Realm; and
the day on which they came into a Midland market-town
to play was one to mark with red and gold upon the
calendar of the uneventful year.

Away by the old mill-bridge there were fishermen
angling for dace and perch; but when the shout came
down from the London road they dropped their poles and
THE LORD ADMIRAL’S PLAYERS 5

ran, through the willows and over the gravel, splashing
and thrashing among the rushes and sandy shallows, not
to be last when the players came. And old John Carter,
coming down the Warwick road with a load of hay, laid on
the lash until piebald Dobbin snorted in dismay and broke
into a lumbering run to reach the old stone bridge in time.

The distant horsemen now were coming on again, riding
in double file. They had flung their banners to the breeze,
and on the changing wind, with the thumping of horses’
hoofs, came by snatches the sound of a kettledrummer
drawing his drumhead tight, and beating as he drew, and
the muffled blasts of a trumpeter proving his lips.

Fynes Morrison and Walter Stirley, who had gone to
Cowslip lane to meet the march, were running on ahead,
and shouting as they ran: “There ’s forty men, and
sumpter-mules! and, oh, the bravest banners and attire—
and the trumpets are a cloth-yard long! Make room for
us, make room for us, and let us up!”

A bowshot off, the trumpets blew a blast so high, so
clear, so keen, that it seemed a flame of fire in the air, and
as the brassy fanfare died away across the roofs of the
quiet town, the kettledrums clanged, the cymbals clashed,
and all the company began to sing the famous old song
of the hunt:

“The hunt is up, the hunt is up,
Sing merrily we, the hunt is up!
The wild birds sing,
The dun deer fling,
The forest aisles with musie ring!
Tantara, tantara, tantara !
6 MASTER SKYLARK

“Then ride along, ride along,
Stout and strong!
Farewell to grief and care;
With a rollicking cheer
For the high dun deer
And a life in the open air!
Tantara, the hunt is up, lads;
Tantara, the bugles bray !
Tantara, tantara, tantara,
Hio, hark away!”

The first of the riders had reached old Clopton bridge,
and the banners strained upon their staves in the freshen-
ing river-wind. The trumpeters and the drummers led,
their horses prancing, white plumes waving in the breeze,
and the April sunlight dancing on the brazen horns and
the silver bellies of the kettledrums.

Then came the banners of the company, curling down
with a silky swish, and unfurling again with a snap, like
a broad-lashed whip. The greatest one was rosy red, and
on it was a gallant ship upon a flowing sea, bearing upon
its mainsail the arms of my Lord Charles Howard, High
Admiral of England. Upon its mate was a giant-bearded
man with a fish’s tail, holding a trident in his hand and
blowing upon a shell, the Triton of the seas which Eng-
land ruled; this flag was bright sea-blue. The third was
white, and on it was a red wild rose with a golden heart,
the common standard of the company.

After the flags came twoscore men, the players of the
Admiral, the tiring-men, grooms, horse-boys, and serving-
knaves, well mounted on good horses, and all of them clad


THE LORD ADMIRAL’S PLAYERS. “THE TRUMPETERS AND THE DRUMMERS LED,
THEIR HORSES PRANCING, WHITE PLUMES WAVING IN THE BREEZE.”
THE LORD ADMIRAL’S PLAYERS 7

in scarlet tabards blazoned with the coat-armor of their
master. Upon their caps they wore the famous badge of
the Howards, a rampant silver demi-lion; and beneath
their tabards at the side could be seen their jerkins of
many-colored silk, their silver-buckled belts, and long, thin
Spanish rapiers, slapping their horses on the flanks at
every stride. Their legs were cased in high-topped riding-
boots of tawny cordovan, with gilt spurs, and the housings
of their saddles were of blue with the gilt anchors of the
admiralty upon them. On their bridles were jingling bits
of steel, which made a constant tinkling, like a thousand
little bells very far away.

Some had faces smooth as boys and were quite young;
and others wore sharp-pointed beards with stiff-waxed mus- ~
taches, and were older men, with a tinge of iron in their hair
and lines of iron in their faces, hardened by the life they
led; and some, again, were smooth-shaven, so often and so
closely that their faces were blue with the beard beneath
the skin. But, oh, to Nicholas Attwood and the rest of
Stratford boys, they were a dashing, rakish, admirable lot,
with the air of something even greater than lords, and a
keen knowingness in their sparkling, worldly eyes that
made a common wise man seem almost a fool beside them !

And so they came riding up out of the south:

“Then ride along, ride along,
Stout and strong!
Farewell to grief and care;
With a rollicking cheer

For the high dun deer
And a life in the open air!”
8 MASTER SKYLARK

“Hurrah! hurrah! God save the Queen!”

A dropping shout went up the street like an arrow-flight
scattering over the throng; and the players, waving their
scarlet caps until the long line tossed like a poppy-garden
in a summer rain, gave a cheer that fairly set the crockery
to dancing upon the shelves of the stalls in Middle Row.

“Hurrah!” shouted Nicholas Attwood, his blue eyes
shining with delight. “Hurrah, hurrah, for the Admiral’s
men!” And high in the air he threw his cap, as a wild
cheer broke from the eddying crowd, and the arches of
the long gray bridge rang hollow with the tread of hoofs.
Whiff, came the wind; down dropped the hat upon the
very saddle-peak of one tall fellow riding along among the
rest. Catching it quickly as it fell, he laughed and tossed
it back; and when Nick caught it whirling in the air, a
shilling jingled from it to the ground.

Then up Fore Bridge street they all trooped after into
Stratford town.

“Oh,” eried Robin, “it is brave, brave!”

“Brave?” eried Nick. “It makes my very heart jump.
And see, Robin, ’t is a shilling, a real silver shilling—oh,
what fellows they all be! Hurrah for the Lord High
Admiral’s men!”
CHAPTER II
NICHOLAS ATTWOOD’S HOME

ICK Attwood’s father came home that night bitterly
wroth.

The burgesses of the town council had ordered him to
build a chimney upon his house, or pay ten shillings fine;
and shillings were none too plenty with Simon Attwood,
the tanner of Old Town.

“Soul and body o’ man!” said he, “they talk as if they
owned the world, and a man could na live upon it save by
their leave. I must build my fire in a pipe, or pay ten
shillings fine? Things ha’ come to a pretty pass—a pretty
pass, indeed!” He kicked the rushes that were strewn
upon the floor, and ground the clay with his heel. “This
litter will ha’ to be all took out. Atkins will be here at
six ? the morning to do the job, and a lovely mess he will
make o’ the house!”

“ Do na fret thee, Simon,” said Mistress Attwood, gen-
tly. “The rushes need a changing, and I ha’ pined this
long while to lay the floor wi’ new clay from Shottery
common. "T is the sweetest earth! Nick shall take the

9
10 MASTER SKYLARK

hangings down, and right things up when the chimley ’s
done.”

So at cockcrow next morning Nick slipped out of his
straw bed, into his clothes, and down the winding stair,
while his parents were still asleep in the loft, and, sousing
his head in the bucket at the well, began his work before
the old town clock in the chapel tower had yet struck four.

The rushes had not been changed since Easter, and were
full of dust and grease from the cooking and the table.
Even the fresher sprigs of mint among them smelled stale
and old. When they were all in the barrow, Nick sighed
with relief and wiped his hands upon the dripping grass.

It had rained in the night,—a soft, warm rain,—and
the air was full of the smell of the apple-bloom and pear
from the little orchard behind the house. The bees were
already humming about the straw-bound hives along the
garden wall, and a misguided green woodpecker clung
upside down to the eaves, and thumped at the beams of
the house.

It was very still there in the gray of the dawn. He
could hear the rush of the water through the sedge in the
mill-race, and then, all at once, the roll of the wheel, the
low rumble of the mill-gear, and the cool whisper of the
wind in the willows.

When he went back into the house again the painted
cloths upon the wall seemed dingier than ever compared
with the clean, bright world outside. The sky-blue coat
of the Prodigal Son was brown with the winter’s smoke ;
the Red Sea towered above Pharaoh’s ill-starred host like
NICHOLAS ATTWOOD’S HOME 11

an inky mountain; and the homely maxims on the next
breadth— “ Do no Wrong,” “ Beware of Sloth,” “ Overcome
Pride,” and “Keep an Eye on the Pence”—could scarcely
be read.

Nick jumped up on the three-legged stool and began to
take them down. The nails were crooked and jammed in
the wall, and the last came out with an unexpected jerk.
Losing his balance, Nick caught at the table-board which
leaned against the wall ; but the stool capsized, and he came
down on the floor with such a flap of tapestry that the
ashes flew out all over the room.

He sat up dazed, and rubbed his elbows, then looked
around and began to laugh.

He could hear heavy footsteps overhead. A door
opened, and his father’s voice called sternly from the head
of the stair: “What madcap folly art thou up to now?”

“TI be up to no folly at all,” said Nick, “but down, sir.
J fell from the stool. There ’s no harm done.”

“Then be about thy business,” said Attwood, coming
slowly down the stairs.

He was a gaunt man, smelling of leather and untanned
hides. His short iron-gray hair grew low down upon his
forehead, and his hooked nose, grim wide mouth, and
heavy under jaw gave him a look at once forbidding and
severe. His doublet of serge and his fustian hose were
stained with liquor from the vats, and his eyes were
heavy with sleep.

The smile faded from Nick’s face. “Shall I throw the
rushes into the street, sir?”
12 MASTER SKYLARK

“Nay; take them to the muck-hill. The burgesses ha’
made a great to-do about folk throwing trash into the
highways. Soul and body o’ man!” he growled, “a man
must ask if he may breathe. And good hides going
a-begeing, too!”

Nick hurried away, for he dreaded his father’s sullen
moods.

The swine were squealing in their styes, the cattle
bawled about the straw-thatched barns in Chapel lane,
and long files of gabbling ducks waddled hurriedly down
to the river through the primroses under the hedge. He
could hear the milkmaids calling in the meadows; and
when he trundled slowly home the smoke was creeping up
in pale-blue threads from the draught-holes in the wall.

The tanner’s house stood a little back from the thor-
oughfare, in that part of Stratford-on-Avon where the
south end of Church street turns from Bull lane toward
the river. It was roughly built of timber and plaster, the
black beams showing through the yellow lime in curious
squares and triangles. The roof was of red tiles, and
where the spreading elms leaned over it the peaked gable
was green with moss.

At the side of the house was a garden of lettuce; be-
yond the garden a rough wall on which the grass was
growing. Sometimes wild primroses grew on top of this
wall, and once a yellow daffodil. Beyond the wall were
other gardens owned by thrifty neighbors, and open lands
in common to them all, where foot-paths wandered here
and there in a free, haphazard way.
NICHOLAS ATTWOOD’S HOME 13

Behind the house was a well and a wood-pile, and along
the lane ran a whitewashed paling fence with a little gate,
from which the path went up to the door through rows of
bright, old-fashioned flowers.

Nick’s mother was getting the breakfast. She was a
gentle woman with a sweet, kind face, and a little air of
quiet dignity that made her doubly dear to Nick by con-
trast with his father’s unkempt ways. He used to think
that, in her worsted gown, with its falling collar of Ant-
werp linen, and a soft, silken coif upon her fading hair,
she was the most beautiful woman in all the world.

She put one arm about his shoulders, brushed back his
curly hair, and kissed him on the forehead.

“Thou art mine own good little son,” said she, tenderly,
“and I will bake thee a cake in the new chimley on the
morrow for thy May-day feast.”

Then she helped him fetch the trestles from the buttery,
set the board, spread the cloth, and lay the wooden plat-
ters, pewter cups, and old horn spoons in place. Break-
fast being ready, she then called his father from the
yard. Nick waited deftly upon them both, so that they
were soon done with the simple meal of rye-bread, lettuce,
cheese, and milk.

As he carried away the empty platters and brought
water and a towel for them to wash their hands, he said
quietly, although his eyes were bright and eager, “The
Lord High Admiral’s company is to act astage-play at
the guildhall to-morrow before Master Davenant the
Mayor and the town burgesses.”
14 MASTER SKYLARK

Simon Attwood said nothing, but his brows drew down.

“They came yestreen from London town by Oxford
way to play in Stratford and at Coventry, and are at the
Swan Inn with Master Geoffrey Inchbold—oh, ever so
many of them, in scarlet jerkins, and cloth of gold, and
doublets of silk laced up like any lord! It is avery good
company, they say.”

Mistress Attwood looked quickly at her husband.
“What will they play?” she asked.

“T ean na say surely, mother—‘Tamburlane,’ perhaps,
or ‘The Troublesome Reign of Old King John” The play
will be free, father—may I go, sir?”

“ And lose thy time from school?”

“There is no school to-morrow, sir.”

“Then have ye naught to do, that ye waste the day in
idle folly?” asked the tanner, sternly.

“J will do my work beforehand, sir,” replied Nick,
quietly, though his hand trembled a little as he brushed
up the crumbs.

“Tt is May-day, Simon,” interceded Mistress Attwood,
“and a bit of pleasure will na harm the lad.”

“Pleasure?” said the tanner, sharply. “If he does na
find pleasure enough in his work, his book, and his home,
he shall na seek it of low rogues and strolling scape-
graces.”

“But, Simon,” said Mistress Attwood, “’t is the Lord
Admiral’s own company—surely they are not all graceless!
And,” she continued with very quiet dignity, “since mine
own cousin Anne Hathaway married Will Shakspere the
NICHOLAS ATTWOOD’S HOME 15

play-actor, ’t is scarcely kind to call all players rogues
and low.”

“No more o’ this, Margaret,” cried Attwood, flushing
angrily. “Thou art ever too ready with the boy’s part
against me. He shall na go—I ll find a thing or two for
him to do among the vats that will take this taste for
idleness out of his mouth. He shall na go: so that be all
there is on it.” Rising abruptly, he left the room.

Nick clenched his hands.

“Nicholas,” said his mother, softly.

“Yes, mother,” said he; “I know. But he should na
flout thee so! And, mother, the Queen goes to the play
—father himself saw her at Coventry ten years ago. Is
what the Queen does idle folly?”

His mother took him by the hand and drew him to her
side, with a smile that was half a sigh. “Art thou the
Queen?”

“Nay,” said he; “and it ’s all the better for England,
like enough. But surely, mother, it can na be wrong—”

“To honour thy father?” said she, quickly, laying her
finger across his lips. “Nay, lad; it is thy bounden
duty.”

Nick turned and looked up at her wonderingly.
“Mother,” said he, “art thou an angel come down out of
heaven?”

“Nay,” she answered, patting his flushed cheek; “I be
only the every-day mother of a fierce little son who hath
many a hard, hard lesson to learn. Now eat thy break-
fast—thou hast been up a long while.”
16 MASTER SKYLARK

Nick kissed her impetuously and sat down, but his heart
still rankled within him.

All Stratford would go to the play. He could hear the
murmur of voices and music, the bursts of laughter and
applause, the tramp of happy feet going up the guildhall
stairs to the Mayor’s show. Everybody went in free at the
Mayor’s show. The other boys could stand on stools and
see it all. They could hold horses at the gate of the inn
at the September fair, and so see all the farces. They
could see the famous Norwich puppet-play. But he—what
pleasure did he ever have? A tawdry pageant by a lot of
clumsy country bumpkins at Whitsuntide or Pentecost, or
a silly school-boy masque at Christmas, with the master
scolding like a heathen Turk. It was not fair.

And now he’d have to work all May-day. May-day
out of all the year! Why, there was to be a May-pole
and a morris-dance, and a roasted calf, too, in Master
Wainwright’s field, since Margery was chosen Queen of
the May. And Peter Finch was to be Robin Hood, and
Nan Rogers Maid Marian, and wear a kirtle of Kendal
green—and, oh, but the May-pole would be brave; high as
the ridge of the guildschool roof, and hung with ribbons
like a rainbow! Geoffrey Hall was to lead the dance,
too, and the other boys and girls would all be there. And
where would he be? Sousing hides in the tannery vats.
Truly his father was a hard man!

He pushed the cheese away.
CHAPTER III
THE LAST STRAW

ITTLE John Summer had a new horn-book that cost

a silver penny. The handle was carven and the

horn was clear as honey. The other little boys stood round

about in speechless envy, or murmured their A B C’s and

“ba be bi’s” along the chapel steps. The lower-form boys

were playing leap-frog past the almshouse, and Geoffrey

Gosse and the vicar’s son were in the public gravel-pit,

throwing stones at the robins in the Great House elms
across the lane.

Some few dull fellows sat upon the steps behind the
school-house, anxiously poring over their books. But the
larger boys of the Fable Class stood in an excited group
beneath the shadow of the overhanging second story of
the grammar-school, talking all at once, each louder than
the other, until the noise was deafening.

“Oh, Nick, such goings on!” called Robin Getley,
whose father was a burgess, as Nick Attwood came slowly
up the street, saying his sentences for the day over and

over to himself in hopeless desperation, having had no
2 17 .
18 MASTER SKYLARK

time to learn them at home. “Stratford Council has had
a quarrel, and there ’s to be no stage-play after all.”

“What?” cried Nick, in amazement. “No stage-play?
And why not?”

“Why,” said Robin, “it was just this way—my father
told me ofit. Sir Thomas Lucy, High Sheriff of Worces-
ter, y’ know, rode in from Charlcote yesternoon, and
with him Sir Edward Greville of Milcote. So the bur-
gesses made a feast for them at the Swan Inn. Sir
Thomas fetched a fine, fat buck, and the town stood good
for ninepence wine and twopence bread, and broached a
keg of sturgeon. And when they were all met together
there, eating, and drinking, and making merry—what?
Why, in came my Lord Admiral’s players from London
town, ruffling it like high dukes, and not caring two pops
for Sir Thomas, or Sir Edward, or for Stratford burgesses
all in a heap; but sat them down at the table straightway,
and called for ale, as if they owned the place; and not
being served as soon as they desired, they laid hands upon
Sir Thomas’s server as he came in from the buttery with
his tray full, and took both meat and drink.”

“What?” cried Nick.

“As sure as shooting, they did!” said Robin; “and
when Sir Thomas’s gentry yeomen would have seen to it
—what? Why, my Lord Admiral’s master-player clapped
his hand to his poniard-hilt, and dared them come and
take it if they could.”

“To Sir Thomas Lucy’s men?” exclaimed Nick, aghast.

“Ay, to their teeth! Sir Edward sprang up then, and
THE LAST STRAW 19

said it was a shame for players to penave so outrageously
in Will Shakspere’s own home town. And at that Sir
Thomas, who, y’ know, has always misliked Will, flared
up like a bull at a red rag, and swore that all stage-play-
ers be runagate rogues, anyway, and Will Shakspere
neither more nor less than a deer-stealing scape-gallows.”

“Surely he did na say that in Stratford Council?” pro-
tested Nick.

“Ay, but he did—that very thing,” said Robin; “and
when that was out, the master-player sprang upon the
table, overturning half the ale, and cried out that Will
Shakspere was his very own true friend, and the sweetest
fellow in all England, and that whosoever gainsaid it was
a hemp-cracking rascal, and that he would prove it upon
his back with a quarter-staff whenever and wherever he
chose, be he Sir Thomas Lucy, St. George and the Dragon,
Guy of Warwick, and the great dun cow, all rolled up in
one!”

“Robin Getley, is this the very truth, or art thou cozen-
ing me?”

“Upon my word, it is the truth,” said Robin. “And
that’s not all. Sir Edward cried out ‘Fie!’ upon the
player for a saucy varlet ; but the fellow only laughed, and
bowed quite low, and said that he took no offense from
Sir Edward for saying that, since it could not honestly be
denied, but that Sir Thomas did not know the truth from
a truckle-bed in broad daylight, and was but the remnant
of a gentleman to boot.”

“The bold-faced rogue!”
20 MASTER SKYLARK

“ Ay, that he is,” nodded Robin; “and for his boldness
Sir Thomas straightway demanded that the High Bailiff
refuse the company license to play in Stratford.”

“Refuse the Lord High Admiral’s players?”

“Marry, no one else. And then Master John Shakspere.
wroth at what Sir Thomas had said of his son Will, vowed
that he would send a letter down to London town, and lay
the whole coil before the Lord High Admiral himself.
For ever since that he was High Bailiff, the best compa-
nies of England had always been bidden to play in Strat-
ford, and it would be an ill thing now to refuse the Lord
Admiral’s company after granting licenses to both my
Lord Pembroke’s and the High Chamberlain’s.”

“ And so it would,” spoke up Walter Roche; “for there
are our own townsmen, Richard and Cuthbert Burbage,
who are cousins of mine, and John Hemynge and Thomas
Greene, besides Will Shakspere and his brother Edmund,
all playing in the Lord Chamberlain’s company in London
before the Queen. It would be a black score against them
all with the Lord Admiral—I doubt not he would pay
them out.”

“That he would,” said Robin, “and so said my father
and Alderman Henry Walker, who, y’ know, is Will
Shakspere’s own friend. And some of the burgesses who
cared not a rap for that were afeard of offending the
Lord Admiral. But Sir Thomas vowed that my Lord
Howard was at Cadiz with Walter Raleigh and the young
Earl of Sussex, and would by no means hear of it. So
Master Bailiff Stubbes, who, ’t is said, doth owe Sir Thomas
. THE LAST STRAW 21

forty pound, and is therefore under his thumb, forthwith
refused the company license to play in Stratford guild-
hall, inn-yard, or common. And at that the master-player
threw his glove into Master Stubbes’s face, and called
Sir Thomas a stupid old bell-wether, and Stratford bur-
gesses silly sheep for following wherever he chose to
jump.”

“ And so they be,” sneered Hal Saddler.

“How?” cried Robin, hotly. “My father is a burgess.
Dost thou call him a sheep, Hal Saddler?”

“Nay, nay,” stammered Hal, hastily; “’t was not thy
father I meant.”

“Then hold thy tongue with both hands,” said Robin,
sharply, ‘‘or it will crack thy pate for thee some of these
fine days.”

“But come, Robin,” asked Nick, eagerly, “ what became
of the quarrel?”

“Well, when the master-player threw his glove into
Master Stubbes’s face, the Chief Constable seized him for
contempt of Stratford Council, and held him for trial.
At that some cried ‘Shame!’ and some ‘Hurrah!’ but the
rest of the players fled out of town in the night, lest their
baggage be taken by the law and they be fined.”

“Whither did they go?” asked Nick, both sorry and
glad to hear that they were gone.

“To Coventry, and left the master-player behind in
gaol.”

“Why, they dare na use him so—the Lord Admiral’s
own man!”
22 MASTER SKYLARK

“Ay, that they don’t! Why, hark ’e, Nick! This
morning, since Sir Thomas has gone home, and the bur-
gesses’ heads have all cooled down from the sack and the
clary they were in last night, la! but they are in a pretty
stew, my father says, for fear that they have given offense
to the Lord Admiral. So they have spoken the master-
player softly, and given him his freedom out of hand, and
a long gold chain to twine about his cap, to mend the
matter with, beside.”

“Whee-ew!” whistled Nick. “I wish I were a master-
player !”

“Oh, but he will not be pleased, and says he will have
his revenge on Stratford town if he must needs wait until
the end of the world or go to the Indies after it. And
he has had his breakfast served in Master Geoffrey Inch-
bold’s own room at the Swan, and swears that he will
walk the whole way to Coventry sooner than straddle the
horse that the burgesses have sent him to ride.”

“What! Is he at the inn? Why, let’s go down and
see him.”

“Master Brunswood says that he will birch whoever
cometh late,” objected Hal Saddler.

“Birch?” groaned Nick. “Why, he does nothing but
birch! catching it. And as for getting through the ‘genitivo’
and ‘vocativo’ without a downright threshing—” He
shrugged his shoulders ruefully as he remembered his
unlearned lesson. Everything had gone wrong with him
that morning, and the thought of the birching that he
THE LAST STRAW 23

was sure to get was more than he could bear. “TIwillna
stand it any longer—I’ll run away!”

Kit Sedgewick laughed ironically. “And when the
skies fall well catch sparrows, Nick Attwood,” said he.
“Whither wilt thou run?”

Stung by his tone of ridicule, Nick out with the first
thing that came into his head. “To Coventry, after the
stage-players,” said he, defiantly.

The whole crowd gave an incredulous hoot.

Nick’s face flushed. To be crossed at home, to be
birched at school, to work all May-day in the tannery
vats, and to be laughed at—it was too much.

“Ye think that I will na? Well, I'll show ye! ’T is
only eight miles to Warwick, and hardly more than that
beyond—no walk at all; and Diccon Haggard, my
mother’s cousin, lives in Coventry. So out upon your
musty Latin— English is good enough for me this day!
There’s bluebells blowing in the dingles, and cuckoo-buds
no end. And while ye are all grinding at your old Alsop
I shall be roaming over the hills wherever I please.”

As he spoke he thought of the dark, wainscoted walls
of the school-room with their narrow little windows over-
head, of the foul-smelling floors of the tannery in Southam’s
lane, and his heart gave a great, rebellious leap. “Ay,”
said he, exultantly, “I shall be out where the birds can
sing and the grass is green, and I shall see the stage-play,
while ye will be mewed up all day long in school, and
have nothing but a beggarly morris and a farthing May-
pole on the morrow.”
24 MASTER SKYLARK

“Oh, no doubt, no doubt,” said Hal Saddler, mockingly
“We shall have but bread and milk, and thou shalt have
—a most glorious threshing from thy father when thou
comest home again!”

That was the last straw to Nick’s unhappy heart.

“'T ig a threshing either way,” said he, squaring his
shoulders doggedly. “Father will thresh me if I run
away, and Master Brunswood will thresh me if I don’t.
I'll not be birched four times a week for merely tripping
on a word, and have nothing to show for it but stripes.
If I must take a threshing, Ill have my good day’s game
out first.”

“But wilt thou truly go to Coventry, Nick?” asked
Robin Getley, earnestly, for he liked Nick more than all
the rest.

“Ay, truly, Robin—that I will”; and, turning, Nick
walked swiftly away toward the market-place, never look-
ing back.
CHAPTER IV
OFF FOR COVENTRY

T the Bridge street crossing Nick paused irresolute.
Around the public pump a chattering throng of
housewives were washing out their towels and hanging
them upon the market-cross to dry. Along the stalls in
Middle Row the grumbling shopmen were casting up their
sales from tallies chalked upon their window-ledges, or
euffing their tardy apprentices with no light hand.

John Gibson’s cart was hauling gravel from the pits in
Henley street to mend the causeway at the bridge, which
had been badly washed by the late spring floods, and the
fine sand dribbled from the cart-tail like the sand in av
hour-glass.

Here and there loutish farm-hands waited for work;
and at the corner two or three stout cudgel-men leaned
upon their long staves, although the market was two
days closed, and there was not a Coventry merchant in
sight to be driven away from Stratford trade.

Goody Baker with her shovel and broom of twigs was

sweeping up the market litter in the square. Nick won:
25
26 MASTER SKYLARK

dered if his own mother’s back would be so bent when
she grew old.

“Whur be-est going, Nick?”

Roger Dawson sat astride a stick of timber in front of
Master Geoffrey Thompson’s new house, watching Tom
Carpenter the carver cut fleur-de-lis and curling traceries
upon the front wall beams. He was a tenant-farmer’s
son, this Roger, and a likely good-for-naught.

“To Coventry,” said Nick, curtly

“Wilt take a fellow wi’ thee?”

Poor company might be better than none.

“Come on.”

Roger lumbered to his feet and trotted after.

“No school to-day?” he asked.

“Not for me,” answered Nick, shortly, for he did not
eare to talk about it.

“Faither wull na have I go to school, since us ha’ comed
to town, an’ plough-land sold for grazings,” drawled
Roger; “Muster Pine o’ Welford saith that I ha’ learned
as much as faither ever knowed, an’ ’t is enow for I.
Faither saith it maketh saucy rogues o’ sons to know
more than they’s own dads.”

Nick wondered if it did. His own father could neither
read nor write, while he could do both and had some Latin,
too. At the thought of the Latin he made a wry face.

“Joe Carter be-eth in the stocks,” said Roger, peering
through the jeering crowd about the pillory and post; “a
broke Tom Samson’s pate wi’ ’s ale-can yestreen.”

But Nick pushed on. A few ruddy-faced farmers and




ASKED ROGER DAWSON,”

“WHUR BE-EST GOING, NICK?’
OFF FOR COVENTRY 27

drovers from the Red Horse Vale still lingered at the
Boar Inn door and by the tap-room of the Crown; and in
the middle of the street a crowd of salters, butchers, and
dealers in hides, with tallow-smeared doublets and doubt-
ful hose, were squabbling loudly about the prices set upon
their wares.

In the midst of them Nick saw his father, and scurried
away into Back Bridge street as fast as he could, feeling
very near a sneak, but far from altering his purpose.

“Job Hortop,” said Simon Attwood to his apprentice at
his side, looking out suddenly over the crowd, “ was that
my Nick yonder?”

“Nay, master, could na been,” said Job, stolidly ; “ Nick
be-eth in school by now—the clock ha struck. ’T was
Dawson’s Hodge and some like ne’er-do-well.”
CHAPTER V
IN THE WARWICK ROAD

HE land was full of morning sounds as the lads

trudged along the Warwick road together. An ax

rang somewhere deep in the woods of Arden; cart-wheels

ruttled on the stony road; a blackbird whistled shrilly in

the hedge, and they heard the deep-tongued belling of
hounds far off in Fulbroke park.

Now and then a heron, rising from the river, trailed its
long legs across the sky, or a kingfisher sparkled in his
own splash. Once a lonely fisherman down by the Avon
started a wild duck from the sedge, and away it went pat-
tering up-stream with frightened wings and red feet
running along the water. And then a river-rat plumped
into the stream beneath the willows, and left a long string
of bubbles behind him.

Nick’s ill humor soon wore off as he breathed the fresh
air, moist from lush meadows, and sweet from hedges pink
and white with hawthorn bloom. The thought of being
pent up on such a day grew more and more unbearable,
and a blithe sense of freedom from all restraint blunted

the prick of conscience.
28
IN THE WARWICK ROAD 29

“Why art going to Coventry, Nick?” inquired Roger.
suddenly, startled by a thought coming into his wits like
a child by a bat in the room.

“To see the stage-play that the burgesses would na allow
in Stratford.”

“Wull I see, too?”

“Tf thou hast eyes—the Mayor's show is free.”

“Oh, feckins, wun’t it be fine?” gaped Hodge. “Be it
a tailors’ show, Nick, wi? Herod the King, and a rope for
to hang Judas? An’ wull they set the world afire wi’ a
torch, an’ make the earth quake fearful wi’ a barrel full
o’ stones? Or wullit be Sin in a motley gown a-thumping
the Black Man over the pate wi’ a bladder full 0’ peasen—
aw’ angels wi’ silver wingses, an’ saints wi’ goolden hair?
Or wull it be a giant nine yards high, clad in the beards
o’ murdered kings, like granny saith she used to see?”

“Pshaw! no,” said Nick; “none of those old-fashioned
things. These be players from London town, and I hope
they ll play a right good English history-play, like ‘The
Famous Victories of Henry Fift, to turn a fellow’s legs
all goose-flesh ! ”

Hodge stopped short in the road. “La!” said he, “1711
go no furder if they turn me to a goose. I wunnof be
turned goose, Nick Attwood—an’ a plague on all witches,
says I!”

“Oh, pshaw!” laughed Nick; “come on. No witch in
the world could turn thee bigger goose than thou art now.
Come along wi’ thee; there be no witches there at all.”

“ Art sure thou ’rt not bedaffing me?” hesitated Hodge
30 MASTER SKYLARK

“Good, then; I be na feared. Art sure there be no
witches?”

“Why,” said Nick, “would Master Burgess John Shak-
spere leave his son Will to do with witches?”

“T dunno,” faltered Hodge; “a told Muster Robin
Bowles it was na right to drownd ’em in the river.”

Nick hesitated. “Maybe it kills the fish,” said he; “and
Master Will Shakspere always liked to fish. But they
burn witches in London, Hodge, and he has na put a stop
to it—and he’s a great man in London town.”

Hodge came on a little way, shaking his head like an
old sheep in a corner. “Wully Shaxper a great man?”
said he. “Why, a’s name be cut on the old beech-tree up
Snitterfield lane, where ’s uncle Henry Shaxper lives, an’
% is but poorly done. I could do better wi? my own
whittle.”

“ Ay, Hodge,” cried Nick; “and that’s about all thou
canst do. Dost think that a man’s greatness hangs on so
little a thing as his sleight of hand at cutting his name on
a tree?”

“Wull, maybe; maybe not; but if a be a great man,
Nick Attwood, a might do a little thing passing well—so
there, now!”

Nick pondered for a moment. “Ido na know,” said he,
slowly ; “heaps of men can do the little things, but parlous
few the big. So some one must be bigging it, or folks
would all sing very small. And he doeth the big most
beautiful, they say. They call him the Swan of Avon.”

“ Avon swans be mostly geese,” said Hodge, vacantly.
IN THE WARWICK ROAD 31

“Now, look ’e here, Hodge Dawson, don’t thou be call-
ing Master Will Shakspere goose. He married my own
mother’s cousin, and I will na have it.”

“Ta, now,” drawled Hodge, staring, “’t is nowt to me.
Thy Muster Wully Shaxper may be all the long-necked
fowls in Warrickshire for all I care. And, anyway, I’d
like to know, Nick Attwood, since when hath a been ‘ Mus-
ter Shaxper’—that ne’er-do-well, play-actoring fellow?”

“Ne’er-do-well? It is na so. When he was here last
summer he was bravely dressed, and had a heap of good
gold nobles in his purse. And he gave Rick Hawkins,
that ’s blind of an eye, a shilling for only holding his
horse.”

“Oh, ay,” drawled Hodge; “a fool and a’s money be
soon parted.”

“Will Shakspere is no fool,” declared Nick, hotly.
“He’s made a peck o’ money there in London town, and’s
going to buy the Great House in Chapel lane, and come
back here to live.”

“Then a’s a witless azzy!” blurted Hodge. “If a’s
so great a man amongst the lords and earlses, a ’d na
come back to Stratford. An’ I say a’s a witless loon—
so there!”

Nick whirled around in the road. “And I say, Hodge
Dawson,” he exclaimed with flashing eyes, “that ’t is a
shame for a lout like thee to so miscall thy thousand-time
betters. And what’s more, thou shalt unsay that, or I
will make thee swallow thy words right here and now!”

“T 'd loike to see thee try,” Hodge began; but the words
32 MASTER SKYLARK

were scarcely out of his mouth when he found himself
stretched on the grass, Nick Attwood bending over him.

“There! thou hast seen it tried. Now come, take that
back, or I will surely box thine ears for thee.”

Hodge blinked and gaped, collecting his wits, which
had scattered to the four winds. “Whoy,” said he,
vaguely, “if ’t is all o’ that to thee, I take it back.”

Nick rose, and Hodge scrambled clumsily to his feet.
“TIL na go wi’ thee,” said he, sulkily ; “I will na go whur
I be whupped.”

Nick turned on his heel without a word, and started on.

“ An’ what ’s more,” bawled Hodge after him, “thy
Muster Wully Shaxper be-eth an old gray goose, an’ boo
to he, says I!”

As he spoke he turned, dived through the thin hedge,
and galloped across the field as if an army were at his
heels.

Nick started back, but quickly paused. “Thou needst
na run,” he called; “I’ve not the time to catch thee now.
But mind ye this, Hodge Dawson: when I do come back,
I’ll teach thee who thy betters be—Will Shakspere first
of all!”

“Well crowed, well crowed, my jolly cockerel!” on a
sudden called a keen, high voice beyond the hedge behind
him.

Nick, startled, whirled about just in time to see a
stranger leap the hedge and come striding up the road.
CHAPTER VI
THE MASTER-PLAYER

E had trim, straight legs, this stranger, and a slen-
der, lithe body in a tawny silken jerkin. Square-
shouldered, too, was he, and over one shoulder hung a
plum-colored cloak bordered with gold braid. His long
hose were the color of his cloak, and his shoes were russet
leather, with rosettes of plum, and such high heels as Nick
had never seen before. His bonnet was of tawny velvet,
with a chain twisted round it, fastened by a jeweled brooch
through which was thrust a curly cock-feather. A fine
white Holland-linen shirt peeped through his jerkin at the
throat, with a broad lace collar; and his short hair curled
erisply all over his head. He had a little pointed beard,
and the ends of his mustache were twisted so that they
stood up fiercely on either side of his sharp nose. At his
side was a long Italian poniard in a sheath of russet leather
and silver filigree, and he had a reckless, high and mighty

fling about his stride that strangely took the eye.

Nick stood, all taken by surprise, and stared.
The stranger seemed to like it, but scowled nevertheless.
8 33
34 MASTER SKYLARK

“What! How now?” he cried sharply. “Dost like or
like me not?”

“Why, sir?’ stammered Nick, utterly lost for anything
to say—“why, sir,—” and knowing nothing else to do, he
took off his cap and bowed.

“Come, come,” snapped the stranger, stamping his foot,
“T am a swashing, ruffling, desperate Dick, and not to be
made a common jest for Stratford dolts to giggle at
What! These legs, that have put on the very gentleman
in proud Verona’s streets, laid in Stratford’s common
stocks, like a silly apprentice’s slouching heels? Nay,
nay ; some one should taste old Bless-his-heart here first !”
and with that he clapped his hand upon the hilt of his
poniard, with a wonderful swaggering tilt of his shoulders.
“Dost take me, boy ?”

“Why, sir)’ hesitated Nick, no little awed by the
stranger’s wild words and imperious way, “ye surely are
the master-player.”

“There!” cried the stranger, whirling about, as if defy-
ing some one in the hedge. “Who said I could not act?
Why, see, he took me at a touch! Say, boy,” he laughed,
and turned to Nick, “thou art no fool. Why, boy, I say
I love thee now for this, since what hath passed in Strat-
ford. A murrain on the town! Dost hear me, boy ?—a
black murrain on the town!” And all at once he made
such a fierce stride toward Nick, gritting his white teeth,
and clapping his hand upon his poniard, that Nick drew
back afraid of him.

“But nay,” hissed the stranger, and spat with scorn;


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“«WHAT! HOW NOW?’ CRIED THE STRANGER, SHARPLY. ‘DOST LIKE OR
LIKE ME NOT??”


THE MASTER-PLAYER 35

“a town like that is its own murrain—let it sicken on
itself!”

He struck an attitude, and waved his hand as if he were
talking quite as much to the trees and sky as he was to
Nick Attwood, and looked about him as if waiting for ap-
plause. Then all at once he laughed,—a rollicking, merry
laugh,—and threw off his furious manner as one does an
old coat. “ Well, boy,” said he, with a quiet smile, looking
kindly at Nick, “thou art a right stanch little friend to
all of us stage-players. And I thank thee for it in Will
Shakspere’s name; for he is the sweetest fellow of us all.”

His voice was simple, frank, and free—so different from
the mad tone in which he had just been ranting that Nick
caught his breath with surprise.

“Nay, lad, look not so dashed,” said the master-player,
merrily ; “that was only old Jem Burbage’s mighty tragic
style; and I—I am only Gaston Carew, hail-fellow-well-
met with all true hearts. Be known to me, lad; what is
thy name? I like thy open, pretty face.”

Nick flushed. “Nicholas Attwood is my name, sir.”

“Nicholas Attwood? Why, it is a good name. Nick
Attwood,—young Nick,—I hope Old Nick will never catch
thee—upon my word I do, and on the remnant of mine
honour! Thou hast taken a player’s part like a man, and
thou art a good fellow, Nicholas Attwood, and I love thee.
So thou art going to Coventry to see the players act?
Surely thine is a nimble wit to follow fancy nineteen miles.
Come; I am going to Coventry to join my fellows. Wilt
thou go with me, Nick, and dine with us this night at the
36 MASTER SKYLARK

best inn in all Coventry—the Blue Boar? Thou hast quite
plucked up my downcast heart for me, lad, imdeed thou
hast; for I was sore of Stratford town—aud I shall not
soon forget thy plucky fending for our own sweet Will
Come, say thou wilt go with me.”

“Indeed, sir,’ said Nick, bowing again, his head all in a
whirl of excitement at this wonderful adventure, “indeed
I will, and that right gladly, sir.” And with heart beat-
ing like a trip-hammer he walked along, cap in hand, not
knowing that his head was bare.

The master-player laughed a simple, hearty laugh.
“Why, Nick,” said he, laying his hand caressingly upon
the boy’s shoulder, “I am no such great to-do as all that
—upon my word, I’m not! A man of some few parts,
perhaps, not common in the world; but quite a plain
fellow, after all. Come, put off this high humility and be
just friendly withal. Put on thy cap; we are but two good
faring-fellows here.”

So Nick put on his cap, and they went on together, Nick
in the seventh heaven of delight.

About a mile beyond Stratford, Welecombe wood creeps
down along the left. Just beyond, the Dingles wind
irregularly up from the foot-path below to the crest of
Welcombe hill, through straggling clumps and briery
hollows, sweet with nodding bluebells, ash, and hawthorn

Nick and the master-player paused a moment at the top
to catch their breath and to look back.

Stratford and the valley of the Avon lay spread before
them like a picture of peace, studded with blossoming
THE MASTER-PLAYER 37

orchards and girdled with spring. Northward the forest
of Arden clad the rolling hills. Southward the fields of
Feldon stretched away to the blue knolls beyond which lay
Oxford and Northamptonshire. The ragged stretches of
Snitterfield downs scrambled away to the left; and on the
right, beyond Bearley, were the wooded uplands where
Guy of Warwick and Heraud of Arden slew the wild ox
and the boar. And down through the midst ran the Avon
southward, like a silver ribbon slipped through Kendal
green, to where the Stour comes down, past Luddington.
to Bidford, and away to the misty hills.

“Why,” exclaimed the master-player—“ why, upon my
word, it is a fair town—as fair a town as the heart of man
could wish. Wish? I wish ’t were sunken in the sea,
with all its pack of fools! Why,” said he, turning wrath-
fully upon Nick, “that old Sir Thingumbob of thine, down
there, called me a caterpillar on the kingdom of England,
a vagabond, and a common player of interludes! Called
me vagabond! Me! Why, I have more good licenses
than he has wits. And as to Master Bailiff Stubbes, I
have permits to play from more justices of the peace than
he can shake a stick at in a month of Sundays!” He
shook his fist wrathfully at the distant town, and gnawed
his mustache until one side pointed up and the other down.
“But, hark ’e, boy, I ll have my vengeance on them all—
ay, that will I, upon my word, and on the remnant of mine
honour—or else my name’s not Gaston Carew!”

“Ts it true, sir,” asked Nick, hesitatingly, “that they
despitefully handled you?”
38 MASTER SKYLARK

“With their tongues, ay,” said Carew, bitterly ; “but not
otherwise.” He clapped his hand upon his poniard, and
threw back his head defiantly. “They dared not come to
blows—they knew my kind! Yet John Shakspere is no
bad sort—he knoweth what is what. But Master Bailiff
Stubbes, I ween, is a long-eared thing that brays for
thistles. I ‘ll thistle him! He called Will Shakspere
rogue. Hast ever looked through a red glass?”

“Nay,” said Nick.

“Well, it turns the whole world red. And so it is with
Master Stubbes. He looks through a pair of rogue’s eyes
and sees the whole world rogue. Why, boy,” cried the
master-player, vehemently, “he thought to buy my
tongue! Marry, if tongues were troubles he has bought
himself a peck! What! Buy my silence? Nay, he ’ll
see a deadly flash of silence when I come to my Lord the
Admiral again!”
CHAPTER VII
“WELL SUNG, MASTER SKYLARK!”

T was past high noon, and they had long since left War-
wick castle far behind. “Nicholas,” said the master-
player, in the middle of a stream of amazing stories of life
in London town, “there is Blacklow knoll.” He pointed
to a little hill off to the left.

Nick stared; he knew the tale: how grim old Guy de
Beauchamp had Piers Gaveston’s head upon that hill for
calling him the Black Hound of Arden.

“Ah!” said Carew, “times have changed since then,
boy, when thou couldst have a man’s head off for calling
thee a name—or I would have yon Master Bailiff Stubbes’s
head off short behind the ears—and Sir Thomas Lucy’s
too!” he added, with a sudden flash of anger, gritting his
teeth and clenching his hand upon his poniard. “But,
Nicholas, hast anything to eat?”

“Nothing at all, sir.”

Master Carew pulled from his pouch some barley-cakes
and half a small Banbury cheese, yellow as gold and with
a keen, sharp savour. “’T is enough for both of us,” said

39
40 MASTER SKYLARK

he, as they came to a shady little wood with a clear,
mossy-bottomed spring running down into a green meadow
with a mild noise, murmuring among the stones. “Come
along, Nicholas; we ’ll eat it under the trees.”

He had a small flask of wine, but Nick drank no wine,
and went down to the spring instead. There was a wild
bird singing in a bush there, and as he trotted down the
slope it hushed its wandering tune. Nick took the sound
up softly, and stood by the wet stones a little while,
imitating the bird’s trilling note, and laughing to hear it
answer timidly, as if it took him for some great new bird
without wings. Cocking its shy head and watching him
shrewdly with its beady eye, it sat, almost persuaded that
it was only size which made them different, until Nick
clapped his cap upon his head and strolled back, singing
as he went.

It was only the thread of an old-fashioned madrigal
which he had often heard his mother sing, with quaint
words long since gone out of style and hardly to be un-
derstood, and between the staves a warbling, wordless re-
frain which he had learned out on the hills and in the
fields, picked up from a bird’s glad-throated morning-
song.

He had always sung the plain-tunes in church without
taking any particular thought about it; and he sang
easily, with a clear young voice which had a full, flute-
like note in it like the high, sweet song of a thrush singing
in deep woods.

Gaston Carew, the master-player, was sitting with his
“WELL SUNG, MASTER SKYLARK!” 41

back against an oak, placidly munching the last of the
cheese, when Nick began to sing. He started, straighten-
ing up as if some one had called him suddenly out of a
sound sleep, and, turning his head, listened eagerly.

Nick mocked the wild bird, called again with a mellow,
warbling trill, and then struck up the quaint old madrigal
with the bird’s song running through it. Carew leaped to
his feet, with a flash in his dark eyes. “My soul! my
soul!” he exclaimed in an excited undertone. “It is not
—nay, it cannot be—why, ’t is—it is the boy! Upon my
heart, he hath a skylark prisoned in his throat! Well
sung, well sung, Master Skylark!” he cried, clapping his
hands in real delight, as Nick came singing up the bank.
“Why, lad, I vow I thought thou wert up in the sky some-
where, with wings to thy back! Where didst thou learn
that wonder-song?”

Nick colored up, quite taken aback. “I do na know,
sir,” said he; “mother learned me part, and the rest just
came, I think, sir.”

The master-player, his whole face alive and eager, now
stared at Nicholas Attwood as fixedly as Nick had stared
at him.

It was a hearty little English lad he saw, about eleven
years of age, tall, slender, trimly built, and fair. A gray
cloth cap clung to the side of his curly yellow head, and
he wore a sleeveless jerkin of dark-blue serge, gray home-
spun hose, and heelless shoes of russet leather. The white
sleeves of his linen shirt were open to the elbow, and his
arms were lithe and brown. His eyes were frankly clear
42 MASTER SKYLARK

and blue, and his red mouth had a trick of smiling that
went straight to a body’s heart.

“Why, lad, lad,” cried Carew, breathlessly, “thou hast
a very fortune in thy throat!”

Nick looked up in great surprise ; and at that the master
player broke off suddenly and said no more, though such
a strange light came creeping into his eyes that Nick, after
meeting his fixed stare for a moment, asked uneasily if
they would not better be going on.

Without a word the master-player started. Something
had come into his head which seemed to more than fill his
mind ; for as he strode along he whistled under his breath
and laughed softly to himself. Then again he snapped
his fingers and took a dancing step or two across the road,
and at last fell to talking aloud to himself, though Nick
could not make out a single word he said, for it was in
some foreign language.

“Nicholas,” he said suddenly, as they passed the wind-
ing lane that leads away to Kenilworth—“ Nicholas, dost
know any other songs like that?”

“Not just like that, sir,” answered Nick, not knowing
what to make of his companion’s strange new mood;
“but I know Master Will Shakspere’s ‘Then nightly
sings the staring owl, tu-who, tu-whit, tu-who!’ and
‘The ousel-cock so black of hue, with orange-tawny bill,’
and then, too, I know the throstle’s song that goes with
it.”

“Why, to be sure—to be sure thou knowest old Nick
Bottom’s song, for is n’t thy name Nick? Well met, both
“WELL SUNG, MASTER SKYLARK!” 43

song and singer—well met, I say! Nay,” he said hastily,
seeing Nick about to speak; “I do not care to hear thee
talk. Sing me all thy songs. I am hungry as a wolf for
songs. Why, Nicholas, I must have songs! Come, lift
up that honeyed throat of thine and sing another song.
Be not so backward; surely I love thee, Nick, and thou
wilt sing all of thy songs for me.”

He laid his hand on Nick’s shoulder in his kindly way,
and kept step with him like a bosom friend, so that Nick’s
heart beat high with pride, and he sang all the songs he
knew as they walked along.

Carew listened intently, and sometimes with a fierce
eagerness that almost frightened the boy; and sometimes
he frowned, and said under his breath, “Tut, tut, that
will not do!” but oftener he laughed without a sound,
nodding his head in time to the lilting tune, and seeming
vastly pleased with Nick, the singing, and last, but not
least, with himself.

And when Nick had ended the master-player had not
a word to say, but for half a mile gnawed his mustache in
nervous silence, and looked Nick all over with a long and
earnest look.

Then suddenly he slapped his thigh, and tossed his head
back boldly. “TI/’ll do it,’ he said; “Ill do it if I dance
on air for it! Ill have it out of Master Stubbes and
canting Stratford town, or may I never thrive! My soul!
it is the very thing. His eyes are like twin holidays, and
he breathes the breath of spring. Nicholas, Nicholas Sky-
lark,—Master Skylark, —why, it is a good name, in sooth,
44 MASTER SKYLARK

avery good name! I'll do it—I will, upon my word, and
on the remnant of mine honour!”

“Did ye speak to me, sir?” asked Nick, timidly.

“Nay, Nicholas; I was talking to the moon.”

“Why, sir, the moon has not come yet,” said Nick, star-
ing into the western sky.

“To be sure,” replied Master Carew, with a queer laugh.
“Well, the silvery jade has missed the first act.”

“Oh,” eried Nick, reminded of the purpose of his long

walk, “what will ye play for the Mayor’s play, sir?”
' “T don’t know,” replied Carew, carelessly ; “it will all
be done before I come. They will have had the free play
this afternoon, so as to catch the pence of all the May-day
erowd to-morrow.”

Nick stopped in the road, and his eyes filled up with
tears, so quick and bitter was the disappointment. “Why,”
he cried, with a tremble in his tired voice, “I thought the
free play would be on the morrow—and now I have not a
farthing to go in!”

“Tut, tut, thou silly lad!” laughed Carew, frankly ;
“am I thy friend for naught? What! let thee walk all
the way to Coventry, and never see the play? Nay, on
my soul! Why, Nick, I love thee, lad; and I ll do for
thee in the twinkling of an eye. Canst thou speak lines
by heart? Well, then, say these few after me, and bear
them in thy mind.”

And thereupon he hastily repeated some half a dozen
disconnected lines in a high, reciting tone.

“Why, sir,” cried Nick, bewildered, “it is a part!”
“WELL SUNG, MASTER SKYLARK!” 45

“Po be sure,” said Carew, laughing, “it is a part—and
a part of a very good whole, too—a comedy by young
Tom Heywood, that would make a graven image split its
sides with laughing; and do thou just learn that part,
good Master Skylark, and thou shalt say it in to-morrow’s
play.”

“What, Master Carew!” gasped Nick. “I—truly?
With the Lord Admiral’s players?”

“Why, to be sure!” cried the master-player, in great
glee, clapping him upon the back. “ Didst think I meant
a parcel of dirty tinkers? Nay, lad; thou art just the
very fellow for the part—my lady’s page should be a
pretty lad, and, soul o’ me, thou art that same! And,
Nick, thou shalt sing Tom Heywood’s newest song. It is
a pretty song; it is a lark-song like thine own.”

Nick could hardly believe his ears. To act with the
Lord Admiral’s company! To sing with them before ail
Coventry! It passed the wildest dream that he had ever
dreamed. What would the boys in Stratford say? Aha!
they would laugh on the other side of their mouths now!

“But will they have me, sir?” he asked doubtfully.

“Have thee?” said Master Carew, haughtily. “If I
say go, thou shalt go. Iam master here. And I tell thee,
Nick, that thou shalt see the play, and be the play, in part,
and—well, we shall see what we shall see.”

With that he fell to humming and chuckling to himself,
as if he had swallowed a water-mill, while Nick turned.
ecstatic cart-wheels along the grass beside the road. until
presently Coventry came in sight.
CHAPTER VIII
THE ADMIRAL’S COMPANY

HE ancient city of Coventry stands upon a little hill,
with old St. Michael’s steeple and the spire of Holy
Trinity church rising above it against the sky; and as the
master-player and the boy came climbing upward from
the south, walls, towers, chimneys, and red-tiled roofs
were turned to gold by the glow of the setting sun.

To Nick it seemed as if a halo overhung the town—a
ruddy glory and a wonder bright; for here the Grey Friars
of the great monastery had played their holy mysteries
and miracle-plays for over a hundred years; here the
trade-guilds had held their pageants when the friars’ day
was done; here were all the wonders that old men told by
winter fires.

People were coming and going through the gates like
bees about a hive, and in the distance Nick could hear
the sound of many voices, the rush of feet, wheels, and
hoofs, and the shrill pipe of music. Here and there were
little knots of country folk making holiday: a father and

mother with a group of rosy children; a lad and his lass,
46
THE ADMIRAL’S COMPANY 47

spruce in new finery, and gay with bits of ribbon—merry
groups that were ever changing. Gay banners flapped
on tall ash staves. The suburb fields were filled with
booths and tents and stalls and butts for archery. The
very air seemed eager with the eve of holiday.

But what to Nick was breathless wonder was to Carew
only a twice-told tale; so he pushed through the crowded
thoroughfares, amid a throng that made Nick’s head spin
round, and came quickly to the Blue Boar Inn.

The court was crowded to the gates with horses, trav-
elers, and serving-men ; and here and there and everywhere
rushed the busy innkeeper, with a linen napkin fluttering
on his arm, his cap half off, and in his hot hand a pewter
flagon, from which the brown ale dripped in spatters on
his fat legs as he flew.

“They ’re here,” said Carew, looking shrewdly about;
“for there is Gregory Goole, my groom, and Stephen
Magelt, the tire-man. In with thee, Nicholas.”

He put Nick before him with a little air of patronage,
and pushed him into the room.

It was a large, low chamber with heavy beams overhead,
hung with leather jacks and pewter tankards. Around
the walls stood rough tables, at which a medley of guests
sat eating, drinking, dicing, playing at cards, and talking
loudly all at once, while the tapster and the cook’s knave
sped wildly about.

At a great table in the midst of the riot sat the Lord
High Admiral’s players—a score or more loud-swashing
gallants, richly clad in ruffs and bands, embroidered
48 MASTER SKYLARK

shirts, Italian doublets slashed and laced, Venetian hose,
gay velvet caps with jeweled bands, and every man a pon-
iard or a rapier at his hip. Nick felt very much like a little
brown sparrow in a flock of gaudy Indian birds.

The board was loaded down with meat and drink, and
some of the players were eating with forks, a new trick
from the London court, which Nick had never seen
before. But all the diners looked up when Carew’s face
was recognized, and welcomed him with a deafening
shout.

He waved his hand for silence.

“Thanks for these kind plaudits, gentle friends,” said
he, with a mocking air; “I have returned.”

“Yes; we see that ye have, Gaston,” they all shouted,
and laughed again.

“Ay,” said he, thrusting his hand into his pouch, “ye
fled, and left me to be spoiled by the spoiler, but ye see I
have left the spoiler spoiled.”

Lifting his hand triumphantly, he shook in their faces
the golden chain that the burgesses of Stratford had given
him, and then, laying his hand upon Nick’s shoulder,
bowed to them all, and to him with courtly grace, and said:
“Be known, be known, all! Gentlemen, my Lord Admi-
ral’s Players, Master Nicholas Skylark, the sweetest singer
in all the kingdom of England!”

Nick’s cheeks fiushed hotly, and his eyes fell; for they
all stared curiously, first at him, and then at Carew stand-
ing up behind him, and several grinned mockingly and
winked in a knowing way. He stole a look at Carew; but
THE ADMIRAL’S COMPANY 49

the master-player’s face was frank and quite unmoved, so
that Nick felt reassured.

“Why, sirs,” said Carew, as some began to laugh and to
speak to one another covertly, “it is no jest. He hath a
sweeter voice than Cyril Davy’s, the best woman’s-voice in
all London town. Upon my word, it is the sweetest voice
a body ever heard—outside of heaven and the holy
angels!” He lowered his tone and bowed his head a
little. “I?ll stake mine honour on it!”

“Hast any, Gaston?” called a jeering voice, whereat the
whole room roared.

But Carew cried again in a high voice that would be
heard above the noise: “Now, hark ’e; what I say is so.
It is, upon my word, and on the remnant of mine honour!
And to-morrow ye shall see, for Master Skylark is to sing
and play with us.”

When he had said that, nothing would do but Nick must
sit down and eat with them; so they made a place for him
and for Master Carew.

Nick bent his head and said a grace, at which some of
them laughed, until Carew shook his head with a stern
frown ; and before he ate he bowed politely to them all, as
his mother had taught him to do. They all bowed mock-
ingly, and hilariously offered him wine, which, when he
refused, they pressed upon him, until Carew stopped them,
saying that he would have no more of that. As he spoke
he clapped his hand upon his poniard and scowled biackly.
‘Chey all laughed, but offered Nick no more wine; instead,

they picked him choice morsels, and made a great deal of
4
50 MASTER SKYLARK

him, until his silly young head was quite turned, and he
sat up and gave himself a few airs—not many, for Strat-
ford was no great place in which to pick up airs.

When they had eaten they wanted Nick to sing; but
again Carew interposed. “Nay,” said he; “he hath just
eaten his fill, so he cannot sing. Moreover, he is no jack-
daw to screech in such a cage as this. He shall not sing
until to-morrow in the play.”

At this some of the leading players who held shares in
the venture demurred, doubting if Nick could sing at
all; but—“ Hark ’e,” said Master Carew, shortly, clapping
his hand upon his poniard, “I say that he can. Do ye
take me?”

So they said no more; and shortly after’ he took Nick
away, and left them over their tankards, singing uproar-
iously.

The Blue Boar Inn had not a bed to spare, nor had the
players kept a place for Carew; at which he smiled
grimly, said he ’d not forget it, and took lodgings for
himself and Nick at the Three Tuns in the next street.

Nick spoke indeed of his mother’s cousin, with whom
he had meant to stay, but the master-player protested
warmly ; so, little loath, and much flattered by the atten-
tions of so great a man, Nick gave over the idea and said
no more about it.

When the chamberlain had shown them to their room
and they were both undressed, Nick knelt beside the bed
and said a prayer, as he always did at home. Carew
watched him curiously. It was quiet there, and the light
THE ADMIRAL’S COMPANY 51

dim ; Nick was young, and his yellow hair was very curly.
Carew could hear the faint breath murmuring through
the boy’s lips as he prayed, and while he stared at the little
white figure his mouth twitched in a queer way. But he
tossed his head, and muttered to himself, “What, Gaston
Carew, turning soft? Nay, nay. Ill do it—on my soul,
I will!” rolled into bed, and was soon fast asleep.

As for Nick, what with the excitement of the day, the
dazzling fancies in his brain, his tired legs, the weird night
noises in the town, and strange, tremendous dreams, he
scarce could get to sleep at all; but toward morning he
fell into a refreshing doze, and did not wake until the town
was loud with May.
CHAPTER IX
THE MAY-DAY PLAY

T was soon afternoon. All Coventry was thronged
with people keeping holiday, and at the Blue Boar a
scene of wild confusion reigned.

Tap-room and hall were crowded with guests, and in
the cobbled court horses innumerable stamped and whin-
nied. The players, with knitted brows, stalked about the
quieter nooks, going over their several parts, and looking
to their costumes, which were for the most part upon their
backs; while the thumping and pounding of the carpen-
ters at work upon the stage in the inn-yard were enough
to drive a quiet-loving person wild.

Nick scarcely knew whether he were on his head or on
his heels. The master-player would not let him eat at all
after once breaking his fast, for fear it might affect his
voice, and had him say his lines a hundred times until he
had them pat. Then he was off, directing here, there, and
everywhere, until the court was cleared of all that had no

business there, and the last surreptitious small boy had
52
THE MAY-DAY PLAY 58

been duly projected from the gates by Peter Hostler’s
hobnailed boot.

“Now, Nick,” said Carew, coming up all in a gale, and
throwing a sky-blue silken cloak about Nick’s shoulders,
“thou ‘It enter here”; and he led him to a hallway door
just opposite the gates. “When Master Whitelaw, as the
Duke, calls out, ‘How now, who comes?—I 11 match him
for the ale!’ be quickly in and answer to thy part; and,
marry, boy, don’t miss thy cues, or—tsst, thy head ’s not
worth a peascod!” With that he clapped his hand upon
his poniard and glared into Nick’s eyes, as if to look clear
through to the back of the boy’s wits. Nick heard his
white teeth grind, and was all at once very much afraid of
him, for he did indeed look dreadful.

So Nicholas Attwood stood by the entry door, with his
heart in his throat, waiting his turn.

He could hear the pages in the courtyard outside shout-
ing for stools for their masters, and squabbling over the
best places upon the stage. Then the gates creaked, and
there came a wild rush of feet and a great crying out
as the ’prentices and burghers trooped into the inn-yard,
pushing and crowding for places near the stage. Those
who had the money bawled aloud for farthing stools. The
rest stood jostling in a wrangling crowd upon the ground,
while up and down a girl’s shrill voice went all the time,
erying high, “ Cherry ripe, cherry ripe! Who ‘ll buy my
sweet May cherries?”

Then there was another shout, and a rattling tread of
feet along the wooden balconies that ran around the walls
54 MASTER SKYLARK

of the inn-yard, and cries from the apprentices below:
“Good-day, fair Master Harrington ! Good-day, Sir Thomas
Parkes! Good-day, sweet Mistress Nettleby and Master
Nettleby! Good-day, good-day, good-day ! ” for the richer
folk were coming in at twopence each, and all the gal-
leries were full. And then he heard the baker’s boy with
sugared cakes and ginger-nuts go stamping up the stairs.

The musicians in the balcony overhead were tuning up.
There was a flute, a viol, a gittern, a fiddle, and a drum;
and behind the curtain, just outside the door, Nick could
hear the master-player’s low voice giving hasty orders to
the others.

So he said his lines all over to himself, and cleared his
throat. Then on a sudden a shutter opened high above
the orchestra, a trumpet blared, the kettledrum crashed,
and he heard a loud voice shout:

“Good citizens of Coventry, and high-born gentles all:
know ye now that we, the players of the company of His
Grace, Charles, Lord Howard, High Admiral of England,
Ireland, Wales, Calais, and Boulogne, the marches of Nor-
mandy, Gascony, and Aquitaine, Captain-General of the
Navy and the Seas of Her Gracious Majesty the Queen—”

At that the crowd in the courtyard cheered and cheered
again.

“will, with your kind permission, play forthwith the
laughable comedy of ‘The Three Grey Gowns, by Master
Thomas Heywood, in which will be spoken many good
things, old and new, and a brand-new song will be sung.
Now, hearken all—the play begins!”
THE MAY-DAY PLAY 55

The trumpet blared, the kettledrum crashed again, and
as a sudden hush fell over the throng without Nick heard
the voices of the players going on.

It was a broad farce, full of loud jests and nonsense, a
great thwacking of sticks and tumbling about; and Nick,
with his eye to the crack of the door, listened with all his
ears for his cue, far too excited even to think of laughing
at the rough jokes, though the crowd in the inn-yard
roared till they held their sides.

Carew came hurrying up, with an anxious look in his
restless eyes.

“Ready, Nicholas!” said he, sharply, taking Nick by the
arm and lifting the latch. ‘Go straight down front now
as I told thee—mind thy cues—speak boldly—sing as thou
didst sing for me—and if thou wouldst not break mine
heart, do not failme now! I have staked it all upon thee
here—and we must win!”

“How now, who comes?” Nick heard a loud voice call
outside—the door-latch clicked behind him—he was out in
the open air and down the stage before he quite knew
where he was.

The stage was built against the wall just opposite the
gates. It was but a temporary platform of planks laid
upon trestles. One side of it was against the wall, and
around the three other sides the crowd was packed close
to the platform rail.

At the ends, upon the boards, several wealthy gallants
sat on high, three-legged stools, within arm’s reach of the
players acting there. The courtyard was a sea of heads,
56 MASTER SKYLARK

and the balconies were filled with gentlefolk in holiday
attire, eating cakes and chaffing gaily at the play. All
was one bewildered cloud of staring eyes to Nick, and the
only thing which he was sure he saw was the painted sign
that hung upon the curtain at the rear, which in the lack
of other scenery announced in large red print: “This is a
Room in Master Jonah Jackdawe’s House.”

And then he heard the last quick words, “I ’ll match
him for the ale!” and started on his lines.

It was not that he said so ill what little he had to say,
but that his voice was homelike and familiar in its sound,
one of their own, with no amazing London accent to the
words—just the speech of every-day, the sort that they all
knew.

First, some one in the yard laughed out—a shock-headed
ironmonger’s apprentice, ““ Whoy, bullies, there be hayseed
in his hair. ’T is took off pasture over-soon. I fecks!
they ’ve plucked him green!”

There was a hoarse, exasperating laugh. Nick hesitated
in his lines. The player at his back tried to prompt him,
but only made the matter worse, and behind the green cur-
tain at the door a hand went “clap” upon a dagger-hilt.
The play lagged, and the crowd began to jeer. Nick’s
heart was full of fear and of angry shame that he had
dared to try. Then all at once there came a brief pause,
in which he vaguely realized that no one spoke. The man
behind him thrust him forward, and whispering wrathfully,
“Quick, quick—sing up, thou little fool!” stepped back
and left him there alone.
| i it :
I wl

h



“NICK THOUGHT OF HIS MOTHER’S SINGING ON A SUMMER'S EVENING—DREW
A DEEP BREATH AND BEGAN TC SING.”
THE MAY-DAY PLAY 57

A viol overhead took up the time, the gittern struck a
few sharp notes. This unexpected music stopped the
noise, and all was still. Nick thought of his mother’s
voice singing on a summer’s evening among the hollyhocks,
and as the viol’s droning died away he drew a deep breath
and began to sing the words of “ Heywood’s newest song” :

“Pack, clouds, away, and welcome, day;
With night we banish sorrow ;
Sweet air, blow soft; mount, lark, aloft,
To give my love good-morrow!”

It was only a part of a madrigal, the air to which they
had fitted the words,—the same air that Nick had sung in
the woods,—a thing scarce meant ever to be sung alone, a
simple strain, a few plain notes, and at the close one brief,
queer, warbling trill like a bird’s wild song, that rose and
fell and rose again like a silver ripple.

The instruments were still; the fresh young voice came
out alone, and it was done so soon that Nick hardly knew
that he had sung at all. For a moment no one seemed to
breathe. Then there was a very great noise, and all the
court seemed hurling at him. A man upon the stage
sprang to his feet. What they were going to do to him
Nick did not know. He gave a frightened cry, and ran
past the green curtain, through the open door, and into
the master-player’s excited arms.

“Quick, quick!” cried Carew. “Go back, go back!
There, hark!—dost not hear them call? Quick, out

_again—they call thee back!” With that he thrust Nick
through the door. The man upon the stage came up,
58 MASTER SKYLARK

slipped something into his hand—Nick, all bewildered,
knew not what; and there he stood, quite stupefied, not
knowing what to do. Then Carew came out hastily and
led him down the stage, bowing, and pressing his hand to
his heart, and smiling like a summer sunrise ; so that Nick,
seeing this, did the same, and bowed as neatly as he could ;
though, to be sure, his was only a simple, country-bred
bow, and no such ceremonious to-do as Master Carew’s
courtly London obeisance.

Every one was standing up and shouting so that not a
soul could hear his ears, until the ironmonger’s apprentice
bellowed above the rest; “Whoy, bullies!” he shouted,
amid a chorus of cheers and laughter, “did n’t I say ’t was
catched out in the fields—it be a skylark, sure enough!
Come, Muster Skylark, sing that song again, an’ thou shalt
ha’ my brand-new cap!”

Then many voices cried out together, “Sing it again!
The Skylark—the Skylark!”

Nick looked up, startled. “Why, Master Carew,” said
he, with a tremble in his voice, “do they mean me?”

Carew put one hand beneath Nick’s chin and turned his
face up, smiling. The master-player’s cheeks were flushed
with triumph, and his dark eyes danced with pride. “Ay,
Nicholas Skylark; ’t is thou they mean.”

The viol and the music came again from overhead, and
when they ceased Nick sang the little song once more.
And when the master-player had taken him outside, and
the play was over, some fine ladies came and kissed him,
to his great confusion; for no one but his mother or his
THE MAY-DAY PLAY 59

kin had ever done so before, and these had much perfume
about them, musk and rose-attar, so that they smelled like
rose-mallows in July. The players of the Lord Admiral’s
company were going about shaking hands with Carew and
with each other as if they had not met for years, and slap-
ping one another upon the back ; and one came over, a tall,
solemn, black-haired man, he who had written the song,
and stood with his feet apart and stared at Nick, but spoke
never a word, which Nick thought was very singular.
But as he turned away he said, with a world of pity in his
voice, “ And I have writ two hundred plays, yet never saw
thy like. Lad, lad, thou art a jewel in a wild swine’s
snout!” which Nick did not understand at all; nor why
Master Carew said so sharply, “Come, Heywood, hold thy
blabbing tongue; we are all in the same sty.”

“Speak for thyself, Gat Carew!” answered Master Hey-
wood, firmly. “TI’ll have no hand in this affair, I tell thee
once for all!”

Master Carew flushed queerly and bit his lip, and, turn-
ing hastily away, took Nick to walk about the town. Nick
then, for the first time, looked into his hand to see what
the man upon the stage had given him. It was a gold
rose-noble.
CHAPTER X
AFTER THE PLAY

HROUGH the high streets of the third city of the
realm Master Gaston Carew strode as if he were a
very king, and Coventry his kingdom.

There was music everywhere,—of pipers and fiddlers,
drums, tabrets, flutes, and horns,—and there were dan-
cing bears upon the corners, with minstrels, jugglers,
chapmen crying their singsong wares, and such a mighty
hurly-burly as Nick had never seen before. And wherever
there was a wonder to be seen, Carew had Nick see it,
though it cost a penny a peep, and lifted him to watch the
fencing and quarter-staff play in the market-place. And
at one of the gay booths he bought gilt ginger-nuts and
caraway cakes with currants on the top, and gave them
all to Nick, who thanked him kindly, but said, if Master
Carew pleased, he ’d rather have his supper, for he was
very hungry. :

“Why, to be sure,” said Carew, and tossed a silver penny
for a scramble to the crowd; *‘thou shalt have the finest
supper in the town.”

60
AFTER THE PLAY 61

Whereupon, bowing to all the great folk they met, and
being bowed to most politely in return, they came to the
Three Tuns.

Stared at by a hundred curious eyes, made way for
everywhere, and followed by wondering exclamations of
envy, it was little wonder that Nick, a simple country lad,
at last began to think that there was not in all the world
another gentleman so grand as Master Gaston Carew, and
also to have a pleasant notion that Nicholas Attwood was
no bad fellow himself.

The lordly innkeeper came smirking and bobbing
obsequiously about, with his freshest towel on his arm,
and took the master-player’s order as a dog would take a
bone.

“ Here, sirrah,” said Carew, haughtily; “fetch us some
repast, I care not what, so it be wholesome food—a green
Banbury cheese, some simnel bread and oat-cakes; a
pudding, hark ’e, sweet and full of plums, with honey and
a pasty—a meat pasty, marry, a pasty made of fat and
toothsome eels; and moreover, fellow, ale to wash it down
—none of thy penny ale, mind ye, too weak to run out of
the spigot, but snapping good brew—dost take me ?—with
beef and mustard, tripe, herring, and a good fat capon
broiled to a turn!”

The innkeeper gaped like a fish.

“How now, sirrah? Dost think I cannot pay thy
score?” quoth Carew, sharply.

“Nay, nay,” stammered the host; “but, sir, where—
where will ye put it all without bursting into bits?”
62 MASTER SKYLARK

“Be off with thee!” cried Carew, sharply. “That is
my affair. Nay, Nick,” said he, laughing at the boy’s
astonished look; “we shall not burst. What we do not
have to-night we ’ll have in the morning. ’T is the way
with these inns,—to feed the early birds with scraps,—so
the more we leave from supper the more we ’ll have for
breakfast. And thou wilt need a good breakfast to ride
on all day long.”

“Ride?” exclaimed Nick. “Why, sir, I was minded to
walk back to Stratford, and keep my gold rose-noble
whole.”

“Walk?” cried the master-player, scornfully. “Thou,
with thy golden throat? Nay, Nicholas, thou shalt ride
to-morrow like a very king, if I have to pay for the horse
myself, twelvepence the day!” and with that he began
chuckling as if it were a joke.

But Nick stood up, and, bowing, thanked him gratefully ;
at which the master-player went from chuckling to laugh-
ing, and leered at Nick so oddly that the boy would have
thought him tipsy, save that there had been nothing yet
to drink. And aqueer sense of uneasiness came creeping
over him as he watched the master-player’s eyes opening
and shutting, opening and shutting, so that one moment
he seemed to be staring and the next almost asleep ; though
all the while his keen, dark eyes peered out from between
the lids like old dog-foxes from their holes, looking Nick
over from head to foot, and from foot to head again, as if
measuring him with an ellwand.

When the supper came, filling the whole table and the
AFTER THE PLAY 63

sideboard too, Nick arose to serve the meat as he was used
at home; but, “ Nay, Nicholas Skylark, my honey-throat,”
cried Carew, “sit thee down! Thou wait on me—thou
songster of the silver tongue? Nay, nay, sweetheart; the
knave shall wait on thee, or I ll wait on thee myself—I
will, upon my word! Why, Nick, I tell thee I love thee,
and dost think I’d let thee wait or walk ?—nay, nay, thou It
ride to-morrow like a king, and have all Stratford wait for
thee!” At this he chuckled so that he almost choked upon
a mouthfui of bread and meat.

“Canst ride, Nicholas?”

“Fairly, sir.”

“Fairly? Fie,modesty! Iwarrant thou canst ride like
a very centaur. What sayest—I ‘ll ride a ten-mile race
with thee to-morrow as we go?”

“Why,” cried Nick, “are ye going back to Stratford to
play, after all?”

“To Stratford? Nay; not for a bushel of good gold
Harry shovel-boards! Bah! That town is ratsbane and
nightshade in my mouth! Nay, we ’ll not go back to
Stratford town; but we shall ride a piece with thee,
Nicholas,—we shall ride a piece with thee.”

Chuckling again to himself, he fell to upon the pasty
and said no more.

Nick held his peace, as he was taught to do unless first
spoken to; but he could not help thinking that stage-
players, and master-players in particular, were very
queer folk.
CHAPTER XI
DISOWNED

IGHT came down on Stratford town that last sweet

April day, and the pastured kine came lowing home.

Supper-time passed, and the cool stars came twinkling
out; but still Nick Attwood did not come.

“He hath stayed to sleep with Robin, Master Burgess
Getley’s son,” said Mistress Attwood, standing in the door,
and staring out into the dusk; “he is often lonely here.”

“He should ha’ telled thee on it, then,” said Simon Att-
wood. “This be no way todo. I’ve a mind to put him
to a trade.”

“Nay, Simon,” protested his wife; “he may be careless,
—he is young yet,—but Nicholas is a good lad. Let him
have his schooling out—he ll be the better for it.”

“Then let him show it as he goes along,” said Attwood,
grimly, as he blew the candle out.

But May-day dawned; mid-morning came, mid-after-
noon, then supper-time again; and supper-time crept into
dusk—and still no Nicholas Attwood.

His mother grew uneasy ; but his father only growled :
64
DISOWNED 65

“Well reckon up when he cometh home. Master Bruns-
wood tells me he was na at the school the whole day yes-
terday—and he be feared to show his face. Ill fear him
with a bit of birch!”

“Do na be too hard with the lad, Simon,” pleaded Mis-
tress Attwood. “Who knows what hath happened to him ¢
He must be hurt, or he ’d ’a’ come home to his mother ”—
and she began to wring her hands. “He may ha’ fallen
from a tree, and lieth all alone out on the hill—or, Simon,
the Avon! Thou dost na think our lad be drowned?”

“Fudge!” said Simon Attwood. “Born to hang ’ll
never drown!”

When, however, the next day crept around and still his
son did not come home, a doubt stole into the tanner’s
own heart. Yet when his wife was for starting out to
seek some tidings of the boy, he stopped her wrathfully.

“Nay, Margaret,” said he; “thou shalt na go traipsing
around the town like a hen wi’ but one chick. I wull na ha’
thee made a laughing-stock by all the fools in Stratford.”

But as the third day rolled around, about the middle of
the afternoon the tanner himself sneaked out at the back
door of his tannery in Southam’s lane, and went up into
the town.

“Robin Getley,” he asked at the guildschool door, “was
my son wi’ thee overnight?”

“Nay, Master Attwood. Has he not come back?”

“Come back? From where?”

Robin hung his head.

“From where?” demanded the tanner. “Come, boy!”

&
66 MASTER SKYLARK

“From Coventry,” said Robin, knowing that the truth
would out at last, anyway.

“He went to see the players, sir,” spoke up Hal Saddler,
briskly, not heeding Robin’s stealthy kick. “He said
he ’d bide wi Diccon Haggard overnight; an’ he said he
wished he were a master-player himself, sir, too.”

Simon Attwood, frowning blackly, hurried on. It was
Nick, then, whom he had seen crossing the market-square.

Wat Raven, who swept Clopton bridge, had seen two
boys go up the Warwick road. “One were thy Nick, Mus-
ter Attwood,” said he, thumping the dirt from his broom
across the coping-stone, “and the other were Dawson’s
Hodge.”

The angry tanner turned again into the market-place.
His brows were knit, and his eyes were hot, yet his step
was heavy and slow. Above all things, he hated disobe-
dience, yet in his surly way he loved his only son; and
far worse than disobedience, he hated that his son should
disobey.

Astride a beam in front of Master Thompson’s house
sat Roger Dawson. Simon Attwood took him by the col-
lar none too gently.

“Were, leave be!” choked Roger, wriggling hard; but
the tanner’s grip was like iron. “ Wert thou in Coventry
May-day?” he asked sternly.

“Nay, that I was na,” sputtered Hodge. “A plague on
Coventry !”

“Do na lie to me—thou wert there wi’ my son Nicholas.”

“T was na,” snarled Hodge. “Nick Attwood threshed
DISOWNED 67

me in the Warrick road; an’ I be no dawg to follow at
the heels o’ folks as threshes me.”

“Where be he, then?” demanded Attwood, with a sud-
den sinking at heart in spite of his wrath.

“How should I know? A went away wi’ a play-actor.
ing fellow in a plum-colored cloak; and play-actoring fel-
low said a loved him like a’s own, and patted a’s back,
and flung me hard names, like stones at a lost dawg. Now
le’ me go, Muster Attwood—cross my heart, ’t is all I
know!”

“Ts ’t Nicholas ye seek, Master Attwood?” asked Tom
Carpenter, turning from his fleurs-de-lis. “Why, sir, he’s
gone got famous, sir. I was in Coventry mysel’ May-day ;
and—why, sir, Nick was all the talk! He sang there at
the Blue Boar inn-yard with the Lord High Admiral’s
players, and took a part in the play; and, sir, ye ’d scarce
believe me, but the people went just daft to hear him sing,
sir.”

Simon Attwood heard no more. He walked down High
street in a daze. With hard men bitter blows strike
doubly deep. He stopped before the guildhall school.
The clock struck five ; each iron clang seemed beating upon
his heart. He raised his hand as if to shut the clangor
out, and then his face grew stern and hard. “He hath
gone his own wilful way,” said he, bitterly. “Let him
follow it to the end.”

Mistress Attwood came to meet him, running in the
garden-path. “Nicholas?” was all that she could say.

“Never speak to me of him again,” he said, and passed
68 MASTER SKYLARK

her by into the house. “He hath gone away with a pack
of stage-playing rascals and vagabonds, whither no man
knoweth.”

Taking the heavy Bible down from the shelf, he lit a
rushlight at the fire, although it was still broad daylight,
and sat there with the great book open in his lap until
the sun went down and the chill night wind crept in along
the floor; yet he could not read a single word and never
turned a page.
CHAPTER XII
A STRANGE RIDE

AT-A-TAT-TAT at the first dim hint of dawn went
the chamberlain’s knuckles upon the door. To Nick
it seemed scarce midnight yet, so sound had been his sleep.
Master Carew having gotten into his high-topped rid-
ing-boots with a great puffing and tugging, they washed
their faces at the inn-yard pump by the smoky light of
the hostler’s lantern, and then in a subdued, half-wakened
way made a hearty breakfast off the fragments of the last
night’s feast. Part of the remaining cold meat, cheese,
and cakes Carew stowed in his leather pouch. The rest
he left in the lap of a beggar sleeping beside the door.
The street was dim with a chilly fog, through which a
few pale stars still struggled overhead. The houses were
all shut and barred; nobody was abroad, and the night-
watch slept in comfortable doorways here and there, with
loliing heads and lanterns long gone out. As they came
along the crooked street, a stray cat scurried away with
scared green eyes, and a kenneled hound set up a lonesome
howl.
69
70 MASTER SKYLARK

But the Blue Boar Inn was stirring like an ant-hill, with
firefly lanterns flitting up and down, and a cheery glow
about the open door. The horses of the company, scrubbed
unreasonably clean, snorted and stamped in little
bridled clumps about the courtyard, and the stable-boys,
not scrubbed at all, clanked at the pump or shook out
wrinkled saddle-cloths with most prodigious yawns. The
grooms were buckling up the packs; the chamberlain and
sleepy-lidded maids stood at the door, waiting their fare-
well farthings.

Some of the company yawned in the tap-room; some
yawned out of doors with steaming stirrup-cup in hand;
and some came yawning down the stairways pulling on
their riding-cloaks, booted, spurred, and ready for a long
day’s ride.

“G@ood-morrow, sirs,” said Carew, heartily. ‘“Good-
morrow, sir, to you,” said they, and all came over to speak
to Nicholas in a very kindly way; and one or two patted
him on the cheek and walked away speaking in under-
tones among themselves, keeping one eye on Carew all
the while. And Master Tom Heywood, the play-writer,
came out with a great slice of fresh wheat-bread, thick
with butter and dripping with yellow honey, and gave it
to Nick; and stood there silently with a very queer ex-
pression watching him eat it, until Carew’s groom led up
a stout hackney and a small roan palfrey to the block,
and the master-player, crying impatiently, “Up with thee,
Nick; we must be ambling!” sprang into the saddle of the

gray.
A STRANGE RIDE 71

The sleepy inn-folk roused a bit to send a cheery vol-
ley of, “Fare ye well, sirs; come again,” after the depart-
ing players, and the long cavalcade cantered briskly out
of the inn-yard, in double rank, with a great clinking of
bridle-chains and a drifting odor of wet leather and heavy
perfume.

Nick sat very erect and rode his best, feeling like some
errant knight of the great Round Table, ready to right the
whole world’s wrongs. “But what about the horse?” said
he. ‘We can na keep him in Stratford, sir.”

“Oh, that’s all seen to,” said the master-player. “’T is
to be sent back by the weekly carrier.”

“And where do I turn into the Stratford road, sir?”
asked Nick, as the players clattered down the cobbled
street in a cloud of mist that steamed up so thickly from
the stones that the horses seemed to have no legs, but to
float like boats.

“Some distance further on,” replied Carew, carelessly.
‘OT is not the way we came that thou shalt ride to-day ;
that is t? other end of town, and the gate not open yet.
But the longest way round is the shortest way home, so
let ’s be spurring on.”

At the corner of the street a cross and sleepy cobbler
was strapping a dirty urchin, who bellowed lustily. Nick
winced.

“Hollo!” eried Carew. “ What’s to do?”

“Why, sir,’ said Nick, ruefully, “father will thresh me
well this night.”

“Nay,” said Carew, in a quite decided tone; “that he IL
72 MASTER SKYLARK

not, I promise thee !”—and as he spoke he chuckled softly
to himself.

The man before them turned suddenly around and
grinned queerly; but, catching the master-player’s eye,
whipped his head about like a weather-vane in a gale, and
cantered on.

As they came down the narrow street the watchmen
were just swinging wide the city gates, and gave a cheer
to speed the parting guests, who gave a rouse in turn, and
were soon lost to sight in the mist which hid the valley in
a great gray sea.

“How shall I know where to turn off, sir?” asked Nick,
a little anxiously. “’T is all alike.”

“T ‘ll tell thee,” said the master-player ; “rest thee easy
on that score. I know the road thou art to ride much
better than thou dost thyself.”

He smiled quite frankly as he spoke, and Nick could
not help wondering why the man before them again turned
around and eyed him with that sneaking grin.

He did not like the fellow’s looks. He had scowling
black brows, hair cut as close as if the rats had gnawed it
off, a pair of ill-shaped bandy-legs, a wide, unwholesome
slit of a mouth, and a nose like a raspberry tart. His
whole appearance was servile and mean, and there was asly
malice in his furtive eyes. Besides that, and a thing which
strangely fascinated Nick’s gaze, there was a hole through
the gristle of his right ear, scarred about as if it had been
burned, and through this hole the fellow had tied a bow
of crimson ribbon, like a butterfly alighted upon his ear.
A STRANGE RIDE 73

“A pretty fellow!” said Carew, with a shrug. “He'll
be hard put to dodge the hangman yet; but he’s a right
good fellow in his way, and he has served me—he has
served me.”

The first loud burst of talk had ceased, and all rode
silently along. The air was chill, and Nick was grateful
for the cloak that Carew threw around him. There was
no sound but the beat of many hoofs in the dust-padded
road, and now and then the crowing of a cock somewhere
within the cloaking fog. The stars were gone, and the
sky was lighting up; and all at once, as they rode, the
clouds ahead, low down and to the right, broke raggedly
away and let a red sun-gleam shoot through across the
mist, bathing the riders in dazzling rosy light.

“Why, Master Carew,” cried Nick, no little startled,
“ there comes the sun, almost ahead! We’re riding east-
ward, sir. We ’ve missed the road!”

“Oh, no, we ’ve not,” said Carew; “ nothing of the sort.”
His tone was so peremptory and sharp that Nick said
nothing more, but rode along, vaguely wishing that he
was already clattering down Stratford High street.

The clouds scattered as the sun came up, and the morn-
ing haze drifted away into cool dales, and floated off upon
the breeze. And as the world woke up the players wa-
kened too, and rode gaily along, laughing, singing, and
chattering together, until Nick thought he had never in
all his life before seen such a jolly fellowship. His heart
was blithe as he reined his curveting palfrey by the mas-
ter-player’s side, and watched the sunlight dance and spar-
74 MASTER SKYLARK

kle along the dashing line from dagger-hilts and jeweled
clasps, and the mist-lank plumes curl crisp again in the
warmth of the rising sun.

The master-player, too, had a graceful, taking way of
being half familiar with the lad; he was besides a mar-
velous teller of wonderful tales, and whiled away the
time with jests and quips, mile after mile, till Nick forgot
both road and time, and laughed until his sides were
sore.

Yet slowly, as they rode along, it came home to him
with the passing of the land that this was country new
and strange. So he began to take notice of this and that
beside the way; and as he noticed he began to grow un-
easy. Thrice had he come to Coventry, but surely never
by a road like this.

Yet still the master-player joked and laughed and
pleased the boy with little things—until Nick laughed
too, and let the matter go. At last, however, when they
had ridden fully an hour, they passed a moss-grown abbey
on the left-hand side of the road, a strange old place that
Nick could not recall.

“Are ye sure, Master Carew,” he ventured timidly—
“are ye sure we be na going wrong, sir?” ,

At that the master-player took on so offended an air
that Nick was sorry he had spoken.

“Why, now,” said Carew, haughtily, “if thou dost know
the roads of England better than I, who have trudged and
ridden them all these years, I’ll sit me down and learn of
thee how to follow mine own nose. I tell thee I know the
A STRANGE RIDE 75

road thou art to ride this day better than thou dost thy-
self; and Ill see to it that thou dost come without fail to
the very place that thou art going. I will, upon my word,
and on the remnant of mine honour!”

But in spite of this assurance, and in spite of the mas-
ter-player’s ceaseless stream of gaiety and marvels, Nick
became more and more uneasy. The road was certainly
growing stranger and stranger as they passed. The com-
pany, too, instead of ambling leisurely along, as they had
done at first, were now spurring ahead at a good round
gallop, in answer to a shrill whistle from the master-
player; and the horses were wet with sweat.

They passed a country village, too, that was quite un-
known to Nick, and a great highway running to the north
that he had never seen before; and when they had ridden
for about two hours, the road swerved southward to a
shining ford, and on a little tableland beyond he saw the
gables of a town he did not know.

“Why, Master Carew!” he cried out, half indignant,
half perplexed, and thoroughly frightened, “this is na the
Stratford road at all. I’m going back. I will na ride
another mile!”

As he spoke he wheeled the roan sharply out of the
clattering file with a slash of the rein across the withers,
and started back along the hill past the rest of the com-
pany, who came thumping down behind.

“Stop him! Stop him there!” he heard the master-
player shout, and there was something in the fierce, high
voice that turned his whole heart sick. What right had
76 MASTER SKYLARK

they to stop him? This was not the Stratford road; he
was certain of that now. But “Stop him—stop him
there!” he heard the master-player call, and a wild, un-
reasoning fright came over him. He dug his heels into
the palfrey’s heaving sides and urged him up the hill
through the cloud of dust that came rolling down behind
the horsemen. The hindmost riders had plunged into
those before, and the whole array was struggling, shout-
ing, and wrangling in wild disorder; but out of the flurry
Carew and the bandy-legged man with the ribbon in his
ear spurred furiously and came galloping after him at the
top of their speed.

Nick cried out, and beat the palfrey with the rein; but
the chase was short. They overtook him as he topped the
hill, one on each side, and, leaning over, Carew snatched
the bridle from his hand. “Thou little imp!” he panted,
as he turned the roan around and started down the hill.
“Don’t try this on again!”

“Oh, Master Carew,” gasped Nick, “what are ye going
to do wi me?”

“Do with thee?” cried the master-player, savagely
clapping his hand upon his poniard,—“ why, I am going
to do with thee just whatever I please. Dosthear? And,
hark ’e, this sort of caper doth not please me at all; and
by the whistle of the Lord High Admiral, if thou triest it
on again, thy life is not worth a rotten peascod !”

Unbuckling the rein, he tossed one end to the bandy-
legged man, and holding the other in his own hand, with
Nick riding helpiessly between them, they trotted down the
A STRANGE RIDE 17

hill again, took their old places in the ranks, and spattered
through the shallow ford.

The bandy-legged man had pulled a dagger from be.
neath his coat, and held it under his bridle-rein, shining
through the horse’s mane as they dashed through the stil]
half-sleeping town. Nick was speechless with terror.

Beyond the town’s end they turned sharply to the north-
east, galloping steadily onward for what was perhaps
half an hour, though to Nick it seemed a forever, until
they came out into a great highway running southward.
“Watling street!” he heard the man behind him say, and
knew that they were in the old Roman road that stretched
from London to the north. Still they were galloping,
though long strings dribbled from the horses’ mouths, and
the saddle-leathers dripped with foam. One or two looked
back at him and bit their lips; but Carew’s eyes were hot
and fierce, and his hand was on his poniard. The rest,
after a curious glance or two, shrugged their shoulders
earelessly and galloped on: this affair was Master Gaston
Carew’s business, not theirs.

Until high noon they hurried on with neither stop nor
stay. Then they came toa place where a little brook sang
through the grass by the roadside in a shady nook beneath
some mighty oaks, and there the master-player whistled
for a halt, to give the horses breath and rest, and to water
them at the brook-pools. Some of the players sauntered
up and down to stretch their tired legs, munching meat
and bread ; and some lay down upon the grass and slept a
little. Two of them came, offering Nick some cakes and
78 MASTER SKYLARK

cheese ; but he was crying hard and would neither eat nor
drink, though Carew urged him earnestly. Then Master
Tom Heywood, with an ugly look at Carew, and without
so much as an if-ye-please or a by-your-leave, led Nick up
the brook to a spot where it had not been muddied by the
horses, and made him wash his dusty face and hands in
the cool water and dampen his hair, though he complied
as if in a daze. And indeed Nick rode on through the
long afternoon, clinging helplessly to the pommel of his
saddle, sobbing bitterly until for very weariness he could
no longer sob.

It was after nine o’clock that night when they rode into
Towcester, and all that was to be seen was a butcher’s boy
carting garbage out of the town and whistling to keep his
courage up. The watch had long since gone to sleep
about the silent streets, but a dim light burned in the tap-
room of the Old Brown Cow; and there the players rested
for the night.
CHAPTER XIII
A DASH FOR FREEDOM

ICK awoke from a heavy, burning sleep, aching from

head to foot. The master-player, up and dressed,
stood by the window, scowling grimly out into the ashy
dawn. Nick made haste to rise, but could not stifle a
sharp cry of pain as he staggered to his feet, he was so
racked and sore with riding.

At the boy’s smothered cry Carew turned, and his dark
face softened with a sudden look of pity and concern.
“Why, Nick, my lad,” he cried, and hurried to his side,
“this is too bad, indeed!” and without more words took
him gently in his arms and carried him down to the court-
yard well, where he bathed him softly from neck to heel
in the cold, refreshing water, and wiped him with a soft,
clean towel as tenderly as if he had been the lad’s own
mother. And having dried him thoroughly, he rubbed him
with a waxy ointment that smelled of henbane and poppies,
until the aching was almost gone. So soft and so kind was
he withal that Nick took heart after a little and asked tim-
idly, “And ye will let me go home to-day, sir, will ye not?”

79
80 MASTER SKYLARK

The master-player frowned.

“Please, Master Carew, let me go.”

“Come, come,” said Carew, impatiently, “enough of
this!” and stamped his foot.

“But, oh, Master Carew,” pleaded Nick, with a sob in
his throat, “my mother’s heart will surely break if I do
na come home!”

Carew started, and his mouth twitched queerly
“Rnough, I say—enough!” he cried. “I will not hear;
I ’Ilhave no more. I tell thee hold thy tongue—be dumb!
[’ll-not have ears—thou shalt not speak! Dost hear?”
He dashed the towel to the ground. “I bid thee hold
thy tongue.”

Nick hid his face between his hands, and leaned against
the rough stone wall, a naked, shivering, wretched little
chap indeed. “Oh, mother, mother, mother!” he sobbed
pitifully.

A singular expression came over the master-player’s face.
“T will not hear—I tell thee I will not hear!” he choked,
and, turning suddenly away, he fell upon the sleepy hos-
tler, who was drawing water at the well, and rated him
outrageously, to that astounded worthy’s great amazement

Nick crept into his clothes, and stole away to the kitchen
door. There was a red-faced woman there who bade him
not to cry—’t would soon be breakfast-time. Nick thought
he could not eat at all; but when the savory smell crept
out and filled the chilly air, his poor little empty stomach
would not be denied, and he ate heartily. Master Hey-
wood sat beside him and gave him the choicest bits from
A DASH FOR FREEDOM 81

his own trencher; and Carew himself, seeing that he ate,
looked strangely pleased, and ordered him a tiny mutton-
pie, well spiced. Nick pushed it back indignantly; but
Heywood took the pie and cut it open, saying quietly:
“Come, lad, the good God made the sheep that is in this
pie, not Gaston Carew. Hat it—come, ’t will do thee good!”
and saw him finish the last crumb.

From Towcester south through Northamptonshire is a
pretty country of rolling hills and undulating hollows,
ribboned with pebbly rivers, and dotted with fair parks
and tofts of ash and elm and oak. Straggling villages
now and then were threaded on the road like beads upon
a string, and here and there the air was damp and misty
from the grassy fens along some winding stream.

It was against nature that a healthy, growing lad should
be so much cast down as not to see and be interested in
the strange, new, passing world of things about him; and
little by little Nick roused from his wretchedness and
began to look about him. And a wonder grew within his
brain: why had they stolen him?—where were they tak-
ing him ?—what would they do with him there ?— or would
they soon let him go again?

Every yellow cloud of dust arising far ahead along the
road wrought up his hopes to a Bluebeard pitch, as regu-
larly to fall. First came a cast-off soldier from the war
in the Netherlands, rakishly forlorn, his breastplate full
of rusty dents, his wild hair worn by his steel cap, swag-
gering along on a sorry hack with an old belt full of pis-
tolets, and his long sword thumping Rosinante’s ribs.

B
82 MASTER SKYLARK

Then a peddling chapman, with a dust-white pack and a
cunning Hebrew look, limped by, sulkily doffing his greasy
hat. Two sturdy Midland journeymen, in search of south-
ern handicraft, trudged down with tool-bags over their
shoulders and stout oak staves in hand. Of wretched
beggars and tattered rogues there was an endless string.
But of any help no sign.

Here and there, like a moving dot, a ploughman turned
a belated furrow; or a sweating ditcher leaned upon his
reluctant spade and longed for night; or a shepherd, quite
as silly as his sheep, gawked up the morning hills. But
not a sign of help for Nick.

Once, passing through a little town, he raised a sudden
ery of “Help! Help—they be stealing me away!” But
at that the master-player and the bandy-legged man waved
their hands and set up such a shout that his shrill outcry
was not even heard. And the simple country bumpkins,
standing in a grinning row like so many Old Aunt Sallys
at a fair, pulled off their caps and bowed, thinking it some
company of great lords, and fetched a clownish cheer as
the players galloped by.

Then the hot dust got into Nick’s throat, and he began
to cough. Carew started with a look of alarm. “Come,
come, Nicholas, this will never do—never do in the world;
thou ‘lt spoil thy voice.”

“T do na care,” said Nick.

“But I do,” said Carew, sharply. “So we’ll have no
more of it!” and he clapped his hand upon his poniard.
“But, nay—nay, lad, I did not mean to threaten thee—’t is
A DASH FOR FREEDOM 83

but a jest. Come, smooth thy throat, and do not shriek
no more. We play in old St. Albans town to-night, and
thou art to sing thy song for us again.”

Nick pressed his lips tight shut and shook his head. He
wouid not sing for them again.

“Come, Nick, I’ve promised Tom Heywood that thou
shouldst sing his song; and, lad, there ’s no one left in all
the land to sing it if thou ‘lt not. Tom doth dearly love
thee, lad—why, sure, thou hast seen that! And, Nick, I’ve
promised all the company that thou wouldst sing Tom’s
song with us to-night. ’T will break their hearts if thou
wilt not. Come, Nick, thou ‘It sing it for us all, and set
old Albans town afire!” said Carew, pleadingly.

Nick shook his head.

“Come, Nick,” said Carew, coaxingly, “we must hear
that sweet voice of thine in Albans town to-night. Come,
there ’s a dear, good lad, and give us just one little song!
Come, act the man and sing, as thou alone in all the world
canst sing, in Albans town this night; and on my word,
and on the remnant of mine honour, I ll leave thee go
back to Stratford town to-morrow morning!”

“To Stratford—to-morrow?” stammered Nick, with a
glad, incredulous ery, while his heart leaped up within
him.

“ Ay, verily ; upon my faith as the fine fag-end of a very
proper gentleman—thou shalt go back to Stratford town
to-morrow if thou wilt but do thy turn with us to-night.”

Nick caught the master-player’s arm as they rode along,
almost crying for very joy: “Oh, that I will, sir—and do
84 MASTER SKYLARK

my very best. And, oh, Master Carew, I ha’ thought so
ill o’ thee! Forgive me, sir; I did na know thee well.”

Carew winced. Hastily throwing the rein to Nick, he
left him to master his own array.

As for Nick, as happy as a lark he learned his new
lines as he rode along, Master Carew saying them over to
him from the manuscript and over again until he made
not a single mistake; and was at great pains to teach him
the latest fashionable London way of pronouncing all the
words, and of emphasizing his set phrases. “Nay, nay,”
he would ery laughingly, “not that way, lad; but this:
‘Good my lord, I bring a letter from the duke’—as if
thou hadst indeed a letter, see, and not an empty fist.
And when thou dost hand it to him, do it thus—and not
as if thou wert about to stab him in the paunch with a
cheese-knife!” And at the end he clapped him upon the
back and said again and again that he loved him, that
he was a dear, sweet figure of a lad, and that his voice
among the rest of England’s singers, was like clear honey
dropping into a pot of grease.

But it is a long ride from Towcester to St. Albans town
in Herts, though the road runs through a pleasant, billowy
land of oak-walled lanes, wide pastures, and quiet parks ;
and the steady jog, jog of the little roan began to rack
Nick’s tired bones before the day was done.

Yet when they marched into the quaint old town to the
blare of trumpets and the crash of the kettledrums, all the
long line gaudy with the coat-armour of the Lord High
Admiral beneath their flaunting banners, and the horses
A DASH FOR FREEDOM 85

pricked up their ears and arched their necks and pranced
along the crowded streets, Nick, stared at by all the good
townsfolk, could not help feeling a thrill of pride that he
was one of the great company of players, and sat up very
straight and held his head up haughtily as Master Carew
did, and bore himself with as lordly an air as he knew how.

But when morning came, and he danced blithely back
from washing himself at the horse-trough, all ready to
start for home, he found the little roan cross-bridled as
before between the master-player’s gray and the bandy-
legged fellow’s sorrel mare.

“What, there! cast him loose,” said he to the horse-boy
who held the three. “Iam not going on with the players
—I’m to go back to Stratford.”

“Then ye go afoot,” coolly rejoined the other, grinning,
“for the hoss goeth on wi’ the rest.”

“What is this, Master Carew?” cried Nick, indignantly,
bursting into the tap-room, where the players were at ale.
“They will na let me have the horse, sir. Am I to walk
the whole way back to Stratford town?”

“To Stratford?” asked Master Carew, staring with an
expression of most innocent surprise, as he set his ale-can
down and turned around. “Why, thou art not going to
Stratford.”

“Not going to Stratford!” gasped Nick, catching at the
table with a sinking heart. “Why, sir, ye promised that
I should to-day.”

“Nay, now, that I did not, Nicholas. I promised thee
86 MASTER SKYLARK

that thou shouldst go back to-morrow—were not those my
very words?”

“ Ay, that they were,” cried Nick; “and why will ye na
leave me go?”

“Why, this is not to-morrow, Nick. Why, see, I can-
not leave thee go to-day. Thou knowest that I said to-
morrow; and this is not to-morrow—on thine honour, is
it now?”

“How can I tell?” cried Nick, despairingly. ‘ Yester-
day ye said it would be, and now ye say that it is na,
Ye ’ve twisted it all up so that a body can na tell at all.
But there is a falsehood—a wicked, black falsehood—
somewhere betwixt you and me, sir; and ye know that I
have na lied to you, Master Carew!”

‘ Through the tap-room door he saw the open street and
the hills beyond the town. Catching his breath, he sprang
across the sill, and ran for the free fields at the top of his
speed.
CHAPTER XIV
AT BAY

“AFTER him!—stop him!—catch the rogue!” cried
Carew, running out on the cobbles with his ale-can
in his hand. “A shilling to the man that brings him
back unharmed! No blows, nor clubs, nor stabbing,
hark ’e, but catch me the knave straightway; he hath
snatched a fortune from my hands!”

At that the hostler, whip in hand, and the tapster with
his bit, were off as fast as their legs could carry them,
bawling “Stop, thief, stop!” at the top of their lungs;
and at their backs every idle varlet about the inn—grooms,
stable-boys, and hangers-on—ran whooping, howling, and
hallooing like wild huntsmen.

Nick’s frightened heart was in his mouth, and his breath
came quick and sharp. Tap-a-tap, tap-a-tap went his feet
on the cobblestones as down the long street he flew, run-
ning as he had never run before.

- It seemed as if the whole town bellowed at his back;

for windows creaked above his head, and doors banged

wildly after him ; curs from every alley-way came yelping
87
88 MASTER SKYLARK

at his heels; apprentices let go the shutter-bars, and joined
in the chase; and near and nearer came the ery of “Stop,
thief, stop!” and the kloppety-klop of hob-nailed shoes in
wild pursuit.

The rabble filled the dark old street from wall to wall,
as if a cloud of good-for-naughts had burst above the town ;
and far in front sped one small, curly-headed lad, running
like a frightened fawn. He had lost his cap, and his
breath came short, half sobbing in his throat as the sound
of footfalls gained upon his ear; but even yet he might
have beaten them all and reached the open fields but
for the dirt and garbage in the street. Three times he
slipped upon a rancid bacon-rind and almost fell; and the
third time, as he plunged across the oozing drain, a dog
dashed right between his feet.

He staggered, nearly fell, threw out his hand against the
house and saved himself; but as he started on again he
saw the town-watch, wakened by the uproar, standing with
their long staves at the end of the street, barring the way.

The door of a smithy stood open just ahead, with forge-
fires glowing and the hammer ringing on the anvil. Nick
darted in, past the horses, hostlers, and blacksmith’s boys,
and caught at the leather apron of the sturdy smith himself.

“Hoo, man, what a dickens!” snorted he, dropping the
red-hot shoe on which he was at work, and staring like a
startled ox at the panting little fugitive.

“Do na leave them take me!” panted Nick. “They
ha’ stolen me away from Stratford town and will na leave
me go!”
“<‘\NOBODY BREAKS NOBODY'S HEARTS IN



? DRAWLED TH! SMITH, IN HIS DEEP VOICE;

OLD JO-OHN SMITHSES SHO-OP,
‘NOR STEALS NOBODY, NOTHER.’”’
AT BAY 89

At that Will Hostler bolted in, red-faced and scant of
wind. “Thou young rascal,” quoth he, “I have thee now!
Come out 0’ that!” and he tried to take Nick by the collar.

“So-oftly, so-oftly!” rumbled the smith, tweaking up
the glowing shoe in his great pincers, and sweeping a sput-
tering half-circle in front of the cowering lad. “ Droive
slow through the cro-owd! What hath youngster here
did no-ow?”

“Fe hath stolen a fortune from his master at the Three
Lions—and the shilling for him ’s mine!”

“Hath stealed a fortune? Whoy, huttlety-tut!” roared
the burly smith, turning ponderously upon Nick, who was
dodging around him like a boy at tag around a tree.
“Whoy, lad,” said he, scratching his puzzled head with his
great, grimy fingers, “where hast putten it?”

All the rout and the riot now came plunging into the
smithy, breathless with the chase. Master Carew himself,
his ale-can still clutched in his hand, and bearing himself
with a high air of dignity, followed after them, frowning.

“What?” said he, angrily, “have ye earthed the cub
and cannot dig him out? Hast caught him there, fellow?”

“Ay, master, that I have!” shouted Will Hostler.
“Shilling ’s mine, sir.”

“Then fetch him out of this hole!” cried Carew, sniffing
disdainfully at the low, smoky door.

“But he will na be fetched,” stammered the doughty
Will, keeping a most respectful distance from thelong black
pincers and the sputtering shoe with which the farrier stol-
idly mowed the air round about Nick Attwood and himself.
90 MASTER SKYLARK

At that the crowd set up a shout.

Carew thrust fiercely into the press, the louts and loaf-
ers giving way. “What, here! Nicholas Attwood,” said
he, harshly, “come hither.”

“Do na leave him take me,” begged Nick. “He is not
my master; I am not bound out apprentice—they are
stealing me away from my own home, and it will break
my mother’s heart.”

“Nobody breaks nobody’s hearts in old Jo-ohn Smithses
sho-op,” drawled the smith, in his deep voice; “nor steals
nobody, nother. We be honest-dealing folk in Albans
town, an’ makes as good horse-shoes as be forged in all
England”—and he went placidly on mowing the air with
the glimmering shoe.

“Here, fellow, stand aside,” commanded Master Carew,
haughtily. “Stand aside and let me pass!” As he spoke
he clapped his hand upon his poniard with a fierce snarl,
showing his white teeth like a wolf-hound.

The men about him fell back with unanimous alacrity,
making out each to put himself behind the other. But
the huge smith only puffed out his sooty cheeks as if to
blow a fly off the next bite of cheese. “So-oftly, so-oftly,
muster,” drawled he; “do na go to ruffling it here. This
shop be mine, and I be free-born Englishman. Ill stand
aside for no swash-buckling rogue on my own ground.
Come, now, what wilt thou o’ the lad?—and speak thee
fair, good muster, or thou It get a dab o’ the red-hot shoe.”
As he spoke he gave the black tongs an extra whirl.
CHAPTER XV
LONDON TOWN

“NOME,” growled the blacksmith, gripping his tongs,
“what wilt thou have o’ the lad?”

“ What will I have o’ the lad?” said Master Carew, mim-
icking the blacksmith in a most comical way, with a wink
at the crowd, as if he had never been angry at all, so
quickly could he change his face—“ What will I have o’
the lad?” and all the crowd laughed. “Why, bless thy
gentle heart, good man, I want to turn his farthings into
round gold crowns—if thou and thine infernal hot shoe
do not make zanies of us all! Why, Master Smith, ’t is
to London town I’d take him, and fill his hands with
more silver shillings than there be cast-off shoes in thy
whole shop.”

“Ta, now, hearken till him!” gaped the smith, staring
in amazement.

“ And here thou needs must up and spoil it all, because,
forsooth, the silly child goes a trifle sick for home and
whimpers for his minnie!”

“But the lad saith thou hast stealed him awa-ay from ’s

91
92 MASTER SKYLARK

ho-ome,” rumbled the smith, like a doubtful earthquake ;
“and we ’li ha’ no stealing o’ lads awa-ay from ho-ome in
County Herts!”

“Nay, that we won’t!” cried one. “ Hurrah, John Smith
—fair play, fair play!” and there came an ugly, threaten-
ing murmur from the crowd.

“What! Fair play?” cried Master Carew, turning so
sharply about, with his hand upon his poniard, that each
made as if it were not he but his neighbor had growled.
“Why, sirs, what if I took any one of ye out of your pov-
erty and common clothes down into London town, horse-
back like a king, and had ye sing before the Queen, and
play for earls, and talk with the highest dames in all the
land; and fed ye well, and spoke ye fair, and lodged ye
soft, and clad ye fine, and wrought the whole town on to
cheer ye, and to fill your purses full of gold? What, sir,”
said he, turning to the gaping farrier—“ what if I promised
thee to turn thine every word to a silver sixpence, and
thy smutty grins to golden angels—what wouldst thou?
Knock me in the head with thy dirty sledge, and bawl
foul play?”

“Nay, that I’d not,” roared the burly smith, with a
stupid, ox-like grin, scratching his tousled head; “I’d say,
‘Go it, bully, and a plague on him that said thee nay!’”

“And yet when I would fill this silly fellow’s jerkin full
of good gold Harry shovel-boards for the simple drawing
of his breath, ye bawl ‘Foul play !’”

“What, here! come out, lad,” roared the smith, with a
great horse-laugh, swinging Nick forward and thwacking
LONDON TOWN 93

him jovially between the shoulders with his brawny hand;
“eome out, and go along o’ the master here,—’t is for thy
good,—and ho-ome wull keep, I trow, till thou dost come
again.”

But Nick hung back, and clung to the blacksmith’s grimy
arm, crying in despair: “I will na—oh, I will na!”

“Tut, tut!” eried Master Carew. “Come, Nicholas; I
mean thee well, I ll speak thee fair, and I ‘Il treat thee
true”—and he smiled so frankly that even Nick’s doubts
almost wavered. ‘Come, Ill swear it on my hilt,” said
he.

The smith’s brow clouded. “Nay,” said he; “we ’ll no
swearing by hilts or by holies here; the bailiff will na have
it, sir.”

“Good! then upon mine honour as an Englishman!”
eried Carew. “What, how, bullies? Upon mine honour
as an Englishman !—how is it? Here we be, all English- ©
men together!” and he clapped his hand to Will Hostler’s
shoulder, whereat Will stood up very straight and looked
around, as if all at once he were somebody instead of some-
what less than nobody at all of any consequence. “ What!
—ye are all for fair play ?—and I am for fair play, and
good Master Smith, with his beautiful shoe, here, is for
fair play! Why, sirs, my bullies, we are all for fair play ;
and what more can a man ask than good, downright Eng-
lish fair play? Nothing, say I. Fair play first, last, and
all the time!” and he waved his hand. “Hurrah for
downright English fair play !”

“Hurrah, hurrah!” bellowed the crowd, swept along
94 MASTER SKYLARK

like bubbles in a flood. “Fair play, says we—English fair
play—hurrah!” And those inside waved their hands,
and those that were outside tossed up their caps, in sheer
delight of good fair play.

“Hurrah, my bullies! That ’s the cry!” said Carew, in
his hail-fellow-well-met, royal way. “ Why, we’re the very
best of fellows, and the very fastest friends! Come, all
to the old Three Lions inn, and douse a can of brown
March brew at my expense. To the Queen, to good fair
play, and to all the fine fellows in Albans town!”

And what did the crowd do but raise a shout, like a
parcel of school-boys loosed for a holiday, and troop off to
the Three Lions inn at Master Carew’s heels, Will Hostler
and the brawny smith bringing up the rear with Nick be-
tween them, hand to collar, half forgotten by the rest, and
his heart too low for further grief.

And while the crowd were still roaring over their tank-
ards and cheering good fair play, Master Gaston Carew
up with his prisoner into the saddle, and, mounting him-
self, with the bandy-legged man grinning opposite, shook
the dust of old St. Albans from his horse’s heels.

“Now, Nicholas Attwood,” said he, grimly, as they gal-
loped away, “hark ’e well to what I have to say, and do
not let it slip thy mind. I am willed to take thee to
London town—dost mark me ?—and to London town thou
shalt go, warm or cold. By the whistle of the Lord High
Admiral, I mean just what I say! So thou mayst take thy
choice.”

He gripped Nick’s shoulder as they rode, and glared into
LONDON TOWN — 95

his eyes as if to sear them with his own. Nick heard his
poniard grating in its sheath, and shut his eyes so that he
might not see the master-player’s horrid stare; for the
opening and shutting, opening and shutting, of the blue
lids made him shudder.

“ And what ’s more,” said Carew, sternly, “I shall call
thee Master Skylark from this time forth—dost hear? And
when I bid thee go, thou’lt go; and when I bid thee come,
thou ‘It come; and when I say, ‘Here, follow me!’ thou ‘It
follow like a dog to heel!” He drew up his lip until his
white teeth showed, and Nick, hearing them gritting to-
gether, shrank back dismayed.

“There!” laughed Carew, scornfully. “He that knows
better how to tame a vixen or to cozen a pack of gulls,
now let him speak!” and said no more until they passed
by Chipping Barnet. Then, “Nick,” said he, in a quiet,
kindly tone, as if they had been friends for years, “ this is
the place where Warwick fell”; and pointed down the
field. “There in the corner of that croft they piled the
noble dead like corn upon a threshing-floor. Since then,”
said he, with quiet irony, “men have stopped making
English kings as the Dutch make dolls, of a stick and a
poll thereon.”

Pleased with hearing his own voice, he would have gone
on with many another thing ; but seeing that Nick listened
not at all to what he said, he ceased, and rode on silently
or chatting with the others.

The country through Middlesex was in most part flat,
and heavy forests overhung the road from time to time.
96 MASTER SKYLARK

There the players slipped their poniards, and rode with
rapier in hand; for many a dark deed and cruel robbery
had been done along this stretch of Watling street. And
as they passed, more than one dark-visaged rogue with
branded hand and a price upon his head peered at them
from the copses by the way.

In places where the woods crept very near they pressed
closer together and rode rapidly ; and the horse-boy and
the grooms lit up the matches of their pistolets, and
laid their harquebuses ready in rest, and blew the creep-
ing sparkle snapping red at every turn; not so much
really fearing an attack upon so stout a party of reckless,
dashing blades, as being overawed by the great, mysteri-
ous silence of the forest, the semi-twilight all about, and
the cold, strange-smelling wind that fanned their faces.

The wild spattering of hoofs in water-pools that lay un-
sucked by the sun in shadowy stretches, the grim silence
of the riders, and the wary eying of each covert as they
passed, sent a thrill of excitement into Nick’s heart too
keen for any boy to resist.

Then, too, it was no everyday tale to be stolen away
from home. It was a wild, strange thing with a strange,
wild sound to it, not altogether terrible or unpleasant to
a brave boy’s ears in that wonder-filled age, when all the
world was turned adventurer, and England led the fore ;
when Francis Drake and the “Golden Hind,” John Haw-
kins and the “Victory,” Frobisher and his cockleshells,
were gossip for every English fireside; when the whole
world rang with English steel, and the wide sea foamed
LONDON TOWN 97

with English keels, and the air was full of the blaze of the
living and the ghosts of the mighty dead. And down in
Nick’s plucky young English heart there came a spark like
that which burns in the soul of a mariner when for the
first time an unknown ocean rolls before his eyes.

So he rode on bravely, filled with a sense of daring and
the thrill of perils more remote than Master Carew’s alto-
gether too adjacent poniard, as well as. with a sturdy de-
termination to escape at the first opportunity, in spite of
all the master-player’s threats.

Up Highgate Hill they rattled in a bracing northeast
wind, the rugged country bowling back against the tumbled
sky. Far to south a rusty haze had gloomed against the
sun like a midday fog, mile after mile; and suddenly, as
they topped the range and cleared the last low hill, they
saw a city in the south spreading away until it seemed to
Nick to girdle half the world and to veil the sky in a reek
of murky sea-coal smoke.

“There !” said Carew, reining in the gray, as Nick looked
up and felt his heart almost stand still; “since Parma
burned old Antwerp, and the Low Countries are dead,
there lies the market-heart of all the big round world!”

“London!” cried Nick, and, catching his breath with a
quick gasp, sat speechless, staring.

Carew smiled. ‘Ay, Nick,” said he, cheerily; ‘“’t is
London town. Pluck up thine heart, lad, and be no more
cast down; there lies a New World ready to thine hand.
Thou canst win it if thou wilt. Come, let it be thine
Indies, thou Francis Drake, and I thy galleon to carry

’
98 MASTER SKYLARK

home the spoils! And cheer up. It grieves my heart to
see thee sad. Be merry for my sake.”

“For thy sake?” gasped Nick, staring blankly in his
face. “Why, what hast thou done for me?” A sudden
sob surprised him, and he clenched his fists—it was too
eruel irony. “Why, sir, if thou wouldst only leave me
go ! ”

“Tut, tut!” cried Carew, angrily. “Still harping on
that same old string? Why, from thy waking face I
thought thou hadst dropped it long ago. Let thee go?
Not for all the wealth in Lombard street! Dost think me
a goose-witted gull?—and dost ask what I have done for
thee? Thou simpleton! I have made thee rise above the
limits of thy wildest dream—have shod thy feet with gold
—have filled thy lap with glory—have crowned thine head
with fame! And yet, ‘What have I done for thee?’ Fie!
Thou art a stubborn-hearted little fool. But, marry come
up! I’ll mend thy mind. I’l bend thy will to suit my
way, or break it in the bending!”

Clapping his hand upon his poniard, he turned his back,
and did not speak to Nick again.

And so they came down the Kentish Town road through
a meadow-land threaded with flowing streams, the wild
hill thickets of Hampstead Heath to right, the huddling
villages of Islington, Hoxton, and Clerkenwell to left. And
as they passed through Kentish Town, past Primrose Hill
into Hampstead way, solitary farm-houses and lowly cot-
tages gave way to burgher dwellings in orderly array, with
manor-houses here and there, and in the distance palaces
LONDON TOWN 99

and towers reared their heads above the crowding chim-
ney-pots.

Then the players dressed themselves in fair array, and
flung their banners out, and came through Smithfield to
Aldersgate, mocking the grim old gibbet there with railing
gaiety ; and through the gate rode into London town, with
a long, loud cheer that brought the people crowding to
their doors, and set the shutters creaking everywhere.

Nick was bewildered by the countless shifting gables
and the throngs of people flowing onward like a stream,
and stunned by the roar that seemed to boil out of the
very ground. The horses’ hoofs clashed on the unevenly
paved street with a noise like a thousand smithies. The
houses hung above him till they almost hid the sky, and
seemed to be reeling and ready to fall upon his head
when he looked up; so that he urged the little roan with
his uneasy heels, and wished himself out of this monstrous. °
ruck where the walls were so close together that there
was not elbow-room to live, and the air seemed only heat,
thick and stifling, full of dust and smells.

Shop after shop, and booth on booth, until Nick won-
dered where the gardens were; and such a maze of lanes,
byways, courts, blind alleys, and passages that his simple
country footpath head went all into a tangle, and he could
scarcely have told Tottenham Court road from the river
Thames.

All that he remembered afterward was that, turning
from High Holborn into the Farringdon road, he saw a
great church, under Ludgate Hill, with spire burned and
100 MASTER SKYLARK

fallen, and its massive tower, black with age and smoke,
staring on the town. But he was too confused to know
whither they went or what he saw in passing; for of such
a forest of houses he had never even dreamed, with people
swarming everywhere like ants upon a hill, and among
them all not one kind face he knew.. Through the spirit
of adventure that had roused him for a time welled up a
great heart-sickness for his mother and his home.

Out of a bewildered daze he came at last to realize this
much: that the master-player’s house was very tall and
very dark, standing in a dismal, dirty street, and that it
had a gloomy hallway full of shadows that crept and
wavered along the wall in the dim light of the late after-
noon.

Then the master-player pushed him up a narrow stair-
ease and along a black corridor to a door at the end of the
passage, through which he thrust him into a darkness like
night, and slammed the door behind him.

Nick heard the bolts shoot heavily, and Master Carew
eall through the heavy panels: “Now, Jackanapes, sit
down and chew the cud of solitude awhile. It may cool
thy silly pate for thee, since nothing else will serve. When
thou hast found thy common sense, perchance thou ‘It find
thy freedom, not before.” Then his step went down the
corridor, down the stair, through the long hall—a door
banged with a hollow sound that echoed through the
house, and all was still.

At first, in the utter darkness, Nick could not see at all,
and did not move for fear of falling down some awful
LONDON TOWN 101

hole; but as his eyes grew used to the gloom he saw that
he was in a little room. The only window was boarded
up, but a dim light crept in through narrow cracks and
made faint bars across the air. Little motes floated up
and down these thin blue bars, wavering in the uncertain
light and then lost in the darkness. Upon the floor was
a pallet of straw, covered with a coarse sheet, and having
a rough coverlet of sheepskin. A round log was the only
pillow.

Something moved. Nick, startled, peered into the
shadows: it was a strip of ragged tapestry which fluttered
on the wall. As he watched it flapping fitfully there came
a hollow rattle in the wainscot, and an uncanny sound like
the moaning of wind in the chimney.

“Tet me out!” he cried, beating upon the door. “Let
me out, I say!”
outside. ‘Mother, mother!” he cried shrilly, now quite
unstrung by fright, and beat frantically upon the door
until his hands ached; but no one answered. The window
was beyond his reach. Throwing himself upon the hard
pallet, he hid his eyes in the coverlet, and cried as if his
heart would break.
CHAPTER XVI
MA’M’SELLE CICELY CAREW

OW long he lay there in a stupor of despair Nick

Attwood never knew. It might have been days

or weeks, for all that he took heed; for he was thinking
of his mother, and there was no room for more.

The night passed by. Then the day came, by the lines
of light that crept across the floor. The door was opened
at his back, and a trencher of bread and meat thrust in.
He did not touch it, and the rats came out of the wall and
pulled the meat about, and gnawed holes in the bread,
and squeaked, and ran along the wainscot; but he did not
care.

The afternoon dragged slowly by, and the creeping light
went up the wall until the roofs across the street shut out
the sunset. Sometimes Nick waked and sometimes he
slept, he scarce knew which nor cared; nor did he hear
the bolts grate cautiously, or see the yellow candle-light
steal in across the gloom.

“Boy!” said a soft little voice.

He started up and looked around.

102
MA’M’SELLE CICELY CAREW 103

For an instant he thought that he was dreaming, and
was glad to think that he would waken by and by from
what had been so sad a dream, and find himself safe in his
own little bed in Stratford town. For the little maid who
stood in the doorway was such a one as his eyes had never
looked upon before.

She was slight and graceful as a lily of the field, and
her skin was white as the purest wax, save where a damask
rose-leaf red glowed through her cheeks. Her black hair
curled about her slender neck. Her gown was crimson,
slashed with gold, cut square across the breast and simply
made, with sleeves just elbow-long, wide-mouthed, and
lined with creamy silk. Her slippers, too, were of crimson
silk, high-heeled, jaunty bits of things; her silken stockings
black. In one hand she held a tall brass candlestick, and
through the fingers of the other the candle-flame made a
ruddy glow like the sun in the heart of a hollyhock. And
in the shadow of her hand her eyes looked out, as Nick
said long afterward, like stars in a summer night.

Thinking it was all a dream, he sat and stared at her.

“Boy!” she said again, quite gently, but with a quaint
little air of reproof, “where are thy manners?”

Nick got up quickly and bowed as best he knew how
If not a dream, this was certainly a princess—and per-
chance—his heart leaped up—perchance she came to set
him free! He wondered who had told her of him? Diccon
Field, perhaps, whose father had been Simon Attwood’s
partner till he died, last Michaelmas. Diccon was in
London now, printing books he had heard. Or maybe it
104 MASTER SKYLARK

was John, Hal Saddler’s older brother. No, it could not
be John, for John was with a carrier ; and Nick had doubts
if carriers were much acquainted at court.

Wondering, he stared, and bowed again.

“Why, boy,” said she, with a quaint air of surprise,
“thou art a very pretty fellow! Why, indeed, thou look-
est like a good boy! Why wilt thou be so bad and break
my father’s heart?”

“Break thy father’s heart?” stammered Nick. “ Pr’y-
thee, who is thy father, Mistress Princess?”

“Nay,” said the little maid, simply ; “I am no princess.
T am Cicely Carew.”

“ Cicely Carew?” cried Nick, clenching his fists. “ Art
thou the daughter of that wicked man, Gaston Carew?”

“My father is not wicked!” said she, passionately,
drawing back from the threshold with her hand trembling
upon the latch. “Thou shalt not say that—I will not
speak with thee at all!”

“IT donacare! If Master Gaston Carew is thy father,
he is the wickedest man in the world!”

“Why, fie, for shame!” she cried, and stamped her little
foot. “How darest thou say such a thing?”

“He hath stolen me from home,” exclaimed Nick, indig-
nantly; “and I shall never see my mother any more!”
With that he choked, and hid his face in his arm against
the wall.

The little maid looked at him with an air of troubled
surprise, and, coming into the room, touched him on the
arm. “There,” she said soothingly, “don’t ery!” and
MA’M’SELLE CICELY CAREW 105

stroked him gently as one would a little dog that was
hurt. “My father will send thee home to thy mother, I
know; for he is very kind and good. Some one hath lied
to thee about him.”

Nick wiped his swollen eyes dubiously upon his sleeve;
yet the little maid seemed positive. Perhaps, after all,
there was a mistake somewhere.

“Art hungry, boy?” she asked suddenly, spying the
empty trencher on the floor. “There is a pasty and a cake
in the buttery, and thou shalt have some of it if thou wilt
not ery any more. Come, I cannot bear to see thee ery—
it makes me weep myself; and that will blear mine eyes,
and father will feel bad.”

“Tf he but felt as bad as he hath made me feel—”
began Nick, wrathfully; but she laid her little hand
across his mouth. It was a very white, soft, sweet little
hand.

“Come,” said she; “thou art hungry, and it hath made
thee cross!” and, with no more ado, took him by the
hand and led him down the corridor into a large room
where the last daylight shone with a smoky glow.

The walls were wainscoted with many panels, dark, old,
and mysterious; and in a burnished copper brazier at the
end of the room cinnamon, rosemary, and bay were burn-
ing with a pleasant smell. Along the walls were joined-
work chests for linen and napery, of brass-bound oak—
one a black, old, tragic sea-chest, carved with grim faces
and weird griffins, that had been cast up by the North Sea
from the wreck of a Spanish galleon of war. The floor
106 MASTER SKYLARK

was waxed in the French fashion, and was so smooth that
Nick could scarcely keep his feet. The windows were high
up in the wall, with their heads among the black roof-
beams, which with their grotesquely carven brackets were
half lost in the dusk. Through the windows Nick could
see nothing but a world of chimney-pots.

“Ts London town all smoke-pipes?” he asked con-
fusedly.

“Nay,” replied the little maid; “there are people.”

Pushing a chair up to the table, she bade him sit down.
Then pulling a tall, curiously-made stool to the other side
of the board, she perched herself upon it like a fairy upon
a blade of grass. “Greg!” she called imperiously, “ Greg !
What, how! Gregory Goole, I say!”

“Yes, ma’m’selle,” replied a hoarse voice without; and
through a door at the further end of the room came the
bandy-legged man with the bow of crimson ribbon in his
ear.

Nick turned a little pale; and when the fellow saw him
sitting there, he came up hastily, with a look like a crock
of sour milk. “Tut, tut! ma’m’selle,” said he; “ Master
Carew will not like this.”

She turned upon him with an air of dainty scorn.
“Since when hath father left his wits to thee, Gregory
Goole? I know his likes as well as thou—and it likes him
not to let this poor boy starve, I ll warrant. Go, fetch
the pasty and the cake that are in the buttery, with a glass
of cordial,—the Certosa cordial,—and that in the shaking
of a black sheep’s tail, or I will tell my father what thou
MA’MW’SELLE CICELY CAREW 107

wottest of.” And she looked the very picture of diminutive
severity.

“Very good, ma’m’selle; just as ye say,” said Gregory,
fawning, with very poor grace, however. “ But, knave,”
he snarled, as he turned away, with a black scowl at Nick,
“if thou dost venture on any of thy scurvy pranks while
I be gone, I ‘ll break thy pate.”

Cicely Carew knitted her brows. “That is a saucy
rogue,” said she; “but he hath served my father well.
And, what is much in London town, he is an honest man
withal, though I have caught him at the Spanish wine
behind my father’s back; so he doth butter his tongue
with smooth words when he hath speech with me, for lam
the lady of the house.” She held up her head with a very
pretty pride. “My mother—”

Nick caught his breath, and his eyes filled.

“Nay, boy,” said she, gently; “’t is I should weep, not
thou; for my mother is dead. I do not think I ever saw
her that I know,” she went on musingly; “but she was a
Frenchwoman who served a murdered queen, and she was
the loveliest woman that ever lived.” Cicely clasped her
hands and moved her lips. Nick saw that she was pray-
ing, and bent his head.

“Thou art a good boy,” she said softly; “my father
will like that”; and then went quietly on: “That is why
Gregory Goole doth call me ‘ma’m’selle’—because my
mother was a Frenchwoman. But I am a right English
girl for all that; and when they shout, ‘God save the
Queen!’ at the play, why, I do too! And, oh, boy,” she
108 MASTER SKYLARK

cried, “it is a brave thing to hear!” and she clapped her
hands with sparkling eyes. “It drove the Spaniards off
the sea, my father ofttimes saith.”

“Poh!” said Nick, stoutly, for he saw the pasty coming
in, “they can na beat us Englishmen!” and with that fell
upon the pasty as if it were the Spanish Armada in one
lump and he Sir Francis Drake set on to do the job alone.

As he ate his spirits rose again, and he almost forgot
that he was stolen from his home, and grew eager to be
seeing the wonders of the great town whose ceaseless roar
came over the housetops like a distant storm. He was
still somewhat in awe of this beautiful, flower-like little
maid, and listened in shy silence to the wonderful tales she
told: how that she had seen the Queen, who had red hair,
and pearls like gooseberries on her cloak; and how the
court went down to Greenwich. But the bandy-legged
man kept popping his head in at the door, and, after all,
Nick was but in a prison-house; so he grew quite dismal
after a while.

“Dost truly think thy father will leave me go?” he
asked.

“Of course he will,” said she. “I cannot see why thou
dost hate him so?”

“Why, truly,” hesitated Nick, “perhaps it is not thy
father that I hate, but only that he will na leave me go.
And if he would but leave me go, perhaps I’d love him
very much indeed.”

“Good, Nick! thou art a trump!” cried Master Carew’s
voice suddenly from the further end of the hall, where in
MA’M’SELLE CICELY CAREW 109

spite of all the candles it was dark; and, coming forward,
the master-player held out his hands in a most genial way.
“Come, lad, thy hand—’t is spoken like a gentleman.
Nay, I will kiss thee—for I love thee, Nick, upon my word,
and on the remnant of mine honour!” Taking the boy’s
half-unwilling hands in his own, he stooped and kissed
him upon the forehead.

“Father,” said Cicely, gravely, “hast thou forgotten
me?”

“Nay, sweetheart, nay,” cried Carew, with a wonderful
laugh that somehow warmed the cockles of Nick’s forlorn
heart; and turning quickly, the master-player caught up
the little maid and kissed her again and again, so tenderly
that Nick was amazed to see how one so cruel could be so
kind, and how so good a little maid could love so bad a
man; for she twined her arms about his neck, and then
lay back with her head upon his shoulder, purring like a
kitten in his arms. ;

“Father,” said she, patting his cheek, “some one hath
told him naughty things of thee. Come, daddy, say they
are not so!”

The master-player’s face turned red as flame. He
coughed and looked up among the roof-beams. “ Why,
of course they ’re not,” said he, uneasily.

“There, boy!” cried she; “I told thee so. Why,
daddy, think!—they said that thou hadst stolen him
away from his own mother, and wouldst not leave him
go ! ”

“Hollo!” ejaculated the master-player, abruptly, witha
110 MASTER SKYLARK

quiver in his voice; “what a hole thou hast made in the
pasty, Nick!”

“Ah, daddy,” persisted Cicely, “and what a hole it
would make in his mother’s heart if he had been stolen
away !”

“Wouldst like another draught of cordial, Nick?” cried
Carew, hurriedly, reaching out for the tall flagon with a
trembling hand. “’T is good to cheer the troubled heart,
lad. Not that thou hast any reason in the world to let thy
heart be troubled,” he added hastily. ‘No, indeed, upon
my word; for thou art on the doorstep of a golden-lined
success. See, Nick, how the light shines through!” and
he tilted up the flagon. “It is one of old Jake Vessaline’s
Murano-Venetian glasses; a beautiful thing, now, is it
not? "Tis good as any made abroad!” but his hand was
shaking so that half the cordial missed the cup and ran
into a little shimmering pool upon the table-top.

“And thou ‘It send him home again, daddy, wilt thou
not?”

“Yes, yes, of course—why, to be sure—we Il send him
anywhere that thou dost say, Golden-heart: to Persia or
Cathay—ay, to the far side of the green-cheese moon, or
to the court of Tamburlaine the Great,” and he laughed a
quick, dry, nervous laugh that had no laughter in it. “TI
had one of De Lannoy’s red Bohemian bottles, Nick,” he
rattled on feverishly ; “but that butter-fingered rogue”—
he nodded his head at the outer stair—“ dropped it, smash !
and made a thousand most counterfeit fourpences out of
what cost me two pound sterling.”
MA’M’SELLE CICELY CAREW 111

“But will ye truly leave me go, sir?” faltered Nick.

“Why, of course—to be sure—yes, certainly—yes, yes.
But, Nick, it is too late this night. Why, come, thou
couldst not go to-night. See, ’tis dark, and thou a stranger
in the town. ’T is far to Stratford town—thou couldst
not walk it, lad; there will be carriers anon. Come, stay
awhile with Cicely and me—we will make thee a right
welcome guest!”

“That we will,” cried Cicely, clapping her hands. “Oh,
do stay; I am so lonely here! The maid is silly, Margot
old, and the rats run in the wall.”

“And thou must to the theater, my lad, and sing for
London town—ay, Nicholas,” and Carew’s voice rang
proudly. “The highest heads in London town must hear
that voice of thine, or I shall die unshrift. What! lad?—
come all the way from Coventry, and never show that face
of thine, nor let them hear thy skylark’s song? Why,
*t were a shame! And, Nick, my lord the Admiral shall
hear thee sing when he comes home again; perchance the
Queen herself. Why, Nick, of course thou ‘lt sing. Thou
hast not heart to say thou wilt not sing—even for me whom
thou hatest.”

Nick smiled in spite of himself, for Cicely was leaning
on the arm of his chair, devouring him with her great
dark eyes. “Dost truly, truly sing?” she asked.

Nick laughed and blushed, and Carew laughed. “What,
doth he sing? Why, Nick, come, tune that skylark note
of thine for little Golden-heart and me. ’T will make her
think she hears the birds in verity—and, Nick, the lass
112 MASTER SKYLARK

hath never seen a bird that sang, except within a cage.
Nay, lad, this is no cage!” he cried, as Nick looked about
and sighed. “We will make it very home for thee—will
Cicely and I.”

“That we will!” cried Cicely. “Come, boy, sing for
me—my mother used to sing.”

At that Gaston Carew went white as a sheet, and put
his hand quickly up to his face. Cicely darted to his side
with a frightened cry, and caught his hand away. He
tried to smile, but it was a ghastly attempt. “Tush, tush!
little one; ’t was something stung me!” said he, huskily,
“Sing, Nicholas, I beg of thee!”

There was such a sudden world of weariness and sorrow
in his voice that Nick felt a pity for he knew not what,
and lifting up his clear young voice, he sang the quaint
old madrigal.

Carew sat with his face in his hand, and after it was
done arose unsteadily and said, “Come, Golden-heart ; ’t is
music such as charmeth care and lureth sleep out of her
dark valley—we must be trotting off to bed.”

That night Nick slept upon a better bed, with a sheet
and a blue serge coverlet, and a pillow stuffed with chaff.

But as he drifted off into a troubled dreamland, he
heard the door-bolt throb into its socket, and knew that
he was fastened in.
CHAPTER XVII
CAREW’S OFFER

, EXT morning Carew donned his plum-colored cloak,

and with Nick’s hand held tightly in his own went
out of the door and down the steps into a drifting fog
which filled the street, the bandy-legged man with the
ribbon in his ear following close upon their heels.

People passed them like shadows in the mist, and all
the houses were a blur until they came into a wide, open
place where the wind blew free above a wall with many
great gates.

In the middle of this open place a huge gray building
stood, staring out over the housetops—a great cathedral,
wonderful and old. Its walls were dark with time and
smoke and damp, and the lofty tower that rose above it
was in part but a hollow shell split by lightning and black-
ened by fire. But crowded between its massive buttresses
were booths and chapmen’s stalls; against its hoary side
a small church leaned like a child against a mother’s
breast; and in and round about it eddied a throng of
men like ants upon a busy hill.

8 113
114 MASTER SKYLARK

All around the outer square were shops with gilded
fronts and most amazing signs: golden angels with out-
stretched wings, tiger heads, bears, brazen serpents, and
silver cranes; and in and out of the shop-doors darted
apprentices with new-bound books and fresh-printed slips ;
for this was old St. Paul’s, the meeting-place of London
town, and in Paul’s Yard the printers and the bookmen
dealt.

With a deal of elbowing the master-player came up the
broad steps into the cathedral, and down the aisle to the
pillars where the merchant-tailors stood with table-books
in hand, and there ordered a brand-new suit of clothes
for Nick of old Roger Shearman, the best cloth-cutter in
Threadneedle street.

While they were deep in silk and silver thread, Haerlem
linen, and Leyden camelot, Nick stared about him half
aghast; for it was to him little less than monstrous to see
a church so thronged with merchants plying their trades
as if the place were no more sacred than a booth in the
public square.

The long nave of the cathedral was crowded with mercers
from Cheapside, drapers from Throgmorton street, sta-
tioners from Ludgate Hill, and goldsmiths from Foster
lane, hats on, loud-voiced, and using the very font itself
for a counter. By the columns beyond, sly, foxy-faced
lawyers hobnobbed; and on long benches by the wall,
cast-off serving-men, varlets, grooms, pastry-bakers, and
pages sat, waiting to be hired by some new master. Be-
sides these who came on business there was a host of gal-
CAREW’S OFFER 115

lants in gold-laced silk and velvet promenading up and
down the aisle, with no business there at all but to show
their faces and their clothes. And all about were solemn
shrines and monuments and tombs, and overhead a splen-
did window burned like a wheel of fire in the eastern wall.

While Nick stared, speechless, a party of the Admiral’s
players came strolling by, their heads half hidden in their
huge starched ruffs, and with prodigious swords that
would have dragged along the ground had they not been
cocked up behind so fiercely in the air. Seeing Master
Carew and the boy, they stopped in passing to greet them
gaily.

Master Heywood was there, and bowed to Nick with a
kindly smile. His companion was a handsome, proud-
mouthed man with a blue, smooth-shaven face and a jet-
black periwig. Him Carew drew aside and spoke with in
an earnest undertone. As he talked, the other began to
stare at Nick as if he were some curious thing in a cage.

“Upon my soul,” said Carew, “ye never heard the like
of it. He hath a voice as sweet and clear as if Puck had
burst a honey-bag in his throat.”

“No doubt,” replied the other, carelessly ; “and all the
birds will hide their heads when he begins to sing. But
we don’t want him, Carew—not if he had a voice like
Miriam the Jew. Henslowe has just bought little Jem
Bristow of Will Augusten for eight pound sterling, and
business is too bad to warrant any more.”

“Who spoke of selling?” said Carew, sharply. “Don’t
flatter your chances so, Master Alleyn. I would n’t sell
116 MASTER SKYLARK

the boy for a world full of Jem Bristows. Why, his mouth
is a mint where common words are coined into gold! Sell
him? I think I see myself in Bedlam for a fool! Nay,
Master Alleyn, what I am coming at is this: Ill place
him at the Rose, to do his turn in the play with the rest
of us, or out of it alone, as ye choose, for one fourth of
the whole receipts over and above my old share in the
venture. Do ye take me?”

“Take you? One fourth the whole receipts? Zounds!
man, do ye think we have a spigot in El Dorado?”

“Tush! Master Alleyn, don’t make a poor mouth;
you ’re none so needy. You and Henslowe have made a
heap of money out of us all.”

“ And what of that? Yesterday’s butter won’t smooth
to-day’s bread. "Tis absurd of you, Carew, to ask one
fourth and leave all the risk on us, with the outlook as it
is! Here ’s that fellow Langley has built a new play-
house in Paris Garden, nearer to the landing than we are,
and is stealing our business most seurvily !”

Carew shrugged his shoulders.

“And what ’s more, the very comedy for which Ben
Jonson left us, because we would not put it on, has been
taken up by the Burbages on Will Shakspere’s say-so, and
is running famously at the Curtain.”

“T told you so, Master Alleyn, when the fellow was fresh
from the Netherlands,” said Carew; “but your ears were
plugged with your own conceit. Young Jonson is no
flatfish, if he did lay brick; he ’s a plum worth anybody’s
picking.”
CAREW’S OFFER 117

“But, plague take it, Carew, those Burbages have all
the plums! Since they weaned Will Shakspere from us
everything has gone wrong. Kemp has left us; old John
Lowin, too; and now the Lord Mayor and Privy Council
have soured on the play again and forbidden all playing
on the Bankside, outside the City or no.”

Carew whistled softly to himself.

“And since my Lord Chamberlain has been patron of
the Burbages he will not so much as turn a hand to revive
the old game of bull- and bear-baiting, and Phil and I
have kept the Queen’s bulldogs going on a twelvemonth
now at our own expense—a pretty canker on our profits!
Why, Carew, as Will Shakspere used to say, ‘One woe doth
tread the other’s heels, so fast they follow!’ And what ’s
to do?”

“What ’s to do?” said Carew. “Why, I ’ve told ye
what ’s to do. Ye’ve heard Will say, ‘There is a tide
leads on to fortune if ye take it at the flood’? Well,
Master Alleyn, here ’s the tide, and at the flood. I have
offered you an argosy. Will ye sail or stick in the mud?
Ye ll never have such a chance again. Come, one fourth
over my old share, and I will fill your purse so full of gold
that it will gape like a stuffed toad. His is the sweetest
skylark voice that ever sugared ears!”

“But, man, man, one fourth!”

“Better one fourth than lose it all,” said Carew. “But,
pshaw! Master Ned Alleyn, I ‘ll not beg a man to swim
that ’s bent on drowning! We will be at the play-house
this afternoon ; mayhap thou ‘It have thought better of it
118 MASTER SKYLARK

by then.” With a curt bow he was off through the crowd,
Nick’s hand in his own clenched very tight.

They had hard work getting down the steps, for two
hot-headed gallants were quarreling there as to who should
come up first, and there was a great press. But Carew
scowled and showed his teeth, and clenched his poniard-
hilt so fiercely that the commoners fell away and let them
down.

Nick’s eyes were hungry for the printers’ stalls where
ballad-sheets were sold for a penny, and where the books
were piled along the shelves until he wondered if all
London were turned printer. He looked about to see if
he might chance upon Diccon Field; but Carew came so
quickly through the crowd that Nick had not time to
recognize Diccon if he had been there. Diccon had often
made Nick whistles from the pollard willows along the
Avon below the tannery when Nick was a toddler in
smocks, and the lad thought he would like to see him
before going back to Stratford. Then, too, his mother
had always liked Diccon Field, and would be glad to hear
from him. At thought of his mother he gave a happy
little skip; and as they turned into Paternoster Row,
“Master Carew,” said he, “how soon shall I go home?”

Carew walked a little faster.

There had arisen a sound of shouting and a trampling
of feet. The constables had taken a purse-cutting thief,
and were coming up to the Newgate prison with a great
rabble behind them. The fellow’s head was broken, and
his haggard face was all screwed up with pain; but that
CAREW’S OFFER 119

did not stop the boys from hooting at him, and asking in
mockery how he thought he would like to be hanged and
to dance on nothing at Tyburn Hill.

“Did ye hear me, Master Carew?” asked Nick.

The master-player stepped aside a moment into a door-
way to let the mob go by, and then strode on.

Nick tried again: “I pray thee, sir—”

“Do not pray me,” said Carew, sharply; “I am no In-
dian idol.”

“But, good Master Carew—”

“Nor call me good—I am not good.”

“But, Master Carew,” faltered Nick, with a sinking sen-
sation around his heart, “ when will ye leave me go home?”

The master-player did not reply, but strode on rapidly,
gnawing his mustache.
CHAPTER XVIII
MASTER HEYWOOD PROTESTS

T was a cold, raw day. All morning long the sun had
shone through the choking fog as the candle-flame
through the dingy yellow horn of an old stable-lantern.
But at noon a wind sprang up that drove the mist through
London streets in streaks and strings mixed with smoke
and the reek of steaming roofs. Now and then the blue
gleamed through in ragged patches overhead; so that all
the town turned out on pleasure bent, not minding if it
rained stewed turnips, so they saw the sky.

But the fog still sifted through the streets, and all was
damp and sticky to the touch, so Cicely was left behind
to loneliness and disappointment.

Nick and the master-player came down Ludgate Hill to
Blackfriars landing in a stream of merrymakers, high and
low, rich and poor, faring forth to London’s greatest
thoroughfare, the Thames; and as the river and the noble
mansions along the Strand came into view, Nick’s heart
beat fast. It was a sight to stir the pulse.

Far down the stream, the grim old Tower loomed above

120
MASTER HEYWOOD PROTESTS 121

the drifting mist; and, higher up, old London Bridge,
lined with tall houses, stretched from shore to shore. There
were towers on it with domes and gilded vanes, and the
river foamed and roared under it, strangled by the piers.
From the dock at St. Mary Averies by the Bridge to Barge-
house stairs, the landing-stages all along the river-bank
were thronged with boats ; and to and fro across the stream,
wherries, punts, barges, and water-craft of every kind were
plying busily. In middle stream sail-boats tugged along
with creaking sweeps, or brown-sailed trading-vessels
slipped away to sea, with costly freight for Muscovy, Tur-
key, and the Levant. And amid the countless water-craft
a multitude of stately swans swept here and there like
snow-flakes on the dusky river.

Nick sniffed at the air, for it was full of strange odors
- —the smell of breweries, of pitchy oakum, Norway tar,
spices from hot countries, resinous woods, and chilly
whiffs from the water; and as they came out along the
wharf, there were brown-faced, hard-eyed sailors there,
who had been to the New World—wild fellows with silver
rings in their ears and a swaggering stagger in their pet-
ticoated legs. Some of them held short, crooked brown
tubes between their lips, and puffed great clouds of pale
brown smoke from their noses in a most amazing way.

Broad-beamed Dutchmen, too, were there, and swarthy
Spanish renegades, with sturdy craftsmen of the City
guilds and stalwart yeomen of the guard in the Queen’s
rich livery.

But ere Nick had fairly begun to stare, confused by
122 MASTER SKYLARK

such a rout, Carew had hailed a wherry, and they were
half-way over to the Southwark side.

Landing amid a deafening din of watermen bawling
hoarsely for a place along the Paris Garden stairs, the
master-player hurried up the lane through the noisy
crowd. Some were faring afoot into Surrey, and some to
green St. George’s Fields to buy fresh fruit and milk from
the farm-houses and to picnic on the grass. Some turned
aside to the Falcon Inn for a bit of cheese and ale, and
others to the play-houses beyond the trees and fishing-
ponds. And coming down from the inn they met a crowd
of players, with Master Tom Heywood at their head, frol-
icking and cantering along like so many overgrown
school-boys.

“So we are to have thee with us awhile?” said Hey-
wood, and put his arm around Nick’s shoulders as they
trooped along.

“ Awhile, sir, yes,” replied Nick, nodding; “but I am
going home soon, Master Carew says.”

“Carew,” said Heywood, suddenly turning, “how can
ye have the heart?”

“Come, Heywood,” quoth the master-player, curtly,
though his whole face colored up, “I have heard enough
of this. Will ye please to mind your own affairs?”

The writer of comedies lifted his brows. “ Very well,”
he answered quietly; “but, lad, this much for thee,” said
he, turning to Nick, “if ever thou dost need a friend, Tom
Heywood ’s one will never speak thee false.”

“ Sir!” cried Carew, clapping his hand upon his poniard
MASTER HEYWOOD PROTESTS 123

Heywood looked up steadily. “How? Wilt thou quar-
rel with me, Carew? What ugly poison hath been filtered
through thy wits? Why, thou art even falser than I
thought! Quarrel with me, who took thy new-born child
from her dying mother’s arms when thou wert fast in
Newgate gaol?”

Carew’s angry face turned sickly gray. He made as if
to speak, but no sound came. He shut his eyes and pushed
out his hand in the air as if to stop the voice of the writer
of comedies.

“Come,” said Heywood, with deep feeling; “thou canst
not quarrel with me yet—nay, though thou dost try thy
very worst. It would be asorry story for my soul or thine
to tell to hers.”

Carew groaned. The rest of the players had passed on,
and the three stood there alone. “Don’t, Tom, don’t!”
he cried.

“Then how can ye have the heart ?” the other asked again.

The master-player lifted up his head, and his lips were
trembling. “’T is not the heart, Tom,” he cried bitterly,
“npon my word, and on the remnant of mine honour!
"T is the head which doeth this. For, Tom, I cannot leave
him go. Why, Tom, hast thou not heard him sing? A
voice which would call back the very dead that we have
loved if they might only hear. Why, Tom, ’t is worth a
thousand pound! How can I leave him go?”

“ Oh, fie for shame upon the man I took thee for!” cried
Heywood.

“But, Tom,” cried Carew, brokenly, “look it straightly
124 MASTER SKYLARK

in the face; I am no such player as I was,—this reckless
life hath done the trick for me, Tom,—and here is ruin
staring Henslowe and Alleyn in the eye. They cannot
keep me master if their luck doth not change soon; and
Burbage would not have me as a gift. So, Tom, what is
there left todo? How canI shift without the boy? Nay,
Tom, it will not serve. There ’s Cicely—not one penny
laid by for her against a rainy day ; and I’ll be gone, Tom,
Ill be gone—it is not morning all day long—we cannot
last forever. Nay, I cannot leave him go!”

“But, sir,”"broke in Nick, wretchedly, holding fast to
Heywood’s arm, “ye said that I should go!”

“Said!” eried the master-player, with a bitter smile;
“why, Nick, I’d say ten times more in one little minute
just to hear thee sing than I would stand to in a month
of Easters afterward. Come, Nick, be fair. I'll feed thee
full and dress thee well and treat thee true—all for that
song of thine.”

“But, sir, my mother—”

“Why, Carew, hath the boy a mother, too?” eried the
writer of comedies.

“Now, Heywood, on thy soul, no more of this!” cried
the master-player, with quivering lips. “Ye will make
me out no man, or else a fiend. I cannot let the fellow
go—I will not let him go.” His hands were twitching,
and his face was pale, but his lips were set determinedly.
“ And, Tom, there’s that within me will not abide even thy
pestering. So come, no more of it! Upon my soul, I sour
over soon!”
MASTER HEYWOOD PROTESTS 125

So they came on gloomily past the bear-houses and the
Queen’s kennels. The river-wind was full of the wild smell
of the bears; but what were bears to poor Nick, whose
last faint hope that the master-player meant to keep his
word and send him home again was gone?

They passed the Paris Garden and the tall round play.
house that Francis Langley had just built. A blood-red '
banner flaunted overhead, with a large white swan painted
thereon; but Nick saw neither the play-house nor the
swan; he saw only, deep in his heart, a little gable-roof
among old elms, with blue smoke curling softly up among
the rippling leaves ; an open door with tall pink hollyhocks
beside it; and in the door, watching for him till he came
again, his own mother’s face. He began to cry silently.

“Nay, Nick, my lad, don’t cry,” said Heywood, gently ;
“*¢ will only make bad matters worse. ever is a weary
while; but the longest lane will tarn at last: some day
thou ‘It find thine home again all in the twinkling of an
eye. Why, Nick, ’t is England still, and thou an English-
man.’ Come, give the world as good as it can send.”

Nick raised his head again, and, throwing the hair back
from his eyes, walked stoutly along, ough the tears still
trickled down his cheeks.

“Sing thou my songs,” said Heywood, heartily, “and I
will be thy friend—let this be thine earnest.” As he
spoke he slipped upon the boy’s finger a gold ring with a
green stone in it cut with a tall tree: this was his seal.

They had now come through the garden to the Rose
Theatre, where the Lord Admiral’s company played; and
126 MASTER SKYLARK

Carew was himself again. ‘Come, Nicholas,” said he,
half jestingly, “be done with thy doleful dumps—care
killed a cat, they say, lad. Why, if thy hateful looks could
stab, I’d be a dead man forty times. Come, cheer up,
lad, that I may know thou lovest me.”

“But I do na love thee!” cried Nick, indignantly.

“Tut! Do not be so dour. Thou ’lt soon be envied by
ten thousand men. Come, don’t make a face at thy good
fortune as though it were a tripe fried in tar. Come, lad,
be pleased ; thou ‘It be the pet of every high-born dame in
London town.”

“Td rather be my mother’s boy,” Nick answered simply.
CHAPTER XIX
THE ROSE PLAY-HOUSE

HE play-house was an eight-sided, three-storied, tower-
like building of oak and plastered lath, upon a low
foundation of yellow brick. Two outside stairways ran
around the wall, and the roof was of bright-red English
tiles with a blue lead gutter at the eaves. There was a
little turret, from the top of which a tall ash stave went
up; and on the stave, whenever there was to be a play,
there floated a great white flag on which was a crimson
rose with a golden heart, just like the one that Nick with
such delight had seen come up the Oxford road a few
short days before.

Under the stairway was a narrow door marked “ For the
Playeres Onelie”; and in the doorway stood a shrewd-
faced, common-looking man, writing upon a tablet which
he held in his hand. There was a case of quills at his
side, with one of which he was scratching busily, now and
then prodding the ink-horn at his girdle. He held his
tongue in his cheek, and moved his head about as the pen

127
128 MASTER SKYLARK

formed the letters: he was no expert penman, this Phil
Henslowe, the stager of plays.

He looked up as they came to the step.

“A poor trip, Carew,” said he, running his finger down
the column of figures he was adding. “The play was
hardly worth the candle—cleared but five pound ; and then,
after I had paid the carman three shilling fip to bring the
stuff down from the City, ’t was lost in the river from the
barge at Paul’s wharf!

“Hard luck!” said Carew.

“Hard? Adamantine, I say! Why, ’t is very stones
for luck, and the whole road rocky! Here ’s Burbage,
Condell, and Will Shakspere ha’ rebuilt Blackfriars play-
house in famous shape; and, marry, where are we?”

Nick started. An idea came creeping into his head.
Will Shakspere had married his mother’s own cousin, Anne
Hathaway of Shottery ; and he had often heard his mother
say that Master Shakspere had ever been her own good
friend when they were young.

“He and Jonson be thick as thieves,” said Henslowe;
“and Chettle says that Will hath near done the book of a
new play for the autumn—a master fine thing !—‘ Romulus
and Juliana, or something of that Italian sort, to follow
Ben Jonson’s comedy. Ned Alleyn played a sweet fool
about Ben’s comedy. Called it monstrous bad; and now
it has taken the money out of our mouths to the tune of
nine pound six the day—and here, while ye were gone, I
ha’ played my Lord of Pembroke’s men in your ‘Robin
Hood,’ Heywood, to scant twelve shilling in the house!”
THE ROSE PLAY-HOUSE 129

‘Heywood flushed.

“Nay, Tom, don’t be nettled; ’t is not the fault of thy
play. There ’s naught will serve. We ’ve tried old Mar-
lowe and Robin Greene, Peele, Nash, and all the rest; but,
what! they will not do—’t is Shakspere, Shakspere; our
City flat-caps will ha’ nothing but Shakspere! ”

Nick listened eagerly. Master Will Shakspere must
indeed be somebody in London town! He stared across
into the drifting cloud of mist and smoke which hid the
city like a pall, and wondered how and where, in that ter-
rible hive of more than a hundred thousand men, he could
find one man.

“T tell thee, Tom Heywood, there ’s some magic in the
fellow, or my name ’s not Henslowe!” cried the manager.
“ His very words bewitch one’s wits as nothing else can do.
Why, I ’ve tried them with ‘Pierce Penniless,’ ‘Groat’s
Worth of Wit, ‘Friar Bacon,’ ‘Orlando,’ and the ‘Battle
of Alcazar’ Why, tush! they will not even listen! And
here I ’ve put Martin Gosset into purple and gold, and
Jemmy Donstall into a peach-colored gown laid down with
silver-gilt, for ‘Volteger’; and what? Why, we play to
empty stools; and the rascals owe me for those costumes
yet—sixty shillings full! A murrain on Burbage and
Will Shakspere too !—but I wish we had him back again.
We ’d make their old Blackfriars sick!” He shook his
fist at a great gray pile of buildings that rose above the
rest out of the fog by the landing-place beyond the river.

Nick stared. That the play-house of Master Shakspere
and the Burbages? Will Shakspere playing there, just

a .
130 MASTER SKYLARK

across the river? Oh, if Nick could only find him, he
would not let the son of his wife’s own cousin be stolen
away !

Nick looked around quickly.

The play-house stood a bowshot from the river, in the
open fields. There was a moated manor-house near by,
and beyond it a little stream with some men fishing. Be-
tween the play-house and the Thames were gardens and
trees, and a thin fringe of buildings along the bank by the
landings. It was not far, and there were places where one
could get a boat every fifty yards or so at the Bankside.

But—“ Come in, come in,” said Henslowe. “Growling
never fed a dog; and we must be doing.”

“Go ahead, Nick,” said Carew, pushing him by the
shoulder, and they all went in. The door opened on a
flight of stairs leading to the lowest gallery at the right of
the stage, where the orchestra sat. A man was tuning up
a viol as they came in.

“JT want you to hear this boy sing,” said Carew to
Henslowe. “’T' is the best thing ye ever lent ear to.”

“Oh, this is the boy?” said the manager, staring at
Nick. “Why, Alleyn told me he was a country gawk!”

“He lied, then,” said Carew, very shortly. “’I was
cheaper than the truth at my price. There, Nick, go look
about the place—we have business.”

Nick went slowly along the gallery. His hands were
beginning to tremble as he put them out touching the
stools. Along the rail were ornamental columns which
supported the upper galleries and looked like beautiful
THE ROSE PLAY-HOUSE 131

blue-veined white marble ; but when he took hold of them
to steady himself he found they were only painted wood.

There were two galleries above. They ran all around
the inside of the building, like the porches of the inn at
Coventry, and he could see them across the house. ‘There
were no windows in the gallery where he was, but there
were some in the second one. They lookedhigh. He went
on around the gallery until he came to some steps going
down into the open space in the center of the building.
The stage was already set up on the trestles, and the car-
penters were putting a shelter-roof over it on copper-gilt
pillars ; for it was beginning to drizzle, and the middle of
the play-house was open to the sky.

The spectators were already coming into the pit at a
penny apiece, although the play would not begin until
early evening. Those for the galleries paid another penny
to aman in a red cloak at the foot of the stairs where
Nick was standing. There was a great uproar at the en-
trance. Some apprentices had caught a cutpurse in the
crowd, and were beating him unmercifully. Every one
pushed and shoved about, cursing the thief, and those
near enough kicked and struck him.

Nick looked back. Carew and the manager had gone
into the tiring-room behind the stage. He took hold of
the side-rail and started down the steps. The man in the
red cloak looked up. “Go back there,” said he, sharply ;
“there ’s enough down here now.” Nick went on around
the gallery.

At the back of the stage were two doors for the players,
132 MASTER SKYLARK

and between them hung a painted cloth or arras behind
which the prompter stood. Over these doors were two
plastered rooms, twopenny private boxes for gentlefolk.
In one of them were three young men and a beautiful
girl, wonderfully dressed. The men were speaking to her,
but she looked down at Nick instead. “What a pretty
boy!” she said, and tossed him a flower that one of the
men had just given her. Itfellat Nick’sfeet. He started
back, looking up. The girl smiled, so he took off his cap
and bowed; but the men looked sour.

At the side of the stage was a screen with long leather
fire-buckets and a pole-ax hanging upon it, and behind it
was a door through which Nick saw the river and the gray
walls of the old Dominican friary. As he came down to
it, some one thrust out a staff and barred the way. It
was the bandy-legged man with the ribbon in his ear.
Nick looked out longingly ; it seemed so near !

“Master Carew saith thou art not to stir outside—dost
hear?” said the bandy-legged man.

“ Ay,” said Nick, and turned back.

There was a narrow stairway leading to the second
gallery. He went up softly. There was no one in the
gallery, and there was a window on the side next to the
river; he had seen it from below. He went toward it
slowly that he might not arouse suspicion. It was above
his head.

There were stools for hire standing near. He brought
one and set it under the window. It stood unevenly upon
the floor, and made a wabbling noise. He was afraid


















“NICK PUT ONE LEG OVER THE SILL AND LOOKED BACK."
THE ROSE PLAY-HOUSE 133

some one would hear him; but the apprentices in the pit
were rattling dice, and two or three gentlemen’s pages
were wrangling for the best places on the platform ; while,
to add to the general riot, two young gallants had brought
gamecocks and were fighting them in one corner, amid
such a whooping and swashing that one could hardly have
heard the skies fall.

A printer’s man was bawling, “Will ye buy a new
book?” and the fruit-sellers, too, were raising such a cry
of “ Apples, cherries, cakes, and ale!” that the little noise
Nick might make would be lost in the wild confusion.

Master Carew and the manager had not come out of the
tiring-room. Nick got up on the stool and looked out.
It was not very far to the ground—not so far as from the
top of the big haycock in Master John Combe’s field from
which he had often jumped.

The sill was just breast-high when he stood upon the
stool. Putting his hands upon it, he gave a little spring,
and balanced on his arms a moment. Then he put one
leg over the window-sill and looked back. No one was
paying the slightest attention to him. Over all the noise
he could hear the man tuning the viol. Swinging himself
out slowly and silently, with his toes against the wall to
steady him, he hung down as far as he could, gave a little
push away from the house with his feet, caught a quick
breath, and dropped.
CHAPTER XX
DISAPPOINTMENT

ICK landed upon a pile of soft earth. It broke away

under his feet and threw him forward upon his
hands and knees. He got up, a little shaken but unhurt,
and stood close to the wall, looking all about quickly. A
party of gaily dressed gallants were haggling with the
horse-boys at the sheds; but they did not even look at
him.
ing the distance with his eye, whistled incredulously, and
trudged on.

Nick listened a moment, but heard only the clamor of
voices inside, and the zoon, zoon, zoon of the viol. He
was trembling all over, and his heart was beating like a
trip-hammer. He wanted to run, but was fearful of ex-
citing suspicion. Heading straight for the river, he
walked as fast as he could through the gardens and the
trees, brushing the dirt from his hose as he went.

There was a wherry just pushing out from Old Mari-
gold stairs with a single passenger, a gardener with 2
basket of truck.

134
DISAPPOINTMENT 135

“Holloa!” eried Nick, hurrying down; “will ye take
me across ?”

“ For thrippence,” said the boatman, hauling the wherry
alongside again with his hook.

Thrippence? Nick stopped, dismayed. Master Carew
had his gold rose-noble, and he had not thought of the
fare. They would soon find that he was gone.

“Oh, I must be across, sir!” he cried. “Can yena take
me free? I be little and not heavy; and I will help the
gentleman with his basket.”

The boatman’s only reply was to drop his hook and
push off with the oar.

But the gardener, touched by the boy’s pitiful expres-
sion, to say nothing of being tickled by Nick’s calling
him gentleman, spoke up: “Here, jack-sculler,” said he;
“T ll toss up wi thee for it.” He pulled a groat from his
pocket and began spinning it in the air. “Come, thou
lookest a gamesome fellow—cross he goes, pile he stays;
best two in three flips—what sayst?”

“Done!” said the waterman. “Pop her up!”

Up went the groat.

Nick held his breath.

“Pile it is,” said the gardener. “One for thee—and up
she goes again!” The groat twirled in the air and came
down clink upon the thwart.

“ Aha!” cried the boatman, “’t is mine, or I’m a horse!”

“Nay, jack-sculler,” laughed the gardener ; “cross it is!
. Ka me, ka thee, my pretty groat—I never lose with this
groat.”
136 MASTER SKYLARK

“Oh, sir, do be brisk!” begged Nick, fearing every in-
stant to see the master-player and the bandy-legged man
come running down the bank.

“More haste, worse speed,” said the gardener; “only
evil weeds grow fast!” and he rubbed the groat on his
jerkin. “Now, jack-sculler, hold thy breath; for up she
goes again!”

A man came running over the rise. Nick gave a little
frightened cry. It was only a huckster’s knave with a
roll of fresh butter. The groat came down with a splash
in the bottom of the wherry. The boatman picked it up
out of the water and wiped it with his sleeve. “Here,
boy, get aboard,” said he, shoving off; “and be lively
about it!”

The huckster’s knave came running down the landing.
He pushed Nick aside, and scrambled into the wherry,
puffing for breath. The boat fell off into the current.
Nick, making a plunge for it into the water, just managed
to catch the gunwale and get aboard, wet to the knees.
But he did not care for that; for although there were
people going up Paris Garden lane, and a crowd about
the entrance of the Rose, he could not see Master Carew
or the bandy-legged man anywhere. So he breathed a
little freer, yet kept his eyes fast upon the play-house
until the wherry bumped against Blackfriars stairs.

Picking up the basket of truck, he sprang ashore, and,
dropping it upon the landing, took to his heels up the bank,
without stopping to thank either gardener or boatman.

The gray walls of the old friary were just ahead, scarcely
DISAPPOINTMENT 137

a stone’s throw from the river. With heart beating high,
he ran along the close, looking eagerly for the entrance.
He came to a wicket-gate that was standing half ajar, and
went through it into the old cloisters.

Everything there was still. He was glad of that, for
the noise and the rush of the crowd outside confused him.

The place had once been a well-kept garden-plot, but
now was become a mere stack of odds and ends of boards
and beams, shavings, mortar, and broken brick. A long-
legged fellow with a green patch over one eye was build-
ing a pair of stairs to a door beside which a sign read:
“Playeres Here: None Elles.”

Nick doffed his cap. “Good-day,” said he; “is Master
Will Shakspere in?”

The man put down his saw and sat back upon one of
the trestles, staring stupidly. “Didst za-ay zammat?”

“T asked if Master Will Shakspere was in?”

The fellow scratched his head with a bit of shaving.
“Noa; Muster Wull Zhacksper beant in.”

Nick’s heart stopped with a thump. “Where is he—do
ye know?”

“A’s gone awa-ay,” drawled the workman, vaguely.

“ Away? Whither?”

“A ’s gone to Ztratvoard to-own, whur’s woife do li-ive
—went a-yesterday.”

Nick sat blindly down upon the other esti. He did
not put his cap on again: he had quite forgotten it.

Master Will Shakspere gone to Stratford—and only the
day before!
138 MASTER SKYLARK

Too late—just one little day too late! It seemed like
eruel mockery. Why, he might be almost home! The
thought was more than he could bear: who could be
brave in the face of such a blow? The bitter tears ran
down his face again.

“Here, here, odzookens, lad!” grinned the workman,
stolidly, “thou ‘lt vetch t? river up if weeps zo ha-ard.
Ztop un, ztop un; do now.”

Nick sat staring at the ground. A beetle was trying
to crawl over a shaving. It was a curly shaving, and as
fast as the beetle crept up to the top the shaving rolled
over, and dropped the beetle upon its back in the dust;
but it only got up and tried again. Nick looked up.
“Ts—is Master Richard Burbage here, then?”

Perhaps Burbage, who had been a Stratford man, would
help him.

“Noa,” drawled the carpenter ; “Muster Bubbage beant
here; doan’t want un, nuther—nuvver do moind a’s owen
business—always jawin’ volks. A beant here, an’ doan’t
want un, nuther.”

Nick’s heart went down. “And where is he?”

“Who? Muster Bubbage? Whoy, a be-eth out to
Zhoreditch, a-playin’ at t’ theater.”

“And where may Shoreditch be?”

“Whur be Zhoreditch?” gaped the workman, vacantly.
“Whoy—whoy, zummers over there a bit yon, zure”;
and he waved his hand about in a way that pointed to
nowhere at all.

“When will he be back?” asked Nick, desperately.
DISAPPOINTMENT 139

“Be ba-ack?” drawled the workman, slowly taking up
his saw again; “back whur?—here? Whoy, a wun’t
pla-ay here no mo-ore avore next Martlemas.”

Martinmas? That was almost mid-November. It was
now but middle May.

Nick got up and went out at the wicket-gate. He was
beginning to feel sick and a little faint. The rush in the
street made him dizzy, and the sullen roar that came
down on the wind from the town, mingled with the tramp-
ing of feet, the splash of oars, the bumping of boats along
the wharves, and the shouts and cries of a thousand voices,
stupefied him.

He was standing there motionless in the narrow way,
as if dazed by a heavy fall, when Gaston Carew came run-
ning up from the river-front, with the bandy-legged man
at his heels.
CHAPTER XXI
“THE CHILDREN OF PAUL'S”

AN old gray rat came out of its hole, ran swiftly across
the floor, and, sitting up, crouched there, peering at
Nick. He thought its bare, scaly tail was not a pleasant
thing to see; yet he looked at it, with his elbows on his
knees, and his chin in his hands.

He had been locked in for two days now. They had
put in plenty of food, and he had eaten it all; for if he
starved to death he would certainly never get home.

It was quite warm, and the boards had been taken from
the window, so that there was plenty of light. The win-
dow faced the north, and in the night, wakened by some
outcry in the street below, Nick had leaned his log-pillow
against the wainscot, and, climbing up, looked out into the
sky. It was clear, for a wonder, and the stars were very
bright. The moon, like a smoky golden platter, rose
behind the eastern towers of the town, and in the north
hung the Great Wain pointing at the polar star.

Somewhere underneath those stars was Stratford. The
throstles would be singing in the orchard there now, when

140
“THE CHILDREN OF PAUL’S” 141

the sun was low and the cool wind came up from the
river with a little whispering in the lane. The purple-
gray doves, too, would be cooing softly in the elms over
the cottage gable. In fancy he heard the whistle of their
wings as they flew. But all the sound that came in over
the roofs of London town was a hollow murmur as from
a kennel of surly hounds.

“Nick !—oh, Nick!”

Cicely Carew was calling at the door. The rat scurried
off to its hole in the wall.

“What there, Nick! Art thou within?” Cicely called
again; but Nick made no reply.

“Nick, dear Nick, art erying?”

“No,” said he; “I’m not.”

There was a short silence.

“Nick, I say, wilt thou be good if I open the door?”

“ No.”

“Then I will open it anyway; thou durst n’t be bad to
me!”

The bolts thumped, and then the heavy door swung
slowly back.

“Why, where art thou?”

He was sitting in the corner behind the door.

“ Here,” said he.

She came in, but he did not look up.

“Nick,” she asked earnestly, “why wilt thou be so bad,
and try to run away from my father?”

“T hate thy father!” said he, and brought his fist down
upon his knee.
142 MASTER SKYLARK

“Hate him? Oh, Nick! Why?”

“Tf thou be asking whys,” said Nick, bitterly, “why did
he steal me away from my mother?”

“Oh, surely, Nick, that cannot be true—no, no, it can-
not be true. Thou hast forgotten, or thou hast slept too
hard and had bad dreams. My father would not steal a
pin. It was a nightmare. Doth thine head hurt thee?”
She came over and stroked his forehead with her cool
hand. She was a graceful child, and gentle in all her
ways. “I am-sorry thou dost not feel well, Nick. But
my father will come presently, and he will heal thee soon.
Don’t ery any more.” ,

“T m not crying,” said Nick, stoutly, though as he
spoke a tear ran down his cheek, and fell upon his hand.

“Then it is the roof leaks,” she said, looking up as if
she had not seen his tear-blinded eyes. ‘But cheer up,
Nick, and be a good boy—wilt thou not? ’T is dinner-
time, and thy new clothes have come; and thou art to
come down now and try them on.”

Wher Nick came out of the tiring-room and found the
master-player come, he knew not what to say or do.
“Oh, brave, brave, brave!” cried Cicely, and danced
around him, clapping her hands. “Why, it is a very
prince—a king! Oh, Nick, thou art most beautiful to
see!”

And Master Carew’s own eyes sparkled ; for truly it was
a pleasant sight to see a fair young lad like Nick in such
attire.

There was a fine white shirt of Holland linen, and long
Yo wee






SO8_0_e

























































OH, NICK, THCU ART MOST BEAUTIFUL TO SEE!’ CRIED CICELY.
“THE CHILDREN OF PAUL'S” 143

hose of grayish blue, with puffed and slashed trunks of
velvet so blue as to be almost black. The sleeveless jerkin
was of the same dark color, trellised with roses embroidered
in silk, and loose from breast to broad lace collar so that
the waistcoat of dull gold silk beneath it might show. A
cloak of damask with a silver clasp, a buff-leather belt
with a chubby purse hung to it by a chain, tan-colored
slippers, and a jaunty velvet cap with a short white plume,
completed the array. Everything, too, had been laid
down with perfume, so that from head to foot he smelt as
sweet and clean as a drift of rose-mallows.

“My soul!” cried Carew, stepping back and snapping
his fingers with delight. “Thou art the bravest skylark
that ever broke a shell! Fine feathers—fine bird—my
soul, how ye do set each other off!” He took Nick by
the shoulders, twirled him around, and, standing off again,
stared at him like a man who has found two pound ster-
ling in a cast-off coat.

“T can na pay for them, sir,” said Nick, slowly.

“There ’s nought to pay—it is a gift.”

Nick hung his head, much troubled. What could he
say; what could he think? This man had stolen him
from home,—ay, made him tremble for his very life a
dozen times,—and with his whole heart he knew he hated
him—yet here, a gift!

“Yes, Nick, it is a gift—and all because I love thee, lad.”

“Tove me?”

“Why, surely! Who could see thee without liking, or
hear thy voice and not love thee? Love thee, Nick?
144 MASTER SKYLARK

Why, on my word and ane lad, I love thee with all
my heart.”

“Thou hast chosen strange ways to show it, Master
Carew,” said Nick, and looked straight up into the master
player’s eyes.

Carew turned upon his heel and ordered the dinner.

It was a good dinner: fat roast capon stuffed with
spiced carrots; asparagus, biscuit, barley-cakes, and
honey; and to end with, a flaky pie, and Spanish cordial
sprinkled with burnt sugar. With such fare and a keen
appetite, a marvelous brand-new suit of clothes, and Cicely
chattering gaily by his side, Nick could not be sulky or
doleful long. He was soon laughing; and Carew’s spirits
seemed to rise with the boy’s.

“Here, here!” he cried, as Nick was served the third
time to the pie; “art hollow to thy very toes? Why,
thou ‘lt eat us out of house and home—hey, Cicely?
Marry come up, I think I’d best take Ned Alleyn’s five
shillings for thine hire, after all! What! Five shillings?
Set me in earth and bowl me to death with boiled turnips!
—do they think to play bob-fool with me? Five shillings!
A fico for their five shillings—and this for them!” and he
squeezed the end of his thumb between his fingers.
“Cicely, what dost think ?—Phil Henslowe had the face
to match Jem Bristow with our Nick!”

“Why, daddy, Jem hath a face like a halibut!”

“ And a voice like a husky crow. Why, Nick’s mere
shadow on the stage is worth a ton of Jemmy Bristows.
"T was casting pearls before swine, Nick, to offer thee to
“THE CHILDREN OF PAUL’S” 145

Henslowe and Alleyn; but we ’ve found a better trough
than theirs—hey, Cicely Goldenheart, have n’t we? Thou
art to be one of Paul’s boys.”

“Paul who?”

Carew lay back in his chair and laughed. “Paul who?
Why, Saint Paul, Nick,—’t is Paul’s Cathedral boys I
mean. Marry, what dost say to that?”

“Td like another barley-cake.”

“You ’d what?” cried the master-player, letting the
front legs of his chair come down on the floor with a
thump.

“I'd like another barley-cake,” said Nick, quietly, help-
ing himself to the honey.

“Upon my word, and on the remnant of mine honour!”
ejaculated Carew. “Teli a man his fortune ’s made, and
he calls for barley-cakes! Why, thou’dst say ‘Pooh!’ to
a cannon-ball! My faith, boy, dost understand what this
doth mean?”

“ Ay,” said Nick; “that I be hungry.”

“But, Nick, upon my soul, thou art to sing with the
Children of Paul’s; to play with the cathedral company ;
to be a bright particular star in the sweetest galaxy that
ever shone in English sky! Dost take me yet?”

“ Ay,” said Nick, and sopped the honey with his cake.

Carew played with his glass uneasily, and tapped his
heel upon the floor. “And is that all thou hast to say—
hast turned oyster? There ’s no R in May—nobody will
eat thee! Come, don’t make a mouth as though the
honey of the world were all turned gall upon thy tongue.

10
146 MASTER SKYLARK

'T is the flood-tide of thy fortune, boy! Thou art to sing
before the school to-morrow, so that Master Nathaniel
Gyles may take thy range and worth. Now, truly, thou
wilt do thy very best?”

The bandy-legged man had brought water in a ewer,
and poured some in a basin for Nick to wash his hands.
There was a green ribbon in his ear, and the towel hung
across his arm. Nick wiped his hands in silence.

“Come,” said Master Carew, with an ugly sharpness in
his voice, “thou ‘It sing thy very best?”

“There ’s nothing else to do,” replied Nick, doggedly.
CHAPTER XXII
THE SKYLARK’S SONG

ASTER NATHANIEL GYLES, Precentor of St.

Paul’s, had pipe-stem legs, and a face like an old
parchment put in a box to keep. His sandy hair was thin
and straggling, and his fine cloth hose wrinkled around
his shrunken shanks; but his eye was sharp, and he wore
about his neck a broad gold chain that marked him as no
common man.

For Master Nathaniel Gyles was head of the Cathedral
schools of acting and of music, and he stood upon his
dignity.

“My duty is laid down,” said he, “in most specific
terms, sir,—lex cathedralis,—that is to say, by the laws of
the cathedral ; and has been, sir, since the reign of Richard
the Third. Primus Magister Scholarum, Custos Morum,
Quartus Custos Rotulorum,—so the title stands, sir; and I
know my place.”

He pushed Nick into the anteroom, and turned to Carew
with an irritated air.

“I likewise know, sir, what is what. In plain words,

147 :
148 MASTER SKYLARK

Master Gaston Carew, ye have grossly misrepresented this
boy to me, to the waste of much good time. Why, sir, he
does not dance a step, and cannot act at all.”

“Soft, Master Gyles—be not so fast!” said Carew,
haughtily, drawing himself up, with his hand on his pon-
iard; “dost mean to tell me that I have lied to thee?
Marry, sir, thy tongue will run thee into a blind alley! I
told thee that the boy could sing, but not that he could
act or dance.”

“Pouf, sir,—words! I know my place: one peg below
the dean, sir, nothing less: ‘ Magister, et cetera’—’t is so
set down. And I tell thee, sir, he has no training, not a
bit; can’t tell a pricksong from a bottle of hay; does n’%
know a canon from a crocodile, or a fugue from a hole
in the ground!”

“Oh, fol-de-riddle de fol-de-rol!' What has that to do
with it? I tell thee, sir, the boy can sing.”

“And, sir, I say I know my place. Music does not
grow like weeds.”

“ And fa-la-las don’t make a voice.”

“What! How? Wilt thou teach me?” The master’s
voice rose angrily. “Teach me, who learned descant and
counterpoint in the Gallo-Belgic schools, sir; the best in
all the world! Thou, who knowest not a staccato from a
stick of liquorice!”

Carew shrugged his shoulders impatiently. “Come,
Master Gyles, this is fool play. I told thee that the boy
could sing, and thou hast not yet heard him try. Thou
knowest right well I am no such simple gull as to mistake
THE SKYLARR’S SONG 149

a jay for a nightingale; and I tell thee, sir, upon my word,
and on the remnant of mine honour, he has the voice that
thou dost need if thou wouldst win the favor of the
Queen. He has the voice, and thou the thingumbobs to
make the most of it. Don’t bea fool, now; hear him sing.
That ’s all I ask. Just hear him once. Thou ‘lt pawn
thine ears to hear him twice.”

The music-school stood within the old cathedral grounds.
Through the windows came up distantly the murmur of
the throng in Paul’s Yard. It was mid-afternoon, quite
warm ; blundering flies buzzed up and down the lozenged
panes, and through the dark hall crept the humming sound
of childish voices reciting eagerly, with now and then a
sharp, small cry as some one faltered in his lines and had
his fingers rapped. Somewhere else there were boyish
voices running scales, now up, now down, without a stop,
and other voices singing harmonies, two parts and three
together, here and there a little flat from weariness.

The stairs were very dark, Nick thought, as they went
up to another floor; but the long hall they came into there
was quite bright with the sun.

At one end was a little stage, like the one at the Rose
play-house, with a small gallery for musicians above it;
but everything here was painted white and gold, and was
most scrupulously clean. The rush-strewn floor was filled
with oaken benches, and there were paintings hanging
upon the wall, portraits of old head-masters and precentors.
Some of them were so dark with time that Nick wondered
if they had been blackamoors.
150 MASTER SKYLARK

Master Gyles closed the great door and pulled a cord
that hung by the stage. A bell jangled faintly somewhere
in the wall. Nick heard the muffled voices hush, and then
a shuffling tramp of slippered feet came up the outer stair.

“Pout!” said the precentor, crustily. “ Tempus fugit—
that is to say, we have no time to waste. So, marry, boy,
venite, ecultemus—in other words, if thou canst sing, be up
and at it. Come, cantate—sing, I bid thee, and that in-
stanter—if thou canst sing at all.”

The under-masters and monitors were pushing the boys
into their seats. Carew pointed to the stage. “Thou ‘lt
do thy level best!” he said in a low, hard tone, and some-
thing clashed beneath his cloak like steel on steel.

Nick went up the steps behind the screen. It seemed
cold in the room; he had not noticed it before. Yet there
were sweat-drops upon his forehead. He felt as if he
were a jackanapes he had seen once at the Stratford fair,
which wore a crimson jerkin and a cap. The man who
had the jackanapes played upon a pipe and a tabor; and
when he said, “Dance!” the jackanapes danced, for it was
sorely afraid of the man. Yet when Nick looked around
and did not see the master-player anywhere in the hall,
he felt exceedingly lonely all at once without him, though
he both feared and hated him.

There still was a shuffling of feet and a low talking; but
soon it became very quiet, and they all seemed to be wait.
ing for him to begin. He did not care, but supposed. he
might as well: what else could he do?

There was a clock somewhere ticking quickly with its
sharp, metallicring. As he listened, lonely, his heart cried
THE SKYLARK’S SONG 151

out for home. In his fancy the wind seemed rippling
over the Avon, and the elm-leaves rustled like rain upon
the roof above his bed. There were red and white wild-
roses in the hedge, and in the air a smell of clover and of
new-mown hay. The mowers would be working in the
clover in the moonlight. He could almost see the sweep
of the shining scythes, and hear the chink-a-chank, chink-
a-chank of the whetstone on the long, curving blades.
Chink-a-chank, chink-a-chank—’t was but the clock, and
he in London town.

Carew, sitting there behind the carven prompter’s-
screen, put down his head between his hands and listened.
There were murmurings a little while, then silence.
Would the boy never begin? He pressed his knuckles
into his temples and waited. Bow Bells rang out the
hour; but the room was as still as a deep sleep. Would
the boy never begin ?

The precentor sniffed. It was a contemptuous, incred-
ulous sniff. Carew looked up—his lips white, a fierce red
spot in each cheek. He was talking to himself. “By the
whistle of the Lord High Admiral!” he said—but there
he stopped and held his breath. Nick was singing.

Only the old madrigal, with its half-forgotten words
that other generations sang before they fell asleep. How
queer it sounded there! It was a very simple tune, too;
yet, as he sang, the old precentor started from his chair
and pressed his wrinkled hands together against his breast.
He quite forgot the sneer upon his face, and it went fad-
ing out like breath from a frosty pane.

He had twelve boys who could sing a hundred songs at
152 MASTER SKYLARK

sight from unfamiliar notes; who kept the beat and
marked the time as if their throats were pendulums;
could syncopate and floriate as readily as breathe. And
this was only a common country song.

But—“ That voice, that voice!” he panted to himself:
for old Nat Gyles was music-mad ; melody to him was like
the very breath of life. And the boy’s high, young voice,
soft as a flute and silver clear, throbbed in the air as if
his very heart were singing out of his body in the sound.
And then, like the skylark rising, up, up it went, and up,
up, up, till the older choristers held their breath and feared
that the vibrant tone would break, so slender, film-like
was the trembling thread of the boy’s wild skylark song.
But no; it trembled there, high, sweet, and clear, a moment
in the air; and then came running, rippling, floating down,
as though some one had set a song on fire in the sky, and
dropped it quivering and bright into a shadow world.
Then suddenly it was gone, and the long hall was still.

The old precentor stepped beyond the screen.

Gaston Carew’s face was in his hands, and his shoulders
shook convulsively. “I ’ll leave thee go, lad,—ma foi,
I'll leave thee go. But, nay, I dare not leave thee go!”

Some one came and tapped him on the shoulder. It was
the sub-precentor. “Master Gyles would speak with thee,
sir,” said he, in a low tone, as if half afraid of the sound
of his own voice in the quiet that was in the hall.

Carew drew his hand hastily over his face, as if to take
the old one off and put a new one on, then arose and fol-
lowed the man.




“¢THAT VOICE, THAT VOICE!’ NAT GYLES PANTED TO HIMSELF.”
THE SKYLARK’S SONG 153

The old precentor stood with his hands still clasped
against his breast. ‘“ Mirabile!” he was saying with bated
breath. “It is impossible, and I have dreamed! Yet
credo—I believe—quia impossibile est—because it is impos-
sible. Tell me, Carew; do I wake or dream—or, stay, was
it asoulI heard? Ay, Carew, ’t was a soul:. the lad’s own
white, young soul. My faith, I said he was of no account!
Satis verborum—say no more. Humanum est errare—I am
a poor old fool; and there ’s a sour bug flown in mine eye
that makes it waterso!” He wiped his eyes, for the tears
were running down his cheeks.

“Thou ‘lt take him, then?” asked Carew.

“Take him?” cried the old precentor, catching the
master-player by the hand. “Marry, that will I; a voice
like that grows not on every bush. Take him? Pouf!
I know my place—he shall be entered on the rolls at
once.”

“Good!” said Carew. “I shall have him learn to
dance, and teach him how to act myself. He stays with
me, ye understand; thy school fare is miserly. Ill dress
him, too; for these students’ robes are shabby stuff. But
for the rest—”

“Trust me,” said Master Gyles; “he shall be the first
singer of them all. He shall be taught—but who can
teach the lark its song, and not do horrid murder on it?
Faith, Carew, I ‘ll teach the lad myself; ay, all I know.
T studied in the best schools in the world.”

“ And, hark ’e, Master Gyles,” said Carew, sternly all at
once; “thou ‘lt come no royal placard and seizure on me
154 MASTER SKYLARK

—ye have sworn. The boy is mine to have and to hold,
with all that he earns, in spite of thy prerogatives.”

For the kings of old had given the masters of this school
the right to take for St. Paul’s choir whatever voices
pleased them, wherever they might be found, by force if
not by favor, barring only the royal singers at Windsor ;
and when men have such privileges it is best to be wary
how one puts temptation in their way.

“Thou hadst mine oath before I even saw the boy,”
said the. precentor, haughtily. ‘Dost think me perjured
—Primus Magister Scholarum, Custos Morum, Quartus
Custos Rotulorum? Pouf! Iknowmy place. My oath’s
my oath. But, soft; enough—here comes the boy. Who
could have told a skylark in such popinjay attire?”
CHAPTER XXIIT
A NEW LIFE

ND now a strange, new life began for Nicholas Att-
A wood, in some things so grand and kind that he
almost hated to dislike it.

It was different in every way from the simple, pinching
round in Stratford, and full of all the comforts of richness
and plenty that make life happy—excepting home and
mother.

Master Gaston Carew would have nothing but the best,
and what he wanted, whether he needed it or not; so with
him money came like a summer rain, and went like water
out of a sieve: for he was a wild blade.

They ate their breakfast when they pleased; dined at
eleven, like the nobility ; supped at five, as was the fashion
of the court. They had wheat-bread the whole week
round, as only rich folk could afford, with fruit and berries
in their season, and honey from the Surrey bee-farms that
made one’s mouth water with the sight of it dripping
from the flaky comb; and on Fridays spitchcocked eels,
pickled herrings, and plums, with simnel-cakes, poached

155
156 MASTER SKYLARK

eggs and milk, cream cheese and cordial, like very kings;
so that Nick could not help thriving.

The master-player very seldom left him by himself to
mope or to be melancholy ; but, while ever vaguely prom-
ising to let him go, did everything in his power to make
him rather wish to stay; so that Nick was constantly sur-
prised by the free-handed kindness of this man whom he
had every other reason in the world, he thought, for deem-
ing his worst enemy.

When there were any new curiosities in Fleet street, —
wild men with rings in their noses, wondrous fishes,
puppet-shows, or red-capped baboons whirling on a pole,
—Carew would have Nick see them as well as Cicely ; and
often took them both to Bartholomew’s Fair, where there
was a giant eating raw beef and a man dancing upon a
rope high over the heads of the people. He would have
had Nick every Thursday to the bear-baiting in the Paris
Garden circus beside; but one sight of that brutal sport
made the boy so sick that they never went again, but to
the stage-plays at the Rose instead, which Nick enjoyed
immensely, for Carew himself acted most excellently, and
Master Tom Heywood always came and spoke kindly to
the lonely boy.

For, in spite of all, Nick’s heart ached so at times that
he thought it would surely break with longing for his
mother. And at night, when all the house was still and
dark, and he alone in bed, all the little, unconsidered
things of home—the beehives and the fragrant mint beside
the kitchen door, the smell of the baking bread or frying
A NEW LIFE 157

carrots, the sound of the red-cheeked harvest apples drop-
ping in the orchard, and the plump of the old bucket in
the well—came back to him so vividly that many a time
he cried himself to sleep, and could not have forgotten if
he would.

On Midsummer Day hava? was a Triumph on the river
at Westminster, with a sham-fight and a great shooting of
guns and hurling of balls of wild-fire. The Queen was
there, and the ambassadors of France and Venice, with
the Duke of Lennox and the Earls of Arundel and South-
ampton. Master Carew took a wherry to Whitehall, and
from the green there they watched the show.

The Thames was fairly hidden by the boats, and there
was a grand state bark all trimmed with silk and velvet
for the Queen to be in to see the pastime. But as for
that, all Nick could make out was the high carved stern
of the bark, painted with England’s golden lions, and the
bark was so far away that he could not even tell which
was the Queen.

Coming home by Somerset House, a large barge passed
them with many watermen rowing, and fine carpets about
the seats; and in it the old Lord Chamberlain and his son
my Lord Hunsdon, who, it was said, was to be the Lord
Chamberlain when his father died; for the old lord was
failing, and the Queen liked handsome young men about
her.

In the barge, beside their followers, were a company
of richly dressed gentlemen, who were having a very gay
time together, and seemed to please the old Lord Cham-
158 MASTER SKYLARK

berlain exceedingly with the things they said. They were
somebodies, as Nick could very well see from their carriage
and address; and, so far as the barge allowed, they were
all clustered about one fellow in the seat by my Lord
Hunsdon. He seemed to be the chiefest spokesman of
them all, and every one appeared very glad indeed to
be friendly with him. My Lord Hunsdon himself made
free with his own nobility, and sat beside him arm in
arm.

What he was saying they were too far away to hear in
the shouting and splash; but those with him in the barge
were listening as eagerly as children to a merry tale.
Sometimes they laughed until they held their sides; and
then again as suddenly they were very quiet, and played
softly with their tankards and did not look at one another
as he went gravely on telling his story. Then all at once
he would wave his hand gaily, and his smile would sparkle
out; and the whole company, from the old Lord Chamber-
lain down, would brighten up again, as if a new dawn had
come over the hills into their hearts from the light of his
hazel eyes.

Nick made no doubt that this was some young earl
rolling in wealth ; for who else could have such listeners?
Yet there was, nevertheless, something so familiar in his
look that he could not help staring at him as the barge
came thumping through the jam.

They passed along an oar’s-length or two away; and as
they came abeam, Carew, rising, doffed his hat, and bowed
politely to them all.
A NEW LIFE 159

Tn spite of his wild life, he was a striking, handsome
man.

The old Lord Chamberlain said something to his son,
and pointed with his hand. All the company in the barge
turned round to look; and he who had been talking stood
up quickly with his hand upon the young lord’s arm, and,
smiling, waved his cap.

Nick gave a sharp cry.

Then the barge pushed through, and shot away down
stream like a wild swan. ;

- “Why, Nick,” exclaimed Cicely, “how dreadful thou
dost look!” and, frightened, she caught him by the hand.
“Why, oh!—what is it, Nick—thou art not ill?”

“Tt was Will Shakspere!” cried Nick, and sank into the
bottom of the wherry with his head upon the master-
player’s knee. “Oh, Master Carew,” he cried, “will ye
never leave me go?”

Carew laid his hand upon the boy’s head, and patted it
gently.

“Why, Nick,” said he, and cleared his throat, “is not
this better than Stratford?”

“Oh, Master Carew—mother ’s there!” was the reply.

There was no sound but the thud of oars in the rowlocks
and the hollow bubble of the water at the stern, for they
had fallen out of the hurry and were coming down alone.

“Is thy mother a good woman, Nick?” asked Cicely.

Carew was staring out into the fading sky. “Ay,
sweetheart,” he answered in a queer, husky voice, suddenly
putting one arm about her and the other around Nick’s
180 MASTER SKYLARK

shoulders. “None but a good mother could have so good
a son.”
“Then thou wilt send him home, daddy?” asked Cicely.
Carew took her hand in his, but answered nothing.
They had come to the landing.
CHAPTER XXIV
THE MAKING OF A PLAYER

ASTER WILL SHAKSPERE was in town!

The thought ran through Nick Attwood’s head
like a half-remembered tune. Once or twice he had all
but sung it instead of the words of his part. Master Will
Shakspere was in town !

Could he but just find Master Shakspere, all his trouble
would be over ; for the husband of his mother’s own cousin
would see justice done him in spite of the master-player
and the bandy-legged man with the ribbon in his ear—of
that he was sure.

But there seemed small chance of its coming about; for
the doors of Gaston Carew’s house were locked and barred
by day and by night, as much to keep Nick in as to keep
thieves out; and all day long, when Carew was away, the
servants went about the lower halls, and Gregory Goole’s
uncanny face peered after him from every shadowy corner ;
and when he went with Carew anywhere, the master-player
watched him like a hawk, while always at his heels he
eould hear the clump, clump, clump of the bandy-legged
man following after him.

nu 161
162 MASTER SKYLARK

Even were he free to go as he pleased, he knew not
where to turn; for the Lord Chamberlain’s company
would not be at the Blackfriars play-house until Martin-
mas; and before that time to look for even Master Will
Shakspere at random in London town would be worse
than hunting for a needle in a haystack.

To be sure, he knew that the Lord Chamberlain’s men
were still playing at the theater in Shoreditch ; for Master
Carew had taken Cicely there to see the “ Two Gentlemen
of Verona.” But just where Shoreditch was, Nick had
only the faintest idea—somewhere away off by Finsbury
Fields, beyond the city walls to the north of London town
—and all the wide world seemed north of London town ;
and the way thither lay through a bewildering tangle of
streets in which the din and the rush of the crowd were
never still.

From a hopeless chase like that Nick shrank back like
a snail into its shell. He was not too young to know that
there were worse things than to be locked in Gaston
Carew’s house. It were better to be a safe-kept prisoner
there than to be lost in the sinks of London. And so,
knowing this, he made the best of it.

But Master Shakspere was come back to town, and that
was something. It seemed somehow less lonely just to
think of it.

Yet in truth he had but little time to think of it; for
the master-player kept him closely at his strange, new
work, and taught him daily with the most amazing pa-
tience.
THE MAKING OF A PLAYER 163

He had Nick learn no end of stage parts off by heart,
with their cues and “business,” entrances and exits ; and
worked fully as hard as his pupil, reading over every sen-
tence twenty times until Nick had the accent perfectly.
He would have him stamp, too, and turn about, and ges-
ture in accordance with the speech, until the boy’s arms
ached, going with him through the motions one by one,
over and over again, unsatisfied, but patient to the last,
until Nick wondered. “Nick, my lad,’ he would often
say, with a tired but determined smile, “one little thing
done wrong may spoil the finest play, as one bad apple
rots the barrelful. We'll have it right, or not at all, if it
takes a month of Sundays.”

So, often, he kept Nick before a mirror for an hour at a
time, making faces while he spoke his lines, smiling,
frowning, or grimacing as best seemed to fit the part,
antil the boy grew fairly weary of his own looks. Then
sometimes, more often as the time slipped by, Carew
would clap his hands with a boyish laugh, and have a pie
brought and a cup of Spanish cordial for them both, de-
claring that he loved the lad with all his heart, upon the
remnant of his honour: from which Nick knew that he
was coming on.

Cicely Carew’s governess was a Mistress Agnes Anstey.
By birth she had been a Harcourt of Ankerwyke, and
she was therefore everywhere esteemed fit by birth and
breeding to teach the young mind when to bow and when
to beckon. She came each morning to the house, and
Carew paid her double shillings to see to it that Nick
164 MASTER SKYLARK

learned such little tricks of cap and cloak as a lady’s page
need have, the carriage best fitted for his place, and how
to come into a room where great folks were. Moreover,
how to back out again, bowing, and not fall over the
stools—which was no little art, until Nick caught the
knack of peeping slyly between his legs when he bowed.

His hair, too, was allowed to grow long, and was combed
carefully every day by the tiring-woman; and soon, as it
was naturally curly, it fell in rolling waves about his neck.

On the heels of the governess came M’sieu de Fleury,
who, it was said, had been dancing-master to Hatton, the
late Lord Chancellor of England, and had taught him
those tricks with his nimble heels which had capered him
into the Queen’s good graces, and so got him the chancel-
lorship. M’sieu spoke dreadful English, but danced like
the essence of agility, and taught both Nick and Cicely
the latest Italian coranto, playing the tune upon his queer
little pochette.

Cicely already danced like a pixy, and laughed merrily
at her comrade’s first awkward antics, until he flushed
with embarrassment. At that she instantly became grave,
and, when M’sieu had gone, came across the room, and
putting her arm about Nick, said repentantly, “ Don’t thou
mind me, Nick. Father saith the French all laugh too
soon at nothing; and I have caught it from my mother’s
blood. A boy is not good friends with his feet as a girl
is; but thou wilt do beautifully, I know; and M’sieu shalk
teach us the galliard together.”

And often, after the lesson was over and M’sieu de
THE MAKING OF A PLAYER 165

parted, she would have Nick try his steps over and over
again in the great room, while she stood upon the stool
to make her tall, and cried, “Sa—sa!” as the master did,
scolding and praising him by turns, or jumping down in
pretty impatience to tuck up her little silken skirts and
show him the step herself; while the cook’s knave and the
scullery-maids peeped at the door and cried: “La, now,
look ’e, Moll!” at every coupee.

It made a picture quaint and pretty to see them dancing
there. The smoky light, stealing in through the narrow
casements over the woodwork dark with age, dropped in
little yellow chequers upon old chests of oak, of walnut,
and of strange, purple-black wood from foreign lands,
giving a weird life to the griffins and twisted traceries
carved upon their sides. High-backed, narrow chairs
stood along the wall, with cushioned stools inlaid with
shell. Twinklings of light glinted from the brass candle-
sticks. On the wall above the wainscot the faded hangings
wavered in the draught, crusted thickly with strange em-
broidered flowers. And dancing there together in the
semi-gloom, the children seemed quaint little figures
stepped down from the tapestry at the touch of a magic
wand.

And so the time went slipping by, very pleasantly upon
the whole, and Nick’s young heart grew stout again within
his breast; for he was strong and well, and in those days
the very air was full of hope, and no man knew what might
betide with the rising of to-morrow’s sun.

Every day, from two till three o’clock, he was at Master
166 MASTER SKYLARK

Gyles’s private singing-room at the old cathedral school,
learning to read music at first sight, and to sing offhand
the second, third, and fourth parts of queer intermingled
fugues or wonderfully constructed canons.

At first his head felt stuffed like a feasted glutton with
all the learning that the old precentor poured into it; but
by and by he found it plain enough, and no very difficult
thing to follow up the prickings in the paper with his
voice, and to sing parts written at fifths and fourths and
thirds with other voices as easily as to carry a song alone.
But still he sang best his own unpointed songs, the call
and challenge of the throstle and the merle, the morning
glory of the lark, songs that were impossible to write.
And those were the songs that the precentor was at the
greatest pains to have him sing in perfect tones, making
him open his mouth like a little round O and let the music
float out of itself.

Like the master-player, nothing short of perfection
pleased old Nathaniel Gyles, and Nick’s voice often wavered
with sheer weariness as he ran his endless scales and sang
absurd fa-la-la-las while his teacher beat the time in the
air with his lean forefinger like a grim automaton.

The old man, too, was chary of his praise, though Nick
tried hard to please him, and it was only by little things
he told his satisfaction. He touzed the ears of the other
boys, and sometimes smartly thumped their crowns; but
with Nick he only nipped his ruddy cheek between his
thumb and finger, or laid his hand upon his shoulder when
the hard day’s work was done, saying, “ Satis cantorwm—it
THE MAKING OF A PLAYER 167

is enough. Now be off to thy nest, sir; and do not forget
to wash thy throat with good cold water every day.”

ALL this time the busy sand kept running in the glass.
July was gone, and August at its heels. The hot breath
of the summer had cooled, and the sun no longer burned
the face when it came in through the windows. Nick often
shut his eyes and let the warm light fall upon his closed
lids. It made a ruddy glow like the wild red poppies that
grow in the pale green rye. In fancy he could almost
smell the queer, rancid odor of the crimson bloom crushed
beneath the feet of the farmers’ boys who eut the butter-
yellow mustard from among the bearded grain.

“ Heigh-ho and alackaday !” thought Nick. “Itis better
in the country than in town!” For there was no smell in
all the town like the clean, sweet smell of the open fields
just after a summer rain, no colors like the bright heart’s-
ease and none-so-pretty, or the honeysuckle over the cot-
tage door, and no song ever to be heard among the sooty
chimney-pots like the song of the throstle piping to the
daisies on the hill.

But he had little time to dream such dreams, for every
day from four to six o’clock the children’s company played
and sang in public, at their own school-hall, or in the
courtyard of the Mitre Inn on Bread street near St. Paul’s.

They were the pets of London town, and their playing-
place was thronged day after day. For the bright young
faces and sweet, unbroken voices of the richly costumed
lads made a spot in sordid London life like a pot of posies
168 MASTER SKYLARK

in a window on a dark street; so that both the high and
the low, the rich and the poor, came in to see them play
and dance, to hear them sing, and to laugh again at the
witty things which were written for them to say.

The songs that were set for Nick to sing were always
short, sweet, simple things that even the dull-eyed, toil-
worn folk upon the rough plank benches in the pit could
understand. Many a silver shilling came clinking down .
at the heels of the other boys from the galleries of the inn,
where the people of the better classes, wealthy merchants,
ladies and their dashing gallants, watched the children’s
company ; but when Nick’s songs were done the common
people down below seemed all gone daft. They tossed red
apples after him, ripe yellow pears, fat purple plums by
handfuls, called him by name and brought him back, and
cried for more and more and more, until the old precentor
shook his head behind the prompter’s-screen, and waved .
Nick off with a forbidding frown. Yet all the while he
chuckled to himself until it seemed as if his dry old ribs
would rattle in his sides; and every day, before Nick sang,
he had him up to his little room for a broken egg and a
cup of rosy cordial.

“To clear thy voice and to cheer the cockles of thine
heart,” said he; “and to tune that pretty throat of thine
ad gustum Reginae—which is to say, ‘to the Queen’s own
taste,’ —God bless Her Majesty!”

The other boys were cast for women’s parts, for women
never acted then; and a queer sight it was to Nick to see
his fellows in great farthingales of taffeta and starchy
THE MAKING OF A PLAYER 169

cambric that rustled as they walked, with popinjay blue
ribbon in their hair, and flowered stomachers sparkling
with paste jewels.

And, truth, it was no easy thing to tell them from the
real affair, or to guess the made from the maiden, so
slender and so graceful were they all, with their ruffs and
their muffs and their feathered fans, and all the airs and
mincing graces of the daintiest young miss.

But old Nat Gyles would never have Nick Attwood play
the girl. “The lad is good enough for me just as he is,”
said he; and that was all there was of it.
CHAPTER XXV
THE WANING OF THE YEAR

September the Lord Admiral’s company made a tour
i the Midlands during the great English fairing-time ;
but Carew did not go with them. For, though still by
name master-player with Henslowe and Alleyn, his busi-
ness with them had come to be but little more than pocket-
ing his share of the profits; and for the rest, nothing but
to take Nick daily to and from St. Paul’s, and to draw his
wages week by week.

Of those wages Nick saw never a penny: Carew took
good care of that. Yet he gave him everything that any
boy could need, and bought him whatever he fancied the
instant he so much as expressed a wish for it: which, in
truth, was not much; for Nick had lived in only a country
town, and knew not many things to want.

But with money a-plenty thus coming so easily into his
hands,—money for dicing, for luxuries, for all his wild
sports, money for Cicely, money for keeps, money to play
chuckie-stones with if he chose,—there was no bridle to

Gaston Carew’s wild career. His boon companions were
170
THE WANING OF THE YEAR 171

spendthrifts and gamesters, dissolute fellows, of whom the
least said soonest mended ; and with them he was brawling
early and late, very often all night long. And though
money came in fast, he wasted it faster, so that matters
went from bad to worse. Duns came spying about his door,
and bailiffs hunted after him around the town with unpaid
tradesmen’s bills. Yet still he laughed and clapped his
hand upon his poniard in the old bold way.

September faded away in wistful haze along the Hamp-
stead hills. The Admiral’s men came riding back with
keen October ringing at their heels, and all the stalls were
full of red-cheeked apples striped with emerald and gold.
November followed, with its nipping frost, and all St.
George’s merry green fields turned brown and purple-gray.
The old year was waning fast.

The Queen’s Day was but a poor holiday, in spite of the
shut-up shops; for it was grown so cold with sleet and
rain that it was hard to get about, the gutters and streets
being very foul, and the by-lanes impassable. And now
the children of Paul’s gave no more plays in the yard of
the Mitre Inn, but sang in their own warm hall; for
winter was at hand.

There came black nights when an ugly wind moaned in
the shivering chimneys and howled across the peaked
roofs, nights when there was no playing at the Rose, but
it was hearty to be by the fire. Then sometimes Carew
sat at home all evening long, with Cicely upon his knee,
and told strange tales of lands across the sea, where he
had traveled when he was young, and where none spoke
173 MASTER SKYLARK

English but chance travelers, and even the loudest shouting
could not serve to make the people understand.

While he spun these wondrous yarns Nick would curl
up on the hearth and blow the crackling fire, sometimes
staring at the master-player’s stories, sometimes laughing
to himself at the funny faces carved upon the sides of the
chubby Dutch bellows, and sometimes neither laughing
nor listening, but thinking silently of home. Then Carew,
looking at him there, would quickly turn his face away
and tell another tale.

But oftener the master-player stayed all night at the
Falcon Inn with Dick Jones, Tom Hearne, Humphrey
Jeffs, and other reckless roysterers, dicing and flipping
shillings at shovel-board until his finger-nails were sore.
Then Nick would read aloud to Cicely out of the “ Hun-
dred Merry Tales,” or pop old riddles at her puzzled head
until she, laughing, cried, “Enough!” But most of all
he liked the story of brave Guy of Warwick, and would
tell it again and again, with other legends of Arden Wood,
till bedtime came.

In the gray of the morning Carew would come home,
unshaven and leaden-eyed, with his bandy-legged varlet
trotting like a watch-dog at his heels; and then, if the
gaming had gone well, he was a lord, an earl, a duke, at
least, so merry and so sprightly would he be withal; but
if the dice had fallen wrong, he would by turns be raving
mad or sodden as a sunken pie.

Yet, be his temper what it might, he was but one thing
always to Cicely, and doffed ill humor like a shabby hat
THE WANING OF THE YEAR 173

when she came running to meet him in the shadows of the
hall; so that when he came into the lighted room, with her
upon his shoulder, his face was smiles, his step a frolic,
and his bearing that of a happy boy.

But day by day the weather grew worse, with snow and
ice paving the streets with a glassy glare and choking the
frozen drains; and there was trouble and want among the
poor in the wretched alleys near Carew’s house: for fuel
was high and food scarce, and there were many deaths, so
that the knell was tolling constantly.

Cicely cried until her eyes were red for the very sadness
of it all, since she might do nothing for them, and hated
the sound of the sullen bell.

“Pshaw, Cicely!” said Nick; “why should yecry? Ye
do na know them; so ye need na care.”

“But, Nick,” said she, “nobody seems to care! And,
sure, somebody ought to care; for it may be some one’s
mother that is dead.”

At that Nick felt a very queer choking in his own throat,
and did not rest quite easy in his mind until he had given
the silver buckle from his cloak to a boy who stood crying
with cold and hunger in the street, and begged a farthing
of him for the love of the good God.

Then came a thaw, with mist and fog so thick that
people were lost in their own streets, and knocked at their
next-door neighbor's gate to ask the way home. All day
long, down by the Thames drums beat upon the wharves
and bells ding-donged to guide the watermen ashore; but
most of those who needs must fare abroad went over
174 MASTER SKYLARK

London Bridge, because there, although they might in no
wise see, it felt, at least, as if the world were still beneath
their feet.

At noon the air was muddy brown, with a bitter taste
like watered smoke; at night it was a blinding pall; and
though, after mid-December, by order of the Council, every
alderman and burgess hung a light before his door, torches,
links, and candles only sputtered feebly in the gloom, of
no more use than jack-o’-lanterns gone astray, and none
but blind men knew the roads.

The city watch was doubled everywhere; and all night
long their shouts went up and down—“’T is what o’clock,
and a foggy night!”—and right and left their hurrying
staves came thumping helplessly along the walls to answer
eries of “Murder!” and of “Help! Watch! Help!”
For under cover of the fog great gangs of thieves came
down from Hampstead Heath, and robberies were done in
the most frequented thoroughfares, between the very lights
set up by the corporation; so that it was dangerous to go
about save armed and wary as a cat in a crowd.

While such foul days endured there was no singing at
St. Paul’s, nor stage-plays anywhere, save at Blackfriars
play-house, which was roofed against the weather. And
even there at last the fog crept in through cracks and
crannies until the players seemed but moving shadows
talking through a choking cloud; and Master Will Shak-
spere’s famous new piece of “Romeo and Juliet,” which
had been playing to crowded houses, taking ten pound
twelve the day, was fairly smothered off the boards.
















“NICK GAVE THE SILVER BUCKLE FROM HIS CLOAK TO A BOY WHO
STOOD CRYING WITH COLD AND HUNGER IN THE STREET.”
THE WANING OF THE YEAR 175

Nick was eager to be out in all this blindman’s holiday ;
but, “Nay,” said Carew; “not so much as thy nose. A
fog like this would steal the croak from a raven’s throat,
let alone the sweetness from a honey-pot like thine—and
bottom crust is the end of pie!” With which, bang went
the door, creak went the key, and Carew was off to the
Falcon Inn.

So went the winter weather, and so went Carew; for
there was no denying that both had fallen into a very bad
way. Yet another change came creeping over Carew all
unaware.

Nick’s face had from the first attracted him; and now,
living with the boy day after day, housed up, a prisoner,
yet cheerful through it all, the master-player began to feel
what in a better man had been the prick of conscience,
but in him was only an indefinite uneasiness like a blunted
cockle-bur. For the lad’s patient perseverance at his work,
his delight in singing, and the tone of longing threaded
through his voice, crept into the master-player’s heart in
spite of him; and Nick’s gentle ways with Cicely touched
him more than all the rest: for if there was one thing in
all the world that Gaston Carew truly loved, it was his
daughter Cicely. So for her sake, as well as for Nick’s
own, the master-player came to love the lad. And this
was shown in queer ways.

In the wainscot of the dining-hall there was a carven
panel just above the Spanish chest. At night, when the
house was still and all the rest asleep, Carew often came
176 MASTER SKYLARK

and stood before this panel, with a queer, hesitating look
upon his hard, bold face; and stretching out his hand,
would press upon the head of a cherub cut in the bevel
edge. Whereupon the panel slipped away within the
wainscot, leaving a little closet in the hollow of the wall,
in which a few strange things were stowed: an empty
flask, an inlaid rosewood box, a little slipper, and a dusty
gittern with its strings all snapped and a faded ribbon tied
about its neck.

The rosewood box he would take down, and with it open
in his lap would sit beside the fire like a man within a
dream, until the hearth grew white and cold, and the
draught had blown the ashes out in streaks across the
floor. In the box was a woman’s riding-glove and a minia-
ture upon ivory, Cicely’s mother’s face, painted at Paris
in other days.

One night, while they were sitting all together by the
fire, Nick and Cicely snug in the chimney-seat, Carew
spoke up suddenly out of a little silence which had fallen
upon them all. “Nick,” said he, quite softly, with a look
on his face as if he were thinking of other things, “I
wonder if thou couldst play?”

“What, sir?” asked Nick; “a game?” and made the
bellows whistle in his mouth.

“Nay, lad; a gittern.”

Nick and Cicely looked up, for his manner was very
odd.

“Why, sir, I donaknow. Icouldtry. I ha’ heard one
played, and it is passing sweet.”
THE WANING OF THE YEAR 177

“ Ay, Nick, ’t is passing sweet,” said Carew, quickiy—and
no more; but spoke of France, how the lilies grow in the
ditches there, and the tall trees stand like soldiers by the
road that runs to the land of sunny hills and wine; and of
the radiant women there, with hair like night and eyes like
the summer stars. Then all at once he stopped as if some
one had clapped a hand upon his mouth, and sat and stared
into the fire.

But in the morning at breakfast there was a gittern at
Nick’s place—a rare old yellow gittern, with silver scrolls
about the tail-piece, ivory pegs, and a head that ended in
an angel’s face. It was strung with bright new silver
strings, but near the bridge of it there was a little rut worn
into the wood by the tips of the fingers that had rested
there while playing, and the silken shoulder-ribbon was
faded and worn.

Nick stopped, then put out both his hands as if to touch
it, yet did not, being half afraid.

“Tut, take it up!” said Carew, sharply, though he had
not seemed to heed. “Take it up—it is for thee.”

“For me?” cried Nick—“ not for mine own?”

Carew turned and struck the table with his hand, as if
suddenly wroth. ‘Why should I say it was for thee, if it
were not to be thine own?”

“But, Master Carew—” Nick began.

“ know my own mind, or do I filter my wits through thee?
Did I not say that itis thine? Good, then—’t is thine, al-

though it were thrice somebody else’s ; and thrice as much
2
178 MASTER SKYLARK

thy very own through having other owners. Dost hear?
Well, then, enough—we ’ll have no words about it!”
Rising abruptly as he spoke, he clapped his hat upon his
head and left the room, Nick standing there beside the
table, staring after him, with the gittern in his hands.
CHAPTER XXVI

TO SING BEFORE THE QUEEN

“Sir Fly hangs dead on the window-pane;

The frost doth wind his shroud;

Through the halls of his little summer house
The north wind cries aloud.

We will bury his bones in the mouldy wall,
And mourn for the noble slain:

A southerly wind and a sunny sky—
Buzz! up he comes again‘

Oh, Master Fly!”

ICK looked up from the music-rack and shivered.

He had forgotten the fire in studying his song, and

the blackened ends of the burnt-out logs lay smouldering

on the hearth. The draught, too, whistled shrilly under

the door, in spite of the rushes that he had piled along the
crack,

The fog had been gone for a week. It was snapping
cold ; and through the peep-holes he had thawed upon the
window-pane with his breath, he could see the hoar-frost
lying in the shadow of the wall in the court below.

How forlorn the green old dial looked out there alone
179
180 MASTER SKYLARK

in the cold, with the winter dust whirling around it in
little eddies upon the wind! The dial was fringed with
icicles, like an old man’s beard; and even the creeping
shadow on its face, which told mid-afternoon, seemed
frozen where it fell.

Mid-afternoon already, and he so much to do! Nick
pulled his cloak about him, and turned to his song again:

“Sir Fly hangs dead on the window-pane ;
The frost doth wind his shroud—”

But there he stopped; for the boys were singing in the
great hall below, and the whole house rang with the sound
of the roaring chorus:

“Down-a-down, hey, down-a-down,
Hey derry derry down-a-down !”

Nick put his fingers in his ears, and began all over
again :

“Sir Fly hangs dead on the window-pane ;
The frost doth wind his shroud ;
Through the halls of his little summer house
The north wind cries aloud.”

But it was no use; all he could hear was:

“Down-a-down, hey, down-a-down,
Hey derry derry down-a-down!”

How could a fellow study in a noise like that? He gave
it up in despair, and kicking the chunks together, stood
TO SING BEFORE THE QUEEN 181

upon the hearth, warming his hands by the gathering
blaze while he listened to the song:

“Cold ’s the wind, and wet ’s the rain;
Saint Hugh, be our good speed!
Ill is the weather that bringeth no gain,
Nor helps good hearts in need.

“Down-a-down, hey, down-a-down,
Hey derry derry down-a-down!”

He could hear Colley Warren above them all. What a
voice the boy had! Like a golden horn blowing in the
fresh of a morning breeze. It made Nick tingle, he could
not tellwhy. He and Colley often sang together, and their
voices made a quivering in the air like the ringing of a
bell. And often, while they sang, the viols standing in
the corner of the room would sound aloud a deep, soft
note in harmony with them, although nobody had touched
the strings; so that the others cried out that the instru-
ments were bewitched, and would not let the boys sing
any more. Colley Warren was Nick’s best friend—a dark-
eyed, quiet lad, as gentle as a girl, and with a mouth like
a girl’s mouth, for which the others sometimes mocked him,
though they loved him none the less.

It was not because his voice was loud that it could be
so distinctly heard; but it was nothing like the rest, and
came through all the others like sunshine through a mist.
Nick pulled the stool up closer, and sat down in the chim-
ney-corner, humming a second to the tune, and blowing
little glory-holes in the embers with the bellows. He liked
182 MASTER SKYLARK

the smell of a wood fire, and liked to toast his toes. He
was a trifle drowsy, too, now that he was warm again to
the marrow of his bones; perhaps he dozed a little.

But suddenly he came to himself again with a sense of
a great stillness fallen over everything—no singing in the
room below, and silence everywhere but in the court, where
there was a trampling as of horses standing at the gate.
And while he was still lazily wondering, a great cheer broke
out in the room below, and there was a stamping of feet
like cattle galloping over a bridge; and then, all at once,
the door opened into the hallway at the foot of the stair,
and the sound burst out as fire bursts from the cock-loft
window of a burning barn, and through the noise and over
it Colley Warren’s voice calling him by name: “Skylark!
Nick Skylark! Ho there, Nick! where art thou?”

He sprang to the door and kicked the rushesaway. All
the hall was full of voices, laughing, shouting, singing,
and cheering. There were footsteps coming up the stair.
“What there, Skylark! Ho, boy! Nick, where art thou?”
he could hear Colley calling above them all. Out he popped
his nose: “Here I am, Colley—what’s todo? Whatever
in the world!” and he ducked his head like a mandarin;
for whizz—flap ! two books came whirling up the stair and
thumped against the panel by his ears.

“The news—the news, Nick! Have ye heard the news?”
the lads were shouting asif possessed. “Were going to
court! Hurrah, hurrah!” And some, with their arms
about one another, went whirling out at the door and
around the windy close like very madecaps, cutting such
TO SING BEFORE THE QUEEN 183

capers that the horses standing at the gate kicked up their
heels, and jerked the horse-boys right and left like bundles
of hay.

Nick leaned over the railing and stared.

“Come down and help us sing!” they cried. “Come
down and shout with us in the street!”

“T can na come down—there ’s work to do!”

“Thy ‘can na’ be hanged, and thy work likewise!
Come down and sing, or we ‘ll fetch thee down. The
Queen hath sent for us!”

“The Queen—hath sent—for us?”

“ Ay, sent for us to come to court and play on Christmas
day! Hurrah for Queen Bess!”

At that shrill cheer the startled horses fairly plunged
into the street, and the carts that were passing along the
way were jammed against the opposite wall. The carriers
bellowed, the horse-boys bawled, the people came running
to see the row, and the apprentices flew out of the shops
bareheaded, waving their dirty aprons and cheering lustily,
just for the fun of the chance to cheer.

“Tt ’s true!” called Colley, his dark eyes dancing like
stars on the sea. ‘Come down, Nick, and sing in the
street with us all! We are going to Greenwich Palace on
Christmas day to play before the Queen and the court—for
the first time, Nick, in a good six years; and we’re not to
work till the new masque comes from the Master of the
Revels! Come down, Nick, and sing with us out in the
street; for we ’re going to court, we ’re going to court to
sing before the Queen! Hurrah, hurrab!”
184 MASTER SKYLARK

“Hurrah for good Queen Bess!” cried Nick; and up
went his cap and down went he on the baluster-rail like a
runaway sled, head first into the crowd, who caught him
laughing as he came. Then all together they cantered
out like a parcel of colts in a fresh, green field, and sang
in the street before the school till the people cheered them-
selves hoarse to hear such music on such a wintry day;
sang until there was no other business on all the thorough-
fare but just to listen to their songs; sang until the under-
masters came out with their staves and drove them into
the school again, to keep them from straining their throats
by singing so loudly and so long in the frosty open air.

But a fig for staves and for under-masters! The boys
clapped fast the gates behind them, and barred the under-
masters out in the street, singing twice as loudly as before,
and mocking at them with wry faces through the bars;
and then trooped off up the old precentor’s private stair
and sang at his door until the old man could not hear his
own ears, and came out storming and grim as grief.

But when he saw the boys all there, and heard them
cheering him three times three, he could not storm to save
his life, but only stood there, black and thin, against the
yellow square of light, smiling a quaint smile that half
was wrinkles and half was pride, shaking his lean fore-
finger at them as if he were beating time, and nodding
until his head seemed almost nodding off.

“Hurrah for Master Nathaniel Gyles!” they shouted.

“Primus Magister Scholarum, Custos Morum, Quartus
Oustos Rotulorum,” said the old man softly to himself, the
TO SING BEFORE THE QUEEN 185

firelight from behind him falling in a glory on his thin
white hair. “Be off, ye rogues! Ye are not fit to waste
good language on; or, faith, I’d Latin ye all as dumb as
fishes in the depths of the briny sea!”

“Hurrah for the fishes in the sea!”

“Soft, ye knaves! Save thy throats for good Queen
Bess!”

“Hurrah for good Queen Bess!”

“Be still, I say, ye good-for-nothing varlets; or ye
sha’n’t have pie and ale to-night. But marry, now, ye
shall have pie—ay, pie and ale without a stint; for ye are
good lads, and ye have pleased the Queen at last; and Iam
as proud of ye as a peacock is of his own tail!”

“Hurrah for the Queen—and the pie—and the ale!
Hurrah for the peacock and his tail!” shouted the boys;
and straightway, seeing that they had made a rhyme, they
gave a cheer shriller and longer than all the others put
together, and went clattering down the stairway, singing
at the top of their lungs:

“Hurrah for the Queen, and the pie and the ale!
Hurrah for the peacock, hurrah for his tail!
Hurrah for hurrah, and hurrah again—

We ’re going to court on Christmas day
To sing before the Queen!”

“Good lads, good lads!” said the old precentor to him-
self, as he turned back into his littleroom. His eyes were
shining proudly in the candle-light, yet the tears were
running down his cheeks. A queer old man, Nat Gyles,
186 MASTER SKYLARK

and dead this many a long, long year; yet that night no
man was happier than he.

But Master Gaston Carew, who had come for Nick, stood
in the gathering dusk by the gate below, and stared up at
the yellow square of light with a troubled look upon his
reckless face.
CHAPTER XXVII
THE QUEEN’S PLAISANCE

T was a frosty morning when they all marched down
to the boats that bumped along Paul’s wharf.

The roofs of London were white with frost and rosy
with the dawn. In the shadow of the walls the air lay in
still pools of smoky blue; and in the east the horizon
stretched like a swamp of fire. The winking lights on
London Bridge were pale. The bridge itself stood cold
and gray, mysterious and dim as the stream below, but
here and there along its crest red-hot with a touch of flame
from the burning eastern sky. Out of the river, running
inland with the tide, came steamy shreds that drifted here
and there. Then over the roofs of London town the sun
sprang up like a thing of life, and the veil of twilight van-
ished in bright day with a million sparkles rippling on the
stream.

Warm with piping roast and cordial, keen with excite-
ment, and blithe with the sharp, fresh air, the red-cheeked
lads skipped and chattered along the landing like a flock
of sparrows alighted by chance in a land of crumbs.

187
188 MASTER SKYLARK

“Into the wherries, every one!” cried the old precentor,
“Ad unum omnes, great and small!”

“Into the wherries!” echoed the under-masters.

“Tnto the wherries, my bullies!” roared old Brueton the
boatman, fending off with a rusty hook as red as his bris-
tling beard. “Into the wherries, yarely all, and we’s catch
the turn o’ the tide! ’T is gone high water now!”

Then away they went, three wherries full, and Master
Gyles behind them in a brisk sixpenny tilt-boat, resplen-
dent in new ash-colored hose, a cloak of black velvet
fringed with gold, and a brand-new periwig curled and
frizzed like a brush-heap in a gale of wind.

How they had worked for the last few days! New songs,
new dances, new lines to learn; gallant compliments for
the Queen, who was as fond of flattery as a girl; new
clothes, new slippers and caps to try, and a thousand
what-nots more. The school had hummed like a busy
mill from morning until night. And now that the grind-
ing was done and they had come at last to their reward,—
the hoped-for summons to the court, which had been
sought so long in vain,—the boys of St. Paul’s bubbled
with glee until the under-masters were in a cold sweat for
fear their precious charges would pop from: the wherries
into the Thames, like so many exuberant corks.

They cheered with delight as London Bridge was shot
and the boats went flying down the Pool, past Billingsgate
and the oystermen, the White Tower and the Traitors’
Gate, past the shipping, where brown, foreign-looking
faces stared at them above sea-battered bulwarks.
THE QUEEN’S PLAISANCE 189

The sun was bright and the wind was keen; the air
sparkled, and all the world was full of life. Hammers
beat in the builders’ yards; wild bargees sang hoarsely as
they drifted down to the Isle of Dogs; and in slow ships
that crept away to catch the wind in the open stream
below, with tawny sails drooping and rimmed with frost,
they heard the hail of salty mariners.

The tide ran strong, and the steady oars carried them
swiftly down. London passed ; then solitary hamlets here
and there; then dun fields running to the river’s edge like
thirsty deer.

In Deptford Reach some lords who were coming down
by water passed them, racing with a little Dutch boat from
Deptford to the turn. Their boats had holly-bushes at
their prows and holiday garlands along their sides. They
were all shouting gaily, and the stream was bright with
their scarlet cloaks, Lincoln-green jerkins, and gold em-
broidery. But they were very badly beaten, at which
they laughed, and threw the Dutchmen a handful of silver
pennies. Thereupon the Dutchmen stood up in their boat
and bowed like jointed ninepins; and the lords, not to be
outdone, stood up likewise in their boats and bowed very
low in return, with their hands upon their breasts. Then
everybody on the river laughed, and the boys gave three
cheers for the merry lords and three more for the sturdy
Dutchmen. The Dutchmen shouted back, “Goot Yule!”
and bowed and bowed until their boat turned round and
went stern foremost down the stream, so that they were
bewing to the opposite bank, where no one wasatall. At
190 MASTER SKYLARK

this the rest all laughed again till their sides ached, and
cheered them twice as much as they had before.

And while they were cheering and waving their caps,
the boatmen rested upon their oars and let the boats swing
with the tide, which thereabout set strong against the
shore, and a trumpeter in the Earl of Arundel’s barge
stood up and blew upon along horn bound with a banner
of blue and gold.

Instantly he had blown, another trumpet answered from
the south, and when Nick turned, the shore was gay with
men in brilliant livery. Beyond was a wood of chestnut-
trees as blue and leafless as a grove of spears; and in the
plain between the river and the wood stood a great palace
of gray stone, with turrets, pinnacles, and battlemented
walls, over the topmost tower of whicha broad flag, blazoned
with golden lions and silver lilies square for square, whipped
the winter wind. Amid a group of towers large and
small a lofty stack poured out a plume of sea-coal smoke
against the milky sky, and on the countless windows in
the wall the sunlight flashed with dazzling radiance.

There were people on the battlements, and at the port
between two towers where the Queen went in and out the
press was so thick that men’s heads looked like the cobbles
in the street.

The shore was stayed with piling and with timbers like
a wharf, so that a hundred boats might lie there cheek by
jowl and scarcely rub their paint. The lords made way,
and the children players came ashore through an aisle of
uplifted oars. They were met by the yeomen of the guard,
THE QUEEN’S PLAISANCE 191

tall, brawny fellows clad in red, with golden roses on their
breasts and backs, and with them marched up to the pos-
tern two and two, Master Gyles the last of all, as haughty
as a Spanish don come courting fair Queen Bess.

A smoking dinner was waiting them, of whitebait with
red pepper, and a yellow juice so sour that Nick’s mouth
drew up ina knot; butit was very good. There were be-
sides, silver dishes full of sugared red currants, and heaps
of comfits and sweetmeats, which Master Gyles would not
allow them even to touch, and saffron cakes with raisins
in them, and spiced hot cordial out of tiny silver cups.
Bareheaded pages clad in silk and silver lace waited upon
them as if they were fledgling kings; but the boys were
too hungry to care for that or to try to put on airs, and
waded into the meat and drink as if they had been starved
for a fortnight.

But when they were done Nick saw that the table off
which they had eaten was inlaid with pearl and silver fili-
gree, and that the table-cloth was of silk with woven metal-
work and gems set in it worth more than a thousand
crowns. He was very glad he had eaten first, for such
wonderful service would have taken away his appetite.

And truly a wonderful palace was the Queen’s Plaisance,
as Greenwich House was called. Elizabeth was born in it,
and so loved it most of all. There she pleased oftenest to
receive and grant audiences to envoys from foreign courts.
And there, on that account, as was always her proud,
jealous way, she made a blinding show of glory and of
wealth, of science, art, and power, that England, to the
192 MASTER SKYLARK

eyes which saw her there, might stand in second place te
no dominion in the world, however rich or great.

It was a very house of gold.

Over the door where the lads marched in was the Queen’s
device, a golden rose, with a motto set below in letters of
gold, “Dieu et mon droit” ; and upon the walls were
blazoned coats of noble arms on branching golden trees,
of purest metal and finest silk, costly beyond compare. The
royal presence-chamber shone with tapestries of gold, of
silver, and of oriental silks, of as many shifting colors as
the birds of paradise, and wrought in exquisite design,
The throne was set with diamonds, with rubies, garnets,
and sapphires, glittering like a pastry-crust of stars, and
garnished with gold-lace work, pearls, and ornament; and
under the velvet canopy which hung above the throne was
embroidered in seed-pearls, “Vivat Regina Elizabetha!”
There was no door without a gorgeous usher, no room
without a page, no corridor without a guard, no post with-
out a man of noble birth to fill it.

On the walls of the great gallery were masterly paint-
ings of great folk, globes showing all the stars fast in the
sky, and drawings of the world and all its parts, so real
that one could see the savages in the New World hanging
to the under side by their feet, like flies upon the ceiling.
How they stuck was more than Nick could make out; and
where they landed if they chanced to slip and fall troubled
him a deal, until in the sheer multiplication of wonders
he could not wonder any more.

When they came to rehearse in the afternoon the stage
THE QUEEN’S PLAISANCE 193

was hung with stiff, rich silks that had come in costly
eedar chests from the looms of old Cathay ; and the curtain
behind which the players came and went was broidered

‘with gold thread in flowers and birds like meteors for
splendor. The gallery, too, where the musicians sat, was
draped with silk and damask.

Some of the lads would have made out by their great
airs as if this were alla common thing to them; but Nick
stared honestly with round eyes, and went about with cau-
tious feet, chary of touching things, and feeling very much
out of place and shy.

It was all too grand, too wonderful,—amazing to look
upon, no doubt, and good to outface foreign envy with,
but not to be endured every day nor lived with comfor-
tably. And as the day went by, each passing moment with
new marvels, Nick grew more and more uneasy for some
simple little nook where he might just sit down and be
quiet for a while, as one could do at home, without fine
pages peering at him from the screens, or splendid guards
patrolling at his heels wherever he went, or obsequious
ushers bowing to the floor at every turn, and asking him
what he might be pleased to wish. And by the time night
fell and the attendant came to light them to their beds, he
felt like a fly on the rim of a wheel that went so fast he
could scarcely get his breath or see what passed him by,
yet of which he durst not let go.

The palace was much too much for him.
CHAPTER XXVIII
CHRISTMAS WITH QUEEN BESS

HRISTMAS morning came and went as if on swal-

low-wings, in a gale of royal merriment. Four hun-

dred sat to dinner that day in Greenwich halls, and all the
palace streamed with banners and green garlands.

Within the courtyard two hundred horses neighed and
stamped around a water-fountain playing in a bowl of ice
and evergreen. Grooms and pages, hostlers and dames,
went hurry-scurrying to and fro; cooks, bakers, and scul-
lions steamed about, leaving hot, mouth-watering streaks
of fragrance in the air; bluff men-at-arms went whistling
here and there; and serving-maids with rosy cheeks ran
breathlessly up and down the winding stairways.

The palace stirred like a mighty pot that boils to its ut-
most verge, for the hour of the revelries was come.

Over the beech-wood and far across the black heath
where Jack Cade marshaled the men of Kent, the wind
trembled with the boom of the castle bell. Within the
walls of the palace its clang was muffled by a sound of

voices that rose and fell like the wind upon the sea.
194
CHRISTMAS WITH QUEEN BESS 195

The ambassadors of Venice and France were there, with
their courtly trains. The Lord High Constable of England
was come to sit below the Queen. The earls, too, of South-
ampton, Montgomery, Pembroke, and Huntington were
there ; and William Cecil, Lord Burleigh, the Queen’s High
Treasurer, to smooth his care-lined forehead with a Yule-
tide jest.

Up from the entry ports came shouts of “Room! room!
room for my Lord Strange! Room for the Duke of Devon-
shire!” and about the outer gates there was a tumult like
the cheering of a great crowd.

The palace corridors were lined with guards. Gentle-
men pensioners under arms went flashing to and fro.
Now and then through the inner throng some handsome
page with wind-blown hair and rainbow-colored cloak
pushed to the great door, calling: “Way, sirs, way for my
Lord—way for my Lady of Alderstone!” and one by one,
or in blithe groups, the courtiers, clad in silks and satins,
velvets, jewels, and lace of gold, came up through the
lofty folding-doors to their places in the hall.

There, where the Usher of the Black Rod stood, and the
gentlemen of the chamber came and went with golden
chains about their necks, was bowing and scraping with-
out stint, and reverent civility; for men that were wise
and noble were passing by, men that were handsome and
brave; and ladies sweet as a summer day, and as fair to
see as spring, laughed by their sides and chatted behind
their fans, or daintily nibbled comfits, lacking anything
to say.
196 MASTER SKYLARK

The windows were all curtained in, making a night-time
in midday; and from the walls and galleries flaring links
and great bouquets of candles threw an eddying flood of
yellow light across the stirring scene. From clump to
clump of banner-staves and burnished arms, spiked above
the wainscot, garlands of red-berried holly, spruce, and
mistletoe were twined across the tapestry, till all the room
was bound about with a chain of living green.

There were sweet odors floating through the air, and
hazy threads of fragrant smoke from perfumes burning
in rich braziers ; and under foot was the crisp, clean rustle
of new rushes.

From time to time, above the hum of voices, came the
sound of music from a room beyond—cornets and flutes,
fifes, lutes, and harps, with an organ exquisitely played,
and voices singing to it; and from behind the players’
curtain, swaying slowly on its rings at the back of the
stage, came a murmur of whispering childish voices, now
high in eager questioning, now low, rehearsing some
doubtful fragment of a song.

Behind the curtain it was dark—not total darkness, but
twilight; for a dull glow came down overhead from the
lights in the hall without, and faint yellow bars went up
and down the dusk from crevices in the screen. The boys
stood here and there in nervous groups. Now and then
a sharp complaint was heard from the tire-woman when
an impatient lad would not stand still to be dressed.

Master Gyles went to and fro, twisting the manuscript
of the Revel in his hands, or pausing kindly to pat some
CHRISTMAS WITH QUEEN BESS 197

faltering lad upon the back. Nick and Colley were peep-
ing by turns through a hole in the screen at the throng
in the audience-chamber.

They could see a confusion of fans, jewels, and faces,
and now and again could hear a burst of subdued laughter
over the steadily increasing buzz of voices. Then from
the gallery above, all at once there came a murmur of
instruments tuning together; a voice in the corridor was
heard calling, “Way here, way here!” in masterful tones;
the tall folding-doors at the side of the hall swung wide,
and eight dapper pages in white and gold came in with
the Master of Revels. After them came fifty ladies and
noblemen clad in white and gold, and a guard of gentle-
men pensioners with glittering halberds.

There was asharp rustle. Every head in the audience-
chamber louted low. Nick’s heart gave a jump—for the
Queen was there!

She came with an air that was at once serious and royal,
bearing herself haughtily, yet with a certain grace and
sprightliness that became her very well. She was quite
tall and well made, and her quickly changing face was
long and fair, though wrinkled and no longer young.
Her complexion was clear and of an olive hue; her nose
was a little hooked ; her firm lips were thin; and her small
black eyes, though keen and bright, were pleasant and
merry withal. Her hair was a coppery, tawny red, and
false, moreover. In her ears hung two great pearls; and
there was a fine small crown studded with diamonds upon
her head, beside a necklace of exceeding fine gold and
198 MASTER SKYLARK

jewels about her neck. She was attired in a white silk
gown bordered with pearls the size of beans, and over it
wore a mantle of black silk, cunningly shot with silver
threads. Her ruff was vast, her farthingale vaster; and
her train, which was very long, was borne by a marchioness
who made more ado about it than Elizabeth did of ruling
her realm.

“The Queen!” gasped Colley.

“Dost think I did na know it?” answered Nick, his
heart beginning to beat tattoo as he stared through the
peep-hole in the screen.

He saw the great folk bowing like a gardenful of flowers
in a storm, and in its midst Elizabeth erect, speaking to
those about her in a lively and good-humored way, and
addressing all the foreigners according to their tongue—
in French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch; but hers was funny
Dutch, and while she spoke she smiled and made a joke
upon it in Latin, at which they all laughed heartily,
whether they understood what it meant or not. Then,
with her ladies in waiting, she passed to a dais near the
stage, and stood a moment, stately, fair, and proud, while
all her nobles made obeisance, then sat and gave a signal
for the players to begin.

“Rafe Fullerton !” the prompter whispered shrilly ; and
out from behind the screen slipped Rafe, the smallest of
them all, and down the stage to speak the foreword of the
piece. He was frightened, and his voice shook as he
spoke, but every one was smiling, so he took new heart.

“Tt is a masque of Summer-time and Spring,” said he,
CHRISTMAS WITH QUEEN BESS 199

“wherein both claim to be best-loved, and have their say
of wit and humor, and each her part of songs and dances
suited to her time, the sprightly galliard and the nimble
jig for Spring, the slow pavone, the stately peacock dance,
for Summer-time. And win who may, fair Summer-time
or merry Spring, the winner is but that beside our Queen! ”
—with which he snapped his fingers in the faces of them
all—“ God save Queen Bess!”

At that the Queen’s eyes twinkled, and she nodded,
highly pleased, so that every one clapped mightily.

The play soon ran its course amid great laughter and
applause. Spring won. The English ever loved her best,
and the quick-paced galliard took their fancy, too. “Up
and be doing!” was its tune, and it gave one a chance to
eut fine capers with his heels.

Then the stage stood empty and the music stopped.

At this strange end a whisper of surprise ran through
the hall. The Queen tapped with the inner side of her
rings upon the broad arm of her chair. From the look on
her face she was whetting her tongue. But before she
could speak, Nick and Colley, dressed as a farmer boy
and girl, with a garland of house-grown flowers about
them, came down the stage from the arras, hand in hand,
bowing.

The audience-chamber grew very still—this was some-
thing new. Nick felt a swallowing in his throat, and
Colley’s hand winced in his grip. There was no sound
but a silky rustling in the room.

Then suddenly the boys behind the players’ curtain
200 MASTER SKYLARK

laughed together, not loud, but such a jolly little laugh
that all the people smiled to hear it. After the laughter
came a hush.

Then the pipes overhead made a merry sound as of
shepherds piping on oaten straws in new grass where
there are daisies; and there was a little elfish laughter of
clarionets, and a fluttering among the cool flutes like spring
wind blowing through crisp young leaves in April. The
harps began to pulse and throb with a soft cadence like
raindrops falling into a clear pool where brown leaves lie
upon the bottom and bubbles float above green stones and
smooth white pebbles. Nick lifted up his head and sang.

It was a happy little song of the coming and the triumph
of the spring. The words were all forgotten long ago.
They were not much: enough to serve the turn, no more;
but the notes to which they went were like barn swallows
twittering under the eaves, goldfinches clinking in purple
weeds beside old roads, and robins singing in common
gardens at dawn. And wherever Nick’s voice ran Colley’s
followed, the pipes laughing after them a note or two
below ; while the flutes kept gurgling softly to themselves
as a hill brook gurgles through the woods, and the harps
ran gently up and down like rain among the daffodils.
One voice called, the other answered ; there were echo-like
refrains; and as they sang Nick’s heart grew full. He
eared not a stiver for the crowd, the golden palace, or the
great folk there—the Queen no more—he only listened
for Colley’s voice coming up lovingly after his own and
running away when he followed it down, like a lad and a
CHRISTMAS WITH QUEEN BESS 201

lass through the bloom of the May. And Colley was sing-
ing as if his heart would leap out of his round mouth for
joy to follow after the song they sung, till they came to
the end and the skylark’s song.

There Colley ceased, and Nick went singing on alone,
forgetting, caring for, heeding nought but the song that
was in his throat.

The Queen’s fan dropped from her hand upon the floor.
No one saw it or picked it up. The Venetian ambassador
scarcely breathed.

Nick came down the stage, his hands before him, lifted
as if he saw the very lark he followed with his song, up,
up, up into the sun. His cheeks were flushed and his eyes
were wet, though his voice was asong and a laugh in one.

Then they were gone behind the curtain, into the shadow
and the twilight there, Colley with his arms about Nick’s
neck, not quite laughing, not quite sobbing. The manu-
script of the Revel lay torn in two upon the floor, and
Master Gyles had a foot upon each piece.

In the hall beyond the curtain was a silence that was
deeper than a hush, a stillness rising from the hearts of
men.

Then Elizabeth turned in the chair where she sat. Her
eyes were as bright as a blaze. And out of the sides of
her eyes she looked at the Venetian ambassador. He was
sitting far out on the edge of his chair, and his lips had
fallen apart. She laughed to herself. “It is a good song,
signor,” said she, and those about her started at the sound
of her voice. “Chi tace confessa—it is so! There are
202 ' MASTER SKYLARK

no songs like English songs—there is no spring like an
English spring—there is no land like England, my Eng-
land!” She clapped her hands. ‘I will speak with those
lads,” said she.

Straightway certain pages ran through the press and
came behind the curtain where Nick and Colley stood to-
gether, still trembling with the music not yet gone out of
them, and brought them through the hall to where the
Queen sat, every one whispering, “Look!” as they passed.

On the dais they knelt together, bowing, side by side.
Elizabeth, with a kindly smile, leaning a little forward,
raised them with her slender hand. “Stand, dear lads,”
said she, heartily. “Be lifted up by thine own singing,
as our hearts have been uplifted by thy song. And name
me the price of that same song—’t was sweeter than the
sweetest song we ever heard before.”

“Or ever shall hear again,” said the Venetian ambas-
sador, under his breath, rubbing his forehead as if just
wakening out of a dream.

“Come,” said Elizabeth, tapping Colley’s cheek with her
fan, “what wilt thou have of me, fair maid?”

Colley turned red, then very pale. “That I may stay in
the palace forever and sing for your Majesty,” said he.
His fingers shivered in Nick’s.

“Now that is right prettily asked,” she cried, and was
well pleased. “Thou shalt indeed stay for a singing page
in our household—a voice and a face like thine are merry
things upon a rainy Monday. And thou, Master Lark,”
said she, fanning the hair back from Nick’s forehead with
CHRISTMAS WITH QUEEN BESS 203

her perfumed fan—“ thou that comest up out of the field
with a song like the angels sing—what wilt thou have:
that thou mayst sing in our choir and play on the lute
for us?”

Nick looked up at the torches on the wall, drawing a
deep, long breath. When he looked down again his eyes
were dazzled and he could not see the Queen.

“What wilt thou have?” he heard her ask.

“Tet me go home,” said he.

There were red and green spots in the air. He tried to
count them, since he could see nothing else, and every-
thing was very still; but they all ran into one purple spot
which came and went like a firefiy’s glow, and in the middle
of the purple spot he saw the Queen’s face coming and
going.

“Surely, boy, that is an ill-considered speech,” said she,
“or thou dost deem us very poor, or most exceeding
stingy!” Nick hung his head, for the walls seemed tap-
estried with staring eyes. “Or else this home of thine
must be a very famous place.”

The maids of honour tittered. Further off somebody
laughed. Nick looked up, and squared his shoulders.

They had rubbed the cat the wrong way.

It is hard to be a stranger in a palace, young, country-
bred, and laughed at all at once; but down in Nick Att-
wood’s heart was a stubborn streak that all the flattery
on earth could not cajole nor ridicule efface. He might
be simple, shy, and slow, but what he loved he loved: that
much he knew; and when they laughed at him for loving
204 MASTER SKYLARK

home they seemed to mock not him, but home—and that
touched the fighting-spot.

“T would rather be there than here,” said he.

The Queen’s face flushed. “Thou art more curt than
courteous,” said she. “Is it not good enough for thee
here?”

“T could na live in such a place.”

The Queen’s eyes snapped. “Insuchaplace? Marry,
art thou so choice? These others find no fault with the
life.” _

“Then they be born to it,” said Nick, “or they could
abide no more than I—they would na fit.”

“Haw, haw!” said the Lord High Constable.

The Queen shot one quick glance at him. “Old pegs
have been made to fit new holes before to-day,” said she;
“and the trick can be done again.” The Constable smo-
thered the rest of that laugh in his hand. “ But come, boy,
speak up; what hath put thee so out of conceit with our
best-beloved palace?”

“There is na one thing likes me here. I can na bide in
a place so fine, for there ’s not so much as a corner in it
feels like home. I could na sleep in the bed last night.”

“What, how? We commanded good beds!” exclaimed
Elizabeth, angrily, for the Venetian ambassador was smil-
ing in his beard. “This shall be seen to.”

“Oh, it was a good bed—a very good bed indeed, your
Majesty!” cried Nick. “But the mattress puffed up like
a cloud in a bag, and almost smothered me; and it was so
soft and so hot that it gave me a fever.”
CHRISTMAS WITH QUEEN BESS 205

Elizabeth leaned back in her chair and laughed. The
Lord High Constable hastily finished the laugh that he
had hidden in his hand. Everybody laughed. “Upon
my word,” said the Queen, “it is an odd skylark cannot
sleep in feathers! What didst thou do, forsooth?”

“T slept in the coverlid on the floor,” said Nick. “It
was na hurt,—I dusted the place well,—and I slept like a
top.”

“Now verily,” laughed Elizabeth, “if it be floors that
thou dost desire, we have acres to spare—thou shalt have
thy pick of the lot. Come, we are ill used to begging
people to be favored—thou ’lt stay ?”

Nick shook his head.

“Ma foi!” exclaimed the Queen, “it is a queer fancy
makes a face at such a pleasant dwelling! What is it
sticks in thy throat?”

Nick stood silent. What was there to say? If he came
here he never would see Stratford town again; and this
was no abiding-place for him. They would not even let
him go to the fountain himself to draw water with which
to wash, but fetched it, three at a time, in a silver ewer
and a copper basin with towels and a flask of perfume.

Elizabeth was tapping with her fan. “Thou art be-
dazzled like,” she said. “Think twice—preferment does
not gooseberry on the hedge-row every day; and this is a
rare chance which hangs ripening on thy tongue. Con-
sider well. Come, thou wilt accept?”

Nick slowly shook his head.

“Go then, if thou wilt go!” said she; and as she spoke
206 MASTER SKYLARK

she shrugged her shoulders, illy pleased, and turning to.
ward Colley, took him by the hand and drew him closer
to her, smiling at his guise. “Thy comradc hath more
wit.”

“He hath no mother,” Nick said quietly, loosing his hold
at last on Colley’shand. “I would rather have my mother
than his wit.”

Elizabeth turned sharply back. Her keen eyes were
sparkling, yet soft.

“Thou art no fool,” said she.

A little murmur ran through the room.

She sat a moment, silent, studying his face. “Or if
thou art, upon my word I like the breed. It is a stub-
born, froward dog; but Hold-fast is his name. Ay, sirs,”
she said, and sat up very straight, looking into the faces
of her court, “Brag is a good dog, but Hold-fast is better
A lad who loves his mother thus makes a man who loveth
his native land—and it ’s no bad streak in the blood.
Master Skylark, thou shalt have thy wish; to London thou
shalt go this very night.”

“TJ do na live in London,” Nick began.

“What matters the place?” said she. ‘Live whereso-
ever thine heart doth please. It is enough—so. Thou
mayst kiss our hand.” She held her hand out, bright
with jewels. He knelt and kissed it as if it were all a
doing in a dream, or in some unlikely story he had read.
But a long while after he could smell the perfume from
her slender fingers on his lips.

Then a page standing by him touched his arm as he
CHRISTMAS WITH QUEEN BESS 207

arose, and bowing backward from the throne, came with
him to the curtain and the rest. Old Master Gyles was
standing there apart. It was too dark to see his face, but
he laid his hand upon Nick’s head.

“Thy cake is burned to a coal,” said he.
CHAPTER XXITX
BACK TO GASTON CAREW

O they marched back out of the palace gates, down to

the landing-place, the last red sunlight gleaming on

the basinets of the tall halberdiers who marched on either
side.

Nick looked out toward London, where the river lay
like a serpent, bristling with masts; and beyond the river
and the town to the forests of Epping and Hainault; and
beyond the forests to the hills, where the waning day still
lingered in a mist of frosty blue. At their back, midway
of the Queen’s park, stood up the old square tower Mire-
fleur, and on its top one yellow light like the flame of a
gigantic candle. The day seemed builded of memories
strange and untrue.

A belated gull flapped by them heavily, and the red sun
wentdown. England was growing lonely.
laden with straw came out of the dusk, and was gone
without a sound, its ghostly sail drawing in a wind that
the wherry sat too low to feel. Nick held his breath as
the barge went by: it was unreal, fantastical.

208
BACK TO GASTON CAREW 209

Then the river dropped between its banks, and the woods
and the hills were gone. The tide ran heavily against the
shore, and the wake of the wherry broke the floating stars
into cold white streaks and zigzag ripplings of raveled
light that ran unsteadily after them. The craft at anchor
in the Pool had swung about upon the flow, and pointed
down to Greenwich.
ending bustle of the town; and the air was full of a gray,
uncanny afterglow which seemed to come up out of the
water, for the sky was grown quite dark.

They were all wrapped in their boat-cloaks, tired and
silent. Now and then Nick dipped his fingers into the
cold water over the gunwale.

This was the end of the glory.

He wished the boat would go alittle faster. Yet when
they came to the landing he was sorry.

The man-at-arms who went with him to Master Carew’s
house was one of the Earl of Arundel’s men, in a stiff-
wadded jacket of heron-blue, with the earl’s colors richly
worked upon its back and his badge upon the sleeves.
Prowlers gave way before him in the streets, for he was
broad and tall and mighty, and the fear of any man was
not in the look of his eye.

As they came up the slow hill, Nick sighed, for the
long-legged man-at-arms walked fast. ‘What, there!”
said he, and clapped Nick on the shoulder with his bony
hand; “art far spent, lad? Why, marry, get thee upon
my back. I ’ll jog thee home in the shake of a black
sheep’s tail.”

“4
210 MASTER SKYLARK

So Nick rode home upon the back of the Earl of Arun-
del’s man-at-arms; and that, too, seemed a dream like all
the rest.

When they came to Master Carew’s house the street
was dark, and Nick’s foot was asleep. He stamped it,
tingling, upon the step, and the empty passage echoed
with the sound. Then the earl’s man beat the door
with the pommel of his dagger-hilt, and stood with
his hands upon his hips, carelessly whistling a little
tune.

Nick heard a sound of some one coming through the
hall, and felt that at last the day was done. A tired
wonder wakened in his heart at how so much had come
to pass in such a little while; yet more he wondered why
it had ever come to pass at all, And what was the worth
of it, anyway, now it was over and gone?

Then the door opened, and he went in.

Master Gaston Carew himself had come to the door,
walking quickly through the hallway, with a queer, nervous
twitching in his face. But when he made out through the
dusk that it was Nick, he seemed in no wise moved, and
said quite simply, as he gave the man-at-arms a penny:
“Oh, is it thou? Why, we have heard somewhat of thee;
and upon my word I thought, since thou wert grown so
great, thou wouldst come home in a coach-and-four, all
blowing horns!”

Nevertheless he drew Nick quickly in, and kissed him
thrice; and after he had kissed him kept fast hold of his
hand until they came together through the hall into the








f Sy lt 4 ‘%
tyr ge Natta,
Ye ue Fy
“A yr by a Y-.

“SO NICK RODE HOME UPON THE BACK OF THE EARL OF ARUNDEL’S
MAN-AT-ARMS.”
BACK TO GASTON CAREW 211

great room where Cicely was sitting quite dismally in the
chimney-seat alone.

“There, Nick,” said he; “tell her thyself that thou hast
come back. She thought she had lost thee for good and
all, and hath sung, ‘Hey ho, my heart is full of woe!’ the
whole twilight, and would not be comforted. Come, Cicely,
doff thy doleful willow—the proverb lies. ‘Out of sight,
out of mind’—fudge! the boy ’s come back again! A
plague take proverbs, anyway!”

But when the children were both long since abed, and
all the house was still save for the scamper of rats in the
wall, the heavy door of Nick’s room opened stealthily, with
a little grating upon the uneven sill, and Master Carew
stood there, peeping in, his hand upon the bolt outside.

He held a rush-light in the other. Its glimmer fell
across the bed upon Nick’s tousled hair; and when the
master-player saw the boy’s head upon the pillow he
started eagerly, with brightening eyes. “My soul!” he
whispered to himself, a little quaver in his tone, “I would
have sworn my own desire lied to me, and that he had
not come atall! It cannot be—yet, verily, I am not blind.
Ma foi! it passeth understanding—a freed skylark come
back to its cage! I thought we had lost him forever.”

Nick stirred in his sleep. Carew set the light on the
floor. “Thou fool!” said he, and he fumbled at his pouch ;
“thou dear-belovéd little fool! To catch the skirts of
glory in thine hand, and tread the heels of happy chance,
and yet come back again to ill-starred twilight—and to
me! Ai, lad, I would thou wert my son—mine own, own
212 MASTER SKYLARK

son; yet Heaven spare thee father such asI! For, Nick,
I love thee. Yet thou dost hate me like a poison thing.
And still I love thee, on my word, and on the remnant of
mine honour!” His voice was husky. “Let thee go?—
send thee back?—eat my sweet and have it too?—how?
Nay, nay; thy happy cake would be my dough—it will
not serve.” He shook his head, and looked about to see
that all was fast. “Yet, Nick, I say I love thee, on my
soul!”

Slipping to the bedside with stealthy step, he laid a fat
little Banbury cheese and some brown sweet cakes beside
Nick’s pillow; then came out hurriedly and barred the
door.

The fire in the great hall had gone out, and the room
was growing cold. The table stood by the chimney-side,
where supper had been laid. Carew brought a napkin
from the linen-chest, and spread it upon the board. Then
he went to the server’s screen and looked behind it, and
tried the latches of the doors; and having thus made sure
that all was safe, came back to the table again, and set-
ting the rush-light there, turned the contents of his purse
into the napkin.

There were both gold and silver. The silver he put back
into the purse again; the gold he counted carefully ; and
as he counted, laying the pieces one by one in little heaps
upon the cloth, he muttered under his breath, like a small
boy adding up his sums in school, saying over and over
again, “One for me, and one for thee, and two for Cicely
Carew. One for me, and one for thee, and two for Cicely
BACK TO GASTON CAREW 213

Carew” ; and told the coins off in keeping with the count,
so that the last pile was as large as both the others put
together. Then slowly ending, “None for me, and one
for thee, and two for Cicely Carew,” he laid the last three
nobles with the rest.

Then he arose and stood a moment listening to the si-
lence in the house. An oldhe rat that was gnawing a rind
on the hearth looked up, and ran a little nearer to his hole.
“Tsst! come back,” said Carew, “I’m no cat!” and from
the sliding panel in the wall took out a buckskin bag tied
like a meal-sack with a string.

As he slipped the knot the throat of the bag sagged
down, and a gold piece jangled on the floor. Carew started
as if all his nerves had leaped within him at the unex-
pected sound, and closed the panel like a flash. Then, set-
ting his foot upon the fallen coin, he stopped its spinning,
and with one hand on his poniard, peering right and left,
blew the candle out.

A little while he stood and listened in the dark; a little
while his feet went to and fro in the darkness. The wind
cried in the chimney. Now and then the casements
shivered. The timbers in the wall creaked with the cold,
and the boards in the stairway cracked. Then the old he
rat came back to his rind, and his mate came out of the
crack in the wall, 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.

O says that wonder-ballad of the sea.

But over London came a gale that made the chim.
neys 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,
214
AT THE FALCON INN 215

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 wak-
ened 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.

Iv 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
216 MASTER SKYLARK

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 werea 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
AT THE FALCON INN 217

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 Eke 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 peel the shutter m 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-
218 MASTER SKYLARK

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 glitter-
ing 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 talk-
ing 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 muffied 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.”
AT THE FALCON INN 219

A man came down from thetap-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. “’T is just beyond Ned Alleyn’s, by the ditch. Yell
never mistake the ditch, sir—Billingsgate is roses to it.”

“Oh, I’ find it fast enough,” the stranger answered ;
“but he should have sent to meet me, knowing I might
come at any hour. ’T is 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, ’t is good to see an honest face
amid this pack of rogues.”
220 MASTER SKYLARK

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 “Wills”? “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 drink-
ing 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 in-
stead. It was along, 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

N a garden near the old bear-yard, among tall rose-

trees which would soon be in bloom, a merry com-
pany 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 ared 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;

221
222 MASTER SKYLARK

and the men were eating and drinking and chatting to-
gether 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 anew 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!”
IN THE TWINKLING OF AN EYE 223

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.
224 MASTER SKYLARK

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 fiowing 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, allof 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.

“Well 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 cheer-
ing rose the big man’s voice ; for the quiet man was silent,
and the big man cheered for two.
IN THE TWINKLING OF AN EYE 225

“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”

15
226 MASTER SKYLARK

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 maa
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 com-
pany 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.

‘oT is Edmund with the news,” cried one.

“JT ’ve dished him,” said Ben Jonson.

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

“Thou ’It raise more hopes than wages, Rob,” said Tarl-
ton, 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,
“Jest he squander it!”

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

“Then tell him to go back. again,” said Master Ben Jon-
IN THE TWINKLING OF AN EYE 227

son; “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 Strat-
ford 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 War-
wickshire ?”

“Why, Ben,” replied the quiet man, “’t is 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 lad,” said the quiet man; “what wilt thou have
of me?”

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

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 willI!” And
the dast was the voice of the quiet man.

Then followed laughter and scraps of song, merry talk.
ing, 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 bay-
ing 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
IN THE TWINKLING OF AN EYE 229

down the river-wind—a long, thin ery, 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 seudded 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 asifhe weremad. Ashe 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; fer 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.
230 . MASTER SKYLARK

“Who’s there?” called the voice of the quiet man.

‘OT is I, Tom Heywood. There ’s to-do for players at
the Falcon Inn. Gaston Carew hath stabbed Fulk San-
dells, for cheating at the dice, as dead as a door-nail, and
hath been taken by the watch!”
err

CHAPTER XXXII
THE LAST OF GASTON CAREW

T 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 lis-
tened to it through happy thoughts of going home.

Sunday had passed like a wondrous dream. He was
free. Master Carew was donefor. 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.
231
232 MASTER SKYLARK

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 Ad-
miral’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 isin 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. ’T is hard to re-
fuse so small a favor to a doomed man.”

“Thou ‘It surely fetch me back?”

“Here, Master Will Shakspere,” called the Admiral’s
player; “TI 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 Gilt-
THE LAST OF GASTON CAREW 233

spur 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.

“Tt 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 afoul, 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
234 MASTER SKYLARK

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 whenitclosed. ‘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.
THE LAST OF GASTON CAREW 235

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. ’T will not be worth thy
while, Nick; the night is coming fast.”

“Why, sir,” said Nick, “it is not so dark outside—’t is
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. “’T is 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 hur-
riedly 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.”
236 MASTER SKYLARK

He paused again, as if irresolute. “Ill 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.

‘OT is 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 grat-
ing. 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.”

“ Yah, yah, yah, thou gallows-bird !”

“Yet I must tell thee, Nick.”

“ Yah, yah, dangle-rope!”

“Stay! would Will Shakspere come? Why, here, I ‘Il
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 ever-
THE LAST OF GASTON CAREW 237

lasting sleep. Hell 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 ’t was where there was a sweet, green fieid and a stream
flowing through a little wood. Methought ’t was 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. ’T isa fat shilling’s
worth.”

“T was there I heard thee sing first, Nick,” said Carew,
holding to the boy’s hands through the bars. “TI ’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 sud-
denly tosing. He looked up, staring. Such a thing dum-
founded 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.
238 MASTER SKYLARK

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-for-
gotten 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 charméd sleep, and new griefs lose their bitter-
ness, to hear thee sing—to hear thee sing. God bless thee,
Nick!”

“°T is three good shillings’ worth 0’ time,” the turnkey
growled, and fumbled with the keys. “All for one shil-
ling, too,” said he, and kicked the door-post sulkily. “But
aplague,Isay,aplague! ’T is no one’s business but mine.
I’ve a good two shillings’ worth in my ears. ’T is 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.”





THE LAST OF GASTON CAREW 230

“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 ’t was
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.

“T 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. “’T is the chain I had from Strat-
ford’s burgesses, to some good usage come at last.”

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

“T be coming, sir.”
240 MASTER SKYLARK

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

“Tl 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 Shak-
spere’s comedy was done, and Master Ben Jonson was
telling a merry tale that made the tapster sick with
laughing.
CHAPTER XXXIII
CICELY DISAPPEARS

HAT Master Will Shakspere should be go great

seemed passing strange to Nick, he felt sosoonathome

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
16 241
242 MASTER SKYLARK

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 to-
tally different tack.

Then “Tush!” and “Fie upon thee, Will! ” Master Jon-
son would cry with his great bluff-hearted laugh, “thou art
aregular flibbertigibbet! Ill 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
frommy wife. Faith, Will, thoushouldstseemy little Ben!”

“Ill 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, be-
cause his heart was dancing so.
CICELY DISAPPEARS 243

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
ealled 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 Shak.
spere’s face, and made a fleeting glory there.

Then Master Shakspere stretched himself a little in the
244 MASTER SKYLARK

sun, laughing sortly, 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? Well 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

, NTIL 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
245
246 MASTER SKYLARK

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 be-
hind 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 mack-
erel-heads and herrings strewed the drains, and sour kits
THE BANDY-LEGGED MAN 247

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 fore-
head 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. Per-
chance 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,
248 MASTER SKYLARK

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 ery
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 ‘It 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!”
THE BANDY-LEGGED MAN 249

“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
‘vogue’ of thine, or I Il 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 asa 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 griat
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:
250 MASTER SKYLARK

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.

“High! 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










































































































D a
ae, ME
O NA TH RIK AGAIN, THOU ROGUE!’ ICK.”
.
OU S I A E
1? SAL
D
N

SY

SSF
















THE BANDY-LEGGED MAN 251

theeif I can help. So cheer up—we will get away! Thou
needst na gripe me so, thou rogue; I am going wherever
she goes.”

“T 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 ’1 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 :
252 MASTER SKYLARK

“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 arch-
ery 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 gar-
lands; 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, ’t is
the truth, for once in thy life!” quoth he, and stared at
Cicely. Her cheeks were flushed, and her panting red lips
THE BANDY-LEGGED MAN 253

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, mock-
ing 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 acopy-book! Hey,
bullies, what? let’s make her queen!”

“A queen?” “What queen?” “Where isa queen?”
“T 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!” eried out the strapping fellow at
his back. “A queen it is; and aright 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, Mar.
tin 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!”
254 MASTER SKYLARK

“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 oa, 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 ‘Il teach thee to hold thy
tongue.”

“Qh, 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.”
THE BANDY-LEGGED MAN 255

“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 Arm-
strong, “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 heputaboldfronton. “Stand off,”
said he, and tried to thrust Tom Webster back. “Thou ’lt
pay the piper dear for this! The knave is a lying vaga-
bond. 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



{
'
256 MASTER SKYLARK

of the press and away like a deer down a covert lane be-
tween 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.”

“Tf 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—
THE BANDY-LEGGED MAN 257

“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—”

“Tf what?” they roared.

“Tf 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 bawl-
ing, “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, doub-
let, 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.

17
258 MASTER SKYLARK

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, Fins-
bury, ho!” “TJ 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

ICK 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 sur-
mounted 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.
259
260 MASTER SKYLARK

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 Shak-
spere 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 gar-
den 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
A SUDDEN RESOLVE 261

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?”

“T 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 under-
stood.

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
262 MASTER SKYLARK

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, al-
though 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 sec-
ond 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.

“T do na know. How can I tell? Do na bother me
so!” eried 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
A SUDDEN RESOLVE 263

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 some-
how!”

“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.

“T 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
264 MASTER SKYLARK

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.

“JT 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 bur-
gesses’ chain.

“Hightpence the day, for three days out—two shiHing
‘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, “’t is 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.”

‘OT was 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?”
A SUDDEN RESOLVE 265

“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 sheep-
skin, 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

T Kensington watering-place, five miles from Lon-
don 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 were n’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; ’t is 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.

266
WAYFARING HOME 267

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 Mis-
tress 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 Wy-
combe, into and over the Chiltern Hills in Buckingham-
shire. 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 lifeand 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
268 MASTER SKYLARK

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 con-
tent. 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 tair, 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 Cher-
well 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 hos-
telry, 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
WAYFARING HOME 269

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 run-
ning 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. Yewillnamind?” 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
270 MASTER SKYLARK

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 to-
gether, 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.

“What, lad!” cried good Dame Davenant, “come, stay
with me all year and sing, thou and this little maid o’
thine. ’T will cost thee neither cash nor care. Why, thou




ey! lad.die, hark, to the
od save us all, my

















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272 MASTER SKYLARK

‘Idst 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 waim
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
crees upon the hills, and scarcely any springs at which to
drink, but much tender grass, with countless sheep nib-
bling 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?”
““

‘OH, NICK,

WHAT IS IT?



SHE CRIED.”
WAYFARING HOME 273

“ 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 blend-
ing 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 ‘Gall-
iard of Savoy.” Which doth it please you, mistresses?”
and he bowed to the huddling young women, who scarcely
knew what to make of it.

18
274 MASTER SKYLARK

“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? Ill 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.”

‘OT is 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 Warchet?” she whispered, timidly hesitant, as she
stepped to the midst of the ring.

“Ay, then,” said he, “’t is off, ’t is 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
WAYFARING HOME 275

smile upon her lips, in the swaying motion of the coupee,
eourtesying 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,
“°t is 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; “’t was better
than thou didst ever dance it for M’sieu.”

“For why?” said she, and fiushed, 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
276 MASTER SKYLARK

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
itall. 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 Mor-
rison 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
WAYFARING HOME 277

working in the yard. “Itis 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
eried out. “’T is I—t is 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

OWN 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 bee-
hives, and the bees humming among the orchard boughs.

“Why, father, what!” cried Nick, “dost na know me
yet? See, ’t is 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 ’t is 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
278
TURNED ADRIFT 279

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 0’ 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!”

“Tt 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.”

Searcely knowing what he did, he followed her, stum-
280 MASTER SKYLARK

bling 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 erying. 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 allamockery. 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
TURNED ADRIFT 281

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

HERE in the Great House garden under the mul-
berry-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 Dray-
ton, 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 ail safe
and sound—why, ’t is done like a true knight-errant!”

Master Shakspere met them with outstretched hands.

“Thou young rogue,” said he, smiling, “how thou hast
282


ED HANDS.”

TREI'CH.

TS

HEM WITH OU

T.

ER SHAKSPERE MET

“MAST.
A STRANGE DAY 283

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?”

“T 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 Shak-
spere 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, Ill 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.”
284 MASTER SKYLARK

“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 Jon-
son, in his blunt, outspoken way, “I ’ll think thee a
thought offhand to serve the turn. What? Why, this
tanner calls us vagabonds. Wagabonds, forsooth! Yet
vagabonds are gallows-birds, and gallows-birds are ravens.
And ravens, men say, do foster forlorn children. Take
my point? Good, then; let us ravenous vagabonds take
these two children for our own, Will,—thou one, I t’ other,
—and by praiseworthy fostering singe this fellow’s very
brain with shame.”

“Why, here, here, Ben Jonson,” spoke up Master Bur-
bage, “this is all very well for Will and thee; but, pray,
where do Hemynge, Condell, and I come in upon the bill?
Come, man, ’t is a pity if we cannot all stand together in
this real play as well as in all the make-believe.”

“That ’s my sort!” cried Master Hemynge. “ Why,
what? Here is a player’s daughter who has no father,
and a player whose father will not have him,—orphaned
by fate, and disinherited by folly,—common stock with us
all! Marry, ’t is a sort of stock I want some of. Kind
hearts are trumps, my honest Ben—make it a stock com-
pany, and let us all be in.”

“That’s no bad fancy,” added Condell, slowly, for Henry
Condell was a cold, shrewd man. ‘“There’s merit in the
lad beside his voice—that cannot keep its freshness long ;
A STRANGE DAY 285

but his figure ’s good, his wit is quick, and he has a very
taking style. It would be worth while, Dick. And, Will,”
said he, turning to Master Shakspere, who listened with
half a smile to all that the others said, “he ‘ll make a
better Rosalind than Roger Prynne for thy new play.”

“So he would,” said Master Shakspere; “but before
we put him into ‘As You Like It,’ suppose we ask him
how he does like it? Nick, thou hast heard what all
these gentlemen have said—what hast thou to say, my
lad?”

“Why, sirs, ye are all kind,” said Nick, his voice begin-
ning to tremble, “very, very kind indeed, sirs; but—I—I
want my mother—oh, masters, I do want my mother!”

At that John Combe turned on his heel and walked out
of the gate. Out of the garden-gate walked he, and down
the dirty lane, setting his cane down stoutly as he went, past
gravel-pits and pens to Southam’s lane, and in at the door
of Simon Attwood’s tannery.

Ir was noon when he went in; yet the hour struck,
and no one came or went from the tannery. Mistress
Attwood’s dinner grew cold upon the board, and Dame
Combe looked vainly across the fields toward the town.

But about the middle of the afternoon John Combe came
out of the tannery door, and Simon Attwood came behind
him. And as John Combe came down the cobbled way, a
trail of brown vat-liquor followed him, dripping from his
clothes, for he was soaked to the skin. His long gray hair
had partly dried in strings about his ears, and his fine lace
286 MASTER SKYLARK

collar was a drabbled shame; but there was a singular
untroubled smile upon his plain old face.

Simon Attwood stayed to lock the door, fumbling his
keys as if his sight had failed; but when the heavy bolt
was shut, he turned and called after John Combe, so that
the old man stopped in the way and dripped a puddle until
the tanner came up to where he stood. And as he came
up Attwood asked, in such a tone as none had ever heard
from his mouth before, “Combe, John Combe, what ’s
done ’s done,—and oh, John, the pity of it,—yet will ye
still shake hands wi’ me, John, afore ye go?”

John Combe took Simon Attwood’s bony hand and
wrung it hard in his stout old grip, and looked the tanner
squarely in the eyes; then, still smiling serenely to him-
self, and setting his cane down stoutly as he walked,
dripped home, and got himself into dry clothes without a
word.

But Simon Attwood went down to the river, and sat
upon a fiat stone under some pollard willows, and looked
into the water.

What his thoughts were no one knew, nor ever shall
know; but he was fighting with himself, and more than
once groaned bitterly. At first he only shut his teeth and
held his temples in his hands; but after a while he began
to ery to himself, over and over again, “O Absalom, my
son, my son! O my son Absalom!” and then only “My
son, my son!” And when the day began to wane above
the woods of Arden, he arose, and came up from the river,
walking swiftly; and, looking neither to the right nor to
A STRANGE DAY 287

the left, came up to the Great House garden, and went in
at the gate.

At the door the servant met him, but saw his face, and
let him pass without a word ; for he looked like a desperate
man whom there was no stopping.

So, with a grim light burning in his eyes, his hat in his
hand, and his clothes all drabbled with the liquor from
his vats, the tanner strode into the dining-hall.
CHAPTER XXxXIX
ALL ’8 WELL THAT ENDS WELL

HE table had been cleared of trenchers and napkins,
the crumbs brushed away, and a clean platter set
before each guest with pared cheese, fresh cherries, biscuit,
caraways, and wine.
There were about the long table, beside Master Shak-
spere himself, who sat at the head of the board, Masters
Richard and Cuthbert Burbage, Henry Condell, and Peter
Hemynge, Master Shakspere’s partners; Master Ben Jon-
son, his dearest friend; Thomas Pope, who played his
finest parts; John Lowin, Samuel Gilburne, Robert Nash,
and William Kemp, players of the Lord Chamberlain’s
company ; Edmund Shakspere, the actor, who was Master
‘William Shakspere’s younger brother, and Master John
Shakspere, his father ; Michael Drayton, the Midland bard ;
Burgess Robert Getley, Alderman Henry Walker, and
William Hart, the Stratford hatter, brother-in-law to Mas-
ter Shakspere.
On one side of the table, between Master Jonson and

Master Richard Burbage, Cicely was seated upon a high
288
ALL ’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL 289

chair, with a wreath of early crimson roses in her hair,
attired in the gown in which Nick saw her first a year
before. On the other side of the table Nick had a place
between Master Drayton and Robert Getley, father of his
friend Robin. Half-way down there was an empty chair.
Master John Combe was absent.

It was no common party. In all England better com-
pany could not have been found. Some few of them
the whole round world could not have matched then, and
could not match now.

It would be worth a fortune to know the things they
said,—the quips, the jests, the merry tales that went around
that board,—but time has left too little of what such men
said and did, and it can be imagined only by the brightest
wits.

"T was Master Shakspere on his feet, welcoming his
friends to his “New Place” with quiet words that made
them glad to live and to be there, when suddenly he
stopped, his hands upon the table by his chair, and stared.

The tanner stood there, silent, in the door.

Nick’s face turned pale. Cicely clung to Master Jonson’s
arm. :

Simon Attwood stepped into the room, and Master Shak-
spere went quickly to meet him in the middle of the floor.

“Master Will Shakspere,” said the tanner, hoarsely, “I
ha’ come about a matter.” There he stopped, not knowing
what to say, for he was overwrought.

“Out with it, sir,” said Master Shakspere, sternly.
“There is much here to be said.”

19
290 MASTER SKYLARK

The tanner wrung his hat within his hands, and looked
about the ring of cold, averted faces. Soft words with
him were few; he had forgotten tender things; and,
indeed, what he meant to do was no easy thing for
any man.

“Come, say what thou hast to say,” said Master Shak-
spere, resolutely ; “and say it quickly, that we may have
done.”

“There ’s nought that I can say,” said Simon Attwood,
“but that I be sorry, and I wantmyson! Nick! Nick!”
he faltered brokenly, “I be wrung for thee; will ye na
come home—just for thy mother’s sake, Nick, if ye will na
come for mine?”

Nick started from his seat with a glad ery—then stopped.
“But Cicely?” he said.

The tanner wrung his hat within his hands, and his face
was dark with trouble. Master Shakspere looked at Mas-
ter Jonson.

Nick stood hesitating between Cicely and his father,
faithful to his promise, though his heart was sick for
home.

An odd light had been struggling dimly in Simon Att-
wood’s troubled eyes. Then all at once it shone out bright
and clear, and he clapped his bony hand upon the stout
oak chair. “Bring her along,” he said. “I ha’ little
enough, but I will do the best I can. Maybe’t will some-
how right the wrong I ha’ done,” he added huskily. “And,
neighbors, I ‘ll go surety to the Council that she shall na
fall a pauper or a burden to the town.’ My trade is ill
ALL ’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL 291

enough, but, sirs, it will stand for forty pound the year at
a fair cast-up. Bring the lass wi’ thee, Nick—we ’1l make
out, lad, we ll make out. God will na let it all go wrong.”

Master Jonson and Master Shakspere had been nodding
and talking together in a low tone, smiling like men very
well pleased about something, and directly Master Shak-
spere left the reom.

“Wilt thou come, lad?” asked the tanner, holding out
his hands.

“Oh, father!” cried Nick; then he choked so that he
could say no more, and his eyes were so full of mist that
he could scarcely find his father where he stood.

But there was no need of more; Simon Attwood was
answered.

Voices buzzed about the room. The servants whispered
in the hall. Nick held his father’s gnarled hand in his
own, and looked curiously up into his face, as if for the
first time knowing what it was to have a father.

“Well, lad, what be it?” asked the tanner, huskily, lay-
ing his hand on his son’s curly head, which was nearly up
to his shoulder now.

“Nothing,” said Nick, with a happy smile, “ only mother
will be glad to have Cicely—won’t she?”

Master Shakspere came into the room with something
in his hand, and walking to the table, laid it down.

It was a heavy buckskin bag, tied tightly with a silken
cord, and sealed with red wax stamped with the seals of
Master Shakspere and Master Jonson.

Every one was watching him intently, and one or two
292 MASTER SKYLARK

of the gentlemen from London were smiling in a very
knowing way.

He broke the seals, and loosening the thong which closed
the bag, took out two other bags, one of which was just
double its companion’s size. They also were tied with
silken cord and sealed with the two seals on red wax.
There was something printed roughly with a quill pen
upon each bag, but Master Shakspere kept that side turned
toward himself so that the others could not see.

“Come, come, Will,” broke in Master Jonson, “don’t
be all day about it!”

“The more haste the worse speed, Ben,” said Master
Shakspere, quietly. “I have a little story to tell ye all.”

So they all listened.

“When Gaston Carew, lately master-player of the Lord
High Admiral’s company, was arraigned before my Lord
Justice for the killing of that rascal, Fulk Sandells, there
was not a man of his own company had the grace to lend
him even so much as sympathy. But there were still some
in London who would not leave him totally friendless in
such straits.”

“Some?” interrupted Master Jonson, bluntly; “then
o-n-e spells ‘some.’ The names of them all were Will
Shakspere.”

“Tut, tut, Ben!” said Master Shakspere, and went on:
“But when the charge was read, and those against him
showed their hand, it was easy to see that the game was
up. No one saw this any sooner than Carew himself; yet
he carried himself like a man, and confessed the indictment
ALL ’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL 293

without a quiver. They brought him the book, to read a
verse and save his neck, perhaps, by pleading benefit of
clergy. But he knew the temper of those against him,
and that nothing might avail; so he refused the plea
quietly, saying, ‘I am no clerk, sirs. All I wish to read
in this case is what my own hand wrote upon that scoun-
drel Sandells’ It was soon over. When the judge pro-
nounced his doom, all Carew asked was for a friend to
speak with a little while aside. This the court allowed;
so he sent for me—we played together with Henslowe, he
and I, ye know. He had not much to say—for once in
his life,”—here Master Shakspere smiled pityingly,—“ but
he sent his love forever to his only daughter Cicely.”

Cicely was sitting up, listening with wide eyes, and
eagerly nodded her head as if to say, “Of course.”

“He also begged of Nicholas Attwood that he would
forgive him whatever wrong he had done him.”

“Why, that I will, sir,’ choked Nick, brokenly ; “he was
wondrous kind to me, except that he would na leave
me go.”

“ After that,” continued Master Shakspere, “he made
known to me a sliding panel in the wainscot of his house,
wherein was hidden all he had on earth to leave to those
he loved the best, and who, he hoped, loved him.”

“Everybody loves my father,” said Cicely, smiling and
nodding again. Master Jonson put his arm around the
back of her chair, and she leaned her head upon it.

“Carew said that he had marked upon the bags which
were within the panel the names of the persons to whom

winnie ia i a
294 MASTER SKYLARK

they were to go, and had me swear, upon my faith as a
Christian man, that I would see them safely delivered ac-
cording to his wish. This being done, and the end come,
he kissed me on both cheeks, and standing bravely up,
spoke to them all, saying that for a man such as he had
been it was easier to end even so than to go on. I never
saw him again.”

The great writer of plays paused a moment, and his lips
moved as if he were saying a prayer. Master Burbage
crossed himself.

“The bags were found within the wall, as he had said,
and were sealed by Ben Jonson and myself until we should
find the legatees—for they had disappeared as utterly as
if the earth had gaped and swallowed them. But, by the
Father’s grace, we have found them safe and sound at last;
and all ’s well that ends well!”

Here he turned the buckskin bags around.

On one, in Master Carew’s school-boy scrawl, was
printed, “For myne Onelie Beeloved Doghter, Cicely
Carew”; on the other, “For Nicholas Attewode, alias —
Mastre Skie-lark, whom I, Gaston Carew, Player, Stole
Away from Stratford Toune, Anno Domini 1596.”

Nick stared ; Cicely clapped her hands; and Simon Att-
wood sat down dizzily.

“There,” said Master Shakspere, pointing to the second
bag, “are one hundred and fifty gold rose-nobles. In the
other just three hundred more. Neighbor Attwood, we
shall have no paupers here.”

Everybody laughed then and clapped their hands, and
ALL ’8 WELL THAT ENDS WELL 295

the London players gave a rousing cheer. Master Ben
Jonson’s shout might have been heard in Market Square.

At this tremendous uproar the servants peeped at the
doors and windows; and Tom Boteler, peering in from
the buttery hall, and seeing the two round money-bags
plumping on the table, crept away with such a look of
amazement upon his face that Mollikins, the scullery-maid,
thought he had seen a ghost, and fled precipitately into
the pantry.

“And what ’s more, Neighbor Tanner,” said Master
Richard Burbage, “had Carew’s daughter not sixpence to
her name, we vagabond players, as ye have had the scanty
grace to dub us, would have cared for her for the honour
of the craft, and reared her gently in some quiet place
where there never falls even the shadow of such evil
things as have been the end of many a right good fellow
beside old Kit Marlowe and Gaston Carew.”

“And to that end, Neighbor Attwood,” Master Shakspere
added, “we have, through my young Lord Hunsdon, who
has just been made State Chamberlain, Her Majesty’s
gracious permission to hold this money in trust for the
little maid as guardians under the law.”

Cicely stared around perplexed. “Won't Nick be
there?” she asked. “Why, then I will not go—they shall
not take thee from me, Nick!” and she threw her arms
around him. “I ’m going to stay with thee till daddy
comes, and be thine own sister forever.”

Master Jonson laughed gently, not his usual roaring
laugh, but one that was as tender as his own bluff heart.
296 MASTER SKYLARK

“Why, good enough, good enough! The woman who
mothered a lad like Master Skylark here is surely fit to
rear the little maid.”

The London players thumped the table. “Why, ’t is
the very trick,” said Hemynge. “Marry, this is better
than a play.”

“Tt is indeed,” quoth Condell. “See the plot come
out!”

“Thou ‘lt do it, Attwood—why, of course thou ’lt do it,”
said Master Shakspere. “’T is an excellent good plan.
These funds we hold in trust will keep thee easy-minded,
and warrant thee in doing well by both our little folks.
And what ’s more,” he cried, for the thought had just
come in his head, “TI have ever heard thee called an honest
man; hard, indeed, perhaps too hard, but honest as the
day is long. Now I need a tenant for this New Place of
mine—some married man with a good housewife, and
children to be delving in the posy-beds outside. What
sayst thou, Simon Attwood? They tell me thy ’prentice,
Job Hortop, is to marry in July—he ‘ll take thine old
house at a fair rental. Why, here, Neighbor Attwood,
thou toil-worn, time-damaged tanner, bless thy hard old
heart, man, come, be at ease—thou hast ground thy soul
out long enough! Come, take me at mine offer—be my
fellow. The rent shall trickle off thy finger-tips as easily
as water off a duck’s back!”

Simon Attwood arose from the chair where he had been
sitting. There was a bewildered look upon his face, and
he was twisting his horny fingers together until the
ALL ’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL 297

knuckles were white. His lips parted as if to speak, but
-he only swallowed very hard once or twice instead, and
looked around at them all. “Why, sir,” he said at length,
looking at Master Shakspere, “why, sirs, all of ye—I ha’
been a hard man, and summat of a fool, sirs, ay, sirs, a
very fool. I ha) misthought and miscalled ye foully many
a time, and many a time. God knows I be sorry for it
from the bottom o’ my heart!” And with that he sat
down and buried his face in his arms among the dishes on
the buffet.

“Nay, Simon Attwood,” said Master Shakspere, going
to his side and putting his hand upon the tanner’s shoulder,
“thou hast only been mistaken, that is all. Come, sit thee
up. Tosee thyself mistaken is but to be the wiser. Why,
never the wisest man but saw himself a fool a thousand
times. Come, I have mistaken thee more than thou hast
me; for, on my word, I thought thou hadst no heart at
all—and that’s far worse than having one which has but
gone astray. Come, Neighbor Attwood, sit thee up and
eat with us.”

“Nay, Ill go home,” said the tanner, turning his face
away that they might notseehistears. “Ibea spoil-sport
and a mar-feast here.”

“Why, by Jupiter, man!” cried Master Jonson, bringing
his fist down upon the board witha thump that made the
spoons all clink, “thou art the very merry-maker of the
feast. A full heart’s better than a surfeit any day. Don’t
let him go, Will—this sort of thing doth make the whole
world kin! Come, Master Attwood, sit thee down, and
298 MASTER SKYLARK

make thyself at home. ’T is not my house, but ’t is my
friend’s, and so ’t is all the same in the Lowlands. Be
free of us and welcome.”

“T thank ye, sirs,” said the tanner, slowly, turning to
the table with rough dignity. “Ye ha’ been good to my
boy. Ill ne’er forget ye while I live. Oh, sirs, there be
kind hearts in the world that I had na dreamed of. But,
masters, I ha’ said my say, and know na more. Your
pleasure wunnot be my pleasure, sirs, for I be only a com-
mon man. I will go home to my wife. There be things
to say before my boy comes home; and I ha’ muckle need
to tell her that I love her—I ha’ na done so these many
years.”

“Why, Neighbor Tanner,” cried Master Jonson, with
flushing cheeks, “thou art a right good fellow! And
here was I, no later than this morning, red-hot to spit thee
upon my bilbo like a Michaelmas goose!” He laughed a
boyish laugh that did one’s heart good to hear.

“ Ay,” said Master Shakspere, smiling, as he and Simon
Attwood looked into each other’s eyes. “Come, neighbor,
I know thou art my man—so do not go until thou drinkest
one good toast with us, for we are all good friends and
true from this day forth. Come, Ben, a toast to fit the cue.”

“Why, then,” replied Master Jonson, in a good round
voice, rising in his place, “here ’s to all kind hearts!”

“Wherever they may be!” said Master Shakspere,
softly. “It is a good toast, and we will all drink it
together.”

And so they did. And Simon Attwood went away with
ALL ’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL 299

a warmth and a tingling in his heart he had never known
before.

“Margaret,” said he, coming quickly in at the door, as
she went silently about the house with a heavy heart
preparing the supper, “ Margaret.”

She dropped the platter upon the board, and came to
him hurriedly, fearing evil tidings.

He took her by the hands. This, even more than his
unusual manner, alarmed her. ‘Why, Simon,” she cried,
“what is it? What has come over thee?”

“Nought,” he replied, looking down at her, his hard
face quivering; “but I love thee, Margaret.”

“Simon, what dost thou mean?” faltered Mistress Att-
wood, her heart going down like lead.

“Nought, sweetheart—but that I love thee, Margaret,
and that our lad is coming home!”

Her heart seemed to stop beating.

“Margaret,” said he, huskily, “I do love thee, lass. Is
it too late to tell thee so?”

“Nay, Simon,” answered his wife, simply, “’t is never
toolateto mend.” And with that she langhed—but in the
middle of her laughing a tear ran down her cheek.

From the windows of the New Place there came a great
sound of men singing together, and this was the quaint
old song they sang:

“Then here ’s a health to all kind hearts
Wherever they may be;
For kindly hearts make but one kin
Of all humanity.
300 MASTER SKYLARK

And here’s a rouse to all kind hearts
Wherever they be found;

For it is the throb of kindred hearts
Doth make the world go round!”

“Why, Will,” said Master Burbage, slowly setting down
his glass, “’t is altogether a midsummer night’s dream.”

“So it is, Dick,” answered Master Shakspere, with a
smile, and a far-away look in his eyes. “Come, Nicholas,
wilt thou not sing for us just the last few little lines of
‘When Thou Wakest,’ out of the play?”

Then Nick stood up quietly, for they all were his good
friends there, and Master Drayton held his hand while he
sang:

“Every man shall take his own,
In your waking shall be shown:
Jack shall have Jill,
Nought shall go ill,
The man shall have his mare again, and all shall be well!”

They were very still for a little while after he had done,
and the setting sun shone in at the windows across the
table. Then Master Shakspere said gently, “It is a good
place to end.”

“ Ay,” said Master Jonson, “it is.”

So they all got up softly and went out into the garden,
where there were seats under the trees among the rose-
bushes, and talked quietly among themselves, saying not
much, yet meaning a great deal.

But Nick and Cicely said “Good-night, sirs,” to them
all, and bowed; and Master Shakspere himself let them
ALL ’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL 301

out at the gate, the others shaking Nick by the hand with
many kind wishes, and throwing kisses to Cicely until
they went out of sight around the chapel corner.

When the children came to the garden-gate in front of
Nick’s father’s house, the red roses still twined in Cicely’s
hair, Simon Attwood and his wife Margaret were sitting
together upon the old oaken settle by the door, looking
out into the sunset. And when they saw the children
coming, they arose and came through the garden to
meet them, Nick’s mother with outstretched hands, and her
face bright with the glory of the setting sun. And when
she came to where he was, the whole of that long, bitter
year was nothing any more to Nick.

For then—ah, then—a lad and his mother; a son come
home, the wandering ended, and the sorrow done!

She took him to her breast as though he were a baby
still; her tears ran down upon his face, yet she was smil-
ing—a smile like which there is no other in all the world:
a mother’s smile upon her only son, who was astray, but
has come home again.

Oh, the love of a lad for his mother, the love of a
mother for her son—unchanged, unchanging, for right,
for wrong, through grief and shame, in joy, in peace, in
absence, in sickness, and in the shadow of death! Oh,
mother-love, beyond all understanding, so holy that words
but make it common !

“My boy!” was all she said; and then, “My boy—my
little boy!”

And after a while, “Mother,” said he, and took her face
802 MASTER SKYLARK

between his strong young hands, and looked into her
happy eyes, “mother dear, I ha’ been to London town; I
ha’ been to the palace, and I ha’ seen the Queen; but,
mother,” he said, with a little tremble in his voice, for all
he smiled so bravely, “I ha’ never seen the place where I
would rather be than just where thou art, mother dear!”

The soft gray twilight gathered in the little garden;
far-off voices drifted faintly from the town. The day
was done. Cool and still, and filled with gentle peace,
the starlit night came down from the dewy hills; and
Cicely lay fast asleep in Simon Attwood’s arms.
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