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Title: William Shakespeare as he lived. - An Historical Tale
Author: Curling, Henry
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                         WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

                             AS HE LIVED.

                         An Historical Tale.

                         BY CAPTAIN CURLING,

      AUTHOR OF "JOHN OF ENGLAND." "SOLDIER OF FORTUNE."


    "Sweet are the uses of adversity,
    Which like the toad, ugly and venomous,
    Wears yet a precious jewel in his head."

    _As you Like it._


    _WARWICK_:

    H. T. COOKE & SON, PUBLISHERS, HIGH STREET.

    (COPYRIGHT.)



PREFACE.


The nature of the following work is sufficiently indicated by the title.
In it the most interesting portions of the career of Shakespeare, taken
from the best accredited sources, are brought forward in a pleasing
narrative, the dialogue being in the style of the Elizabethan period.

Throughout the work the writer has endeavoured, amidst a great deal of
stirring incident, and a subordinate tale of much interest, to place the
Poet constantly before the reader, whether on or off the scene. The
story commences when he was about seventeen years of age, and carries
him through some of the eventful "chances" of that glorious epoch which
called forth his own "muse of fire," and caused him to ascend "the
brightest heaven of invention;" and, after showing him the sharp "uses
of adversity," leaves him at the moment of success, whilst Elizabeth and
the entire Court-circle are turned to him whose matchless genius has
just enchanted them.



CONTENTS.


CHAPTER I. A Forest Scene

CHAPTER II. The Youthful Shakespeare

CHAPTER III. Charlotte Clopton

CHAPTER IV. The Family of the Cloptons

CHAPTER V. A Domestic Party in Elizabeth's Day

CHAPTER VI. A Disagreeable Visitor

CHAPTER VII. Plots and Counterplots

CHAPTER VIII. Stratford-upon-Avon

CHAPTER IX. The Tavern

CHAPTER X. The Churchyard of Stratford-upon-Avon

CHAPTER XI. The Stratford Lawyer

CHAPTER XII. The Sonnet

CHAPTER XIII. Mother and Son

CHAPTER XIV. The Lovers

CHAPTER XV. Charlecote

CHAPTER XVI. The Attack

CHAPTER XVII. The Capture

CHAPTER XVIII. A Revel at Clopton

CHAPTER XIX. The Plague at Stratford

CHAPTER XX. More Trouble at Clopton

CHAPTER XXI. Domestic Affliction

CHAPTER XXII. Bereavement

CHAPTER XXIII. The Vault

CHAPTER XXIV. The Village Fete--Ann Hathaway

CHAPTER XXV. The Twelfth-tide Revelry

CHAPTER XXVI. The Misled Wanderer

CHAPTER XXVII. The Suitor

CHAPTER XXVIII. Shottery Hall

CHAPTER XXIX. The Lovers

CHAPTER XXX. The Adventurers

CHAPTER XXXI. The Benedict

CHAPTER XXXII. The Hostel

CHAPTER XXXIII. The Deer Stealers

CHAPTER XXXIV. The Adventure

CHAPTER XXXV. More Matter for a May Morning

CHAPTER XXXVI. The Lampoon

CHAPTER XXXVII. The Garden

CHAPTER XXXVIII. The Flight to London

CHAPTER XXXIX. Old London

CHAPTER XL. The Poor Player

CHAPTER XLI. The Tavern Revel

CHAPTER XLII. More Strange than True

CHAPTER XLIII. England on the Defensive

CHAPTER XLIV. The Boar's Head, in East Cheap

CHAPTER XLV. The Camp at Tilbury

CHAPTER XLVI. The Invincible Armada

CHAPTER XLVII. The Player at Court

CHAPTER XLVIII. Sir Thomas Lucy in London

CHAPTER XLIX. The Theatre of the Blackfriars

CHAPTER L. The Scenic Hour

CHAPTER LI. The Tavern

CHAPTER LII. The Player in his Lodging

CHAPTER LIII. The Poet and his Patron

CHAPTER LIV. A Consultation

CHAPTER LV. Ill Weaved Ambition

CHAPTER LVI. The Associates

CHAPTER LVII. The Poet and his Friends

CHAPTER LVIII. Stratford and its Neighbourhood

CHAPTER LIX. Kenilworth

CHAPTER LX. The Return

CHAPTER LXI. The Discomfited Scrivener

CHAPTER LXII. Old Friends

CHAPTER LXIII. Which ends this strange eventful History



WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE AS HE LIVED,

STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, AND QUEEN ELIZABETH.



CHAPTER I.

A FOREST SCENE.


It was one morning, during the reign of Elizabeth, that a youth, clad in
a grey cloth doublet and hose (the usual costume of the respectable
country tradesman or apprentice in England), took his early morning
stroll in the vicinity of a small town in Warwickshire.

Lovely as is the scenery in almost every part of this beautiful county,
which exhibits, perhaps, the most park-like and truly English picture in
our island, it was (at the period of our story) far more beautiful than
in its present state or cultivated improvement.

The thick and massive foliage of its woods, in Elizabeth's day, were to
be seen in all the luxuriance of their native wildness, unpruned,
unthinned, untouched by the hand of man, representing in their bowery
beauty the wild uncontrolled woodlands of Britain, when waste, and wold,
and swamp, and thicket constituted all.

The fern-clad undulations and forest glades around, too, at this period,
were peopled by the wild and herded deer--those "poor, dappled
fools--the native burghers of the desert city"--which, couched in their
own confines, their antlered heads alone seen in some sequestered spot
amongst the long grass, gave an additional charm to the locality they
haunted, in all the freedom of unmolested range, from park to forest,
and from glade to thicket.

In these bosky bournes and sylvan retreats, unmolested then by the axe
of an encroaching population; nay, almost untrodden, save by the
occasional forester or the fierce outlaw; the gnarled oaks threw their
broad arms over the mossy carpet, giving so deep a shade in many parts,
that the rays of the mid-day sun were almost intercepted, and the silent
forest seemed dark, shadowy, and massive, as when the stately tramp of
the soldiery of Rome sounded beneath its boughs.

As the youth cleared the enclosures in the immediate vicinity of the
town, and brushed the dew from the bladed grass on nearing the more
sylvan scene, the deep tones of the clock, from the old dark tower of
the church, struck the third hour. The sound arrested him; he paused,
and turning, gazed for some moments upon the buildings now seen emerging
from the mint of early morning. At this hour no sign of life--no stir
was to be observed in the town.

    "The cricket sang, and man's o'er-labour'd sense
    Repaired itself by rest."

Although the youth looked upon a scene familiar to his eye (for it was
the place of his birth, and from whence as yet his truant steps had
scarcely measured a score of miles), his capable eye dwelt upon every
point of interest and beauty in the surrounding picture.

He had reached the age when the poetry of life begins to be felt; when
an incipient longing for society of the softer sex, and an anxiety to
look well in the eyes of the fair; to deserve well of woman, and to be
thought a sort of soldier-servant and defender of beauty, is mixed up
with the sterner ambitions of manhood.

Perhaps few forms would have been more likely to captivate the fancy of
the other sex than the figure and face of this youth, as he stood at
gaze in the clear morning air, and contemplated the landscape around. In
shape, he was slightly but elegantly formed, and his well-knit limbs
were seen to advantage in the close-fitting but homely suit he wore.
Added to this figure of a youthful Apollo, was a countenance of genius,
intelligence, and beauty, peculiarly indicative of the mind of the
owner. His costume, we have already said, was homely; it was, indeed,
but one remove from the dress of the common man of the period. A gray
doublet of coarse cloth, edged or guarded with black, and tight-fitting
trunks and hose of the same material; to those were added a common felt
hat with steeple crown, and shoes without rosettes. In his hand he
carried a stout quarter-staff, shod with iron at either end. No costume,
however, could disguise or alter the nobility of look and gallant
bearing of that youth. After regarding the view presented to him in the
clear morning air for some moments, he turned, leaped the last enclosure
which pertained to the suburbs of the town, and pursued his way through
a wild chase or park, avoiding the more thick woods on his right.

How slight and trivial are sometimes the accidents which control the
fate of man!

On setting out from his own home, the stripling had intended to traverse
the woodlands which lay between his native town and Warwick, in order to
keep an appointment he had made with some youthful associates of the
latter place--some wild and reckless young men with whom he had lately
become acquainted. The church clock, however, whilst it informed him he
had anticipated the hour, determined him to change his intention of
going straight to the trysting-place, and he turned his steps in a
different direction. He therefore left the deep woodlands on his right,
and sought the enclosures of Clopton Hall.

This change of purpose, in all probability, saved the life of the
handsome lad. As he turned from the woodlands on his right, and sought
the fern-clad chase and plantations in which Clopton Hall is embosomed,
a tall, fierce-looking man, clad in the well-worn suit of a ranger or
forester, stepped from the thick cover. As he did so, the forester
lowered a cross-bow, with which he had been taking a steady aim at the
stripling, from his shoulder, and stood and watched him till he
disappeared.

"Now the red pestilence strike him," said the man. "He has again escaped
me. But an I give him not the death of a fat buck ere many days are over
his head, may my bow-string be the halter that hangs me."

"Nay, comrade," said a second forester, at that moment coming forward,
"believe me, 'tis better as it is; thou must e'en drop this business,
and satisfy thy revenge by a less matter than murder. I half suspected
thy intent, and, therefore, have I followed thee. Come," he continued,
"thou must, I say, forgive the affront this lad has put upon thee."

"May the fiend take me then!" returned the ruffian.

"Nay, thou art most likely the property of St. Nicholas methinks.
Whatsoever thou dost," said the other, "certainly he will catch thee by
the back if thou should harm this youngster."

"Why, look ye," said his fellow. "Have I not reason for what I do? The
varlet (who I shrewdly suspect hath an eye upon the deer) constantly
haunts our woods. Not a nook, not a secluded corner, not a thicket but
he knows of, and explores. At all hours of the day, and even at night,
have I caught sight of him wandering alone. Sometimes I have seen him,
lying along, book in hand, under a huge oak, in Fullbrook wood; at other
times I have watched him as he stood in the twilight beside the brook,
which flows through Charlecote Park. As often as I have tried to gain
speech with and warn him from our haunts, he has been ware of me;
plunging into the covert (nimble as a stag), so escaped.

"Once, however, I came warily behind him while he stood watching the
deer as they swept along a glade in Fullbrook; and heard him repeating
words which rivetted me to the spot, nay almost took from me the power
of accosting him. Not, however, to be outworded by a boy, I pounced upon
him."

"Go to!" said the other laughing, "then you collared him, I suppose, and
took him off to the head-ranger to give an account of his trespass.
Was't not so! Eh?"

"You shall hear," returned the ranger. "At first I felt too much respect
to rebuke him. There was something in his look I could not away with. He
seemed somewhat angered too at being molested and caught by surprise;
and there was that in his eye which could look down a lion, methought.
After awhile, however, I gave him some of my mind, threatened to report
his trespass to the knight our master, and to give him a taste of the
stocks, or the cage."

"Good," said his fellow, laughing. "You said well!"

"Nay, 'twas not so good either, as it turned out," said the ranger.

"How so?" inquired his comrade.

"Why, he took my rebuke mildly at first, merely saying he sought not to
molest the game, but only to enjoy the liberty, freedom, and leisure of
the wild woods."

"Well," interrupted the other, "between ourselves, that seems natural
enough. But, an all the lads in the country were to do the same, they
would soon drive the deer from their haunts, and render our trade a poor
one."

"So I told him; and that I should not be so easy the next time I caught
him straying in our woods. Nay, that I would then, indeed, cudgel him
like a dog."

"Ha! ha! and how took he that threat?"

"Mass! I would you could have seen how he took it," said the irate
ranger, "for I shall never forget the change it wrought. He looked at me
with an eye of fire, reared himself up like a startled steed, and railed
on me in such terms as I think never man either heard or spoke before.
Nay, an I had not known he was the son of a trader here in Stratford, I
had taken him for the heir of some grandee, for never heard I before
such a tongue, or such words of fire."

"Go to!" said the other; "and how answered ye that?"

"At first I felt awed; but, when he dared me but to raise a finger in
the way of assault, and stirred my wrath so, that I laid hands on him,
he struck me to the earth; when I rose, and again attacked him, despite
my skill at quarter-staff, he cudgelled me to his heart's content."

"What, yonder lad?"

"Ay, yonder boy! His strength and skill were so great that, had I not
cried _peccavi_, I had died under his blows."

"And for this you are resolved to shoot him!"

"I am! I cannot forget the disgrace of his quarter-staff. My very bones
ache now at the bare remembrance."

"Aye, but thou must forget it, comrade," said the other; "for to shoot
him, look ye, might get the rangers all into trouble. He hath, you see,
gone out of our bounds this morning; but let us follow, and if we find
him we will both beat him. As far as that goes, I am your man. 'Tis
allowable, and in the way of business. But for shooting the lad--fie
on't! 'tis cowardly and dangerous. Ever while you live, forbear your
bullet on a defenceless person."

"Well, be it so!" said his fellow. "I agree. He hath had the best of me,
for once in his life. But, at least, will I be revenged:--blow for
blow."

"Hath he good friends, said ye?"

"None of note."

"What then is his father?"

"The wool-comber who dwells in Henley Street."

"Enough! Now let us but catch him, and by 'r lady, we'll beat him so
that he shall scarce disport his curiosity amongst our woods again."

"Nay, but if we kill him?" said the other, with a sneer.

"Then must our master bear us out; we are hired to keep off all lurking
knaves. By fair means or foul, it must be done. An we kill him, we'll
e'en knock over a buck, and lay it to's charge. Swear we caught him
red-handed in the fact, and there an end."



CHAPTER II.

THE YOUTHFUL SHAKESPEARE.


About a couple of hours after the above conversation between the two
rangers, the subject of it might have been seen lying along, "like a
dropt acorn," book in hand, under cover of the thick belt of plantation
skirting the grounds of Clopton Hall. Occasionally, his gaze would turn
upon the huge twisted chimneys and casements of the building, just now
beginning to show symptoms of life. The thin blue smoke mounted into the
clear air, and the diamond panes of the windows glittered in the morning
sun. At this period the sports of the field formed the almost daily
avocation of the country gentlemen in England. Men rose with the sun,
and with hawk and hound and steed commenced the day at once. Scarce was
the substantial breakfast thought of till it had been earned in the free
air, amidst the woods and glades. Accordingly, as our student lay perdue
in the covert, he beheld the falconer of the household of Clopton with
the ready hawk, the grooms with the caparisoned steeds, the coupled
hounds, and all the paraphernalia of the field.

The family of the Cloptons were not altogether unknown to the youth, and
the hall being only a mile from the town, Sir Hugh was a sort of patron
of Stratford, and in constant intercourse with the inhabitants.

As his party had oft-times ridden through the streets, our hero had
scarce failed to remark amongst the cavalcade a beautiful female of some
seventeen years of age. This fair vision, who with hawk on hand, looked
some nymph or goddess of the chase, was, indeed, the only daughter of
Sir Hugh Clopton.

To one of the ardent and poetic soul of our young friend, the mere
passing glance of so exquisite a creature as Charlotte Clopton had
suggested more than one sonnet descriptive of her beauty. Yes, the
glance of the lowly poet from beneath the pent-house which constituted
the shop of his father, had called forth verses which, even at this
early period of his life, surpassed all that ever had been penned; and
Charlotte Clopton first caused him to write a stanza in praise of
beauty. At this early period of his life, too, his fine mind teemed with
the germs of those thoughts which, in afterdays, brought forth so many
lovely flowers. The impression of his own passionate feelings in youth
furnished him with the ideas from which to pourtray the exquisitely
tender scenes of his after-life.

To a youth of spirit, the sight of preparation for the sports of the
field was full of excitement. Most men love the chase, but mostly those
of a bold determined courage.

Participation in the sports of people of condition was, however, denied
to the lad, as his condition in life barred him from aught beside the
sight of others so engaged. His capacious mind conceived, however, at a
glance, all the mysteries of wood-craft, and his truant disposition
leading him to become a frequent trespasser, the haunts and habits of
the wild denizens of the woods were familiar to him.

If, therefore, he was debarred from following the chase himself, he
loved to see the hunt sweep by--

    "When the skies, the fountains, every region near,
    Seemed all one mutual cry."

In addition to this, there was an insatiable craving after information
of every kind. He had been educated at the Free School of his native
town, and had far outstripped all competitors in such lore as the
academy afforded, and he now perused every book he could procure, making
himself master of the subjects they treated of with wonderful facility.
He was drinking in knowledge (if we may so term it) wherever it could be
reached; whilst, in his truant hours, no shrub, no herb, no plant in
nature escaped his piercing ken.

His exquisite imagination, unfettered and free as the air he breathed in
the lovely scenery of his native country, created worlds of fancy, and
peopled them with beings which only himself could have conceived. In the
solitude of the deep woods he loved to dream away the hours.

    "On hill or dale, forest or mead,
    By paved fountain, or by rushy brook,"

it was his wont to imagine the elfin crew, as they "danced their
ringlets to the whistling wind."

It was observed, too, amongst his youthful associates, that he seemed to
know things by intuition. Those who were brought up to the different
mechanical trades in the town or neighbourhood found in him a master of
the craft at which they had worked. "Whence comes this knowledge," they
inquired of each other, "and where hath he found time to pick it up?"
"Body o' me," his father would oft-times say, "but where hath our
William learnt all this lore? Thus worded too! Master Cramboy, of the
Free School, albeit he comes here continually to supper, and uses
monstrous learned words in his discourse, never tells us of such things
as this lad discourses to us." Neither was all this superfluous
knowledge, "ill inhabited like Jove in a thatched house." He was already
a poet, turned things to shape, and gave to airy nothing

    "A local habitation and a name."



CHAPTER III.

CHARLOTTE CLOPTON.


Clopton Hall was situated in a sort of wild chase, or park, in which
hundreds of broad, short-stemmed oaks grew at distant intervals; and
through this chase a deep trench had been cut in former days by the
legions of Rome, the thick plantation which formed the belt immediately
around the house being just in rear of the Roman ditch.

The hawking party, on this morning, as they gradually assembled and
mounted their steeds in the court of the mansion, rode through the
gate-house, along the avenue and into the chase. Here they breathed
their coursers and careered about till Sir Hugh had mustered the
different servitors and attendants appertaining to a matter of so much
moment as his morning diversion, and was ready to go forth.

As they did so, the youth noticed the lady he had before seen, and whose
exquisite form had made some slight impression upon his imagination.
Nothing could be more skilful than the way in which she managed her
horse, he thought--nothing more lovely and graceful than she altogether
appeared. The steed she rode was a magnificent animal, and one which
none but a most perfect horsewoman could have backed; and as he plunged,
and "yerked out his heels," he shewed his delight at being in the free
air, and proved "the metal of his pasture."

It was a fair sight to behold one so delicately formed as that lady
restrain the ferocity, and, by her noble horsemanship, reduce to
subjection the wild spirit of that courser; and so thought the studious
boy in the gray jerkin.

Well, however, as she had hitherto managed the animal, now that it was
growing even more excited by the number of horses around, it seemed
every instant becoming more and more unruly. It was in vain that a tall
handsome cavalier, who had kept an anxious eye for some time upon the
movements of her horse, now spurred his own steed beside the lady, and
kept near her bridle-rein. The brute reared, and stood for a few
moments, striking wildly with his fore feet. After a while, however, and
whilst all sat in helpless alarm, the lady still keeping her seat, the
steed recovered himself, plunged forwards, and bolted from the party.

Few situations could be more perilous than that which Charlotte Clopton
now found herself in; few more distressing to the spectators to witness;
since to attempt aid is oft-times to hasten the catastrophe.

To follow a runaway steed, in the hope of overtaking it is, perhaps, one
of the worst plans that can be adopted, as the very companionship of the
pursuing horse is sure to urge on and accelerate the pace of the flyer.

Yet this course the tall dark cavalier (who seemed Charlotte Clopton's
principal esquire) unhappily adopted.

As he beheld the maddened horse tearing across the park, swerving
amongst the oak trees, and threatening every instant to dash out the
brains of the rider amongst the branches, he set spurs to his own
courser, and galloped after her. It was in vain that Sir Hugh shouted to
him to return. In vain he roared and railed, and called to him that he
would murder his child by such folly.

The lady, however, kept her seat. She managed even to guide her steed
into the more open part of the chase. For (like the mariner in the
storm) she well knew that whilst the tempest roars loudest, the open sea
gives the vessel the better chance.

The sound of the horse following, however, totally ruined her plan, and
rendered her own steed more determined. He flung aside, turned from the
direction his rider had coaxed him into, and galloped towards the spot
where our hero was standing amidst the trees. It was by no means
difficult to conjecture that destruction to the beautiful creature, thus
borne along as if on one of the "couriers of the air," was almost
inevitable.

The next minute, as the youth of the grey doublet, in a state of
breathless anxiety, stood and watched this race, himself concealed in
the thick foliage, the horse (like some wild deer seeking cover) plunged
headlong into the Roman ditch.

The entrenchment was of considerable depth, so that both steed and
rider, for the moment, disappeared below the grassy ridge. It was,
however, but for a moment: the next, the maddened steed sprung up the
opposite bank.

The rider was, however, no longer on his back: she had been cast
headlong from the saddle, and our hero saw, with terror, that her
riding-gear was entangled on the saddle, and that she was being dragged
along the ground by its side.

But few minutes of exposure to such a situation, and that sweet face had
been spurned out of the form of humanity, and her delicate limbs broken,
torn, and lacerated. But the youth (although he saw at once that it
would be vain to attempt to arrest the powerful brute by seizing the
bridle) in a moment resolved upon a bolder measure. As the horse neared
him, he rushed from his concealment and (ere it could swerve from his
reach), with the full swing of his heavy quarter-staff, struck the
animal full upon its forehead, and with the iron at the extremity of his
weapon, fractured its skull.

So truly and well was the blow delivered, that the steed fell as if
struck by a butcher's pole-axe, and the next instant was a quivering
carcase upon the grass.

In another moment the achiever of this deed had unsheathed the sharp
dagger he wore at his waist-belt, cut away the entangled garment of the
lady from the saddle, and was kneeling beside her insensible form. As he
did so, he felt that he could have spent hours in gazing upon those
lovely features.

Meanwhile, the cavalier who had followed (but who reined up his horse
when he observed the steed of the lady dash down the slope, and then
remained gazing on all that followed in a state of utter helplessness),
as soon as he beheld the extraordinary manner in which she had been
succoured, again set spurs to his horse.

Dashing recklessly across the Roman trench, he galloped to the spot, and
throwing himself from the saddle, snatched the lady from the supporting
arms of her rescuer.

There was a retiring diffidence, an innate modesty about the youth who
had aided the lady, which kept him from intrusion. Nevertheless, he felt
hurt at the manner in which the handsome cavalier had snatched her from
his arms. His indomitable spirit prompted him almost to thrust back that
officious friend, and like Valentine, exclaim--

    "Thurio, give place, or else embrace thy death;
    I dare thee but to look upon my love!"

The next moment, however, remembrance of his own condition, and the
station in life of her he had saved, flashed across his brain. He drew a
pace or two back, and recollected how far removed he was from her he had
so promptly succoured. As for the attendant cavalier, he seemed to see
nothing but the still insensible form he hung over. "Oh! thank heaven.
Oh! thank heaven, she breathes," he said wildly, "she is not dead--speak
to me, Charlotte--speak but one word to your poor cousin, if but to
assure him of your safety."

"I think she is recovering, fair sir," said the youth, again
approaching. "See, she opens her eyes."

"She does--she does!" said the cavalier, as he raised her in his arms.
"I would we had a few drops of water to sprinkle in her face; 'twould do
much towards hastening her recovery."

"That shall she soon have," said the youth; and darting off, he hastened
towards a rivulet, which, brawling along on the other side of the
plantation, ran through the marsh land beyond, and emptied itself into
the Avon.

Taking off his high-crowned hat, he dipped it in the stream, and
returned as speedily. As he did so he observed that Sir Hugh Clopton,
and such of his party as were mounted, had now reached the spot; whilst
the fair Charlotte, having regained her senses, was clasped in her fond
father's arms.

Handing the water to one of the attendants, he again drew back, and
leaning upon his quarter-staff, stood regarding the party unnoticed.

"Now praise be to heaven for this mercy," said Sir Hugh. "In my pride
and joy of thee, my Charlotte, I bred yonder steed for thy especial use.
I thought to see thee mounted as no other damsel in Warwickshire, and
see the result. Ha, by my halidame, I swear to thee, that had not the
brute perished in his own wilfulness I had killed him with this hand."

"Nay, blame not my poor Fairy," said the lady; "he did but follow the
bent of his joyous spirit, when he found himself in the fresh pasture.
'Twas thy timely succour, coz," she said, turning to the tall cavalier
beside her, "which I suspect saved me when I fell."

"By my troth then, nephew," said the old knight, grasping the youth's
hand, "'twas well done of thee, and thou hast redeemed thy first fault
in following the runaway horse."

"Alas, uncle," said the cavalier, "I fear me I have redeemed no fault,
neither deserve I any praise. I saw my fair cousin cast headlong to the
earth, and then dragged beneath the heels of yonder horse. No mortal
help, it appeared, could avail her. I felt the blood rush to my brain; I
was about to fall from my saddle, when lo, a lad stepped from beside the
trunk of yonder oak, I heard a heavy crashing blow, I saw Fairy fall as
if pierced by a bullet in the brain, and I found thee, Charlotte, saved.
And that reminds me," continued the cavalier, looking round, "he who did
this gallant deed was this moment by my side."

"Ha, say'st thou, Walter," said the burly knight, "where, then, be this
lad whom we have not even thanked for his service? Stand back, my
masters."

As Sir Hugh spoke the attendants fell back, and discovered the graceful
figure of the youth in the grey doublet, as he leant beside the tree.
The old knight immediately stepped up, and grasping the youth by the
hand, led him into the circle, whilst the young cavalier was more fully
describing to the lady the bold and instantaneous manner in which she
had been rescued.

The youth sank on one knee, and taking the lady's hand, pressed it to
his lips. "Believe me, lady," he said, "the delight I experience in
serving one so fair and exquisite, a thousand times o'erpays the duty."

"Why, gad a mercy," said the old knight, "thou art a high-flown
champion, methinks. Nevertheless, lad, we are indebted to thee in more
than we can either dilate on, or thou listen to with patience fasting.
Let us return to the house, my masters all.

"Come Sir Knight of the quarter-staff," he continued, "'fore gad, we'll
not part with thee till we have learnt how to do thee good service.

"Yet stay," he said, as he was preparing to mount, and whilst steadily
regarding the youth, "art not of the town here? Have I not seen thy
goodly visage somewhere in Stratford? Troth have I. Why man, thou art
the son of my respected neighbour, the wool-comber in Henley
Street--John Shakespeare."

"His eldest son, an it so please ye," said the youth, blushing.

"'Fore Heaven, and so thou art!" said Sir Hugh. "And what, good
Philip?--is not thy name Philip?"

"William," said the youth.

"And what good wind, then, good William Shakespeare, hath blown thee so
opportunely this morning to our neighbourhood?"

"Marry, the same wind, good Sir Hugh," said a tall, dark-looking man,
dressed in the habiliments of a forester, and accompanied by a companion
quite as ill-favoured as himself, and who at this moment thrust himself
into the circle: "the same ill wind, Sir Hugh, that makes him haunt
every wood and dell in the county."

This interruption somewhat startled the party. Sir Hugh turned and
looked at him with surprise, whilst the object of the remark of the
forester in an instant confronted the man. "Thou art an insolent
caitiff," he said, "thus to speak of one of whom thou knowest nothing."

"An I know nothing of thee," said the forester contemptuously, "'tis
more than my comrade here can testify. By the same token, thou has
stolen upon his forest-walk, 'will he, nill he,' and beaten him on his
own beat, as it were, and so put him to shame."

"And I am as like to do the same by thee with the like provocation,"
returned young Shakespeare. "Thy comrade laid hands upon me, and
dishonoured me by a blow. For the which," he continued, significantly,
"_I beat him._"

"And for which," returned the forester, "we have followed thee hither;
and, time and opportunity serving, will return the beating with
interest. Thou art warned, so look to thyself, and keep from our woods
in future."

"Gramercy," said Sir Hugh, now interrupting the dispute, "but what saucy
companions are these?"

"We are outlying keepers of Sir Thomas Lucy, of Charlecote, Sir Hugh,"
said the man, doffing his hat, and making a leg.

"Outlying, I think, by'r Lady," said Sir Hugh, "in every sense of the
word. Thou hast railed on thyself, Sir Ranger, in accusing this youth of
the offence of trespass, since thou art even now thyself trespassing
here, and putting an affront upon a youth whom it is our pleasure to
hold in good esteem. Begone, lest I give my people a hint to cudgel thee
for thy presumption."

"Nay, then our master shall hear of it," said the keeper; "an thou
encouragest those who lurch upon his grounds, the sword must settle it."

"'Tis with thy master I _will_ settle it, thou arrant knave," said Sir
Hugh; "I talk not with such caitiffs."

"And yet dost thou take up with yonder son of a trader in Stratford
town," said the fellow, with a sneer. "'Want of company,' saith the
proverb. Eh?"

"Hark ye, sirrah!" said young Shakespeare (like lightning seizing the
keeper by the green frock, and forcing him up to the dead horse),
"trader or noble, I warn thee to put no further affront upon me before
this fair company; for, by the hand that brained yon steed, I can as
easily teach thee as awful a lesson. Begone!" he continued. "I am alike
ready to meet thee on thine own or other grounds, singly or together,
with quarter-staff, or rapier and target."

The man looked cowed, he glanced towards his comrade, and both
disappeared.



CHAPTER IV.

THE FAMILY OF THE CLOPTONS.


To Charlotte Clopton the introduction of the stranger youth, the
relation her cousin gave of his opportune appearance, and the ready
manner in which he had rescued her, seemed like some dream.

Indeed, under circumstances such as she now for the first time beheld
the youthful poet, he was scarcely to be regarded, we opine, by a lady's
eye with impunity.

Rendered insensible, as we have seen, by her severe fall, on recovery
she found herself almost miraculously saved from a dreadful death.
Whilst he who had rescued her, appeared to have come to her assistance
"like some descended god."

"Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?" The heart of Charlotte
was from that moment hopelessly, irrecoverably, lost.

The family of the Cloptons was of ancient descent. Sir Hugh was a
widower, having no other offspring but the daughter we have already
introduced to our readers. Of suitors doubtless the fair Charlotte might
have had plenty and to spare; for, when broad lands are coupled with
exceeding beauty,

    "From the four corners of the earth they come
    To kiss the shrine."

Sir Hugh had, however, made election for his daughter, of one who had
been her companion from childhood, a cousin of her own, Walter Arderne.
This young man, who was now about two and twenty years of age,
absolutely doated on his affianced bride. His fortune was ample, and the
woods of Arderne could be seen from the grounds of Clopton. Added to
this he was extremely handsome, of a most amiable and generous
disposition, brave as the steel he wore, and "complete in all good grace
to grace a gentleman."

And yet withal, although Charlotte loved him as a brother, esteemed him
as a friend, and had been taught to regard him as her future husband, to
entertain any more tender feelings towards him she found impossible.

Still, Walter Arderne being thus the constant companion, the affianced
husband of Charlotte, although numerous other cavaliers saw, and seeing,
admired, their brief bow was soon made. They saw--they were smitten by
the blind bow-boy--but they felt that the prize was appropriated
worthily and withdrew.

Few men, indeed, were more worthy of a lady's eye than Walter Arderne.
Gentle, generous, and frank, as we have before described him--rich and
handsome withal--it seems scarcely possible that his fair cousin could
fail in returning the strong love he felt for her. Yet so it was, and
whether this love "chosen by another's eye" was distasteful to her, or
that she thought the near relationship any bar to a more tender feeling,
it is certain the very thought of her betrothment was disagreeable.
Still Walter had been her friend, her companion, and her champion from
childhood's hour, and under his fostering care and tuition she had
become a sort of Dian of the woods and groves. Dearly did she love the
bounding steed and the chase: the wild, the wold, the hawk, and the free
air.

Her father's wishes also were law to her, and as she found it would be a
terrible disappointment to him were she to own her dislike to a marriage
with her cousin, she had suffered the engagement to remain unchallenged.

For centuries the Cloptons had seemed a doomed race; as if some ban was
upon them they had been strangely unlucky by flood and field. Gentle by
birth, noble in spirit, and in the enjoyment of all the world could
give, they seemed doomed to be unfortunate. There was even a melancholy
about the old hall itself consequent upon the mishaps and disasters that
appeared the hereditary portion of the family. The sons were brave,
their banner ever in the van, but they fell early in the fight. The
daughters were chaste as they were beautiful, but an early grave had
almost always closed over them. Nay, the villagers called the old
manor-house the house of mourning, so invariably had most of its
numerous occupants been swept off. An old legend (they affirmed)
proclaimed this near extinction of the line of Clopton, and that the
hall would be unlucky whilst their race continued its owners.

The brave old knight, gentle and even-tempered as he was, and whom on
ordinary provocation it was difficult to anger, was peculiarly sensitive
on this subject. Any allusion to the wild legend from a servitor, or
rustic on his estate, would be sure to be followed by displeasure or
dismissal; whilst mention of it from one in his own rank would have been
considered equivalent to an invitation to the dark walk at the end of
the pleasance, armed with rapier and dagger.

Sir Hugh had beheld his children fade away, apparently of hereditary
disease, one after another in their early youth; all except the
beautiful Charlotte, the pledge of a second marriage, and whose mother
had died soon after giving birth to this their only child, and he was in
consequence tremblingly alive to the slightest alarm of accident or
illness. It was under such circumstances that Sir Hugh, in accepting the
guardianship of his nephew, had learned to look upon the well-favoured
Walter almost with the eye of a parent, and had set his heart upon a
marriage between him and his lovely child.

Under such circumstances, too, had young Shakespeare performed the piece
of service we have described,--a service beyond reward (as the old
knight worded it), beyond aught he had to bestow; and it was under such
circumstances that the youth became an occasional visitor at Clopton
Hall, where he was admitted on an equality with the inmates, and
received in a manner perhaps no other circumstances would have been
likely to lead to.

The line drawn between persons of different condition in life was then
more strictly kept, and more accurately defined than in our own day. But
the good sense of Sir Hugh led him to appreciate superior attainments
wherever they were to be found. The ignorance of youth proceeded, he
thought, from idleness; the continuance of ignorance in manhood from
pride--the pride which is less ashamed of being ignorant than of seeking
instruction. At Clopton, therefore, men of worth were received, even
though of low estate.



CHAPTER V.

A DOMESTIC PARTY IN ELIZABETH'S DAY.


On the evening of the day on which the accident had happened to
Charlotte Clopton, that lady, together with her father, her cousin
Walter, and young Shakespeare, were assembled in an ample apartment at
Clopton Hall, situate on the ground floor, the windows looking out upon
the lovely pleasure-grounds in the rear of the building. The youth had
spent the entire day at the hall, and in the society of those to whom he
had rendered so great a service.

Indeed any person (albeit he might not so well deserve consideration by
this good family) would still have been a cherished guest; nay, even an
"unmannered churl," under the same circumstances, would have been
tolerated and made much of; but in this lad, Sir Hugh and his family
found something so extraordinary, so superior, and of so amiable a
disposition, that it appeared a blessing and an honour to have him as an
associate beneath their roof.

Those who can associate with persons above them in rank, it has been
said, and yet neither disgust or affront them by over-familiarity, or
disgrace themselves by servility, prove that they are as much gentlemen
by nature as their companions are by rank and station. If our readers
wish to picture the youthful Shakespeare's first introduction into
"worshipful society," and amongst people of condition of his day, and
where he received those first impressions from which some of his
delicious scenes have been drawn, they must imagine to themselves a
large and somewhat gloomy oak-pannelled room, whose principal ornament
is the huge elaborately-carved chimney-piece, which, in truth, seems to
occupy one entire side of the apartment, and appears inclined also to
march into the very centre thereof. The apartment (albeit it was, as we
have said, by no means stinted to space, and had an exceeding quiet,
retired, and comfortable look withal) was by no means constructed or
fashioned after the more approved style of modern architecture. The
ceiling was somewhat low, traversed by an enormous beam, and cut and
carved elaborately, displaying fruits and flowers, heraldic devices of
the brave, and all those extraordinary and grotesque figures which the
cunning architects of old were so fond of inventing. On the side of the
apartment opposite the huge chimney-piece, and on which side hung
several scowling and bearded portraits, stood a sort of spinnet or
harpsichord, and beside that leant an instrument, fashioned somewhat
like a bass viol of the present day, but of a more curious form, and
elaborately inlaid with ivory, a viol-de-gamba, an instrument then much
in vogue. Two ample casements which opened inwards, and which were
festooned by creeping plants, the eglantine and sweet jessamine, and
which casements, as we have before said, looked into the green and
bowery garden, and through which the soft evening breeze of May breathed
the most exquisite perfume, gave a sort of green and fairy light to the
interior. A heavy oaken table with enormous legs was placed near the
window. Upon it were to be seen a silver salver, with several bottles of
antique and most exquisite pattern, containing liquors of comfortable
appearance and delicious flavour. These were flanked by high glasses of
Venetian workmanship. In addition to these articles, several high-backed
cane-bottomed chairs and one or two stools formed the remaining
furniture of the room, and which, in comparison with our own
over-crowded style, would perhaps have been termed only half furnished.

Nic-nacs there were few or none. Two or three dull-faced miniature
mirrors, looking all frame, hung heavily against the pannelling, and
even a cross-bow, several rapiers, one or two matchlocks, and other
weapons of ancient fashion, were to be observed; whilst, to complete the
picture, on the ample hearth (although the room constituted what in the
present day would have been called the withdrawing-room of the mansion)
sprawled several of the smaller dogs then used in field sports, and an
enormous hound, sufficiently large and powerful to pull down a stag; and
in the enjoyment of the sight and flavour of the good wines placed
before him, sat the portly form of the master of the house. Beside the
open window stood the youthful cavalier Walter Arderne, and on one of
the oaken lockers or benches in the embrazure of the casement, was
seated Charlotte Clopton. As she leant her cheek upon her hand, one
moment she gazed abstractedly into the bowery garden, the next her eyes
wandered into the softened light of the interior of the apartment, and
rested upon the features of her deliverer, young Shakespeare. This youth
stood beside the spinnet, and (unconscious of the sensation his
narrative produced upon the ears and hearts of his hearers, and of the
beauty of the description) was giving them the plot of a tale in verse
which he had that morning been perusing, when the lady's danger
interrupted him.

He related the story briefly, but in such language that his listeners
were wrapt by the recital. He even accompanied his description by some
action, and where he wished to impress his hearers more especially he
endeavoured to recollect and repeat the lines of the poem, piecing out
the story, when memory failed him, with such verses as he made for the
nonce.

In addition to these, the principal personages of our chapter, there was
one other individual in the room, who (albeit he occupied the background
of the scene, being crouched up in a corner) is also deserving of a
description.

This was a sort of hanger-on, or appendage to the establishments of the
old families of condition in England not then quite extinct--a sort of
good familiar creature, attached to the master of the house principally,
and indifferently familiar with all and sundry, in doors and out--a sort
of humorist--a privileged, seeming half idiotic, though in reality
extremely shrewd and clever companion, who used his folly "like a
stalking-horse, under cover of which, he shot his wit;" but who was
indeed more the friend than the fool of the family, and oft-times
consulted on matters of moment by the good knight.

This individual, clad in somewhat fantastic costume, fashioned by
himself, be it understood, and which it was his especial pleasure to
wear, (for Sir Hugh would by no means have forced any one in his
establishment to wear motley,) was seated in a huge high-backed
arm-chair, in a corner of the apartment, where, with his legs drawn up
under him on the cushion, his hands clasped together over his breast,
and his thumbs in his mouth, he kept a shrewd eye upon the other
occupants; the long ears of his cap every now and then, as they shook
with a sort of nervous twitch of the head, alone proclaiming that he was
not some stuffed ornament, occupying the position it was his wont
usually to choose in the apartment.

The story Shakespeare had related seemed to have made an impression on
his own youthful mind. It professed to pourtray that baneful passion
jealousy--a passion which, when once indulged, is the inevitable
destroyer of conjugal happiness. It formed one of the old romances then
in vogue amongst such as delighted in reading of the sort; for in those
days of leisure, sobriety, and lack of excitement amongst females in the
country, reading, spinning, embroidery, and other ornamental needlework,
principally occupied the hours of the elder; and out-door amusements and
music the younger. Those females who were given to literature, however,
would, in our times, have indeed been considered learned, since many
(albeit they eschewed light reading) understood both the Greek and Latin
tongues to perfection, and many were no less skilful in the Spanish,
Italian, and French.

In the narration of this story, and whilst (as we have said) young
Shakespeare gave his own version, might have been observed gleams of
that mighty genius which was, in after-times, to astonish the world.

His relation had, indeed, much of the fire and descriptive beauty which
he afterwards threw into every line of his writings. He called up before
his hearers the fiery openness of the injured husband; boundless in
confidence, ardent in affection. He touched upon the soft and gentle
simplicity of the victim; her consciousness of innocence; and her
slowness to suspect she could be suspected. And, lastly, he described
the clever devil, the fiend-like and malignant accuser, with matchless
power.

Indeed the enormity of the crime of adultery, and upon which this story
touched so forcibly, was in after days (as our readers doubtless
recollect) made by the great dramatic moralist the subject of not less
than four of his finished productions.

Another thing remarkable, and which struck all present, was the facility
with which, by a touch as it were, he ever and anon (and as if by some
incomprehensible magic of description) impressed the climate and
country, the manners and customs of the actors in this romance, upon the
hearers.

The relation had, indeed, seemed to the auditors like a dramatic
performance. The melody of the speaker's voice, and the lines he
uttered, left his audience as we sometimes feel after the scenic hour.
There was a want of some soother of the excitement produced.

The old knight felt this. He took his viol-de-gamba and drew his bow
lightly across the strings, producing that silver and somewhat solemn
sound which those who have heard the instrument so well remember--sounds
suited to the hour, age, and scene, and which give their own impressions
of days long passed away.

"Come, Charlotte," said Sir Hugh, after executing one of the pieces of
music then in vogue, "now a madrigal in which all can join. This youth
hath put a spell upon us with his sad story. Come, a madrigal; and after
that our evening meal in the garden, beneath the mulberry-tree. Do thou
take the first, whilst I and Walter chime in second and third, and
Martin shall e'en do his best to help us."

"Nay, uncle," said Martin, jerking out his legs straight before him,
then putting them to the ground gently, and then lightly executing a
sort of somersault and coming forward, "I pr'ythee hold me excused. I
shall but spoil your music: my voice is rugged. I am not gifted to sing
squealingly with a lady. A psalm or so at church, or a quaver after
supper I can execute; but my voice is like the howl of an Irish wolf
when I sing a part with the lady Charlotte: blessings on her celestial
throat."

"Nay, Martin," said Charlotte, as she seated herself, "thou wilt not
refuse when I tell thee it is to pleasure our new friend, to whom we owe
so much."

Martin glanced quickly upon Shakespeare, as she said this, and then
slowly turned his eye upon the young lady.

He stroked his chin knowingly, and seemed to be considering them both
very curiously. "Truly so," he said, "we do indeed owe much to this lad.
May God requite the debt." So saying, the familiar walked to the window,
and, looking affectionately in the handsome face of Walter, as he stood
leaning against the casement and regarding Charlotte, he put his arm
through that of the young cavalier, and remained beside him whilst the
madrigal was sung; his own fine bass voice coming in with singular
effect, and belying his modest assertion of incompetency.

To say that the voice of the lovely Charlotte delighted Shakespeare
would be to say little; he felt ravished and enchanted, and it left an
impression upon the young poet which he never forgot from that hour!

And oh! how calmly, how contentedly, and how quietly flowed the hours of
private life even during such a reign of glory as that of the great and
good Queen Bess!

In those days the whirl of events, the increasing villany of the world,
the petty doings of the actors in this vale of tears, the very minutiæ
of crime and sin, the most paltry acts "committed on this ball of
earth," in town, city, village, and hamlet were not as now, printed and
published and blown into every corner of the kingdom, a few hours after
commission. Even the leading events of the day, the acts of the great
amongst the nations of the earth, and all the stirring deeds going on in
the world, and which shook and overturned thrones; even these travelled
slowly, and though posts "came tiring on," still rumour, full of
tongues, made oft-times many slanderous reports ere the true one was
manifest.

To the country gentleman his domain was his little world, his court,
wherein he received the homage of his neighbouring dependents and
tenants.

The charm of life consisted in these pursuits, those associations--nay
even those superstitions, and those antiquated customs which modern
utilitarianism has driven from the world. Whilst, as we have said,
mighty events shook the nation, men continued to pursue their even way
in that station of life in which it had pleased Heaven to call them.

After the madrigal, the old knight, with the viol-de-gamba clutched
between his legs, fell fast asleep, his wonted custom in the evening;
and having gently relieved him from all care of the instrument by
withdrawing it from his custody, Charlotte invited the trio to a stroll
in the garden, where they held converse upon various matters,
occasionally interrupted in their discourse by the quaint sayings and
witticisms of the shrewd Martin.



CHAPTER VI.

A DISAGREEABLE VISITOR.


'Twas a pleasing picture, that old knight taking his evening nap in his
oak pannelled room, so quiet and so retired, so undisturbed, except by
the cooing of the wood-pigeon, or the distant bay of the hound in the
kennel.

The evening breeze sighed drearily through the branches of the gigantic
cedar-tree in the garden, and whispered softly through the luxuriant
plants and shrubs which hung about the diamond-paned windows.

'Tis a sweet time that evening hour, in an old mansion far removed from
the bustle of the world. The oak floor, too, in the centre of the
apartment, was coloured faintly by the many tints reflected through the
stained glass in the upper compartments of the windows, and where the
arms and crest of the Cloptons were variously multiplied and emblazoned.
The dark polished oak of the huge chimney-piece, as the shadows of
evening descended, seemed framed of iron or ebony, the grotesque
figures, here and there ornamenting the higher parts, with their
demoniac faces and satyr-like bodies, seeming ready to pounce upon
whoever came within their reach.

Whilst the old knight enjoyed his siesta, every now and then giving a
sort of start in his deep sleep, or a prolonged snore, and then
twitching his muscular face and changing his position, the door of the
apartment was gently opened, and a tall shadowy figure, after hesitating
for a few moments at the threshold, and looking round, entered
cautiously, and approaching the sleeper stood and gazed long and fixedly
at his countenance.

What a contrast might a looker-on have observed in those two faces!--the
one round, ruddy, redolent of health, and shewing no traces of guilt or
care; the other worn, pale, anxious, and cadaverous-looking. The broad
brim of the stranger's hat was drawn down and pulled low over his
forehead, his dark and grizzled hair looked thin and perished, matching
well with the iron gray of his complexion, and his forked beard,
presenting altogether a worn and haggard appearance, a man of dark
passions, evil thoughts, and sinister disposition.

After gazing for some time at Sir Hugh, the stranger laid his heavy
gauntlet upon his shoulder and suddenly awoke him.

The knight opened his eyes, stared at the dark countenance so suddenly
presented to him for a few moments, and then starting up, stepped a pace
or two back and laid his hand upon the hilt of his rapier.

The grim stranger smiled at the startled look of the old knight, "Fear
me not, Sir Hugh," he said. "I come not with intent to do thee harm."

"Fear thee," said Sir Hugh contemptuously, "wherefore should I fear? But
thou comest upon me in my secure hour here--and I know thee not. Stand
off, lest I smite thee."

"That would be a poor reception for an old friend," said the other,
smiling a grim smile.

"An old friend!" said Sir Hugh, in tones of surprise; "truly then thou
art an old friend with a new face. May heaven protect me, if ever I
looked upon that white-livered visage of thine before."

"Art thou quite sure of that, Sir Hugh Clopton?" said the stranger.
"Look again; time and care and climate have written, I dare be sworn,
strange defeatures in my face, but yet methinks twenty years ago the
name of Parry was not altogether unknown at Clopton."

"Parry!" said Sir Hugh, starting; "art thou Gilbert Parry? and what doth
the banished traitor Parry within my walls? Hence, sirrah; I wish for
the companionship of no man polluted with crimes such as thine."

"Nay, soft, Sir Hugh," said the visitor, "I come with credentials from
one thou darest not slight. Look ye, I am bearer of a letter from the
Nuncio Campeggio, and I demand speech with Father Eustace, who dwells in
thy house here."

Sir Hugh again started; he took the letter from the hand of his visitor,
and read it attentively.

"Truly," he said, "the letter is as thou say'st. In it I find I am
ordered to give thee shelter here for the space of one week; affording
thee and those with whom thou consortest such secresy and seclusion as
thou may'st desire. I dare not deny the hospitality so enjoined, but in
good sooth I had as lief thou had'st sought it elsewhere, Gilbert
Parry."

"'Tis well," said Parry, taking his riding-cloak from his shoulders;
"Clopton hath secret chambers, I know, as well as that devoted servants
of the Catholic Church dwell beneath its roof."

"May I not know," inquired Sir Hugh, "of the business which employs the
talents of Gilbert Parry, and makes the Pope's Nuncio his introducer
within my walls?"

"At more fitting opportunity perchance thou mayest," returned Parry,
whose manner had become more assured after he observed the impression
the letter he had delivered had made; "at the present moment I require
rest and refreshment."

Sir Hugh said no more; he stepped to a concealed pannel beside the huge
chimney-piece, and drawing it aside, ushered his guest into a small
closet-like apartment, and then carefully closed the pannel again. A
narrow winding staircase ascended from this small room into the chamber
above, and which was only known or used by Sir Hugh himself, together
with Martin and the priest, who occasionally visited at the Hall.

After entering, Sir Hugh signed to his guest to ascend the staircase.

"Thou wilt find every accommodation here in this chamber," he said, "and
refreshment shall be served to thee by one I can trust. Father Eustace
is at present absent from Clopton, but to-morrow I expect he will
return."

"I would confer with him without delay," said Parry, "so soon as he
returns."

"Be it so," said Sir Hugh, retiring from the apartment, and descending
the stairs; seeming, as he did so, by his manner, not sorry to withdraw
from the companionship of his new guest.

As soon as he had descended into the small apartment we have before
described, he paused for a few moments, and then unlocked and opened a
low postern door, which admitted into the garden, and, guided by the
voices of his daughter and her party in the distance, immediately sought
them.

It was by no means uncommon for the Catholics, during this reign, to
hold secret intercourse with each other after the fashion we have just
described, going from house to house with the utmost care; the more
violent and remorseless making it their practice to seek refuge
oft-times amongst the quieter gentry, and, under cover of their
respectability, carrying on their designs with greater security.

In pursuance of such custom, Sir Hugh's new visitor had now sought
shelter at Clopton. He had, on that same evening, arrived at Stratford
in company with others, and immediately on dismounting from his horse,
had walked across the meadows, entered the grounds, and being well
acquainted with the localities, introduced himself into the house
without being seen by any one.

When Sir Hugh joined his daughter and her party, there was a something
of anxiety upon his brow which was not usual with him. But so deeply
interested were Charlotte and Walter Arderne with the conversation of
their new formed acquaintance, that they observed it not. The quick eye,
however, of the shrewd Martin (who so well knew his old master's habits)
saw at a glance that something had puddled the clear spirit of the
knight; and advancing towards him, they walked apart and held converse
together.

"Is there ill news toward?" said Martin. "Something I perceive hath
disturbed you, and broken in upon your slumbers."

"I have had a visitor, Martin," said Sir Hugh; "one with whom I had long
closed the accounts of acquaintanceship as a dangerous companion."

"Know I the man?" inquired Martin.

"Like myself you did so," returned Sir Hugh; "but evil courses drove him
from the country some years back. You remember Gilbert Parry?"

"What," said Martin, "he who was condemned to death as a traitor some
five years ago, and to whom the Queen graciously granted a free pardon?"

"The same. He hath been with me just now."

"He was ever a restless dangerous knave," said Martin; "his visit might
well have been spared. I trust it was a short one."

"Nay," said Sir Hugh, "he hath claimed the hospitality of Clopton on
matters of moment connected with holy mother Church, and hath shewn me
letters from the Nuncio Campeggio, and from Ragazoni at Paris."

"He comes from abroad, then, I dare be sworn," said Martin, "and on no
good errand depend on't, and he makes Clopton his place of residence on
his first arrival, in order to be in security whilst he spies into the
localities, and sounds his instruments; ah, and by my fay, 'tis a crafty
and a dangerous companion, whose designs may get us into trouble. But an
I dive not into his contrivances I would I might never taste hippocras
again."

"I would have thee do so, Martin, if it be possible," said Sir Hugh,
"for I like not such guests; albeit, their visits are sanctioned and
enjoined by the mighty in our Church. Nay, it was but last week I had a
visit from Ralph Somerville, of Warwick, who held me in dangerous
converse a whole hour, upon the necessity of smiting all heretics and
persecutors. His discourses on religious matters shewed a distempered
brain. Troth, I was glad to be rid of him."

"'Tis strange," said Martin, "to behold the spirit which everywhere
actuates those who profess more religion than their neighbours, both
Protestants and Catholics. By my faith, men will dispute upon the
subject, cut a throat for religion, indite most learned matter
appertaining,--anything but live for it."

"'Tis even so, Martin," said Sir Hugh with a sigh, "and therefore doth
it behove us, and all those who are not of this bigoted and intolerant
spirit, to guard our hearths from the danger of such association. A
presentiment of evil is upon my mind since this man's coming, which I
cannot shake off. Be it thy business to look to his wants this evening.
To-morrow Father Eustace returns, and we shall then know more about his
designs."

"Ah, that Eustace!" muttered Martin to himself. "Hath he ever seen this
man?" he inquired aloud.

"I think not," said Sir Hugh; "they have never met to my knowledge."

"Enough," said Martin; "leave him to me. Now break we off, and let us
join our party. See where the lady Charlotte leads her two attendant
swains toward the house yonder. This new-found friend, Sir Hugh,"
continued Martin, "this youth, whose merits seem so far beyond his
fortunes, is he likely to remain long at Clopton?"

"He tarries here to-night, Martin," said Sir Hugh, "and shall be ever
welcome. We are deeply his debtor."

"Humph," said Martin significantly, "I supposed as much, and I suppose
it must even be so,--_but_----"



CHAPTER VII.

PLOTS AND COUNTERPLOTS.


England, up to the period of Elizabeth's reign, at which our story has
now arrived, had been blessed in the enjoyment of the most absolute
security.

The scene, however, was now beginning to change, and multiplied dangers
to threaten the maiden Queen from various quarters.

Scotland and its affairs gave Elizabeth continued uneasiness, and every
new revolution amongst the wild and turbulent nobles of that rude land
caused her fresh anxiety, because that country alone being not separated
from England by sea, and bordering on all the Catholic and malcontent
countries, afforded her enemies an easy mode of annoying her.

Nothing could be more romantic, wild, and extravagant than the stories
which those of the English who had penetrated far north brought back of
the state of the nation, and the manners and disposition of the
inhabitants; and which, if they were to be believed, described the
chieftains in the hill countries as living amidst their wild and savage
retainers in a singular style of feudal grandeur and semi-barbarism.

Nay, such was, in reality, the nature of the rude Highlanders in the
remoter districts of Scotland, that, for an Englishman to attempt to
penetrate into their fastnesses, would have been attended with the same
difficulty and danger as at the present time a journey into the centre
of Africa is exposed to. So that to the generality of the English nation
the interior of Scotland was a _terra incognita_; whilst the dark and
ominous rumours continually floating about, pictured the very court
itself of that distracted country in a most strange and unnatural light.
Murders, conspiracies, rebellions, and every sort of consequence upon
misrule and headstrong passion, seemed the every-day occurrence there.

In Ireland, too, (where the inhabitants were equally wild, reckless, and
opposite to England,) every invader found ready auxiliaries.

Alienated by religious prejudices, that nation hated the English with a
peculiar and deadly animosity; an animosity which has rankled in their
breasts up to the present time, and caused the shedding of rivulets of
blood.

The anxiety of the Queen, on account of the attempts of the English
Catholics, never ceased during the course of her reign, and was at this
period greater than ever: whilst the continued revolutions happening to
all the neighbouring kingdoms were the source of her continued
apprehension Plots after plots were concocted in all quarters against
her life, and which were being as constantly brought to light by one
extraordinary chance or another.

The Cloptons, as we have seen, were members of the Church of Rome,
though they were of the milder sort of Catholics, steering clear of all
those intrigues and conspiracies which the more bigoted of their
persuasion were so continually engaged in.

They were, indeed, well thought of and regarded by the government and
the queen, and the good Sir Hugh was beloved and respected by all
parties. Still the iron rule of the Church of Rome was upon him and his
household, and held him under subjection. Many, therefore, were the
narrow escapes he had experienced from being drawn into the violent and
bloody plots and conspiracies the more dangerous and bigoted members of
his creed had already been engaged in.

In a former chapter our readers have seen a person of this latter sort
arrive stealthily at the Hall, and fasten himself upon the secret
hospitality of Sir Hugh, in virtue of the powerful letters he produced.

What the designs of this man might be it was impossible to fathom, and
Sir Hugh well knew that from the circumstance of his being himself
considered but a mild and luke-warm Catholic by the more zealous and
violent party, (although he might be made use of,) he would scarcely be
initiated by them into their secrets.

Under such circumstances, the faithful Martin, (whose devotion towards
the family of his old friend and patron amounted to a species of
worship,) in taking upon himself the office of attendant upon the
unwelcome guest, resolved to play the spy upon him at the same time,
and, if possible, pluck out the heart of his mystery. The absence of the
priest (who frequently resided at the Hall) favoured this design; and
(on leaving Sir Hugh) Martin ascended to the apartment usually occupied
by Father Eustace, where he doffed his motley coat, and induing the
garments of the priest, suddenly presented himself before Parry.

The talent for humour possessed by this singular being made his design
peculiarly agreeable to him, for to play a part (even under dangerous
circumstances) was quite in accordance with his disposition.

On entering he found the object of his visit seated upon the small
truckle bed with which the room was accommodated, and which (except two
chairs) was all the furniture in it--the bed standing in a recess.

The room itself was one of those small, curious chambers peculiar to the
buildings of the Catholic gentry during this and the subsequent reign.
It seemed evidently to have been contrived for purposes of seclusion and
concealment, and was more like the cell of a monastery than a chamber in
a private dwelling. Cribbed, as it seemed to have been, out of some
corner of the edifice, where an apartment would never have been thought
of; the only light by which this closet-like room was illuminated in the
day-time being from a small concealed window, so contrived as not to be
visible from the grounds without.

So deep in his own contemplations was the occupant of this chamber,
that, at first, he did not observe the entrance of the disguised Martin.
When he did so, however, he quickly started to his feet, and the riding
cloak which he had unfastened slipping from his shoulders shewed that he
was armed (as the phrase goes) to the very teeth. Rapier and dagger were
by his side, a pair of the huge, ill-contrived, petronels of the period
at his waist, and in place of a shirt it was evident that he wore a sort
of hauberk of linked steel beneath his upper garments; in fact, a more
dangerous-looking and dishevelled companion the shrewd Martin had seldom
beheld.

"The peace of Heaven be upon thee, my son," said Martin, as the visitor
confronted him.

"Such peace as Heaven wills," returned the other.

"Those who have to do the work are not permitted peace of mind or body
in this world. Art thou him to whom I am secretly commended at Clopton,
the good Father Eustace?"

"Such is the name men usually give the wearer of these garments of the
Church, my son," returned Martin. "I would they clove to the body of a
more worthy representative."

"The business I have with thee, good father," said Parry, "is of that
dangerous and imminent nature that I may not trust to thy word alone. I
must be furnished with proof of thy identity. Sir Hugh Clopton affirmed
but now that Father Eustace was at present absent from the Hall."

"I have but now returned," said Martin, "and immediately have sought
thee out by Sir Hugh's desire. What you have to communicate can either
be withheld or given freely, I seek not to know the secret of others.
Letters of import, as I learn, hath procured thee a secret asylum here,
without which, as thou art aware, thou could'st not have been received,
neither can I hold converse with thee, unless thou canst shew such
documents or explain the reasons of thy coming hither."

"Enough said, father," returned Parry, thrown off his guard, "those
documents thou shalt have; meantime hear the reasons which have moved me
to this visit, and my intent in seeking thee."

"Proceed," said Martin, seating himself, whilst the other walked
restlessly up and down the small room, apparently carried away by the
violence of his own thoughts.

"Thou knowest my early history," he said, "and how that after being an
undutiful son, a sabbath-breaker, and a blasphemer, the devil lured me
to the commission of crimes by which my life was forfeited to the laws?"

"I have heard these things," said Martin, "and such part of the story
needs no repetition. The Queen granted you a free pardon, for which you
are doubtless grateful, and resolved in making amends?"

"I had resolved on doing so," said Parry, "and hoped for days of
repentance and happiness, but none came, as you shall hear. The fiend
still held possession. I wandered about in woods and solitary places,
for the sight of my fellow creatures was horrible to me. Nay, I thought
every one seemed happy but myself, and the evil one constantly whispered
that there was no mercy for Gilbert Parry. Again, therefore, I sought
society, gave the reins to my evil desires, and myself up to evil ways,
and again conscience troubled me. I had rest neither by night nor day. I
feared the night, lest the enemy should take me before morning. I tried
to pray, but could not. I passed whole days as if my body had been
pricked down irrecoverably, persuaded the fiend was in my apartment.
Nay, my very body was in flames. To cry for help was vain, no relief
came, and I was ever filled with evil thoughts. Such, holy father, were
the torments I endured for five years. At length it appeared to me that
this state of persecution arose from some cause in which I was called
upon to exert myself. Then considered I of the persecuted state of our
religion, and that I was called upon to strike a blow for its welfare.
In short I resolved to do a deed which (by destroying the great enemy of
our Church) should obtain for me the crown of martyrdom."

"Proceed, my son," said Martin, who, seated with his chin upon his
doubled fists, was listening to and contemplating the excited Parry with
the utmost attention. "Proceed, my son, wherefore dost thou stop?"

The narrator of his own troubled thoughts regarded Martin with a deep
and searching look. "Methought I saw a devilish smile upon thy face," he
said sternly. "Is the relation of such things subject of ridicule?"

"Rather of pity," said Martin; "I smiled to think that a whip and a dark
room might have dispelled such phantoms. The most absurd doctrines are
not without such evidence as martyrdom can produce."

"You think, then," said Parry, "that penance and flagellation were
required?"

"Call it so, an if you will," said Martin, "fasting is good for
digestion, and real pain for imaginary suffering. Doubtless you lived
well whilst this frenzy lasted. You was, you say, leading a wild life,
perhaps drunk one-half of the twenty-four hours, and mad the other. A
bad state of the stomach produces fumes upon the brain. I would have
exorcised the fiend by blood-letting, blisters, purgation, and
purification. But proceed, you was about to say what this continued
spiritual ague wrought you to."

"The cutting off of one who is the bitter enemy of our creed, the
usurper of the throne of these realms," said Parry, "the putting to
death of Elizabeth Tudor."

"Ah, ah," said Martin, "methought 'twould tend that way. She to whom you
are indebted for a life, is to pay the forfeit of life for her
clemency."

"And you disapprove of my project, then?" inquired Parry.

"Nay, I said not so much, did I?" returned the shrewd Martin.

"But you inferred so much, did you not?" again inquired Parry.

"Mayhap I did, mayhap I did not," said Martin, who saw by the eye of
Parry that his own situation, thus shut up with such a man, and under
false colours, was somewhat perilous, especially as Parry in his excited
state begun to fumble with the poniard at his waist. Martin in short now
saw that his companion was mad. Under such circumstances to shew fear or
distrust is to perish.

"In trusting Father Eustace," said Parry, placing himself between Martin
and the door, "I was led to expect I should find one ready in every way
to forward and aid so great a design. Such was the assurance I received
from Ragazoni. I brook no prevarication, priest; neither will I run the
risk of betrayal." So saying, Parry drew his dagger from the sheath,
looking at Martin at the same time with the ferocity of a tiger ready to
spring.

"'Tis not often that ministers of the Holy Mother Church are threatened
thus," said Martin coolly, and without altering his position.

"I will drive my dagger to the heart of every member of this household,"
said Parry, "rather than endanger the success of my project."

"That in itself would ruin the project, as far as you are its executor,"
returned Martin, "since you would be likely to be apprehended and suffer
for your violence."

"Swear upon the hilt of my poniard not to divulge what I have just
related," said Parry, becoming somewhat less excited, and thrusting his
dagger close to the mouth of Martin. "Swear."

"I am ready to do so," said Martin, quietly moving the steel from its
close proximity to his lips, "with one reservation however, that Sir
Hugh Clopton is to be informed of it."

"Ah," said Parry, seeming to reflect, and as suddenly changing from his
excited state to comparative calmness, "was I not told to take the
advice of Father Eustace, as to the propriety of making Sir Hugh Clopton
acquainted with this design? And you advise such measure, do you,
father?"

"Most assuredly; for what other purpose have you sought his roof?"

"For the purpose," said Parry, "of being in the vicinity of others
cognizant of my design in this country, and of conferring with yourself
in security, since my steps and motions, until I took refuge in
Warwickshire, have been closely watched."

"Good," returned Martin. "Now, wilt follow my advice since you have been
sent to seek it?"

"I will," said Parry.

"Thus it is," said Martin; "dismiss all further thoughts connected with
your design to-night: partake of the refreshments I have brought with
me, and then seek the repose you so much need. _To-morrow_ we will talk
further, taking Sir Hugh into our counsels; and so I take my leave." As
he said this Martin rose, and was about to pass Parry, carefully making
a circuit so as to get between him and the door, the latter following
him as he did so with a doubtful eye.

"You are a different man from the person I was led to expect in Father
Eustace," said Parry, still dallying with his drawn dagger.

"I am as you see me," said Martin, "true to my word and to the master I
serve."

"And you swear not to divulge?" said Parry.

"Except to Sir Hugh--I swear," said Martin.

"Be it so," said Parry, sheathing his dagger and stepping aside. "Good
night, father."

"To-morrow early I will again be with you," said Martin. "Good night",
and the next moment he was outside the small apartment.



CHAPTER VIII.

STRATFORD-UPON-AVON.


On the skirts of the county of Warwick (saith a modern author), situated
on the low meadowy banks of a river, there is a little quiet country
town, boasting nothing to attract the attention of the traveller but a
fine church and one or two antique buildings with elaborately carved
fronts of wood or stone, in the peaceful streets. There would seem to be
little traffic in that place, and the passing traveller, ignorant of the
locality, would scarcely cast a second look around. But whisper its name
into his ear, and, hand in hand with his ignorance, his apathy will
straightway depart. He will stop his horse; he will descend from the
saddle; he will explore those quiet streets, he will enter more than one
of the houses in that little town; he will visit that old church, he
will pause reverentially before its monuments; he will carry away with
him some notes--perhaps some sketches; and remember what he saw and what
he felt that day to the very close of his life. Indeed you will seldom
fail to see, even in that quiet little town, small groups of people on
whose faces and in whose demeanour you will recognize the stranger
stamp. There is something to see in those unfrequented streets; and they
have come a long way to see it. What wonder! The town is
Stratford-upon-Avon.

Such is indeed Stratford-upon-Avon at the present time. But in the
sixteenth century it presented a somewhat different aspect.

The different towns in England, at this latter period, were just
beginning to emerge from their state of primitive rudeness and
irregularity, and the houses to be distinguished for a style of
architectural beauty and comfort as dwellings, which has not since been
improved or exceeded.

The various contentions and intestine jars which had, almost up to the
reign of Elizabeth, drained the population, and kept men from all
peaceful occupations and improvements, and in consequence of which the
squalor of their dwellings and tenements were but one degree improved
from the rudeness of the Norman period, was now to give place to a style
which, if but one tenement remain to us in a town of the present age, we
look at it with delight and admiration. Stratford-upon-Avon then, in the
year 1584, might be said to partake largely of both these styles. In
some parts were to be seen those irregular ill-built wooden tenements,
little removed from the hut of the Norman citizen. These standing apart,
and without regard to streets, formed the abode of the poorer sort of
inhabitants, and chiefly constituted the suburbs; whilst several regular
streets were to be found composed of handsome, strong-built,
heavily-timbered, and substantial dwellings, having their shops
encroaching into the streets; their beetling storeys above; their long
passages running backwards, with ample yards and gardens in rear; and
their low-roofed wide-chimneyed, secluded, and comfortable rooms,
secured by massive iron-studded doors, and accommodated with heavy
cumbrous articles of furniture.

Here and there too, in the midst, were to be seen the mouldering remains
of some dark monastic building of a former day. The walls of edifices,
built in the dark ages of monkish intolerance, whose grated windows and
low-arched doors told of the Saxon and the Dane, when, save the
splendour of religious architecture, there was nothing between the hut
and the castle.

Nothing could be more rural and picturesque than Stratford-upon-Avon on
a bright summer's day. Its streets, as we have before partially
described, and (as was mostly the case in unwalled towns at this period)
were, except in the very centre of the town, composed of houses
detached at irregular intervals, many of the edifices being partially
screened by the luxuriant trees which shadowed their fronts, and grew in
the gardens in rear: added to this, in the suburban thoroughfares of
this town, it was not uncommon to find a clump of tall elms or oaks
growing in the very centre of the road, beneath whose boughs the rude
bench, the horse-trough, and the creaking sign proclaimed the immediate
vicinity of the smaller hostel.

If the traveller looked from the town, he beheld the high road he was to
traverse on leaving it, o'ercanopied by the forest scene without, whilst
on entering the suburbs, the sloping roof, gable ends, and heavy
chimneys were only here and there to be caught sight of amongst the
living verdure in which they were embosomed.

Besides this, as he proceeded, the picture was added to by the various
signs of the several trades, which proclaimed the occupation of the
indwellers, and before many of the houses were placed long benches on
which, in fine weather, the townsfolk were to be found seated,
conversing cozily together in their quaint-cut doublets and
steeple-crowned hats. Large tubs of water also, by order of the chief
magistrate, were placed beside each dwelling, as a precautionary
preventative against the spread of fire amongst these stout-timbered
edifices. The highways, however, even in the outskirts of the town, were
by no means so well cared for as in our own times, and in foul weather,
in place of a well-paved or Macadamized thoroughfare, the road was
knee-deep in mud, and cut up fearfully with cart wheels and other
traffic of the time.

In what would now be called a small and somewhat mean-looking dwelling,
but which in the reign of Elizabeth constituted the habitation of a good
substantial citizen, resided John Shakespeare, a dealer in wool in
Stratford-upon-Avon. The house itself had nothing in its outward
appearance to recommend it, except the strength of its build and the
stoutness of its timbers.

It was neither "a goodly dwelling or a rich." Its rooms were both
stinted to space and somewhat low in roof. But little did its inmates
suspect that from the mere legend of one of its indwellers having first
drawn breath beneath its roof, that house would create more interest in
the world than the most magnificent palace the world contained, and that
in after-ages the four corners of the earth would send forth votaries to
see, to worship, and to offer adoration at its shrine. And still less
did its occupants imagine that in the person of one of their own
children they possessed a treasure, whose very name, unthought of and
slightly regarded as he then was, would prove dearer than Pluto's mine,
more rich than gold.

Let us for a moment take a glance at the interior of this hallowed
residence, and view it at the precise period of time to which the minds
of those who now visit it are wont to revert; and when he who was in
after-times to throw so great an interest over every cupboard, corner,
and cranny of its stout-timbered walls, was in life, and dwelling idly
in its apartments.

In an inner apartment of the ground-floor was seated on a high-backed
oaken chair, a female of some thirty years of age. If the reader has
ever bestowed his attention upon the portrait Rubens has left us of his
first wife, it will save much trouble in the description, since both in
feature and figure this very handsome middle-aged female was the
counterpart presentment of that portrait.

Opposite to her, and apparently engaged with books and accounts
pertaining to his business, pen in hand, and inditing what, in the
present day, would be called a cramped piece of penmanship, sits a very
comely and respectable-looking man. Nay, if we look closely at him we
shall pronounce him to be a splendid specimen of an Englishman, both in
countenance and figure. His face is exceedingly handsome, the complexion
of a rich brown, the features high and aquiline, hair of a dark auburn,
slightly tinged with grey, whilst a close-clipped curly beard worn round
the chin, and a thick moustachio on the upper lip, complete the picture
of one of those true-born English yeomen whose ancestors drew their
arrows to the ear in the fields of Cressey, Poietiers, and Agincourt. If
our readers then look upon this pair they will behold the father and
mother of England's pride and glory, John and Joan Shakespeare.

In the female there is a dignity of look and manner which seems somewhat
out of keeping with so lowly a home as the one we find her in. She looks
one whose presence would have better suited the hall than the cottage.
One come of gentle blood, and born to fortune instead of being the wife
of a tradesman in a country town, handsome and genteel-looking as nature
hath made that husband.--Such is in truth the case, as John Shakespeare
married one of the daughters and heirs of Arden of Wellingcote, in the
county of Warwick.

This pair, however, were not the only occupants of the small inner
apartment in which we have found them, as some half-a-dozen curly-headed
varlets, male and female, of various ages, from three to ten, were
sitting and sprawling about the floor, clambering upon chairs,
exercising their lungs in concert, and ever and anon calling forth a
short reproof or a caress from their handsome parents.

After a while, the wool-comber shuts up his books, places his pen in the
inkstand, and folding his arms, remains wrapt in deep meditation.

There is something of care and anxiety in his countenance. His thoughts
and cogitations, as he occasionally glances upon his good-looking
spouse, and then watches the young fry upon the floor, become more
troubled; and, apparently to hide the growing heaviness of his brow, he
rises, walks into the shop in front, reaches down his steeple-crowned
hat, and looks forth into the street,--the little curly brood breaking
cover as he opens the door, and bounding joyously into the sunshine in
the streets.

As they do so, they are met, caught up, and kissed, (at least the
younger ones,) by their elder brother, just now returning to his home.

"Ah, Will, good Will," cries one, "where have you been tarrying so
long?" "Naughty truant Willy," cries another, "you've been rambling over
to Warwick with Dick, the tanner's wild son, duck-hunting, I dare be
sworn." "Nay," cries a third, "I know he has been otter-hunting all
night in the river; see his staff is red with blood. Yon have brought us
some skins, good William, hast thou not?"

"Nay, in good sooth, you varlets," said the elder brother, entering the
door with the whole fry clinging round him, "I have neither wild fowl
from the marshes, nor otters from the river; for none have I been in
search of. I come home empty-handed this afternoon, for which you must
forgive me."

"And where, then, hast thou been, William?" said his father, somewhat
gravely. "This idle wandering life of thine will, I fear me, lead to
nothing. Master Pouncet Grasp has fairly given me warning that he will
have no more to do with thee. He complains that you keep no regular
hours; you heed no orders or directions he gives; that you set him at
naught, in sooth, and make his other lads more idle than yourself. Nay,
he says you spoil his parchments, spill his ink in waste, and that, in
truth, he must either be ruined or be rid of thee."

"Out upon the miserable scrivener," returned William, laughing. "I did
but pen a stanza in place of drawing a lease, and lo! he has never
forgotten it. But, in good sooth, dear father," continued the youth, "I
fear me I shall never thrive in the office of Pouncet Grasp. I find the
dry work of a copying-clerk but an idle waste of the life Heaven hath
blessed me with. I was not formed to draw leases, wills, and other
tenures and tricks of lawcraft.

    "Between two hawks, which flies the higher pitch,
    Between two dogs, which hath the deeper mouth,
    Between two girls, which hath the merrier eye--
    I have, perchance, some shallow spirit of judgment;
    But in the nice sharp quillets of the law,
    Good faith, I am no wiser than a jackdaw."

"Thou canst rhapsodize at a good rate, my son," said the father, "that I
well know. But in good truth thou must turn over a new leaf with Lawyer
Grasp, or he will turn thee off, William!"

"Nay," urged the youth, "since we have entered upon this matter, I must
tell thee, father, that never since the pupil age of Adam was there poor
wight more unfitted for a lawyer than myself; my pen runs riot when I
put it upon parchment; I cannot indite the undoing of the widow and the
orphan, even when the _foul_ copy lies before my nose. I turn a writ
into a love-song, and when I should copy out an ejectment, lo! I find I
have penned the words of a madrigal."

"The more the pity, William," said the father, "for to speak sooth to
thee, I find myself by no means in so thriving a condition as I could
wish. There be a many of us now in family, great and small. Business
slackens with me, and in good sooth, lad, an I do not better in the
next three months than I have done the last, I may e'en close my books,
shut the house, and stick up bills to let the premises. Ruin, William,
stares me in the face, if matters mend not anon. A bad time such for you
to be thinking of changing from the vocation I have placed you in."

"Neither would I think of changing, father," returned the son, "did I
think that, by remaining _in_ the law, I could help you or advance
myself. But believe me, so opposite is the dull routine of the desk, so
abhorrent to my soul is the craft of a lawyer, that rather than follow
such a calling I would take the sword my grandsire won at Bosworth, and
seek a livelihood in any place where men cut throats in the way of
profession. Those were sad times, father, but they were stirring times,
those days of York and Lancaster, when--

    "Trenching war channell'd our fields,
    And bruised our flowrets with the armed hoofs
    Of hostile paces."

As the youth uttered this with something of a theatrical air, and giving
the words great force by his utterance, his father looked at him with
considerable curiosity. "Now, by my halidame," he said, "I cannot half
fathom thee, William. Truly thou art a riddle to make out. Seeming fit
for nothing, and yet good at all things. I would I knew, in good sooth,
what to put thee to."

The lad smiled. "Nay," he said, "I must not be undutiful towards one so
good. I will then continue to try and please this godless lawyer till
something better turns up. And now I must tell thee I have made a friend
of one well known to thee, and who is willing to serve us in requital
for some little service he hath received at my hands."

"Of whom dost thou speak, William?" inquired the father.

"Of Sir Hugh Clopton," returned the youth.

"Nay, and thou hast made friends of Sir Hugh and his family," said John
Shakespeare, "thou hast done thyself good service, and, mayhap, he may
advance thee in life: though what he will find thee fit for, William, I
wot not."

"Truly, father," said William, "I confess myself but a tattered
prodigal, only fitted to eat draff and husks. Nevertheless, an thou wilt
but admit me, I would fain join these hungry varlets at their evening
meal, and beg a blessing of my honoured mother, whose sweet face I have
scarce looked at these two days past."

"Well, come thy ways in, thou scoffer," said John Shakespeare,
good-naturedly. "I defy the evil one to be angry with such a madcap as
thou art."

So saying, Master John Shakespeare turned and entered the house, his
eldest son following with all his little brothers and sisters clinging
to him--one upon his back, another in his arms, and the remainder
pulling at the skirts of his coarse gray doublet.

To picture the private hours of the great is a difficult, as well as a
thankless, task we opine, since oft-times more is expected than is in
reality to be found; and our readers will scarce be contented to find
the youthful Shakespeare--in all the freedom, amiability, and kindness
of his disposition--the great, the illustrious, the unmatchable--the
mere playmate of his little brothers and sisters, and, whilst sitting
beneath the huge chimney in that small dark room, as he watches the
preparation for the evening meal, engaged in a joyous game of romps.

Yet such is the case. The gentle William, despite the greatness of his
spirit and the waywardness of his disposition, which seems inclined to
settle to nothing, is the darling of that home circle, the joy of his
brothers and sisters, and, when at home, entering into all their little
amusements and pastimes with heart and hand,--nay, their nurse when
sick, and even assisting his mother oft-times in her little attentions
towards them,--ere he himself, in all "the unyoked humour of his
idleness," sallies out to join his youthful associates of the town.

Our readers will, therefore, not be surprised to find that great mind,
which in a single line could send a thrill through the soul of his
readers, intent upon an infantine game in the "ingle neuk."

The pecuniary difficulties John Shakespeare had hinted at to his son
were consequent upon his having maintained a somewhat "more swelling
port than his faint means would grant continuance." No man in Stratford
was better thought of or more respected than neighbour Shakespeare.
There was something about him so well bred and so superior to his
station in life, that he bore with him a degree of influence seldom
granted except to rank and fortune.

The chief magistrate of the body corporate of Stratford was in the early
charters called the high bailiff. This office Master John Shakespeare
had filled some few years previous to the date of our story, and the
execution of such office had led him into expenses which he had since in
vain tried to abridge. "To some men, their virtues stand them but as
enemies," and thus the good and companionable qualities of Master
Shakespeare, notwithstanding his domestic habits, were so greatly
esteemed that his hospitality was taxed accordingly, and his hearth
seldom unhonoured by guests after business hours. Nay, at no hour was
the little back parlour of his house entirely free from the gossiping
neighbour who came down to talk over the politics of the town, or
discuss the latest floating rumour of the stirring events of Elizabeth's
reign.

Newspaper intelligence, we have said, there was none at this period,
and, in the absence of such a vehicle for information, men's mouths were
filled with any stirring tidings, and they donned their castors and
hurried about in a country town, stuffing each other's ears with false
reports, and frightening the place from its propriety when any event of
particular import happened.

            "From Rumour's tongues
    They brought smooth comforts false, worse than true wrongs."

"Heard ye the news, neighbour Shakespeare?" said Master Doubletongue the
mercer, entering the small parlour we have attempted to describe, and
joining the family circle. "Heard ye the news to-night?"

"Good or bad be it?" said John Shakespeare smiling, "it would have been
curious news an it had travelled hither before you brought it, neighbour
Doubletongue. Come, sit, man, sit, fill your cup and give us your news.
What! hath Dame Illwill been brought to bed of twins, or how goes the
story?"

"Nay, neighbour," returned Doubletongue, who was one of the veriest
scandal-mongers in Stratford, "Dame Illwill hath not produced twins,
neither do I think she will produce the half of twins. By the same
token, I heard the Leech say, 'twas after all but a dropsy that had
caused all this scandal in her disfavour. But body o'me, heard ye not
the news just now brought to town?"

"That Dame Illwill's affair is likely to end in a bottle of smoke? why,
man, thou hast just told us as much."

"Ah," said Doubletongue, taking off his cap like one who found he had in
him wherewithal to interest his auditor, "then I _see_ you have not
heard the news. Ergo, the news is mine to give."

"Then I take it, neighbour," said John Shakespeare, "there are but two
ways, either to give or to retain it. Come, another cup will perhaps
help its deliverance."

"Nay," said Doubletongue, who but half relished the lack of excitement
his intended communication seemed to make, "you will scarce keep the
native colour in your cheek, neighbour, when I do tell ye what's afloat
to-night. The affair, then, gossips, is thus----"

"Whose affair?" interrupted John Shakespeare, "not the one you just now
spoke of?"

"Did I hint anything?" inquired Doubletongue.

"About a certain female you did," said John Shakespeare.

"Of illustrious rank?" said Doubletongue. "Why, then you _have_ heard?"

"We have heard what you have just told us," said John Shakespeare.

"The news?"

"The news."

"What! of Queen Elizabeth?"

"Nay, Heaven forbid we should sit to hear such words uttered about our
gracious Queen," said John Shakespeare with much solemnity. "'Tis even
dangerous to breathe such a scandal in such a quarter."

"Then of whom were we speaking?" said Doubletongue. "I gave no news. I
have none to give out concerning our gracious----"

"Of Dame Illwill, I thought you spoke?" said John Shakespeare.

"Dame Illwill," said Doubletongue, contemptuously, "who cares about Dame
Illwill? and who, think ye, neighbour, would trouble themselves to stab
her?"

"Stab her!" said John Shakespeare, "who talked of stabbing?"

"I do," said Doubletongue; "its my own news, man. It's what I am come to
propound, to expound, and to promulgate. Only you will not bear with me.
The Queen is stabbed, killed, and murdered; our good and gracious Queen
hath been murdered, I say; now, there is my news."

"Heaven forbid!" said John Shakespeare, starting to his feet. "That
would bode ill luck to England at this moment. Heard you this report,
Master Cramboy?" he continued, addressing another of the townsmen who
entered at the moment.

"Which report, and whence derived, neighbour?" said Cramboy (who was
master of the free-school at Stratford); "for there be many rumours just
now come into town; the difficulty is to get the true one."

"That relating to the death of the Queen by the hand of an assassin,"
returned John Shakespeare, "and just now given us by neighbour
Doubletongue here."

"Where gott'st thou _that_ news, goodman Doubletongue?" said the
schoolmaster, with considerable asperity in his manner, "and how came
you to take upon yourself to promulgate, disseminate, and divulge such a
fable?"

"Nay," said Doubletongue, who stood somewhat in awe of the pedant, "I
know no harm in relating what I have just heard from neighbour Suddle of
our town."

"Out upon the barbarmonger," said Cramboy, "He is ever inventing one lie
or other; I advise thee to shut thy ears against all his monstrous
conceptions, and thy door against his visits. Know'st thou not, simple
mercer as thou art, that to imagine the Queen's death is treasonable as
to attempt _her life_. Ergo, thou hast committed, or rather aided in
spreading the contagion of matter containing treason, and art _particeps
criminis_ with that lying knave Suddle, who goeth about seeking whom he
may deceive."

"Nay," said Doubletongue, "if such be the case, I will myself go about
to retrace my steps, and gainsay all I have said."

"'Twere best you did so," said Cramboy, "with the addition, Master
Doubletongue, that for the future the good folks are never to believe
any rumours either you or Suddle may bring them. And harkee, neighbour,
when you are asked the real state of the case, you can tell your friends
that it is not the Queen who has been stabbed, but the Prince of Orange.
For that is the actual verity."

"Body o'me, but that is it, then, is it?" said Doubletongue: "well then,
there has been a royal personage murdered, after all. Grant that, my
veracity; grant that, and God be praised, therefore, I am not then
altogether a liar. But stay, an I obey your first injunctions, good
Master Cramboy, who will believe this second report at my hands? I shall
scarce be credited, methinks."

"So much the better, neighbour," said Cramboy; "the less men credit in
these days of trouble, always excepting holy writ, and the more they
keep to their own affairs, the better for them. And therefore go _not_
about _at all_; but sit ye down and fill your tankard, whilst I expound
what really hath happened."

"One way or other, we shall at last learn the rights of this matter,"
said John Shakespeare, laughing; "you said but now, Master Cramboy, that
the Prince of Orange hath been murdered?"

"At Delft, by the hands of a misguided fanatic, such is the awful story,
John Shakespeare. For what saith the book? 'Villany that is vigilant
will be an overmatch for virtue, if she slumbereth.' One Balthazar
Gerard, a Burgundian, it seems has long entertained this design against
the Prince of Orange, and, in order to destroy that famous restorer of
religious liberty, has, at the same time, sacrificed his own life. On my
word," continued the pedant, "these Jesuits are fearful fellows, and
will murder us all in the end. Nay, it is affirmed the Spanish arms are
making rapid progress in the Netherlands, and that Antwerp is ta'en.
Truly, the Prince of Parma carries all before him in those parts. Nay,
'tis further said the States are reduced to such extremity, that they
have sent an ambassador to London to offer to acknowledge our blessed
Queen for their sovereign, providing always she will grant them her
protection and assistance."

"And there it is," said Master Doubletongue, "there hath not been so
bloody a wild beast seen ravening, burning, and destroying us poor
Protestants, as that terrible Spaniard Philip since the world began.
Heaven keep us from his hot pincers, his thumb-screws, his iron boots,
his hostile intrigues, and cruel enterprises!"

"Amen, neighbour, say I," returned Master Cramboy, "though I marvel much
you will allow your tongue so much liberty, neighbour, seeing that, as I
firmly believe, Philip of Spain hath a paid spy and intelligencer in
every town of the kingdom. Nay, his wicked designs are said to be fully
directed against England at this moment."

"I trust no paid spy is to be found within my house, neighbour Cramboy,"
said John Shakespeare, laughing, "so that my worthy friend Doubletongue
is quite at liberty to rail upon the Spaniard to his heart's content
here."

"I meant nothing but in the way of caution to our good neighbour," said
the pedant, "and whose tongue would be much the better for an occasional
bridle, whilst the unrighteous are in sight. By the same token there are
at this moment some half-dozen strangers staying at the hostel of the
Checquers, whom none of us can fathom. Master Mumble, the headborough,
talks of paying them a visit, and putting them to their purgation.
Truly, we are in a dangerous condition, neighbour, and it behoves every
one to look well to the main chance."

"I think with you," said John Shakespeare, "that our prospects seem not
so fair as hitherto they have seemed. There is no question but that
Philip of Spain, with all the power of his united empire, will fall upon
England anon. His sole aim is the entire subjection of the Protestants.
But come, since your news hath driven off my wife and all her children,
let us even walk down to the Falcon and discuss these matters further.
'Tis now eight o'clock, and I dare be sworn the Dolphin parlour is well
filled with guests. Heaven keep our blessed Queen in its own safety, for
an these paid spies and jesuitical villains should hit her life, I fear
me we shall be devoured by the wolf of Spain."

So saying, Master Shakespeare rose, and accompanied by his son and two
fellow-townsmen, took their hats and sallied forth.

During the foregoing discussion so many bumpers had been tossed off by
the two newsmongers, that Master Doubletongue was becoming a trifle
double-sighted, whilst the pedant, who was sufficiently domineering over
his neighbours on most occasions, was now rendered doubly important and
overbearing.

"Methinks, Will," whispered the elder Shakespeare to his son, "you had
better give Master Doubletongue the aid of your guidance, lest he
measure his length in the gutter. He seems somewhat flustered, and
inclined to quarrel with the road for not being of sufficient width."

"Thank ye, good William, thank ye," said the mercer, as he availed
himself of the youth's assistance, "the causeway seems progressive
to-night, the stones wherewith it is paved, ever and anon, do rise up to
salute my nostrils, and there they come again."

"Now that's what I call a circumstance," said Cramboy, "neighbour
Doubletongue has been fuddled every night before curfew, for the last
twenty years of his life, and has not yet learnt to carry his liquor
seemly. An the watch pass us they will be scandalized at his condition,
and take us all up for being drunk at unseasonable hours in the streets.
I pr'ythee, good William, convey him to his own door, and deposit him in
safety there."



CHAPTER IX.

THE TAVERN.


When the pair reached the Falcon, they found a goodly assemblage in the
"Dolphin" parlour of that hostel. This apartment was appropriated to a
certain clique of jolly companions in the town, who often met together
after business hours,--a sapient and most self-important fraternity,
which in our own times would have been designated a sort of club. They
were indifferently ignorant upon all subjects unconnected with their
respective trades and callings, and according to their ignorance was
their importance and self-conceit.

Matters connected with their own town and county it was their especial
privilege, they thought, to discuss, but affairs in general, and the
politics of the world, were also brought under consideration. Their
oracle, or as we should at present term him, president, was one Master
Michael Teazle, the clothier, who, in his wisdom and his care, sought in
his various harangues to "dress the threadbare state of the commonwealth
and turn it, and set a new nap upon it,"--generally concluding, like
Cade, that the Queen's council were no good workmen, and that he
himself, being a working-man, could best understand the management of
the State.

This man was, in fact, a somewhat extraordinary individual, and in
possession of considerable talent; one who, in our own times, would have
most likely been either a popular sectarian preacher, or a violent
demagogue. But in Elizabeth's day, there being no proper vent for the
effusion of such a spirit, he was merely the oracle of his gossiping
society of his own town. Too indolent for real and useful work, he
neglected his own business to spy into the affairs of his neighbours,
and too dissipated for any profitable employment; except that he was
kept from utter ruin by an industrious wife, he would, with all his wise
saws, have starved.

The piece of news which had in the present instance reached Stratford,
had called forth from Master Teazle a considerable harangue upon the
state of the country, and the imminent danger Her Majesty's government,
her own life, and the safety of themselves individually, were exposed to
from the intrigues of the Catholics; and in taking upon him to expound
what _had_ already been done, he took upon him also to say what _should_
be done.

"I maintain, my masters all," said he, "that these Jesuits should be
pistolled like mad dogs wherever one can light upon them; for look ye,
are they not educated, and brought up, and fed, and nourished, in
superstition and bigotry? Are they not infused with a bitter hatred
against our Queen, whom they treat as an usurper, a schismatic, a
heretic, a persecutor of the orthodox, and one excommunicated and made
horrible by the _ridiculous_ Pope." Here he stopped and looked around
with great importance. "Nay," he resumed, "look but upon this affair of
the Prince of Orange! Sedition, rebellion, and assassination are the
expedients by which they effect their purposes."

"For mine own part," said Master Lambe, the glover, "I know not
precisely in what consists a Jesuit."

"Why, then, lament therefore," said Teazle, "since not to know _in what_
consists a Jesuit, is not to know the danger to be apprehended _from_ a
Jesuit."

"Expound unto us, neighbour," said goodman Hyde, the tanner, "what is
your version of such a wild beast?"

"Wild beast is a bad term to apply to a Jesuit," said Teazle, "as you
will see by the story. To propound what is a Jesuit, we must e'en go
back to the order of Jesuits founded at Douay by Philip of Spain; and
thus it is:--he erected a seminary for Catholics to send their children
to, in order that they might be brought up, and educated with a view to
the crown of martyrdom. Neither to be deterred by danger nor fatigue
from maintaining their principles. And into the breasts of these pupils
is instilled the most inveterate hatred against Protestant England in
general, and Stratford town in particular; and to our blessed Queen
nothing but poison, steel, and perdition. Ahem!"

"There art thou wrong, brother," said Master Cramboy. "The order of
Jesuits was erected when the Pope perceived that his lazy monks and
beggarly friars sufficed no longer to defend the Church, and that the
unquiet spirit of the age required something more keen, active, and
erudite to defend it."

"Well, neighbour, well," said Teazle, (who was generally somewhat in awe
of the learning of the pedant), "I sit corrected. Be it, however, as it
may, you will bear with me in holding that prevarication, and every
stratagem which serves their ghostly purposes, are the especial
privileges of the Order."

"Thereafter, as may be," said Cramboy; "we will discuss that point anon.
Meanwhile, thou art right, insomuch that the seminary you have
mentioned, and which the Cardinal of Lorraine has imitated at Rheims,
and the Pope has also followed the example of at Rome, are all under the
direction of Jesuits--violent, intolerant, and dangerous. And,
therefore, may Heaven bless our glorious Queen, who put that caitiff
Campion to the rack so lately, and broke his bones under the very nose
of the Duke of Alencon, whilst he was making suit for her hand in
marriage."

"A decent hint to him of the sort of martyrdom he might expect in case
his suit was a successful one," said John Shakespeare, laughing.

"A grievous martyrdom had all England suffered, an the French duke had
prospered," said Teazle.

"'Twere best not to pursue that theme, neighbour," said Master Lambe,
"lest we run into dangerous ground, like Charles Arundel Stubbs, of
Lincoln's Inn, who wrote a book, and called it 'The Gulph in which
England was to be swallowed by the French marriage,' and lost his right
hand, as a libeller, for his pains."

"A severe sentence upon a loyal subject," said Cramboy, "for look ye how
Stubbs bore his punishment! I was there, and saw him suffer. He took his
hat off with his left hand, and waving it over his head, cried, 'God
save good Queen Elizabeth!' Methinks the right hand of such a man would
have been better unlopped. It might have done good service hereafter."

"Go to, my masters, 'enough said is soonest mended,' as the old saw
goes. An I were the Queen, after what has happened, I would take Spain
by the beard," said Teazle; "for look ye, my masters all, how that king
of red-hot ploughshares and burning pincers groweth more powerful daily.
Already hath he made himself lord of Portugal, and gained settlements in
the Indies; not only arrogating to himself the commerce of those
regions, but all the princes of Italy, and even the Pope of Rome, are
reduced to subjection beneath his sway. Austria and Germany, too, are
connected with, and ready to supply him with troops at his beck. See,
too, how the bloated toad sitteth upon his throne, swelling and
sweltering in wealth as well as bigotry; with all the treasures of the
Western Ind in his diadem."

"O' my word, neighbour," said Master Lambe, "an such be the case I
should be chary, an I were the Queen, of chasing such a swollen reptile,
lest he spit poison upon me, and burnt me up with the breath of his
powerful nostrils; methinks, an I were Her Majesty, I should be careful
how I gave my crown to the chance of battle with such an enemy."

"Go to, neighbour," returned Teazle, "thou lookest but along thy nose,
and no farther. See'st thou not that what _must_ come _will_ come; and
_will_ come, may come when most _unwelcome_. Now, an I were the Queen, I
would take Philip of Spain by the nose at once, ere the Netherlands
relapse again into servitude, assailed as they are by those veteran
armies employed against them. By my manhood, I say Elizabeth should at
once trust to her people, and assault the whole force of the Catholic
monarch ere it grow so great that it will swallow up the world. Nay, an
I were appointed general-in-chief, I would conduct an army over to
Holland, and deliver the country from the danger at once."

"Perhaps, neighbour," said John Shakespeare, "you have heard a rumour
that some such measure has in truth been thought of. A power of
dauntless spirits are, it is said, at this moment assembling under the
Earl of Leicester."

"A fico for the Earl of Leicester," said Teazle; "pr'ythee what sort of
a soldier is he to oppose against the experienced captains and sturdy
infantry of Spain? Now, an I had been called to name the man fit for
such command I should have named----"

"Thyself," said Cramboy. "Ah, ah! a very pretty piece of soldiership we
should have in thee."

"Thou hast said it, not I, neighbour," returned Teazle. "_But_, an I had
said myself, I had at least named one quite as equal to the emergency of
the case as the man of rings and carcanets, of broaches and feathers,
thou hast just named."

"Methinks 'twere wise not to pursue such comparison further," said
Master Lambe; "'twere best for those to speak civily of the bear who are
such near neighbours to his hold, lest the ragged staff reach our
coxcombs."

"What gentlemen of note are engaged in this expedition?" inquired
Cramboy.

"I hear," said John Shakespeare, "that he carries with him a glorious
retinue, being accompanied by the young Earl of Essex, Lords Audley and
North, Sir William Russell, Sir Thomas Shirly, Sir Arthur Basset, Sir
Walter Waller, and Sir Gervase Clifton, added to which five hundred
gentlemen ride in his select troop."

"Still do I maintain," said Teazle, "that the selection of my Lord of
Leicester is not a good one; he possesses neither courage nor capacity
equal to the task, and were I in presence of the Queen, with the Earl
leaning at the back of her chair, I would say the same."

"And how would you speak of those in commission with him?" inquired
Cramboy, "To begin with Essex, what think you of him?"

"As of one better to be led than to lead. Essex is a brave boy
doubtless, and a clever, but then he is rash, headstrong, and
unweighing. Curb him never so little and he flings up in your teeth.
Give him his head and he knocks out his own brains."

"What of Lords Audley and North?"

"Put into the scale against the other one and their weight will about
weigh against his lightness. Ergo, the three together are as naught."

"And how say ye to Sir William Russell?"

"But so so. Marry a good blade and a stout man, a proper fellow of his
hands. But for brains the accompt is very minute indeed."

"How of Sir Arthur Basset?"

"As of one fitter to feat in a couranto, at court, than trail a pike in
the Low Countries."

"Nay, then, 'tis vain to say more," said Cramboy, "since of the whole
five hundred in my Lord of Leicester's troops I dare be sworn, in thy
opinion, there is not one fit to wield a rapier or poise a caliver."

"Thou hast again said it, neighbour, and not I," returned Teazle.
"Though in sooth, an I had, I had not been far out."

"'Tis well then," said Cramboy, "that in maritime affairs a better
selection hath been made. Heard ye, my masters all, that Sir Francis
Drake hath been appointed Admiral, with a fleet of twenty sail and two
thousand three hundred volunteers, besides seamen to serve in it? They
have already sailed for the West Indies against the Spaniards. How like
ye that piece of news?"

"That likes me somewhat better," said Teazle, "and I can venture to
predict some good to accrue therefrom. Drake is the man to make the
settlements smoke for it. He will burn, sack, and destroy all along the
Spanish main, whilst the other will but make a sort of harnessed masque
through the Low Countries. Such is my poor opinion, and time will prove
in how much it is correct. So fill a cup to Sir Francis Drake, another
for our gracious Queen, and one more for Stratford town. Huzza! huzza!
huzza!"

After this loyal outbreak there was a short pause. This was at last
broken by neighbour Dismal, who (albeit he drank his quantum at these
meetings) seldom spoke much, and when he did so generally threw a gloom
over the whole assemblage. He always had, however, his _one say_, which
was a sort of concentration of the worst piece of news he could collect
for the nonce. And as he was a man of undoubted veracity, unless he was
pretty well assured of the truth of what he uttered, he never uttered it
at all.

This usually gave his _one wisdom_ a most startling air of gloom and
horror, and when he rose to speak, or even coughed his preliminary ahem,
he was honoured by the most startling silence. On the present occasion
he prepared to broach the subject matter with peculiar solemnity,
actually rising from his seat, and, as he steadied himself with both
hands upon the table, delivering himself, somewhat after the following
lively fashion.

"Neighbours all," he said, "I have listened to the discussion of the
foregoing matter with considerable interest. Our good neighbour, Teazle,
hath handled the subject of the proposed expedition in very able style.
He hath been replied to quite as cleverly by my learned and worthy
Fellow-townsman, Cramboy. Such discussions are, however, at the present
moment, methinks, better left to those whom they most concern, inasmuch
as subjects of nearer interest to _ourselves_, it doth appear to me,
more nearly concern _ourselves_. Neighbours, I know I have been accused
of being a kill joy, a melancholy man. Some call me Goodman Death: and
the little boys hoot at me, as I walk at night, and say, 'There goeth
Goodman Bones.' Nevertheless, I have been merry twice or once ere now. I
was merry on the day I married Mistress Dismal, and I was merry the day
I buried her. I was also merry when my father died, and left me in
possession of his business. But I cannot say I am merry just at this
time. Neighbours and jovial friends, I will conclude my speech briefly
and heartily. By the same token, I wish you all your healths, and, at
the same time, hope we may some of us meet here again next week _well_
and _happy_. How far we are likely to do so is another matter, and of
that you will be better able to judge when I tell you that The Plague is
in Stratford-upon-Avon at the present moment!"



CHAPTER X.

THE CHURCHYARD OF STRATFORD-UPON-AVON.


After young Shakespeare had safely deposited Goodman Doubletongue at his
own door, and left him in charge of the good housewife, he turned his
steps towards the Falcon, with the intent of rejoining his father there,
and hearing the news of the town; for the son and sire were upon the
delightful terms we sometimes, though not often, may observe between
parent and child.

In both the elements of high character were so mixed that there could be
no drawback to their love: they were more like companions of the same
age than father and son. The same tastes, the same pursuits, the same
high spirit and honourable feelings pervaded both.

Certes, the mind of one was of a far more extraordinary character than
that of the other, but that in no degree lessened the feeling of respect
and love young Shakespeare felt for his father, and that father's
example and influence helped to form the man.

Always the creature of impulse, the youth, after conveying Master
Doubletongue home, as he neared the Falcon, suddenly resolved to turn
his steps in another direction; and, in place of listening, in the hot
sanded parlour of the hostel, to the discussions of the Stratford
wise-acres, whilst he felt the influence of the balmy breeze of night
upon his cheek, he passed the hostel and strolled towards the outskirts
of the town. He felt indeed that the hour was more fitted for communion
with his own thoughts than listening to the ridiculous dogmas and
politics of the goodly fellowship of the Falcon.

Since his visit to Clopton a new scene had opened to him, and his
feelings had become somewhat changed. He had beheld, nay, become
intimately acquainted with a being of a superior order to any he had yet
met with, and in the lovely and amiable Charlotte Clopton he had found
that perfect specimen of female excellence which his imagination had,
even at this early period of his life, loved to picture. Nay, perhaps,
had he not in youth thus beheld some such bright excellence--some such
reality of his conceptions--we might have wanted those delineations of
grace and purity, those fairest flowers of perfect excellence--the
Viola, Miranda, Desdemona, Juliet, and the sweetest Imogene of his
maturer years.

To see and to feel the influence of companionship even for a couple of
days with the fair Charlotte, so soft in manner, so fair in form and
feature, so anxious to express her feelings of gratitude for service
rendered, and not to love her, was impossible. And during his visit the
bright face of the young lad might have been observed beaming with
admiration and affectionate regard upon Charlotte as she sang and
accompanied herself upon the spinnet, and which, had it been noticed by
her betrothed, might have perhaps caused some sparks of jealousy and
uneasiness.

It was lucky, however, in young Shakespeare's case, that the great mind
of the youth came to his aid in this situation, and whilst in company
with her of whom even a previous glance had called forth his admiration.
During his visit he had also comprehended the politics of the family he
was introduced amongst. He beheld the thorough gentleman, the confiding
honourable old cavalier, the knight _sans peur et sans reproche_, in Sir
Hugh Clopton. He saw the youthful esquire, the lusty bachelor, the free
open-hearted, brave, and devoted servant, the lover, whose whole soul
and every thought were upon his fair mistress, in Walter Arderne; whilst
in that cunningest pattern of excelling nature, the lovely Charlotte,
he saw one far removed from his own sphere of life. So much so, indeed,
that "it were all one, that he should love some bright particular star,"
"and think to wed it," she was so much above him. So thought the modest
youth. And yet again it was easy for him also to observe that the strong
affection of the lady's suitor was unrequited, and his feelings
unreturned, save by those of esteem and friendship. Under these
circumstances, we say, the strong sense of the youth came to his aid,
and, if it did not hinder him from falling desperately in love, it
somewhat curbed his feelings, and hindered him from discovering them to
the object of his admiration. He felt the barb of the arrow rankle in
his heart; but his pride and proper feeling helped him to subdue, and
conceal the smart. So true it is that--

          "As in the sweetest bud
    The eating canker dwells, so eating love
    Inhabits in the finest wits of all."

We fear it must be acknowledged that the youthful poet, at this period
of his life, was of a most untamed and wandering disposition; that his
life and his employments were rather desultory; and that when once his
steps turned towards the wild scenery which so abounded around his
native town, all was forgotten of home duties, and engagements
pertaining thereto.

This must, however, be excused in one whose mind was of so extraordinary
a character.

Amongst other haunts which young Shakespeare loved to frequent at times,
and even when the shadows of night gave a more solemn feeling to its
precincts, was the churchyard of his native town. And perhaps those who
have lingered, and looked upon that sweet scene during night's silent
reign, whilst the moon has silvered the tops of the surrounding trees,
and the waters of the Avon mirrored the beautiful structure on its
banks, will better understand the feelings of young Shakespeare in such
a place. Things more than mortal seem to steal upon the heart, and
thoughts of early and shadowy recollection to haunt the mind.

Let those who have not visited this locality at "the witching hour,"
take a stroll into the ancient churchyard of Stratford. Let them feel
the influence of the man everywhere around them, and imagine him at such
a time. Let them look up at those demoniac heads which the cunning
architects of the Norman period have carved on every coigne of vantage,
together with the shadowy grandeur of the walls and buttresses.

Let them glance over the verdant mounds and the mossy tombstones of the
silent tenants around, and then ask themselves what were the thoughts
engendered in such locality? Have they not some dark and shadowy
conceptions of Elsineur? Doth not the postern of the old churchyard wall
open to admit the Monkish procession for the obsequies of the fair
Ophelia, with all the pomp and circumstance of the times? Do they not
see before them the whole scene, and hear the words of the distracted
Laertes as he stands beside the open grave of his sister:--

    "Lay her i' the earth,
    And from her fair and unpolluted flesh
    May violets spring! I tell thee, churlish priest,
    A minist'ring angel shall my sister be,
    When thou liest howling."

Or, in that moonlight scene of beauty, and whilst the reverential awe it
engenders steals upon the heart, doth not some remembrance of Juliet's
tomb, the hour, and the deeds therein performed, float over the mind,
and the words of him who sleeps so near recur?

Those, we say, who can feel this impression, can best imagine the
influence the hour, and the hallowed spot, had upon the youthful mind of
him who in after-life was to draw upon such feelings in order to produce
the scenes we have mentioned. At the present time, and whilst young
Shakespeare took his way through the churchyard, the feeling of awe
which is sure to pervade the mind, more or less, in such a place, was
peculiarly impressed upon him. It seemed a presentiment of some evil to
come, which he could not shake off. He stopped and gazed around, and a
chaos of wild thoughts and imaginings coursed one another through his
brain as he did so. Within that sacred pile the knightly and the noble,
the soldier of the cross, the fierce Norman, and the proud Churchman
were entombed,--"_hearsed in death_,"--the very men who had lived in the
days he was so fond of dwelling on; those fierce times of contention and
civil butchery.

The associations connected with such a scene are indeed peculiar; the
beings of a former age in all the panoply of war re-appear, and (as we
gaze upon the architectural beauty of the holy edifices they have left
behind them) we love to imagine their steel-clad forms,--their deep
devotion; whilst remembrance of their heroic acts in the field is mixed
up with the superstition and feelings of their day.

Whilst the youthful Shakespeare gazed upon the mounds, and the mossy
tombstones, and the soft flowing river; as he listened to the dreary
whisper of the breeze through the trees, a feeling of awe crept over
him, and his imagination reverted to the world of spirits--

    "When churchyards yawned and graves stood tenantless."

The living stood alone amongst the dead. Slowly he took his way, that
extraordinary youth: his thoughts and conceptions seemed a wonder to
himself; at one moment he gazed upwards at the o'erhanging firmament,
"that majestical roof, fretted with golden fire;" then he stood upon the
margin of the flowing river, and watched its waves, as they passed
onwards and were lost in the distance, like the hours passing into
eternity, and mingling with those before the flood. _What were those
thoughts_ at that hour and period of his life? who could write them, or
could he himself have described them? _We think not_--perhaps he may
have himself given us something nearly akin. He may _have_ then thought
with his own Prospero--

    "The cloud capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
    The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
    Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve;
    And like this unsubstantial pageant faded,
    Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
    As dreams are made of, and our little life
    Is rounded with a sleep."

Man holds strange communion with himself in such a sanctuary. "The
present horror of the time suits with it." There is even a sort of
fascination to the spot, and a longing, a yearning after something
supernatural. Even the hoot of the owl, or the cloistered flight of the
bat, hath a charm in character.

Such, perhaps, were the thoughts of this youth, for he lingered long in
the churchyard wrapt in his own imaginings. At length, as he heard an
approaching footstep along the path, he slowly turned from the sacred
edifice, leaped the wall, and sought the woods of Charlecote.

As young Shakespeare left the churchyard, the person whose approach had
interrupted his meditations slowly walked up to the porch of the church.

As the new comer turned, on reaching the porch, the clock from the tower
sounded the first hour after midnight; a deep and clanking note which
swam over the adjoining fields and was lost in fainter replications.
"'Tis the hour," said he, "and now for the man."

The midnight visitor was apparently a tall figure, wearing the long
riding cloak of the period, and which completely enveloped his form,
whilst his broad-brimmed hat, and the sable plumes with which it was
ornamented, as effectually shadowed his features.

"'Tis the hour," he said, as the iron tongue sounded from the tower.
"And now for this unsafe partisan." A low whistle (as if from some
person lying perdue without the wall of the churchyard) was almost
immediately heard, and in a few minutes another footstep was also to be
distinguished as if from the town.

The figure in the cloak immediately advanced towards the approaching
sounds, and as he did so he freed his right arm from his cloak, and,
pulling it more completely over the left shoulder, felt that his rapier
was easy in the sheath, that his other weapons were free to his hand,
and also that the dagger in his girdle was handy to his grasp.

Readiness in the use of the various weapons (at that time a part of the
costume of a completely dressed cavalier) was one of the accomplishments
of a gentleman, and the steps and bearing of the person we have
described (although but partially distinguishable in the shade of the
tall trees of the churchyard) proclaimed that he was a person of some
condition.

He walked slowly and deliberately down the path towards the gate, so
that by the time he had traversed half its length, the swinging sound of
its opening and closing proclaimed that the person advancing had passed
into the churchyard. The moon at this moment had become hidden behind
one of the dark clouds which seemed to threaten a coming storm, so that
(in the deepened gloom of the avenue) the tall cavalier (although the
closing gate and approaching footsteps proclaimed the proximity of the
new comer) could not at the moment distinguish him.

There seemed no desire for concealment on the part of either, as they
walked boldly past each other. Only a close observer might have observed
in the motions of each considerable caution and distrust. The hand
closed over the hilt of the half-drawn dagger, and each gave the other
what sailors term a wide berth in passing.

The gloom of the place, at this moment indeed, completely hindered the
features of either party from being distinguished even in passing;
nevertheless, as they moved by, each stared the other in the face with a
sharp and piercing eye, and after having passed a few paces, both
simultaneously wheeled round and retraced their steps. As they did so,
the first comer repeated in a low tone a single word, as if to himself,
which was immediately answered by the other, and both turned; a sign
then passed between them; some mysterious signal, perhaps, like the
words they had uttered, only known to the parties themselves.

"Gilbert Charnock!" said the first comer. "Is't not he?"

"The same," returned the other; "and dost not thou answer to-night to
the name of Gifford?"

"Right," said the first; "you have come at the hour named."

"I am sworn to do so," replied Charnock.

"And are you armed to do as sworn to do?" inquired Gifford.

"I am, if on trial the object of our meeting here is found to be
dangerous to the cause."

"He has been found so," said Gifford.

"And yet our friend. One joined heart and hand in that cause. And yet to
die by our hands."

"Either he or ourselves, besides others implicated in the plot: nay, the
cause itself demands the sacrifice."

"And he will be here to meet us?" inquired Charnock.

"He has sworn it."

"Which of us is to deal with him?"

"Why this question? The lot was drawn by you."

"Enough: and he is even now in concealment at Sir Hugh Clopton's. Is't
not so?"

"So far I traced him by the mad acts he hath committed since leaving
France, and by which conduct our faction is placed in jeopardy."

"But come; it still wants several minutes of the appointed time. Walk
aside here, and I will tell you in how much the man is unfortunate in
his position. You know the circumstance of his coming amongst us, and
how he undertook to be the instrument, the steel, the dagger, as it
were, by which our arch enemy was to be reached."

"I do, and how he refused to share the glory of the enterprise with
others, and resolving to take the whole upon himself, suddenly and
secretly set off, without further circumstance."

"There shone out the dangerous madness of the man," returned the other,
"and by-and-by comes a reaction, by which we are all endangered, as
thus: it appears that on his arrival in England this Parry was as
suddenly seized with scruples, and under influence thereof he goes about
to certain gentlemen, to advise with them as to the propriety of his
undertaking this pious act. Luckily, it seems, he hath, as yet,
consulted with men who are deemed at least safe, or we ourselves had
scarce been here to-night. By some he was told that the enterprise was
criminal and impious; whilst others, again, applauded it. Nay, even
Ragazoni, the Nuncio, and the Pope himself (to whom he wrote a letter),
desired him to persist in his resolution."

"Methinks that such authority might have satisfied his scruples."

"Not a whit as you shall hear; for so deeply did the fiend palter with
him in favour of the heretic Elizabeth, that even when he had
opportunity twice, thrice, nay, a dozen times repeated, he could not
strike the blow."

"The evil one surely mounts guard over that iron-hearted woman," said
Gifford, "or she could never have escaped the many designs set on foot
to cut her off."

"One would think it," returned Charnock, "and in the instance I am
speaking of, she seems to have been specially guarded by some familiar;
inasmuch as although Parry, albeit he managed matters so well that he
gained an introduction and a private audience of the Queen, no sooner
did he find himself in the presence, than his scruples returned with so
much force, that he commenced an exhortation in place of driving his
dagger to her heart; and after praying of her to tender her life, and
grant us Catholics more indulgence in the exercise of our religion, he
actually informed her there were numerous conspiracies at that moment
formed against her."

"And how escaped he being apprehended and examined?" inquired Gifford.

"Ah, there consists the marvel," returned Charnock; "but it seems the
Queen looked upon him as a harmless maniac, and took little account of
what he uttered. She trusted for safety to God and to her people's love,
she said, and so dismissed him."

"Indeed," continued Charnock, "it seems then, that the interview for the
time completely prostrated all Parry's energies; and lest he should be
tempted, as he owned, by the opportunities he found of approaching her
ere his words could have effect, he always came to court unprovided with
any offensive weapon."

"And then he afterwards relapsed into his former violence; was't not
so?"

"It was. He returned to France, saw the Nuncio and Ragazoni, became
again confirmed in his first intent, and has again recrossed to England,
where his madness and his extravagant conduct are likely to compromise
all his friends. Nay, an he is not speedily silenced, we shall assuredly
perish by the gibbet."

During the foregoing conversation of the conspirators, thus met in the
seclusion of the churchyard of Stratford, (a trysting place they had
fixed on as more likely than any other to be unmolested by the prying
eyes and ears of the curious,) they had slowly traversed round the
sacred edifice; and now, as the taller stranger finished his discourse,
they arrived at the north porch, and stood concealed in its shadow.

"We seek an edifice dedicated to the service of religion for a strange
and awful purpose," said Gifford, as he gazed along the footpath leading
from the church.

"Since it is to serve the purposes of the true religion," said Charnock,
"let us trust to the greatness of the cause to sanctify our doings. Hast
thou any scruples?"

"None," said Gifford. "But time passes. How, if our man fail?"

"That would bode us ill," said Charnock; "though I think it unlikely
that he will do so. Between the hours of one and two was the time I
appointed him to be here, and he swore to me that he would not fail."

"And how didst thou get opportunity of speech with him?" inquired
Gifford.

"By following him to Clopton soon after his arrival; where I gained an
interview, and bade him hither in the name of our leader. Hark, the
signal; 'tis he!" and the two conspirators advanced along the path,
whilst at the same time footsteps were heard.



CHAPTER XI.

THE STRATFORD LAWYER.


The arrival of strangers to take up their abode for any length of time
in such a town as Stratford-upon-Avon, always furnished matter of
curiosity and speculation amongst the inhabitants. The neighbours were
known to each other so well, and there was comparatively so little
travel, that a certain degree of suspicion attached to all new-comers in
those dangerous days. When any of the townsmen had business, even a few
miles off, it was usual for them to arrange matters go that two or three
might travel in company. Neighbour Fustian, the hosier, having business
in Warwick, agreed to travel the road in company with neighbour Lambe,
the glover, whose trade made him a visitor to Coventry, whilst the
latter stayed the convenience of mine host of the Falcon, who was,
peradventure, bound for the latter town, and all three, mounted and
armed, went and returned in company, rather than trust purse and person
singly to the chances of the road.

Robbing on the highway, although by no means so common as in the
preceding reign, was still frequent. The woods were thick in this part
of Warwickshire, and the gentlemen of the shade found it easy to elude
pursuit after a highway robbery. Nay, but a few short years before, and
during the York and Lancaster feuds, which had deluged the land with
blood; what with disbanded men-at-arms, thieves, and caitiffs of one
sort or other, the roads were but cut-throat defiles, and the country
round a continued battle-field.

So that during the troublous reign of Henry VI. it had been especially
ordered, that between the towns of Coventry, Warwick, and
Stratford-upon-Avon, the highways should be widened, by cutting down
trees on either hand, in order that travellers and wayfarers might have
more room to defend themselves against the numerous robbers and caitiffs
infesting those parts.

On the morning following the transactions we have recorded in the
foregoing chapter, there were several subjects of interest commented
upon and discussed in the little back room which constituted the office
of one Pouncet Grasp, the head-lawyer of the town. One was the sojourn
of several strangers, whom no one knew anything about, at one of the
hostels: another was a dark and alarming rumour of a suspicious sort of
illness having broken out in the suburbs: and another was the
circumstance of a man, having all the appearance of a person of
condition, having been found, stabbed in several places, and lying, with
the pockets of his doublet rifled, a stiffened and unhandsome corse, in
the road leading to the ferry beyond the church.

Master Pouncet Grasp himself was seated upon a high stool near the
window of his office, which looked into a green and bowery garden,
having at its further extremity a most pleasant bowling-green; the river
just to be distinguished in the distance beyond, amongst the marshy
meadows.

Some two or three clerks were seated in different parts of the
apartment, all busily engaged, pen in hand, scrawling strange
hieroglyphics upon certain sheets of parchment before them, making a
dreadful sound of incessant scribbling with their pens.

Master Grasp himself, the monarch of all he surveyed, and an especial
tyrant over the unfortunate clerks he presided over, was the only
personage in that small apartment who seemed to have freedom of thought
and motion, and license to take his attention from the crackling
parchments beneath his nose.

If our readers have ever taken the trouble to picture to themselves the
clerk of Chatham, with his pen and ink-horn hung round his neck, they
will have some idea of the figure of our Stratford lawyer in his own
office. Only that, whereas we imagine the clerk of Chatham to have been
a sort of dreamy, drawling person, Master Pouncet was rather more swift,
sententious, and mercurial. Law had sharpened his wit, irritated his
temper, levelled his honesty, and urged his avarice.

Any one to have watched him when alone in his glory, and only seen by
his clerks, would have taken him to be half insane. The moment, however,
a client or a stranger appeared, he put on a new face and a demeanour
suited to the occasion; appearing wise in council, amiable in
disposition, and staid and sober in manners, whereas before he had been
like a chattering ape irritated with a hot chestnut.

"Now do I wonder who these strangers may be," he said, leaving off his
writing and jumping round in his seat; "truly I must run down to goodman
Doubletongue and confer with him on the subject. Will Shakespeare," he
said, jumping back again, "get thee down to----Ah, I forgot that
pestilent Shakespeare hath not been to the office for a whole week. Ah,
the caitiff! Oh, the villain! See, too," he said, opening his desk and
searching amongst his papers, "the vile rubbish he inditeth when he is
here in place of copying what is set before him. What! you grin there,
do ye? driving wights that ye are. Grin, my masters, _whilst ye work_,
an ye list. But, an ye _leave off_ to grin, see an I brain ye not with
this ruler. Shakespeare--ah, a pretty name that, and a precious hounding
scamp is the fellow that owns it. Here's goodly stuff toward! Here's
loves of the gods and goddesses for you! Here's Venus, Adonis, Cytherea,
hid in the rushes; Proserpina and Pluto, besides half a dozen heathen
deities, devils, satyrs, and demigods, all dancing the hays in a lump!"
So saying, Pouncet Grasp turned over the leaves of a sort of manuscript
poem, written upon a quantity of backs of letters and dirty sheets of
paper, and, after glancing through the contents, sent them fluttering
and flying at the head of one of his clerks.

"There," said he, "that's the way my ink is spoiled, and my documents
destroyed. I suppose now, that your friend and crony there," he
continued, addressing himself to the young man at whose head he had
thrown the manuscript, "I suppose your unintelligible friend calls that
incomprehensible and unaccountable rubbish a sort of rough draught of a
poem. I'm not learned in such productions, but methinks he that wrote of
such lewd doings ought to be whipped at the cart's tail, or put in the
stocks at least."

"I was not aware," said the youth addressed, (and who under cover of his
industry had been laughing all the time Master Grasp was reading the
poem), "I was not aware William Shakespeare has ever written a poem
about the gods."

"_Si-lence_," cried Grasp, sticking his pen behind his ear and looking
fierce, as he wheeled round and faced about, first to one and then to
another of his clerks. "_Si-lence_, ye scoundrel scribblers, or by the
Lord Harry----"

The clerk, who knew from experience the irritable nature of his
taskmaster, took the hint and redoubled his exertions with the pen and
parchment before him, only occasionally, as he stole a furtive glance at
his companions and observed the lawyer's attention in another direction,
lolling out his tongue or executing a hideous grimace at him.

"I pr'ythee, sirs, inform me," said Grasp, again interrupting the
silence he had commanded, "when was that mad-headed ape last in this
office?"

"Of whom was it your pleasure to speak?" inquired the youth who had
received the compliment of the poem at his head.

"Of whom should I speak, sinner that I am, but of him of whom I _last
spoke_--that incomprehensible, uncontrollable varlet--that scribbler of
bad verse--that idle companion of thine?"

"He was here but yesterday," said the lad.

"Yesterday!" said Grasp, "why I _saw_ him not; I _heard_ him not;
neither did he indite a line of that I left for him to work at."

"He was fetched away almost as soon as he came," said the lad.

"Fetched away! who should fetch William Shakespeare away I trow, and
from my house, without leave, licence, and permission granted _from_ and
_by_ me to take the person of the said Shakespeare?"

"Master Walter Arderne, from the Hall, called for him, and they went
away together," said the lad.

"Master Arderne, an called for one of my lads here! why what's in the
wind now I trow, and why sent ye not to the Falcon for me, ye sinner?"

"He asked not for you, sir," returned the lad, "he asked for William
Shakespeare."

"Now the fiend take thee for a stupid dolt," said Grasp; "what an if he
did ask for William Shakespeare, of course it was me he wished to confer
with; only, as he found I was out, he inquired for the first idiot who
had sense enough to take his message, and the chance fell upon the
greatest scrape-grace and the most consummate ape in the whole lot.

"Miserable sinner that I am! That varlet hath forgotten to deliver the
message he received from Master Arderne. Who knoweth the import of such
message, so entrusted, and confided, and given, and--and--lost perhaps
for ever?----Ah! and----Peradventure Sir Hugh Clopton hath been seized
with apoplexy, and I have been sent for to confer about his will, or
mayhap Master Arderne hath wished for my advice, anent drawing up the
articles of marriage betwixt himself and that most beautified of young
ladies his cousin.----Or, peradventure the match may have been broken
off, and he may wish for my advice on the let and hindrance thereof.
Nay, it is impossible to say in how much I am deteriorated and damaged,
both in purse, person, and reputation by the mistakes, misconduct, and
mismanagement of that pestilent conglomeration of vices, idleness, and
villany--that scurvy companion, that ill favoured----"

"William Shakespeare, I suppose you mean," said that youth himself, who
at the moment entered unperceived, and stood smiling at the door whilst
he listened to the scurrility of Grasp. "Nay, finish your sentence, and
fill up the measure of your abuse, master-mine," said Shakespeare,
advancing towards Grasp, who seemed struck all of a heap by his
presence. "I have heard it is your pleasure to rail upon me behind my
back, and, as I well know I deserve some slight portion of your anger, I
am as well content to receive it myself, in place of its being put upon
these lads, my fellows."

"Nay, good William," said the lawyer (whose excitement seemed to have
vanished in a most unaccountable manner, in the presence of his clerk);
"I named you not, I meant you not, I spoke not your name, that I am
aware of. At least not at this precise moment. Did I name our good
William lads? Did I couple his name--?"

"If you did, I care not," said the youth, "since (as I have before said)
I feel myself in some sort deserving of your censure. The law suiteth
not my disposition, neither can I give my mind up to its dry study. I
wrong thee, Master Grasp, when I attempt to serve thee, and I should use
oceans of ink and reams of paper ere I learnt even how to serve a writ
properly. It is easier to pretend to be what we are not, than hide what
we really are, Master Grasp, and I will be content to be under
imputation of those ill names you have given me, provided you add not
lawyer to the number; only, in as much as you have favoured me with
those terms, we must be content to part. I do not _beat thee_, Master
Grasp, because thou art weak in body, and somewhat old; but I do warn
thee not to couple my name in future, when you speak of me, with those
opprobrious epithets you have just used. I am no villain at least, and
so farewell for ever, Master Grasp." And Shakespeare turned abruptly and
left the office.

"Now that's what I call a circumstance," said the lawyer; "here's a
large mouth, here's a goodly gentleman: a stipendiary, a stripling, a
mere school-boy, who hath scarce been two months in my office, and to
rebel, and take himself off thus. Well, be it so. I am well rid of the
rebel, but an I have him not on the hip ere long, my name is not Grasp.
And now I forgot to demand of him the message sent to me from Clopton
Hall. My boots! my boots!" he called to the serving-wench, "and tell
Davey to clap saddle upon Sorrel. Troth I will ride to Clopton, and
inquire me of the steward what's amiss there."

When the serving-man brought the lawyer his boots, he announced a client
in waiting. "One to advise with your worship," said the man, "upon
matters of import, as he saith."

"Ah," said Grasp, "what manner of man, Davey man, and where
from,----what's his name too?"

"A would not give his name, but a said he were from Warwick," said
Davey.

"From Warwick, Davey? eh? Right, good Davey. I do expect one from
Warwick to-day,--I had forgotten as much--and so you showed him into the
front chamber?"

"I did, master," said Davey.

"And is all in order in that apartment, Davey?"

"It be so," said Davey.

"Papers, parchments, deeds, and strong boxes, all in their places,
Davey?" inquired Grasp.

"Yes, master, like nest-eggs. He! he! he!"

"And you told him I was engaged with another client on business of
import,--of immense import,--eh, Davey?"

"Trust I for that!" said Davey.

"Good, then, take him a cup of wine, Davey. Tell him I will see him the
moment I am disengaged, and then bring me hither my capon and tankard.
And d'ye hear,--after you have done that, mount Sorrel yourself, and
ride over to Clopton; make some excuse to introduce yourself into the
servants' hall, and just take a look, and observe if there be anything
out of the common there. You understand?"

"He! he! hap I do," said Davey, with a knowing wink, as he hurried out
to execute his several commissions.

When the important little lawyer condescended to give audience to the
particular client his serving-man David had announced, he found himself
in company with a tall aristocratic-looking person, dressed in the
somewhat faded appointments of a military man of the period: that is to
say, he wore the leathern doublet usually covered by the breast-plate
and back-piece, the stains upon it showing it had seen much service in
the field as well as the table, whilst the scarf and jingling spur still
farther denoted the profession of arms.

"Master Algernon Neville!" said the man of parchment, as soon as the
striking figure of the visitor saluted his eye on entering the room. "I
would your honour had sent in your name. I should hardly have kept you
so long in waiting here. Body o' me, I had no idea it was your
honourable self."

"Nor much desire so to find it, I dare be sworn, Grasp," said the
visitor. "But, sooth to say, I am come to thee again, and upon the same
errand as when I last was here."

"Advice, eh?" said Grasp; "truly your honour shall have it,--the best I
can give."

"I am bounden to thee, good Grasp," said the visitor, "for thy advice;
but there was, as thou knowest, something else I required of thee
besides thy advice, good as it doubtless was."

"Moneys?" said Grasp. "Truly I am not likely to forget I did also
advance certain moneys,--moneys you required to take you over to
Scotland."

"And now, if I require more moneys," said the visitor, "can you
accommodate me again?"

"Marry can I," said Grasp; "what sum does your honour require?"

The visitor hesitated. He looked shrewdly at Grasp, and taking the pen
from the inkstand marked on a piece of paper several figures.

"I want that," he said, handing the paper to Grasp.

"Mass, a round sum!" said Grasp; "but upon such security as you can give
you shall have it, honoured sir. Nay, double an you want it."

"Why, gad a-mercy!" said the visitor, in some surprise, "hast thou been
the Virginian voyage since I saw thee last? Rich thou hast always been
since I knew thee, but so ready to part with thy moneys I never knew
thee before."

"Your honour will pardon me for the simile," said Grasp; "but there are
a sort of men who are fortune's favourites, and who like cats ever light
upon their legs. Your honour hath surely heard a piece of news which
nearly concerns you?"

"I know of no news likely to effect my fortunes," said the visitor,
"having but lately arrived in England. Hast thou anything of import to
communicate?"

"Body o' me," said Grasp, "why, I concluded you _had heard_, or I had
communicated it immediately I saw you! Know you not the Earl of
Westmoreland is dead!"

"Nay, is this true?" said Neville, starting.

"True as that your honour is his next heir," said Grasp.

"And where died he?" inquired the visitor.

"In Italy, where he hath been long in exile, as thou know'st."

"Ah!" said Neville, "this is somewhat unlucky!"

"Unlucky?" said Grasp. "Heard ye ever the like o' that! What can be
unlucky that bodes your honour so much good? You are in fact and in
right, _de facto et de jure_, next heir to the earldom of Westmoreland."

"Would that I had known of this but yesterday!" said Neville,
abstractedly; "'twould have spared me from participating in this last
business."

"Did your honour observe anything?" said Grasp, staring at his visitor,
who seemed wrapped in the thought and cogitations consequent upon the
news he had just heard.

"'Tis no matter," he muttered at length to himself, "I will betray them
all. Harkee, good Grasp," he continued, after a considerable pause,
"'tis quite true, that which thou say'st. I am next heir to the title
and estate of Westmoreland. But it follows not, therefore, that I shall
succeed to them, as I am in disgrace and under suspicion. Could I indeed
do some acceptable service to the Queen, I might recover those estates
and honours forfeited by the rebellion of the earl just now deceased."

"That were, indeed, a way to recover," said Grasp; "but does your honour
know of any acceptable service that might do yourself honour and her
majesty pleasure?"

"I do," said Neville, "and you can aid me in it; but I warn you, it is
attended with danger."

"In aiding you I serve the Queen, it seems," said Grasp, "Is't not so?"

"It is so," said Neville.

"Ergo, it is profitable," said Grasp.

"It is so," said Neville.

"Then am I content to encounter the danger," said Grasp, "since I am
well aware that titles, honours, and profit are not to be gained without
some sort of risk; and now tell us, honoured sir, what is to be done."

"To discover a plot and arrest the traitors," said Neville.

"Ah," said Grasp, with alacrity, "that were indeed a circumstance. An
you could find such a matter as a ready-made plot, and light upon a nest
of traitors, I should say you were in luck's way, as usual, good Master
Neville."

"I can do both, good Grasp," said Neville, "and that not a thousand
miles from this town; nay, not a thousand yards from this house."

"Ah, say'st thou," said Grasp, "not a thousand yards from this house? As
sure as my name is Grasp, your words point at the strangers who have
been for the last two days playing at hide-and-seek at the Checquers. Am
I right, good sir?"

"You are," said Neville.

"Now, praise be to my sagacity," said Grasp, "I all along suspected
those mysterious men of being evil-doers. There is treason and concealed
villany in their very shadows as they glide about. What is the nature of
their designs and their intent, good Master Neville? are they emissaries
of the Spaniard? or are they----"

"Let it suffice, their intentions are dangerous to the safety of the
Queen, and they are secretly drawing into their conspiracy many Catholic
gentlemen in this county who are discontented with the present
government. Nay, five of them are sworn by the most binding oaths to
sacrifice themselves to the service of taking the life of the Queen."

"Oh, the villains!" said Grasp, rubbing his hands with delight at the
prospect of being accessory to the discovery of a conspiracy of so much
magnitude. "Oh, the caitiffs! a plot to destroy our blessed Queen, and
ruin the nation! now that's what I call worth living to hear of. I'm a
made man, that's clear."

"Nay, but," said Neville, "we must go warily to work, good Grasp; and I
must damp the exuberance of thy glee a trifle, inasmuch as this business
is likely to implicate and deprive thee perhaps of a client of thine."

"Ah," said Grasp, his countenance falling a little, "that's rather bad,
who is the man?"

"Sir Hugh Clopton."

"Thou hast taken my breath away," said Grasp, recoiling a pace or two.
"Sir Hugh Clopton, whom men call the good Sir Hugh, engaged in such a
bloodthirsty and jesuitical plot as this? Are you quite sure, honoured
sir, of the correctness of what you utter?"

"I am quite sure that some of those engaged and deeply pledged to
assassinate the Queen have been in hiding at Clopton Hall within the
last two days. Nay, I shall be able to identify several of the best
Catholic families in this county, as having been in correspondence with
emissaries in Scotland, not only to assassinate Elizabeth, but to set
the Queen of Scots at liberty, and place the crown upon her head."

"Nay, this is glorious," said Grasp; "the plot does indeed thicken, as
the saying is. The fiend take the good Sir Hugh; I would sacrifice fifty
such clients, and see them hanged, drawn, and quartered into the
bargain, for such a chance as this. And now let us lay our heads
together, and consult how to capture these bloody-minded conspirators
with most advantage to our own proper selves. How shall we proceed,
honoured sir? Shall we rouse the whole _posse comitatus_, and attack the
house in which these miscreants are engendering, and hatching, and
concocting those horrors; or, shall we go incontinent, and give secret
intelligence to Sir Thomas Lucy at Charlecote?"

"That I must leave to your discretion, good Grasp," said Neville. "Your
part must be to secure them ere twenty-four hours have elapsed.
Meantime, I must ride post haste to London, and give information to the
Queen or her ministers of the whole affair."

"I would your worship would remain here, and capture the caitiffs,
whilst I proceed up to town with information," said Grasp. "Methinks, as
you are a man of _war_, and I am a man of _law_, that would be the most
proper arrangement."

"By no means," said Neville. "Manage the matter as I have told thee. Do
it well and effectually, and reward is sure to follow to us both. It is
essential that I should myself gain favour by the discovery, and if I
should succeed to the estates and title of Westmoreland, I shall not
forget the service you have rendered. Be wary, and prosper. Farewell."
So saying, the visitor hastily took his leave, and a few minutes
afterwards was riding furiously towards Warwick, on his way to London.

"Now, there's a bloody-minded and dangerous Jesuit for you," said Grasp
to himself. "He thinks I know not that he's a Catholic, I suppose, and
that I cannot guess he has been as deep in this vile plot as the rest of
them. But I do bear a brain, and I can perceive that the death of his
relation hath completely turned his conscience, and now, in place of
helping to murder the Queen, he's going to hang up all his associates,
by turning evidence. A bad world, my masters, and bad folks in it! But
then it's by the bad I gain and thrive; bickerings, quarrellings,
evil-speaking, lying, and slander, plots, counterplots, conspiracies,
hangings, and headings, are my especial good. So now to consider and
contrive this matter. Let me see--I instantly hasten off to the high
bailiff, get together a sufficient body of his men, and then, my
masters, look to yourselves! A plot to kill the Queen, subvert the
Government, and burn the whole kingdom in an _auto-da-fé_! By all that's
good, the business will not be effected without blood-letting on both
sides! Let me see, who have we of approved valour and conduct to aid us
in this capture? There's Master John Shakespeare; he's a good man and a
true one, that will thrust in, and smite hard. His grandsire did good
service at Bosworth Field. Then there's Goodman Rivett, the armourer; he
hath an arm of might, and a heart of steel,--him will I also look up, an
we need special men. Then there's--Yet," continued Grasp, pausing, and
considering the matter, "methinks, after all, it would be better to put
the affair at once into the management of Sir Thomas Lucy. Yes, I will
incontinently and instantaneously proceed to Charlecote, and do so. Let
me see; 'tis now about one hour after noon. I shall catch the proud
knight just before he takes his post-prandium ride."

So saying, Grasp donned his hat, and prepared for his visit to
Charlecote.



CHAPTER XII.

THE SONNET.


When Shakespeare took leave of his newly-found friends at Clopton, he
left a deep impression behind him.

There was a feeling amongst the trio, which two of them at least could
not understand; so greatly had the youth's manners struck them, so
forcible was the interest he had created; whilst the third and most
interesting of the party found that the handsome lad had unconsciously
robbed her of her heart.

"By 'r Lady," said the old knight, "yonder stripling is one of the most
singular companions I ever met; without being in the least forward in
manners, he somehow impresses one with a feeling of inferiority I cannot
understand. He's an extraordinary youth, my masters; and, an he turn not
out something beyond the common, I am not a Clopton."

"How well he talks on all subjects!" said Arderne; "and yet how modest
doth he seem!"

"How beautiful were those verses he wrote this morning!" said Charlotte.

"If he did write them," said Martin, "lady mine; _for mark ye_, they may
be the offspring of another brain."

"_If_ he wrote them! Martin," said Charlotte: "why, who else could have
written them, think ye?"

"Why not another as well as he, lady mine?" said Martin, archly; "what
one man can do, another might effect. Methinks one older and more
learned must have indited those lines."

"Nay," said Charlotte, "I know not wherefore, but sure I feel that none
but he could have penned that sonnet."

"Gramercy," said Martin, "this is to have an opinion of merit, indeed!
Doth that stripling, that hero of the quarter-staff, seem to you, Master
Walter," he continued, shrewdly glancing at Arderne, "to have so much
merit that none other can come up to him?"

"I confess the lad hath made a singular impression upon me," said
Arderne, "an impression I cannot shake off or understand. I never was in
company with so amiable a youth before."

"Let us hear his verse again," said Sir Hugh. "Come, Martin, thou hast a
voice, thou shalt read it."

"Ahem," said Martin. "I am no hand at a stanza; I shall mar the good
verse, I fear me. Nevertheless, I will essay it."

                    THE SONNET.

    Who will believe my verse in time to come,
      If it were filled with your most high deserts?
    Though yet, Heaven knows, it is but as a tomb
      Which hides your life, and shews not half your parts.
    If I could write the beauty of your eyes,
      And in fresh numbers, number all your graces,
    The age to come would say, this poet lies,
      Such heavenly touches ne'er touched earthly faces,
    So should my papers, yellow'd with their age,
      Be scorn'd like old men of less truth than tongue;
    And your true rights be termed a poet's rage,
      And stretched metre of an antique song:
    But where some child of yours alive that time,
    You should live twice,--in it, and in my rhyme.

Sir Hugh was a man of parts. He was a man, too, of strong sense, and,
for the age in which he lived, might have been esteemed and accounted a
learned man withal.

Had he chosen to be more of a courtier, and his creed been different, he
might have risen to some eminence as a statesman.

He felt considerable astonishment, and expressed no less admiration, at
the beauty of the verses just recited.

"Now, by my fay, good Martin," said he, "I do somewhat lean to thy
opinion in the matter, inasmuch as it seemeth scarce possible so young a
lad could have penned such stanzas. Nay, by our Lady, I know not where
to look amongst our old poets in order to find aught to equal those
lines."

"Then where hath the lad gotten them from?" said Arderne. "Peradventure
he hath fetched them from some recent book of songs and sonnets; they
say young Spencer hath lately written."

"'Tis not in Spencer's vein," said Charlotte; "and since we have so far
discussed the matter, I must needs say that I can almost vouch for his
having written them."

"Ho! ho!" said Martin, with a shrewd look. "La! you there now. Come,
tell us the when, the where, and the how, Lady Charlotte. Let us have
the circumstances under which this sonnet was written, since yon confess
to so much knowledge of the matter."

"Nay, Martin," said Charlotte, blushing; "it was by accident I
discovered so much. Walter and myself had been walking under the shade
of the tall trees at the end of the garden, when I observed the youth
standing, with arms folded, and gazing upon us in the arbour at its
extremity. As we leisurely approached him, I saw him tear a leaf from a
small book he held in his hand, and write something in it. When we
entered the arbour and joined him, in putting up his book, he dropped
the stray leaf, upon which he had been writing, and I own I was wicked
enough to let it lie, and secure it after he had left us."

"Well," said Sir Hugh, "the lad is certainly a youth of merit, and I
feel bound to befriend him in what I can. We must bethink us, Walter, in
what way we can serve him materially."

"He is at present, as he tells me," said Arderne, "a clerk or writer in
the service of Lawyer Grasp; albeit he liketh not the drudgery and
confinement of such a life."

"I wonder not thereat," said Sir Hugh; "since to sentence a lad of so
much genius to be a scrivener's clerk, is like putting my best bred
palfrey into a mill, or shutting up a soaring falcon in a thrush's cage.
We must do something for him, Walter, for we owe much to him."

Such were the kind intentions of the good Sir Hugh towards one to whom
he felt under considerable obligations, and doubtless he who had caused
those grateful feelings would have felt the benefit of them from one so
well off in the world. "Wishing well, however, hath not a body in it;"
and our intents of to-day are oft-times marred by the events of
to-morrow.

The promises of the powerful are oft-times a sort of "satire upon the
softness of prosperity;" and in a few days the good Sir Hugh was himself
involved in difficulties which made him oblivious of all, save
honourable extrication from their labyrinth.

The conversation which had taken place regarding the sonnet, occurred on
the day following that on which young Shakespeare had left the Hall: a
day made more memorable to two of the inmates, from the circumstance of
the unwelcome visit of Gilbert Parry, and which it is our purpose now
again to refer to, in order to explain certain other matters
appertaining.

It will doubtless be remembered by our readers that the shrewd Martin
had played the spy upon the insane conspirator, and succeeded in making
himself complete master of his horrid and perilous intentions.
Intentions, the more dangerous to all who were in the slightest degree
implicated, as the bloody designs and desperate projects which were
suspected to be in existence against the Queen on all sides, had
determined Elizabeth's council to make terrible examples of all whom
they might discover. To the good Sir Hugh, however, the danger likely to
accrue to his own person was the least consideration; and when the
faithful Martin, accordingly, on the following morning, informed him of
the intentions of the visitor and his own suspicions of his sanity, the
good knight was struck with consternation. It was early morning when
Martin told his tale to his patron, and when the old knight having just
descended, was making the round of his kennel and falconry, and the
relation at once filled him with terror, pity, and indignation.

"I will incontinently visit this dangerous caitiff," he said, "and if I
find matters as bad as you say, I will take means to secure him and
prevent mischief. If he be indeed mad, it is my duty, as a Christian
man, to lay him under restraint; but if he be sane and resolved on such
attempt, I swear to thee I will arrest him with my own hand, and deliver
him over to justice."

"Beware!" said Martin, stopping him as he was hastening off in search of
his visitor. "Beware, good master mine, how you introduce yourself alone
into the den of a tiger. This fellow is dangerous in the extreme; and on
the slightest hint of your knowledge and disapproval of his designs,
will fly upon you and attempt your life. A madman I have heard say, in
his furious fits, hath twice the strength of one in possession of
reason."

"I value not his madness a maravedi," said Sir Hugh, whose anger was
predominant at the moment. "A murderous caitiff and condemned felon thus
to introduce himself into my house! By our Lady's grace, an he draw
weapon or lift hand against me, I will smite him in the teeth with my
dagger, and kill him like the reptile at my foot."

"At least, let me accompany you," said Martin, who saw that the angry
spirit so seldom aroused was now predominant, and therefore the more
resistless.

"Follow an ye list," said Sir Hugh, "but I tell thee I am quite able to
cope with such a fellow, and equal to arrest him if I find his purpose
treasonable;" so saying, and followed by the faithful Martin, Sir Hugh
re-entered the house, and the pair, introducing themselves into the
secret wing of the mansion, immediately ascended into the chamber in
which Parry had been shewn the night before.

Sir Hugh was the first to enter, and, with the angry spot upon his brow,
after hastily glancing round the small room advanced to the bed and
pulled open the curtain with no very gentle hand.

The bed, however, was unoccupied, and the room tenantless, although the
crumpled state of the coverlid of the couch and pillows shewed that the
occupant had thrown himself upon it during some part of the night at
least.

"There is the form," said Sir Hugh, "but the game is off."

"There is no saying where such a customer may have crept to," said
Martin, peeping under the bed, then getting up on one of the chairs and
looking out of the small window upon the roof. "The man I am sure is as
mad as a March hare; let us descend and see if he is any where secreted
in the small apartment below."

Sir Hugh accordingly descended, and (both together) searched in every
closet and hiding hole with which the place was accommodated, but the
bird had certainly flown, having, without doubt, passed into the garden
by the small postern door which opened on the inside.

Proceeding into the garden they searched through its walks and alleys,
but the object of their search was no where to be found, and the small
door which opened in the thick high wall at its extremity, and admitted
into the thick plantations beyond, being wide open, they naturally
concluded their visitor had fairly decamped in his insane mood as
unceremoniously as he had entered. Sir Hugh, however (although he could
not but feel relieved at the absence of the dangerous intruder), felt
considerable annoyance at the whole circumstance. He was oppressed with
the knowledge of the maniac's treason, and which, notwithstanding the
powerful letter brought to him from the Nuncio Campeggio, he was
resolved to divulge to the Queen's council. At the same time he also
determined to do nothing rashly. Father Eustace was expected in a few
hours, and must be consulted, whilst Martin, meanwhile, undertook to
endeavour to trace the madman and observe his motions if possible.

In such a case delays are dangerous, as the good Sir Hugh found, for
Parry, whose vagaries had alarmed some of those connected with the
dangerous plot, having been met with in Stratford, and then followed to
Clopton, was lured into a secret appointment and put to silence with at
least half a dozen wounds; and the whole affair in a few short hours
after was in progress of being fully divulged. Of this, however, Sir
Hugh was not likely to become acquainted, till the news reached him in
an unpleasant shape. The circumstance of a man having been killed just
without the town was by no means an uncommon event; and as Martin had
failed in tracing Parry, and Father Eustace's return was delayed, except
that there was a degree of mystery attached to the appearance and
disappearance of the visitor, in a few days the circumstance was almost
forgotten.

Meantime, whilst, with swift passage, events were hastening onwards, and
which were to involve some of the _dramatis personæ_ of our story in
the perils and miseries of life, how calmly and how treacherously flowed
on the even tenor of their hours. Mischief, as we have seen, was afoot;
a secret society, consisting of one or two dangerous fanatics, resident
in the county of Warwick, an Irish gentleman of rank, and several other
desperadoes, had met, as we have before hinted, at one of the low
hostels in the town of Stratford, and which locality they had chosen for
some reason best known to themselves.

These men, involved in a desperate enterprise, and sworn to devote
themselves to death one by one, till they had achieved it, whilst they
sought to increase the number of their associates, found danger even in
the overzeal--the frenzied enthusiasm--of one of their own instruments,
whilst another was about to prove false and betray them; nay, at the
very moment when, like the alchemist of old, their toils were to be
rewarded with progression, the vessel containing the elixir was to
burst, and destroy all within its influence.

These emissaries were at work in various directions,--secretly,
stealthily. They had friends in France, in Spain, in Italy, in Flanders
even; the day and the hour at which the first attempt was to be made was
fixed; the very hooftreads of the horse which carried the unscrupulous
Neville towards his design, in imagination, were counted by them; whilst
he who was then, as his associates supposed, hastening towards this
purpose, from a sudden change having taken place in his before desperate
fortunes, was indeed posting to London; not, as he had sworn, in order
to make essay upon the life of Elizabeth, but to betray the whole plot
to the council, to aggrandize himself, and give to the gibbet and the
executioner's knife, his sometime friends.

And such are the inscrutable ways by which Providence works out His
ends: such is the wisdom of the Great Director of events, and such are
the vain designs of man. Ever driving headlong onwards, hastened by evil
passions, obstinacy, wickedness, and pride, to inevitable
destruction;--destroyed by their own villanous devices, thirsting for
blood, grasping at riches, feeding absolutely on each other, the wicked
perish miserably.



CHAPTER XIII.

MOTHER AND SON.


Those of our readers who have visited Stratford-upon-Avon, and looked
upon the house in Henley Street, that house which has caused so great an
interest in the world, will remember the lattice-windowed room in its
upper floor, that room in which (as their eyes have glanced around its
walls) their feelings have perhaps been excited almost unto the shedding
of tears;--that room in which some portion of the early youth of him
whose idea is enshrined in the hearts of all who speak our English
tongue, was passed.

It is mid-day, and seated in that room are a mother and an elder son.
The mother is employed in some sort of curious work, whilst her baby is
cradled, and asleep at her side. Spinning perhaps, like "the spinsters
and the knitters of the sun,"--

    "Weaving her threads with bones,"

lace-making; and as she works, she chants some old ditty,--some song,
"that dallies with the innocence of love, like the old age."

    "Come away, come away, death,
      And in sad cypress let me be laid;
    Fly away, fly away, breath,
      I am slain by a fair cruel maid:
    My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
              O, prepare it--
    My part of death no one so true
              Did share it.

    Not a flower, not a flower, sweet,
      On my black coffin let there be strewn;
    Not a friend, not a friend, greet
      My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown;
    A thousand, thousand sighs to save,
              Lay me, O where
    Sad true lover ne'er find my grave,
              To weep there."[1]

[Footnote 1: "Twelfth Night."]

And whilst she sings, the youth, her son, seated upon a stool at her
feet, is deeply engaged in perusing the goodly-sized volume he holds
upon his knees.

Such is the picture. The sun streams through the diamond panes of that
ample window, and gives a glowing tint to the red curtains of the old
square-topped bedstead, and other cumbrous articles of furniture; the
high-backed chairs, and the heavy oaken table in the background. What
would the illustrious of the world,--what would the most honoured in the
world's esteem, of our own day, for arts, for arms, or for
learning,--what would they give for _one_ glance into "the dark backward
and abysm of time,"--but _one_ glance, so to see that mother and her
son;--that mother who implanted grace in her child; that child whose
high spirit had been tamed and cultivated by her influence? And what,
indeed, should we all be, saith a great writer, but for the influence of
women in our youth?

They give us life, and they also give us the life of the soul. How many
things do we learn of them as sons, lovers, or friends?

The youthful Shakespeare loved to hold sweet converse with his handsome
mother, and whom he loved so well. From her conversation, in his boyhood
he had taken his first impressions of things: from her legendary
stories, (so sweetly related,) he had gathered many facts of history. In
winter's tedious nights, how oft had she pictured to him all she had
heard from her own parents, of the York and Lancastrian wars, and the
horrors to which England had been reduced--"Discord in every state,
discord in every family!" From her's, and from his father's relations,
over the winter's fire, were gathered the boy's first impressions of
those fierce English, whose characteristics (according to their foes)
were force of pride, and obstinacy--those doggedly resolute, those
invincibly cool islanders, who, in all their splendour of their feudal
pride, had so often walked through the vasty fields of France, as if in
some harnessed masque, eating up the lands on all sides, and still
fighting onwards in their own joyless way: burning, slaying, and
destroying for so many centuries, till they made captive at Agincourt,
not only of the French king, but the very realm.

'Twas thus the boy had learnt his first lesson in the history of his
country, not either exactly as a lesson, but in the homely popular form
of a winter night's tale, as the simple story, or faith of a mother.

And what we thus inbibe with the milk we suck, and with our growing
blood, is a living thing as it were, and what the boy loved to listen to
as a simple story, the youth loved to follow out as a study. He reads of
the events his mother has told him of, and given him a taste for, in the
chronicled history of the wars of the time; whilst the little of life
and splendour he has already seen, in the brilliant era in which he
lives, has given him, even now, an impression of the pride, pomp, and
circumstance of the Norman period.

Yes, the mind of the boy had been moulded by his mother, and a great
deal of his just appreciation of women, and his delineations of the
exquisite females he has drawn, are derived from the impressions she has
given him.

As he reads from the thick volume, in which he learnt more accurately
the facts, and date, of the history of his own country, he occasionally
pauses to listen to his mother's song, to gaze up in her face, and to
question her upon some point he has arrived at, and which he remembers
to have heard her relate before.

Music and singing were much more cultivated (even amongst the humble
classes) than in our own times, in England, and where indeed they are
now scarcely cultivated at all. The sweet old songs "of the old age,"
are for the most part lost to us, they have departed with the quainter
dwellings in which they were warbled.

In those days the strains which floated through the halls of the great,
and the notes which were heard in the low-roofed apartments of the
citizen, were calculated to soothe and quiet the passions of man. In our
own times they are meant to arouse and excite--they are a whirl, a
discordant noise. The lullabys which the mother chanted as she worked,
were scraps of songs, great favourites at the time, and afterwards
adapted from the recollection of the hearer in some of his works:

    "Take, oh, take those lips away,
     That so sweetly were forsworn,--
    And those eyes, the break of day,
     Lights that do mislead the morn.
    But my kisses bring again,--bring again,
    Seals of love, but seal'd in vain,--seal'd in vain."[2]

[Footnote 2: This song, which, no doubt, was a favourite in its day, is
inserted in Beaumont and Fletcher's "Bloody Brother."]

Not only the history of his own land, and which all ranks at this period
were lamentably ignorant in, did the youthful Shakespeare receive the
rudiments of from his mother; but she loved to amuse him with those
stories of romance she had learned from her own parents, and which had
been handed down from the chivalric ages, when the female of high degree
was the teacher of youth. The great lady--"of exalted rank and
inaccessible,"--who cultivates the mind of the youthful page--a mother,
a sister, a guardian angel, and yet of such high degree, that she seems
(in the austerity of her counsels, and the difficulties to be overcome,
ere her favour can be gained) too great even to receive the adoration of
him whose service costs so many sighs. Till in the end, as the
accomplished knight is produced, the incarnation of merit and grace all
fades away before the powerful god.

The youth achieves greatness, and becomes lord of that beautiful lady,
her dark castle, and her broad domain, "with shadowy forests, and with
champions rich."



CHAPTER XIV.

THE LOVERS.


But three days had intervened since young Shakespeare's introduction to
Clopton Hall, and again he was a visitor there.

Although his own desire for the society of its amiable inmates might
reasonably have led the youth to repeat his visit, his better judgment
would have hindered him from so soon returning to Clopton, had he not
been led to do so by Walter Arderne.

That young man felt so great a desire to renew his acquaintance with the
youthful poet, that he had sought him out on the day following his
visit; and had, indeed, been with him every succeeding day in the
interval.

To one so amiable in disposition and so generous in sentiment as Walter
Arderne, the difference in station between himself and friend was no bar
to intimacy. Indeed, he felt so much in every way his own inferiority,
whilst in company with this singular new acquaintance, that it seemed
when in his society as if the condescension was on the other side. At
the same time the joyous spirit of the youthful Shakespeare, and a spice
of reckless daring in his disposition, gave an additional charm to his
companionship. So that intimacy, which (amongst many) has been the
source of the deadliest enmity, in this case led to the firmest
friendship.

"I know not wherefore, good William," said Arderne, as they slowly
wended their way towards Clopton, "but towards thee my feelings of
friendship and attachment are greater than is ordinarily experienced
between men not connected by blood. I am by birth thy superior, my
prospects in life are more brilliant than thine, I mix with the choice
spirits of the country here, and yet (albeit I am looked on as a wit, a
setter of exploits, a leader of diversions, a good blade, and a
sportsman), yet, somehow, my genius seems rebuked when in thy presence;
I feel myself as it were naught. Nay, despite thy sober suit of homely
cut and fashion, there is a superiority in every look, tone, and
movement of thine, which I feel and wonder at."

"Nay," said Shakespeare, "this is something too much, good sir. 'Tis
your love and friendship which makes you think thus. Be assured, the gay
and gallant Walter Arderne can never be outshone by so quiet, so
unobtrusive a wight as myself."

"Ah, so thou say'st," returned Arderne; "but why is it that I feel this
veneration on so short an acquaintance with a mere boy? Thy converse is
different from that of men even of learning and great attainments. There
is a force, a feeling in every word thou utterest, which makes its
impression. Yes, there is a manner about thee, William Shakespeare,
which is inexplicable; whilst thy slightest remark upon the most trivial
flowret in the hedgerow seems to me worth all the uttered wisdom of the
schools."

"Nay, then," said Shakespeare, laughing, "thou art but flouting me, good
Master Walter."

"Truly, thou art an extraordinary youth, good William, and the way thou
hast drawn out the different characters we have met with as we walked
the streets even to-day, and made them display their peculiarities and
their follies, is as singular as all else pertaining to thee."

Whilst they held converse thus, Walter Arderne and his new friend drew
near to the garden and pleasure-grounds of the Hall. As they did so, the
eyes of the lover detected his mistress in the distance. She was slowly
pacing along one of the walks, and perusing some verses written upon a
small scrap of paper. Arderne stopped as soon as he saw Charlotte
Clopton, and as he watched her graceful form amidst the trees, he seemed
for the moment wrapped in his own thoughts.

"Were it not," he said, after a pause, and turning to his youthful
friend, "were it not that I so entirely love thee, good William, were it
not that even in our short acquaintance I so highly esteem thee, I
should hesitate to bring one so superior to myself in contact with her I
adore; and were it not that thy superiority is so great, I should scorn
to own such a feeling to thee, William Shakespeare, lest I compromised
my own station by such thoughts. 'Tis strange, but so it is; and to any
one but thee, I should have shamed to give my thoughts tongue on such a
subject."

Ardorne sighed as he said this, and again looked towards the object of
his ardent affection. "She loves me not," he said, "'tis vain for me to
suppose she does. Her manner, despite her willingness to oblige her
father, and even to persuade herself she feels inclination to wed with
me, too plainly shews I have little or no real interest in her heart.
Had I but thy winning tongue and gift of speech, good William, I might
do much. Nay, it were good that thou shouldst plead for me, and tell her
of the violence of my passion; and thou shalt do it too."

"Nay," said his friend, "that would be somewhat out of the usual course
of wooing. I pray you hold me excused in this Master Arderne."

"Not a whit," said Arderne, "the thought is a good one. Women oft-times
are led to prize that which those they think well of value,--to open
their eyes and see clearly the hugeness of an affection they have not
before appreciated."

"But I know not how to woo a maid for myself," said his friend, "since I
have never yet made suit to one, how, then, am I to play the suitor for
so accomplished a cavalier; I who hath not ever seen the court?"

"Tush, tush, man," said Arderne, "there's ne'er a courtier of them all
could match thee, I dare be sworn."

And thus did the boy poet--the lover under circumstances so peculiar,
spend another day at Clopton Hall, and where all he saw gave him a
second impression of life in a different sphere to that in which he had
hitherto moved. True to the whimsical project which had suddenly seized
him, Walter Arderne left his friend with a fair opportunity of pleading
for him to the fair Charlotte.

"When thou art tired of examining those worm-eaten volumes," he said to
Shakespeare, "I dare be sworn thou wilt find Mistress Charlotte in her
favourite arbour in the garden. Sir Hugh and myself are promised forth
this morning. Farewell, therefore, for the present."

Our readers will readily imagine that the renewal of acquaintance
between this youthful pair would be likely to ripen the growing
affection they felt for each other. Concealment, however, seemed to both
a matter of necessity. Neither dared to own, even to themselves, that
they loved. Pride came to the aid of each. In one it was the pride which
fears even the shadow of suspicion; in the other it was the pride of
birth. The pride of ancestry, however, is soonest subdued in such cases;
that of conscience is more difficult for the blind god to overcome.

And the youthful poet and the exquisite Charlotte found themselves
thrown together, where every scene of beauty around them was conducive
to the growth of their passion.

The locality has oft-times much to do with love.

The lady, in all her glowing beauty, seemed even more lovely amidst her
own shadowy groves, with the time-honoured towers of her ancestors
looking majestic in the distance. The perfume from the sweetly-scented
shrubs and flowrets, the whisper of the soft breeze through the
luxuriant trees, the cooing of the wood-pigeons in the distant
plantation, the hum of the bees, and the plash of the fountain, each and
all were felt by one who was so prone to feel.

And he himself who walked beside that beautiful girl, thus surrounded by
all the appliances of rank and station, how did he appear in her eyes in
his lowly suit? Had he nothing to recommend him, and did he seem
unfitted for the companionship of one so much more elevated in station?
Did he appear to feel himself out of place or abashed by all he saw? We
think not. The lady looked upon that face of youthful beauty; the soft
curly hair even then thin upon the high forehead, the features so
beautifully formed and so expressive; that eye so soft, and yet at times
so full of fire, and whose glance was like the lightning's flash; the
small beautifully-formed and downy moustache upon the upper lip; and all
this, added to a figure which for grace and symmetry might have vied
with a Grecian statue. And as she looked and listened to his sweet and
honied sentences, she felt that all around would darken down to naked
waste without his society. The conversation of him who but a few days
before she would have passed without perhaps deigning to look upon,
seemed to have opened a new world to her. Such is love,--that most
fantastic of passions, which is said to be but once felt, and once felt
never forgotten.

The affections of women are perhaps easier won than those of men. They
are commonly more disinterested, and "prize not quality of dirty lands."
Seldom do we find that women display such open heartlessness, such acts
of infidelity, as men.

    "For however we do praise ourselves,
    Our fancies are more giddy and infirm,
    More longing, wavering, sooner lost and won,
          Than woman's are."

That the fair Charlotte should, on better knowledge, more fully
appreciate the merits of her companion, we of latter days, who imagine
the man from his works alone, can hardly wonder at; and the
peculiarities of the position of the lovers made her, falling
desperately in love, the less extraordinary. Had the youth of inferior
degree presumed upon the favourable impression he could not help seeing
he had made, the pride of the lady might have better befriended her. But
there was ever a certain reserve about him, when matters seemed verging
towards their issue, which perplexed and somewhat piqued her.

The expression of his eyes, when occasionally she detected him gazing
upon her, was hardly to be mistaken, but then his respectful reserve
would as suddenly return.

This was, however, a state of things which could not last, and perhaps,
of all men, the ardent, the impassioned Shakespeare, in his early youth,
was the most unlikely person to withstand such a strife as he was
exposed to, and come off victorious, however honour, and friendship,
and pride, might come to his aid. The knowledge that he was beloved by
the fair creature beside him, the locality, the opportunity afforded him
of expressing his own feelings, altogether, even in this his second
visit, nearly made shipwreck of all his good intentions, and once or
twice he was about to seize the hand of the fair Charlotte, and after
owning the ardour of his affection, fly from the spot for ever.

He, however, during this visit did manage to contain and conceal his
passion; nay, he even performed the office of friendship which had been
entrusted to him, and as he spoke of the fair lady's betrothed husband,
he praised him for those good qualities he had already found him to
possess, and spoke of him as one worthy the love and regard of any
woman, however excellent and high in station. This was a theme, however,
which he perceived was somewhat unwelcome, and the beauty grew wayward
as he pursued it. With girlish tact she beat him from his theme, as
often as he renewed it, and sought to lure him to other subjects more
congenial to her thoughts whilst in his society. Nay, perhaps had he
studied how best to advance his own suit to her he could not have hit
upon a way more likely to succeed.

The fair Charlotte was piqued at what she considered his insensibility,
and without considering what she did, she almost let him understand that
it would have been much more grateful to her to have heard the speaker's
own merits extolled than those of Master Arderne.

"And yet," she said, with a sigh, as she glanced archly from her fringed
lids, whilst her eyes were cast down in mock solemnity, "and yet I
should be ungrateful were I not to join in your praises towards my bold
coz, for in good sooth I am indebted to him for many of the
accomplishments I possess. He hath taught me to fly my hawk with e'er a
cavalier in Warwickshire. Nay, I think I could even shoe my palfrey as
well as ride him, if necessary. I am sure I could train a hound as well
as himself, and, as for the treatment of the poor brutes in all their
ailments, that I am confident I understand quite as much as old Hubert,
the head huntsman, or any of his underlings. Now, all these matters I
have been fairly taught and perfected in by my cousin, therefore see an
I be not under obligation indeed."

"And is such, the praise that one so true of heart and hand deserves?"
said Shakespeare. "Methinks, in this world, where so much silliness,
selfishness, vanity, and falsehood exists, a perfect cavalier, without
fault and honest, open and free too as he is brave and handsome,
deserves more praise from the lips of beauty than for paltry knowledge
you have ascribed to him."

"Paltry knowledge!" said Charlotte, laughing, "what call ye paltry? Why,
these accomplishments I have enumerated to thee are the essentials of a
country gentleman, as necessary for the woods and fields as dancing,
dicing, and swearing are for the town. But methinks 'tis somewhat early
for you to have taken note of the silliness and falsehood existing in
the world; one so young can scarce have observed such matters, I should
have thought."

"Pardon me, good lady," said Shakespeare, "what may be in the world at
large I am, indeed, for the most part ignorant in. But our good town of
Stratford hath in itself some fair specimens of the human mortal, which
he who hath eyes to mark, and brains to consider, may easily profit by,
and lay up in his memory."

"Methinks so shrewd an observer, and so keen withal, may chance to find
us all fair mark for the shafts of his wit," returned Charlotte; "we
shall learn to fear you, young sir, an ye prove so hard upon your
neighbours."

"Nay, fair lady," said Shakespeare, "my observations hath only had to do
with those in my own sphere of life. The little I have seen as yet in a
higher grade, hath been glanced at during my boyhood at the Free School
of my native town. Nay, if I may venture to judge, I should say that the
same vices, the same ambitions, the same petty feelings, jealousies, and
envious heart-burnings, are to be observed in the smaller circle of a
charity-school and its rulers, as are to be observed in the great and
universal theatre of the world. Amongst those who rule, we do not always
find examples of unerring goodliness, grace, and virtue, but rather
intolerance and pride, and in most others ill-will, conceit, envy,
hatred, and uncharitableness; large promise; much of puritanism, but a
plentiful lack of true merit."

During this visit, the fair Charlotte, who was all joyous anxiety to
contribute to the amusement of her guest, made the round of the kennel
and the falconry, in order to initiate him into the mysteries of the
management of some of her pets.

In those days, as we have before hinted, men of all ranks took delight
in out-door sports and diversions. Their amusements were, for the most
part, in the open air, and the chase, and the terms of wood-craft were
ever mixed up in their conversation. The veriest lout in his holiday
excursion loved to see his mongrel cur hunt the meadows and marshes for
game, or catch the cony in the extensive warrens which then existed
around. The youthful Shakespeare, it may therefore be well imagined, was
passionately fond of seeking the haunts of the game, abundant as it was
in the neighbourhood of his native town. Under these circumstances the
sporting establishment at Clopton was looked over with considerable
interest by him, and as the fair Charlotte petted the favourite hawk
which usually graced her wrist, she taught him the several terms of
falconry, and even explained how the various grades of men in the old
time were recognized by their hawks. "An eagle," she said, "is for an
emperor; a gerfalcon is due to a king; a falcon-gentle and a
tercel-gentle, these be for a prince; a falcon of the rook is for a
duke; the falcon peregrine for a belted earl; your bustard is for a
baron; a sacret for a knight, and a lanair is for a squire; and then,"
said Charlotte, as she continued to count up further varieties, "we have
the goshawk for the yeoman, the spave hawk for Sir Priest, a muskyte for
a holy-water clerk, and a kestrel for a knave or varlet."

Whilst thus situated and employed, how swift is the growth of love
between two beings of disposition and character such as we have
described. As the youthful poet watched the expressive face of the
beautiful girl beside him, whilst she spoke so eloquently upon a subject
of interest to her, and as she gave herself up to the management of her
falcon, or played with and fondled her favourite dogs, he became more
fascinated with her artlessness and beauty. He marked the natural grace
of her movements, as, in all the freedom of unchecked enjoyment, she
entered into the excitement of the hour. He observed the nymph-like
figure, the glowing face, the luxuriant tresses uncontrolled in the soft
breeze, and he listened with delight to the joyous and ringing laugh;
and as he beheld her thus, his admiration was touched with sadness, for
he thought that all this elegance and beauty was far removed from his
hopes. "One fading moment's mirth" perchance was bought "with twenty
watchful, weary, tedious nights."

Attended by the head falconer and one or two of his men, as they
followed the flight of Charlotte's hawk, they had extended their ramble
to some considerable distance beyond the chace, and the mid-day sun was
so oppressive, that they returned through the thick and shadowy woods,
which on one side extended to within a short distance of the Hall. And
here too--as the grasshopper uttered his peculiar chirp in the prickling
gorse and thorn, and as the sweet scent of the fern pervaded the
air--these unfrequented glades gave rise to thoughts only incident to
fresh and stainless youth ere the blunter feelings of riper years rob us
of their verdant freshness.

Images of vernal brightness floated before the poet's mind, and feelings
of youth, and hope, and joy were blended with the thoughts of her he
loved: images such as Shakespeare could alone have conceived. And she
who was the object of that love, as she listened to the sportive gaiety
of his words, during this ramble, and as he called forth the elves and
fairies of his brilliant imagination, she felt as if wandering in a
magic grove and breathing the sweet odours of an elfin bower: and then,
again, he peopled the glades with bright forms, fresh and lusty as in
the first ages of the world. And when he himself parted from his fair
companion on reaching the Hall, and he returned again through the
plantations of Clopton, he sought out each spot which Charlotte had
seemed most interested in, and dwelt upon each look, and tone, and word,
she had uttered. 'Twas indeed a midsummer day's dream, a situation in
which he was carried from the reality of the present, to the realms of
fancy, a dream that haunted him in after years. The thoughts and
imaginings which pervaded the mind of the youthful Shakespeare, during
these moments, were what perhaps he himself would have failed in
describing.

Few of us can convey in words the heavenly images which float in
celestial ether, as it were, through the brain. We feel in the feeble
attempt the unsufficing medium of language. Words are but the clayed
embodiment of the swift thought. The thought itself is the essence of
the soul--poetry unspeakable. We cannot word that which is divine.
Language has no power to render again the shadowy dream--the musing
reverie.

Whilst under the influence of feelings such as these, the society and
the haunts of men were uncongenial to the poetic youth, and he usually
sought out the wildest scenes of his native country. Over park, over
pale, he bounded, and the keepers, who caught sight of him occasionally
in their forest walks, failed in arresting him in his rambles.



CHAPTER XV.

CHARLECOTE.


In a former chapter we have seen the sharp and sententious Lawyer Grasp,
in the act of girding up his loins and preparing to set forth upon a
somewhat important mission: a matter, indeed, not likely to be effected
without some little danger to all concerned in its execution. The shrewd
lawyer, however, to say the least of him, was not altogether devoid of
courage, and, albeit his valour was modified by a certain degree of
discretion, he loved to be first when anything was to be gained by
leading the van.

In the present instance he thought he spied a good chance of promotion,
both as regarding his instrumentality in apprehending or gaining notice
of a dangerous plot, but he also hoped to make a profitable intimacy
with the proud owner of Charlecote: and, as he spurred his palfry
onwards, visions of suits, and testaments, and title deeds, and strong
boxes, pertaining to the domain he was entering, floated through his
brain in rapid succession.

Plots and complots, conspiracies, and secret meetings to kill a queen,
were, indeed, in his eye, as nothing, unless pertaining to the
advancement of one small person who wrote himself attorney in the town
of Stratford: and who hoped, one day, to be the richest and greatest man
there. The world around was nothing: the covering sky was nothing;
England was nothing, except as pertaining to Master Pouncet Grasp; nay,
so long as the small circle of air around his own proper person was
wholesome and fit for the purposes of respiration, it would have been
all the same to him if the atmosphere in general were infected with the
plague. He was, indeed, without question, the most selfish little
caitiff that ever drove a quill upon parchment.

Charlecote, the residence of Sir Thomas Lucy, was one of those vast,
irregularly built, but picturesque looking mansions, which gives
impression, at first sight, of the architectural style of the Tudors.
Redolent of red brick picked out with white, full of large bay windows,
beetling balconies, twisted chimneys, gable ends, and gate-houses. A
magnificent structure looking like a brick-built palace, situate in the
midst of the most luxuriant foliage; which partially concealed its
multitudinous offices, its falconries, its dog-kennels, and its
thick-walled gardens.

As Grasp, therefore, approached this curious building, he beheld its
embattled towers and massive chimneys embosomed in ancient trees of vast
size, and most soft and lovely foliage. Nothing, perhaps, could be more
impressive than the whole scene. The vast park studded with mossed
trees, and the herded deer couched in the fern, beneath the shade. The
gigantic avenue, flourishing in all the grandeur of its undecayed age,
and each particular tree throwing its deep shadow upon the grassy carpet
beneath, with the lordly mansion only partially seen at its extremity.

As Grasp entered this gloomy, but majestic avenue, he drew bridle, and
paused for a few moments to reassure himself, and consider matters over,
and as he did so, he became impressed with the deep and solemn silence
reigning around, a silence only occasionally interrupted by the baying
howl from the kennel, an occasional winding note from the huntsman's
bugle, or the clear ringing sound of the old clock from the tower of the
red brick gate-house.

As the little lawyer gazed around, a sort of awe crept over his paltry
soul, he became at each step more deeply impressed with the greatness of
the man he was about to approach, and from the wealth he saw around him,
he began to consider whether he himself was worthy of coming into the
presence of one so mighty. For Grasp's idol was money, the only
Providence he believed in or worshipped.

Added to this he knew from report the aristocratic and exclusive
disposition of Sir Thomas, his haughty bearing towards his inferiors,
and his dislike of intrusion, and he began to doubt whether the knight
might take it well, that he had come thus in person to communicate with
him, more especially as he himself had very lately been engaged in a
suit against Sir Thomas, instituted by one of the tradesmen of
Stratford, and in which Grasp, by trickery, had managed to get a verdict
against the great man.

In short, as Grasp approached the house, he began to feel that he would
almost rather have demanded an interview with Queen Elizabeth herself,
than with the owner of the domain of Charlecote. He even began to doubt,
whether (if Sir Thomas should happen to catch sight of him before an
opportunity offered for introducing his important mission) the proud
knight would not either order his attendants to whip him out of the
park-gates, or perhaps even set his hounds upon him and hunt him through
the grounds. These thoughts and apprehensions the more forcibly
impressed themselves upon his mind, as the caitiff was well aware he
fully deserved as much at Sir Thomas's hands.

However, the business he was upon at length outweighed all other
considerations, and setting spurs to his sorry nag, he hastened onwards
and neared the house.

As he did so he found that he had timed his visit exactly as he had
anticipated, and that Sir Thomas and his family were about to take their
afternoon excursion. For (amongst his other peculiarities) the old
knight was exceedingly punctual and precise in all his doing, keeping
the even tenor of his way, and timing his different movements as exactly
as the clock in the tower of his gate-house was true to the dial in the
pleasaunce. As Grasp therefore approached he beheld the palfreys and
attendants of the family party, mustering in front of the mansion,--a
goodly sight to look on, and which made Grasp open his eyes as he beheld
it.

Sir Thomas, like most others in the country at this period, was one of
those proud men who like to do every thing with circumstance and parade,
and accordingly if he only rode across the park to shoot a buck, he
usually was attended by a round dozen of his keepers and servants.

At the present time, as he was about to take his afternoon ride, and
perhaps pay a formal visit to one or two of his immediate neighbours,
his party, including his own family and the attendant serving-men,
amounted to about a score. The sight was a gallant one,--such as in our
own times we may behold represented upon the artist's canvass, or during
the scenic hour, but never again with all its circumstance in real life.
There were assembled the serving men and attendants, with the three
white Lucys embroidered in silver upon their green hunting-frocks. The
head falconer, clad in a sort of loose frock of scarlet cloth; the
keepers carrying the hawks upon a stand, and several attendant grooms
with the knight's favourite dogs in their charge. For, as with men of
this sort the sports of the field was the chief occupation of life, so
the companionship of their dogs and hounds seemed almost necessary to
their enjoyment; they seldom made a journey without the favourite hawk
or hound, and they as seldom rode to take the air on the most ordinary
occasions, without being provided with the means of striking any game
they might put up in their route. The hawk upon the wrist was as
necessary also to the lady, as the spur upon the heel to the knight. The
most interesting part of the present display, however, and that which
struck the little lawyer with a sort of dread, was the sporting old
knight himself, and his three daughters, as they came forth and mounted
their steeds.

There was, indeed, something about Sir Thomas Lucy, that, to a man of
Grasp's sort, seemed unapproachable, incomprehensible, and even awful.
His tall gaunt figure, clad in his hunting-frock of scarlet cloth
embroidered with gold, with all the tasselled appointments to match--the
long leather gauntlets upon his hands--and the high russet boots upon
his legs, were well matched by the grey hair and peaked beard, the
aquiline features, and the pale complexion of the stern-looking old
knight. In fact, there was a something inexpressibly noble in the
appearance of that grey old man. He looked one of the Norman knights of
the crusading times returned to his halls,--so pale, so wan, so antique,
and yet withal so knightly in his bearing. The hand seemed formed for
the rapier, the head for the helm, the heel for the spur. If the little
lawyer felt at the moment somewhat impressed with the appearance of the
old knight, now that he was about to approach him, he was no less struck
with the grace and beauty of his daughters. They seemed to his eye, at
that moment (and as he regarded them, seated upon their palfreys),
creatures of a superior race to the generality of human mortals;
celestial beings, with "beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear."

In fact, Grasp was so feelingly impressed with a sense of inferiority as
he approached the presence of the Knight of Charlecote, that once or
twice he was about to wheel his steed, and return as he had come.

Indeed he certainly had done so, had not the old knight suddenly caught
sight of him, just as he came into the open space in which the party was
assembled, and fixed him like a basilisk.

It happened unluckily for Grasp, that the avenue was not often made a
thoroughfare for any but visitors to the Hall, and accordingly, the
apparition of the meagre-looking lawyer, clad in a sad-coloured suit,
carrying a little bag in his hand, and bowing to the pommel of his
saddle every step he took, rather struck Sir Thomas Lucy with
astonishment. The knight had just at that precise moment thrown his leg
over his palfrey, and settled his gaunt person fairly in the demipique,
or war-saddle, it was his usual wont to use, when he espied the lawyer;
and the effect upon both was like the boa-constrictor suddenly coming in
sight of its prey. The lawyer seemed transfixed for the moment, whilst
the magnifico, with his movements arrested, regarded him with a stern
and curious eye.

At length Sir Thomas signed to one of his attendants to approach, and,
pointing to the lawyer, desired him to inquire into the meaning of the
intrusion.

"Inquire me of yonder man," said the knight, "wherefore he hath
approached the house on this side, and which it is our desire to keep
secluded from public resort, and the eyes of the common and popular."

"He hath business of great import, and craves an immediate and private
audience with your worship," said the serving-man, after communicating
with Grasp.

"Hath he a name?" said Sir Thomas.

"He had rather your worship heard his business first and his name
afterwards," said the serving-man, "so much did he inform me when I made
inquiry; but I rather think it is Master Grasp, the lawyer of
Stratford."

Sir Thomas winced. "And what doth Master Grasp, the lawyer of Statford
require with Sir Thomas Lucy, of Charlecote?" dryly he said. "Inquire me
out his business; and if he tell it not, convey him round to the proper
entrance for people of his sort; and, d'ye hear? wait on him out."

During this colloquy, the lawyer had gained somewhat of his
self-sufficiency, and, dismounting, approached Sir Thomas, and ventured
to accost him.

"Will your honourable worship," he said, "favour me with a hearing at
this unseasonable moment, upon matters of high import, connected with
the safety of our gracious Sovereign the Queen and the welfare of the
whole realm?"

"If thy communication be of so much importance as that," said the
knight, "it behoves me, as a true subject, to give attention to it. The
body public and the safety of the realm demand so much of us."

"'Tis a matter of so much importance," said Grasp, "that it concerns all
who wish not to be burned, racked, whipped, beaten, and otherwise
tormented to death by the Spaniard. 'Tis no less a matter, Sir Thomas
Lucy, than a discovery I have made of a nest of traitors, who are, at
this moment, assembled together, at Stratford, for the purpose of
contriving the murder of our Queen and the delivery of the kingdom into
the hands of Philip of Spain."

Grasp delivered this piece of intelligence with so much eagerness and
vehemence, that he had approached quite close to Sir Thomas, in his
anxiety that his news should not be overheard, and the old knight was in
something impressed with its importance. He, however, drew back from too
close contact with the Stratford lawyer, warning him to remove a little
further from his person.

"Your communication is doubtless of the utmost importance," he said
coolly, as he prepared to dismount; "we will instantly hear all you have
to say. Nevertheless, confine your eagerness to serve Her Majesty within
proper bounds." So saying, Sir Thomas dismounted from his palfry, and
coolly desiring his daughters to continue their ride, led the way into
the house, and, followed by Grasp, entered his private study.

The loyalty of the man would not permit him to pause a moment, as soon
as he fully comprehended the nature of the business. He took two turns
up and down the apartment; and then ordered the head-keeper to be
summoned into his presence. "I will arrest these miscreants with my own
proper hand and with my own people," he said, "instantly, without a
moment's delay. Meantime, I will send over to my good neighbour, Sir
Hugh Clopton, and inform him of it, so that he may meet me at Stratford
on my arrival there, and aid me in this capture. Not so much," he
continued to himself, "that I require his assistance, as that he may
partake with me in the honour of cutting the throats of such vile
wretches, an they resist lawful authority."

"May it please your worship," said Grasp, "there is a thing, I omitted
to say, and which I had said, only that I feared its knowledge would
most heartily grieve, astonish, and dismay your worship."

"You have already both astonished and somewhat grieved us," said Sir
Thomas, "in delivering the piece of intelligence you came here charged
withal. In how far you may be further able to dismay us, we may be
perhaps permitted to doubt: nevertheless, we would fain be made
acquainted with the nature of this omitted circumstance."

"Sir Hugh Clopton," said Grasp, "your worship spoke of him as aiding and
assisting in the capture of these bloody-minded conspirators."

"I did so," said Sir Thomas. "Said I not well, good Master Grasp?"

"Your worship hath the gift of saying well," returned Grasp, who found
himself gaining ground, he thought, in Sir Thomas's good graces. "But I
grieve to say that Sir Hugh lieth under the imputation of being deeply
implicated in this plot."

"How!" said Sir Thomas, losing something of austerity in his surprise.
"Sir Hugh Clopton implicated in such a hellish conspiracy as this you
have named? Had any man holding rank equal or superior to mine own, said
so much, Master Pouncet Grasp, he had lied under the imputation of a
liar and a caitiff at my hands."

"Nay," said Grasp, "I ask your worship's pardon, I had it from him who
gave me the clue to the whole matter,--the honourable gentleman I told
you of,--the right honourable Master Walter Neville."

"Say, rather, the arch traitor--the doubly dishonourable villain
Neville, who goeth about to purchase benefit for himself by the blood of
his party. An such a man be your informant? Credit me, the information
is incorrect. I listen not therefore to it, it is naught."

Meantime, whilst Sir Thomas held converse thus with Grasp, he had at the
same time, in the most quiet and business-like way, been encasing
himself in one or two pieces of defensive armour which had hung at hand,
behind the great chair on which he usually sat. Taking down a richly
inlaid breast-plate, and which he had worn in his youth in the wars of
the Low Countries, he fitted it on with care and precision, as one to
whom the business of arming was a habit of easiness. He then indued a
cumbrous back-piece to match, buckled the shoulder-straps without
assistance, and girded the whole tightly together with an embroidered
belt round his waist. After which (laying aside the light rapier he
usually wore), he adopted a stout, heavy-hilted, and somewhat ponderous
blade, and thrusting a pair of enormous petronels and his dagger into
his girdle, stept forth into the centre of the apartment completely
equipped for the business on hand, and looking, what our readers of the
present day would have termed, as perfect a specimen of Don Quixote de
la Mancha as they could have wished to behold.

Those who looked upon his tall gaunt form and sinewy limbs, however,
might see that, eccentric as was his appearance, he would be rather an
awkward customer to engage with or offer an affront to; and so thought
Grasp, when he beheld the knight's military toilette completed.

Nay, a sort of unpleasant feeling began to creep over him; a
presentiment of hard knocks, bullets, and grievous wounds suddenly
pervaded his mind, as he looked upon this military figure clattering
about in his cuirass, and coolly selecting his ponderous weapons for the
nonce. For Grasp, it must be remembered, (albeit he lived in stirring
times,) was a man of peace, and whose whole life nearly had been passed
in a small dark back office in the town of Warwick, where he had been
brought up and initiated in all the tricks of his craft.

However, as he had been the exciting cause of Sir Thomas's taking the
affair upon his hands, and as he knew the knight would be likely to make
a clean business of it, he felt that now to hold back would be to lose
all the advantage he had previously promised himself.

Could he but manage to be exceedingly prominent and useful in this
capture, he felt certain that it would lead on to fortune.

"I have never yet fought," he said to himself, "except with my pen. Now
I am going to wield a weapon which, if it be only half as deadly and
destructive in my hands, I shall make unpleasant work withal. But, in
good sooth, I feel as though I had rather _prepare_ the writ than
_serve_ it in the present case."

So eager was Sir Thomas to pursue the adventure, and make capture of the
conspirators with his own hand, that he tarried not for any of the
customary formalities.

He resolved to take all responsibility upon himself, and "standing to no
repairs," swoop upon the culprits. Accordingly, having mustered the
serving-men he had warned for this service, and seen to their efficiency
in regard to weapons with a military eye, the whole party wheeled out of
the gate-house of Charlecote and took their way towards Stratford.



CHAPTER XVI.

THE ATTACK.


Many of our readers, who have searched with curious eye through the
various localities and peculiar points of interest at Stratford, will
doubtless recollect a small antiquated-looking inn, situated on the
Avon's bank,--a building whose outward favour and stout-timbered walls,
together with its massive chimneys and general appearance, would
proclaim it to have been a house of some mark in its day.

At the period of our story this building had degenerated from a goodly
farm-house to a hostel called the Checquers, and was the house of
entertainment generally used by the commoner sort of wayfarers. It was a
house altogether of no very good repute, in which the brawl and the
night-shriek might be occasionally heard by the more respectable
dwellers in the town,--a house often visited too by the watch, and
carefully looked after by the authorities.

It was a dwelling also often changing owners, and had been lately taken
by a stranger, a dark, taciturn, evil-looking host, whose appearance
nobody liked, consequently he was but ill supported.

In short, since the present landlord had been its occupant, save and
except an occasional guest who appeared to have arrived from foreign
parts, and departed as quickly and silently as he had come, the
Checquers was almost without guests. So that, albeit its former
dissolute repute might be said to have departed from it, the inn had now
assumed a mysterious sort of note, and was as celebrated for closed
doors and quietude, as it had before been for riot and open debauchery.
Some said the landlord was a Jesuit; others, that he was an emissary of
the Spaniard; whilst others again affirmed he was both the one and the
other, and all agreed that he was an ill-favoured, unneighbourly, and
exceedingly disagreeable person.

It was at this hostel, Master Neville and his associates had previously
taken up their quarters, and here they had been frequently visited
during the dark hours by certain cavaliers who hitherto had seldom
remained till dawn.

Master Muddlework, the head constable of the town, had considered it
consistent with his duty twice to visit the Checquers, in order to
observe these suspicious-looking strangers, but each time he had done so
he had failed in finding anything to fasten his suspicions upon; so that
whether a good look-out was kept, and the major portion of the strangers
had concealed themselves, or that they were really absent at the moment
of his visit, the functionary had, as we have said, quite failed in
observing anything unusual or particular; except it was the mysterious
quietude and closed-up doors and shutters of the sometime rollicking
hostel.

In short, nothing could exceed the degree of interest with which this
inn and its occupants were at this moment regarded,--an interest which
had become general throughout the town, all on a sudden apparently, and
it was towards this hostel, as our readers doubtless are aware, that Sir
Thomas Lucy and his party were now advancing.

To the suggestion of Grasp, that it would be better, he thought, to wait
till the shadows of evening had descended before they approached the
town, Sir Thomas gave a decided negative. All dark doings, he said, were
foreign to his nature. He had proceeded by the shortest and most
expeditious route towards his design, as in duty bound, the moment he
heard of this vile assemblage, and, Heaven willing, he would proceed as
straight to the capture of the caitiffs.

With military precision and precaution, however, he gave directions so
as to ensure the more sure success of his undertaking, and halting for a
few moments in the road, he divided his party in twain, sending one
portion full trot forwards, with orders to make a slight detour, and
enter the town on the further side, whilst he so timed his own movements
as to come within hail of the suspicious hostel at the precise moment
his other party approached it.

This done, according to previous concert, the two portions extending
from the right and left, in a moment completed a very pretty cordon
around the hostel; so that not a mouse could shew its nose outside the
walls without being seen. Quickly as this movement had been executed, it
had been as quickly seen by the inmates apparently; for the door in the
rear, which had been open the moment before, was immediately closed and
secured.

This proceeding convinced Sir Thomas in a moment that the inmates of the
hostel kept a good look-out, and at the same time led him to suspect
what he indeed quickly found, namely, a desperate resistance. Such
indeed might reasonably be expected, for the vigilance of the Queen's
council was at this time so keen, and the various plots of the day so
continually being discovered by one chance or other, that there was
small hope of success, unless the utmost secresy was maintained.

Ordering his party instantly to dismount, (whilst the horses were put in
charge of a small reserve,) Sir Thomas drew back and desired Grasp to
advance to the fore door of the Checquers, and demand admittance in
form.

"An it so please your worship," said Grasp, "I had rather not take upon
myself so much of the responsibility of the action as that would amount
to. Your honour is a justice of the peace, and may therefore reasonably
take the lead. I will follow and bear witness to the lawfulness of
whatsoever it may please your valour to perform; but I had rather not
strike the first blow."

"Or receive it either, I believe," said Sir Thomas, _sotto voce_. "'Tis
well," he added aloud, and immediately setting spurs to his palfrey, he
was, the next moment, beside the strong iron-studded front-door of the
hostel, which he struck forcibly with the butt-end of his riding-whip.

As he expected, the door was fastened, and to his repeated summons no
answer was returned. At length he uplifted his voice, and in a loud
tone, demanded instant admittance in the Queen's name. Upon this the
lattice-window was thrown open, and a man's head appeared at it,--a
pale, cadaverous-looking wretch, with long lank hair, and glassy and
excited eye.

"What seek you here?" he said. "There is death in the house, and the
doors are closed against visitors to-day."

"Let them open to those who come in the Queen's name," said Sir Thomas.
"I come to seize the persons of all within this house. Dead or alive, it
matters not, I will arrest the bodies of all here consorting and
assembling."

"Ah," said the man, "and who then art thou, thus commissioned, and from,
whom hast thou such authority?"

"I am Sir Thomas Lucy, of Charlecote," returned the knight, "and if I
mistake not, thou art Ralph Somerville, of Warwick."

"And how if we refuse you admittance?" said Somerville. "How then, Sir
Thomas Lucy, of Charlecote?"

"Then I will make forcible entry," said Sir Thomas, "and those who
oppose me must be content with the mishaps that attend such procedure."

"Of what are we accused, that we are thus molested in our retirement?"
said Somerville.

"Of high treason, in conspiring to take the life of our blessed and
gracious Queen Elizabeth," said Sir Thomas.

"Then receive the wages of your service, heretic," said Somerville, at
the same moment discharging the contents of a petronel full in Sir
Thomas's visage.

The weapon was thrust so near to the face of the knight that the powder
blackened his features, but the ball, luckily, just missed his head, and
passing downwards on his cuirass, glanced off harmless.

"'Tis well," he said, with his usual coolness, as Somerville immediately
closed the window. "Forwards, men, and force the doors instantly."

The house had, apparently, been prepared in anticipation of such an
assault; for, as the party advanced to the attack, several calivers were
discharged from loop-holes, which had been made in the walls at the
upper part, and two of Sir Thomas's men were shot dead ere they could
reach the doors.

As the remainder, however, did so, they found the entrance so strongly
barricaded that their efforts to get in were fruitless; whilst at the
same time they were exposed to the bullets of those within during the
attempt. Sir Thomas saw this in a moment, as he rode about
superintending the affair, and indeed drawing several discharges from
the besieged upon his own person.

With military quickness and decision he immediately dismounted, and
rallying some half-a-dozen of his men who were bearing back from the hot
fire of the besieged, he seized upon a ladder which he espied lying near
a sort of outhouse in the rear. This he ordered his people to man on
either side, and leading them on, sword in hand, they rushed with
terrible force against the back door of the hostel, giving it such a
shock, that door and lintels together were nearly unshipped.

"Another rush," cried Sir Thomas; "one more, and we have them!"

Accordingly on dashed the men with this novel battering-ram, and again
and again they assailed the door. Any one who could have observed Grasp
at this moment, would have doubtless considered that he had suddenly
gone mad, since what between his anxiety to be amongst the first, and
near Sir Thomas Lucy, and his mortal fear of the whistling balls, he cut
a most ridiculous figure. One moment he rushed forward, with the party
who were using the ladder as a battering-ram; the next, as the sharp
report of a well-loaded caliver jarred his ears, he fairly bolted off,
turning again when he had gained a few paces to the rear, flourishing
his blue bag, and shouting at the assailants with all his might, to
break in and take the rebels.

"Serve the warrant, take the body, seize the person!--Take them dead or
alive!" he cried, as he jumped about. Meantime the ladder, being well
and chivalrously managed, at about the fourth rush carried in the door,
and Sir Thomas, with portentous strength, carried his body along with it
into the kitchen of the inn, a petronel in one hand and his heavy rapier
in the other, closely followed by his men. Contrary to his expectations,
however, the apartment was empty; "Guard the entrance!" he cried, as he
dashed into the next apartment. "The villains will escape us yet! Kill
whoever attempts to get out!"

Rapidly, and followed by his men, Sir Thomas made search through the
lower portion of the hostel, without, however, finding a soul, although
it was evident they had but the moment before escaped, the rooms being
filled with the smoke of their discharged fire-arms. Glancing round
upon his followers, who were now for the most part within the hostel, he
directed them instantly to search the upper flooring, whilst he kept
guard below.

This was, however, more easily said than done. The staircase was found
to be impracticable, being barricaded by a large quantity of faggots,
which had been drawn up and jammed tightly together.

"Ah," said Grasp, whose ferret eyes were everywhere at once, "may I
never draw an inference again, if I do not think the rogues have
ascended by a ladder through yonder trap, and then drawn the ladder up
after them."

At this moment, and whilst all paused to consider the next move, the
barrels of several calivers were thrust through as many holes which had
been perforated through the ceiling, and a very lively discharge was
kept up upon Sir Thomas and his party, which killing one of the men,
quickly sent Grasp and the rest out of the doors; Grasp, who in his
hurry and agitation being the last, closing the door behind him, and
actually shutting Sir Thomas up alone amongst his foes.

"Heaven bless and preserve us all from conspirators," said the lawyer,
jumping about and wringing his hands, as he hastily glanced amongst the
scared domestics, "they have shot, killed, and destroyed the knight of
Charlecote, as sure as I am a sinner! Sir Thomas Lucy is certainly
murdered outright by this nest of vipers, for I see him not amongst us
here?"

Confusion and dismay, indeed, sufficiently pervaded the attacking party.
They readily imagined their lord and master was slain, and to the horror
of such a catastrophe was added their doubts as to what was next to be
done; so that whilst some drew off from the near vicinity of tho house,
others mounted their horses, and set off full cry to the town to get
assistance.

In short, the assaulters felt the want of a second in command. They were
struck with dread at the supposed death of their leader, and the head
falconer being killed also, there was no one to lead them, to the
recovery even of the old knight's body, if he was indeed shot, or his
rescue, if only wounded.

Grasp, however, did all he could to exhort some half-a-dozen who
remained to make another attempt, to gain the interior. But the men very
wisely demurred.

"Who think ye is to enter yonder dark place, to be killed like a fox in
a hole?" said one.

"Nay," said another, "the matter is now none of ours to meddle with. If
our master be killed by these villains, some one else must take it up,
we have no further warranty to go forward; all we can do is to wait till
assistance comes from the town."

In the midst of this colloquy, (and which had hardly taken as many
moments as words used,) to the astonishment of the speakers, the sound
of firing again commenced within the dwelling,--quick, short, and
rapid, sounded the shots; whilst the old inn, as the gazers regarded
it, although it seemed convulsed with internal discord, remained closed
up, and its exterior undisturbed as if nothing extraordinary was going
on. At the same moment, too, shouts and sounds from the town proclaimed
that the townsfolk were coming to the scene of action.

"Gad he here," said Grasp, "what may this portend? The miscreants surely
cannot be contending against each other, and cutting their own throats
from sheer disappointment at being discovered in their villany!"

At this moment, and in the midst of these speculations upon the matter,
the door opened, and enveloped in a volume of smoke, which burst out
with him, begrimed too with soot and dirt, appeared Sir Thomas himself,
who instantly closing the door after him, and coughing violently from
the effects of the fumigation he had endured, waved his sword for his
people again to advance.



CHAPTER XVII.

THE CAPTURE.


To account for this appearance we must return to the knight after he had
been shut up within the hostel.

As he had never for a moment intended to give ground, he was in no wise
daunted at being thus left alone, and as the closing of the door shut
out the glare of light, it most probably was the means of saving his
life, for could those above have distinctly seen and levelled their
pieces at him, they would have shot him like a wolf in a trap. For the
moment all was quiet, and casting his eyes round the gloomy kitchen Sir
Thomas spied the remains of a fire in the grate, whilst fearful and
hurried whispers, gradually growing louder and more vehement above his
head, proclaimed that the conspirators were in earnest consultation.

Without a moment's delay, Sir Thomas (by aid of the fire on the hearth,
and such combustibles as he could hastily collect) set to work with
might and main, and lighted up a blazing bonfire in the very middle of
the apartment.

The rushes with which the floor was partially strewed, materially
assisted the blaze, and heaping chairs and other less cumbrous articles
upon it, whilst the astonished conspirators fired at him through the
loop-holes, he soon effected a very alarming conflagration.

It was lucky for the knight that the construction of such a measure of
defence, as that of perforating an upper floor to fire through,
necessarily precludes any precision in taking aim, as it is almost
impossible in a small opening of the sort, to get a good sight whilst
levelling downwards, and consequently, although a continued discharge
took place, whilst the knight busied himself in getting up the
conflagration, although the balls flew about his ears and buried
themselves in the floor at his feet, not one struck him.

Under these circumstances, and whilst the conspirators were ignorant
that the combustion which already became disagreeably apparent to them
was being effected by one person, their persevering foe completed his
arrangements, and jerking his powder flask into the flames, quickly
opened the door, and as he could no longer remain safely within, coolly
walked out.

Reassured by his appearance, those of his followers who were at hand
hastened to the support of the knight, who instantly directed Grasp to
proceed round to the door on the other side, with several of the men,
and make instant capture of any of the conspirators who attempted to
escape on that side.

"I have smoked the traitors in their den," said he, "and anon we shall
have them swarming out. Make prisoners of all you can secure. Hurt none
who yield, but suffer none to escape. If they resist, kill."

The anxiety of Grasp to see these mysterious plotters almost overcame
his personal apprehensions. He therefore hastened round with the men
under his charge, and in a few minutes the conflagration within forced
the besieged to attempt a sortie. The door before which Sir Thomas had
posted himself was thrown open, and (as smoke and flame gushed out)
forth rushed half a dozen men so completely begrimed in soot that their
features were scarcely distinguishable.

The conspirators evidently had made up their minds to a desperate effort
at escape, for they dashed to the right and left sword in hand, cutting
at all who opposed them.

"Yield thee, caitiff," cried Sir Thomas, flinging himself upon the
foremost, and seizing him by the collar of his doublet with an iron
grip, before he could strike a blow. "Yield thee, miscreant, in the
Queen's name!"

The man accosted attempted to stab Sir Thomas with his dagger, but the
knight dragged him headlong down, and stepping a pace or two back, at
the same time absolutely flinging him to his men, rushed upon the next
in the same manner, and, in this way, capturing three with his own hand,
whilst his followers kept them in play.

The scene we have described fully exemplified the nature of a period in
which deeds of violence and bloodshed, consequent upon the seditious and
superstitious bigotry of both religions, were by no means uncommon,
breaking out too, as they oft-times did, in the midst of apparent
tranquility.

Close upon the doors, in rear of the hostel, and at which the
conspirators made their principal efforts at escape, stood Sir Thomas
himself backed up by several of his men, conspicuous from his tall form
and his activity in cutting down all who refused to yield. Somewhat
removed, and at a safer distance, were to be seen a crowd of the
townsfolk, with a portion of the town guard and the head bailiff, who
had hastened to the scene upon the alarm of the encounter, accompanied
by a legion of old women and idle boys. These, as they learned the
nature of the business in hand, became proportionably excited against
the conspirators, whom they seemed inclined to tear in pieces so soon as
they could fairly get at them with safety to themselves.

"Oh! the miserable sinners," said Dame Patch. "I thought no good was
going on down yonder, with all their silence, secret meetings, and
keeping us women from amongst them."

"I always said there was a plot hatching to blow up the town and kill
every Protestant in it," cried Doubletongue. "God save Sir Thomas. See,
there's the last of the rogues down and being bound hand and foot!"

Such was indeed the case, and, except Somerville and another of the
conspirators who escaped Grasp and his party, the whole (amounting to
seven individuals) were down or captured, and, being bound, were
delivered into the hands of the bailiff for safe custody.

No sooner was the business done, and the capture fairly effected, than
the eccentric character of the knight of Charlecote again displayed
itself. He had borne himself manfully during the fight, and as one
worthy of his crusading ancestors, but his hauteur and reserve
immediately succeeded to the violence of action.

Drawing together his people, he gave directions for the removal of the
wounded into the town, where their hurts could be looked to. After which
he mounted his horse, and calling for a cup of wine, he lifted his hat,
and drank to the health of the Queen, the discomfit of the Spaniards,
and the confusion of all Jesuits. After which he turned his horse's head
from the Checquers, now filled with the idle and the curious, who had
managed to extinguish the fire, and rode off towards Charlecote.

"Nay, but how am I to dispose of these prisoners, Sir Thomas?" said the
head bailiff, stopping him as he passed. "I should also like to learn
the exact nature of the matter which hath led to this capture and the
death of these people around us here."

"Of that you will better learn," said Sir Thomas, dryly, "by applying to
your townsman there--Lawyer Grasp; and all further circumstances
connected with them, I opine you will speedily be made acquainted with
by the Queen's council, as I am myself led to believe by what Master
Grasp hath informed me."

So saying, Sir Thomas bowed to the head bailiff, and rode away from the
scene of his achievements.



CHAPTER XVIII.

A REVEL AT CLOPTON.


On the night which followed the action we have described, and which the
inhabitants of Stratford long afterwards called the fray of the
Checquers, Sir Hugh Clopton held an old accustomed feast at his house.
The entertainment was given in honour of his daughter's birthday, the
maiden having just completed her seventeenth year; and on this
interesting occasion most of the old knightly families of the county of
Warwickshire graced the scene. There came the Astleys of Hill Moreton,
the De la Wards of Newton, the Clintons of Badsley, the Walshes of
Mereden, the Blenknaps of Knoll, the Wellesbourns of Hastang, the
Comptons of Compton Winyate, the Sheldons of Beoley, the Attwoods, and
many other nobles, whose names now, like those once owning them, in all
the pride of ancestral honours, are obliterated from the muster-roll of
the living, and long forgotten in the very domains which owned them as
lords; and last, though by no means least, came the knight of Charlecote
and his lady, and their two lovely daughters.

It was indeed a goodly assemblage of the rank, youth, and beauty of the
county of Warwick of that period. The old folks stately in manner and
formal in costume; the men, looking in their starch ruffs, short cloaks
and trunks, quaint cut doublets and peaked beards; and the women, in
their jewelled stomachers and farthingales, like so many old portraits
stepping forth from their frames; whilst the youth of both sexes, in all
the bravery of that age of brave attire, glittered in silks and satins,
gold and embroidery, bright jewels and richly mounted weapons. Nothing,
indeed, could exceed the gallant look of the cavaliers who trod a
measure in the dance, except it were the loveliness of their bright
partners. Those youthful and fresh female buds of England, so celebrated
for their native beauty; fair, and blooming, and swan-like in their
graceful carriage--"earth-treading stars, that make dark heaven bright."

The music rang out from a sort of a temporary orchestra, formed at one
end of the hall, arched over and festooned with sweet flowers and green
shrubs. It consisted mostly of stringed instruments, which gave forth a
silver sound, accompanied by the deep tones of the bassoon and the
occasional flourish of the horn, and whilst the dancers trod a measure,
and the different guests, in all the freedom of unchecked enjoyment,
wandered about, how sweetly the strains floated through those
oak-panelled rooms, reverberating in the long corridors and passages,
and, mellowed by distance, thrummed in the upper rooms.

It mingled with the whispered softness of the lover's tongue, sounding
doubly sweet by night. It added to the charm of beauty, as she listened
to the flattering tale, till the coyness of the half-won maiden seemed
to relax in music; and the glittering cavalier, with renewed hope, led
her to the dance.

How inferior is the fussy and excited style of our own days compared
with such a scene as this, where all was open-hearted gaiety and
enjoyment, where, without effort, all was dignified, and brilliant, and
picturesque.

The very serving-men and maids, ranged in a long row at the lower end of
the hall, seemed to add to the effect of the picture. The men in their
rich liveries with heraldic badge upon the sleeve; the maids, all in one
sort of costume, fitting and becoming for their station in life; nay,
the orchestra itself was a picture, composed as it was of respectable
personages from the town of Stratford, grave-looking, bearded, and
staid, working away at their different instruments, as if it was a
matter of national pride and import,--the celebration of the fair
Charlotte's natal day. Each in his quaint-cut doublet and scarlet hose.
How they clutched at the bass-viol, those fat citizens, and glowed with
the strains they produced; how the fiddlers jerked and worked at their
bows, with heads going, and feet keeping time: how the puffed cheek of
the horn-blowers seemed to grow distended to the degree of exploding;
and how the eyes of the whole party seemed to roll about in agony, and
follow the dancers as their strains excited them to fresh efforts; and
how resolutely, ever and anon, they paused to take a long pull at the
huge flagons placed within their reach; returning to their instruments
with renewed vigour, and stamping to keep time, as if sitting still was
almost too great an effort, and they longed to jump up, and fling out
amongst the best there; urging one another to quicker movements and
louder strains as the liquor mounted and the evening wore on.

Amongst that gay and brilliant throng there was one whose whole soul
seemed wrapped in melody. The soft tones of the floating minstrelsy
seemed to steal upon his heart. He stood apart from all: aloof in person
as in mind, leaning against one of the quaint-cut ornaments of the room.
As his eye wandered amongst the gay dancers, his countenance was at
times lighted up by an expression which seemed divine. The greatness of
his soul shone out in his glorious countenance, and yet, save by two
persons, he was all unmarked.

It was the boy poet, the youthful Shakespeare.

Walter Arderne, who felt that no assemblage could be complete which
wanted the presence of his friend, no hour enjoyed but in his company,
had brought him again to Clopton, where he mingled in the scene, not so
much a guest as a spectator. And yet unknown as unmarked, or, if
regarded, perhaps but calling forth a passing remark upon his good
looks, how greatly did that youth feel himself the superior of all
there, elevated as some of them were in station. The fineness and
acuteness of organic sensibility made him alive to all the mighty world
of ear and eye. Nothing escaped him; and yet feeling this within
himself, and in strength of mind a demigod, in profundity of view a
prophet,[3] he moved amongst the throng, as if unconscious of being more
than the most unassuming servitor in attendance. Gentle and open in
manner as a child.

[Footnote 3: Schegel's estimate of Shakespeare.]

The good Sir Hugh welcomed him to his house, and presented him to two of
his oldest friends, as one to whom he owed much. "A goodly lad," he
said, "and of exceeding promise; a ripe and ready wit, sirs. By 'r Lady,
but he hath the knack of making me laugh till my face is like a wet
napkin. Nay, and he inditeth rhymes, too, it would do you good to hear.
A poet, I'll assure ye, sirs, already, and a rare one, too. Go thy ways,
lad; go thy ways. 'Fore Heaven we owe thee much, and hope to requite
it."

"A young friend," said Arderne, to one of the ladies with whom he
danced, and as he pointed the unconscious poet out to her, whilst
standing at the lower end of the hall. "A young friend who, though in
humble life, seems to me of somewhat extraordinary character, and in
whom I am greatly interested. He unites in his genius the utmost
elevation and the utmost depth; and the most foreign, and even
irreconcilable properties subsist in him together. I cannot describe to
you the delight I experience in the companionship of that youth." The
lady glanced her eye towards the part of the hall indicated by Walter
Arderne, as he mentioned his friend. It was but a glance, and she
observed the person indicated. The words humble life was, however, quite
sufficient to destroy all interest in the bosom of the beauty, for Clara
de Mowbray (albeit she was both lovely and amiable) partook, in some
sort, of the pride of her race. Added to this, she was the victim of an
unrequited passion, and save for the tall handsome form and expressive
features of her partner, she had no eyes.

"I should have imagined, from all I have this night beheld," she said,
"there was but one in this room, nay, in this world, who could take up
even a moment of your care or thoughts, fair sir. This new-found friend
must, indeed, be a rare specimen, if he can wean your eyes for a moment
from Charlotte Clopton. But that, indeed," she added, with a sigh, "is
as it should be; she is, I think, to-night more beautiful than ever!"

Walter sighed, and unconsciously his glance wandered in search of his
betrothed. "You are a shrewd observer, lady," he said, looking full in
her expressive face,--and indeed, except Charlotte Clopton, whose beauty
was of a different character, Clara de Mowbray was one of the most
beautiful women in the county. "You are a great observer, lady," he
said, "and yet you have failed to observe how much your own beauty
excites admiration from all present to-night. Nay, I am not blind
myself, however much I may lie under the imputation with which you have
charged me."

"To love is no such heavy sin, Sir Arderne," said the lady, "an if it
were so, you would indeed require sufficing penance and absolution,
since you are a very votary to the blind god."

"And she to whom my vows are given," he said, "is she not worthy of an
emperor's love?"

"She is worthy of the love of him who seeks her hand," said Clara,
somewhat sadly. "She is my dear and early friend, and I could not wish
greater happiness to her than in that store. Unless the emperor were
Walter Arderne, and the empire he inherited here in Warwickshire. I
conclude Charlotte would scarce become an empress."

"You speak not this as you think," said Arderne, doubtfully, yet
delighted at so much confirmation from one of the intimate friends of
his beloved Charlotte.

"I speak as I feel," said Clara; "I know the worth of both, and how
well both deserve; and yet methinks youth and valour should not
altogether succumb to Cupid. Were I a man, I should seek for action and
to be worthy in _deed_."

The youth gazed with increasing admiration upon the radiant face of the
lady. He almost doubted whether its exceeding loveliness did not equal
that of his betrothed.

"Ah," he said, gaily, turning towards his new friend, who at the moment
approached, "give us assurance, gentle Shakespeare, we that are in love;
and teach this lady to respect the passion."

Shakespeare looked full at the lady; he seemed struck with the beauty of
her face and form. "Love, first learned in a lady's eyes," he said,
gaily,

    "Lives not alone immured in the brain;
    But with the motion of all elements,
    Courses as swift as thought in every power;
    And gives to every power a double power,
    Above their functions and their offices,
    Never durst poet touch a pen to write,
    Until his ink were temper'd with love's sighs."

"That is indeed a singular being!" said the lady, gazing after the youth
as he passed through the crowd and quitted the room. "Who and what is
he?"

"'Tis him of whom I just now spoke," said Arderne; "but come, let us
seek Charlotte Clopton; I thought I saw her leave the room but now to
seek the purer air of the gardens. I will tell thee more of our
acquaintance with this youth as we go."

It was a bright and lovely night, and, with all the freedom and licence
of the age, many of the younger guests had sought the pleasure-grounds
and gardens of the Hall, whilst their more staid guardians and parents
held converse within doors.

Here and there was to be seen a group seated or reclined upon the velvet
turf, whilst others paced up and down the terrace, or disappeared and
were lost in the dark walks, till the joyous strains of the orchestra
within again recalled them to the dance.

If the quick eyes of love had enabled the lady Clara to observe the
object to which Walter Arderne's thoughts were that night fixed, the
same observation had failed in shewing her on whom the affections of her
rival was centred.

Indeed, although Charlotte Clopton, both from her beauty and her
position as the heroine of the night, was necessarily the observed of
all observers, and her hand sought for by every cavalier in the room,
those who looked closely at her might have observed a tinge of
melancholy in her countenance, and a restlessness about her which shewed
she was not in the enjoyment of her own content. To herself hardly dared
she own it, as her restless glance traversed the room, but she felt that
one minute's conversation with her romantic friend,--nay, one word, or
but an exchanged glance,--would be worth all the gallant speeches she
endured from the gayer cavaliers by whom she was surrounded.

This new friend, however, had not once approached her on that night. He
had studiously kept in the background, and although he had, unobserved,
caught sight of her, he had even carefully avoided those parts of the
room in which she was engaged with her various partners and friends.
Nay, the pleasure he experienced in the gay and festive scene, like that
of the fair Charlotte, was tinged with an occasional melancholy; a soft
and dreamy sadness mingled with the brighter thoughts called into play
by the sight of beauty and the strains of music.

With such feelings he quitted the house, and passed into the gardens of
the Hall, those lovely grounds looking, as they did, so fair and soft,
in the bright moonlight. And how often do we find it thus in life! How
oft do we see the most worthy wending his way unnoticed, unobserved,
unappreciated, and unknown, whilst the giddy, the frivolous, the vain,
and even the vile, are sunning themselves in the smiles of patronage and
favour, playing their fantastic tricks, and swollen with the success
their cringing falsehood has attained, whilst patient merit, scorning
the rout, passes on unsought.

The night, as Lorenzo words it, was but the daylight sick, "it looked a
little paler." The youthful poet threw himself upon a grassy bank,
shadowed by trees, and as the sounds of music crept upon his ears,

            "Soft stillness, and the night,
    Became the touches of sweet harmony."

And what indeed were the thoughts and imaginings the scene and hour gave
rise to?--Thoughts softened by the sweet breath of a summer's night,
loaded with perfume, and bearing harmony from the distance. At such
moment the mind reverts to days long past, or even revels in the fabled
ages of the early world. In such a night as this,

    "When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees
    And they did make no noise; in such a night,
    Troilus, methinks, mounted the Trojan walls
    And sighed his soul toward the Grecian tents
    Where Cressid lay."

And,

                  "In such a night,
    Stood Dido with a willow in her hand,
    Upon the wild sea-banks, and waved her love
    To come again to Carthage."

It was whilst Shakespeare remained thus sequestered and alone, and in
the indulgence of the thoughts produced by such a situation, that the
company had sought the gardens; and the walks, and alleys, the green
slopes, and mossed banks, became suddenly peopled with bright forms, and
which in a moment gave another and gayer aspect, and a totally different
turn to the entire scene. The stillness, and the sweet touches of
distant music, and which had so stolen upon his heart, was now changed
to the sounds of laughter and loud conversation. In the shaded walks
were now to be seen some tall form, clad in brave attire; his jewelled
hat and gay plume bent down as he conversed with the lady at his side,
and, in the open space before him, the different groups lent a lustre to
the gardens which only gay costume and forms of beauty can give. As he
remarked the scene before him, the joyous and sportive throng thus
revelling in happiness,--the very heavens "thick inlaid with patinos of
bright gold," he presently observed a dark and ominous cloud slowly and
stealthily mounting, as it were, from the south. It seemed to emerge
from the distant woods like a pall, and--as if emblematic of the
short-lived days of mortals--gradually stole over one side of the
heavens.

Yes, that flaunting throng was like the pleasures of the world. "Those
clouds were like its coming cares." Whilst he watched their slow
development, a light footstep approached, and Charlotte Clopton stood
before him.

Was it his fancy, or was it that the silver brightness falling on the
spot on which she stood, gave an ethereal appearance to the beautiful
girl, a ghost-like and shadowy look, which, for the moment, struck him
with a sort of awe? He arose from his recumbent posture, and, as he did
so, he observed she was unusually pale. Nay, as he gazed upon that sweet
face and form, he could not help seeing that it was with difficulty she
kept herself from falling.

"I fear me, lady," he said, (struck with sudden alarm,) "you are not
well?"

"A feeling of illness has indeed come over me," said Charlotte, "and
which I cannot entirely shake off. I thought the air of the gardens
would have taken it away, but it has not done so."

"Suffer me to lead you in," said Shakespeare, taking her hand, "perhaps
some cordial will restore you?"

"Not so," said Charlotte; "I have sought this spot as I knew it was a
favourite one with you. I felt you would be here, and that I must see
you. I know not wherefore, but a presentiment of evil is upon me. I feel
as if I spoke to thee this night for the last time."

There was a wildness in the manner of Charlotte Clopton, as she said
this, which increased the anxiety of her admirer, and, as he saw that
she was really suffering from some sudden feeling of illness, he again
entreated her to seek the house. She, however, again refused. "I have
sought this opportunity to speak to you," she said, "for I felt I must
do so; nay, I feel as if I should die unless I unburthened myself to
one I so highly esteem, one to whom I owe so much, one so noble and so
good; nay, were it to any but to thee, (generous and sweet in
disposition as thou art, William Shakespeare,) I should shame to say so
much. But well I know that none can know thee and refrain from loving;
can trust thee and repent."

To say that the youthful poet could hear this from a being so beautiful,
and not forget all the resolutions he had previously made to subdue and
conceal his passion, would be to describe one of those over-perfect
mortals existing only in the imagination of the prudish.

William Shakespeare was no such perfection of a hero; he had sought to
quench his love's hot fire,

    "Lest it should burn above the bounds of reason."

The intense feelings of youth, however, and which in after-life led him
so forcibly to pourtray the passion he felt, now completely overcame all
his prudential resolves.

The being he had thought so much above him, and in secret loved, had
confessed her feelings. He was instantly lost to every thing but his
love for her. Its hopelessness, its seeming treachery towards his new
and generous friend, all were forgotten as he gazed upon Charlotte and
returned her vows. And yet, what was this love, so pure, so unselfish,
so unlikely ever to meet with reward? It rather lacked, even at its
commencement, the rapturous intoxication of hope, and seemed, even at
the moment of its mutual confidence, to partake of the bitterness of
certain disappointment.

Whilst the various groups had been enjoying themselves in the grounds,
the heavens had become gradually overcast, till one entire portion was
mantled with the darksome veil now rapidly extending; distant rumbling
peals, too, like the sound of heavy ordnance from afar, and large heavy
drops of rain, gave notice of the coming storm. This, together with the
renewed sound of music, warned the revellers around again to seek the
shelter of the Hall, and, as Charlotte Clopton heard her name called,
the lovers too felt that they must part. Yet still they lingered, and
had more to say.

The voice of Martin, however, calling upon Charlotte, who had now been
suddenly missed from amongst the guests, and sought for in the house,
recalled them to the necessity of separating. Their parting seemed a sad
one, and although the feeling of illness Charlotte had previously felt
had now partially left her, she still felt a sensation of langour and a
weight upon her spirits she could not account for.

Her lover observed this, and that her cheek, ordinarily so full of
bloom, was deadly pale, giving her dark brown tresses a still darker
shade, and he parted from her with an ill divining soul.

In his present frame of mind Shakespeare felt no longer any desire to
witness the gaieties within doors, and yet he found it impossible to
tear himself away from the gardens. He loved to breathe the neighbouring
air, and as he listened to the music, he tried to fancy her he loved
still adding to the grace and beauty of the assemblage.

Whilst he thus remained lost in his own thoughts, the threatened storm
suddenly burst forth. The thunder crashed over head, and the lightning
darted along the walks and alleys of the gardens, and then came the
rain, rushing upon the earth like a cataract, suddenly bursting bounds.

These sounds were mingled with the tread of horses' hoofs as they
clattered into the stable-yard, and then came a short and rapid word of
command. A few minutes more and the music ceased; rapid and hurried
footsteps were heard, as of guests suddenly departing, coupled with
lamentations and sounds of alarm. The mirth of the assemblage seemed
suddenly to have been marred, and their good cheer spoiled, and such
indeed was the case.

In the very midst of the revel, and whilst the festive cup was drained
around to the health of Sir Hugh and his fair child, that child had
again been seized with illness and fainted.

Attributing it to the heat and excitement she had undergone, Sir Hugh
bore her to her couch, and as she soon recovered from her swoon he again
sought his guests.

When he did so, he observed that during his absence the party had been
increased by the addition of some half a dozen cavaliers completely
armed, and as he entered the room the chief of the party stepped up to
him, and laid his hand upon his shoulder.

"Sir Hugh Clopton, of Clopton," he said, in a loud voice, "I arrest thee
of high treason, in the name of our most sovereign lady the Queen."



CHAPTER XIX.

THE PLAGUE AT STRATFORD.


The swift passage of events, and which it has taken some little time to
record, has necessarily obliged us to omit mention of several minor
characters of our story, but who, nevertheless, have been playing their
parts upon the stage as well as those of greater note and import.
Amongst others, Master Dismal, whose cue it seemed to ferret out all
sorts of disagreeables and who seemed to batton upon horrors, had not
failed to follow up the hint promulgated at the Falcon regarding the
sickness which had appeared in the town.

At the period of our story the plague was no uncommon visitor in the
different towns in England, and awful were the consequences of such
visitation when it appeared.

In cases of this sort when some dire disease breaks out amongst the poor
and ignorant, they generally at first conceal it. Struck with dismay,
they yet resolve to doubt the suspicious appearance till confirmation of
its reality drives them to disclosure.

The plague was indeed so much dreaded at this time, that those first
infected were looked upon with as much horror and dislike as if they
were absolutely guilty of its production.

The very suspicion of its appearance was sufficient to frighten the town
from its propriety. The inhabitants withdrew from the businesses and
pleasures of life like snails within their shells. Each feared his
neighbour, and all around was distrust and dread. It was this fear,
together with the unclean state of the town, and most of the houses in
it, which made the pestilence so quick and be fatal in its effects.
Evils, it has been said, are more to be dreaded from the suddenness of
their attack than from their magnitude or duration. In the storms of
life those that are foreseen are half overcome.

This disease, however, was in general as formidable and as difficult to
get rid of in a town, as its coining was sudden and unexpected. It was
like the wind which sailors term the tiffoon, pouncing upon the vessel
like an eagle upon the prey, and paralyzing the victim at once.

Master Dismal had received intelligence of this visitation by an
anonymous communication, written upon a dirty scrap of paper, and which
had been one night thrown in at his window.

The scrawl was in such strange hieroglyphics, and so vaguely worded,
that any other person beside himself would have failed in hitting upon
its hidden meaning; but the busy-body had a peculiar facility in
deciphering and discovering horrors. Nay, his visitations amongst his
neighbours and townsfolk were generally looked upon by them as a sure
harbinger of evil in one shape or other. He was a sort of stormy petrel
in the town, a forerunner of danger and despair. He even loved to watch
the progress of misery and disease, contemplating the ills mankind are
subject to, with a philosophic eye.

If a whole family were to be swept off, his visits continued as long as
the disease lasted amongst them; and he made his entrance and took his
leave with the doctor.

In fact, it was his recreation to study the maladies and miseries "the
poor compounded clay, man, is heir to." Accidents and wounds, and indeed
every sort of infliction his neighbours were subject to, it was his
humour to watch curiously,--nay, he was even interested in the sight of
a felon's ear, nailed to the cart wheel, whilst a knave set in the
stocks, or a vagabond whipped through the town, was a matter of
reflection, and a spectacle to be hunted after: and when Dame Patch was
placed upon the cuckin stool, and then ducked in the Avon for lying and
slander, he was observed next day to pay her a visit of condolence,
whilst some affirmed that he had even remained a whole week in her
dwelling to offer her consolation in her distress.

In addition to these peculiarities, we need hardly mention that the
funeral bell was at any time a grateful sound to his ears, seldom
failing to call him forth from his home, whatever his employment might
happen to be.

Then again he loved to contemplate a batch of dirty urchins, in all the
enjoyment of mud and mire, freedom and mischief, revelling in
undisturbed possession of the kennel or the road, and to speculate upon
the chances against one-third of them reaching maturity, or their
probable fate if they did so.

Following the clue given him by the anonymous communication, and which
he had received a few hours before he announced the news it contained at
the Falcon, he had made a search through the locality hinted at. The
note, which was vaguely and notoriously worded, had pointed to some
house in the suburbs; and, after duly calling over the different persona
whom he considered likely to have been the writer of the billet, he
fixed it upon a crazy, half insane fellow, living in a lone house in
Henley Street.

Accordingly, when the shadows of evening descended, he went prying
about, and peeping into all the windows, and listening at all the doors
on either side that street. "Wat Murdake," he said to himself, "is a
maniac,--a dangerous fellow at times, having fits of violence quite
awful to look on. He killed his wife with a shoemaker's awl, pierced her
ear when she was asleep,--at least, so it is said, and he confesses it
even now in his ravings,--but that's nought. Many an old host that I
know would be glad to do the same, if they dared, for the women do drive
men to desperate deeds with that unruly member, the tongue. Wat Murdake
is a dangerous fellow at times, and exceedingly mad always, but then he
is pretty cunning, and keepeth a sure eye upon his neighbour. An I
cannot find these plague spots, I will seek him and make inquiry, for
'tis good I saw into the matter at once.

"Ah! what's that I hear? A scream? No, it's only a child squalling, and
the mother singing it to sleep with a merry song. There's no misery
there. So pass we on to the next. What's that, a groan? No, it's a
fellow practising on the bass-viol. All right I trow there; where music
_is_, contentment rests, and no plague. What's this?" he continued,
listening at the next house, "lamentations and words of woe? No, it's
man and wife quarrelling. Ah! and there they go to blows. There is no
real misery there, but what they make for themselves; they've plague
enough, but not the plague I seek. Pass we on again. What's here? the
bones rattling? Yes, dicing, drinking, and brawl. It's not there.
It _may_ come to that, but they don't begin _so_. There'll be
death, perhaps, in the house, but it will be by violence, _not
disease_--to-night, to-morrow, perhaps; who knows? And so Master Dismal
passed on from door to door, taking his cue of good or ill from the
employment of the inmates of the different houses. At length he came to
a lone, squalid-looking hut, the last but one in the street, standing in
its own untrimmed and neglected garden; a ruin with walls so rent as to
shew one-half of its heavy-beamed rooms in a skeleton state; the
remainder being patched up to expel the wind and rain, and reclaimed, as
it were, in a slovenly manner, from the general state of decay.
The toad sat and croaked in the long damp grass, and the lizard crawled
over the muddy pathway to the door, as Dismal stopped and listened.

"This looks like business," he said, "I quite forgot this house of
ill-omen. Ah! what a dirty-mantled pond in the garden! Here we have it,
sure enough! there's no mistaking these sounds! Let me see, this is the
residence of Smite Drear and his family, the most drunken,
ill-conducted, dirty, evil-minded lot in all Warwickshire--the man a
vile caitiff, a puritan whose tongue is ruin; the woman a slanderer
also, and a termagant; the children thieves, liars, and imps of ill.
_I'm sure it's here_; _I know it's here_; it _must_ be here; it _ought_
to be here; it _is_ here. Yea, and here it _is_, sure enough! If I could
only get a peep into the interior, I should know in a minute. Let me
see; where's my pouncet-box? Ah! there's another groan, and the sob of a
female! I hear some one praying too; rather unusual _that_, I trow. I
must go in. _But no_, I cannot _get_ in, the door is fastened; I'll
knock."

It was some time before the summons of Master Dismal was answered. But
at last the owner of the hovel removed a broken shutter from an upper
window, and thrusting out his head, growled a malediction upon the
person disturbing him.

"Pass on," he said, "and trouble us not."

"I would crave permission," said Dismal, "to pay a visit on matters----"

"_Crave_ nothing here," said Drear, "_Seek_ nothing here. Sickness and
death are within our doors: we are accursed."

"I would fain offer consolation, and observe the nature of your
illness," said Dismal. "I would inform the leech, or even summon _other_
aid in your need."

"Who is it speaks?" said Drear, thrusting his head further out. "All, I
see! Hence, screech-owl--bird of ill; hence, wretch, lest I come down
and beat thee! Hence, hound, whose bark never boded aught but death to
the sick man. We wanted but thy visit to make us certain of our fate."

So saying, Drear violently put up his shutter and withdrew.

"Ah," said Dismal, "you may talk, my master, till you've tired yourself.
But I know all about it now. If I cannot get _in_, by my troth I'll take
care to put a sign which shall hinder you from getting _out_. Plague or
no plague, I'll cause them to look in upon you who have authority to do
so." So saying. Master Dismal took a large lump of red ochre from his
pocket, and with considerable care marked up a broad red cross upon the
door. He then, as he knew it was about the hour the watch passed,
quietly withdrew to the opposite side of the street, and ensconsing
himself behind the buttress of a wall, waited the event.

In a short time the watch came up; they passed Master Dismal where he
stood without discovering him and then proceeded to the very end of the
street. According to their custom (in making the rounds at night) they
then halted, ordered their pikes, trimmed their lights, and stood at
ease for a few minutes, ere they returned down the other side of the
street; examining each door they passed by holding up the light they
carried.

At the first tenement they found nothing extraordinary, the fellow who
carried the light, which was a sort of cresset at the end of a bar of
iron, held it aloft, and as its lurid glare fell upon the house, it
displayed its walls clear as in open daylight. "All right, pass," said
the head constable, and so they passed on to the next.

Here the constable carrying the cresset was merely about to raise it and
pass on, when, as he did so, the whole party were arrested in speechless
alarm by a sign they knew too well from former visitation. "The plague!"
said the first, in a voice modulated almost to a whisper. "The plague!"
said the second, "why I heard not of it before." "The searcher's mark,"
said the second, "I knew not that he had been sent out." "Advance your
light again, Diccon," said a third, "and observe if the house be
padlocked up." "I see no fastening," said Diccon, "and yet, 'tis the
searcher's mark, sure enough; pass on, in heaven's name, comrades;" and
on passed the watch, no longer with measured tread, but with accelerated
and fearful steps, to inform the headborough of what they had seen:
Master Dismal stealing after them in a state of the most exuberant glee
at his own conceit and its success.

The spread of the disease, as was usual at this period, was extremely
rapid. Indeed, it had risen to some height in the town before the
authorities would consent to believe it really existed. In such cases,
and in former days, precautionary measures were seldom thought of. Men
drove off all thought of the evil; when they found it was really amongst
them, or what they feared, they kept to themselves. At first they turned
sulky under the infliction, if we may so term it, barring up their doors
and deserting the streets; they avoided each other as much as possible,
seeking air and recreation and forgetfulness by taking to the wastes and
commons around. Leaving their homes by the back doors, they almost
deserted the streets in search of the necessaries of life. As it grew
worse the town seemed depopulated, even before the disease had time to
work, so empty were its streets.

But a few days had passed since all the out-door sports and diversions
of the age and the season had been in full play. Those gay and jovial
May-day games, in the quaint mazes of the wanton green; those rural
fêtes and diversions--the wakes and revels--the May-pole dances--the
parties of pleasure--into the shadowy desert unfrequented woods, and
which the peasantry of old were so fond of, all had ceased as it were on
the instant. The human mortals feared each other, a secret
dread--however each member of a family kept the native colour of his
cheek--was in the heart of each. The very air seemed infected, and tho
aspect of the town took a ghastly hue. It smelt of death, men thought.
Business stopped in it. No markets were attended. No strangers passed
through it. It was a place infected, avoided, accursed.



CHAPTER XX.

MORE TROUBLE AT CLOPTON.


Meanwhile, as misfortunes seldom come but in battalions, Sir Hugh
Clopton (even before he had heard of the appearance of the disease) had
been arrested of high treason, and carried off to London with several
other gentlemen of condition in the county, and who had likewise been
mixed up in the confession of Master Walter Neville.

It is indeed hardly possible to describe the dire confusion which ensued
upon this unexpected event taking place on the night of the feast at
Clopton Hall. Sir Hugh himself was the only person of his household and
family who seemed to retain his self-command. Walter Arderne would, at
first, have fain struck down the Queen's officer and expelled his men.
The faithful Martin was almost distraught. The serving men and retainers
were scared and indignant at the same time; and the guests in a state of
astonishment and dismay.

"Heed it not, my masters all," said Sir Hugh, "'tis a mistake
altogether. I a traitor to our blessed Queen! pah. I would she had but
such traitors in all her foes; methinks I know where this matter
originates, and shall set it right upon examination."

"I hope so," said the officer; "Nevertheless, there is one other I am to
secure within your household, but my people have just learnt he hath
fled on our approach."

"In the name of Heaven," said Sir Hugh, "who else lays under this
strange misconception?"

"A priest but lately come from over sea, commonly called Father
Eustace," said the officer.

"Eustace!" said Sir Hugh, "why he was here but now. Is he too accused?"

"He is," said the officer, "and must, if possible, be apprehended; some
of my party have followed on his trail."

"Any more of my family, household, or personal friends implicated?" said
Sir Hugh, somewhat bitterly. "I trust I shall set my accuser, whoever he
be, before my rapier's point, when I promise him such mercy as it
affords _no more_."

"I feel sorry to put any force upon you, Sir Hugh," said the officer,
"especially before this goodly company, but my orders are peremptory,
and I must convey you to Warwick to-night; to-morrow with all speed
towards London."

"Nay," said Sir Hugh, "good sir, you but express my own wishes in this
matter. To the Tower with me at once. An there be any limb or member o'
my body found guilty of this sin--torture it: an the Queen find that my
head hath entertained a thought against her--off with it: an my heart
hath conceived treason--tear it out. To horse then in God's name, and
let us put on without delay."

And truly did the good Sir Hugh bespeak himself, whilst most of the
guests standing in amaze around, and, with tears in their eyes, beheld
him made prisoner, and conveyed from his own domain. Under the
circumstances in which he found himself, it was a great relief to the
good knight that his daughter was saved from the grief and misery of
seeing and taking leave of him.

The coming of the officers and the arrest of her father it was hastily
arranged should be carefully concealed, and her attendants were enjoined
to say that a sudden summons from the Queen had obliged Sir Hugh
instantly to depart.

Meantime the faithful Martin undertook to remain in watchful attendance
upon her, whilst Arderne, whose feelings would not permit him to stay
behind, accompanied the party in charge of the old knight, and whom he
swore never to leave till he was again at liberty.

"I will gain audience of the Queen," he said, "instantly, and not leave
the Court until I know the vile traducer who hath thus denounced thee,
uncle. Thou a traitor, indeed! Thou soul of honour, loyalty and truth!
Treason hath no existence--no place to hide in aught where thou
abidest."

And thus (as is oft the case in life) the scene became on the sudden
overcast. At the moment of its brightness--the gaiety, the splendour,
and the happiness of the party were dashed; whilst those who had met
together with light hearts and fantastic spirits, dispersed with evil
foreboding and slow and heavy footsteps.

In a party of this sort, in Warwickshire, it was customary oft-times to
keep up the revel till dawn, whilst every nook and corner of the
dwelling was made available for those of the guests who chose to remain
afterwards.

With the good old English hospitality which despised form, Sir Hugh had
previously arranged for many of his most intimate friends to stay a few
days at Clopton and partake in the sport his preserves afforded. The
dogs and falcons were to have been put in requisition, and the heronry
and the thick covers around beat for game.

Indeed two or three did remain at Clopton the next day; not for the
purpose of recreating themselves with the old knight's hawks, but from
their anxiety about the illness of the fair Charlotte, and in the hope
of seeing her re-appear from her room with renewed health.

Such, however, was not to be the case, as she grew rapidly worse, and it
was found necessary to summon the leech from Stratford. Soon after his
arrival, the faithful Martin, with a face of alarm, took upon himself to
dismiss the guests. His charge, he said, was extremely ill. Her
complaint was pronounced by the leech to be both infectious and
dangerous, and under such circumstances, it was advisable for them to
shorten their visit. "Neither should I be acting rightly," he added, "if
I concealed it, although the rumour may possibly be without foundation,
but I have just heard the plague hath broken out in Stratford."

Thus were the halls of Clopton--and which but a few short hours before
had displayed such a scene of gaiety and revelling,--as suddenly changed
to gloom and melancholy.

The domestics seemed to glide about with noiseless step, hardly having
heart to arrange the different rooms, so that many of them were left in
the confusion and disarray they had been in when the mirth of the party
was so suddenly interrupted; and, if the succeeding day was fraught with
melancholy, the night was filled with terrors. Strange and awful sounds
were heard in some of the rooms. Sounds which none could account for or
discover the meaning of, although, at first attributing them to natural
causes, the domestics made search through those parts of the house where
they had been heard.

Coming thus at a time of grief and misfortune, and following sickness
and the rumours of so dire a disease as the plague, these sounds had an
ominous and awful appearance. The domestics, much as they loved their
employers, and commiserated them in their present distress, were so much
scared, that several fled from the Hall to their own homes; and, as the
mysterious sounds continued night after night growing more violent, and
even extending from the part of the house to which they had at first
been confined; with the exception of two or three of the upper servants,
the numerous domestics of the establish meat had almost all deserted it.

The faithful Martin was sorely troubled. Living in an age when men's
minds were easily affected by superstitious terrors, and a general
belief existed in supernatural agency, he however possessed an uncommon
degree of firmness and mental energy. At first he tried to laugh at the
terrors and complaints of the different servants, as they brought
continued reports of dreadful sounds existing in the western wing of the
Hall, and where the secret hiding-places existed. Then, as his own ears
confirmed their reports, he shut himself up, well armed, for a whole
night in the apartments where the spirit was said to be most
troublesome.

On this night, which was the third after the departure of Sir Hugh, the
sounds were most terrific and awful. As if the evil genius of the house
of Clopton was either rejoicing over the present state of the family, or
impatient for their utter destruction, it seemed inclined to drive the
inmates to despair by its violence.

Martin, having thrown himself upon the bed in the apartment we have
before seen tenanted by the maniac Parry, was reclining in a half-dozing
state, a couple of huge petronels in his belt and a drawn rapier upon
tho table, when he was suddenly conscious of some one entering the room,
and sitting down beside the bed.

As he had carefully locked the door he was in something surprised at
this visitation; but suspecting that some influence from without was at
work, and distrusting the Jesuitical priest Eustace, after a while he
quietly and cautiously rose, and then leaping suddenly from the bed,
confronted the supposed visitant petronel in hand.

To his astonishment, however, no person was there,--"He looked but on a
stool." The door, which had been violently burst in, was still wide
open, but no one was in the room besides himself. This was the more
extraordinary as Martin was confident he had distinctly heard the person
enter, and with swift step passing into the apartment, seat itself by
his bedside. Nay, so quick and sudden seemed the visit, that though a
bold and determined man, Martin had felt paralyzed and unable to move
for the first minute or two. His heart beat violently; he was certain
some one was within a few inches of him as he lay, and yet he could not
move a limb; till at length, shaking off the feeling, he rose to
confront the intruder. Pistol in hand, he looked in every part of the
small room, "searching impossible places" in his anxiety. He then
descended the narrow staircase, and looked into every nook and corner of
the apartment beneath, but found not even a cobweb amiss.

Returning to his couch he re-fastened the door, trimmed his lamp, placed
it in the chair beside his bed, examined his petronel, and again lay
down with the weapon firmly grasped in his hand. "If there be any deceit
in this," he said to himself, "and which I feel inclined to believe is
the case, I will make sure work of it with the practiser. A bullet
through his heart or lungs, will lay his ghostship in the Red Sea."

There had never been much good feeling in existence between the shrewd
Martin and the priest Eustace. At the present moment the former held the
Jesuit in especial dislike. He had a suspicion that the difficulties in
which Sir Hugh was now placed, arose from some intrigues of the priest,
whom he knew to be of an unscrupulous and designing nature. The present
noises he conceived to be some contrivance of this iron-hearted bigot,
in order to scare the servants of the establishment from that wing of
the building, and he accordingly resolved to make a severe example of
whoever he detected. This idea nerved him to so great a degree, that the
extraordinary sounds he heard at first failed in completely frightening
him. The situation, however, was not altogether a pleasant one. The
silence, the loneliness, the dangerous illness of his favourite
Charlotte, the peril in which the old knight was placed, all crowded
themselves upon his imagination as he lay and watched.

For some time nothing occurred to disturb his melancholy reflections,
reflections which at length took him from the present horror of the
time; and led on to other thoughts, till, at length, the heavy summons
of sleep began to weigh upon his eyelids.

At this moment the clock from the old tower in the stabling struck two.
Scarcely had it done so when a distant whirling sound was heard; it
seemed at first like a rushing wind stirring the trees in the shrubbery
without, and steadily advancing towards the house. It increased in sound
as it did so, till it appeared to enter the house, and rushing up the
staircase with fearful violence the door again was dashed open with a
tremendous burst, the lamp was extinguished at the same moment, and the
room seemed filled with some strange and unnatural visitants.

Starting up at the moment of the door being burst in, Martin discharged
his pistol full at the entrance, and at the very instant the light was
extinguished. He then jumped, sword in hand, into the middle of the
room, whilst a rushing sound, as of persons moving about, was all around
him.

The darkness, added to the horrors of his situation, almost unmanned the
bold Martin, and spite of his determined character his heart now beat
violently and his hair bristled on his head. Nay, so impressed was he
with the idea that some spectral beings were in the apartment, and even
in his own vicinity,--nay, perhaps, that the enemy of mankind was at his
very elbow and about to clutch him, that, as he uttered a hasty prayer
for the protection of Heaven, he executed several furious backstrokes
round the apartment, cutting a huge gash in the bed furniture,
demolishing the back of an elaborately carved oaken chair, and bringing
down a cumbrous mirror, smashed into a dozen pieces with as many blows.
Indeed, the natural sounds of this ruin in some measure did away with
the awe the supernatural noises had created. There is always some relief
in action in such cases. The coward, for instance, makes use of his
legs, in the midst of apprehension, the brave man takes to his arms, and
as the strange sounds gradually subsided, seeming to traverse through
the rooms below in their progress, Martin ceased from his exertions.

He was, however, now completely converted to the opinion of the
domestics that there was something most strange and most unnatural in
this visitation. He felt awed and struck with dread, and, lowering the
point of his weapon, he stood in the centre of the apartment listening
attentively as the noise passed through the lower rooms. "There is
surely something in all this," he said to himself, "which is beyond my
comprehension. 'Tis a sound of warning. I fear me some dire misfortune
is in store. Peradventure Sir Hugh is dead: great Heaven, perhaps
executed on the scaffold! Alas, my poor Charlotte! But no, it cannot be
so. Heaven help us in our need, for we seem a doomed people here."

A deep sigh sounded close to his ears as he finished his soliloquy, so
heavy, so long drawn, and so startling, that his blood curdled in his
veins. He felt that he could no longer remain in the apartment, and
hastily leaving it he descended the stairs, and opening the sliding
pannel, passed into the rooms usually habited when Sir Hugh was at home.

Here he felt in something reassured, and groping his way to the door
which admitted to the garden, he threw it open and sought relief in the
free air.

The night was dark and a drizzling rain descended; he stepped on to the
grass-plat and looked up at the apartment of his sick charge. A light
was in the room, a pale and sickly gleam, which seemed to speak of
watching and woe at that dead hour. As he passed beneath the window he
thought he perceived a figure gliding away, but the night was too dark
for him to be quite certain; still he felt sure that he had seen the
outline of a form which, gloomy as was the night, he recognized.

"'Tis he, I feel assured," said Martin. "I cannot mistake that form,
even so indistinctly seen, for there is none other like him. Alas! alas!
'tis even so. He watches her window even in such a night as this. I saw
they loved each other from the first. Well, we are in the hands of
heaven, and 'tis wrong to murmur. If our ills are reparable, to complain
is ungrateful; if irremediable, 'tis vain. Whatever happens must have
first pleased God, and most pleased him; or it had not happened. There
is no affliction which resignation cannot conquer or death cure."

As Martin resigned himself to this comfortable doctrine he turned and
re-entered the house.

The dawn was now beginning to break, and he resolved to knock at the
chamber door of the invalid and make some inquiry after her.

The first grey tint of morning began to render objects in the room
visible as he passed through it. There stood the spinnet upon which
Charlotte had so lately played, the music-book open. There was her lute
lying beside the music, and where it had been laid on the night of the
party, and beside that lay the hood and jesses of her favourite hawk.

Whilst Martin regarded these remembrances of one now unable to use or
enjoy them, a pang of grief shot through his heart, that sorrowful
feeling with which we look upon the relics of the dead, and whom we have
loved dearly when in life; and with that feeling came the conviction
that she who once played so sweetly on that instrument, and so bravely
wore those trappings of her gallant bird,--she, the young, the
beautiful, was already parted perhaps for ever from the pleasures of the
earth,--sick, prostrate, dying,--nay, even at that moment perhaps dead.

With heavy heart and evil foreboding he ascended the great staircase and
sought Charlotte's room. His step was heard by the nurse who attended on
the invalid, and gently opening the door she came forth to meet him.

The nurse was one of the old servants of the family; she was pale as
death Martin observed as he advanced along the corridor. "We have had a
fearful night," she said.

"But your charge?" said Martin, "I trust in Heaven she is better."

"Worse, Martin, worse," she replied; "worse than I can bring myself to
tell thee. She is now asleep, but hath been delirious all the night."

"Now the gods help us," said Martin.

"Amen," said the nurse; "she hath raved much and talked wildly. To thee,
Martin, I will confess it, she hath spoken much of one she loves."

"I dare to say so," said Martin, musing.

"But not of _him_ of whom she should so speak," said the nurse.

"Not of him our good old master would like to have heard her speak in
such loving terms. Mayhap I should surprise you were I to say on whom
her affections seem fixed."

"I think not," said Martin, significantly.

"You think not?" said the nurse, "and wherefore?"

"Because I know her secret as well as if she had told it me," said
Martin. "I have seen it from the first."

"Hark!" said the nurse, "she is again in one of those fits. Hear you
that name, and thus called on."

"I do," said Martin; "'tis as I thought. May I see her? Methinks I
cannot be satisfied till I look upon her sweet face, if but for a
moment."

"Remain here whilst I go in, and I will then summon you," said the
nurse. "Ah me, 'tis very sad!" and the nurse passed into the room,
closing the door behind her.

Martin seated himself on the bench beneath the window at the end of the
corridor, and as he gazed upon the portraits of the Clopton family
hanging on either hand, his reflections became even more saddened. In
that array of beautiful females and noble-looking cavaliers, how many
died early! Amongst those scowling and bearded men of middle age,
arrayed in all the panoply of war, how many had perished in their
harness! There was Hugo de Clopton, the crusader, the fiercest of a
brave race, who had smote even a crowned king in Palestine rather than
brook dishonour. There was the templar, who had died at the stake in
France, true to his vow; and Blanch Clopton, whom the lascivious John
had solicited in vain, and who had been celebrated at tilt and tourney
throughout Christendom as "La belle des belles."

Each and all of these portraits, it seemed to him, had a curious history
attached to them--a sad and stern tale in life's romance--and as he sat
and regarded them he thought upon their descendant now lying sick in
their close vicinity--her father accused of treason and a prisoner, at a
time so inopportune.

"Strange," he thought to himself, "that this family, so noble in
disposition, so high in their sense of honour, should seem thus marked
out and pursued by fate.

"'Tis true the good Sir Hugh hath been called, by the clergy of his own
persuasion, but a luke-warm member of the true Church; an irreligious
man.

"Nay, Eustace hath upbraided him with leaning towards heresy; and the
Protestant churchmen at Stratford, again, hath accused him of being
neither of the one religion or the other--altogether a heathen.

"These churchmen are both men, however, who wrangle and fight so much
about religion, vice and virtue, that they have no time to practice
either the one or the other; whilst the good Sir Hugh hath, during life,
been so fully engaged in acts of benevolence, that saving the hours he
hath spent amongst his horses and dogs, he hath indeed little leisure to
think about such controversies."

Whilst Martin sat thus chewing the cud of bitter fancy, the old
attendant returned to him. "She again sleeps," she said, weeping, and
you may look upon her sweet face once more. "But oh, Martin, I fear me we
are indeed in trouble; you will scarce behold that countenance, even yet
so beautiful, without terror."

"Is she already so changed?" said Martin. "In the name of Heaven, what
can be her complaint?"

"No noise," said the attendant, "but go in, and judge for yourself."

In a few moments Martin returned. Horror was in his countenance. "Her
face is filled with livid spots!" he said. "We are indeed unhappy; she
has caught----"

"The plague," said the nurse, as Martin hesitated, apparently unable to
repeat the words. "The plague; 'tis even so, and she will not outlive
this day."

"I will hasten to Stratford, and bid the leech again visit her
instantly," said Martin.

"'Twere best," said the attendant, "be quick; but I fear me it is of
little avail." And Martin, with fearful and hasty steps, left the
corridor, and descended to the stabling of the Hall.

Besides Martin and the attending nurse, there was one other who watched
with anxiety over the fate of the poor invalid, and who, albeit
circumstances made it unpleasing to him openly to display the interest
he felt, yet who sought in every way to gather some tidings of her state
of health.

Amidst the general trouble in which the town was now involved, private
griefs were less thought of, and consequently, although the inhabitants
of the Hall were, by the good folks of Stratford-upon-Avon, known to be
in some strait, whilst everybody was in apprehension for himself,
commiseration there was little of, and intercourse there was none. Nay,
the small remaining portion of domestics at Clopton had become so
greatly alarmed by the visitation of the previous night, that they
neglected their duties on this day, and remaining huddled together in
the servants' hall, meditated altogether deserting the locality.

In addition to the supernatural sounds, they were now scared by a
suspicion of the nature of the disease which had seized their young
lady.

It was under such circumstances that, when Martin descended to the
stables in order to dispatch a messenger for the doctor, he could at
first find no one willing to undertake the message.

"I would willingly do anything I could to benefit the young lady," said
one, "but I am about to leave the Hall."

"I cannot go into the town," said another, "for it is said that death is
rife in its streets; and the folks are stricken as they walk. It would
be a tempting of the disease an I were to run into it."

"Nay! we have had warning enough here," said another; "and albeit I
respect Sir Hugh, I fear to remain, after what we have heard last night.
Besides, if the truth must out, I believe the sickness hath come to
Clopton; and folks must look to themselves. I have friends at
Kenilworth, and I must seek them. They say too, that Sir Hugh hath been
found guilty of a conspiracy against the life of the Queen, and I like
it not."

"Hounds!" said Martin--"unworthy even to tend upon the generous animals
you are hired to feed. Begone! pack--seek another roof, where you can
batten on cold bits, and return kindness with base ingratitude." So
saying, Martin saddled one of the steeds, and mounting himself, galloped
into the town.



CHAPTER XXI.

DOMESTIC AFFLICTIONS.


It is evening--damp, dreary, and heavy, like the day which has preceded
it.

An unwholesome closeness pervades the air; a heavy drizzling rain
descends from the clouds upon the earth, enveloping all around in a
dense mist, which hides the surrounding scenery.

Leaving his home, the youthful Shakespeare takes his way across the
meadows, in which our readers may remember to have first seen him in the
opening chapter of this story. His step, however, is less buoyant, and
his heart is heavier than on that occasion. The clouds, which drive
steadily on, are not less gloomy than his presentiments. Sickness and
misery are amongst the neighbours he leaves; sickness and sorrow are
amongst those he seeks.

Yet still as that youth wends onwards, now crossing through the fern
(laden and heavy with moisture,) now diving into the thick plantations
which lead into the chase of Clopton, nothing escapes his notice. The
crow, "as it wings to the rocky wood," in the thickening light,--the
coney, as it flashes into the cover,--the darting lizard, as it
disappears in the thick fern,--the stoat and weasel, as they pounce upon
their prey in the brake, all are noted by him.

His mind was oppressed and desponding, but it was a mind which no
circumstances could entirely destroy the elasticity of, even for a
moment. "There is a pleasure in the pathless woods," it hath been said
by a modern poet; and there is society where none intrudes. But perhaps
the feeling of pleasure experienced amidst solitude and sylvan scenery
is only really and intensely felt by men of extraordinary parts and
poetical imagination.

The fairest glade, and the wildest haunts of the untamed denizens of the
woods, it was young Shakespeare's great delight to seek out and ponder
amidst.

At the present moment he felt that no locality would soothe the sadness
of his thoughts so well as the leafy covert he was in.

Even whilst the heavy rain was pattering amidst the foliage, and
dropping from the surcharged boughs; the air misty and moist; and the
darksome glade rendered more gloomy by the murky atmosphere, there was
indeed to his eye and mind, something fresh to be remarked around in the
changeful hue of the herbs, plants, and thick foliage, as the driving
clouds constantly varied them; nay (as we have said,) the gloomy and
dull aspect of the wood at that moment better suited his troubled
thoughts than a more bright and splendid scene.

Some slight intimation of the troubles of his friends at the Hall had
reached him; he had received a hint of the arrest of Sir Hugh, and the
absence of his friend Arderne. He also knew that the fair Charlotte was
unwell; and naturally attributing her illness to the shock she had
received at the arrest of her father, he hoped that a few days would
restore her to health. Still a presentiment of evil, and which he
conceived was consequent upon the unhappy state of the town in which he
had lived, pervaded his mind.

He had occasionally visited the neighbourhood of the Hall, and made some
inquiry after the inmates; but in the absence of the good knight, and
his friend Arderne, he had not considered it consistent with propriety
to introduce himself into the house, coming as he did from a place
infected with the plague.

On this evening, however, he resolved to gain some more assured tidings
of those he felt so much interested in; and after pondering upon the
matter, he resolved to approach the hall.

There was a solitude and silence about the house, as he gazed at it from
the belt of plantation by which he approached, that he could not account
for. No smoke ascended, from those huge twisted chimneys; no sound (save
an occasional dismal and long-drawn howl) came from the kennel. No
person was to be seen, as of yore, flitting about, engaged in the
numerous avocations of their daily duties. All looked dull and deserted.

He entered the court in rear, and proceeded to the stabling. The stables
were for the most part empty, the steeds had been turned into the chase,
and deserted by their attendants. He looked into the falconry; the hawks
were upon the perch, and apparently well fed and attended to, for at
that period a falconer would have as soon deserted his children as his
hawks, but the attendants were at the moment absent; they had fled from
the Hall, and located themselves in some out-buildings in the woods. As
he entered the house, the same appearance of desertion struck his eye.
He passed through a long passage, and gained the hall. There hung the
old tattered banners, the unscoured armour, and the antlered heads of
several large stags,--stags of ten,--all spoke of recent occupation and
use. The cross-bow lay where it had been thrown a few days before; the
thick hawking gauntlets and the dog-couples were mingled with whips and
spurs, bits and bridles, and all the _mélange_ of the chase and the
country gentleman's occupation, but of servants or inhabitants there was
no sign. He passed into the oak-pannelled room where he had first
enjoyed the society of the family, and learned to love them for their
worth. All looked desolate. The solitude and silence around made his
presence seem an intrusion. The innate modesty of his disposition
overcame his anxiety to hear tidings of the invalid. He felt as if
prying into the secret sorrows of the owner of the mansion, and was
about to withdraw, when the door opened, and Martin entered the room.

Martin started as he recognised the visitor, and a slight frown seemed
to cross his brow. He was a curious compound, that man. He half disliked
the youth for the virtues he at the same time admired in him, and which
he saw had also won the love of the daughter of his patron, and which
under no circumstance he considered could lead to a happy result,--now,
however, all was at an end.

"Ah," he said, "art _thou_ here? Art thou come to Clopton when all else
desert it?"

"My anxiety to learn tidings of the family hath made me an intruder on
your privacy," said Shakespeare. "I hope----"

"We have no hope," said Martin; "and you are not wise in coming hither.
Yon have surely heard of our misery. Charlotte Clopton is dying. Dying
of the plague. The nurse has just caught it of her and sickens too. All
have fled from the Hall."

A few moments more, and Shakespeare had sprung up the great staircase,
and sought the chamber of the invalid, Martin hastening after him, and
in vain urging him not to enter her room. "The disease is of the most
malignant character," he said. "The leech hath left the house unable to
do us any good. 'Tis but a tempting of Providence to enter the room. I
pr'ythee have thought upon your own safety."

"Perish all thoughts of self and safety!" said Shakespeare, dashing his
hat upon the floor as he entered the chamber. "O fairest flower," he
said, "cut down and blighted in thy budding beauty, do I indeed behold
thee again thus--so soon to part with thee for ever?"

He knelt down beside her bed, took her hand, and carried it to his lips.

Her long luxuriant tresses, which had escaped from the ribbon that bound
them, covered the white pillow like a cloud, and half-concealed her
face. She raised herself as she recognised the voice, and, parting her
hair, gazes eagerly in his face. "Thou art come then," she said; "once
more come? Oh, blessings on thee for it. I have wished for thee; dreamt
of thee; called for thee; and thou art come at last to set mine eye.
What happiness to look upon thy face once more--even in death! And yet,"
she said, as she held him from her, "there is danger in your being here,
I heard them whisper to each other of the plague."

"Oh, believe it not!" said Shakespeare; "there is no sign of such
disease about thee. Thou wilt live, dearest lady. Cast but from your
mind these sad thoughts, and you will yet recover."

"Not so," said Charlotte; "I feel as if I had not many moments on earth,
and yet I know I shall not harm thee, for I have beheld the story of thy
life in my troubled dreams. I have seen thee unknown, unthought of,
unhonoured in the world. And then I saw thee enshrined in such a blaze
of glory as no mortal ever before attained on earth:--the wonder of ages
to come. Thy very name alone, whispered in thy lowly home, William
Shakespeare, will make bearded men weep. Yes," she continued,
vehemently, "I beheld thy figure standing upon an eminence so high above
thy fellow-mortals, that, though all were striving to ascend towards
thee, none could come beyond the plain on which that mountain stood."

The tears fell from the youth's eyes as he buried his face upon the
coverlid of the couch, and listened to what he considered the prophetic
ravings of delirium; and then he again raised his head and gazed upon
her. There were no traces of disease to be observed in that bright form
as he did so. The subdued light of the chamber gave her the appearance
of a marble monument. In the abandonment of her grief, she had raised
herself on one arm, and her beauty seemed even more dazzling.

                      "'Twas beauty
    Too rich for use, for earth too dear."

The livid spots, which had so alarmed the nurse and Martin, had
disappeared from her face. Her rounded shoulder and bosom were like the
sculptured alabaster--rendered yet more white and polished by the soft,
dark tresses, by which they were partially covered.

"I would have lived for thee," she said, "to have but served thee; to
have made the paltry riches I own, available to thy genius."

As she uttered this, she sank down sobbing upon the couch. Shakespeare,
in an agony of grief, tried to raise and recover her, but she sank
quickly into insensibility: and when he laid her down again upon her
pillow, as he looked upon her, he saw she was dead!

Dead! but without the ghastly appearance which the grisly tyrant stamps
upon his prey.

    "Death, that had sucked the honey of her breath,
    Had yet no power upon her beauty.
                 Beauty's ensign yet
    Was crimson on her lips and in her cheeks,
    And Death's pale flag was not advanced there."



CHAPTER XXII.

BEREAVEMENT.


One week has elapsed since the events narrated in the last chapter. The
house of Clopton is shut up, empty, deserted. The good Sir Hugh is again
at liberty; but the seas flow between him and Britain. After having been
examined by Lord Hunsden, Sir Christopher Hatton, and Sir Francis
Walsingham, three members of the Privy Council, he was released from
confinement. The conspirators, all excepting the priest Eustace, who had
escaped, and through whose intrigues the good knight had become an
object of suspicion to the Council, were condemned to death and executed
in Old Palace Yard two days after. With eager haste, and tarrying at
each post but to obtain fresh horses, Sir Hugh and Walter Arderne had
(immediately on the release of the former) galloped as hard as spur and
bridle could urge on their steeds towards Clopton. Unluckily they passed
Martin in the night on the road near Oxford, as he was hastening towards
London with the intention of breaking the news of Charlotte's death to
them.

One letter had, in a measure, prepared the good knight to find his
daughter dangerously ill; but as in those days, both the inditing and
conveying a packet was a matter of considerable time and toil, letters
were by no means so sure of coming to hand, or so speedily delivered as
in latter times.

So that the unhappy knight arrived at the Hall to find desolation where
he had left plenty. His house was shut up----his daughter dead. She had
died of the plague, it was said; and with fearful haste, by order of the
authorities of the neighbouring town, had been buried.

It far exceeds the descriptive power of our pen to paint the grief,
horror, and despair of the good Sir Hugh and his nephew. For the moment
they seemed stupified with excess of misery. They then threw themselves
into each other's arms, and wept in their desolation, till the very
violence of their grief in some sort relieved them.

'Tis extraordinary how the human mind, after a time, accommodates itself
to the dispensations of Providence, however hard to bear. It was greatly
in favour of the mourners that they had in each other subjects of
anxiety. Each felt the hard lot of the other; and as each watched the
deep sorrow of his companion, the very feelings and disposition to
afford comfort, and urge patience and resignation, in some sort took
from them the poignancy of their own feelings.

The old knight, after wandering about the house in a state of
bewilderment for the first twenty-four hours after his arrival, became
calmer, and seemed inclined to force himself to take an interest in his
old occupations.

He visited, on the evening of the second day, the kennel and the
falconry, accompanied by Arderne, and made the rounds of the different
buildings and offices. Neither of them spoke much to each other, except
an occasional word as they came upon some object of deep interest in
connexion with her who was gone. "Look!" said Sir Hugh, as with
quivering lips and tears rolling down his muscular cheeks and grey
beard, he pointed to Charlotte's favourite hawk--a gallant bird, which
sat and plumed itself upon its perch, "look!" said he, in tremulous
accents----he could say no more; but in the utterance of that word what
an agony of grief was expressed. Arderne, too, felt his chest heave, and
the tears course each other down his cheeks, as he regarded the hawk.
But the sight of the brave old knight struggling to master his grief for
his sake, relieved the poignancy of his own sorrow. "Come, uncle," said
he, "we must to the stables. Tarry not here. There is much to be looked
after, and which wants your care. The attendants seem to have deserted
their charge, and the stalls are for the most part empty;" and so they
pursued their search around. When they came to the stable, if objects
were wanting to produce the sharp pang of grief, here again they were to
be found--objects peculiarly adapted to give the most intense feelings
of sorrow, as they were associated with those accomplishments in his
daughter, which the knight had held in the most estimation. There hung
the gay trappings of her favourite steed, and there stood the steed
itself, which the falconer had kept in its stall--a milk-white and
perfect courser; and in the stable beside the manger, lay Charlotte's
favourite hound--the dog, in her absence having apparently sought
consolation in the companionship of the horse he had so often
accompanied to the field.

The horse turned and neighed inquiringly, it appeared, to the old
knight; and the dog shook himself clear of the straw, and bounding out
of the stall, put his fore-legs upon Sir Hugh's breast, and seemed to
ask for his mistress, and then it stood down, as if conscious of the
fruitlessness of the query; and throwing up its great head, uttered a
long melancholy howl.

The good knight regarded the dog for a moment in silence. He stepped up
to the white steed; and as it put its nose affectionately in his face,
he kissed it again and again. He then sought for his own saddle; and
saddling and bridling the horse, he led it forth into the yard, followed
by the hound.

As Walter observed the knight's movements, he quietly saddled his own
steed, and they both set out together, and without a word took the road
to Stratford. There was no necessity for Walter to inquire of his uncle
their destination. He felt assured that the knight was about to visit
his daughter's grave.

Although Sir Hugh had however endeavoured to resign himself to the
decrees of Providence, and bear with fortitude the dire affliction which
had visited his house, he found it impossible to pursue the usual tenor
of his former life; the charm of existence seemed fled for ever--"life
was as tedious as a twice-told tale." It seemed to him, that in the
listless way in which he was pursuing his daily avocations, he was
beginning over again. He rode forth without purpose, and pursued his
route as chance or his steed directed.

Luckily this had been foreseen by a true industrious friend, one who,
since the return of Sir Hugh to Clopton, had been sorely missed in his
need by the good knight.

The faithful Martin, on his arrival in London, on finding that Sir Hugh
had been liberated, and had returned to Clopton, was struck with dismay,
inasmuch as he immediately surmised the shock the knight would be likely
to receive on so immediately returning to his desolate home.

Sudden and quick in all his resolves, he sought out a friend at Court,
and one who was under some little obligation to him for former services
rendered. This was no less a person than Sir Christopher Hatton, a
distinguished personal favourite of the Queen; a gentleman who owed his
rise absolutely to his exceeding good gifts in the elegant
accomplishment of dancing, and who walking into favour by a corranto,
gradually gained ground in her Majesty's further affections by his
activity in the galliard, capering higher and higher into the Royal
estimation at each subsequent demivolt, till he successively attained
the posts of Gentleman Pensioner, Captain of the Guard,
Vice-Chamberlain, and Lord Chancellor. This gentleman, who
(notwithstanding the oddness of his rise) was in reality a man of most
amiable disposition, possessed a mind less biassed by the prejudices of
his age than most of his contemporaries; and this most estimable man the
faithful Martin sought out.

"Sir Hugh Clopton," said Martin, "hath been badly used in this matter;
and inasmuch as his arrest and absence hath in some measure, by removing
him from the government of his house at a time of sickness and distress,
caused him much misery, the which his presence and management might have
possibly obviated. I think the Queen is bound to shew him some sort of
assistance in his great grief."

"Doubtless," said Sir Christopher, who was at that moment engaged in
arranging a quick measure for the viol-de-gamba, and which he meant to
adapt some exceeding curious steps to at the masque given by the
Templars to Her Majesty on that very night, "doubtless, good Martin.
Only shew me in what way I can serve the good knight Sir Hugh, and look
upon it as done."

"Why look ye," said Martin, "Sir Hugh is a man having as great
excellence is his arms as you, Sir Christopher, are so celebrated for in
the legs. Now if you could intercede for him with Her Majesty, so that
the good knight might be appointed to some command in the Low Countries,
the violence of action might do away with the poignancy of his grief,
and force him from his home."

"I fear me this is rather a delicate matter to broach unto Her Majesty,"
said Sir Christopher.

"And yet," said Martin, "consider the miserable condition of this poor
gentleman: make it your own case. Think, Sir Christopher, if you was to
be bereft of all--of favour, fortune, influence at Court."

"Sir Hugh hath lost nothing of all this," interrupted Sir Christopher.
"He hath lost no fortune and favour and influence at Court: he never had
or sought for either the one or the other."

"But he hath lost his child," said Martin, "which is all these to him."

"In my case," said Sir Christopher, "I should _not_ consider myself so
utterly miserable were I to lose all you have mentioned. As long as I am
lord of this presence," he continued, looking at the reflection of his
exceeding handsome face in the mirror, and then regarding his
well-turned leg and small foot, "I should not lack advancement. There
are other Courts besides the Court of Elizabeth--other lands besides
Britain--where a man's good gifts might be properly estimated;" and as
Sir Christopher said this, he threw out his right foot, and pointed his
toe with grace and effect.

"And there it is," said Martin; "bereft of favour and fortune, you would
still have something to fall back upon, Sir Christopher. But how if a
sudden twist were to dislocate that slim ancle, and the joint were ever
after to be like the callous hock of a foundered steed? How then would
you push your fortune?"

"Nay, then I should be utterly discomfited," said Sir Christopher,
laughing; "foundered in good earnest--toe and heel--hip and thigh."

"And such is the condition of Sir Hugh," said Martin, "unless we can
give a fresh fillip to his depressed spirits, and teach him to forget
his griefs; he will despair, and despairing, die."

"I see the urgency of the matter," said Sir Christopher; "Her Majesty
may lose a good blade in the stout knight, were he to die of grief. He
hath received wrong, but he shall have speedy redress. Come to me
to-morrow, good Martin--early, good Martin--my life upon it, I will in
some sort content you."

Accordingly, a few days after Sir Hugh had returned to his desolate
home, and when he was beginning, even more than at first, to feel the
sense of his utter loneliness, and the heaviness of his irreparable
loss, Martin unexpectedly returned, and, full of apparent haste and the
urgency and importance of his business, presented a sealed commission
from Sir Christopher Hatton.

The good knight was seated in the old oak-panelled room, where we have
first introduced him to our readers. His viol-de-gamba was in his hand,
and he was listlessly executing an air which was a favourite with his
daughter.

Those who have heard the tones of this obsolete instrument will readily
remember its silver sweetness--tones which seemed peculiar to the age,
floating with a delicious softness through those old apartments, and
seeming, as they filled hall and corridor, to die away in echoing
vibration; so soothing and so melancholy; so well adapted to soften the
poignancy of the old man's grief, that, as he finished the measure, the
tears coursed one another down his cheeks. Martin (who had stopped to
listen to the strains for a moment) as the old knight laid down his bow,
immediately stepped up to him and presented his packet.

The first meeting of the friends, as Martin had surmised, caused
considerable emotion to both; but Martin concealed his own feelings
under an affectation of despatch, and dashing the tear from his eye,
bade the knight peruse the packet with which he had been entrusted,
without delay.

"From whom and whence?" said Sir Hugh. "Methinks I had rather defer
matters of business till another opportunity. There be many sealed
letters I have received the last two days now lying in the hall, and
which I have no heart to open or peruse; for what have I to do with
affairs of the world? what interest have I in life or its businesses?"

"Nevertheless," said Martin, "this commission must be read, inasmuch as
it cometh from one whose behests are to be obeyed. 'Tis from the Queen;
and if I mistake not, Her Majesty requires your instant employment in
her service. There is work to be done with spur and rapier, and you must
undertake it."

"Nay then," said the knight, whose ardour was in a moment aroused at the
prospect of military duty, "there never yet was a Clopton found wanting
when he should serve his sovereign in the field: mine eyes are somewhat
dim, good Martin, peruse the letter, and give me the substance of its
contents."

"In how long a time," said Martin, after glancing at the letter, the
contents of which he well knew, "can you be ready to set forth from
hence, good master mine?"

"As soon as steed is saddled and led forth, and weapon girded on, I am
prepared to mount," said Sir Hugh, "what other preparation doth a
soldier want, good Martin?" "Alas!" he continued, looking round, "I have
now nothing here to take leave of; nothing to care for. In the world I
am nothing, and unless Her Majesty's services require continuance of my
life, 'twere better I were gathered to my forefathers." Thus then was
Sir Hugh, through the instrumentality of Martin, dispatched forthwith to
join the expedition under the Earl of Leicester against the Spaniards.
He came up with the Earl just as he had sat down before Zutphen, where
the circumstance of war and the bustle of the camp, in a great measure
alleviated the sorrows of the good old man.

With Walter Arderne, however, Martin had a more difficult part to play.
He thought it wise to separate the uncle and nephew, because the
constant sight of each other only served to remind them of their loss.

He therefore, after the knight's departure, urged upon Walter the
necessity there was for his not wearing out his youth in shapeless
idleness. "There be many ways for a man to rise to distinction in the
world at the present moment," said Martin, "and let ambition be now your
mistress, good Walter."

"Alas!" said Arderne, "thou canst not feel for me, good friend, because
thou hast never felt the desolation I feel. Ambition and all other
passions are dead within me."

"Go to," said Martin. "Men that live _in_ the world must be _of_ the
world. The health of the mind is of far more consequence to us than the
health of the body. The Ardernes were never yet drivellers. Go forth,
man, like your forefathers. I in some sort feel anguish of mind, as well
as thou; but I give not way to it. Afflictions are sent by Providence.
Let your head contrive and your hand execute, and you will forget your
particular griefs in blows given and taken; nay, the time is coming when
we shall all have to belt on the brand--that I foresee plainly enough.
The Spaniard despises all other nations except the English; we have the
honour of his hate because he cannot despise us; and we shall shortly
feel the weight of his whole force against us. Of that you may rely."

"And whither, then, would you have me go?" said Arderne. "You objected
to my accompanying my uncle; what course do you point out for me, so
poor in spirit?"

"Why, look ye," said Martin, "there is an expedition now about to set
sail for the purpose of attacking the Spaniards in the Indies. Men's
mouths were full of it when I was near the Court. Two thousand three
hundred volunteers, besides seamen, are enrolled under Sir Francis
Drake. The success of the Spaniards and Portuguese in both Indies, and
the wonders seen in these islands, have influenced the imagination of
all men of spirit; an I were you, I would join this expedition,--see
this new world and its strange inhabitants, and witness the matters said
to exist there."

"And when would you have me to depart?" inquired Arderne.

"What time is better than the present?" said Martin. "How long doth the
soldier require to get under arms, when he receives the order to fall
in?"

"Methinks," said Arderne, "I have many places to visit and take leave
of, ere I can quit them, perhaps for ever."

"Take no leave of them at all," said Martin. "When you return, they will
be fresh and fairer in your eyes."

"I have one friend, amongst the many I care not to see again, whom I
must see and take leave of," said Arderne; "one whom I would fain spend
some time with ere we part."

"Know I him?" inquired Martin.

"You have seen him often," said Arderne, "but you know him not. She who
is gone knew him and valued him. 'Tis of her I would speak with him."

"'Twere best not," said Martin; "but (sith I do know the friend you
speak of,) I cannot object. There is a kind of character in him I never
found in other men. To part with such a one without seeing again is, I
grant ye, hard. I give ye one day to spend with your friend, and then
you must promise to depart for London."

"I promise it," said Arderne, who already felt relief from being, as it
were, driven into action,----"I promise it, good friend, and the day
after to-morrow I will depart from Clopton,----depart, perhaps, never to
return."

"Good!" said Martin; "well-resolved and resolutely! I expect great
things of this expedition, and thy conduct in it. You are just the age
to adventure. In youth, we are apt to trust ourselves overmuch; and
others too little when old. At thy time of life thou art just between
the two extremes. The proper season for action; _ergo_, thou wilt
thrive."

It was evening when this conversation took place at Clopton, and gloom
and melancholy still reigned supreme there. Perhaps the feelings of
Martin and his young friend were even more depressed, inasmuch as they
had a melancholy task to perform ere they left the place.

The good old servant, who we have before seen in attendance upon
Charlotte, either from over-exertion or want of rest, had fallen sick
just before her charge died. It was supposed at the time that she had
taken the plague; such, however, was not the case, as she lingered on
for some days after the young lady's death, and died at last, apparently
of grief for the loss of her favourite mistress.

Before the death of this old domestic, she had requested of Martin that
she might be buried in the vault with her beloved young mistress: and
the request having been acceded to, this very evening was fixed on for
the funeral. Arderne paced up and down the room (after the conversation
we have just recorded) for some time in silence. He then turned to
Martin. "I have been thinking deeply of what you just now urged to me,"
he said. "The force of it is so impressed upon my mind, that I am
resolved at once to take my departure from Clopton. The place seems,
since my resolve, to be hateful to me. To-night I will go forth; for
since this matter has gone so far, I cannot bear again to sleep at
Clopton."

"'Tis well," said Martin; "just as I would advise."

"And this friend?" said Arderne, "in whom I am so much interested. Thou
likest him not, or I would bid thee tell him in how much I feel desirous
of serving him; and that I commend him to thy especial favour."

"How know you I like not that youth?" said Martin. "I never said so, did
I?"

"I surmised it from your manner," said Arderne. "You seemed to look
askance upon him, as it were."

"Perhaps I had my own reasons for such seeming," said Martin; "and if I
had so, those reasons are now naught. There is no farther cause for
them. Believe me, he you call your friend, is one who, if I mistake not,
will some day rise to great eminence. And he live to any age, the world
will hear something of him, for he hath the brains of half a score of us
common mortals, with all his modest look, and beardless cheek."

"Then to you I will intrust the task of saying farewell to him," said
Arderne, "for, methinks, on reflection, it will but aggravate my
feelings to see him again, since I am so suddenly to depart."

"Be it so," said Martin; "I accept the office."

"In one hour, then, we will say adieu, good friend," said Arderne,
wringing Martin's hand. "This night I would fain dedicate to her we both
loved; to-morrow shall find me far from Clopton."



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE VAULT.


It is night, and the moon sheds a pale and sickly light over the silent
streets of Stratford-upon-Avon, and the surrounding meadows and
woodlands.

Is it that the idea of pestilence and death being rife in that silent
town gives its streets so sickly and melancholy a look--a sort of
unnatural and unwholesome glare--or is the surrounding air, impregnated
as it seems with disease, of a more rarified and peculiar character?

The square, thick-ribbed, and embattled tower of the guild of the Holy
Cross, with its Norman windows and grotesque ornaments, alone looks dark
in shadow. The streets and windows of the various houses seem to glance
white and spectral. The tower of the distant church hath a ghastly look,
and the very tombstones of the dead seem also more white and ghostly;
whilst a thick mist from the river rises like a cloud in the background.

Silence reigns supreme. Not a breath of wind stirs the foliage of the
trees upon the margin of the river, or bends the long dank grass growing
amongst the graves.

Suddenly the distant sound of a horse's hoof-tread disturbs the deep
silence, and a solitary horseman, riding through the deserted streets of
the town, approached the churchyard, and dismounting, after fastening
his steed, entered it.

He takes his way slowly and with measured tread towards a vault attached
to the church. His cheek is pale and haggard, and the large round tears
course one another down it. It is Walter Arderne; he has come to spend
the last hours he intends remaining in the vicinity of Stratford, beside
the vault containing the remains of his beloved Charlotte.

The plague which raged in Stratford this year was now at its height.
Already one-fifth of the inhabitants had fallen victims; and it was the
custom, as much as possible, to bury the dead unobserved at night.

The remains of the domestic who had died at Clopton Hall were to be
buried on this night after midnight; and as Walter Arderne knew the
hour, he had preceded the corpse, intending to descend into the vault
and gaze upon the remains of her he had so loved in life.

His feelings were, indeed, at the moment, wrought to a pitch of
intensity. He felt that he could scarcely wait with patience for the
coming of the body and the opening of the vault, so eager was he to
descend.

"O Time," he said, as with folded arms, he stood gazing at the dark
grating of the vault, "thy wings are of lightning in our pleasures; but
thou creepest with feet of lead to the sorrowful and weary. And yet
thou, who dost constantly move onwards, overcoming all things in thy
flight, wilt at last conquer even death itself; thou, most subtle and
insatiable of depredators, wilt at last take all."

A heavy rumbling sound interrupted the meditation of the mourner. It was
the vehicle containing the body of the domestic from Clopton, and which,
in its progress, had gathered up other bodies in the town on that night
to be interred.

The ceremony was performed without the usual formalities, and in all
haste. Walter drew aside as the buriers, preceded by the sexton,
approached and opened the vault. They ignited their torches previous to
descending the flight of steps, and when they did so a cry of horror and
alarm proceeded from the sexton, who had first entered the vault, and he
rushed out, whilst those who had followed seemed equally
horror-stricken. They threw down the corpse, after a glance at the
interior, and fled.

Walter, who had quietly followed, was struck with dread. He stopped, and
taking up one of the torches, descended into the vault; when a dreadful
sight presented itself,--a sight which, as long as memory held a seat in
his brain, remained there.

The vault was situate deep below the surface. On hastening down the
steps Walter held his torch on high, and when about half-way its rays
fell upon a figure, which, like some sheeted ghost, leant against the
damp walls.

Arderne was brave as the steel he wore, but at first he stopped and
hesitated, whilst the door of the vault closing behind him added to the
horror of the situation.

As he continued to regard this startling object, the light becoming more
steady, he recognised the features of the figure.

"Oh!" he said, "do I behold aright, or do mine eyes play false?"

With horror in his features he approached nearer, and became confirmed
in his first suspicion. It was Charlotte Clopton. She was dressed in her
grave-clothes, as she had been consigned to the tomb. She appeared to
have been but a short time dead, and in the agonies of despair, hunger,
or, perhaps, madness, consequent upon the dreadful situation, she had
bitten a large piece from her round white shoulder.

When the buriers of the dead returned, somewhat reassured by collecting
all their number together, they found Walter in a swoon, with the body
of Charlotte fast locked in his embrace. Separating them, they replaced
the body in the coffin, and conveying Walter to upper air, closed up the
vault for ever.

As the day broke, a tall cavalier rode slowly out of Stratford. The
raven plumes of his hat almost shadowed his pale face, and his ample
riding-cloak completely enveloped his form.

He reined up his steed as soon as he had cleared the suburbs, and gazed
long and fixedly for some time at the handsome spire of the church. He
then turned his steed, dashed the spurs into its flanks, and galloped
like a madman along the Warwick road.



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE VILLAGE FETE.--ANNE HATHAWAY.


It is extraordinary how speedily the human mind recovers its elasticity
after being bent down to the earth, as it were, with the weight of care.

Let the reader glide over some four or five months from the date of the
transactions we have first narrated, and again look upon
Stratford-upon-Avon. No trace remains of the deadly scourge which had so
recently raged in the town; nay, even but small remembrance is to be
observed in the visages or trappings and suite of the surviving
citizens (now again mixing in the business of life and the pleasures of
the world) of those relations and friends _put to bed with a shovel_.
The fact was, that the plague was a constant visitor at this period, and
fear of infection the bugbear of the time.[4] The visitation, however,
being over, the inhabitants came forth again with renewed zest. They
fluttered about like "summer flies i' the shambles," and sunned
themselves in the anticipation of brighter days to come. It seemed quite
a delight to walk the streets, where all looked so happy and contented.
And yet how small indeed is the portion of life really and truly enjoyed
by the poor compounded clay, man! Youth refuses to be happy in the
present moment, and looks forward to future joys, never perhaps to be
realized. Old age, again, takes a backward glance, and sighs over what
has passed; whilst manhood (which appears to be occupied with the
present moment) in reality is oft-times forming vague determinations for
happiness at some future period when time shall serve.

[Footnote 4: See Correspondence of Sir Christopher Hatton.]

Master Dismal had experienced a perfect state of contemplative
contentment during the recent visitation; he might now sit himself down
and retire for a space, he thought; his researches had been most
incessant, and his attendance upon his neighbours most praiseworthy; he
could almost have written a treatise upon all he had beheld and studied;
he had seen out no less than three sapient doctors during the progress
of the plague, and could indeed, from his gathered experience, have
himself practised the healing art as well as the remaining one. Now,
however, that his vocation was over, for the present at least, and the
inhabitants full of enjoyment, he determined to enjoy himself amongst
them. It was exactly the twelfth day after Christmas-day that the thread
of our story is resumed. A sort of village festival was held at the
hamlet of Shottery, about a mile distant from Stratford-upon-Avon, and
as several of Master Dismal's neighbours were hieing thither with light
hearts and joyous spirits, thither he bent his steps also. "Who knows
what sports may be toward?" he said, as he called for Lawyer Grasp and
Master Doubletongue, on his way. "Peradventure I may be of some service;
for albeit I do not wish to anticipate accidents or offences, the last
wake I was present at, which was at the shearing-feast at Kenilworth
Green, there were more heads broken by the lads of Coventry and Warwick
than I can tell you. Nay, Dick, the smith, got such a fall at the
wrestling, that he never joyed after. Yes, he, died in three weeks. Aye,
and Ralph Roughhead had his spine wrenched by the back trick."

In Elizabeth's day, when the bold peasantry of England did recreate
themselves, their sports and pastimes were most joyous. Except in such a
case as we have just described, and in which the hand of sickness bore
them hard, their hearths were for the most part free from the withering
cares of our own improving times. Light-hearted and jovial, they kept up
the old world sports and pastimes which had been handed down from their
forefathers. Those quaint games and rural diversions so frequently
carried on in the green fields and bosky woods. Those cozy fire-side
diversions which extended alike from the cottage ingle neuk to the
manorial hall and the castle court.

Many of the popular customs then in use had their origin in remote
antiquity. The well-known custom of making presents upon New-Year's-day
in England is as old, for instance, as the period in which the Romans
sojourned in Britain, and by whom it was introduced amongst us. Amongst
the Saxons the first of the new year was observed with great ceremony
and hilarity, and in the reign of Alfred a law was made that the twelve
days following Christmas-day should be kept as festivals. This is the
original of our twelfth-day feast, and which, in Elizabeth's reign, and
long afterwards, was kept with something more of jovial circumstance
than is now customary. For what says Herrick--

    "For sports, for pagentrie and plays,
    Thou hast thy eves and holy days.
    Thy wakes, thy quintels, here thou hast:
    Thy May-pole, too, with garlands vast.
    Thy morrice dance, thy Whitsun ale,
    Thy shearing feasts which never fail;
    Thy harvest home, thy wassaile bowle
    That's tost up after fox-i'th-hole;
    Thy mummeries, thy twelfe-tide kings,
    And queens; thy Christmas revellings."

When Master Dismal reached Shottery, he found a goodly assemblage
collected together enjoying themselves in various ways upon the green. A
whole sheep, which had been given to the inhabitants of the hamlet by
Sir Thomas Lucy, who possessed property there, was roasting before a
huge fire. A company of morris-dancers, dressed in a sort of eastern or
Moorish costume, and covered with bells, were capering away, toeing and
heeling, and keeping time, their truncheons also bedecked with hawks'
bells, and making a tremendous jingling.

Then the May-pole, decked with evergreens and berries, and surmounted
with misletoe, had its joyous party dancing, and running, and threading,
and laughing, till the green rang again. The lads were all in holiday
trim, their short becoming jackets belted tightly round the waist, their
trunks and well-fitting hose forming part of their picturesque costume.
The lasses were also dressed for the most part in one style--the neat
made boddice and the short stuff petticoat, so becoming to the female
figure, and in which they looked handsomer even than if bedizened with
lace and silk, and tricked out with jewellery. The glow of exercise was
in their cheeks, and the forms of many there, as they sported in all the
unchecked freedom of innocent enjoyment, would have been worthy studies
for the artist's pencil.

The children of the village, who are seldom behindhand when diversions
are in full force, had also their part in the performance. Tricked out
in all sorts of scraps of frippery, and costumed for the nonce, they
revived, in their own way, the Christmas-day pastimes, and bringing out
the hobby-horse, the green dragon, and all the paraphernalia which had
done service on the former occasion, they renewed (in small) the sports
they had then and there beheld. The dragon flapped his wings, the knight
engaged him, the merryman and the old pantaloon took equal numbers of
adherents, and "fought on part and part." The snow-balls flew fast and
furious, and loud and dire were the shouts and hallooing of the
combatants. Then came the feast in the open air, for in those days men
and women shrank not from the winter blast during their holiday sports,
and after that the cup went round, the dance was renewed, and the
twelfth-tide kings and queens were introduced in all their grandeur.

The village of Shottery was a lovely specimen of a rural hamlet in the
days of Elizabeth. It consisted then but of some half-a-dozen houses or
hamlets, which, sequestered amongst the deep woodlands, and each with
its little orchard in rear, and its pretty flower-garden, formed a
delicious picture.

Except, indeed, that the homesteads were of a more recent build, (having
superseded the ruder sort of huts, one or two of which, however, yet
remained,) Shottery seemed as sequestered and out of the way of the busy
world as when, many hundred years back, Offa, King of the Mercians,
granted its meadow to the church of Worcester.

Besides the actors in the different games, there were also many
spectators, who stood about and occasionally mingled amongst the lads
and lasses of the village; and amongst these visitors were several
foresters or keepers belonging to the domains of the gentry around.

These men, as was generally the case when they met together at the
different wakes, fairs, and country diversions, got up a shooting-match
at the edge of the green. Warwickshire was always famous for its
bow-men, and the caliver had not so entirely superseded the cloth-yard
shaft but that it was yet a dear diversion amongst the peasantry. The
cross-bow, it is true, was mostly in use, but the longbow was still much
practised. The remembrance of its destructive powers, and the battles it
had won in the "vasty fields of France," was yet ripe in the mouths and
memories of the old host, when he told his winter tale; nay, even yet we
shall find in this delightful province some remnant of the longbow in
almost every hamlet: there are indeed more archery meetings in
Warwickshire alone than in all the other counties of England put
together.

Amongst the many specimens of rural beauty enjoying themselves in the
dance, there was one female who especially attracted the gaze of all
assembled.

Pouncet Grasp (who had wandered over with Master Dismal and others to
enjoy the scene, and, at the same time, see a client he had in the
hamlet) seemed especially struck with her. Nay, even Master Dismal
pronounced her of exceeding good proportions, and most comely features.
He had never seen a fairer form, he affirmed, chiselled upon a tomb.
"What a lovely corpse she would make!" he said, with professional
enthusiasm; "an it please Heaven to take her early, and before age
withered up her rounded limbs, and whitened her glossy black hair."

"Out upon it," said Master Doubletongue; "thy voice is like a screech
owl's! Yonder lass will live to make wild work with the hearts of some
of the village swains before she dies, for all her cherubim looks. I
shall make shrewd inquiry about her. I'll wager a flagon there's some
scandal to be heard. I never knew a well-favoured maiden yet, but her
neighbours said something of her;" and here Master Doubletongue
whispered in Grasp's ear, at which the lawyer laughed and winked his
eye, as much as to say, "Ah, Master Doubletongue, you're a wag, but
you're not far out either."

"An I might get yonder sweet-faced lass for a partner," said Grasp, who
was a trifle roguish when out of his office; "methinks I could like to
shake a toe amongst the circle."

"Nay," said Doubletongue, "I'm clearly with you there, neighbour; what a
trim ancle she hath! By the mass, the keen wind which blows me into an
ague here, shews her figure off to advantage. Accost her, Grasp, accost
her! Methinks I should like to hear the voice which issues from so
pretty a mouth."

"Go to," said Grasp, "I am somewhat diffident at speaking to a young
lass where so many of her companions are around her. Do thou accost her,
Master Doubletongue, and I'll be near to back you. See, the dance is
finished, and she comes this way."

"You trip it featly, fair Mistress," said Doubletongue, as the damsel,
whose appearance had so struck them, approached with two other maidens.
"Will you join hands with me? Methinks I should like to join issue in
the dance, and tread a measure with so fair a partner."

"Thanks, gentle sir," said the maid, laughing; "but I do not use to
dance with any save those I know."

"Right," said a tall athletic-looking forester. "What do lawyers want
dancing with village girls--Eh? Go to, Master Grasp, mate with your own
degree. Fair mistress Anne," said he to the maiden, "you must be mine
for the next dance."

The maiden shrank back with a look of dislike at the tall forester,
which Grasp observing, interpreted it as a preference for himself as a
partner.

"Thou art but a rude companion," said he; "and I would fain have the
maiden's answer without thy counsel; she'll have none of thy partnership
any how, I trow."

"No," said Doubletongue; "she wisheth not to have the scandal of such a
partner. Go, fellow--go."

"Pshaw!" said the forester, "what a brace of old crones thou art--go,
get thee down to the hostel yonder, and warm thee with a cup of wine, or
an extra flannel shirt! Dance, quotha, and with such a lass as Anne
Hathaway--Ha! Ha! Why, there's not a caper left in the pair of ye. Go,
ye gray beards, go, or by my faith I'll make ye both dance to some other
tune."

"Come, neighbour," said Doubletongue, who liked not the athletic make
and savage look of the forester, "let us budge and exchange no more
words with this scurvy companion. For, look ye there, the girl and he
understand each other, depend on't. They are well matched. I know the
fellow. He's a keeper of Sir Thomas Lucy's, and one of the greatest
ruffians in the country."

But the village maiden evidently did not relish the companionship of the
tall forester. She turned and would have tripped off with her two female
companions without more controversy. The forester, however, who seemed
somewhat flushed with good liquor, seized her by the hand, and insisted
upon her being his partner.

"If I must dance with thee, Diccon, why I must," she said, as she was
led by the rude keeper to another party; "but it is ungentle of thee to
force me to do so against my free inclination."

"Thou art ever thus coy with me, Anne," said the forester, "and ever
avoidest my company. Why dost use me thus, when I have sworn an hundred
times I would die to serve thee?"

"I like thee not, and would have no further words with thee," said the
maiden. "Thy presence poisons my delight. I have told thee so I know not
how oft. I pr'ythee prove the love thou dost profess, by leaving me."

"Beware I shew thee not how love can turn to hate," said the dark
forester, bitterly. "Thou shalt not spurn me thus for nothing. Come,
thou shalt dance," and forthwith the forester led the maiden out to join
the dancers.

Gazing upon the revellers, and at no great distance from the spot where
the forester and his unwilling partner danced, stood a youth, apparently
about seventeen years of age. He leaned upon a stout staff, and regarded
the dancers with a countenance so melancholy, that it was evident
(although he listened to the pipe and tabor, and watched the glee of the
revellers) he had no part in their enjoyment. It was young Shakespeare:
he had been absent some time from his native town--no one knew where he
had sojourned, or what part of the world he had visited during this
sequestration of himself from a neighbourhood recent events had rendered
so full of melancholy associations. He had occasionally given his
parents intimation by a few lines, or some message, of his welfare, and
had but a few days before returned to Stratford.

It is not to be supposed, that one so full of observation would fail in
remarking the very handsome female we have described. "The prettiest
low-born lass that ever ran on the green sward."

With a melancholy mind he had bent his steps that day towards Shottery.
Such revels as the present he had before oft-times taken part in, and
now (albeit he was in no mood for joviality), with the feeling and
desire to observe the happiness of others, he had remained to look upon
the sports.

His thoughts, indeed, were sad enough. He had lost his good friends from
Clopton, after the terrible affliction of their house. He had been left
alone after having tasted the sweets of their society, and this too in
the midst of misery and disease. 'Tis true, that owing to the good
management of his parents, and their being of more careful habits than
the generality of the neighbours in their condition of life, they had
kept the disease from their hearth, and for that he had reason to be
thankful. But, added to the feeling of melancholy which the events we
have before narrated had caused, was the knowledge that his father's
circumstances were daily growing worse, and he felt too that he himself,
although he had reached a time of life when he ought to be doing
something, was without purse, profession, or prospect.

These thoughts, however, gradually gave place to interest in the
surrounding scene. His was a mind and disposition which could scarcely
witness the happiness of others without partaking of their joy, and
gradually he became more and more interested. As he continued to observe
the beautiful villager (for she was in the full blossom of her charms),
he noticed that she seemed uneasy with her partner, and averse to his
rough attentions. Watching more closely, he observed the overbearing
style of the forester, and the increasing timidity of the maiden. That
was enough for him. He moved nearer to them, and as the dance finished,
he stepped up and accosted her.

"Your hand, fair maiden," he said, gently taking her hand in his. "But
that I think you have fatigued yourself, I would dance with you."

There was so much sweetness in his voice and expression, as he said
this, and his action was so gentle, that the maid resigned her hand,
and, as she gazed at his handsome face, she unconsciously put her arm in
his, and adopted him as her protector. In such cases the parties
understood each other in a moment.

If there is one thing more likely than another to excite a desperate
quarrel amongst men, it is rivalry in the affairs of love and gallantry.
The veriest cur upon four legs can hardly brook being cut out
unceremoniously before the eyes of his favourite, and to the tall
forester, with the forbidding countenance, the fact of being thus
outbraved by a stripling, was matter, at first, of astonishment more
than anger. The fellow was a sort of champion too, one hired and kept by
the knight of Charlecote as a sort of terror to evil-doers in his parks
and preserves; an impudent, reckless, and quarrelsome companion; one
whom most of the youths present would fain have avoided fastening a
quarrel upon, inasmuch as he had kept the ring on Kenilworth Green for a
whole Christmas, against all comers, a few years before.

Slightly bowing her head in courtesy, Anne Hathaway would have tripped
off with her new friend and protector, but the keeper was not the man
likely to put up with so unceremonious a parting. He stepped on a few
paces, and presently overtook them.

"How now, young Master," he said to Shakespeare, "methinks you carry
this matter as bravely as rudely? A word with you ere you walk off so
quietly with my partner there."

As Anne, in some alarm, had rather urged her protector on, the forester
unconsciously laid his hand upon his arm to detain him.

The youth snatched his arm quickly away. "Lay no fist of thine on me,
sirrah," said he, "as many words as you like, but touch not my doublet."

Th« forester looked surprised at the eye of fire with which Shakespeare
regarded him.

"And wherefore not?" he said.

"Simply," reiterated Shakespeare, "because your putting affront upon me
will oblige me to wipe off such rudeness by a blow of my staff."

"Thou art a bold young springald as ever it was my lot to fall in with,"
said the forester, stepping a pace back and regarding his rival with a
scowling look; "and by my fay, for your inches, as likely a young fellow
as ere I looked upon, well limbed and clean made as a good bred colt.
But I must take this sauciness out of thee. I cannot sing small before
so young a champion; come," he continued, "unhand the lass, lest I pluck
her from thee, or rather thee from her."

"The maiden seeks her home for a space," said Shakespeare, "and I attend
her; after that I will hold converse with thee. Fear not," he whispered
to his fair companion, as she shrank back in alarm at the threatening
aspect of the forester, "this is but a drunken dissolute fellow, and I
shall be able to protect you from his violence, depend on it. Those who
threaten loudly are oftentimes but weak in action."

The pair were again about to move off. But the evident aversion of the
maiden to the rude forester was indeed gall and wormwood to him, and
roused him to stop her progress homeward.

"Nay, Mistress Anne," he said, "you carry it not thus with your gallant;
come, I will bring you to your cot myself," and as he said this, he
stretched forth his hand, and would have rudely seized her by the arm,
but Shakespeare, who had anticipated something of the sort, dealt him so
severe a blow over the knuckles with the staff he carried, that the hand
fell powerless, and the forester, with a cry of pain, started back for
the moment unable to return the blow.

"Make amongst your companions," said the youth, "I must bide this act
now, for good or ill. I have struck the first blow."

The controversy had, indeed, already collected several spectators; "A
ring, a ring!" they cried. "Here's Black Dick challenged to a bout at
quarter-staff by a boy."

"Ha," said Grasp, who had come up amongst others, and now pushed into
the circle, "assault and battery here, eh? Keep back, my masters all;
keep out of range, lest we get a flout from their cudgels. There'll be
smashing work anon, for look you, yonder's my wild slip of a
sometime-clerk, John Shakespeare's unthrift son. He's going to catch it
this time, and right glad am I therefore. Stand back, Master Dismal,
stand back. Ah, there they go at it right merrily."

"I see evident chance of a broken skull in this business," said Dismal.
"That fellow with the green frock seldom amuses himself by a set-to in
the ring but he either maims or lames his adversary for life."

The parties indeed had quickly engaged, for as speedily as the forester
could shake the numbness from his fingers, he dealt a most
uncompromising blow at his adversary, which had it taken effect would
certainly have knocked out his brains. But the youth received it on his
staff with great coolness, and shifting his right hand, returned it as
swiftly. The forester in an instant lost his temper; he rushed upon his
opponent with the intention of seizing him in his powerful grip, and
throwing him to the earth; but he received so severe a check full in the
teeth as he did so, that he stopped short, and shook his head with rage
and pain.

"Well struck," cried the villagers, "Black Dick has met his match!"

Coolness and self-possession will always tell in a combat of this sort.

The temper once lost, the conflict within tells more against the
combatant than the blows of his adversary. Every available function is
over-exerted and blind rage baffles the skill.

Thus it was with the bulky forester. Strong drink and violent anger
rendered him tremulous as he fought. He dealt his blows thick as hail,
most maliciously, and without any regard to the rules of such a combat.
He would have killed his opponent if he could, and so young Shakespeare
found, and dealt with him accordingly, quite aware that the slightest
mistake on his own part would result in his either being killed or lamed
for life. The youth, who in reality possessed greater strength than his
appearance seemed to warrant, kept well away from the shower of blows,
till his antagonist was completely out of breath. He then stood more up
to him, returned his blows with interest, and at length dealt him so
severe a stroke on the head, that the forester reeled under the shock
and almost fell.

Nothing but his own consummate skill could, however, have saved young
Shakespeare up to this time from the fury of his antagonist. Nothing now
but his own chivalrous feeling could have saved his antagonist from a
severer lesson than he actually received at his hands.

The blow he gave the forester, and which struck him on the head, for the
moment placed him at his mercy. The strong ruffian reeled and nearly
fell, and as he still endeavoured to smite furiously with his weapon, it
flew out of his hand, and he was at the mercy of his antagonist, who
immediately dropped the end of his staff upon the ground, and waited for
him to recover it.

At this moment several of the forester's comrades, who had been shooting
at a target at the edge of the Green, attracted by the sound of the
fray, came up. They were enraged at beholding the discomfiture of their
companion, whose opponent they seemed inclined to handle roughly; and
the villagers immediately taking part with Shakespeare, a general fight
ensued, and with the true English bull-dog resolution, blows with fist
and stick resounded on all sides. Master Grasp was overturned and trod
under foot, swearing action and imprisonment against all and sundry the
combatants. Master Dismal was fain to betake himself to flight, and
Doubletongue said, as he made off also, that such a scene was a scandal
to the whole country; whilst the village maidens, in a state of alarm,
stood looking on at a distance, and calling to their lovers, cousins,
and brothers, to desist for the love of heaven and their own sweet
sakes.

In short, such was the rage of the combatants,--the keepers being for
the most part Gloucestershire men, and objects of dislike to the
Shottery lads,--that it seemed more than probable lives would be lost
ere the matter ended.

In the midst of the fray, however, a stately-looking man, mounted upon a
large grey horse, accompanied by a couple of cavaliers, and attended by
half-a-dozen serving-men, or falconers, rode up to the scene of action.
The badge worn upon the arms of the attendants bore the same device as
that upon the coats of several of the foresters engaged, being three
white lucies, or pike-fish, and the spectators immediately recognised
Sir Thomas Lucy, of Charlecote.

No sooner did the knight observe the nature of the business in hand, and
his own people engaged, than he clapped spurs to his horse, and dashing
into the midst of the fray, called, in a voice of thunder, to the
combatants to desist, overturning at the same time, with the shoulder of
his horse, the two first persons he came in contact with.

"Give me the names, Huntsman," he said, turning to the man who seemed
his own particular attendant, "of all in my service engaged in this
disgraceful riot. Now, I will not only discharge, but punish them
severely!"

"May so please your honour," said one of the foresters, "we are not
altogether so much in fault as you may imagine. One of our comrades hath
been assailed and beaten, and we did but take his part here, when all
set upon us."

"And what do you here at all, caitiffs?" said Sir Thomas, "when ye
should be in your walk in Fulbrook Park. Whilst such fellows as you
dance and fight at wakes and fairs, my park is broken, and my game
killed and carried off."

"We came but in to-day to drink your honour's health, hearing you had
given a sheep for the revels," said the chop-fallen keeper.

"You shall drink the health of another employer henceforth," said the
knight; "and who is the person you say hath beaten your fellow?"

"A youth, who hath more than once done the like," said the keeper; "one
whom I myself have oft-times caught in our Woods and warrens, and as
continually warned off."

"His name?" said Sir Thomas. "Let me know his name, and I will take
sharp measures with him an I catch him."

"Shakespeare," said the keeper; "he hath beaten me myself some time
back."

"Shakespeare!" said Sir Thomas, "'tis well. I will remember. Hath the
fellow no Christian name?"

"William, your honour," said the forester; "the elder son of John
Shakespeare, of Stratford."

"William Shakespeare!" said Sir Thomas, with emphasis. "'Tis well. Now
point this William Shakespeare out to me, if he be present on the
Green."

"If your honour looks but amongst the knot of men yonder," said the
forester, "you cannot fail but see him."

"What, is it that fellow there with the broad shoulders and long back?
By my fay, a strong and able caitiff."

"Not so," said the keeper, "'tis the youth standing next him, in the
gray doublet."

"Fetch him hither," said Sir Thomas; "I would speak with him."

As young Shakespeare approached Sir Thomas, the knight regarded him with
a scrutinizing and searching eye.

"A goodly stripling," he said, turning to Sir Jacob Astley, of Hill
Morton, one of the gentlemen with him, "a goodly stripling, and a bold
looking withal."

"It hath been notified to me, sirrah," said Sir Thomas, addressing
Shakespeare with infinite stateliness and hauteur, "that you are much
given to evil ways, inasmuch as you are wont to make frequent trespass
upon my parks and woods hereabouts; and that, too, to the detriment of
my property and the disturbance of my deer."

"I am sorry such rumours have reached you," said Shakespeare coolly,
"since there is, I fear me, some sort of foundation for them. I _have_
trespassed in your woods. Albeit, I have never intentionally molested
the deer."

"I am glad you have the grace to confess so much," said Sir Thomas; "but
sith you have not disturbed my deer, you have, at least, beaten my
foresters during your trespass, and again to-day have you repeated the
offence."

"Your foresters rated me in ungentle terms," said Shakespeare; "railed
at, and bestowed vile epithets upon me. Nay, even laid hands on me."

"They are hired by me so to do," said Sir Thomas. "Their roughness is
their virtue; and _by_ such roughness are they told to deter all
trespassers and poachers from my parks and warrens."

"I am no poacher, to be so railed at and roughly treated," said
Shakespeare coolly.

"Well, henceforth come no more into my woods," said Sir Thomas,
preparing to ride off, "lest I give directions to have thee used in a
more rough fashion than heretofore."

"I cannot promise that," said Shakespeare, "since I am much given to
wandering; and, truth to say, I know not exactly which are, and which
are not, your grounds. I would not willingly anger Sir Thomas Lucy, of
Charlecote, _but_ an he keeps men for the preservation of the game, and
the amusement of himself, methinks such men have small right to domineer
and tyrannize over those of poorer sort, who seek but the free air and
the wild woodlands."

"Thou art over bold and insolent for thy years," said Sir Thomas; "I
will have thee whipped and imprisoned the next time my men take thee. So
come not in Charlecote woods an ye be wise." And Sir Thomas, who found
his choler getting high, put spurs to his palfrey, and, after ordering
his keeper to quit the Green, rode off with his company.

It would be difficult to describe the expression of mingled acorn,
contempt, and ridicule which was expressed upon the countenance of
Shakespeare, as he regarded the departing figure of the knight of
Charlecote.

He stood for some moments leaning upon his staff, looking upon the party
as they rode off the Green and disappeared in the woods. He then turned
his glance contemptuously upon the keeper, and laughing to himself as he
repeated the words, "whipped and imprisoned," turned and was about to
leave the spot.

"We shall meet again," said the keeper, in a deriding tone. "I know we
shall."

"Not if I can avoid it," said Shakespeare.

"An we do," said the keeper, "you hear what is in store for you."

"He you serve can hardly tell what is in store for himself, much more
for another," said Shakespeare, "an he could have done so, he had
prophesied thy likely reward both here and elsewhere."

"What would that be?" inquired the keeper, coming close to the youth.

"Present beating, if again insolent," said Shakespeare, "and the gallows
in reversion."

The keeper drew back; he remembered his comrade's discomfiture, and the
skill the youth had displayed.

"Well, fare thee well," he said, "we shall cry quits anon. An Sir Thomas
keep word with thee we shall lay thee by the heels yet."

"And, an he keep word with thee, he will have one knave the less in his
service. Adieu, I waste time and speech upon thee." So saying,
Shakespeare turned his back upon the forester, who, joining his
companions, after exchanging a few angry words with their late
opponents, they left the Green, and the sports were resumed.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE TWELFTH-TIDE REVELRY.


The rudeness of the keepers and their overbearing style towards the
villagers, was by no means an uncommon occurrence. Backed up by their
employers to display as much roughness towards all trespassers as they
chose, the foresters were usually a coarse and brutal set. They were
mostly chosen too, at this period, for courage, strength, and skill with
their weapons; consequently when they came into collision with the
peasantry, the latter frequently had the worst of it, and the conflict
seldom ended without serious consequences.

On the present occasion, several of the village lads assembled vowed war
to the knife against the men they had fought with. They had so often
experienced their _outrécuidance_ and overbearing rudeness, that they
swore to annoy them in every possible way they could.

"Sir Thomas Lucy," said Ralph Coulter, "doth ever take part against us,
let his men use us vilely as they may; nay, we shall soon have no leave
to step either to the right or to the left from the beaten road. For
look ye, an we steal but into the meadows to whisper a word into a fair
lass's ear, we are warned off, and ordered to keep the path; an we take
a dog to hunt the ducks in the stream, we are threatened with
imprisonment for poaching."

"As well do the thing at once as be blamed for it," said another
peasant; "who'll go down with me to-night, and shoot a buck in
Fulbrook?"

"Have with you for one, say I," said Ralph Coulter, "an we miss the buck
and hit the keeper, so much the better shot."

"Nay, this is but folly," said a third, "and may bring all into trouble,
so to speak before strangers; you do but jest, I trow! Look ye, we are
overheard too."

"An ye mean this lad who hath so well cudgelled Black Dick," said
Coulter, "I dare be sworn he is not a sneak to turn informer upon us."
"Wilt take a part and bring in a buck some night? Me thinks it would be
rare sport," he continued, addressing Shakespeare.

"Marry will I," said Shakespeare, whose daring disposition was instantly
aroused at the idea of the exploit. "Any night you like I should dearly
love to do some despite towards those overweening knaves."

"Well," said Coulter, "we shall talk further of it anon; meantime see
the dancing is over, and the indoors diversions are beginning. I am for
old Hathaway's orchard and the cider revel."

"And I am for goodman Thorne's," said another; and so the party
separated.

The shadows of a January's evening were now beginning to descend over
the surrounding scene, and the several parties to retire to their
different homesteads, there to continue their twelfth-tide diversions,
and to partake of such fare as the good wives had prepared for the
swains accompanying their daughters home.

Young Shakespeare, who had made acquaintance with Ralph Coulter,
accordingly accompanied him to the cottage of Master Hathaway, where he
again met with the handsome Anne, and renewed his acquaintance with her.

The maiden indeed seemed nothing loth to receive his attention, for his
handsome figure and gallant conduct had already made some impression
upon her.

According to an ancient custom in this and other counties of "Merrie
England," Master Hathaway assembled his guests in the principal
apartment of his domicile, a good-sized and comfortable-looking room,
and which (as was usual in those days) served the jolly yeoman for
"parlour, and kitchen, and hall." There was the huge gaping chimney,
with its comfortable bench on either hand, together with those stout
timbered rafters and oaken beams at the roof, from which hung such store
of bacon and other good things appertaining. There was the
diamond-paned-window and its seat beneath, with the stout timbered
doors, the high-backed chairs, and the one massive and cumbrous oaken
table, and which seemed from its thick supporters to be fixed into the
floor, or growing out of it; and there sat the grandsire in his old
accustomed seat under the chimney, "sans eyes, sans taste, sans teeth,
sans everything," yet looking with some sort of recognition upon the
sports he had witnessed, man and boy, for near a century in that very
room. In short, it was a perfect picture of rural comfort and old world
contentment that kitchen and its appurtenances, filled as it was with
those happy, smiling, and rosy maidens, and their stout-limbed ruddy
village swains.

As soon as Master Hathaway had assembled his guests and family, he
filled a huge pitcher with cider, and the whole party, young and old,
male and female, filed out into the orchard in rear of the cottage. Here
they immediately took hands around one of the best apple trees, and
dancing round it, the whole company hailed the veteran in the following
doggrel, in the gladsome feeling of their light hearts, flinging and
capering, shouting and hallooing, like so many bacchanals.

    "All hail to thee, thou old apple-tree,
    Whence thou may'st bud, and whence thou may'st blow,
    And whence thou may'st bear apples enow.
        Bonnets-full! caps-full!
        Bushel-bushel-sacks-full,
        And our pockets-full eke also;
    Here's for thee, thou old apple-tree, huzza! huzza!"

Whilst this was being sung, the females of the party, seizing the
opportunity of the jug passing round, made their escape within doors;
and then the joint intended for supper being clapped upon the spit, the
doors were all immediately made fast. Meantime Master Hathaway, having
finished his "all hail" to the patriarch of the apple family, bestowed a
libation on its mossed stem from the remains of the cider, and then, at
the head of his party, made the tour of his orchard, singing the same
exquisite piece of doggrel over again.

This done, as the sharp and biting blast of a January night began to be
apparent, and the snow to fall, the whole of the men assembled filed off
to the house. Here (according to the custom of the time and the sport
toward) the doors were found to have been secured by the female portions
of the revellers; and they were put through the ceremony of a formal
demand for admittance, and as formal a denial.

Exposed to the pitiless pelting of the snow-storm, whilst the damsels
jeered them at advantage from the casement, they were told that no lock
could be turned, no bolt withdrawn, until one amongst their party
(himself a guest and a bachelor) could guess the name of the joint
roasting upon the spit.

"And what guerdon," inquired Shakespeare, "to him who guesseth the
same?"

"The best portion of the joint," said Dame Hathaway, "the first draught
from the cider with the toast and hissing crab in it, and a kiss from
the comeliest lass in the company."

"The latter reward, then, at least, I claim," said Shakespeare; "for an
you have not spitted the chine to-night, I would I might never see a
porker again."

The scream of laughter with which this was received, (the withdrawal of
the bolts, and the rush of the lasses to hide themselves from the
penalty incurred), proclaimed that the guesser had made a lucky hit; and
Shakespeare, in right of his guess, entered first to claim and obtain
the reward.

Our readers need scarcely be informed that the handsome daughter of the
host was the maiden sought for and selected; and that Anne Hathaway
received on this night the first kiss from William Shakespeare.

In the games which were to follow this ceremony, the more mirth
displayed was superstitiously imagined to give greater promise of a full
apple season that year, and accordingly, fast and furious grew the fun.

If we were to say that young Shakespeare entered into these revels with
feelings of unmingled enjoyment, we should indeed belie him.

As he looked upon the joyous faces around him, he felt delighted at the
scene; and as his eye occasionally met that of the handsome Anne, he
certainly at each glance felt more and more struck with her beauty; yet,
still the remembrance of Charlotte Clopton, and the dear friends he had
lost, over and anon "stopped the career of laughter with a sigh," and
he, at such moments, felt almost unfitted for the scene.

There was, however, a charm to one of his disposition in these old wild
rites and superstitions; and, as after midnight the revellers sat round
the hearth, and each one was called upon for the tale of grammarie, the
ghost story, or the fairy tale, he at length gave himself up to the
enjoyment of the hour and season.

The peasantry of our times have scarce an idea of the enjoyment
consequent upon the old creeds and superstitions of their forefathers.
Their dispositions are soured, their lives squalid, their style brutal,
and in comparison to the good old English peasant, the jovial hearty
yeoman of Elizabeth's day, they are a miserable race. The innocence of
the old age is fled, and 'tis now all driving harshness, and hard
selfish utilitarianism.

Our fairy creed, amongst other things of more moment, and which was wont
to be so cherished amongst the superstitions of the peasantry, is gone
from their memories.

Not a sprite is left to skim the cream from the bowl,--not a silver
piece is now ever lent to the _favoured_ maiden, _without the rate of
interest_, and found by her at early dawn.

Puck and Robin Goodfellow, and all their elfin throng, _have fled ever_
from the scene. At the period of our story, however, these imaginary
beings held a prominent place in the minds of our rural populations.
Nay, so firmly was the existence of these _elfins of power_ believed in,
and so much influence were they supposed to have over mortals _for good
or ill_, that many an old crone spoke with bated breath when she named
the merry or mischievous pranks of Robin Goodfellow. Many a bold youth
glanced with eye of fear at the acknowledged haunt of the fay in the
forest glade, and many a maiden held the household sprite in religious
awe, as she swept her kitchen at early dawn.

That such feelings and superstitions were idle and ridiculous (amongst
the bold peasantry of England in a former age) is true. Still, they gave
a charm to each shadowy grove and unfrequented wood, and caused an
interest in the different wild scenes of beauty where the elfin crew,
"those merry wanderers of the night," were wont to hold their moonlight
revels, and dance their ringlets to the whistling wind, which to our own
times is unknown.

The more noisy sports of the night had finished. The party, nothing
loth, for even pleasure is fatiguing, were now seated round the blazing
hearth. To noise and loud laughter succeeded the cough of the crone--the
saw of the old man's tale--the tale "of woeful ages long ago betide,"
and the chirp of the cricket; whilst the ruddy glow of the fire was
reflected upon the faces and forms of tho listeners sitting around. The
maidens, too, crept more closely to their admiring swains, as they
glanced fearfully behind during the progress of the tale; more than one
kiss was taken on the sly, by way of assurance against the spectre. The
last pipkin of good liquor simmered upon the hearth, and, in short, it
was now the very "sweet o' the night."

To Shakespeare this was a delightful moment. His mind seized upon the
secret feelings of the assemblage. He saw them in their ignorance and
superstition: and though conscious of his own superiority over the rude
throng, "sitting 'mongst men like a descended god,"--nay, in after days,
remembering these meetings and the feelings they had engendered, he
founded an elfin world of his own on the traditions of the peasantry,
and clothed them in the ever-living flowers of his own exuberant fancy.
Yes, he who was to astonish the universal world, sat in that cottage
like one lost in a dream--a dream which these simple superstitions had
conjured up. The snow-storm still rattled on the casement, the fire grew
dim on the hearth, the room darkened down, the wind whistled without,
and sounded drear amongst the mossed trees in old Hathaway's orchard, as
he listened, and, as his arm stole round the waist of the sweet Anne, he
forgot his recent troubles, and already felt himself half in love,
whilst the tale and the song still went on.

That gentle and unassuming mortal was the last person to presume upon
his own feelings and knowledge; he felt pleased and delighted with the
company he was thrown amongst, and extracted amusement and instruction
from the veriest clod-pate there. Perhaps the enjoyment of the circle
was the more perfect, too, from the growing storm, which as it rattled
sharply against the casements, added to the comfort within, by the
apparent discomfort without.

Remembrance lingers o'er such scenes, and the lapse of time gives them
an interest which at the period they scarcely seemed to possess. Yes,
time hallows in after days the scene and hour, and softens the
remembrance of it even as age softens the touches of a picture.

"Ugh-ugh," coughed the old grandsire, when called upon for his story.
"There have been many tales told of Robin Goodfellow in my young days,
an I could but remember them. Nay, I can recollect myself sad pranks he
used to play. Both him and Hobgoblin, as we used to call t'other sprite.
In those days the witches were more plentiful than now, though their
evil deeds are rife enow at all times--God 'ild us; but even the witches
themselves were no more terrible than was Robin and his rout. Mass, I
wish I could remember one half of the merry jests, mad pranks, and
mischiefs he used to do."

"Nay, grandsire," said Anne Hathaway, "but this Robin doth no harm now,
except it to be to knaves and queans, as he is Oberon's own son, so his
royal father hath enjoined him not to harm the good and thrifty."

"Of a verity," said the elder Hathaway, "such is the case in some sort.
Nevertheless, Anne, in my time, sad pranks have been played in the night
season by Robin."

"Aye, and as many good turns done too by him in mine," said old dame
Hathaway. "What, hath not the elf oft-times ground the malt, swept clean
the house, and washed all the children's faces in the night?"

"Aye," said the other, "and pinched the maids black and blue for
laziness; and even carried them out fast asleep into the green meadows
in the night, and led poor wayfarers out of the way to perish in some
deep wash."[5]

[Footnote 5: All these were popular beliefs.]

"Well, well," said Master Hathaway, "cleanliness and thrift, and a good
hunk of bread in one's pouch, will do much; not only to keep off the
elf, but to keep one from hungering in the quagmire, for what saith the
rhyme."[6]

[Footnote 6: Clobie's "Divine Glimpses." I adopt these lines because
they allude to the curious old opinion, that bread carried about the
person was a charm against tricks of Robin Goodfellow, though they bear
date 1659.]

    "Thy fairy elves who thee mislead with stories
    Into the mire, then at thy folly smile,
    Yea, clap their hands for joy. Were I used so;
    I should shake hands with them, and turn their foe.
    Old country folks, who pixie leading fear,
    Bear bread about them to prevent that harm!"

"Come, tell us, grandsire," said Anne, "how you met the fairies coming
one night from Monkspath."

"Gad-a-mercy, lass, I had almost forgotten all about it," said the old
host, who indeed had most likely dreamt the adventure one night in his
cups, and then related it till he himself believed it was a fact. "Why,
you see, when I was a yonker, there were terrible deeds done in England.
We didn't live then so peaceable-like, as we do now, under our blessed
Queen Elizabeth. A man's life in those days warn't thought o' so much
value as in ourn; by the same token, stabbing, smashing, hanging, and
heading, and all sorts of wild work, were the order of the day,--more
the pity. We hadn't then either such goodly dwellings, at least so many
on 'em. Men were men then, and hadn't such luxuries as now. Ugh-ugh,
Gad-a-mercy! I have seen the time when we used to sleep o' nights in the
open fields as comfortably as under a roof. Nay, we hadn't such beds
either then. A shake-down of the fern, or a clean bed of straw, with a
log of wood for the head, was enow for most folks. I struck a good
strike for Harry at Bosworth Field what time old Shakespeare----"

"Well, well," interrupted John Hathaway, "Bosworth bye and bye. The
fairy story now, father."

"Nay, I war only going to say that yonder lad's grandfather (old
Shakespeare of Stratford) could have borne me out, had he been alive,
since he war at the battle of Bosworth too. Both he and I were together,
jammed in amongst the spearmen, when King Richard pressed up on his
white horse, and nearly struck young Richmond down. Mass, he were a
fierce devil that day, and raged like a fiend. Richmond, I remember,
bore back, as well as he might, an Richard had not been beaten off by
the good knights around, the hot king had fairly brained him. Two I saw
him fell with my own eyes ere he was forced away. Ah, he were a goodly
sight to look on that day; and if deeds of daring and good soldiership
could ha gotten the day, Richard had had it. He wore his crown upon his
helmet, I remember, and (albins men liked him not) by my fay, he looked
a king. No man that lived and beheld him but saw that."

"But the fairies, grandsire, the fairies?" said Anne.

"Well, well; bide a bit. Where war I? Ah, I see. I had a mad horse in
Shottery--what time I came back from Leicestershire--and I would fain
have sold him; so I e'en rode him along with some other youngsters to
Kenilworth Green, where there war a wake holden underneath the abbey
walls. Folks spoke darkly of old Kenilworth then. Now I'm told there be
rare new buildings reared up there."

"There are," said Ralph Coulter. "A fine new castle hath been built by
the Earl, glorious to look on, and called Leicester's Buildings, and
ornamented, that it would do you good to look on 'em."

"Ah," said the elder Hathaway, "times are changed hugely. At the time I
speak of old Clinton's Tower was ornamented and hung with the bodies of
caitiffs, traitors, and outlaws; for the whole country round was full of
disturbance, famine, and war. Howbeit, as I was saying, I went to
Kenilworth to sell my sorrel nag; but I couldn't do so. So after I had
taken a draught at the Leicester Arms there, I rode away to a relation I
had at Monkspath. Travelling was very unsafe then, as you may
believe--worse than now-a-days--and I hastened on to get through the
woods before nightfall; and when I had got within about a mile of
Monkspath, I saw a man, just as it began to grow twilight, coming
towards me. He was dressed in a bright green doublet, and either my
eyes deceived me, or the good liquor of the hostel made me see double,
but he had a sort of _familiar_ flitting at his back. He was very small
in make and height, and wore a bright golden bugle at his waist. My
horse stopped of himself as the little man came up, and seemed all of a
tremble, and wouldn't pass him nohow; so I dismounted, and tried to lead
him past. But it wur all one; the horse wur fixed as firm as one of the
old oaks beside us. 'Will you sell that brute?' said the little hunter.
''Tis what I wish,' I answered. 'It is very ugly: is it a cow or a
horse?' said the little man. 'He was a horse a minute ago,' I answered;
'but now he seems turned to stone: I can't make him go, no wise.' 'My
people have got him fast,' said the little man; 'he can't go. What do
you ask for him?' inquired the little wretch. 'Fifteen pieces,' I said.
'There's thirty,' said the little man. 'Now stand aside whilst I mount.'
So saying, the little gentleman gave me the thirty pieces, and got upon
the horse. No sooner had he done so than the beast went mad outright, I
thought. He flew about, capered, and kicked out his heels, as if a flame
of fire had lighted on his crupper. I ran to get out of the way, for
fear of being struck, and when I turned, lo, horse and man were clean
gone--sink into the earth as it were, and vanished, leaving me in the
greatest of terror and confusion; whilst a wild and beautiful strain--a
sort of hollow winding note of a bugle--seemed to pass through the air."

"Strange," said several of the listeners. "Was it not?"

"As soon as I had a little recovered myself," continued the quaint old
man, "I hastened on to Monkspath, and sought my relation. He took me to
an old monk belonging to the abbey beside the castle, to whom I told the
story, and asked his advice about the money, and whether I might use it.
The monk gave me leave to use one-half the money, provided I gave him t'
other half; 'for,' said he, 'as you in no way circumvented or
endeavoured to cheat the buyer, be he witch, devil, or fairy, you are
fully entitled to what you asked. The other fifteen pieces,' said he, 'I
will lay up in store for the use of our abbey.' On this assurance I was
well satisfied, so I hastened to get out the purse the little gentleman
had given me; but the worst of it all was that no purse could I find; my
pocket was empty, my purse gone, and the monk rated at me for a knave,
whilst my relation laughed at me for a fool."

"He, he, he--ugh--O dear--O dear!"

"And the horse," said Anne--"the horse? you forgot the horse,
grandfather."

"The horse--oh, ah, true enough--the horse. Why I found him, on my
return home here, grazing quietly in the orchard, with his saddle turned
under his belly, and covered with mud and mire, as if he had been drawn
through all the mosses and sloughs between this and Coventry."

"And you was not at all flustered that night?" said Shakespeare. "Pardon
the question, But I thought the little man in green might have treated
you to an extra cup."

"Body o' me,--what I drunk! Not a whit. I had had just enough to make me
all right. I'd a drunk about as much that night as I have to-night, or
perhaps a quart more."

"And who do you then suppose the buyer was?" inquired Shakespeare.

"Who?" said the old host, "why, who but Robin Goodfellow, his own self!
Who else should it be?"

"True," said Shakespeare, laughing; "there's no question on't."

"A song, a song," said Dick, the shepherd. "Let fair Mistress Anne sing
the song about Robin."

Anne Hathaway accordingly, in a marvellously sweet voice, and to the old
tune of Dulcina, sang some verses, which, although not word for word the
same, in some sort were like the following stanzas:--

               I.

    From Oberon, in fairy land,
      The king of ghosts and shadows there,
    Mad Robin I, at his command,
      Am sent to view the night sports here.
    What revel rout
    It kept about

    I will o'ersee
    And merry be
    In every corner where I go,
    And make good sport with ho, ho, ho!

              II.

    When house or hearth doth sluttish lie,
      I pinch the maidens black and blue;
    The bed-clothes from the bed pull I,
      And lay them naked all to view.
    'Twixt sleep and wake
    I do them take,
    And on the clay-cold floor them throw;
    If out they cry,
    Then forth I fly,
    And loudly laugh I, ho, ho, ho.

             III.

    By wells and rills, in meadows green
      We nightly dance out hey-day guise
    And to our fairy king and queen
      We dance our moonlight minstrelsies.
    When larks 'gin sing
    Away we fling,
    And babes new-born steal as we go,
    An elf instead
    We leave in bed,
    And wind out-laughing, ho, ho, ho![7]

[Footnote 7: This song has been attributed to Ben Jonson, and in the old
black-letter copies it is directed to be sung to the tune of Dulcina. As
it embodies some of the freaks of Robin, I have given it here.]

How much longer Mistress Anne Hathaway's song might have continued it is
impossible to say, but as she finished the last verse steps were heard
without the door, followed by sounds, as if some one in a faint voice
demanded admittance, and then a dull heavy blow, like a person falling,
and which shook the door violently.

The wind piped loud and drear, whilst all paused and listened, and
presently a deep groan, which appeared to come into the very room from
beneath the door, still further startled the party.

The village maidens were too much frightened to cry out, but each threw
herself into the arms of the swain next her, whilst Master Hathaway rose
from his seat, and Shakespeare felt obliged to bestow a kiss upon the
ripe lips of Anne, in order to reassure her.

"Gad-a-mercy," said Hathaway, "'tis surely Robin himself come amongst
us."

"Ah!" said Dame Hathaway, "this comes of singing ribald songs to offend
him. Now the good year; what shall we do to appease the sprite? Ah,
mercy on me, there is another groan, as I am a true woman."

"Some one is surely in distress," said Shakespeare, rising, "suffer me
to unbar the door."

"Troth, I'd rather not," said Hathaway; "since it may be a device of the
evil one to come amongst us."

"Nay, but it may be some wayfarer lost or misled on this inclement
night," said Shakespeare. "A few minutes' neglect may cause death. I
pr'ythee allow me to open and look out. There are enough of us here," he
continued, smiling at the horror-stricken peasants, "to cudgel Puck and
all his crew."

So saying, Shakespeare stepped across to the door, and, drawing the
bolts, quickly opened it, when the body of a man to all appearance dead,
rolled into the apartment.



CHAPTER XXVI.

THE MISLED WANDERER.


The visitation we have just described caused a sufficiently startling
interruption to the cozy comfort of the entire party. Young Shakespeare
started back in some surprise, and the whole circle, springing from
their seats, stood gazing upon the object so suddenly introduced amongst
them.

The villagers looked upon the visitation as something supernatural, and
were afraid to move; but Shakespeare, after closing the door, with main
force against the driving wind and snow, stooped down and examined the
object at his feet.

"Move the log upon the hearth, Master Hathaway," he said, "and make it
send up a flame, so that I may see better. Ah, 'tis as I thought, some
poor devil caught in the storm. He seems dead."

"Dead!" cried Dame Hathaway, regaining courage, when she found the
visitor was not a fairy, or perhaps Robin Goodfellow in _propriâ
personâ_. "Dead! Gad-a-mercy, how dreadful!"

"Best warm his inside," said Master Hathaway, approaching. "Here, let us
drag him close to the fire, and give him something to drink."

Suiting the action to the word, Master Hathaway took the inanimate body
by the shoulders, and, drawing it before the fire, laid it along upon
the hearth,--a ghastly object,--appearing, in the blazing light, the
prostrate form of what had once been a tall strong man. The face was
now, however, pinched and ghastly, and the limbs already stiffening.

The readiest remedy at hand being a portion of the hot cider, with the
hissing crab in it, some was immediately poured down the throat of the
prostrate wayfarer, whilst all hands set to work to draw off the heavy
boots, and divest him of some of his outer garments, in order to rub and
chafe his body. In the progress of this operation it became apparent
that the person of the visitor had been exposed to all the vicissitudes
of flood and field; since the mud frozen upon his outer garments, and
the peat-moss which was incrusted upon his long boots, doublet, and torn
belt, showed that he had wandered through more than one morass in his
progress.

He was evidently a person of condition, as was apparent from his dress,
which, torn and soiled as it was, proclaimed the rank of the wearer, by
its fashion. He was completely armed too, having a long heavy sword in
his belt, and poniard in his girdle.

"Ah!" said old Hathaway, as he gazed upon the man's face, after pouring
a draught of hot cider down his throat; "I surely know that
countenance."

"See, he's coming to," said Dame Hathaway; "he opens his eyes, aye, and
his mouth too. Give him more liquor."

"'Tis so," said Hathaway, after regarding the prostrate form; "I thought
I knew that face. Dame," said he, calling his wife aside, "this is a
somewhat dangerous visitor, inasmuch as he is one whom it is considered
treason to shelter."

"And who then is it, husband?" inquired the Dame.

"'Tis Eustace the priest," whispered Hathaway, "who used to lie up at
Clopton, and through whom 'tis said the old knight got into so much
trouble. His coming bodes no good to us, I fear."

"Gad be here" said Dame Hathaway, "that's ill tidings to give us on a
twelfth-night, or rather morn. But be he priest or sinner, traitor or
faitour, or whatever else he may turn out, we cannot do otherwise than
help him in his present need."

"Right," said Hathaway; "we must shelter the man, that's certain."

In accordance to this humane resolve, and which was indeed at the period
sufficiently hazardous, the priest was conveyed up stairs, and laid upon
a four-post bed. But although every attention was paid to him, it was
soon apparent that his hours were numbered.

Calling Dame Hathaway to his bed side, as he somewhat recovered, the
priest desired that Master Hathaway might be summoned.

"I fear me your kindness, good Master Hathaway," he said, "may possibly
get you into misfortune; and were I able to rise and leave your cottage,
I would rather do so, than lay you under the danger of succouring me."

"Heed it not," said the good farmer, "a belated wayfarer should ever
find shelter in an Englishman's cottage."

"But, in me," said the priest, "you behold a man condemned to death, and
whom the officers of justice are now in search of."

"I know you only as one in need," returned the farmer. "Those who search
know for what they search. You are welcome to my roof whilst needing it.
When you no longer need it, go forth."

"I shall never leave it alive," said the priest. "Listen whilst I relate
the causes which have driven me to this extremity."

"Go to," said Hathaway, "sleep would do you more good. But an it pleases
you to be a talker, I am all attention."

"You doubtless know me," said the priest, "and so much of my history as
led me to fly from Clopton what time the good Sir Hugh was arrested and
sent to the Tower."

"Hap I do, hap I don't," said the farmer. "Take another sip of the warm
sack my dame hands you, and go on from thence. At least I've heard of
the events of that night."

"I escaped pursuit on that night," said the priest. "They sought me in
the south, but I fled north, across the border, and took refuge in
Scotland."

"Ah!" said old Hathaway, "I dare be sworn there you found plenty of your
own sort. Scot and plot hath rhymed together pretty often during this
reign."

"It hath," said Eustace; "and I speedily entered into a plot there."

"One you found ready-made to your hand," said Hathaway; "Eh?"

"I did," said the priest. "I fell in, whilst in the mountains, with one
Morgan, also a fugitive from England: he introduced me to Babington,
Savage, and others, who were zealous Catholics, and engaged in a project
for dethroning Elizabeth, and restoring by force of arms the exercise of
the ancient and true religion. The Pope, the Spaniard, and the Duke of
Guise, had all emissaries amongst this company. I, however, persuaded
them of the vanity of any attempts upon the kingdom, so long as one so
prudent and popular as Elizabeth was suffered to live. An assassination,
an insurrection, and an invasion, must at one and the same time be
attempted, I told them, that they saw at once the force of my arguments.
We met, during this discussion, in an old castle situate in Strathdon,
and called Corgarff--a wild and desolate place. To you who dwell in
fertile and pleasant England, my good folks," continued the priest, "the
aspect of the wild region in which we held our meetings, would have
appeared sufficiently terrible. No shrub, no tree, not a blade of grass
was to be seen on this drear mountain land. Nothing but blasted heath,
rocky glens, and deep morasses. The people wild, desperate and fearful,
as the land they inhabit."

"In few," continued the priest, "having assumed the disguise of a
soldier, and the name of Geffrey, I left this place for England, with
the purpose of obtaining a secret interview with the Queen of Scots,
during her imprisonment. This opportunity I found whilst the queen was
in custody of Sir Amias Paulet, rigorous as that confinement was. To her
I communicated tidings, that on the event of Elizabeth's death, her own
deliverance would be attempted; all the zealous Catholics would fly to
arms, and that foreign forces taking advantage of the general confusion,
would fix her upon the English throne, and re-establish the Catholic
religion."

"Alas! alas! what terrible doings you who meddle with religious matters
think upon," said Master Hathaway; "better to kneel down under the blue
sky, and worship God without form and ceremony, if such is to be upheld
by treason and bloodshed, from one end of the kingdom to the other."

"Alas! thou speakest wiser than thou art aware of," said the father,
"and after a life of intrigue and dark underhand doings, in death I find
that all such measures are but a serving the cause of the devil, in
place of doing our duty towards God."

The dying priest now became so faint and exhausted that he could
scarcely proceed.

"I feel," he said, "the hand of death rapidly approaching, and bitterly
doth it now weigh upon my soul, that I have in some sort aided the
enemies of my country in raising that dreadful tempest which sooner or
later must now fall upon the land."

"Truly a heavy weight to lay upon the breast of a sick man," said
Hathaway, shuddering. "And how then came you thus?"

"Our scheme," said the priest, "was discovered. Nay, it had been all
along known. The Queen of Scots approved the project, and even when we
were ripe and ready for action, one of our party, named Ballard was
seized. This indeed so alarmed us, that finding we were also strictly
watched wherever we went, we dispersed in parties, and under cover of
night, and in various disguises, we fled from London a week back.

"Of all who were engaged, however, and we numbered fifteen individuals,
all, I have since learned in the different towns where I have ventured,
have been taken, some in woods, some in barns and outhouses where they
sought shelter; nay, I have myself lain in concealment beneath the straw
in the barn adjoining your cottage here for the last few days. This
morning I stole out, and whilst you were engaged with your village
dance, I endeavoured to reach a secret refuge known to me at Clopton,
and which place I concluded was uninhabited. Unexpectedly, however, I
found as I entered the private part of the mansion, that I was mistaken.
I was encountered by one Martin Delville, who it seems hath remained in
charge of the hall. He attempted to seize me, and in defending myself, I
received a shot in the breast. Still I managed to escape, and wandering
through the country, I endeavoured to find some place of refuge, some
roof where I might be sheltered. Faint with loss of blood, I still held
onwards in the hope of reaching Stratford, but a dancing light, which at
one moment seemed to await my coming, and the next went bounding from
me, and by following which I have been more than once nearly drowned, at
length led me back to the spot from whence I had started. As the light
vanished from my eyes, its place was supplied by the distant appearance
of your comfortable fire, seen through the casement, and the driving
snow. I but managed to reach your door, and that was all--life is fast
ebbing away with the blood that flows from my wound."

"Nay, cheer up," said Dame Hathaway, "perhaps it may not be so bad; I
have some Friar's balsam here at hand which will do wonderful things."

"It's no use, goodwife," said Hathaway, "I see death in his face. He
bleeds inwardly as thou see'st, and is almost choked. Not all the friars
that ever lived could save him, and to speak truth he hath had already
quite enough to do with such cattle, for see what sloughs and pitfalls
they have led him into."

"Nay," said Dame Hathaway, "it was Robin Goodfellow, you see, who led
him into all these sloughs and pitfalls he describes, and at length
brought him to our door."

"Robin Goodfellow, or Robin Badfellow,"[8] said old Hathaway----

[Footnote 8: The sprite was sometimes so named at this period.]

"Hist, hist!" said Dame Hathaway, "never abuse Robin if you wish to
thrive."

"Well, go to," said her husband, "the man is sped, and there's an end.
Do thou and Anne remain with him whilst I go down to the lads below.
'Tis almost dawn. Alas, alas! this is a sad finish to our twelfth-tide
sports; but we must still not suffer our guests to depart without their
breakfast."

As Hathaway spoke, he descended to the apartment below, where the guests
were still sitting around the fire, and discussing matters appertaining
to the appearance of the misled wayfarer, and telling of woeful tales
and dire stories, which suited the hour and the circumstance.

At old Hathaway's re-appearance amongst the circle, all were set to work
to clear up the apartment, put it to rights, and prepare for the
breakfast it was customary to partake of before the company finally
broke up. The first faint streaks of dawn were beginning to appear as
they departed. The snow-storm had cleared up, the diamond panes of the
windows were fretted with frozen crystals, and as old Hathaway threw
open the door and looked forth, the trees in the orchard were heaving
with congealed snow, the ground was covered with the same white sheet,
icicles hung in clusters from the roofs of the outhouses, and all around
was softened and rounded by one white feathery crust. In short, it was
one of those delicious winter mornings so often seen after a driving
dreary and tempestuous night,----a morning in which the old world look
of the buildings and barns around, seen in the clear wintry air, and the
while flaky look of the country, gives so delightful an aspect to a
rural hamlet.

Old Hyems seems then to smile as benignantly as he can,----to have
smoothed the icy furrows of his brow, and consented to give to human
mortals a slight respite, ere he fetches from the frozen bosom of the
north more cutting blasts and angry winds.

    "Then icicles hang by the wall,
      And Dick, the shepherd, blows his nail,
    Then Tom bears logs into the hall,
      And milk comes frozen home in pail.
    When blood is nipp'd, and ways are foul,
    Then nightly sings the staring owl,
    _Tu-whit_, _to-who_, a merry note,
    While greasy Joan doth keel the pot."



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE SUITOR.


The confession of the dying priest will doubtless recall to our readers
the state of England at this period. Matters indeed were fast hastening
towards that great event of Elizabeth's reign, which, for its mighty
import, and the magnificence of its preparation, is, perhaps, without a
parallel in the history of the country. The minds of men indeed were at
this time fully impressed with the certainty of some great and terrible
convulsion being at hand. It seemed that a fearful storm was surely and
slowly gathering above their heads, and which, sooner or later, was to
burst upon the land like some torrent breaking bounds. There was no
occasion for men to ask each other from whence this ruin was to come.
The great enemy of the country,--the haughty, vindictive, and cruel foe
of England at this period, was the iron-hearted bigot of Spain: and upon
Spain were the eyes of all men turned with apprehension. 'Twas the
general theme of conversation, the all-absorbing topic of the day; and
torture, murder, and every sort of evil that fiends could inflict upon
the inhabitants of a conquered country was to be expected, should a
successful invasion take place. Yes; Spain was then the bugbear of
nearly every Englishman's fire-side. One or two startling events,
however, which made men "whisper one another in the ear," were to take
place, ere this grand convulsion shook the nation; and yet, amidst the
anxieties consequent upon such a state of things, it is curious how
mankind continue the even tenor of their lives.

The twelfth-tide revel at Shottery had introduced young Shakespeare to
some new acquaintance in that place. Amidst the youths he had met there,
he found one or two lads of spirit; and, as he bent his steps across the
fields towards the village, he would fain have persuaded himself that it
was to renew his acquaintance with them that he had set forth. Ere he
had reached the village, however, he felt obliged to confess that the
real desire of his heart was neither for the companionship of the lads
of the village, nor to learn tidings of the wounded priest, but really
and truly to see again and hold converse with the handsome Anne.

    "Oh heaven, were man but constant
    He were perfect. That one error
    Fills him with faults."

Mortals indeed are prone to error; and he whom we reverence as the
greatest of men, was no more secure from the failings the flesh in heir
to than his fellows. In truth, the youthful Shakespeare was again in
love.

Those of the most generous sentiments and finest feelings are perhaps
more subject to this passion; for,

    "Eating love inhabits in the finest wits of all."

It is not to be supposed that the melancholy fate of the beautiful
Charlotte was so soon and entirely forgotten; but youth is not the
season for ever-during melancholy. Bright thoughts will then spring up
amidst the most gloomy recollections; and if one thing more than another
can soothe the cares, and help to "pluck from the memory a rooted
sorrow," it is the sweet companionship of woman in all the brilliancy of
her glowing charms: and so thought Shakespeare as he took his way across
those pleasant fields betwixt his own town and Shottery. "Yes," he said,
as he came within sight of old Hathaway's cottage,

    "To heal all grief, to cure all care,
    Turn foulest night to fairest day,
    To breathe delight, Anne _Hath a way_."

In youth we are more prone to fancy one elder than ourselves. The modest
lad seems to look up to the full-blown woman, and to feel that his
attentions, if received, are bestowed upon a worthy object; that he is
indebted to her who consents to regard one so inferior (as at that
moment he conceives himself) for women profess, in general, whatever
they may feel, a contempt for the attentions of a mere boy, as they term
the lad of seventeen or eighteen--a foolish lad, whom we laught at for
his simple folly and childish admiration. This is dangerous sophistry,
however, for a fair maid to indulge in.

In the middle period of life the fancy of the lover strays towards the
fresh and budding flower, and the coy maiden is often sought out for a
wife. In age, alas, 'tis but second childishness.

When Shakespeare reached the cottage of Master Hathaway, he felt his
heart palpitate as he knocked at the door. His was a new acquaintance,
and he hardly knew how the good yeoman might receive a visit so soon
repeated. The voice of the old dame, however, bidding him come in,
reassured him, and he lifted the latch and entered.

"Ah, Master Shakespeare," said the old dame, who was sitting at her
spinning-wheel, "troth am I right glad to see thee. My husband and I
have been oft-times talking of you since the night you was here."

"And the goodman," said Shakespeare, "is he hearty?"

"Troth is he, and away to Warwick to-day with Goodman Coulter, Hodge the
smith, and others."

"And your fair daughter?" said Shakespeare; "I see her not here. How
fares she?"

"A little dashed in spirit with this matter you wot of--the wayfarer
whom we had to bury yesterday," said the dame.

"He is then dead. I thought his end was near."

"He died soon after you left," said Dame Hathaway. "The crowner sat on's
body, and the man Martin from the Hall was examined with Lawyer Grasp
and Master Dismal, and the man were known to be an escaped traitor. And
so he's buried in a hole like a dog; and there's an end. And a good end
too, if men will go about to compass such mischief as he seems to have
been hatching all his life."

"And fair Mistress Anne," said Shakespeare, "is she too busied like
yourself, 'weaving her thread with bones'?"

"No," said Dame Hathaway, "though she is occupied, she is out in the
orchard with Mopsy, and Lawyer Grasp, and Master Doubletongue."

"Grasp!" exclaimed Shakespeare, as a sort of strange feeling shot across
him; "what doth the scrivener at Shottery?"

The dame smiled, knowingly. "The bright day hath brought him forth
mayhap," said she.

"'Tis the bright day that brings forth the adder," said Shakespeare;
"and that Doubletongue too. I am sorry they are acquainted with Mistress
Anne."

"Why so?" said the dame. "Master Grasp is rich. He hath store of moneys
'tis said. He hath been saying some pretty things to Anne; nay, in good
sooth I think he, _in some sort_, affects her."

"May the pestilence strike the crafty knave!" said Shakespeare to
himself, as a slight pang of jealousy shot through his breast. "He
affect the handsome Anne Hathaway!"

"You know Master Grasp?" said Dame Hathaway, inquiringly.

"I do," said Shakespeare, drily.

"I thought as much," said the good dame, "for I heard his discourse to
Anne, and, sooth to say, he did not speak well of you; nay, he speaks
vilely of you."

"Thank Heaven, therefore," said Shakespeare, smiling; "the praise of the
wicked is less to be coveted than their censure. By your leave I will
seek your daughter in the orchard."

"I pray you do," said Dame Hathaway, "and bid them in to dinner."

When Shakespeare entered the orchard he found the two damsels engaged in
removing apples from a sort of store-house erected at the further end of
it, to another outhouse nearer to the dwelling; and, as the two elderly
swains had gallantly volunteered to assist them in their labours, the
damsels were amusing themselves by taxing their good-nature and strength
to the utmost.

Accordingly as the youth strolled amongst the tree towards them, he
beheld the unhappy Grasp bent double under the weight of an enormous
basket, so filled with apples that he could scarce stagger beneath it,
whilst Anne Hathaway, with both hands, was still piling up more fruit.
Master Doubletongue was similarly loaded, and both the maidens were
laughing till their sides ached at the rueful figures their patient
lovers exhibited.

The situation was indeed felt by the suitors as sufficiently ridiculous,
and when they saw some one approaching both would fain have thrown down
their burthens if they had been able.

"Nay, I pray thee, Good Mistress Anne," said Grasp, "give me not the
entire produce of the orchard at one turn. I am neither Hercules nor
Atlas. My back is well nigh broke, as well as my heart, by your cruelty.
I would fain stand upright. Heaven relieve me," he muttered to himself,
"from this pestilent load."

"My strength sufficeth not to remove so large a load," said Anne, still
laughing, "all I can do is to take them out by degrees, as I have placed
them _one by one_!"

"I should die ere relieved by so slow a process," said Grasp. "Oh, my
back, my weary back is cramped with long suffering and weight of
apples."

"Then trudge off, and throw them into yonder wood-house," said Anne.
"I'll never entertain your services if you are thus idle."

"I cannot budge a foot," said Grasp, "I am, as it were, rooted in the
snow. Heaven help me."

"Stop whilst I give you this small basketfull," said Anne, emptying more
apples into the load.

"Nay, then, I can no longer bear it," said Grasp; and he sank upon his
knees, whilst both the lasses kept piling more apples upon his head.

"I am utterly foredone, and must fain succumb," said Grasp; "my better
parts are vanquished, lo, I fall," and, as he sank under his burthen,
the huge load rolled in heaps around him.

"I shall be crushed, altogether crushed and flattened like a
shrove-groat shilling," said Master Doubletongue. "I pray you, fair
damsel, to help me down with this burthen. I would fain do my best in
your service, but I am not able, I find, to do the work of a younger
man."

But the saucy maidens, having brought their two admirers to their
present doleful state, as soon as they saw young Shakespeare
approaching, ran, shrieking with laughter to meet him, leaving their
swains to extricate themselves as they best could.

"I do perceive that I am made an exceeding ass of by this lively
virgin," said Grasp, gathering himself up from amongst the rolling
apples; "nevertheless her comeliness and favour hath quite entamed my
spirits to her worship. I would fain contract a marriage, and the good
yeoman her father is right willing to receive me for a son-in-law."

"And I," said Doubletongue, "should greatly like to wive also, an I
could achieve the maiden Mopsy. Mass, but she is fresh as an April morn,
and strong as a porter. Would to Heaven she had relieved me of this
burthen ere she fled! Help me down with it, good Grasp, an you love me."

"Who was that I saw approaching when the maidens deserted us?" inquired
Grasp. "See, they are now returning with him into the house, without so
much as 'I thank ye,' for all we have done for them."

"'Tis surely young Shakespeare," said Doubletongue, "your sometime
clerk."

"Oh, the young scapegallows," said Grasp, "by my fay, and so it is. His
presence here bodes no good to my suit, and I have already possessed
Mistress Anne with my opinion of him. Nay, Sir Thomas Lucy hath spoken
with me about him, too. The dare-devil lad hath somehow offended Sir
Thomas, and he vows to deal hardly with him an he can catch him
trespassing on his domain. I'll stir him further to't."

"He hath trespassed upon our domains here too, I think, and carried off
my sweet friend Mopsy," said Doubletongue. "I'll abuse the varlet
where'er I come."

"Thou canst not say worse of him than he deserves," said Grasp; "an I
can but once catch him tripping, I'll be his ruin yet."

"Methinks we bad better wend our steps back to Stratford this morning,"
said Doubletongue. "I am sore wearied, and sorely nipped with the cold
blast. The pestilence seize this Shakespeare, I had rather not encounter
him."

"I would we were both rid of him," said Grasp; "albeit I am somewhat
sorry to leave him in the company of the fair Anne; such a
smooth-tongued varlet is sufficient to corrupt a whole village."

"Let us slink by and get a peep in at the window," said Doubletongue;
and the worthy pair of friends left the orchard.

On that evening a youth and a village maiden were soon strolling quietly
along the footpath leading from Shottery to Stratford-upon-Avon. The
youth, with head inclined, was telling a soft tale in the ear of his
companion--a tale such as evidently was pleasing to her, for her
handsome face was radiant with smiles. There was something in the step
and bearing of both which proclaimed them superior to the common ran of
mortals: albeit their costume was but a degree removed from, and in
somewhat better taste than that of the peasant of the period. Both were
extremely handsome, and it was evident they were lovers, inasmuch as
(although the occasional passer seldom failed to stop and turn to regard
them) they were so entirely wrapped in each other's society that they
seemed lost to all external objects.

As they reached a part of the path which in crossed by the high road,
they stopped, and a stately knight, accompanied by two ladies, and
attended by several mounted serving men, rode by. The ladies seemed
struck with the form of the handsome maiden; and the cavalier, after
passing, turned and leant upon the cantle of his saddle, and steadily
regarded the youth.

"'Tis he," said the Knight of Charlecote, to himself, "and the girl is
Hathaway's daughter. 'Tis pity she should mate with so reckless a
youth."

"Who, said ye, they are?" inquired the elder daughter of Sir Thomas;
"methinks I have seen the youth at Clopton Hall."

"See him when and where thou wilt, Alicia," returned the knight, "I fear
me you will have seen but a graceless suitor, from all I have learned
through the scrivener Grasp. 'Tis the wool-comber's eldest son, young
Shakespeare of Stratford."

After this brief discourse, the party rode on.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

SHOTTERY HALL.


With lovers, days, weeks, and months pass swiftly by. The fair and witty
Rosalind is made to tell us, however, that time trots hard with a young
maid, between the contract of her marriage and the day it is solemnized,
for "if the interim be but a se'night, time's pace is so hard, that it
seems the length of seven years."

With the swifter foot of time, however, during the even course of love
between young Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway, we shall pace over some few
months in our history.

Angry winter must be supposed to have departed; the fields and meadows
to have thrown off his livery, and the woodland scene around
Stratford-upon-Avon, to be dressed in the green investiture of the
coming spring.

The hard pace of time therefore must be now imagined to be progressing
with the fair Anne, inasmuch as she has been wooed and won by the
youthful Shakespeare. She is indeed between the contract of her marriage
and its solemnization.

It was one lovely evening, about this period of our story, that an
exceedingly handsome female was sitting pensive and melancholy in her
own apartment at Shottery Hall, a large mansion situated just without
the village.

Our readers have before had a glimpse of this lady, during the eventful
night of the party at Clopton, what time she was engaged in the dance
with Walter Arderne. Clara de Mowbray had indeed, been one of the
intimate friends of the fair Charlotte, her confidant and associate from
childhood. She was herself an orphan, and possessed of great wealth; and
although but one-and-twenty years of age, seemed to have already given
up the pleasures of the world, and dedicated her days to good and
charitable deeds in and around her own neighbourhood. She was,
therefore, as a matter of course, the lady patroness of the little
village near which she dwelt.

Whether it was that she mourned over the fate of the early friend, whose
death had been attended with such awful and melancholy circumstances, or
whether the loss of her parents had left a sad impression upon her
spirits, we cannot tell; but certain it is, that Clara de Mowbray seemed
to labour under some secret and deep-seated grief, which rendered
society a burden to her.

As she sat on this evening in her own apartment, her attendant announced
a maiden from the village, who was desirous of seeing her.

"'Tis the handsome Anne Hathaway----is it not?" inquired Clara. "Indeed
I sent to request she would come hither."

"It is, lady," returned the attendant.

"Set a chair for her here beside the window, and wait on her in."

"They tell me she is soon to be wedded," said the attendant, as she
brushed the chair with her apron, "and that she hath refused a good
offer for the sake of her present lover."

"I have heard as much," said the lady; "and 'tis of that I would speak
with her."

The Lady Clara had known Anne Hathaway from childhood, consequently,
there was little of form or ceremony between her and the more humble
friend.

"I have sent for you, Anne," said Clara, as soon as the damsel entered,
"to talk about your future prospects. I have been so great a recluse,
that I have only just heard of your intended marriage. I trust you will
be happy, Anne."

"I hope so, lady," said Anne.

"And do you _think so_?" inquired Clara.

"Wherefore should I not, lady?" inquired Anne.

"There are one or two things," continued the lady, "I have heard of your
betrothed, which leads me to ask the question, Anne; and also because we
are old friends, and I love you. In the first place, I hear your suitor
is younger than yourself. Is't not so?"

"It is, lady," said Anne.

"And I hear also that he is of no calling; that he is poor, and his
friends needy."

"All that you have said is true," said Anne Hathaway; "_but_--" and she
paused.

"But you are in love," said Clara. "Well, I suppose there is no advice I
can give you which will avail against that argument. I would have you,
however, consider well; and (as I know neither of the parties) I cannot
judge in how far your own judgment is right in this matter."

"I would you could see the two together," said Anne, smiling, "you would
then have little left to urge in favour of my richer suitor."

"Indeed!" said Clara, smiling; "yet one word more, Anne. I hear the
youth--let me see, how is he named?"

"Shakespeare," said Anne, "William Shakespeare."

"Well, then, I hear that this lover of yours--this young Shakespeare, is
of a daring spirit; that he associates with youths as reckless as
himself; and that, in very sooth, he bears altogether a character for
idleness even in the town where he dwells."

"What do you charge him with in particular?" said Anne, smiling.

"Nay, nothing more than I have hinted at," said Clara. "He is slightly
regarded by the townsfolk of Stratford, from his idle propensities. If
there be a bear to be baited at Kenilworth Green, who so sure to be
there as this younker. If there is a wrestling-match and a bull-baiting
at Coventry, thither is your swain sure to go. If there be, in short, a
wake or fair, or revel, in this or the adjoining county, young
Shakespeare is as certain to be seen upon the Green as those resident on
the spot. Nay, I have been told that he hath himself beaten one of our
Warwickshire champions here at Shottery last Christmas, and that he is
giving to poaching withal."

"In respect ye have named his delight in all sort of out-door sports,
you are right, lady," said Anne; "but that he is given to poaching is a
malicious rumour."

"Well," said Clara, "I see your affections are set upon this match, and
far be it from me to oppose your will. I too well know the misery of
blighted love. Heaven guard you, Anne. Ere you wed, it would please me
to see _the youth_."

"You have seen him," said Anne.

"I remember him not," said Clara.

"'Twas at Clopton you met with him," said Anne. "William hath told me he
met you on the night of that unhappy ball, and that Master Walter
Arderne shewed you to him in the room."

Clara started. She then said, in some surprise, "Did your lover know
Walter, then?"

"They were sworn friends, lady," said Anne.

"Shakespeare!" said Clara. "'Tis a name I remember. Was not the youth
who saved Charlotte Clopton from death in the park called Shakespeare?
If so, him indeed have I met at Clopton, and have heard both Charlotte
and Walter Arderne speak of."

"'Tis the same youth, lady," said Anne.

"Indeed," said Clara; "that doth indeed surprise me;" and Clara remained
for some time lost in deep thought. "I have a relic," she said, "of
Charlotte's given me by Martin, and which was much treasured by poor
Charlotte. 'Tis a small piece of verse of exquisite beauty. If I
recollect rightly, Martin told me it was written by this lad--this lover
of yours. Stay, I will shew it you;" and Clara, after searching in a
small casket, brought forth a scrap of paper with some verses written on
it, which she read aloud, and then handed to Anne.

"I am not much given to poetry," said Anne, smiling; "but I see by the
character they are written by William; but methinks I should have known
them for his by other tokens. He often repeats such verse in our walks.
He hath written scores of such pieces as the one I now hold in my hand."

"Nay, then, I cannot wondor at what I have heard," said the lady;
"neither am I surprised at such a man being the friend of Walter
Arderne. There is one thing more I would ask," said Clara, blushing.
"You know my secret, Anne, and can perhaps give me some news of him you
wot of, through means of your lover. Where now is Walter Arderne?"

"I shall grieve you, lady, if I say that for some time no accounts have
been received of him, and it is greatly feared he hath perished amongst
the adventurers with whom he left England."

"How is this news derived?" she said.

"William hath learnt so much from Martin, whom he has occasionally seen
whilst Martin remained at Clopton; but latterly Martin seemed to grow
uneasy, and as reports were circulated relative to the loss of that part
of the expedition with which Master Arderne sailed, he at length left
Clopton, where he had been residing almost alone, and went to London.
Whilst there he met some of the adventurers who had returned with Sir
Francis Drake, and of them he heard dire accounts of the dangers and
hardships they had encountered. From them too he learned that Walter
Arderne had greatly distinguished himself amongst the followers of
Christopher Carlisle at the taking of St. Jago, near Cape de Verde; that
he had afterwards sailed for Hispaniola, and assaulted and taken St.
Domingo. He was also heard of on the coast of Florida; and it was at the
burning of one of the towns, either St. Anthony or St. Helens, on that
coast, that Master Arderne is supposed to have perished."

"Was he then not seen and identified amongst the slain or wounded?"
inquired Clara.

"It appears not," said Anne. "The expedition, with the exception of some
smaller ships separated from them in a storm, sailed along the coast o£
Virginia, where they found the remains of a colony previously planted
there by Sir Walter Raleigh, and which had almost gone to decay. The
miserable remnant of adventurers," continued Anne, "who were found by
Sir Francis Drake at this place, and who are described to have appeared
more like living mummies than Christian men, abandoned their settlement,
and prevailed on Sir Francis Drake to bring them to England."

"And have no further tidings been since heard?" inquired Clara.

"Nothing certain. A small portion of the fleet which separated from
Drake's squadron after this, and sailed along the coast of Florida,
inflamed with rage against the Spaniards and the riches they had already
gained, after a short cruise, returned with an account of their having
observed a wreck near Raleigh's ruined colony;[9] and that they had even
seen some individuals apparently again located there. They had, however,
steadily pursued their course without inquiry; albeit they judged this
wreck to have been one of the ships Walter Arderne had held command in."

[Footnote 9: This was the first attempt of the English to form such
settlements; and although they have since surpassed all European
nations, they had been so unsuccessful that they abandoned the place.]

"So then," said Clara, "these unfortunate men may have been left to
perish, exposed to all the vicissitudes of war and climate, and
half-naked in an enemy's country!"

"'Tis to be feared so," returned Anne, "although the dreadful mortality
which the climate produced amongst Drake's followers is but a feeble
restraint on the avidity and sanguine expectation of the young
adventurers of England; nay, other expeditions are said to be about to
set sail; should it be so, that coast may be again visited."

"And this you have learnt from your lover?" said Clara.

"I have, lady; he loves to talk to me in our walks about the wonders
seen in these islands of the sea in the far West. I would you could hear
him describe what he has learnt from one or two of the youths who have
adventured and returned: how they have seen and landed upon islands
inhabited by people of wondrous appearance; islands full of strange
sounds, and in which the most ravishing melody floated in the air, the
musicians being spirits and invisible to sight."

"Methinks," said Clara, "I should much like to hear your lover's account
of such wonders."

"Nay, so interested is he in these accounts, and the riches to be found
on the Spanish main, that had I not over-ruled his design, he would
himself have adventured this year with Martin Frobisher."

"I have heard something of Frobisher's former expedition," said Clara.
"What were the particulars?"

"Nay, I can but inform you as I have learned it from the lips of
others," said Anne.

"They set out, I have heard," said Clara, "for the purpose of
discovering a passage to Cataia, in the Indies, by the north-west seas.
I do not myself quite understand such matters, but I believe they sailed
beyond Friesland, where they came in sight of land inhabited by strange
and savage people. In this land they discovered some black substance
like sea-coal, and on their return showed it to a goldsmith in London,
and he found it to be rich in gold ore, was't not so?"

"It was, lady," said Anne; "this encouraged Martin Frobisher to make a
second voyage, when he freighted two vessels home with this black
stone, and his project is now so risen in credit that he is about to set
sail a third time, with fifteen goodly vessels; nay, had I not used my
influence, as I before said, William Shakespeare had surely adventured
amongst the crew."

"And so would you as surely have lost a lover, as he would have lost his
venture," said Clara. "I have no opinion of these wild schemes--and yet
I have half a mind to fit out an expedition and venture myself in quest
of a treasure."

"You, lady!" said Anne; "but you are not serious?"

"I was never more so," said Clara.

As she said this, Clara rose from her seat--a hint to her visitor that
the interview had lasted long enough.

"Yet stay," she said, as Anne was about to depart. "We have been long
friends, Anne Hathaway, and if I find the choice you have made a worthy
one, I will befriend you both. One thing I have forgotten to mention,
and that is the report I have heard of this match between you and young
Shakespeare being disapproved of by your father. Is that also true?"

"My lover is at present poor," said Anne.

"Enough," said Clara. "Farewell, Anne, I intend leaving Shottery for
some time, but when I return, remember you have a friend in me. Here,"
she continued, "is a present I had intended to have given you after your
marriage. Take it now, as we shall not meet again for many months. I
leave Shottery to-morrow."

And so the friends parted.

The fair Clara remained buried in thought for some time after the
departure of Anne Hathaway.

At length she arose from her seat, and her eye fell upon the sonnet she
had received from Martin. "The verse is indeed beautiful," she said.
"Happy, happy Anne, how much is thy lot to be envied! In thy rank in
life there is little impediment to the affections. Thou lovest and art
beloved again: there is no drawback in regard to inequality, or matching
in degree. The village lad loves and chooses his mate as the turtle,
unembarrassed by wealth or worldly interest. This youth must, however,
be in mind at least far superior. Well, thy prospect is a happy one!
Whilst mine, alas! he I love is perhaps lost in the watery wastes of
unknown seas--perhaps starving on some desert shore."

As Clara thus indulged her melancholy thoughts, she rang a small silver
bell, and desired her attendant to summon to her presence the steward or
major-domo of her household.

"Hubert," she said, "I am about to leave Shottery for London. My horses
have of late had but idle times, and an excursion will do them good. I
ride with twenty followers."

The orders of Clara were law with Hubert. He therefore bowed; and she
continued, "I take this strong escort," she said, "because I shall have
great charge with me in gold and diamonds. To you I will at once
confess the purpose of my journey to London, and my farther intentions
when there. I am about myself to fit out an expedition to the coast of
Florida, and in person to visit the strange lands said to exist in the
New World."

"In choosing amongst my people," she continued, "pick out those youths
who you think would be likely to volunteer for such an exploit."

"And when do we depart, lady?" inquired the steward.

"The day after to-morrow," said Clara.

And again the steward bowed, and then withdrew.



CHAPTER XXIX.

THE LOVERS.


The very name of the New World during the reign of Elizabeth, was
suggestive of boundless wealth, and the wildest hopes of gain. The
islands already visited by the adventurers of the period, were said to
be scenes of enchantment--a sort of demi-paradise, where the most lovely
Indian females wandered about in all the innocence of the golden age.

Such was the idea men entertained of the New World, as it was then
called, and in consequence, albeit those who had returned from this land
of promise, presented in their own worn appearance but small
encouragement to others to try fortune in their boasted region; still
the voyage, as it was designated _par excellence_, was in great repute
amongst the "rash, inconsiderate, and fiery voluntaries" of Elizabeth's
reign. And, under these circumstances, sea-faring men of all sorts, and
even those who had never beheld the sea, occasionally made up the file
as soldiers for the various expeditions in vogue. The hardships and
dangers these men encountered beneath the hot sun of the tropics at this
time; their endurance under difficulties, whilst exposed to privation in
their marches through unknown forests, defiles, and mountains, is
wonderful to contemplate. Nay, perhaps, the very difficulties to be
encountered, and the watery wastes to be traversed, even enhanced the
desire these desperadoes felt in undertaking the venture; added also to
this spirit of enterprise, and the prospect men behold in the sunny
distance, of lovely lands, and scenes of enchantment in the bright
islands they thought to find, there was in the breast of the Englishman
at this period a rankling and deep-seated hatred of the Spaniard--then
the stoutest soldier of the civilized world--a foe not only worthy in
that day of the Englishman's sword, but who bore away from him the palm
of soldiership, and, of whom, he felt in some sort jealous. The
Spaniard, at the same time, whilst he had been drilled into wonderful
efficiency by long conflict with the Moors, the French, and Italians,
surpassed all other men in the qualities which conquer kingdoms, even at
fearful odds.

The Spanish hidalgo still possessed all the chivalry of the crusader,
with augmented bigotry and superstition. Fighting was his element, and
greed of gold and religious fanaticism his stimulants. His pride was
beyond description. He was--

    "The man of compliment, a most illustrious wight,
    A man of fire, new words, fashion's own knight."

'Twas against soldiers of this stamp that such men us Drake were now
waging war. The stern hearts and iron fists of his sailors and
men-at-arms, were turned against wretches, whose cruel hearts had shewn
no mercy to the harmless Indian; and fierce, bloody, remorseless, was
the conflict when the Englishmen met the Don.

The great success of the Spaniard in both the Indies, too, was an
additional stimulant to the emulation of the English adventurers.

He was indeed considered a hero, who returned safe from the horrors of
murderous conflict, mid the sack and siege of town and settlement in the
tropics. His sun-burnt visage was gazed on with curiosity; and his
account also of hardships endured amidst swamp and thicket, together
with exaggerated circumstance of horrid animals, fearful reptiles, and
wonderous beings in human form, was listened to with awe and wonder.

The morning Clara had fixed on for her departure dawned brightly. Hill
and dale, and wood and park, were faintly gilded with the early morning
sun; she looked around, and sighed as she reflected, that perhaps for
the last time she beheld the domain of her ancestors.

As her party left the grounds of Shottery and took their way through the
village, she reined up her palfrey, and, with her female attendant,
remained a few minutes behind. She then turned her horse towards Anne
Hathaway's cottage, and, as the road ran close beside it, she resolved
to pass the dwelling of her rustic friend, and perhaps see her for a
moment and bid her again farewell. As she did so, she observed two
youths advancing along the road. They carried cross-bows in their hands,
and seemed bound for the woodlands.

"Is not the slighter of those youth's Anne's lover?" inquired Clara of
an attendant, as the young men entered the garden of old Hathaway's
cottage.

"It is, lady," said the attendant. "Yon handsome lad is William
Shakespeare."

"Listen!" said Clara; "he is awakening his mistress with a song." And as
the lady drew bridle under shelter of the tall trees beside the cottage,
they heard a beautiful voice accompanied by a sort of lute, singing
these _now_ well-known words.

    "Hark! hark! the lark at heaven's gate sings,
      And Phoebus 'gins arise,
    His steeds to water at those springs
      On chalic'd flowers that lies;
    And winking Mary-buds begin
      To ope their golden eyes
    With everything that pretty bin,
      My lady, sweet, arise.
         Arise, arise."[10]

[Footnote 10: "Cymbeline."]

The beauty of the verse, and the sweetness of the singer's voice,
completely fixed Clara to the spot; and, as she listened anxiously for
another verse, she heard the lattice open, and the voice of Anne join in
conversation with her lover. Clara felt extremely anxious again to see
one who had been the friend of Walter Arderne, and she determined to
accost the youth. When she rode round, however, to the front of the
cottage, he was gone on his way, and afterwards with his companion might
have been observed, concealed in the woods at Fulbrook. Together they
lay in the thick covert and watched a sequestered stag, a bolt from
Shakespear's cross-bow had wounded, and which he was again endeavouring
to gain a shot at. 'Twas his first poaching offence; and whilst he lay
thus crouching in the thick brake, and again sought to get near the
stag, his comrade, Dick Snare, kept watch somewhat aloof, lest the
keepers came upon them unawares.

Meantime slowly and sadly the maiden of high degree turned her horse's
head from the scenes of her childhood. She felt desolate amidst her
plenteous fields and domains, whilst the humble friend of her childhood,
the village companion, the poor cottager, seamed happy in all the world
could bestow worth coveting; and as Clara turned from the cottage, the
handsome Anne, unconscious of her near proximity, was intently perusing
some verses which Shakespeare had thrown in at her window as he
departed,--verses addressed to herself.

                    I.

    "Would ye be taught, ye feather'd throng,
    With love's sweet notes to grace your song,
    To pierce the heart with thrilling lay,
    Listen to mine, Anne Hathaway.
    She hath a way to sing so clear,
    Phoebus might, wondering, stop to hear;
    To melt the sad, make blithe the gay,
    And nature charm, Anne hath a way.
          She hath a way,
          Anne Hathaway,
    To breathe delight, Anne Hathaway.

                   II.

    "When Envy's breath and ranc'rous tooth
    Do soil and bite fair worth and truth,
    And merit to distress betray,
    To soothe the heart, Anne hath a way;
    She hath a way to chase despair,
    To heal all grief, to cure all care,
    Turn foulest night to fairest day,
    Thou know'st, fond heart, Anne hath a way.
          She hath a way,
          Anne Hathaway,
    To make grief bliss, Anne hath a way."



CHAPTER XXX.

THE ADVENTURERS.


About three weeks after the departure of Clara de Mowbray, a
stout-timbered vessel, built after the peculiar fashion of the time, and
yet in something improved in its construction from the unwieldy craft in
general use, might have been observed beating up against wind and tide
on the Kentish coast. The weather, for the time of the year, was
unusually rough, and to a heavy rolling sea was added a driving rain,
and a roaring gale of wind. There is considerable danger, too, as the
mariner well knows, around him on this part of the coast. His craft has
been driven out of its course, and the fearful Goodwins are close at
hand; still labours on, however, that gallant barque, manned by stout
English adventurers. She is trying, amidst the driving rain and furious
winds, to make out the mouth of the Sandwich haven; and, whilst her
timbers creak, and the blast whistles amongst her rigging, a delicious
strain of melody seems to float around her. The notes of a lute are
heard by the sailors accompanied by a voice of ravishing sweetness; and,
as it issues from the cabin of the vessel, it sounds as if some angel is
trying to soothe the fury of the winds and waves.

Dangerous as is this part of the coast, even in the present time, when
its perils are so well marked out to the navigator, at the period of our
story, it was, by comparison, almost an unknown sea. No secure harbour
was then constructed close opposite the Goodwins. No buoys and revolving
lights pointed out the dangerous proximity of rocks and shoals; those
dread quicksands, whose depths retain the wrecked treasures of
successive ages; sands which

    "Will not bear our enemy's boats,
    But suck them up to the top-mast."

Bravely, however, keeps on that labouring barque. One moment she seems
engulphed in the boiling waters, and the mist rolls over the spot where
her hull was last tossing. The next she is trembling upon the crested
wave, and again about to be hurled from its summit into the waters
beneath.

One eye there is, on board, which seems especially to watch over
her,--an eye which calmly scans every part around, watches every cord of
her rigging, and rectifies every mishap consequent upon the violence of
the gale.

Meanwhile, on the waist, the deck, the poop, are to be seen, besides the
sailors who work the vessel, lying, sitting, and holding on by the
ropes, the forms of fierce and bearded men, clad in the buff leathern
dress which formed the usual costume of warriors of the period, their
half-armour being doffed during their voyage along the coast.

Suddenly the eye of the chief, as the driving rain for the moment seems
to subside, catches sight of a range of white foam. Another and another
follow after, till they seem to overtake each other, and mingle in a
perfect cauldron of boiling sea.

Then his voice sounds amidst the roar of winds and waters--the sails
flap--the cordage strains--and every eye looks anxious, and every heart
beats quicker; for that moment is to decide whether the living, and
warlike freightage, are to ride safely past the gulf, or to be sucked
down amidst the depths of the awful Goodwins.

As the chief mariner leaps upon the bulwark of the vessel, and, grasping
the rigging, looks out upon the boiling sea, a slight and graceful youth
has emerged from the cabin, and placed himself beside him.

"We are in peril," said he, in a low voice; "these are the fatal sands
you thought you had safely passed an hour ago."

But the mariner for the moment heeds not the question of his superior.
His whole attention is given to his craft, and the horrible depths she
is every minute apparently about to be engulphed in.

It was an awful moment for one so young and delicate-looking as that
boy. Yet his cheek blanches not at the prospect of a death so fearful.
He clings to the slippery ropes, and awaits the event with a courage
worthy of one of firmer frame and maturer years; whilst the vessel,
dashing amidst the waves, still holds stoutly on.

As she did so the mariner leapt down, and, as his feet again touched the
deck of his craft, he drew a long breath.

"'Twas a fearful moment," he said, "I ne'er before looked down whilst so
close upon the eternal bed of many a tall and stately vessel. 'Twas a
moment that told of life or death."

"'Tis passed, then," said the youth; "see, we are driving away from
yonder white gallopers, who seem to course each other in an endless
chase."

"'Tis passed, _for this time_," said the mariner; "but we are on a
fearful coast on such an evening as this. Methought I know each foot of
these waters; but in such a driving gale 'tis scarce possible to know
our course."

"And what then will you do?" inquired the youth.

"Still make for the mouth of the haven I told you of," said the captain;
"and which leads us to safety, if we can hit it."

"No easy matter, methinks," said the youth, "in such a gale, eh?"

"Nevertheless, I do not despair," returned the mariner. "My youth has
been passed upon these very seas. But this is no weather for your
Excellency," he continued respectfully, taking the youth's hand, and
leading him towards the cabin of the half-decked vessel.

"You forget I am the commander in this expedition," said the youth,
smiling.

"Only of the land-forces," said the mariner, returning the smile; "the
vessel, by our compact, I am to be captain of."

Half-an-hour after this conversation and the gallant barque was quietly
and slowly winding its course along the muddy stream which flows up to
the Dutch-built Cinque Port situated at this part of the coast.

The Cinque Ports in Elizabeth's day, albeit their grandeur had in a
great measure departed from them, were still of great importance to the
nation. There was a pride and pomposity of manner still to be found
amongst the barons, and burgesses, and townsfolk, which had descended to
them from, their warlike ancestry, during the days when kings honoured
them with their especial favour, and granted them privileges and
immunities unknown to other towns. With all the pride of their mail-clad
ancestry, therefore, and whose constant sufferance had been sack and
siege, fire and slaughter, the more peaceful Cinque Porter of
Elizabeth's day considered himself still a sort of a _magnifico_. 'Tis
true that in place of the chain-mail and two-handed weapons of the
iron-men of the Norman period, whose only trade was war, the present
race were clad in the high-crown hat, the short cloak, and the full
trunks of the well-dealing merchant. Yet still, albeit the portly,
lank-haired, Flemish-looking burgher stood upon his gentility as he
walked the key of this muddy haven, yet still, we say, steel corslet and
military pride was not altogether laid aside, and the _trade of
merchandize_ had not entirely superseded efficiency in the _trade of
war_.

On the morning following the night on which the strange barque entered
the haven of Sandwich, two portly townsmen greeted each other in the
Fish Market.

"What vessel was that same which crept up last night and lies moored
before the Fisher's Gate?" inquired neighbour De Bock of Master Cramp.

"I can't observe," said Cramp. "She looks queer, methinks. There's an
armed sentinel upon her deck, to keep any one from leaving her without
license, and another man-at-arms upon the shore with loaded caliver, who
walks up and down forsooth, as who should say, keep off Sir Curious, and
pry not too closely into our affairs."

"Is she from Holland, think ye?" inquired De Bock.

"I should say nay to that," said Cramp.

"Is she from London, laden with serge, baize, and flannel, think ye?"

"I rather opine not."

"What is her rig, neighbour?"

"Nondescript, I think."

"What is her build?"

"Indescribable, I should say."

"Hath she any freight at all on board?"

"As far as I can judge, she hath a freight."

"And what is it?"

"Principally arms of various sorts--rapier and dagger pike and arqebus."

"Ha, sayst thou? Then must she be seized, and her destination inquired
into."

"That might cause some sort of controversy--some arbitration--since each
weapon I have named hath a man tacked to it, and a hand to exercise it."

"What, is she then filled with armed men, neighbour?"

"She is. So much have I learned by looking down at her just now from the
tower of St. Clement's Church."

"'Fore Gad, she may be a Spaniard then."

"I think nay to that, too."

"Or a pirate?"

"_There_ thou _hast it_; methinks she _is_ a pirate. Nay, certes she is
a pirate who has been forced to take shelter in our haven by yesterday's
gale."

"My life upon't thou art right. Let's e'en go look upon her, and then to
the mayor with our report." And the worthy burgesses immediately
threaded the narrow streets, and approached the Fisher's Gate, which
looks upon the flats on the Thanet side of the town.

Just within the Fisher's Gate, and in the narrow lane which leads down
to it from the town, there is still to be seen an ancient hostel called
the Checquers. Its low arched doors, its narrow passages, its
comfortable sanded parlour, its ample kitchen, diamond paned windows,
and small comfortable rooms, low in roof, and ponderous in beam, bespeak
its early date. It had been the hostel of the Fisher's Gate full half a
century before the period of our story.

If curiosity was a ruling passion with the two burgesses, love of good
liquor was equally strong, and accordingly as they necessarily passed
this old hostel, they turned in for their morning's draught.

As they did so, they found it was occupied by two persons belonging to
the very vessel which had so much excited their curiosity. One was a
slight and effeminate looking youth, of most graceful form, and features
of exceeding beauty. His long curled ringlets hung over either shoulder,
which, as it was not the fashion of the day, rendered his appearance
even more remarkable. His dress, although it bespoke the sea-faring man,
was evidently fashioned after his own whim. Perhaps it was more in the
style of the Venetian sailor than the English sea-faring man. Such as it
was, however, it added much to the graceful beauty of him who wore it;
and as it was accompanied by a certain rakish swagger, an assumed easy
manner, the appearance of the juvenile stranger altogether considerably
astonished the two grave, staid, and simple-minded Cinque Port
functionaries, who entered the hostel.

The companion of the youth was a man in no way remarkable, except for
his high forehead, intelligent countenance, and well-knit and somewhat
athletic form. His costume was that of a sort of amphibious adventurer
of the period, half sailor, half soldier--a man equally serviceable
either on the deck of his vessel, or in the tented field, and alike
trained to the arts and manoeuvres of war on the rampart or in the
trench, on horseback or on foot. His twisted-hilted and long rapier was
carried in a broad buff belt; his gauntlets reached to his elbow; his
thick leathern doublet carried the marks of the breast-plate he wore on
service, and the wide-topped boots reached his full trunks, like those
of a fisherman of the present time.

The youth before-named occupied an arm chair, situated near a table on
which the appliances for a substantial breakfast were placed, and which
he occupied in a sort of lounging, jaunty style, ever and anon picking a
small portion from the plate before him, and conveying it to his lips
with the point of his richly-guarded dagger, the whilst his stalwart
comrade applied himself to the viands like one who especially relished a
good meal.

"Your Excellency," said this latter sailor, without seeming to notice
the entrance of the native burghers of the town, "scarce seems to have
found the benefit of these Kentish breezes. Your appetite is somewhat
dainty this morning, methinks; and yet this bread is white as the
snowflake, and sweet and wholesome withal. Let me give you the veriest
taste of this Canary wine, 'twill coax you into trying yonder pastie."

"I thank thee, good Captain Fluellyn,"[11] returned the youth, "I cannot
bear Canary so early. Indeed, my breakfast is already made; I eat but
slightly in the morning. At dinner I will drink with ye turn and turn
about, an you list, till your brain reels like a top."

[Footnote 11: A name at that time to be found at Stratford.]

"Ah, so thou ever sayest," returned the Captain, "but when dinner comes
your Excellency still evades the wine-cup."

The title given to the youthful navigator, his distinguished appearance,
and the luxuries by which he was surrounded, rather astonished the
natives as they observed the pair.

It was plain that the silver goblets from which they drank, and the
elaborately ornamented plates and dishes upon which the viands were
served, together with the handsome case of liquors, all of which
belonged to a sort of canteen which stood open near the table, must have
been brought for the use of this noble from the ship then lying but a
few yards off.

The curiosity, therefore, of the two townsmen was considerably excited
to know who and what he was, and as both himself and the stalwart
captain continued their conversation and meal without taking the
slightest notice of their presence, their self-importance was a trifle
injured, and Master De Bock addressed himself to the handsome sailor.

"If I may crave permission of interrupting your exertions for a moment,"
he said, stepping up to the table, "I would fain know if our presence
here is intrusive, and, if so, I would crave permission to retire with
my worthy townsman here."

At this sage address from the lank-haired round-faced burgher, the tall
captain laid down the small dagger with which he was helping himself to
a portion of the savory pastie before him, and, twisting the end of his
moustache, stared at him for a few moments, and then throwing himself
back in his chair, looked inquiringly into the face of his companion.

The youth was evidently inclined to laugh; there was, indeed, a sort of
twinkle in his eye as he returned the stare of the sea-captain.

"Is it your Countship's pleasure to be private?" at length, said the
latter, as the burgher stood gazing with his fishy eye upon the youth.

"We do in some sort court seclusion," said the Count, "and to that end,
have engaged and hired this hostel, for the especial use of ourselves
and followers during the stay of our vessel in yonder haven."

"Shall I signify the same unto these worthy traders?" said the Captain.

"His lordship hath himself spoken it," said the burgess, "we take our
leave. May we, however, crave to know the honoured title of the
distinguished personage visiting our town, and the name of the vessel in
which he has arrived? It is necessary we should convey to his honour the
mayor intelligence of such visitation, in order that he may wait upon
his lordship in proper form."

The youth again smiled. "I am myself called," he said, "'the Count of
the Saxon shore.' The vessel in which I am passenger is named the
'Phantom,' commanded by this worthy gentleman, my esteemed friend
Captain Fluellyn, a gallant seaman, who hath sailed with Drake, and
fought the Spaniard by sea and land."

Upon this introduction, the Captain thought it necessary to rise from
his chair, and bow to the two townsmen in due form, which they as
formally returned. After which, at a sign from the Count, he offered
them a glass of Canary from the high-necked bottle upon the table.

"The Count of the Saxon shore," said De Bock, smacking his lips with
ineffable relish as he sat down the glass. "That is, indeed, an ancient
title, and one I knew not was still in existence. Doth your lordship
claim to be lineally descended from tho Roman whose authority extended
in former days along this coast, and whose castle walls are still to be
seen at hand here, and called Rugulbium or Reculver?"

"By the father's aide, most assuredly," said the Count. "Maternally, I
am of Kentish extraction, since, on the female side I claim descent from
the god Woden, whose effigy was as you know, or ought to know, enthroned
upon the hill a mile westward of your town, and called to this day
Wodnesborough."

"A most respectable lineage," said tho burgess, quite awe-struck at so
glorious a descent. "His worship the mayor, attended by the hogmace, the
supervisor of the gutters, the several beadles in commission within our
walls, will have the honour of waiting upon your lordship forthwith."

"The honour will be to us," said the Count, rising and bowing as the
burgesses were about to leave the apartment. "For the next four hours we
shall be engaged here in consulting with our gallant friend, and certain
messengers we expect to arrive; after that, if it so please your mayor,
we will receive him."

"And now, Captain," said the Count, reseating himself, "since we have
got rid of those cane-bearded worthies, and you have finished your
meal, we will, if it so please ye, discuss certain matters appertaining
to this venture of ours."

"I am all readiness to give attention, Sir Count," said the Captain,
also sitting himself comfortably in his chair, and drawing the case of
liquors close beside him.

"In the first place, then, I trust you clearly comprehend my intentions
in this voyage?"

"I think as much," said the Captain, filling his glass; "nevertheless,
perhaps you will oblige me by repeating your wishes?"

"My voyage, then, I would have you to understand, is more a voyage of
discovery than of profit. I neither wish to work mines, nor burn and
sack towns. I would avoid all chance, if possible, of coming into
collision with the Spaniard; and, unless I see occasion for other
course, I would rather fly from, than seek an enemy."

"But," said the Captain, "you scarce gave out so much before. This
somewhat exceeds what I expected. The Falcon is constructed after some
improved notions of my own, and will assuredly outstrip any vessel upon
the seas; but I like not to be always upon the wing. You forget I am one
of Drake's first comrades, and have learned to love powder as devotedly
as I hate the Spaniard. Body o' me, I shall lose what reputation I have
gained! We shall be taken for little else besides knaves and cowards."

"You will find me ready enough to fight where fighting is my cue,"
interrupted the Count; "and if our voyage is successful, I will be
myself an East and West Indies to you, inasmuch as you shall never again
be obliged to seek fortune in the wide seas. And now we understand one
another perfectly?"

"Your last argument is all-powerful," said the Captain. "I admire your
love of adventure, coupled as it is with so much humanity, and am yours
for the voyage, making peace or war as you affect either the one or the
other. Nevertheless, I may as well remind your lordship, ere you embark
on the enterprise, that we sailors of Drake and Frobisher, since the
time we have interfered with the Spaniard, have a proverb, that there
'is no peace beyond the line.'"

"I have heard so much," said the Count, "and now methinks, whilst we
wait here for the person appointed to join us, a short history of your
adventures in these seas would serve to while away the hours."

"The history of my life might prove both distasteful and tedious to
you," said the Captain; "but a brief account of it is at your service.
Where shall I begin?"

Just as the sea captain was about to commence his narrative, and whilst
he refilled his pipe with the weed he professed such veneration for, the
sharp-ringing sound of horse's hoofs were heard beneath the arch of the
gate-house, which indeed was so close to the old hostel that it almost
formed a part of the building.

At this period there was no drawbridge across the stream which separated
the town from the Island of Thanet, and communication was kept up by a
ferry-boat, which plied exactly opposite the Fisher's Gate.

As the horseman was ferried across, he hailed the craft which had caused
so much curiosity to the Sandwegians.

"Hillo, ho, ho! Falcon there! Is the Count on board?"

"Gone on shore," was the brief answer returned.

"Captain on board?" inquired the horseman.

"Ashore with the Count."

"Where do they lodge?"

"At the hostel within yonder gateway."

Accordingly, the horseman, after landing, rode straight up to the
Checquers, and unceremoniously entered the apartment in which the Count
and Captain were seated.

"Welcome, good Martin," said the Count, rising, "you see we keep time
and tryst here."

"I am here at my time," said the traveller.

"I am right glad you have so soon joined us," said the Count; "for,
sooth to say, both the Captain and myself are most anxious to be on the
broad waves of the Atlantic."

"Our necessaries are by this time on board," said the Captain; "and as
this honourable person makes up the file of gentlemen engaged for the
expedition, what stays us, but we warp out to sea at once? In an hour I
will undertake to be under weigh."

"Be it so," said the Count. "In an hour myself and friend will be on
board."

And the Captain rose, and, after another cup of Canary, proceeded to his
ship.

"Have you succeeded in learning any fresh tidings?" said the Count to
our old friend Martin.

"I have journeyed far, and in something profited by my travel," said
Martin. "I have visited the Netherlands, and also been in Warwickshire,
since I met you in London, and now I keep tryste, and am here as
appointed."

"You are ever worthy and zealous in the cause of your friends," returned
the Count; "what are your tidings?"

"Briefly, then," said Martin, "I have reason to believe the good Walter
lives; but, if such be the case, he is prisoner to the Spaniard--the
worst sort of captivity--since he is in the hands of those who know no
touch of pity, and are incensed against the English. This letter will
better inform you of his situation."

The Count took the letter and perused it. "We will speed to his
assistance," he said, as he refolded it. "And, now, how goes all in
Warwickshire. Hath Sir Hugh Clopton returned?"

"Of Warwickshire I have not much news to give," said Martin. "Sir Hugh
is still in the Low Countries. At Shottery all is as usual. Your steward
commends him to you. Yet, stay, there is some further news of your own
neighbourhood. Your old playmate, Anne Hathaway, is married to young
Shakespeare."

"That I concluded must have taken place," said the Count, "since, when I
left Shottery, they were to be united in a few days. I trust she will be
happy. The bridegroom is, however, somewhat young to make a steady
husband. I think I have heard you say you knew something of the lad:
report speaks of him as a wild youth."

"Report is in something correct, I believe," said Martin. "To say I knew
him well would be to say more than I should be warranted in affirming.
What I did know of that young man served me for matter of reflection.
For his wildness I cannot offer excuse, except that he hath a mounting
spirit; nay, I will venture to affirm, that had your expedition been
delayed a week, he would have joined in it."

"'Tis better as it is," said the Count, "I would not that my good friend
Anne should so soon lose her husband."

"There is, however," continued Martin, "startling news from London, and
which I rather think I am the first to announce in this town, as I
over-rode a foundered post between this place and Canterbury. The Queen
of Scots, 'tis said, is again involved in a dangerous conspiracy to
destroy our brave mistress, Queen Elizabeth."



CHAPTER XXXI.

THE BENEDICT.


The course of events connected with our story has necessarily obliged us
to deviate from the locality in which we have heretofore progressed. We
must, however, now again, after such brief excursion, return to the spot
from whence we started, and as the sun shines brightly upon park and
field, and wooded glade, once more look upon fair and fertile
Warwickshire.

Sweet Stratford-upon-Avon! those who know thee, and know thee well--who
have lingered in thy old-world streets, and wandered in thy
neighbourhood, breathing the scented air which smells so wooingly
amongst the shadowy groves and unfrequented glades around, will
acknowledge that there is no place in England, for situation and beauty,
thy superior.

There is a freshness in thy neighbourhood, a quiet beauty in thy
streets, a cozy comfort in many of thy dwellings, and a venerable and
impressive grandeur in thy religious edifices, belonging alone to an
English town of good and ancient descent. Was a stranger to be dropped
suddenly in the centre of this town, whilst he looked around, and noted
the sweet aspect of the locality he had so suddenly arrived in,
methinks he would say to himself that he had reached a spot noted and
celebrated in the world's esteem beyond most others in the kingdom. Yes,
in this rural picture we think the stranger might find all these
peculiar features characteristic of the old haunts in which Englishmen
of a former age dwelt so happily. Those verdant villages, which made the
English, however much they loved military adventure the whilst they
formed the hosts of kings in the vasty fields of France, look back from
the splendour of the tented field upon their own pleasant woodlands and
quiet homes with fond yearning.

Tuck of drum might sound, the horn's sweet note be carried by the
evening breeze, as it floated over some stricken field during those
splendid wars of the Edwards and Henries. The gonfalon might flutter,
and the knight, with all his train, ride stately amidst the white range
of tents; the archer might lean upon his bow and gaze upon the splendour
of the host. But the noble, and the knight, and the peasant-born soldier
of England, alike sighed in his heart of hearts for the hour that was to
see his foreign marches over, and himself amidst the scenes of his
island home.

    "That England hedged in with the main,
    That precious gem set in the silver sea."

If then our readers love fair Warwickshire, and admire the grandeur and
beauty of its scenery as we do, they will scarce be angry with us for
again leading them back toward Stratford-upon-Avon.

And Shakespeare is married. One great event of his life is passed. He
dwells with his wife in his native town; beyond the precincts of which
he is comparatively unknown, or, being known, but little regarded.

He is scarcely more than eighteen years of age, and his wife is
four-and-twenty. Their means are small, and their comforts few. The
prospect before them is not of the brightest, but they are young, and in
youth all seems beautiful because all is new. A female, however, of
twenty-four, wedded to a youth of eighteen--_a mere boy_, as she terms
him--will be likely to have her own way in everything; at least she will
try to have it, and that is almost as bad. We fear, too, the blooming
Anne is a "little shrew." She hath a high spirit withal, and we opine
that her tastes and dispositions are not in exact accordance with those
of her youthful husband. He is all imagination--all fire, energy, and
spirit; whilst she is more matter of fact. The gods have certainly not
made her poetical, and she thanks the gods therefore. And then her age.
Beautiful as she is in face and form, she is not matched in respect of
years, and she knows it.

    "Too old, by heaven; let still the woman take
    An elder than herself--so wears she to him,
    So sways she level in her husband's heart."[12]

[Footnote 12: "Twelfth Night."]

William Shakespeare had married in opposition to the advice of his
parents. The handsome Anne had done the same in regard to her's. Such
cases are by no means rare in their walk of life. The present is all
that is considered, the future unthought of. Old folks do sometimes,
however, know more than young ones give them credit for; and in this
instance they prognosticated the match would not be a happy one.

That the youthful poet felt some sort of disappointment when he found
how widely his disposition and tastes differed from the companion he had
chosen, there can be little doubt.

His extraordinary flights of genius, his wondrous conceptions, she had
no part in. She, indeed, could scarce understand them; and that which
she could not comprehend she looked upon as the rhapsodizing of a boy.
Even those beautiful descriptions, and the music of his honeyed vows,
for Shakespeare, although married, was still a lover, were now listened
to without the smile of appreciation. "Alas!" he said to himself, "maids
are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives."
In short, the youthful poet found that he had matched unhappily. There
was little sympathy in feeling, although there might have been in
choice; and so their loves passed

    "Swift as a shadow, short as any dream,
    Brief as the lightning in the collied night."

They dwelt in Henley Street, in the house next to that in which the
youth's parents inhabited; and he occasionally assisted his father in
his business as a dealer in wool.

In Stratford, at this time, there was a knot of young fellows celebrated
for little else beside their idleness, their wit, and their reckless
daring. One or two of these were apprenticed to different trades in the
town. One had made the voyage, and returned a reckless desperado,
although a jovial and most amusing companion; another had served for a
brief space in the Low Countries, "the land of pike and caliver," where
finding hard knocks more plentiful than either pay or promotion, and his
courage none of the greatest, he had deserted his colours, and returned
home with a marvellous capacity for imbibing strong liquors, and
relating wondrous stories of his own exploits whilst a soldier:--

    "Of healths _five_ fathom deep,
    Of palisadoes, frontiers, parapets,
    And all the current of the heady fight."

With these youths young Shakespeare had before been in the habit of
associating. Their eccentricity amused him; there was a kind of
character in their lives which he loved to contemplate. Before his
marriage he had loved however to indulge his thoughts a good deal alone,
to wander and meditate amidst the delicious scenery in the
neighbourhood. Now it was somewhat different, he had home and its duties
to attend to, besides matters connected with his father's business, to
keep him from so continually excursionizing as heretofore.

His meetings with these choice and master spirits, these jolly
companions who "daffed the world aside, and bid it pass," were,
therefore, for the most part, in after hours, and when the business of
the day was over.

Besides these lads of mettle, there was another person whose company
young Shakespeare had of late much affected, and in whose society he
found a perfect fund of entertainment, a feeling which was quite mutual,
as this friend was of a capacity as fully to appreciate the
extraordinary talents and delightful society of the juvenile poet, as
the latter was to enjoy the wit and humour of his entertainer.

This person, who was a resident at Stratford, although not a native
there, was a most singular compound. He was possessed of some property
in the town; but his expenditure was generally greater than his means
warranted, and he was consequently obliged often to eke out his funds by
laying his companions under contribution. He was ever in difficulties,
and yet ever jovial, hospitable, and with his friends around him. His
eccentricity, his wit, and his follies were a continual feast to young
Shakespeare; his absurdities, and the scrapes he got into, a continual
tax upon his intimates to get him respectably clear of. By the sober and
puritanical of the townsfolk he was detested, for he made them the
subject of his biting jests. By the respectable citizen he was feared as
an intimate, for his tongue was a continual libel upon all his
acquaintance. By the more light-hearted and careless, who laughed _with_
him and _at_ him, he was tolerated, and even sought after, for his
amusing qualities.

In his person, the man was its singular as in his disposition--fat, and
unwieldy in figure; he was upwards of six feet in height, with a round
ruddy face, in which the laughing features were lost amidst the
puffed-out cheeks and double chin--a sort of figure and face, which
looked as if the owner had been fat and full of jollity at the time of
his birth, and gone on increasing up to his present age.

What was the history of his former life none could tell, for he had come
a stranger to the town. Some said, however, that in his youth he had
been engaged in the wars of the Netherlands, and cashiered for
cowardice; others affirmed that he was the discarded steward of some
noble, dismissed for arrant knavery and dishonest practices; whilst by
others, again, he was said to have been the host of a low tavern,
situated in the purlieus of Whitefriars of London, and, that having
amassed a small competency, he had since pretty well dissipated it, and
was now living at Stratford to be out of the way.

Be that, however, as it may, at the period of our story he resided at a
sort of tavern or hostel, situated in the suburbs of the town, and which
hostel himself and yoke fellows principally occupied, leading a roaring,
rollicking life, to the great scandal of the more steady portions of the
community.

In this society young Shakespeare heard many things which considerably
augmented his store of knowledge. The soldier described "the toil o' the
war," and the abuses of the service he had been in, where "preferment
went by letter and affection." The adventurer told of seas, "whose
yeasty waves confound and swallow navigation up;" of islands full of
noises, and peopled by strange monsters; and the fat host spoke of the
"cities usuries," "the art o' the Court," and the adventures and
intrigues himself had been the hero of in various localities from his
youth upwards.

In proportion to the pleasure young Shakespeare took in this society,
was the dislike entertained for it by his wife; for the character of the
presiding genius of the tavern she was well aware of, together with his
loudness for, and capacity of, imbibing strong liquors, and carrying
them steadily. His professed libertinism, and light opinion of the whole
sex,--his impudent boast of favours received from several of the good
dames of the town, and the various cudgellings he had received from
their husbands--each and all of those matters had been industriously
poured into her ear by her female gossipers, with the additional
information, that the unwieldy gentleman, notwithstanding his unfitness
for such exploits, was much given to walking, or rather riding, by
moonlight; and, with his more active friends, making free with a stray
haunch occasionally, at the expense of the neighbouring gentry. Nay, it
was even affirmed, that some of the midnight excursions of himself and
followers had not been entirely for the purpose of coney-catching and
deer-stealing, but that more than once they had stopped certain
travellers between Coventry and Warwick, and eased them of their cash.

As he was, however, well known to be one of the most arrant cowards that
ever buckled on a rapier, this latter story was for the most part
disbelieved, as far as he was concerned.

Be that as it may, the companionship of the eccentric John Froth, and
his yoke-fellows was not likely to lead a youth of the free,
unsuspicious, and generous disposition of young Shakespeare into any
good employment, and that his wife well knew and as roundly told him of.
Had her advice been well-timed, and gently given, perhaps it might have
produced its effect; but unhappily, the fair Anne possessed a shrewd
temper and little tact.

    "In bed he slept not for her urging it,
    At board he fed not, for her urging it,
    Alone, it was the subject of her theme;
    In company she often glanced at it."

And therefore came it that the man was wretched. In short, his sleep was
hindered by her railings; his head made light, and his meat sauced with
her upbraidings; so that he was driven, for relief, to associate the
more with the very companions his wife was so jealous of.

    "Sweet recreation barred, what doth ensue,
    But moody and dull melancholy--
    Kinsman to grim and comfortless despair;
    The venom clamours of a jealous woman,
    Poison more deadly than a mad dog's tooth."

Perhaps one great charm young Shakespeare felt in the society of his fat
friend, was the faculty he seemed to possess of enjoying every moment of
his life to the utmost. He turned everything to mirth. Nothing could for
a moment damp his spirits, unless his fears for his own personal safety
were aroused; and, even then, he was the more amusing, from the very
absurdity of his apprehensions, labouring, as he did, to persuade those
who so well knew his infirmity, of the heroic nature of his
disposition.

It was, indeed, in consequence of the amusement to be derived from this
latter failing, that he had been once or twice invited by his companions
to join in several of their poaching expeditions. The state of alarm he
had been in, and the difficulties his associates had led him into,
having furnished, even himself, with an endless theme of amusement after
the exploit was over.



CHAPTER XXXII.

THE HOSTEL.


At the present time, when every street and thoroughfare of a country
town has its public-house filled with the noisy refuse of an
overwhelming population, and absolutely roaring with ribaldry, many of
our readers have but a faint idea of the quiet comfort and cozy
appearance of a hostel in the olden time. Its ample kitchen hung around
with articles and implements of the good wife's occupation, the chance
guests, for the most part, assembled in such apartment, and the quiet
retirement of its other rooms, engaged, as they not unfrequently were,
by some well-to-do retired person, half sportsman, half soldier, who
paid his shot weekly, and was dependent upon chance customers, and mine
host, for companionship.

Such guest not unfrequently dubbed himself gentleman, upon the strength
of possessing a half-starved steed and a couple of greyhounds. Sportsman
he was, of course, for every man professed knowledge of, and had a taste
for, field sports, when England was less cultivated, and her woods and
wastes teemed with game.

The tavern we have named as the residence of Master Froth, was called
the Lucy Arms, because upon its sign were displayed the three white pike
fish, or lucies, which had been the cognomen of the knights of
Charlecote from the time of the Crusades downwards.

Inn signs were, indeed, in former days for the most part of an heraldic
character. Many of the town residences of the nobility and the great
ecclesiastics were sometimes called inns, and in the front of them the
family arms displayed. Such inns afterwards became appropriated to the
purpose of the hostel, and the armorial decorations retained, under the
denomination of signs, directed the guest to them as places of
accommodation and refreshment. This we retain even in the present
degenerate age, the signs of the white, red, black, and golden lions of
the Crusades; and the blue boars, golden crosses, swans, dragons, and
dolphins, which ornamented the knightly helmet or shield, now do duty at
the entrance of the beer-shop.

    "Thus chances mock and changes fill the cup of alteration."

It was one evening in the merry month of May, about a year after the
marriage of young Shakespeare, that Jack Froth, and several of his
associates, were assembled at the Lucy Arms.

The apartment in which they were congregated was one which Froth had
appropriated to his own especial use,--a good-sized room, whose windows
looked into the orchard in rear of the hostel, one of those sweet and
verdant orchards peculiar to the time, and which are now, for the most
part, destroyed; but which, in Elizabeth's day, were attached to every
goodly dwelling, or hostel, in a country town.

A half-open door, on one side of the apartment, gave a peep into a
smaller room, in which, as the sun streamed from the lattice-window, its
rays fell upon, and lighted up, the deep red curtains and square-topped
hangings of an antique bed; and at the same time gilded the high-backed
chairs with which the room was furnished.

On the ample hearth of the first-named apartment two enormous
deer-hounds were to be seen, sprawling at full length, their occasional
disturbed sleep, and short sharp bark, shewing that their dreams were of
the woodland and the chase.

The occupants of the room were five in number. They were seated round a
massive oaken table, which placed near the window, gave them a delicious
view of the green and bowery orchard.

The fat and jovial Froth, "the lord o' the feast," as he leaned back in
his strong oaken chair, whilst he occasionally looked out upon the
orchard, listened to the recital of some verses his opposite neighbour
was reading aloud. Seated directly opposite the window was a tall thin
man, of about five-and-twenty years of age, clad in the faded suit of an
officer of pikemen, an enormous rapier tacked to his waist, with dagger
to match. His chair being drawn so close to the table that he sat
bolt-upright, and, as he dallied with the glass he ever and anon carried
to his lips, he also listened with attention to the words of the poem.

Opposite to him sat another man, about thirty years of age, clad in a
tawdry suit, which in our own days would have been shrewdly suspected of
having done duty on the boards of a theatre. Beside him, with apron
doffed, and his cap thrown aside, sat mine host of the tavern--a portly
and jolly-looking companion.

Such was the party assembled, and, as the reader finished the fragment
of verse, his hearers seemed so much interested in its recital that for
some moments there was a pause of expectation. It was like the expiring
sound of sweet music, which has a soothing effect upon the listener,
making him long for a renewal of the melody.

"There is more?" said Froth, inquiringly, as he turned his eye upon the
reader.

"No more have I written," said young Shakespeare, who was indeed the
reader of the poetry; "nor deemed I this deformed offspring of my brain
worthy of notice."

"Then I pr'ythee, good William," said Froth, "repair thy voice by
another draught of Canary, and give the two first verses over again."

"Has my verse, then, so much pleased you?" inquired Shakespeare.

"It hath more than pleased, it has delighted me," said Froth; "so to't
again, lad."

"Two verses you shall have," said Shakespeare, smiling, "but no more."
And he again read from his manuscript the following lines of a poem he
had that morning commenced writing,--

    "Even as the sun with purple-coloured face--"

"'Fore gad, bully host," interrupted Froth, "but thy countenance at this
moment, round, fiery, and covered with huge angry welks and knobs, must
have suggested that line. Was't not so, sweet William; didst thou not
call the sun's face purple-coloured from the reflection of our host's
mulberry visage?"

"Go to, go to," said the host; "'fore gad, if my face took but a tithe
of the good vivers to keep it in colour that thine doth, I were
altogether a ruined landlord."

"I cry you mercy, good William," said Froth; "proceed with thy stanzas.
Mine host here is one of those prating knaves who would rather talk than
listen, let who will be the orator."

And the poet again read from his manuscript,--

    "Even as the sun with purple-coloured face
      Had ta'en his last leave of the weeping morn,
    Rose cheeked, Adonis hied him to the chase;
      Hunting he loved, but love he laugh'd to scorn.
    Sick-thoughted Venus makes amain unto him,
    And, like a bold-faced suitor, 'gins to woo him.
    'Thrice fairer than myself'--thus she begun;
      'The field's chief flower, sweet above compare,
    Stain to all nymphs, more lovely than a man,
     More white and red than doves or roses are.
    Nature that made thee with herself at strife,
    Saith that the world hath ending with thy life.'"

"And how call ye the poem?" inquired Froth, as young Shakespeare
finished the second verse, and then thrust the paper into the breast of
his doublet.

"I think of calling it 'Venus and Adonis,'" he said, "for fault of a
better name."

"Call it what thou wilt, lad," said Froth, "'tis a glorious
commencement. Like everything else thou dost, 'tis excellent."

"Ha, ha," said Pierce Caliver, "thou art full of thy ropery, Froth; thou
word'st him, thou word'st him. See, he blusheth at thy praise."

"I word him not, but as I mean," said Froth; "an his cheek blusheth,
'tis more than thine was ever guilty of. I hate flattery as I hate an
unfilled flasket in the woodlands at midnight. He hath but one fault,
that lad."

"Ah, a fault," said Caliver, "can Will Shakespeare own a fault in thy
eyes? I pr'ythee let's hear it."

"Nay, 'tis not a fault, either, 'tis a misfortune," said Froth, "he's
married."

"Gad-a-mercy, that is indeed a scrape to get into!" said Ralph Careless.
"I have been twice across the Atlantic, escaped shipwreck as often, been
left for dead amongst the burning huts of a Spanish settlement; and yet
have I never had such an escape as when I offered marriage to the Widow
Crooke, and she altered her mind a week before the day fixed."

"That widow must be worthy looking on too," said Froth; "for truly her
own escape exceedeth all thine put together."

"How so?" said Careless.

"In escaping from thee," returned Froth.

"Nay, the evil-favoured old hag," said Careless; "but she escaped not
altogether scot-free either, since I drew a handsome forfeit ere I
consented to let her break off."

"Had she given thee all she possessed," said Froth, "so she kept herself
free of thee, she had the luck on't; but, come, the very name of
marriage hath made our good William here a melancholy man. Oh! 'tis
monstrous that tying together of couples for life, to claw and tear like
a brace of tabbies cast over a clothes' line! Said I well, William? Why,
fill again, and pass the flasket."

"Nay," said Shakespeare, "wooing, wedding, and repenting is, after all,
but a Scotch jig, a measure, and a cinque pace. The first suit is hot
and hasty, like a Scotch jig, and full as fantastical; the wedding
mannerly and modest;[13] and then comes repentance, and with his two
logs fallen into a cinque pace, faster and faster, till he sink into his
grave."

[Footnote 13: "Much ado about Nothing."]

"Methinks, bullies," said the Host, "since we are on the subject of
matrimony, that we must quaff a health for the nonce. Heard'st thou not
that our good William here is the honoured father of a fair son--a
goodly boy?"

"Ah, by St. Jago and charge Spain!" said Caliver, "and is it so? Why,
then fill to the brim, my masters all;" and the health of the infant was
pledged in flowing bumpers of Canary. After which, the long-necked
glasses were flourished to a loud huzza, and being cast overhead,
smashed upon the rushes with which the apartment was strewed.

"And now," said Froth, "thou shalt give us a song, William--a song of
thine own, for what man amidst us could produce a verse worthy of thee
to sing? Come, warble, and let it be to thine own words, Will."

"A song--a song!" said Caliver; "give us one, William, in praise of the
wine-cup."

Shakespeare smiled, and then sang:

    "Come, thou monarch of the vine,
    Plumpy Bacchus, with pink eyne;
    In thy vats our cares be drown'd,
    With thy grapes our hairs be crown'd:
    Cup us, till the world go round,
    Cup us, till the world go round."

Whilst the chorus was ringing out, till every room in the hostel echoed
with it, another individual entered the apartment.

The new comer was a tall, good-looking youth, clad in a worn leathern
jerkin, which seemed as if it had endured the worst spite of the
elements, and done duty in the woods for many years. His russet boots
were drawn up to the thigh, and his well-worn wide-brimmed beaver was
without feather or ornament, except a large assortment of fish-hooks,
with the horse-hair twisted around it. In short, he looked what he
really was--a dissolute hanger-on of a country town, and yet a good
fellow withal, one given to the sports of the field, without means or
license to pursue them--one of Diana's foresters, a poacher, a professed
deer-stealer.

"You keep a goodly revel here, my masters," said he, drawing a chair,
and seating himself unceremoniously at the table.

"Ha! what, Diccon Snare, is it thou, thou wandering knight of the hollow
woods?" said Froth. "By my troth, thou art welcome; fill thyself a
chalice for the nonce. How goes all at Warwick?"

"I scarcely know," said Snare, "since I have not been there for some
days. If I have news at all, it is of these parts, and farther afield.
There is work for you to-night an ye listen. The old Pike of Charlecote
hath ridden forth, and taken in his train some thirty followers. The
moon is up to be sure, but then the woodlands are but badly watched."

"And how know'st thou this, thou sworn enemy of an outlying stag?"
inquired Shakespeare.

"How know I it? Why, from sure intelligence, and careful watching. How
else should I know my trade?"

"Nay, thou hast served a pretty apprenticeship to the poaching trade,
Diccon, that's certain," said Froth, "as the hangman's brand can
testify! And what takes Sir Thomas to town with so strong an escort?"

"It seems there is more trouble at Court about the Queen of Scots," said
Snare, "and her name is again mixed up with all sorts of intrigues and
plots against our Queen. My Lord of Leicester hath stroked the beard of
consideration upon the matter, and set on foot an association for the
nonce. They are sworn keepers of the Queen's safety in life, and doubly
sworn to revenge her death, should she fall by these malignant
conspirators. A great many of the gentry around have gone up to join in
this association, whilst the Queen of Scots is again placed in more
severe keeping."

"Ha!" said Froth, "I heard somewhat of this before; and so--"

"And so," continued Snare, "Sir Thomas in great state hath set forth
towards town, and sleeps to-night at Kenilworth, where the great
Bear-ward at present lies."

"So that several of his foresters follow in his train, eh! is't so?"

"They do; he rides in state, for, as thou knowest, 'tis the pride of the
old Pike to be followed by a whole troop. I saw him pass along the road
as I lay perdue in the covert. Twenty of his fellows in coat and badge,
with green and yellow feathers in their hats,[14] and as many falconers
to make up the train."

[Footnote 14: People of condition in the country generally rode with
numerous followers at the period.]

"And that in truth makes a fair field for us," said Shakespeare. "What
say ye, my masters all? Shall we be minions of the moon to-night? Shall
we strike a buck at Charlecote?"

To men of the wild and peculiar disposition of the assembled party,
nothing could be more pleasant than an excursion of the sort.

A midnight visit to the woodlands was by no means an uncommon
circumstance in their lives; but hitherto they had pursued their sport
in localities somewhat more removed from the town in which they dwelt.
To the bold and imaginative Shakespeare, as his eye glanced into the
moonlit orchard, the excursion had charms known only to himself. He had
once or twice before watched the deer in the glades of Fulbrook, and he
now joined in the expedition heart and hand.

Preparations were accordingly forthwith commenced, and the entire party
made themselves ready for an exploit, which in those days, and with such
men, was attended with something more of circumstance than in our own.

In the first place, a large closet in the bedchamber of the portly Froth
was ransacked for such change of garment as was necessary for pushing
through the more thick and tangled cover. Cross-bows and other weapons
of the chase were then lugged out, and, amongst other articles, a sort
of theatrical dress was produced; and being carefully packed up, was
strapped upon the shoulder of Diccon Snare, to be used as occasion might
serve.

This latter article of apparel had been purloined from the wardrobe of a
company of masquers, who were in the habit of visiting Stratford. It was
neither more nor less than the dress of "_Mors, or dreary Death_," a
character then enacting in one of the tedious moral plays of the period.

It was fashioned so as to represent a skeleton; and seen in the
woodlands in the night, would be likely to scare a forester out of his
wits, and consequently, should the party be molested during their
exploit, enables them to escape without collision or discovery.

By the time the party had indued their forest gear, the curfew
proclaimed that it was time for them to set out; and once more seating
themselves round the board, they arranged their plan of proceedings.

"Now, my masters all," said Froth, "a cup to hearten us, and another to
the success of our venture, and then to horse."

"Let him whose courage fails remain here," said Caliver; "and let those
to horse whose feet cannot prop up their bodies."

"No scoffing, lads," said Froth. "Thou knowest I am not able to travel
on foot so far, or so fast as thou art; but in the field, I have twice
thy skill at a shot."

"I have heard thee say so often," said Caliver. "To-night I hope to see
a specimen of thy skill."

"Thus be it, then," said Snare. "You and I, Will Shakespeare will go
straight to Charlecote Park. By 'ur Lady! we'll strike the best buck in
the herd. You, Froth, being mounted, will accompany us, and remain
without the park in readiness to receive the deer when we have struck
it. You, Careless and Caliver, will walk apart lower down, and give us
notice in case of approach."

"I like not that lying-out work, and alone too," said Froth. "The last
time I played receiver on Wolvey Heath, I was nearly captured. He that
dies a martyr, 'tis said, proves that he is not a knave. But, methinks,
'tis not so sure that he proves himself no fool."

"And wherefore art thou and Will Shakespeare to have the best of the
sport?" said Careless. "Methinks, since you say the chase is left to
take care of itself to-night, we might all four be strikers, and make a
good venture on't."

"Nay," said Snare, "be it as you will. Will Shakespeare here is sound in
wind and limb. You are both of ye but broken-down hacks at best, and, if
you take my advice, will lie perdue without the palings; for, an we be
molested, we shall have a smart run for it, I promise ye."

Having made their arrangements and laid the plot of their proceedings,
the party soon after divided, and left the hostel by different doors.
Shakespeare, Snare, and Froth, the latter mounted on horseback, and
disguised in a sort of countryman's frock, took the road; whilst Caliver
and Careless, leaving by the back door, crossed the orchard, and making
a slight detour to the right, joined them about a mile from the town.

Scarcely had the party left the Lucy Arms a quarter of an hour ere
Pouncet Grasp, accompanied by Master Doubletongue and a couple of
ill-looking companions, entered it.

"Ah," said Grasp, peering about, and snifting like a terrier dog in
search of a rabbit; "ah, Host, is your honoured guest, Master John
Froth, within?"

The host of the Lucy Arms had an instinctive dread and a most
unalterable dislike to the lawyer. He considered a visit from him little
inferior in omen to that of a visit from the plague. He accordingly
busied himself about some matter or other, and pretended not to observe
Grasp.

"Not within?--eh, Host?" said the latter, making a sign to his two
attendants, who immediately planted themselves at the front and back
doors of the premises. "I am sorely unlucky in my visits. Host. An it
please you, permit me to observe _myself_ if Master John Froth hath in
reality gone abroad."

"Hast thou business, Master Grasp," inquired the Host, "with mine
honoured guest to-night? If so, I take it the best way would be to
confide it to me, or call again. I have said it: Master John Froth
_hath_ gone forth to-night."

"Business," said Grasp; "ah, to be sure; 'business, like time, stays for
no man,' as the saying goes. Why, yes, I have a slight trifle of
business; albeit I may not confide it to thee. Certes, I _will_ call
again. Wilt thou meantime draw me a tankard ere I depart?"

Whilst the host busied himself in drawing the liquor called for, and
which he immediately set about, in the hope of speedily getting rid of
the trio, Grasp sauntered into the passage, and peeped into the private
apartment of Froth, in order to be sure he was really out, and then
whispered to his two neighbours to make a shew of leaving the house by
the back way, and quietly conceal themselves in the orchard.

That done, he returned to the kitchen, drank off his liquor, and bade
the host good night.

Scarce had he gone a dozen paces, however, ere he returned stealthily,
and watching without the window till the host for some purpose left the
kitchen, he very quietly re-entered it, and concealed himself there.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

THE DEER STEALERS.


The Lucy family we have already had occasion to notice as descended from
an ancient and honourable house. They might indeed say with Christopher
Sly--"We came in with Richard Conqueror," since they have in truth,
occupied an important position in England for many centuries.

The mansion of Charlecote, at the period of our story, stood in the
midst of a park or chase much greater in extent than at the present
time.

The ground plan of the building forms in shape the Roman capital letter
E, perhaps in compliment to the virgin Queen, with whose arms it is
decorated. The soft and gentle Avon gliding at the base, and the park,
which immediately surrounded the building, was shadowed by oaks of great
age, which gradually gave place to brake and thicket, almost
impenetrable in some parts to aught save the hound or the game he
followed. This again was relieved at intervals by open spaces of great
beauty, in which the fern grew in wild luxuriance, and hundreds of brood
short-stemmed oaks, at distant intervals, threw their huge branches over
the green surface, as if rejoicing in their unconfined luxuriance. In
such spots, so bright and fresh in the pale light of the moon, the fern
decked with liquid dew, and the branches of the trees glittering with
bright drops, the fairies might well be imagined to hold their
sequestered revels.

Every glade and bosky bourne, every tree and fern-clad undulation, was a
scene peculiarly adapted to the elfin and the fay. They seemed to tell,
in their sweetness, and their unmolested seclusion, of the innocent
ages of an early world, when faun and satyr, and nymph and dryad,
revelled in the open glade, or reposed on the mossed bank beneath the
sheltering boughs.

Stealthily, and with the utmost caution, not a word even whispered, but
communicating to each other by signs as they advanced, young Shakespeare
and Diccon Snare slowly emerged from the more thick cover upon one of
these picturesque glades, and took their stand behind a huge oak--

    "An oak whose boughs were moss'd with age,
    And big top bald with dry antiquity."

"We near the herd," said Shakespeare, in a gentle whisper to his
companion.

"We do so," said Snare, "a few yards more and we shall get within shot,
thanks to our care in gaming the wind, and, look, ye, there they be! You
can just see their antlered heads above the long white grass in yonder
open space."

"We must be wary in our approach," said Shakespeare, in a whisper;
"tread softly, that the blind mole may not hear a footfall."

"'Twere best to lay along and drag ourselves to yonder blasted oak,"
said Snare. "Be careful and keep where the fern is less thick. The
slightest unnatural movement of the herbage, and they are off."

So saying, Snare lay flat on the ground, and began to worm himself
towards the tree he had mentioned, Shakespeare doing the same and
following close in his wake; and so quietly and cautiously did they
continue their serpent-like course, that a looker-on would hardly have
discovered the track they took except by the occasional movements of the
long grass and fern.

Every now and then the crafty Snare lay perfectly quiet for a few
moments, and then cautiously raising his bare head, looked forth to see
if the herd were still unconscious of their approach.

Nothing could be more lovely than the entire scene, as it was looked
upon by Shakespeare. Before and around him lay the wild chase, the deer
couched "in their own confines," and nearly hidden in the long thick
grass of ages--himself in a spot which, except under the peculiar
circumstance in which he sought it, he could scarce have beheld the game
so near,--those magnificent and antlered monarchs of waste, be it
remembered. For in Elizabeth's day, and in the extensive parks of the
great, the stag was a wilder and fiercer creature than the same animal
domesticated as they are, from the confined space in which they are
necessarily kept.

The danger attendant on the situation also lent its charm to one of his
bold and ardent spirit. As his eye glanced amidst the magnificent
scenery, his imagination was instantly carried back to the days of the
early English kings, when Britain was one entire forest, waste or wold;
and when, even at an after period, the conquering Norman had lain waste
whole districts to give room for the chase. Then again, with the
shifting change of thought, his imagination bodied forth the fabled
beings of an earlier age. The mossed carpet on which he stood, the
venerable trees around, the sweet scent of the fern, and the perfumed
air of the fresh forest, as the dews of summer night fell around him,
suggested those magnificent thoughts, peculiar to himself, and which in
after life produced descriptions unequalled for beauty in any age. He
was

    "With Hercules and Cadmus,
    When in a wood of Crete they bay'd the bear
    With hounds of Sparta.
          Besides the groves,
    The skies, the fountains, every region near
    Seemed all one mutual cry."

Meantime whilst the mind of Shakespeare was impressed with the beauty of
the situation, as well as interested in the sport, the less imaginative
Snare, with his whole soul intent upon slaughter, and with all the
cunning of his craft, his body flattened against the huge tree, one hand
keeping his companion back, the other grasping his cross-bow, again
cautiously peered out into the glade before him.

This was a moment of intense interest to the deer-stealers. They found
themselves so close upon the wild and magnificent animals that they
could see their slightest movement.

There is indeed, something inexpressibly exciting to the hunter or the
deer stalker in thus finding himself in the midst of the herd, a spy
upon them in their security, conscious at the same time that the
slightest movement or mistake on his own part will ruin the hours of
toil he has previously spent in gaining his position.

A magnificent stag lay a little to the right, and nearest to
Shakespeare; he touched his companion lightly on the shoulder, and by a
sign signified that he meant to fire at it.

Snare stretched his neck and peeped over his shoulder. As he did so,
Shakespeare saw, that with the instinctive knowledge and jealousy of
their nature, the herd were becoming aware that danger was in their
close vicinity.

In an instant their heads were thrown back, the next moment Snare heard
at some distance that short guttural noise, so peculiar to the deer at
particular seasons of the year, and as the splendid animal upon which
Shakespeare had fixed his eye caught the sound, it leaped to its feet
and bounded from the spot, the whole herd in an instant also flying like
the wind towards the cover, seemed to vanish into the mists of night;
but ere his companion could stay his hand, Shakespeare had raised his
bow to his shoulder and fired. The shot struck the deer just behind the
shoulder, and the animal bounding into the air, fell struggling amongst
the fern.

"Hark!" said Snare, as the same guttural sounds were again heard in the
woods. "You should not have fired. 'Tis the signal from our comrades.
The keepers are at hand."

"May the fiend take them," said Shakespeare.

"So say I," returned Snare; "but an we take not especial care, they will
take us; for look ye, the startled herd will sweep by them yonder, and
they will be upon us anon; and see, that huge beast is kicking and
struggling like a dying ox,--quick, good William, strike roundly in and
cut his throat."

So saying, Snare gave all his attention to the direction in which the
sounds came, whilst Shakespeare, dashing upon the stag, seized the
animal by the horns. There was then a short and desperate struggle, and
with his sharp dagger he cut the creature's throat. He then as swiftly
rejoined his companion. Scarcely had he done so ere they were both aware
of the approach of the keepers, who having observed the affrighted herd,
and at the same time noticed the peculiar sounds given by the watchers,
and which were somewhat out of season, came directly upon them.

"We might easily shew them a clean pair of heels, and join the bulky
Froth without the palings," whispered Snare; "but we must have yonder
beast at all hazards; and we can but make a fight of it if it come to
the worst. Down with thee, good Will, flat in the fern. Here they
come--I see them plainly in yonder glade." So saying, Snare threw
himself on the ground close beside Shakespeare, and immediately
divesting himself of his jerkin and hat, rose up again a most grisly
object--neither more nor less than Mors, or Dreary Death. Meanwhile the
rangers came quickly on, four in number, and each armed with cross-bows
and a short barbed, spear.

They advanced to within about a bow-shot from the tree behind which
Snare and Shakespeare were concealed, when the former, slowly gliding
from behind its stern, advanced directly upon them.

The first sight of such an apparition, seen but indistinctly amongst the
huge boughs, brought the whole party to a stand. They but half made out
its hideous outline, when it emerged into the clear moonlight, and
seemed gliding upon them, "a bare-ribbed death, horrible to sight." To
say the keepers were frightened would be to say little. They were at
first paralysed, and then turning, they fled like the wind; whilst Snare
immediately again threw himself flat on his face, and was lost to sight
amongst the fern; so that, as the keepers looked back whilst they fled,
the apparition had apparently vanished into the earth.

Rejoining Shakespeare, Snare now resumed his outward garment; and taking
advantage of the panic, both hastily approached the deer, and securing
its legs, fastened them on a quarter-staff which they had supported on
their shoulders, they then hastened across the glade.

So soon as they had gained the park palings, and which at this period,
and at this part, ran across a deep sandy lane, they threw down their
burden; and casting themselves on the ground to regain breath after
their rapid flight, listened attentively. In a few moments a huge
broad-backed countryman, clad in the loose frock of a miller's man,
mounted upon a strong-jointed horse, and carrying an empty sack on the
pommel of the saddle, rode past.

"You ride late, Master Miller," said Shakespeare, as he clambered over
the palings.

"Nay; rather I ride early, Master Forester," returned the other. "Hast
anything for the mill to-night?"

"I have, good Froth," said Shakespeare; "but is there a clear coast?"

"By the mass! I think there be. Be quick, however, for three of Sir
Thomas's fellows have passed this spot not a quarter of an hour back."

"Good!" said Shakespeare. "Then hand me thy meal bag." And the horseman
threw his sack to Shakespeare, as Snare at the same moment heaved the
carcase of the deer over the paling, and then following himself, the
sack was quickly drawn over the body of the deer, and it was thrown
across the horse, the trio making the best of their way along the deep
sandy lane towards Stratford.

As they emerged from the lane upon a rushy mead, and left the boundary
of the park, a low whistle was heard, which they answered. Soon
afterwards they were joined by their companions, and enveloped in mists
of the swampy ground they traversed.

It was about the hour when "night is at odds with morning which is
which" that the party we have before seen assembled at the Lucy Arms
once more entered its hospitable doors. Quietly, and with considerable
caution, however, they stole in, one of them bearing upon his shoulders,
nay, round his neck as it were, with the hind and fore legs protruding
before him, the carcase of a goodly stag. This latter bent his tall
form, as he was ushered into the kitchen of the hostel, and threw his
heavy burthen upon the floor, whilst his companions and mine host, by
the light of the fire, and in great glee, proceeded to examine it.

"By 'ur Lady, a fine beast," said the host. "Why, Will Shakespeare, this
is even a better night's work than when you shot that beast in
Fulbrook."

"A stag of ten, my masters all," said Froth. "'Fore gad, I am well nigh
exhausted with long fasting and sharp watching. A cup of wine, mine
host, a cup of wine to Sir Thomas Lucy's health."

Whilst the host produced his wine, and Froth and Careless seated
themselves on the settle beneath the chimney, Snare and Shakespeare were
busily engaged in skinning the stag, which having quickly accomplished,
they as speedily cut it up, and disposed of the several portions in such
places of security and concealment us the host pointed out. After which,
the skin and the antlered head were thrust into the meal-bag, and
carried into the orchard, where Shakespeare dug a hole and buried it.

That done they returned to the kitchen, and mine host having spread a
table and furnished it with liquors, some rashers were cut from the
carcase of the door, and fried, and eaten with a relish only known to
men who had spent a night in the forest glades watching and killing the
stag from which they were taken.

"By 'ur Lady, my lads," said Froth, as he washed down these delicious
morsels, hot from the fire, with large draughts of mine host's best ale,
"this is the best part of the night's work. I like not that lonely
watching beneath the moon's rays. Give me the tankard and a savoury
collop after the deed is done, and spare me the toil of the action. And
yet, lads, an I had met yonder caitiff-keepers, I should have found them
in work, I promise ye."

"No doubt," said Caliver; "it would have taken them all four to have
carried thy fat paunch to the cage."

"I taken to the cage!" said Froth, "I would have cudgelled them to
mummy."

"Ha, Cavaliere," said the host, "thou would'st have smote, thou would'st
have feined, thou would'st have traversed, eh, ere limbo should have
held thy portly body? And that reminds me, Lawyer Grasp, with two imps
of the evil one, was here to-night inquiring for thee."

"Ah!" said Froth, turning rather blank, and setting down the tankard.
"The peaking knave, then, hath entered the action against me for Master
Doubletongue's debt. Would I had been at home, my lads, we would have
tossed the caitiff in a blanket."

"Nay, Host," said Pierce Caliver, "I had rather myself not come in
contact with that Grasp; by the same token, I owe moneys too. Therefore
keep fast your doors while I am within them."

"My hand upon it," said the host; "I will keep all fast till noon; and
none shall have egress or regress. Said I well, lads, eh?"

"You did, Host," said Careless, "for I, too, would as lief walk with the
receipt of fernseed by daylight."

"And now, my lads all," said Snare, "let us have one song, and then a
nap; after that to seek our several destinations. I am for Warwick when
day breaks."

"And I for Monkspath," said Careless.

"And I for Stoneleigh," said Caliver.

"And I for home," said Shakespeare, with a look of mock solemnity,
"where----"

"Where thou wilt be finely clapper-clawed for being out all night," said
the host. "Such it is to be a married man--ha! ha! A young man married
is a man that's marred. But truly, Will, thou art not yet married; thou
canst hit a buck by moonlight with the best of us; so, I pry'thee, give
us that song of thine about the horns, and we'll all join in chorus."

Shakespeare accordingly commenced the following glee. Snare and the
others taking part, and joining chorus:--

    _Shak._   What shall he have that killed the deer?[15]
    _Snare._  His leather skin and horns to wear.
    _Shak._   Then sing him home.
      _Chorus._   Take thou no scorn, to wear the horn,
                       It was a crest ere thou wast born,
    _Shak._   Thy father's father wore it.
    _Snare._  And thy own father bore it.
      _Chorus._   The horn, the horn, the lusty horn,
                       Is not a thing to laugh to scorn.

[Footnote 15: "As you like it."]

The first faint light of the breaking dawn, as it gradually appeared
through the diamond-paned window, found the entire party wrapped in
slumber.

The fat and jovial Froth, with his huge legs stretched out before him,
his portly body thrown back, and the tankard fast-clutched in his hand,
showed by his apoplectic breathing, the heaviness of his slumbers.

Shakespeare, somewhat fatigued by the night's exertions, sat opposite,
with his head on his folded arms.

Snare was down full length before the expired fire upon the hearth; and
the others were disposed on either side.

Not a sound was heard, except the prolonged chorus of the sleepers, and
the chirping of the cricket; when from beneath a large table at the
farther end of the kitchen, and where he had lain concealed, the head of
Pouncet Grasp was protruded. Stealthily, and with the greatest caution,
he listened to the heavy breathing of the sleepers. He then as carefully
emerged from his hiding-place, and stole on tip-toe towards the party,
identifying each individual as he did so, and putting down his name in a
small tablet he drew from the breast of his doublet.

"Oh, oh," he whispered to himself, as he closed the tablets, after
writing down the name of William Shakespeare; "here is a precious nest
of ye."

"Ah! ah!" he continued, as he stepped to the door, and carefully opening
it, looked back ere he departed. "Here's a delicious job for a man to
stumble upon! A good night's work you have made on't, Master William
Shakespeare, have ye? Yes, and a precious piece of work have ye all made
on't. A Star-Chamber matter will Sir Thomas make of this, as sure as my
name is Grasp." So saying, he quietly opened the back door, and stole
out to join the followers whom he had left in the orchard.

"Shall I call the other men, and make the capture, Master Grasp?"
inquired one of his myrmidons in a whisper. "Not to-night, good Giles,"
said the lawyer. "By no means to-night. There is a precious fellowship
within there; and they may capture us! Besides, I have found out a
plot--a monstrous plot--a damnable plot--and yet a lovely plot--a most
sweet piece of villany!"

"A monstrous plot!" said the constable; "What is't, another conspiracy
to murder the Queen?"

"Worse," said Grasp. "Now, listen and perpend. Thou knowest Sir Thomas
Lucy hath of late lost more than one deer?"

"I do," said the constable.

"Well, an he hath lost them, I have found them."

"Where?" eagerly inquired the constable.

"Here, in this veritable inn," said Grasp.

"And when?" inquired the constable.

"Why, now, even now: go to--see what it is to bear a brain."

"Nay, then, Master Grasp," said the constable, "if the case, I also have
a discovery to tell of."

"Ah!" said Grasp, "what is it?"

"Whilst we lay perdue in yonder corner of the orchard. But, stay, dost
see that tree there with the spade against it?"

"I do," said Grasp, eagerly.

"With that spade, and under the third tree in line therewith, did Will
Shakespeare dig a hole this night, and into that hole did Diccon Snare
bury a something concealed in a sack."

"Ha! say'st thou; by my faith the skin of the stolen deer," said Grasp,
"as I'm a lawyer. Let us mark the tree; and now, my lads, I have ye
emmeshed in a lovely web. No noise, ye knaves," he continued to his men,
"but get through the hedge and away."

"Ha! ha! Master William Shakespeare," he said, as he followed his two
ill-looking myrmidons. "Now, will I to Sir Thomas Lucy, of Charlecote,
knight and magistrate, and then will we let the law loose upon ye."



CHAPTER XXXIV.

THE ADVENTURE.


Our situation as recorder of events connected with this history, whilst
it enables us to look from an elevated position upon those connected
with our story, enables us also to transport our readers, with a
thought, from pole to pole. Nay, we can even rival the swift flight of
Puck, if we so will it, and "put a girdle round about the earth in
somewhat less than forty minutes."

In virtue of this power, we therefore take leave to transport our
readers upon the "sightless couriers of the air," and bid them look down
upon the main of waters several thousand miles from the scene of our
last chapter--even to the watery wastes which wash the coast of Florida.

A small speck--an atom--is seen slowly and laboriously making its way
over the broad waves of the Atlantic. Steadily and beautifully, as we
obtain a nearer view, does she seem to mount upon the rolling surge, and
then again sink down into the vale of waters, almost lost to sight
between the liquid mountains which follow each other in succession,
apparently from end to end of the world.

How awfully grand is the situation! How curious to consider is the
intellect, courage, and perseverance of those who guide that barque
through such an unknown waste! The dreadful winds roaring above them,
and beneath the multitudinous waters descending, "where fathom line
would never find the ground," one touch of an unseen rock, one bolt
starting in the vessel's hull, one unmarked and uncared-for blast of
wind, one spark alighting in a crevice, and that vessel and all that it
contains, unknown, unseen, is resolved into the vast tide, and washed
amidst the atoms contained in its dark waters. Months have passed since
the Falcon left the river which flows up to that old Dutch-built Cinque
Port where our readers may remember to have last seen her. Steadily hath
the wanderer held on day after day, through fair and foul, into the dark
waste, alone, like some atom upon the surface, and still breasting the
wave, as if eternity was before her in those rolling seas.

Strange that the spirit of adventure should sustain men in such a
hopeless-looking wilderness! That the desire of finding new worlds, or
their greed after gold, should take them from all they hold dear in
their own land. Such, however, is the motive which actuates the major
part of the crew of that labouring barque, whilst to one alone amongst
them, and who seems the chief of the party, the secret spring which is
indeed the prime mover of the adventure, is love.

The youthful Count, then, whilst he leads on his followers under the
idea of new discoveries, great gains, and hatred of the Spaniard, is, in
truth, seeking for one who has either perished by wreck or starvation,
or is still living in hopeless abandonment or captivity, somewhere
amongst these far-away seas.

One only confidant is aware of the secret motive, and that person is our
old acquaintance Martin. If then we look within the hull of this small
craft, we shall find its interior peopled by some sixty stern-looking
and bearded wanderers, high in courage, stern in resolve, the captain
and crew who work the vessel, the eccentric and faithful Martin, and one
female in disguise, the latter "a count of wealth as well as quality,"
to all appearance, and who, as proprietor of the vessel and loader of
the expedition, seeks ostensibly but to pursue his love of adventure.

In consequence of the inferiority of size, form, and fashion of this
vessel, and the unknown ocean they traverse, the Falcon and her warlike
fraughtage have boon boating about for many a weary week.

It was after being exposed to one of the fearful hurricanes so frequent
in these seas, that we now look upon the Falcon and her devoted crew.
Tempest-tossed as they had been for some weeks, to their great relief
they at length began to find themselves approaching land, and by the
delicious fragrance with which the air was loaded--an air which seemed
as if it blew from some garden abounding with sweet flowers--they found
themselves amongst "the still vext Bermothees," where they resolved to
remain for a short time in order to refit.

Strange and unnatural appearances, however, whilst in this, as it first
seemed, region of paradise, so astonished the sailors, that after a
brief sojourn, the Count was necessitated to hasten his departure--

    "The Isle seemed full of noises,
    Sounds and sweet airs, that gave delight, and hurt not."

The sailors, too, with characteristic superstition, declared they heard
strange voices commanding them to leave the shore,[16] and, as if to
enforce their orders, a dreadful storm of thunder and lightning seemed
to rend the very heavens, and darkness settled as a pall around them.
Fearful shapes too were said to glare through the murky atmosphere
around the ship, and the apparition of the ominous flame, called by
seamen "Castor and Pollux," flitted above the mast. These portents were
the prelude to a yet more tremendous storm, which threatening to swallow
up the little vessel, eventually drove her on an island which runs
parallel nearly to the coast of Carolina.

[Footnote 16: Such an account was in reality given by the adventurers
who sailed with Sir Humphrey Gilbert, the father of our plantations, and
the brother of Sir Walter Raleigh, and who was lost in the storm
following the portentous sounds we have described. Might not this very
incident have suggested to Shakespeare the description of the island in
the "Tempest."]

The Count here disembarked, and refreshed his followers, by rest amidst
woods and groves of tall cedar trees, around whose trunks wild vines
hung in festoons, and the grape seemed so natural to the soil, that the
clusters covered the ground and dipt into the ocean.

Again they put to sea, and again they made a strange land filled with
new wonders. Here, whilst the adventurers sought the interior of a
country they had been led to believe contained cities in which the
houses were studded with pearl, the Count and his immediate attendants
sought the ruined colony from which Drake had carried off the remnant of
followers, previously left by Sir Walter Raleigh. "They after riches
hunt; he after love." The dangers and difficulties encountered by both
parties it would be difficult to picture; for hunger, heat, wounds, and
disease were the portion of the adventurers of Elizabeth's day. Through
gloomy swamps they penetrated, and through interminable forests they
hewed their way. Many were pierced by the poisoned shaft of the Indian,
many died of despair, and many were the victims of serpents, reptiles,
and savage beasts; whilst others again died of loathsome diseases
unknown in their native land.

Still the Count, the faithful Martin, and their immediate followers held
on. They had gained some tidings by which they learnt that it party of
wrecked seamen had been carried captive by the natives to a city in the
interior of the country; and they resolved to reach them, or perish in
the attempt.

'Twas indeed an edifying sight to behold the stripling youth who led
that small band. One evidently nurtured in luxury and ease, enduring the
extremity of danger, fatigue, hardship, and privation, and lending a
fire to his jaded followers by his heroic fortitude and example. What
mattered it him, that for days hundreds of half-naked Indians, with
their clubs and bows, hovered around his mail-clad band. One moment
swarming to the close attack, the next showering flights of arrows from
the distance. Still himself and party were resolved to penetrate to the
rescue of their countrymen or die; and the little band at length reached
the place they sought.

'Twas lucky for the young Count that he had steeled his mind to bear
disappointment when he donned the light cuirass which adorned his
breast; for himself and followers, on arriving at the capital of the
country, found literally nothing to repay their toil. In place of
boundless wealth and temples of the sun, the adventurers found a
wretched Indian town, which had been sacked and partially burned by a
detachment of Spanish soldiers, and who had apparently carried off those
they sought as prisoners to their ship.

Here again, therefore, the Christian fortitude of the young Count
supported his followers. "Murmur at nothing, comrades," he said. "If our
ills are repairable, it is ungrateful; if otherwise, it is vain. There
is comfort yet. The Spaniard is assailable, and the Falcon swift of
pinion; we will return, embark, and swoop upon the enemy."

Well knowing that the Spaniards always went into the Gulf of Mexico by
St. Domingo and Hispaniola, and directed their homeward course by the
Gulf of Florida, where they found a continued coast on the west side,
trending away north, and then standing to the east to make for Spain,
the Captain of the Falcon directed his course accordingly; and guided by
report of some barques he fell in with, managed to gain sight of the
very vessel they were in search of.

The Spaniard was a huge carrack loaded with treasure; and when the
English vessel sighted her, she was labouring heavily in a gale, and
which the lighter and better-built Falcon rode with ease. Displaying his
flag, the Count instantly gave orders to bear down and near the enemy;
and disregarding the increasing winds which now blow almost a hurricane,
the two vessels encountered each other.

How strange it seemed that amidst the fury of the elements, and which in
a few short hours might overwhelm both vessels in the deep, the natural
hatred the crews bore each other should urge on and help the
destruction. And still more edifying was the gallantry with which the
smaller English vessel bore down upon the huge golden prize, received
her heavy fire, and, crashing upon her, whilst they were locked
together, attempted to storm her bulwarks, and gain a footing on her
deck. Then might have been seen a fearful sight,--amidst the tearing of
masts and rigging consequent upon the vessels being locked together for
the moment, and whilst they were simultaneously heaved upon each wave,
was heard the ringing sound of musketry, the clash of weapons, and the
despairing cry of agony, mingled with rattling sails and roaring wind.

Enveloped in smoke, none knew whether they were sinking amidst the dire
confusion and horrible sounds around. Navigation was suspended whilst
rage lasted, until the vessels separating with the increasing violence
of the storm, in a crippled state, and, as if pausing for want of power
to renew the fight, they were now gradually driven from each other. Not
as they had met, however, did they part. In the confusion of the fight,
and owing to their tearing apart ere the English adventurers could
master the Spanish craft, and which by their valour and impetuosity they
had nearly accomplished, several had fallen into the hands of the
Spaniard, whilst a similar capture had also been made by the Falcon.

The young Count and Martin were unluckily amongst those left upon the
deck of the Spanish vessel, and one or two of the before wrecked
sailors, of whom the Count was in search, together with some Spaniards
of condition, were the prize of the English.

This was a dire consummation to the crew of the Falcon after all their
toils. The Spaniard was known to be a cruel devil on the high seas. The
prisoners would be tortured or made to walk the plank. In addition to
this, there was no possibility of rescue or renewal of the fight in such
a sea, and in so crippled a state. Both vessels, therefore, lay rolling
upon the waters, the crews glaring at each other till night.

Notwithstanding their crippled state, the Captain of the Falcon, with
the characteristic industry of the English suitor, sat about preparing
for a renewal of the engagement, and, after giving a multitude of
directions, he found time to address himself to a tall noble-looking
cavalier, who seemed the principal of those whom the chance of war had
introduced into his vessel.

"This is an unlucky issue to our adventure, Seignor," he said, "unless
we can repair the mischief by a second fight."

"A lucky one for me, good Captain," returned the cavalier, "I was forced
with other prisoners upon the deck of yonder Spaniard, and ordered to
fight against you, my own country men. In the _melée_ I managed to gain
a footing upon your craft. Another day had perhaps seen us all committed
to the deep."

"Whilst I," said the Captain, "in gaining that for which I adventured in
this voyage, have lost my venture by losing my employer. Is not thy name
Arderne,--Walter Arderne?"

"It is," said the cavalier, in some surprise, "How have you discovered
so much?"

"There are those in this vessel who know you," said the Captain; "men
from your own neighbourhood, and who are the followers of the owner of
this craft, a noble gentleman who set sail from England for the very
purpose of discovering and rescuing certain of his countrymen said to be
cast away on the coast of Florida."

"You still more astonish me," said Arderne. "What was the name of this
person?"

"My employer, and who has unluckily become a captive in yonder carrack,
is called the Count Falanara, a noble having large estates in
Warwickshire."

"We have no such name, or proprietor of land, in that county," said
Arderne; "you have been deceived."

"In some sort I think so," said Captain Fluellyn; "will you favour me by
stepping into the cabin of this noble, and in which, until his absence
gave me opportunity of entering, I have never yet been?"

So saying, the Captain led the way into the small cabin the Count had
occupied during the voyage, which had been fitted up under his own
directions.

Nothing could be more elegant than the interior of this cabin; the
curtains of the small sleeping-berth were of common silk, fringed with
gold; the window beneath which the waves rippled was elaborately carved,
and also framed and gilt; a splendid mirror of small dimensions, being
framed in gold, ornamented the opposite side; the lamp which was
suspended from the ceiling was also of pure gold; an elaborately-carved
seat, with velvet cushions, was opposite the small round table fastened
in the centre of the cabin, and upon it was placed a lute. In short,
everything shewed that the recent occupier was a person of somewhat
effeminate tastes and habits, and so the Captain seemed to think. "A
soft nest," he said, "for one vowed to adventure, and the dangers of the
New World. One would think a noble possessing the means for luxuries
such as these need scarcely seek for treasure."

"Truly so," said Arderne.

"And yet," said the Captain, "it all depends upon the treasure sought.
This Count, as you have said, hath in some sort put a cheat upon me;
inasmuch, Master Arderne, as he was not what he seemed."

"True," said Arderne.

"These things are not the usual accompaniments of a sailor, or a rude
son of adventure," said the Captain, somewhat contemptuously, touching
the lute and the framed mirror with the end of his sheathed rapier. "On
my first acquaintance with this youth--this noble--and when I took
instructions anent our voyage, I looked upon him as a coward. He was for
avoiding all unnecessary danger and collision with an enemy. Subsequent
events, however, and his endurance under toil, and his ardour after that
he sought, caused me to change that opinion. A week ago, as I listened
to the melody of the voice which accompanied yonder lute, it suddenly
struck me the Count was a female."

"A female!" said Arderne. "Had she no familiar friend--no confidant with
her--who was aware of her real name, think ye?"

"She had," returned the Captain, "a shrewd and faithful friend, who
seemed her confidant; albeit, I could make him out as little as I could
his superior. He also is captured or lost in the confusion."

"We must take that vessel, Captain, or perish!" said Arderne.

"We will at least do our best," said the Captain, preparing to leave the
cabin, and look to the exertions of his men. But at that moment a sudden
cry arose in the vessel, which made both him and Arderne hasten their
steps. The Spaniard was on fire.

This was indeed a terrible consummation. The night was dark--the burning
vessel some miles off.

Regardless of the billows rolling mountains high, Arderne and a resolute
company got out the boats of the Falcon, and attempted to approach the
blazing vessel.

'Twas, however, all in vain. The conflagration rapidly increased; so
that ere the boats neared her, she was on fire in many places; her
ordnance thundering off as the flames reached them, rendering it
impossible to approach near. That several escaped in their boats was
likely; but the English sailors, in spite of Arderne's desire to keep
near, rowed back to tho Falcon, whence they remained gazing upon the
flaming craft--a terrific spectacle thus seen by night. The shape,
cordage, masts, her high and towering poop, and all her gilded
furniture, displayed in the hot flames, as if some painter had drawn out
every portion.

All night and part of the next day did the haughty-looking Spaniard
burn, till she was consumed to the water's edge, and then, as the Falcon
neared her, there arose ever and anon a column of smoke from the rolling
sea, consequent upon the close decks, full of spices, exploding under
water, and which the fire had not taken hold of.



CHAPTER XXXV.

MORE MATTER FOR A MAY MORNING.


Stratford-upon-Avon, like most country towns, possessed at this period,
amongst other and worthier inhabitants, a certain amount of fragments,
who were indeed in themselves nothing, but who wished to make
themselves, as they fancied themselves, something.

Those stuck-up portions of humanity, besides being extremely chaste in
their ideas of propriety, were perhaps the most intolerant and
unforgiving Christians in the world.

Brotherly love and charity were as often and as forcible in their mouths
as real humanity was wanting in their hearts. Did a poor maiden err, and
allowed her failing to be discovered, she was to be utterly cast out,
abandoned, destroyed--no redemption allowed. Did a youth but shew the
germs of a generous spirit, and fling out never so little, he was to be
hunted down as one of the wild and wicked, irrecoverably disowned, and
driven from society. Such folks are, as we have said, always to be found
in a small community of citizens--the unwholesome impurity which
circulates in its veins and arteries, and poisons by degrees the stream
of its life.

Should any of these envious censors happen to observe one whom they
consider of mark and likelihood beyond the common herd, they endeavour
to make shipwreck of such superiority, by nipping it in the bud. They
feel conscious of their own common-place inferiority. They know
themselves in reality nothing, and they resolve to reduce, if they can,
the superiority of others to their own level, or to trample and destroy
it utterly, if possible.

"Such a commodity of warm slaves" in Stratford had for some time looked
with evil eye upon young Shakespeare. There was a superiority about him
which, as it was more observable to their envy, they could by no means
behold with quietude. They regarded him with a rankling dislike, and
received, invented, or promulgated with avidity any thing they could
gather to his disadvantage.

Our readers will perhaps think it odd, that one so young should already
have found enemies in his native town. They will, however, remember,
that "Envy always dogs merit at the heels," and that Shakespeare, as he
was no common person, was at the same time the most open, generous, and
unsuspicious of mortals--a man likely to expose himself to censure, and
care little about it either.

Back-wounding calumny, as he well knew, "the whitest virtue strikes."
With every aggravation of circumstance, therefore, the somewhat
desultory life young Shakespeare led, became canvassed by these good
citizens of Stratford.

He was noted as one of irreclaimably wild and dissolute habits--"quoted
and signed to do some deed of shame;" and through the industry of Grasp
and Doubletongue, the Charlecote exploit got wind all over the
neighbourhood.

No sooner did Grasp hear of the return of Sir Thomas Lucy from
Kenilworth, and which happened a few days after the adventure, than he
hastened over to Charlecote, and demanding audience of the stately
knight, laid all he knew before him.

Our readers will readily picture to themselves the ire of Sir Thomas on
hearing this piece of intelligence, and which, as Grasp related the
conversation he had heard whilst lying in perdue at the hostel, plainly
shewed the knight that his park had been broke, and his deer shot under
his very nose.

"Ha!" he said, as he rose from his chair, and looked forth into the
lovely chase; "and is it so? and are we bearded thus? Now, I will teach
these knaves a lesson they shall not easily forget! The _outrécuidance_
of that wild young fellow--that young Shakespeare, it shall go hard, but
I will punish. A slight touch of the whip would do much towards turning
so fiery a spirit. Ah! and what then, nothing but my parks, my woods,
and my forest-walks will suffice for the recreation of that young
springald.

"Master Grasp, I am much bounden to you for this intelligence. At once
we will proceed against the whole gang of desperadoes. Let me see your
list again. Ah! I see. And now, with regard to the Lucy Arms, we will
begin there first. No more shall that swaggering Host make mine own
property the den in which these ruffians congregate, and lay their plots
to rob and plunder me."

"Master Fillpot was soliciting a fresh lease of the Lucy Arms, was he
not, honoured Sir?" inquired Grasp.

"He was so," said Sir Thomas. "His lease expired last Midsummer, and I
was about to renew it. I will renew it with a vengeance, Master Grasp,
as you shall see anon."

"Marry and amen," said Grasp. "The Lucy Arms, grieved am I to say it,
since they are pertaining to so honourable a house, hath been for some
time a sign of disrepute in the town, a rallying point for certain
dissolute and shameless characters to assemble at."

"They shall no longer be so," said. Sir Thomas, ringing a small bell on
his table, "We will incontinently proceed there. Let the head keeper be
sought immediately," he said to the domestic, who answered the summons.

"He awaits in the court with the hawks, Sir Thomas," said the domestic.

"Order him hither," said the knight, "and inform the ladies I shall not
go to the marshes this morning. I have business at Stratford which will
employ me till after noon."

The man bowed and withdrew, and immediately afterwards the head keeper,
a tall, athletic-looking man, holding his falcon on his glove, entered
the room.

"Your fellows keep good watch, Oswald," said the knight. "During my
absence at Kenilworth, I have been again robbed; one of the best bucks
in the park has been stolen."

"I heard not of it, Sir Thomas," returned the falconer.

"So it appears," returned the knight. "Nevertheless it hath been done;
by the same token, this worthy, honest person saw the deer brought to
the kitchen of the Lucy Arms at Stratford, where it was skinned, cut up,
and actually some part of it eaten by William Shakespeare and his
companions."

"You amaze me," said the keeper; "on that night some of those I left in
charge of the park were scared by a horrible apparition, the same which
has been sometimes seen in the chase of Kenilworth, and so alarmed Roger
Watchum, the Earl's head keeper, that he took it as a warning of death,
and never joyed after. It hath grievously scared our people too, and
they are afraid to go out at night, except in couples."

"Let them quit my service in couples then," said Sir Thomas, "since they
are such cowardly hounds, and do you put a bullet through that ghost
wherever you find it. I am well served by fellows who, scared by a
shadow, run scampering about the woods, and leave the deer to the mercy
of caitiffs and common robbers the whilst."

The head keeper well knew the stern disposition of his master, he
therefore only bowed and waited further orders, whilst Sir Thomas walked
up and down the apartment for some minutes without speaking. After a
while, however, he again addressed the keeper.

"Go, sirrah," he said, "get together half a score of my out-door
serving-men with pick and crow-bar. Send them forward to the Town-end at
Stratford; and do thou and half a dozen of thy fellows, prepare to
attend _me_."

"And now, Master Grasp," he said, "we will take your's, and the
depositions of the men you have brought with you, who saw this
Shakespeare in the act of burying the buck's-hide in the orchard of the
Lucy Arms."

Meantime whilst these transactions were taking place at Charlecote, the
unconscious delinquents were again assembled at the hostel, where we
fear, it must be confessed, more mischief was being plotted against the
quieter portions of the community.

The spirit of mischief, and the love of sport, was, after all, the chief
mover of the whole party. They enjoyed those stolen pleasures, and,
indeed, doubly relished the banquets they furnished forth, from the very
circumstances of their being so procured.

On the present occasion, the presiding genius of the tavern--the jovial
Froth, with Pierce, Caliver, and Careless, were the parties assembled in
the parlour of the Lucy Arms.

'Twas the time, according to the magnificent wight Armado, "when beasts
most graze, birds best peck, and men sit down to that nourishment which
is called supper,"--about the sixth hour.

The meal was accompanied by sauce of the best quality, hunger, and
savoured by good humour and hilarity. It consisted of a smoking haunch
from the very buck we have already heard so much controversy about, and
which was washed down by large draughts of liquor, various in kind, and
exquisite in flavour.

It would have done the reader's heart good to have beheld mine host of
the tavern, with the sleeves of his doublet tucked up, standing at the
table to carve the savoury joint, and whilst he ever and anon partook of
a morsel and pledged his guests in a bumper, waiting upon them and
uttering his quaint sayings.

William Shakespeare and Diccon Snare had promised to be of the party on
this evening, but from some cause or other which was unexplained,
neither had kept the appointment.

Meanwhile the supper was finished, the haunch devoured down to the very
bone, the napkin was removed, and the sparkling liquors in their
quaint-cut bottles and flasks being placed upon the board, the party sat
in for a carouse. They had all been over to Warwick on that day, and
pleasure and action gave a zest to the evening's entertainment and the
enjoyment of the hour; still the absence of Shakespeare and Snare made
the evening's enjoyment, after all, seem incomplete. There was a feeling
of something wanting to crown the joy of the party; for those who had
once been in the society of the delightful Will, would be likely,
without knowing the extent of their feelings at the moment, to
experience a terrible void if he disappointed them.

The assemblage, however, were not men to allow the hours to hang on
hand; and in the hope and expectation that their friends would join
them, they carried on the war in jovial style. Their jests principally
were levelled against Sir Thomas Lucy, whose rude and overbearing
keepers they were the more pleased at gaining a triumph over; inasmuch
as one or two of their own party had before been severely punished for
offences against the game laws--offences, which men of their sort looked
upon in the light of no offence at all, and rather as a sort of feather
in their caps, anything but a theft; or, if a theft, a species of
stealing which those of spirit, and ranking as gentlemen, had a right to
indulge in: for what says the old doggrel?

    "Harry and I in youth long since
    Did doughty deeds, but some nonsense;
    We read our books, we sang our song,
    We stole a deer; nor thought it wrong;
    To cut a purse deserves but hanging,
    To steal a deer gets merely banging."

"Ha, ha!" said the Host. "Art thou there, bullies? Why, then, confusion
to these Bohemian tartars! and we lads of mettle will still feast at
their expense. What we must hedge, we must lurch. An we are borne down
by the vile in spirit, we must resort to cozenage,--we must filch,--we
must steal,--we must coney catch,--we must cozen the dappled deer from
the fern."

"Truly thou art in the right, Host," said Froth; "but I most especially
marvel what keepeth the jovial Will to-night. He struck the buck, and
should be at the carving of the haunch. We lack him--we lack him much.
By my fay! the cup lacks flavour, whilst expectation is thus defeated.
Oh, 'tis a glorious boy! Come, lads, let us in his absence cheer our
spirits with a catch. Give us Will's own song of the horns: an we have
not himself, we'll have his verse." And the party sang,--

   "1. What shall we have that kill the deer?
    2. His leathern skin and horns to wear.
    3. Then sing him home.
          Take thou no scorn to wear the horn,
          It was a crest ere thou wast born."

The chorus was trolled out again and again, the singers applauding their
own exertions vigorously, by repeated raps upon the table. Mine Host sat
with his hands clasped before him, his head keeping time with drunken
precision:

    "The horn, the horn, the lusty horn,
    Is not a thing to laugh to scorn."

When just at this moment the whole company were startled by an
apparition nearly as appalling in appearance as the spectre they had
themselves scared the keepers of Sir Thomas Lucy with in Charlecote, and
which indeed was neither more nor less than Sir Thomas Lucy himself.

The knight advanced a few paces into the room, accompanied by several of
his men, and stood to regard the party. Mine host was the first to catch
sight of him, and the lusty chorus he was trolling out died away in a
faint quaver, and as the rest of the company, following the direction of
his staring eyes, turned and beheld the tall knight, conscience made
cowards of them all, and, with a desperate rush, they endeavoured to get
out of the room. Two dashed into the sleeping-chamber of Froth, whence
they escaped into the orchard, whilst mine host, Caliver, and Careless,
bolted through the open window.

Following the example of these latter fugitives, Froth made also an
attempt to escape by the window, but his huge body became fixed like a
wedge, as he endeavoured to throw himself forwards upon the grass
without, and his nether man presented so fair a mark that the irate
knight pointing him out to his head keeper, the sturdy forester stepped
up, and by a most industrious application of his hunting-whip, so
stimulated the exertions of Froth, that, bellowing with pain, he at last
managed to get through the opening.

If the stately knight had been given to mirth, the sight of this swollen
porpoise, during his efforts to escape,--his huge legs kicking at his
tormentor,--his great body fast jammed,--would have furnished him with
laughter for some minutes.

Sir Thomas, however, was too irate to be so moved; he sought for proof
of the guilt of the parties in this their sanctum, and, quickly
proceeding to overhaul the lodgement of Froth, he found sufficient
evidence of their poaching propensities; cross-bows, matchlocks, and
snares of various sorts, were rummaged out and brought to light; and
even the costume of Dreary Death, and other disguises, were produced. In
fact, the query which had been often suggested by some of the more staid
neighbours of the vicinity, as to how the swash-bucklers and rollicking
blades constituting the society of the Lucy Arms, managed to live,
was brought to light. They lived by their exertions on the road
and the glade. They were squires of the night's body--Diana's
foresters--gentlemen of the shade.

No sooner was Sir Thomas fully satisfied on this point than he retired
from the interior, and, mounting his horse, ordered the men awaiting him
at the town-end to be summoned.

"Master Grasp," he said, "I have more than once given this caitiff host
notice to quit, and he hath still hung on and craved to remain my
tenant. You have seen him this day evacuate the premises of his own free
will, and I will now give my own people possession."

Thus saying, Sir Thomas ordered his men to enter the hostel, and proceed
to unroof it,[17] after which he desired them with pick and spade to
demolish and destroy as much as they could effect that night, and in the
morning to return and level the Lucy Arms with the ground. That done, he
reiterated his commands to the obsequious Grasp to proceed against the
whole party as aiders and abetters in the robbery--William Shakespeare,
in particular, as principal. To _prosecute_ and _persecute_ with the
utmost rigour of the law. After which he turned his horse, and, grave
and stately, attended by his keepers, rode off to Charlecote.

[Footnote 17: This sort of ejectment was not uncommon in Elizabeth's
reign.]



CHAPTER XXXVI.

THE LAMPOON.


On the morning of the day on which Sir Thomas paid a visit to the Lucy
Arms, William Shakespeare, seated in a small parlour at the back of his
house, was employed reading from a somewhat bulky volume certain matters
which appeared deeply to interest him.

So much so, indeed, that albeit his attention was often called from the
subject of his studies by the little crowing baby he held in one arm;
still he ever returned with renewed avidity to devour a few more pages,
as often as the playful infant gave him an opportunity of doing so.

The volume Shakespeare was reading from was a thick squat folio, then
some thirty years printed, and called Hall's Chronicles. Many and
various were the histories contained in this thick volume; and the deep
interest young Shakespeare felt in their perusal, and the impression
they made upon his mind, may be imagined when we enumerate them as set
forth. First, then, there was "the unquiet time of King Henry ye
Fourth." That was indeed a stirring page in England's history, "when
trenching war channelled her fields," and intestine jars and civil
butchery "daubed her lips with her own children's blood."

Then followed the victorious acts of King Henry the Fifth--a glorious
epoch--a "record of fair act," and which, as we read of, he already saw
before him, "the warlike Hal, in the vasty fields of France,"

    "Assuming the port of Mars, and at his heels
    Leash'd in, like hounds, famine, fire, and sword,
    Crouching for employment."

Then came the troublous season of King Henry the Sixth, when

    "Cropp'd were the flower-de-luces in our arms,
    And England's cost one-half was cut away."

Then followed the boisterous reign of King Edward the Fourth, the
pitiful life of King Edward the Fifth, the tragical doings of King
Richard the Third, the "politic governance" of King Henry the Seventh,
the triumphant reign of King Henry the Eighth.

How diligently young Shakespeare perused this book; and how carefully he
remembered the impression made upon his mind, his after-life has shewn
us.

At the present moment, like many a less elevated genius, his studies
were disturbed by civil discord, domestic brawls, and the matters of
every-day life around him.

Such, however, was the fine disposition of the man, that it took much to
disturb the serenity of his temper and the equanimity of his mind.

We have seen that, in the amiability of his disposition, he was
snatching an hour's leisure from the business in which he was engaged,
and helping to nurse his child whilst pursuing his studies. This
employment in itself would but have enhanced the pleasure afforded by
such study. But unluckily (albeit he gave as little attention thereto as
possible) he was at the same time subjected to the observation and sharp
rebuke of his somewhat shrewish better half.

The stolen hours spent with his associates of the Lucy Arms had caused
him a series of lectures and upbraidings, which completely ship-wrecked
his domestic peace.

All this be suffered in silence, for, as he could not compromise his
companions by disclosing their confederacy in his deer-stealing exploit,
he wisely held big tongue; not that he, however, deemed it right to keep
secret counsel from the wife of his bosom; but in this case, where
others were concerned, honour bound his tongue. In his own words he
could have told her--

    "That he knew her wise, but yet no further wise
    Than William Shakespeare's wife. Constant she was,
    But yet a woman: and for secrecy
    No lady closer, for he well believed
    She would not utter what she did not know,
    And so far would he trust the gentle Anne."

In the present instance the gentle Anne appeared determined to have a
serious quarrel with her husband. She flatly told him she would never
rest till she had discovered where and with whom he had passed the
night; and her upbraidings, as is frequently the case with females in
her station of life, were by no means mild.

    "The venom'd clamours of a jealous woman
    Poison more deadly than a mad dog's tooth."

And William Shakespeare found it, and accordingly at length his patience
gave way, and he arose, laid aside his book, placed his child in the
cradle, and notwithstanding his stomach warned him it was near the
dinner hour, he donned his castor, left the small apartment, and was
about to leave his house for the Lucy Arms, when, just as he reached the
door, he beheld Diccon Snare.

Dismounting from his horse, Snare entered the front-room of
Shakespeare's house; and having desired the lad to whom he gave charge
of the steed to lead it round to the shed in rear, he closed the door
behind him carefully, and then threw himself into a chair, as one who
had ridden far and fast since he had taken to the saddle.

"There is ill news abroad, Will," said he; "the Charlecote business is
blown--Sir Thomas Lucy knows all. That much concerns you, for you are
made the principal in the affair. Other matter hath also come out
regarding some transactions in which Caliver and Careless are concerned.
Caliver is in custody. Careless hath escaped, and, as I am not
altogether exempt, I am for London with all speed."

"For myself I care nothing," said Shakespeare; "but for Pierce, Caliver,
and Careless, I am grieved. But whence is all this derived?"

"I met one of Grasp's lads at Kenilworth this morning," said Snare, "who
with an officer was searching for Caliver; he gave me a hint to convey
intelligence to the lads of the Lucy Arms; and I have ridden hard to
give you the first notice."

"This doth indeed look ugly," said Shakespeare. "Sir Thomas hath ever
held me in his hate, and undeservedly so. Wherefore he hath this
dislike, I partly guess; now he has me on the hip, I doubt not he will
do his utmost against me. But I pry'thee come in, Snare, you look pale,
and lack refreshment. Our meal is about to be served."

"Nay, but," said Snare, "your wife, Will,--she likes me not; nay, she
forbade my coming hither last Martinmas."

"Heed it not," said Shakespeare, smiling; "believe me, she meant not
what she said. A friend both tired, hungry, and in need of shelter,
shall never be turned fasting from my door. Besides, hath not thy love
brought thee hither to warn me? Tush, man! Do you tell me of a woman's
tongue--

    "That gives not half so great a blow to the ear,
    As doth a chestnut in a farmer's fire."

And Shakespeare threw open the door, and ushered his friend Snare into
the inner-room, where they found the dinner spread, and the wife not
best pleased at having to tarry.

"Not a word of matters appertaining," he whispered to Snare, as they
entered. "Mistress Anne will not endure thee long, Diccon. After the
meal is finished, she will take herself off to the upper-room."

Snare therefore followed his friend, and looking somewhat scared, made a
leg, and paid his compliments to the hostess as he best could.

'Twas exactly as Shakespeare had surmised. The handsome Anne, whose brow
grew somewhat contracted when she saw her husband usher in Snare, left
the pair to themselves, as soon as she had finished her meal.

After her departure, Shakespeare placed liquor before his guest; and
over a social glass they debated seriously of their affairs.

The high spirit of Shakespeare, however, would not permit of his long
remaining under dominion of care or apprehension; and, under influence
of a cup or two of Canary, he began to rail upon Sir Thomas, and lash
him alternately.

"Out upon the clod-pate," he said; "his brains are as thick as
Tewkesbury mustard. He imprison me--he have me whipped! Pshaw! I laugh
at the dull ass! I will make him a jest to the whole country!"

"O' my word, Will, he will be more likely to drive thee from it," said
Snare; "for Launcelot Quill, Grasp's head clerk, vows he never saw man
more angered than the old knight is against thee."

"Tush, man!" said Shakespeare, "never tell me of his anger. Let him do
his spite. He hath already done me several ill turns, from the bare
suspicion that I have broke his park. Now, I doubt not, he will fine,
imprison, and what not, if he can but catch me! Come, another cup, and
then to inform our companions of the Lucy Arms of this matter. Best,
however, clap-to the outer door, and make all fast," he said, rising and
drawing the bolt across the fore-door, "lest this Cavaliero Justice hath
already let loose his myrmidons against me. Ha! ha!" he continued,
reseating himself, "he a Justice of the Peace!--he a Parliament Member!
Why, I will fashion a better justice after supper out of a
cheese-paring. I pr'ythee, Snare, reach me that ink-horn. I will write a
lampoon upon the peaking Cornuto, and fasten it up against his
park-gates--I will, indeed, lad!"

"Nay, but Will," urged Snare, "thou wilt scarce venture, daring dog as
thou art, further to irritate the knight? I tell thee, being married and
settled here, this business will already go far to ruin thee."

"Ruin me!" said Shakespeare, somewhat bitterly. "Ruin me, saidst thou?
Why, man, dost think me in a thriving condition here in Stratford?"

"Not entirely so," said Snare, looking around; "I would I could see thy
nest better feathered, Will, and I trust I shall yet do so."

"I think it not," said Shakespeare; "business decreases apace with me. I
am called wild, inattentive, dissolute,--nay, I have had one or two
slight misunderstandings with my family; and, as thou sayest, this last
business and the rancorous hatred of Sir Thomas, will go hard with your
poor friend. But, come, here we have a couplet or two in his condign
praise: for a taste--

    "A parliament member, a justice of peace,
    At home a poor scarecrow, at London an asse;
    If lowsie is Lucy, as same volke miscalle it,
    Then Lucy is lowsie whatever befall it."

"'Fore heaven, Will, stop," said Snare, laughing, "Thou hast indeed
touched up the knight; thou hast tied him to a post, and wilt lash him
into madness."

"Nay, but stay," said Shakespeare, "I will give him another stanza yet.
Hearkee to this:

    "He thinks himself great.
    Yet an asse in his state,
    We allowe by his ears but with asses to mate;
    If Lucy is lowsie as some volke miscalle it,
    Then sing lowsie Lucy, whatever befall it."

"Nay," said Snare, "an thou stick that up, thou hadst better put the
seas between thyself and Britain. The Knight of Charlecote will be
driven stark staring mad."

"Well," said Shakespeare, "we shall see how matters progress. If Sir
Thomas bears me hard, as true as thy name is Diccon Snare, I will nail
this lampoon to his park-gates, and have it sung to filthy tunes through
the town."



CHAPTER XXXVII.

THE GARDEN.


It was one bright morning, a few days after the events we have recorded
that a gay and gallant-looking party rode into the grounds of Clopton
and approached the Hall.

The mansion, which had for some time remained shut up, now appeared to
be resuming something of its former state. Its latticed windows were
once more open, whilst servants were to be seen moving about the offices
and gardens, and even the bark and bay of dogs were heard in the kennel.

The good Sir Hugh had suddenly returned to his home from the Low
Countries. Time had gradually ameliorated his deep grief, and restored
the equilibrium of his mind. He felt tired of camps and military
service, and his thoughts turned to the green woods and sweet scenes of
his own home.

A feeling we suspect which almost all soldiers, however much ambition
and the love of profession may keep them in harness, more or less
experience. There is a period in the lives of all men in which the
occupations of a country life form a sort of recreation after the toils
and cares of the world. That which we disregard in youth, amidst the
gaieties and frivolities and ambitions of life, in age seems to come as
a natural repose. A wise provision of nature, and which in earlier
times was perhaps better exemplified. To youth, the bright weapon, the
helm, the shield, and the defence. To riper age, the plough, the hoe,
and the dibble.

Sir Hugh had returned to his sweet home, and, albeit a settled
melancholy was on his spirits, he could better enjoy that home now that
absence had rendered it less painful to him to look upon, and he
returned with renewed zest to his old employments. He was in his garden,
giving directions to his gardener about the different plants, and
flowers, and shrubs, and turning over in his mind the varieties which in
his daughter's time she had loved to cultivate--

                        "Daffodils
    That come before the swallow dares, and take
    The winds of March with beauty. Violets dim,
    But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes
    Or Cytherea's breath; pale primroses
    That die unmarried, ere they can behold
    Bright Phoebus in his strength."

He was busied amongst his "somewhat o'erweeded garden," when an
attendant announced that Sir Thomas and Lady Lucy were advancing towards
the house, with the intention, no doubt, of paying him a formal visit on
his return. Upon which the good Sir Hugh set his dibble in the earth,
smoothed down the cuffs of his doublet, belted on the long rapier, which
he had laid aside upon the walk when he commenced work, and, adjusting
his short cloak and starched ruff, entered his house to receive these
distinguished guests.

Sir Thomas Lucy, in the kindness of his heart, had hastened to pay a
visit to his old friend the moment he heard of his arrival, and, well
knowing there would be many things to excite the feelings of Sir Hugh on
his return, he was resolved to carry him back to Charlecote.

"I will have no denial, Sir Hugh," he said, "I have come hither to bring
ye forth to Charlecote. We have wanted you long, and by my fay we cannot
away without ye."

"Nay, but," said Sir Hugh, "I am but now returned. Methinks in a few
days I should be more prepared to leave home again."

"Prepare me nothing," said Sir Thomas. "What the good-year, dost think
we will let thee sit down to a solitary meal here, when we have shot the
buck, and dressed the haunch on purpose for thee? Come, man, Lady Lucy
takes no denial; and, see, my daughters are here to fetch thee."

There was no resisting this, so Sir Hugh, sighing as he glanced upon the
lovely daughters of his neighbour, ordered out his steed at once.

It was a lovely morning, as the party rode through the grounds of
Clopton, and emerged upon the road to Stratford. Many matters were
discussed by the two friends after their long separation.

Sir Thomas rode, as was customary at the period, with his falcon on his
glove, his falconers being in attendance. Nay, even the ladies carried
their favourite hawks, which they petted, and even talked to as they
rode; a favourable opportunity for giving them wing being not altogether
neglected occasionally.

"We must have a day on't in the marshes, Sir Hugh," said the Knight of
Charlecote, "and you must away with me next week to the Cotswold Hills,
to the coursing, Sir Hugh. By 'ur Lady, I have a pup of old Snowball,
which, an I am not mistaken, will win the match. 'Tis a goodly cur, I
promise ye."

"I will see him run," said Sir Hugh.

"And that reminds me," said Sir Thomas, "to tell thee I have of late
been much molested by a knot of young fellows breaking my parks and
shooting my deer."

"Ah, the caitiffs," said Sir Hugh, "can'st not take them?"

"In sooth can I, and will trounce them too. One, especially, have I
marked for punishment; and my lawyer hath him in hand. A wild lad of the
town here, named Shakespeare."

"Shakespeare!" said Sir Hugh; "not young William Shakespeare, the eldest
son of the wool-comber?"

"The same," said Thomas. "I shall impound the knave ere many hours more
are over his head."

"Nay, I am truly sorry to hear this," said Sir Hugh, "for I have reason
to think well of that lad."

"'Tis more than any one else hath, then," said Sir Thomas. "He hath been
a bitter thorn in my side for some time."

"Truly, you surprise me; hath he then so altered since I left these
parts?"

"I know not that," said Sir Thomas; "but I well know he hath the
reputation of the wildest young fellow in the neighbourhood."

"Nay, then I am utterly astonished," said Sir Hugh. "We must talk
further of this matter; and I must see if I cannot get you to over-look,
in some sort, young Shakespeare's offence."

"I would do much to pleasure you," said the Knight of Charlecote; "but
my lawyer hath instruction to prosecute him with rigour. I was resolved
to make a Star Chamber matter o't. If he be, however, so much favoured
by thee, my good friend, we must look to't. But come, here we are at
Charlecote. Ha!" he continued, pulling up his steed suddenly; "what have
we nailed up against the gate? Dismount, Hubald!" he said to the
Falconer, "take it down, man, and read it, and see what 'tis."

The head Falconer dismounted, and approaching the gates, took down a
good sized placard written in large characters, a single glance at which
seemed to cover him with dismay.

"What is it, in the name of wonder?" said the Knight. "Read, man, read;
don't stand glaring like a driveller. Is my place placarded for sale?"

"An it so please ye," said the Falconer, "a gnat hath gotten into my
eye, and I cannot well make it out. 'Tis a verse, too, and I cannot read
a verse anyhow."

"Thou art a knave," said the Knight. "Read, I tell thee. I am curious to
know what such documents can have to do with my gates. Read, I say,
without more circumstance." And accordingly the Falconer, like one
affrighted at his own voice, and in doleful tones drawled out the
following couplet:--

    "A parliament member, a justice of peace,
    At home a poor scarecrow, in London an ass.
    If Lucy is--"

"Ahem! 'If Lucy is--'" And the Falconer stopped.

"Proceed, sirrah," said Sir Thomas, with the calmness of concentrated
rage; "proceed, a God's name!" And again the Falconer read--

    "If Lucy is lowsey as some folk miscall it,
    Then lowsey is Lucy whatever befall it."

To paint the ire and astonishment of Sir Thomas would be difficult.

"Here's goodly stuff toward," he said, as the Falconer stopped after the
four first lines, and stood looking as much scared as if he had himself
been guilty of the composition. "This, then, Sir Hugh, is doubtless the
production of thy witty friend. A pestilence strike such wit! say I.
Here, hand me the paper. Now may the fiend take me, an I do not give him
his full deserts for this insult." And cramming the placard into the
bosom of his doublet, to be read carefully and at more leisure, Sir
Thomas put spurs to his horse and rode into the courtyard of his
mansion.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

THE FLIGHT TO LONDON.


A week has elapsed since Sir Hugh Clopton paid his visit to Charlecote.
He has been a few days returned to his own home again, and is filled
with pleasurable sensations on account of a letter just received from
London, and announcing the arrival there of his nephew, Walter Arderne.
The ship in which Walter has received a passage home is called the
"Falcon," it is lying at Deptford; and the letter from the nephew to the
uncle treats of strange matter; and promises, when they meet, still
stranger news, connected with his escape, and safe return to England. A
postscript adds, that as Walter has returned naked, as it were, to his
native land, and has little to delay him preparatory to his returning to
Clopton, his strong love for his uncle, "sharp as his spur," will help
him on his road as fast as his horse can bring him. One only drawback is
there to the contentment of Sir Hugh, and that is the account his nephew
gives of the loss of the faithful Martin.

Still (although Sir Hugh felt more happy at this intelligence than he
had been for some time) he did not let his feelings interfere with a
project he had conceived after his return home, of going into Stratford
in order to pay a visit to John Shakespeare, in Henley Street. The good
Sir Hugh felt, that however much the son of the wool-comber might have
disgraced himself, at any rate he himself was in duty bound to try and
befriend him. "A deer-stealer," he said, as he mounted his horse and
rode forth, "and given to all unluckiness in catching hares and rabbits
too; and then that biting satire nailed against the park-gates, and
stuck up all over the town: nay, 'twas too bad, and that is the truth
on't. Here, too," he continued, (fumbling in the pocket of his doublet,)
"is a vile ballad I bought of an old hag, who was bawling it through the
streets of Stratford but yesterday. Let me see what saith the doggrel:

    "Sir Thomas was too covetous
       To covet so much deer,
     When horns enough upon his head,
       Most plainly did appear."

"By 'ur Lady, but 'tis sad stuff; and here be more--

    "Had not his worship one deer left?
      What then? he had a wife,
    Took pains enough to find him horns
      Should last him during life."

"Ah, a very simple lad, and a wilful. Had it not been for these
things--these scraps of bad verse--I could have made matters up, I dare
be sworn." And Sir Hugh (who by this time had reached Henley Street)
dismounted, and entered the house of the wool-comber.

How well the Knight of Charlecote had bestirred himself, and how well he
had been assisted in his prosecution of the deer-stealers by the
wretched Grasp, was evident, since Sir Hugh found that Snare was in jail
at Warwick, Caliver in durance at Coventry, and that William Shakespeare
had fled.

Yes, Shakespeare had fled from Stratford-upon-Avon. How trivial a
circumstance did that seem at the time! Except his own family, none
seemed to know or care much about him. A mere youth was driven from his
home to avoid punishment for a trifling indiscretion; persecuted by a
man of high and chivalrous feeling, and who knew him not, but by the ill
report of the vile; a man who, had he but suspected the great worth and
brilliant genius of the fugitive, would have been one of the first to
befriend, in place of injuring and driving him, alone and friendless,
from his home. And that act, whilst it lent an imperishable _eclat_ to
his own name, was, perhaps, the exciting cause of the greatness of the
offender.

It was dark night when Shakespeare left his home. The resolve was
suddenly taken: his high spirit could not brook the thought of
degradation and punishment at the suit of the Knight of Charlecote. The
misrepresentations, the misconceptions, and the absurd reports of the
Stratford noodles, had disgusted him; and (even amidst the laughter
caused by the lampoon affixed to the gates of Charlecote) he fled from
the town.

Added to these feelings, there was the natural ambition which a young
man, a husband, and a father, entertained to enter into some wider
sphere of action, find where the talents he possessed might be brought
into play. Domestic difference, too, and undeserved reproach,--or, if
_deserved_, ill-timed, galled his spirit, and his gentle nature rebelled
against the treatment he had received. The fire in the flint, 'tis said,
"shows not till it be struck."

'Twas night when he left his home. To his mother alone had he confided
his intent, and to her he had entrusted the care of both wife and
children. 'Twas two hours past midnight when he donned his hat and
cloak, took his quarter-staff in his hand, and prepared to start.

Gently he ascended the stairs, and entered his sleeping-room. The
handsome Ann was buried in a deep sleep; and as one snowy arm encircled
her infant, her dark-brown locks lay like a cloud upon the pillow. What
a picture of rustic English beauty did she present! One kiss of her
parted lips, and he descended the stairs, and let himself out by the
back-door.

He was obliged to be cautious as he crossed the orchard, and gained the
open fields in rear of his dwelling. It would, however, we opine, have
been somewhat dangerous had the emissaries of Grasp molested him on this
night, as his spirit, although bruised, was not broken, and he would
have been a difficult person to capture. Ere he left the orchard, he
turned and looked long and fixedly at his own and his father's dwelling.
He felt that, perhaps, he might never again behold the sloping roofs
which covered relatives so dear. All, save one (his mother), were buried
in deep sleep, and unconscious of his flight. A minute more, and he was
gone from his native town. Hurrying onwards over the meadows and
woodlands--avoiding the high-road--across the country towards
Warwick--"over park, over pale--through brake, through briar." Without
any fixed notion as to his route, London was his destination; and with a
mind ill at ease, the solitude of the woods was most congenial to his
thoughts. Thus he traversed, alone and at night, the first few miles of
that delicious and park-like scene between his native town and Warwick;
and still, as his steps were destined towards the latter town, old
haunts, and points of interest, lured him from the direct line; and the
breaking dawn found him standing, leaning upon his staff, on Blacklow
Hill--a spot, we dare say, well known to the majority of our readers.
The sweetness of this locality, and the delicious scene around, for the
moment took him from his own particular griefs; his mind reverted to the
terrible deed of stern and wild justice it had been the scene of.

In the hollow of the rock beneath his feet, Piers Gaveston, the minion
of Edward the Second, had met his sudden fate.

Amidst the fern and on the mossed face of the rugged rock were still to
be seen the name of the victim, and the date in which the deed had been
done, rudely cut at the moment of the execution.

          1311.
     PIERS GAVESTON,
    EARL OF CORNWALL,
        BEHEADED.

Around him were the oaks of the Druids; in the distance, embosomed in
softest verdure, gray with age, and softened in the mists of early dawn,
were the towers of the magnificent Warwick.

On right, on left, were the deep woodlands, at this period covering
nearly all Warwickshire like a huge forest. 'Twas a scene peculiarly
adapted to call forth all the chivalrous feelings and historical
recollection of such a being. The distant rush of the water from the
monastic mill at Guy's Cliff, a sound which the monks of the adjoining
abbey in bygone times had loved to hear, soothed the melancholy of his
soul;--a sort of dreamy and shadowy remembrance of ages "long ago
betide;"--a feeling as if the gazer upon such a scene had been familiar
with the iron men who lived in feudal pride, and owned those towers in
bygone days, stole upon him. He stood upon the domain of that mighty
Earl of Warwick, "the putter up and plucker down of kings;" the blast of
whose bugle in that county had often assembled thousands, "all
furnished, all in arms." In thought he followed the proud baron in all
his stirring career. Knight and esquire and vassal, a "jolly troop of
English" swept by with tuck of drum and colours spread; and then he saw
the mighty earl dying amidst the dust and blood of Barnet:--

    "His parks, his walks, his manors, that he had,
    Even these forsaking him; and, of all his lands,
    Nothing left him but his body's length."

Any one who could have looked upon that youthful poet at the moment,
might have surmised the Shakespeare after-times has been wont to
picture. There was the divine expression,--the countenance _once seen_,
even in a portrait, never to be forgotten; the eye of fire, "glancing
from heaven to earth;" the splendid form, with head thrown back and foot
advanced. And thus he stood upon Blacklow Hill--

    "A combination and a form, indeed,
    To give the world assurance of a man."

Not like a fugitive flying from the paltry spite of a scrivener set on
by a country squire, but like the herald mercury.

                "New lighted on a heaven-kissing hill."
    Long did the fugitive linger in this spot, till--

                      "Light thickened, and the crow
                      Wing'd to the rocky wood."

He then, as hunger forced him from his retreat, crossed the meadows, and
entering the town of Warwick, sought an old hostel situate in the
suburbs. No sooner did he enter this town, than he began to find himself
one remove from the dull seclusion of his native place. The streets
seemed all alive; a huge bonfire was a-light in the market-place, and
hundreds of the rough sons of toil were assembled around, and in the
adjoining thoroughfares.

Another diabolical conspiracy of the Jesuits had been discovered, and
their designs frustrated. The news had just travelled to Warwick, and
all was exultation, execration, and wild riot; whilst, added to this was
a whispered rumour that the Queen of Scots was to be immediately brought
to trial for participation in the plot. Sir Walter Mildmay, Sir Amias
Paulet, and Edward Barker,--it was said at the Castle,--had waited upon
Mary, informing her of the commission to try her, and also that Mary had
refused to submit to an examination before subjects. Thus, then, all was
excitement, stir, and bustle, as Shakespeare, unmarked by all, passed
through the streets of Warwick and entered, the market-place,--a scene,
perhaps, not quite so rude and riotous as in earlier times in that old
town, yet still sufficiently characteristic of the period.

At one side of the market a company of fleshers, butchers, and half-clad
hangers-on, reeking with the "uncleanly savours of the slaughter-house,"
threw up their sweaty night-caps, and urged their savage mastiffs to the
charge, whilst an unlucky bear, tied to a strong stake, hugged and bit
and bellowed with the agony of the attack. At another part a rout of
fellows were to be seen wrestling and playing at quarter-staff; others,
as they sprawled before a low hostel, were dicing and drinking, whilst a
whole company danced and shouted around a bonfire, in which the effigies
of Philip of Spain, tied back to back to a shaven monk, were being
burnt. At another part of the market a considerable crowd was gathered
around a sort of rhyming pedlar,--a tatterdemalion poet, who said, and
shouted, and sang, the latest news, the newest ballad, and the last
lampoon made upon Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote:--

    "A Parliament member, a justice of peace--
    At home a poor scarecrow, in London an ass."

Passing through this crowd, and gathering from several knots of the
citizens much of the stirring news, Shakespeare entered a small tavern
situate in the outskirts of the town, near the Priory walls, where,
although he found less bustle, there was yet a decent assemblage of
guests. Here again he had opportunity of hearing those events which at
the moment interested the kingdom from one end to the other. Violent
philippics were levelled against Mary of Scotland, Philip of Spain, the
Pope, and all communicating and consorting with them. The Queen of
Scots, it was asserted by one of the travellers, had been found guilty
of writing a letter to Philip, in which she offered to transfer all
England to the Spaniard should her son refuse to embrace the Catholic
faith. Another guest affirmed she had entered into a conspiracy against
her own son, and instigated agents to seize his person and deliver him
into the hands of the Pope, or the King of Spain.

As the fugitive sat beneath the huge chimney, and listened to the noisy
debate of these politicians, amidst the hum of voices, and with the
names of Walsingham, Babington, Burleigh, Hatton, Leicester, and others,
ringing in his ears, he fell asleep, and with his arms folded, his head
dropping upon his breast, his feet stretched out upon the hearth, his
quarter-staff fast clutched in his arms, in company with others snoring
in different parts of the apartment, did he pass the first hours of the
night on which he fled from Stratford.

It was by no means an uncommon occurrence in Elizabeth's day for guests
and wayfarers at a hostel of this sort _so_ to pass the night. Your
traveller oft-times took his supper, folded his arms, drew his cloak
around him, and slept in his boots and doublet when on a journey. The
comfort of a good bed, as in our own day upon the road, was by no means
thought so necessary. Nay, during the reign of Henry the Eighth, the
peasant slept upon the floor with a log of wood for a pillow; and a
comfortable bed to the hardy English peasant or the yeoman was a luxury
indeed. The traveller, therefore, who meant to be early on the road,
paid his shot over-night, and departed with "the first cock."
Accordingly, the morning broke as Shakespeare brushed the dew from the
grass some miles from Warwick, and the sun shone out brightly as he
neared the towers of Kenilworth, then in all its pride and magnificence.
The parks, and woods, and chase of this fortress were well known to the
poet; and the beautiful little village, with its priory situated close
to the walls, amidst verdant meadows, and surrounded with thick and
massive foliage, had been a favourite haunt. Here, when a school-boy, he
had accompanied his father, what time the Earl of Leicester entertained
Queen Elizabeth for seventeen days, "with pomp, with triumph, and with
revelling." And here he had taken his first impression of regal pride
and power. At the same time he also got an inkling of the theatrical
diversions then in vogue; for hither came the Coventry men, and acted an
ancient play upon the green--a play long used or represented in their
antique city, and called "Hock's Tuesday," and in which the Dane, after
a formal engagement, was discomfited. Here, too, us he stood upon the
margin of the castle-lake, he beheld another pageant, in which

    "Arion,[18] on a dolphin's back,
    Uttered such dulcet and harmonious breath,
    That the rude lake grew civil at her song."

[Footnote 18: The Earl, besides other things, had represented Arion on a
dolphin, with rare music, whilst fireworks were seen in the air.
Shakespeare, more than once, alludes to Arion on a dolphin's back. Might
not these things have made early impression upon his mind?]

Many other rough, sports, too, had he seen on this occasion and on this
spot; the gracious Queen, sitting patiently the whilst, "kindly giving
her thanks to the actors for nothing."

    "Her sport to take what they mistook,
    And what poor duty could not do,
    Noble respect took it in might, not merit;
    And where she saw them shiver and look pale,
    Make periods in the midst of sentences,
    Throttle their practis'd accents in their fears,
    And in conclusion dumbly breaking off,
    Out of their silence did she pick a welcome,
    And in the modesty of fearful duty
    She read as much, as from the rattling tongue
    Of saucy and audacious eloquence."

As Shakespeare turned from the neighbourhood of Kenilworth, the scene
was by no means new to him, yet still it made considerable impression
upon his mind; the huge castle and its flanking walls and towers, and
the buildings which had been added to it during various reigns,
altogether made up a pile of feudal grandeur such as was hardly to be
equalled in the kingdom. There stood the new and magnificent buildings
of the favourite Leicester--the towers of old John of Gaunt,
"time-honoured Lancaster,"--the lodgings of King Henry the Eighth--the
old bower of Cæsar, (built by Geoffrey de Clinton,) the tilt-yard, the
swan tower, the water tower, Lunn's tower, Fountain tower, Saintlow
tower, and Mervyn's bower. There was the plaisance, the orchard, the
huge court, the garden, the glassy lake, and the wild and magnificent
chase. All these, much as they had been impressed upon the mind of
Shakespeare in former rambles, seemed doubly interesting and impressive
now that lie was leaving the scene, perhaps for ever, without purse,
profession, or prospect. Nay, should he meet some outlaw or common
robber on the road, he might have said, with his own Valentine--

    "A man I am, crossed with adversity,
    My riches are these poor habiliments,
    Of which, if you should here disfurnish me,
    You take the sum and substance that I have."

Those who have left the home and haunts of their childhood, and all
there so dearly loved, can best describe the feeling of desolation which
the one solitary wanderer for the first time feels, and which each mile
seems to add to. He who has first embarked for a distant clime, leaving
all worth living for, to "make a hazard of new fortunes in the world,"
can best remember "how slow his soul sailed on, how swift his ship."

When Shakespeare left the neighbourhood of Kenilworth, all was strange
and new to him; and he might then be said to have entered upon "the wide
and universal theatre."

All travel at this period was performed on horseback. Roads were foul,
ill-made, and difficult; so much so, that in winter a man might have
been dead in London three mouths before his next heir at York heard the
news. The towns and villages, too, were then few, small, and far apart;
and as Shakespeare inquired his weary way onwards, how sweet in
remembrance seemed the bowery beauty of that sequestered spot he had
quitted--sweet Stratford! and where he knew every face he met, where he
saw and mixed with his own family every day, every hour. Sometimes, as
he lay along, and rested beneath the shade of melancholy boughs, he
loved to ponder upon those dearly-loved relatives, and imagine what they
were doing, what they thought of his absence, and whether they missed
him. His mother, too, she who had always so loved her first-born, who
could read his high desert, and appreciate his brilliant talents, when
all else passed him by, how would she miss him!

    "Oh this will make my mother die of grief."

The tears would then course one another down his cheek, and he would
start up and hurry onwards again. He had no fixed route, but inquired
his way from village to town, and from hamlet to city. His good
constitution, and out-door habits, made it no hardship to him to pass
the night upon the mossed bank in the open air. The cottage afforded him
refreshment, and the thin drink of the shepherd from his bottle was
oft-times offered in return for a few minutes' conversation upon the
wold; the hawthorn bush the shade in which he rested; and thus he
proceeded onwards in his flight, purposely deviating from the direct
road, as well from inclination as that he felt it likely some search
might be made after him either by friends or enemies.

The few coins he had in his pocket when he started were soon expended,
and he experienced at times, during his progress, the pangs of hunger
without the means of allaying it, and this perhaps was an ordeal
Shakespeare was fated to go through. He was destined to feel the "uses
of adversity" ere he rose, by his own mighty efforts, above the world.
He was to see human nature in all its varieties. To experience the
depressing weight of poverty, ere he surmounted his worldly cares, as
the lion shakes the dew-drops from his mane. Adversity was to be the
finishing school of his studies--nature the book presented. In this
school he took his degree, and which all the learning of the ancients,
all the pedants of the antique world would have failed in teaching him.
Nor was his attention confined to the actions of men as he mingled
amongst them. He was the exact surveyor of the inanimate world as he
travelled through it, and his descriptions in after-life were grafted
from the contemplation of things as they really existed.

To a solitary traveller on foot at this period there was considerable
peril. The resolute ruffian, the "resolved villain," who lived by
levying contributions on the road, was often to be met with. Nay, even
strong parties of travellers were frequently attacked, and robbed, and
murdered, 'twixt town and town. Still all unarmed, except the stout
staff he carried in his hand, and the small dagger worn at his girdle,
and which served to cut up the food he ate, Shakespeare held on his way.
The lowly ruffian as he emerged from the thick cover which overhung the
road occasionally scowled upon him as he passed, and then let him
proceed unquestioned. There was something in the eye, which met his
glance, which told the robber of hard blows and desperate resistance,
whilst the unfurnished manner in which he travelled promised little in
the shape of booty. Once or twice the wayfarer had joined a party of
carriers, who, with other travellers in their company, were going the
same route, but, as he frequently diverged from the road, he soon lost
such companionship and made his way alone, through by-roads and foul
ways, and across the dreary wastes and commons, at that period extending
occasionally for many miles. It was on the fourth evening of his journey
that, having made a long detour from the main road, he again came into
it about five miles from Stoney Stratford. The day had been lovely, he
had wandered far, and as he laid himself down beneath some huge trees
and watched the bright track of the setting sun, he fell into a sound
sleep.

'Twas "the middle summer's spring." The bank upon which he lay looked a
perfect haunt of the elfin crew, but whether or not, on _this_ night,
Shakespeare dreamt a _dream of Midsummer_, or whether he dreamt at all,
we are unable to say. Whilst he slept, however, he was suddenly awakened
by the sound of voices near.

As he opened his eyes, by the moon's light he observed three persons
standing a few yards from him. The spot on which he reclined was so
shadowed by the overhanging branches and thick with fern that he had
himself been undiscovered, and a few moments' observation convinced him
that the men he beheld were "squires of the night's booty." Their heavy
boots, their soiled doublets, the rusted breast-plates they wore, their
slouched hats, and untrimmed beards, altogether indeed convinced him
they were thieves.

Whilst he regarded the ill-favoured trio they descended from the
overhanging bank into the road, where they were joined by a fourth
person, who stole from the covert on the other side, and for some
minutes remained in conversation with them. The situation was not
without its interest, albeit it was fraught with danger to Shakespeare.
He had, indeed, unconsciously intruded himself into the trysting place
of a band of robbers, and, as he rose to his feet and removed somewhat
behind the tree, he watched them narrowly.

They were evidently laying in wait for passengers, as he more than once
observed one of the party throw himself flat upon the road, with his ear
to the ground, in order to listen for the tread of hoofs. To remain
behind the oak (whose antique root peeped out upon the overhanging bank)
would have been dangerous. Still, as he resolved closely to watch these
men, he cautiously withdrew into the deeper cover of the trees. As he
did so his head struck against some obstacle pendant from one of the
boughs, and, as he raised his eyes, he beheld the dead body of a man
suspended, a ghastly object thus seen in the gloom, and which
sufficiently shewed the evil nature of the neighbourhood. He had, in
fact, reached a spot called the "Crooked Wood," a part of the road at
that period famous for robbery and murder, and the bodies of several
malefactors were hung _in terrorem_.

Shuddering at the sight, he withdrew from the vicinity of this object,
which swinging backwards and forwards looked yet more horrible in the
deep gloom. The next moment he heard the distant sound of hoofs upon the
rood, and at the same time observed the figures beneath drawing
cautiously off on either hand, concealing themselves completely in the
deep shadows, one only remaining prostrate in the very middle of the
highway. Although the horsemen approached rapidly, it was some time ere
they neared the spot; now the clatter of hoofs appearing close at hand,
and then (as some turn in the road intervened) again for some moments
totally lost to the ear.

At length they advanced down the hill which led immediately into this
dark defile. Two horsemen he distinguished; the foremost immediately
reined up his horse, and signed to his companion to do the same. The
heart of Shakespeare beat quickly as he observed one of the travellers
dismount and stoop down to render assistance to the prostrate form
before him. As he did so the robber suddenly grasped the traveller by
the throat and pulled him down, at the same moment his three companions
darted like lightning from either side of the road; whilst two assailed
the horseman, the third aided their comrade to despatch the traveller
who had been entrapped.

The struggle was desperate: the mounted cavalier had in an instant
unsheathed his long rapier, and manfully defended himself; and the woods
around rang to the blows of the combatants. Meanwhile the prostrate
traveller, whose horse had galloped off at the commencement of the fray,
was also in an unpleasant plight. This latter, being a powerful man, had
more than once heaved himself up by main force, and nearly cleared
himself from his adversaries. But, with heavy blows and desperate
exertions, they at length succeeded in pinning him down. In an instant,
however, the fallen man succeeded in drawing a pistol from his belt, and
discharged it into the body of one of his opponents.

All this happened in as short a time as it has taken the reader to
peruse it. Life and death, in such deadly conflict, in taken and
received by the combatants like the lightning's flash; and, albeit the
travellers straggled manfully, yet a very few minutes sufficed to tell
against the leaser party. The horseman was on the point of being dragged
from his saddle, and his fellow-traveller was growing exhausted with the
violence of action. At that moment, however, a heavy blow fractured the
skull of the ruffian who hold the bridle-rein of the rearing steed, and
as the new combatant afterwards opposed himself to the robber, who had
by this time succeeded in bringing the rider to the ground, after a
short and rapid combat, the latter turned and fled.

This turned the tide of battle instantaneously in favour of the
travellers, and as in oft-times the case in such conflicts, it ended in
the same rapid manner in which it had commenced. The travellers stood
panting with their recent exertions, and whilst three bodies lay before
them in the road, thou: deliverer, leaning upon his heavy quarter-staff,
stood regarding one of them with curious eye.

Meantime, after the person, who seemed by his appearance the principal
of the travellers, had somewhat recovered himself, he stepped up to the
hero of the quarter-staff, and poured forth his thanks for the service
rendered.

"We are indebted to you for no less than our lives," he said, "and would
fain repay the obligation by something more acceptable than thanks."

The moon was at the moment hidden, but as Shakespeare caught a nearer
view of the features of the speaker, he plucked his own hat over his
brow, and withdrew still further into the shadow of the trees. At the
same time he courteously refused all requital for the aid he had
rendered.

"Can we do nothing to requite this favour?" said the taller Cavalier.

"You can," said Shakespeare, "since, if I guess aright, your name is
Arderne, and you go towards Stratford-upon-Avon."

"Such is my name," said the traveller. "How can I serve you?"

"By giving this token," said Shakespeare, tearing a leaf from a small
tablet he earned in his breast, and writing a few words on it.

"No more?" inquired the traveller, endeavouring to get a better view of
the speaker.

"Tell those to whom you give the token," said Shakespeare, "that he who
sends it is in life and health--no more."

"But will you not bear us company?" said Arderne. "This place seems
dangerous, and alone you may be met by others of the gang."

"'Tis no matter," said Shakespeare; "I cannot consort with thee. Our
paths to-night, as through life, lie in different directions. Farewell!"
and hastily darting off, he was quickly lost in the gloom.

"Strange," said Walter Arderne, as he glanced closely at the small slip
of paper in his hand, and which the moon's light now gave him an
opportunity of reading. "Ah! this paper is directed to the wool-comber
in Henley Street. Methought I knew the voice. 'Twas then William
Shakespeare who so opportunely befriended us."

So much was Arderne surprised at this meeting, that he would fain have
followed Shakespeare, but his companion dissuaded him.

"The man is gone suddenly as he came," said he, "and we are not wise to
remain longer in this place. Come," he continued, as Walter remained
looking in the direction his sometime friend had taken, "let us on, and
endeavour to catch our horses. We may be met again in this dark pass,
and, by my fay, it is not every night in the week a man meets with
a--let me see--How called ye this friend in need?"

"Shakespeare," said Arderne, whilst he still lingered in the hope of
catching another glimpse of his deliverer--"William Shakespeare."

"Ah, Shakespeare!" said the blunt Fluellyn, sheathing his rapier. "Truly
so; but come on, a' God's name, I say; for 'tis not every wood at
midnight that can produce a Shakespeare."



CHAPTER XXXIX.

OLD LONDON.


Our scene shifts now from the pleasant fields and sylvan retreats in
which we have so long lingered, and changes to the great metropolis of
England--London, in the olden time--a vastly different place, as our
readers are doubtless well aware, both in size and aspect, from the same
metropolis of the present day; since three parts of that which is now
crowded with houses, intersected with streets and squares, and crammed
with an overwhelming population, was then the haunt of the deer, the
form of the hare, the park, the thicket, and the chace.

It is curious to imagine the appearance of this metropolis in
Elizabeth's day. Its peculiar houses, with their sloping roofs and
beetling stories, its narrow thoroughfares, and the variety of antique
buildings, which still remained to tell the tale of former reigns,
altogether producing a picturesque and beautiful effect, such as our
readers have doubtless often dwelt on with pleasure in the old paintings
of the time. Added also to the peculiar architectural beauty of that
day, many of the better sort of edifices being detached, surrounded with
tall trees, and standing within the rounding of their own gardens,
presented a delicious and bowery appearance ere the very interior of the
city was reached. The silver Thames, too, at this period, still flowed
for the most part through green banks, until its tide passed the dark
gates of the Tower, when for a small space the buildings were reared
one upon another, as if they had apparently been thrust forward from the
more crowded parts, and only hindered from toppling into the stream by
the piles and heavy timbers of the crushed-up cabins underneath.

Thus the whole together, seen from the water, with their diamond-paned
bay-windows encroaching over the stream, looked like the bulk-heads of
innumerable vessels crammed and cast in confusion along the margin of
the river.

After passing this crowded mass, however, and which, in Elizabeth's
reign, stretched out for a short distance, the eye of the passenger was
again relieved by edifices both of a noble appearance, and by no means
stinted to space, the banks even at this part of the river occasionally
displaying a verdant appearance, and such buildings standing in their
own proper grounds. For instance, the very important hostel of the Three
Cranes, with its porch, its huge chimneys, and its ample rooms, was
reared upon the grassy bank, its deep bay-windows looking out upon the
stream. The frowning towers and dark water-gate of Barnard's Castle next
appeared. Then came the ominous-looking tower of Bridewell. A few
strokes of the oar, and the pleasant gardens of the White Friars met the
eye. Then came the Temple Gardens, and after them the pile of buildings,
with battlement and strong tower, called the Sanoye; after that, amongst
many other important edifices, were to be seen the castellated towers of
Duresme Place, York Place, the Courts, the Starre Chamber, Westminster
Hall, with a sort of pier running out from the open court in front, and
the Parliament House; then came the huge Abbey of Westminster, not as
now, choked up by encroaching squalor, but standing in its magnificence
in the midst of verdant meadows; and lastly came the Queen's Bridge.

On the Surrey side, the aspect of the Thames and its banks would have
yet more surprised a modern eye, since there the wind still sighed
amongst the reeds and long grass of centuries. On Lambeth Marsh stood
the palace and church, together with some two dozen straggling edifices.
But the Oxen's low was heard along the whole of that over-crowded part,
so well known to the Londoner of the present day, and now so teeming
with a squalid and overwhelming population. All along the banks on this
side, trees and gardens, with an occasional row of houses, a goodly
edifice, or a countryfied hostel were to be seen until the passenger
came to Winchester Place, St. Mary Over, and London Bridge, with the
gate-houses, towers, and multitudinous buildings, built all along it.
Nay, the spectator, standing upon the top of one of the towers of the
bridge and looking beyond the great blackened wall of Old London, beheld
a large tract called the Spital Fyelds, in which the sheep fed beneath
the shade of tall trees. Bishopgate Street, too, with its one long
straggling thoroughfare, seemed a trifling village. In Finsburie Fyeld
stood the windmill, and the kennel for hounds. Clerkenwell seemed but a
single church with its surrounding wall. Gray's Inn Lane appeared a
remote thoroughfare, leading to the open country, and Broad St. Jiles
was a trifling village; whilst in Convent Garden, then completely
surrounded by a high and massive wall, stood a single edifice--the
Convent, from which it took its name, and beyond it green meadows
studded with trees.

Such, then, were the environs of London, at the period of which we
write. Its interior we shall perhaps again have occasion to speak of
during the progress of our story.

It was on the afternoon of the fifth day from his leaving
Stratford-upon-Avon, that William Shakespeare, standing upon Hampstead
Hill, looked upon London for the first time. The spot on which he stood
(albeit it has now, like others we have mentioned, become one vast
region of brick and mortar) was then studded with oaks, which had
perhaps witnessed the gathering of the knightly and the noble for the
Crusades. Immediately on his right, was the massive buttressed wall,
inclosing the grounds of a half castellated and moated residence, a
country seat of the Earl of Southampton.

As Shakespeare stood thus and gazed down upon the metropolis, he beheld
many of those time-honoured edifices, yet remaining, which he had read
of whilst studying the history of his native land.

Long did the future poet gaze upon the scene before him, and the setting
sun was pouring down his softened glories, and bathing tower, and
steeple, and wall, in a flood of molten gold, as he entered the suburbs.
Suburbs which the traveller of the present day would have likened more
to a row of hucksters' shops, or temporary buildings run up for a fair,
than the outskirts of a great city.

Far as the eye could reach were to be seen those pent-house stalls,
which, projecting into the highways, displayed the different articles of
the different trades and occupations of the indwellers, and which being
relieved by innumerable signs, tubs, long benches, stalls, smiths'
forges, and quaint-looking inns or hostels, gave a most picturesque and
diversified appearance to the whole.

It must have been a singular sight to behold that friendless young man,
wending his way along the suburban streets of Old London. The dust of
many miles upon his worn shoes, his spirits weary, and, like his own
Touchstone, his legs weary too, and not a cross in his pocket. He was in
London now, and the hard selfishness of the citizen he found somewhat
different from the good-natured hospitality of the cottager. His last
coin had been spent that morning, and he was weary and hungry withal.
Yet still the first sight of the streets of London, as he gradually got
into the interior, so much interested him, that he forgot both hunger
and weariness and kept wandering on.

To the right he turned, now stopping to admire some relics of the days
of the Plantagenets; and then to the left, now looking up at some
edifice whose beetling stories, projecting over the street above, so
nearly met a corresponding edifice on the opposite side, that the
inhabitants might almost have shaken hands out of the upper floor
windows. The increasing bustle of the great town he was every step
becoming more involved in, he at first disregarded, being wholly taken
up with the buildings he passed, and the curiosities every moment
presented to his view. Occasionally, too, his attention was arrested by
a group of cavaliers, dressed in all the magnificence of the period, as
they rode gallantly through the streets. Then again, the furtive glance
of the merry-eyed citizen's daughter, and which she threw at the
exceeding handsome, though somewhat country-clad young man, as she
tripped down some narrow passage, arrested him.

These matters caused Shakespeare ever and anon to stop and consider
curiously, and, as he gazed around, the continual passers as constantly
interrupted the current of his meditations.

Then he was rudely thrust from the causeway, as a swaggering party,
ruffling and rustling in "unpaid-for-silks," and attended by a whole
retinue of followers, passed on towards the court-end of the town,
talking loud, swearing gallantly, and even singing snatches of songs as
they progressed; elbowing the men from, and thrusting the females as
unceremoniously to, the wall. Their huge trunks and short cloaks
fluttering in the wind, their chains and various ornaments glittering in
the sun, and the feathers in their high-crowned hats brushing the
overhanging stories of the houses as they walked.

All these varieties, so new to the pedestrian, continually excited his
curiosity, more especially as, from the conversation of several
citizens, he found that rumours of events of importance were filling
men's minds with the anticipation of events to come.

"Heard ye the news, neighbour," said one staid-looking burgher, "just
brought in from Milford Haven? A Spanish fleet hath been sighted off
those parts."

"Nay, neighbour," said another, "I heard not of the Spaniard. They do
say, however, that the Duke of Guise hath landed in Sussex with a strong
army."

"And I heard," continued a third, "that the Scot hath made an irruption
into England. Nay, 'tis even whispered that Queen Mary hath escaped, and
that the northern countries, have, in sooth, commenced an insurrection."

"Aye, and harkee, neighbours all," said a fourth, "only let it go no
further, I heard tell in Paul's to-day of a new conspiracy to
assassinate our good Queen Elizabeth, and set on foot, 'tis said, by
L'Aubespine, the French Ambassador. Nay, I can tell thee that a mob hath
beset the Frenchman's house, and he hath been ordered to quit the
kingdom without delay. Aye, and 'tis said the Queen is much troubled
with these things; that she keeps close, and much alone; that she
muttereth much to herself, and seems in great tribulation."

"Not much wonder, either," said another, "'Tis certain she is in great
terror and perplexity; and if she hesitate much longer to order the
execution of the Queen of Scots, the kingdom will be burnt up in an
_auto-da-fé_."

As Shakespeare listened to these rumours he still continued to wander on
amidst the labyrinth of lanes, alleys, and buildings in which he found
himself. Now he progressed through a dense mass of wooden tenements
called Shoe Lane, the streets crooked and narrow, and overshadowed by a
perpetual twilight, from the abutments overhead, rising, as we before
said, story above story, until they almost closed upon each other. Then,
again, he turned down another street, retraced his steps, wandered back
through Crow Lane into Gifford Street, and was brought up by the huge
black-looking mass constituting Old London Wall. Grazing up at the
ramparts of this dark boundary, he made his way along the Old Bailey,
passed through Lud's Gate, and found himself in the large open space in
which stood the then gothic-looking structure of St. Paul's. Here he
found a large concourse of people, men, women, and children, leaping,
shouting, and holding a sort of revel around a huge bonfire kindled just
at the part called Ave Maria, whilst a second rout were collecting in
the vicinity of a sort of stage erected opposite the houses named
Paternoster Row.

Leaning upon his staff, in the shade of the old gothic building, he
gazed upon the scene before him as the chimes rung out from the tower.
He stood apart from that crowd alone, unknowing any, unknown to all, on
a spot now covered by the vast building since reared upon those ancient
foundations: and, as he stood, he looked upon a scene which called up
associations no longer likely to be engendered in such locality; for all
is gone which could impress the mind with the times in which he himself
lived, or with the deeds of a former age.

The edifice itself, at that period, told of monkish intolerance and
monastic grandeur; when the knightly and the noble bowed their necks,
and walked bare-headed on the flags beneath, and even kings did penance
amongst the mean and miserable at its shrine.

He was amidst the mighty dead--the men of whom he had read in his home
at Stratford! The Norman kings, in all the pomp and circumstance of
their feudal pride, had walked upon that spot. Then, again, as he seated
himself upon an ancient tomb, his thoughts turned upon his own welfare
and prospects, and he began to ask himself, for the first time since his
arrival in London, what course he was to pursue? Now that he had reached
this aim and end of his journey, what was he in reality the better for
it? He knew no one: he had neglected to make inquiries of his own
friends as to persons to whom he might have got a recommendation; and
money--the best friend of the traveller--he had none. But then, he was
in London. "Truly so," he thought to himself. "The more fool for being
there, when in the country he was in a better place." And then he
thought of home, of wife, children, and other relations, and then his
heart softened, and he wept. Yes! there, amidst the bustle of Old
Paul's, whilst the Londoners recreated themselves before a sort of
moveable stage, on which certain dramatic representations were exhibited
to the gaping crowd on one side, and the bonfire raged on the other, and
all was uproar and hilarity,--there did Shakespeare sit and weep, "in
pure melancholy and troubled brain." At length, overcome with weariness,
he leant back against an old tomb, and fell asleep amidst the hubbub.

And, as he slept, came swaggering by, the gay fop--the gallant of the
city--the tavern-haunter--the ruffler--and the bully. Then paced by the
more staid and sober citizens, "merchants our well-dealing countrymen;"
but they stopped not to glance upon the tired stranger. Then came
flaunting along, tempted out by the beauty of the evening, the city
madam with her gossip, the merry wives of Chepe; and, as they passed,
they stopped for a moment to glance upon the well-knit limbs and
handsome face of the homeless Shakespeare. They marked his travelled
look, his dusty shoes, and his worn doublet, and they felt inclined to
arouse him, and ask the cause of that pallid cheek, and his sleeping in
the open air at such an hour. But then, a titter from the rude gallant
as he passed, sent them forward amidst the throng. Then came the
cut-purse, as the shadows deepened, and he stole a furtive glance around
the dark old building. But the night was not far enough advanced for him
safely to rifle the pockets of the sleeper, or slit his windpipe
unobserved; and so Shakespeare slept on amidst the throng. Quietly,
sweetly did he slumber, until, as night approached, the crowd gradually
dispersed, the stage disappeared, and all deepened down. Soundly,
heavily, slept that wonderful man amidst scenes which he was ere long to
render famous in all time. One touch of his pen was to picture Old
Paul's and Lud's Town, as no other could picture them. He was to revel
in these scenes amidst which he now unconsciously slumbered, so as no
mortal ever revelled before. He was to call up those bright kings, and
all the glittering host, and shew them in harness, as they had lived,
and to render all that would else have been unknown in Old London--a
dream of delight. Nay, those even who dwelt hard by in East Cheap, knew
not East Cheap; and London itself was to have an interest lent to it,
such as the dwellers in it at that moment little thought of. And so
Shakespeare slept the sleep of weariness--of "weariness which snores
upon the flint."

By-and-by, an old poor man, clad in scraps and tatters, "his whole
apparel built upon pins," his ragged beard descending to his waist, and
carrying a filthy wallet on his back, as he poked about, and picked up
bones in the churchyard, came and looked upon him, and after a few
moments' contemplation, stirred him with the end of his staff and awoke
him. "Best not sleep here so late, young master," he said; "'tis
unsafe."

Shakespeare rubbed his eyes, stared at the crooked object before him,
and thanked him for the caution. "I have," he said, "no cause for fear,
since I have nothing to lose. Nevertheless, I thank thee."

"Nothing to fear!" said the tatterdemalion, "nothing to lose! What call
ye nothing? Have ye not life to lose? Have ye not clothes? By my troth!
there be those haunting Paul's at night, young man, that will take the
one for the sake of the other, and so rob ye of both."

"Both are valueless, or at least worth little," said Shakespeare,
smiling. "Hark, the chimes! how sweetly they sound."

"Sweeter to those who hear them in a good bed," said the man. "They are
the midnight chimes! wherefore dost thou not seek thy home, young
master?"

"I should seek that which I should hardly find," said Shakespeare. "I
have no home, good friend, at least, not in London."

"Neither home nor coin?" said the aged man.

"Neither one nor the other," returned Shakespeare; "and but a few hours
old in London."

"But you've friends here?" inquired the old man.

"Poor in that as in all else," returned Shakespeare.

"Wilt come with me?" said the old man; "I can find thee a roof for one
night, perhaps food too."

"I almost die for food," said Shakespeare; "and thankfully follow thee."
And so the tatterdemalion led the way from St. Paul's, and Shakespeare
followed him.

Through dark alleys and curious thoroughfares did that lean old man
thread his way, ever and anon, as he trampled along and turned the
corner of some fresh street, stopping for a moment to observe if his
follower took the right turn, where so many closes, alleys, and courts
existed; for as they made their way to the water-side, he occasionally
came amongst houses so thickly and irregularly placed, that, by night,
he himself could scarcely thread the labyrinth. Passing through
Dowe-gate, Bush-lane, and Pudynge-lane, he at last stopped before a
house in Bylyngsgate. The tenement before which the old man stopped
would have been termed in our own days but a shed, since, seen from the
street, it apparently consisted but of one large bay window, thrust out
from a square wooden building, a large brick chimney sprouting out in
rear.

On opening the door, which was situated within a sort of blind alley on
one side, the proprietor of the domicile signed to his guest to follow,
and entered the one apartment, which indeed constituted the entire
dwelling.

Not only was it the parlour, kitchen, and sleeping-apartment of the
occupants, but, as the guest glanced around it, he observed, by the
light of a lamp placed on a table near the window, that it was fitted up
as a sort of laboratory; and its walls being accommodated with shelves,
were crowded with vials, gallipots, and vessels of antique formation,
containing precious unguents, filters, and compounds, perhaps in the
present day no longer to be found in the Pharmacopoeia. In addition to
this, there was also means for experimentalising in the deep science of
alchemy,--all which was apparent from the crucibles, retorts, and other
vessels scattered around the hearth. Such as the apartment was, the
needy-looking hollow-eyed proprietor, and who, Shakespeare surmised was
a medical practitioner of that squalid neighbourhood, welcomed his guest
to his poor dwelling; and with an alacrity which was hardly to be
expected from his appearance, placed wine and refreshment before him;
and then opening an ample closet at the further end of the apartment,
shewed him a mattress on which he could repose for the night.

"I have little to offer, young master," he said; "and seldom offer that
little. But I saw that in your face which interested me as you slept.
You reminded me of a bright youth, my hope in better days, my only son,
long since dead; and as I watched thy countenance, I read a bright
fortune in store for thee."

And Shakespeare wrung the hand of that old man, so needy-looking and
pinched, and slept without fear under his roof, in the then dangerous
locality of Bylyngsgate, and where perhaps he might never again awake
alive.



CHAPTER XL.

THE POOR PLAYER.


On the morning which followed the events narrated in the foregoing
chapter, the traveller took leave of the exceedingly poor but kind old
man who had so hospitably sheltered him. He thanked him for his
goodness, and bestowed upon him a small ring, which he took from his
finger, the only trifle of value in his possession. And that old host
attended his guest to the door, and bestowed his blessing upon him, and
followed him with his eyes as he wended his way along the narrow
thoroughfare, and then still stood and looked in the direction he had
gone long after he was out of sight. And then he turned with a sigh and
re-entered his dwelling. "All, well-a-day," he said, "we may grub on in
misery for years and years, and forget the goodly beings we have known
in youth and happiness, outliving all that we loved and honoured in the
world, and still amidst the contaminating filth of poverty and woe pass
our weary lives, and then some superior specimen of goodness and grace
as suddenly revives in our recollection of the beings we have seen in
bygone times. What would I give, an I were amongst the crowned monarchs
of the world, to have yonder youth to companion me? To hear his words,
as I have this morning heard them? to see him as I have seen him but
now, within this lowly hovel?" And then the old man took the platter
from which his guest had eaten, and washed it and put it aside, and set
back the three-legged stool on which Shakespeare had sat, and then he
wept as he said to himself, "An if I look not upon him again, I will
keep these as relics, never to be used by others, for, God forgive me,
but I think, as I recollect his words, that yonder man was something
more than mortal." And then the old man examined the gold ring his guest
presented him with, and as he did so, he gradually approached the
crucible upon the fire, and again he looked upon the gift, and,
hesitating for a moment as his eye fell upon the crucible, he sighed and
dropped the ring into it.

It is evening, and the sun shines upon the banks of the Thames on the
Surrey side.

The scenic hour oft-times presents to our readers such a picture as we
now invite them to look upon. The houses on this side the river are both
irregularly placed and situated, as we have before described, namely,
standing here and there apart, amidst trees and gardens, and
occasionally neighboured by some edifice of a bygone time, and whose
build speaks of monastic grandeur and castellated defence.

Looking from the grassy bank upon the Thames at this part, we behold the
stream rushing impetuously through innumerable arches of a dark
heavy-built bridge--a bridge which frowns with towers and turrets of
curious form and ancient architecture, and which turrets and towers are
graced and garnished with the ghastly heads of criminals and traitors
lately executed.

As the red glare of the evening sun falls upon those buildings, it is
reflected in the innumerable windows with which they are accommodated,
at the same time it displays each "coign of vantage," each grated
embrasure, each coping-stone, buttress, and battlement of the
complicated structure in colours of gold.

The arch and flanking tower, and the iron portcullis and cresset, are
all there as if in a heated furnace.

Turning again towards the shore as we stand upon the bank, after passing
the ancient edifices called Winchester Place, we behold a long row of
buildings near the water's edge, and somewhat removed in the open apace
behind them, a curiously constructed and somewhat ugly building of a
round form. On its top is a small and quaint-looking structure--a sort
of "_match-case to a common 'larum bell_"--and the whole surmounted by a
flag, on which is written "_The Globe_." A few shrubs and stunted trees
are immediately around this building: and the space beyond that, for
about half a bow-shot, is gravelled, and even, in some parts, strewed
with fresh rushes recently cut from the river's bank.

Some fifty yards to the left of this is a rival structure, composed of
stakes and high palings--a sort of stockade, round which flutter
half-a-dozen little markers or flags; and over the gateway which admits
into the arena, is written in large characters the words "_The Bull
Bayting_."

A little removed from the former of these buildings, stands a hostel of
the commoner sort, with its garden in rear, several goodly trees before
its porch, and a bowling-green pleasantly shadowed. Benches are before
this inn, and also under the trees, and the actors upon the scene are
both many and rather uncommon in appearance.

The inn is indeed the haunt of those persons who find employment in the
two houses of entertainment we have described. The hangers-on of the
Globe Theatre, and the employés of the Bull and Bear-bayting, men of a
character and disposition somewhat peculiar. They are indeed, many of
them, _sui generis_, something in style and demeanour between the
magnifico and the mountebank, and yet amongst them are men of appearance
and talent worthy of a better station.

As they congregate about this rallying-point, they seem the very genii
of idleness; and, in their listless indifference, above the doings and
events of this work-a-day world.

Here a fellow, with his beaver cocked, and swaggering gait, throws out
his arm, in order to display a cloak of three-piled velvet, whilst his
toes are seen peeping from the foot of an ample russet boot. There a
comrade, evidently "a horse of the same colour," an "affected
fantastico," points a toe in attitude, twists a moustache with a grace,
plays off a gauntlet with a flourish, and struts "like chanticleer i'
the sun." These are the magnificoes of the walk. Then come a crowd of
under-strappers, whose vocation is in their very look, who even play
their parts hourly, and _live_ in character--either aping the grandee,
the gallant, the swaggerer, or the lisping idiotic driveller; the clowns
and jesters making up the file.

Each speaks with an accompanying gesture, and walks with a circumstance.
Some have a sort of sad hilarity, and utter dull jokes with a grave
brow, or laugh _in a sort_. They even wear a ceremonious observance
towards each other, and look upon the world in general in an inferior
light. The free-masonry of bombast is rife amongst the fellowship. If
one hands the tankard to his fellow, standing with mine host beneath the
porch, he does so with a flourish, and receives it again cross-handed.
In short, as they are seen congregated about their haunt, or place of
call, they seem uninterested in the common-place events of the world as
other men. Their ideas are inflated and dreamy; their world, their
kingdom, is their theatre, and their lives felt to be but passed whilst
they strut their hour before the admiring throng. "The best actors in
the world, either for scene individable, or poem unlimited." "Seneca
could not be too heavy, nor Plautus too light for them." Whilst these
characters walk and talk, flourish and attitudinize, a trumpet sounds
from the roof of the round building first described, at which some
amongst them seem to start like the war-horse aroused; others pay their
shot to mine host; others again wave a hand gracefully to the buxom
landlady at the latticed window; and all take their way to the theatre.
They are indeed summoned to prepare for the scenic hour, to rehearse
their parts--such as those parts are.

Amongst these men there were, as we have hinted, some individuals of a
superior stamp, men of high attainments, considering the period in which
they lived, and who, finding no vent for the talents they were in
possession of, passed their hours amongst the choice spirits of the
Globe.

There was a romance in the lives of some of these latter, in keeping
with their appearance; and one or two had attempted a higher flight, and
endeavoured to improve the style of dramatic composition. Nor had they
altogether failed, for many dramas had been written by them possessing
real and absolute excellence.

Scarce half-an-hour had elapsed after the trumpet sounded from the
Globe, when a man passed through the various portals upon London Bridge;
and, as chance directed, turning to the left upon the Surrey side of the
river, quickly took his way amongst the ancient buildings then lining
the bank.

Wearied and faint from lack of food--for he had been all day wandering
through the streets of London,--he stopped beside the Norman structure,
built during the crusades by William Pont de l'Arche, and called St-Mary
Ouer.

The curious in antiquities will, we fear, look in vain for any vestige
of this remnant of the early English, which nevertheless, in Elizabeth's
day, with its church and monastery, extended down to the very edge of
the Thames.

Leaning upon his staff, undecided in which direction to turn his steps,
Shakespeare stopped beside the dark walls of this ancient edifice; and,
after gazing upon the building with interest for some moments, entered
the porch of the old monastery.

Whilst he remained there, several cavaliers on horseback rode past--gay
youths, tricked out in all the extravagance of that age of extravagant
costume; their loud laughter, and joyous converse, as they careered
along, shewing that their spirits were gay as their habits. They came
from the bridge over which he himself had just crossed, and took their
way along the massive wall then skirting the antique buildings of
Winchester Place.

Whilst Shakespeare continued to remark the several parties occasionally
passing, he also observed that boats, containing companies of ladies,
also put into a small landing-place near at hand; and these latter
parties took the same direction the horsemen had gone.

The beauty of the evening, the fresh air from the river, the monastic
grandeur of the old buildings, and the cheerful appearance of the
various companies he at the moment beheld, somewhat revived his drooping
spirits. He felt it impossible to be quite unhappy, whilst all around
was gay, and the scene so lovely.

Listlessly he continued to watch the various boats; and as the parties
disembarked and passed on, in their thoughtless hilarity, he arose, and
bent his steps in the same direction.

He passed through the open field along that strong buttressed wall, then
inclosing Winchester Place; and a few paces brought him to the close
vicinity of a building, around which several persons at that moment were
congregated--the Globe Theatre. The place and scene altogether
interested him, and again he stopped to observe the throng, and which,
as it altogether presented a somewhat singular appearance, we shall
ourselves stop with him to observe.

The entrance of the building was accommodated with benches on either
side, on which were seated various of the hangers-on of the
establishment, and one or two of the actors, waiting for their call.
Amongst those, a couple of clowns or fools were conspicuous; and as they
uttered their witticisms, and performed divers tricks, for the amusement
of themselves and their companions, they collected an audience without,
which frequently recruited those within--cracking their jokes, and
familiarizing themselves with the various companies as they came up.
These were, indeed, the all-licensed fools of the time, and without
whose presence and aid no performance was considered perfect; they bore
off, in some sort, the tedium of the long dialogue then in vogue.

Whilst Shakespeare stood to regard the scene before him, the flourish of
drum and trumpet within the building recalled those motley-minded gentry
and their companions to their various duties; and at the same moment a
gay party of mounted cavaliers approached, dismounted, and entered.

Still that tired stranger, as he stood beside the portals of the
theatre, continued to feel an interest in all that was going on there.
The merry glance of the citizen's wife, as she passed in,--the answering
look of the gallant as he followed,--the gay and flaunting party from
the Court-end of the town,--the loud laugh, the sharp rebuke, the coarse
jest, the retort courteous, and the counter-check quarrelsome,--all were
there.

By-and-by a couple of cavaliers, splendidly mounted and magnificently
apparelled, came galloping up. They dismounted at the door, and the one
nearest Shakespeare threw the rein of his steed to him, and desired him
to hold the horse, at the same moment thrusting a silver coin into the
youth's hand. His companion meanwhile had confided his charger to the
care of one of the employés of the theatre, and the next moment both
these gallants were within the Globe. They had passed so quickly, that
Shakespeare found himself in possession of the coin and the steed, ere
he had time fully to observe the person of the cavalier who had favoured
him with his custody.

As he looked at the money, a slight blush tinged his cheek, but he
repressed the feeling of shame which at first intruded itself, as he
reflected the money was honestly come by. He then looked more curiously
upon the noble animal intrusted to his charge.

Passionately fond of a horse, like most men bred and born in the
country, he examined its points with interest. It was in truth a noble
animal, answering in every point the description he has himself given of
a perfect courser:

     "Round hoofed, short-pointed, fetlocks shag and long,
      Broad breast, full eye, small head, and nostril wide,
    High chest, short ears, straight legs, and passing strong,
      Thin mane, thick tail, broad buttock, tender hide.
        Look, what a horse should have, he did not lack."

Pulling the arched neck of the noble steed, he then led him towards the
man holding its fellow.

"Know you the owner of this goodly horse?" he inquired.

The man was evidently a sort of character, a swaggerer who wished to
pass for a gentleman and a soldier, albeit his elbows were ragged, and
his whole dress patched and furbished up.

"Know I Master Edmund Spencer?" he said, looking contemptuously upon
Shakespeare. "Where canst thou have lived, boy, to ask the question.
Best inquire me next for the rider of _this_ nag, Sir Walter Raleigh.
Thou knowest not the choice spirits of the Court. Ergo, thou art strange
to the town."

"I am, in sooth, a stranger to the town," said Shakespeare; "but a few
hours old in it."

"And from whence?" inquired the other.

"From Warwickshire," returned Shakespeare.

"The county I know," returned the other; "my grandsire was of Warwick,
eke also. Hast coin in pouch, camarado mine?"

"I have," said Shakespeare, producing the silver piece given him by
Spenser the moment before.

"Ha!" said the other, "then will we adventure to yonder hostel in search
of liquor and food wherewith to repair ourselves, for sooth to say thou
lookest both pale and hungry. Come ye of the Ardens of Warwickshire?"

"One way I do," said Shakespeare. "But Arden is not my name. Call me
William."

"'Tis no matter," said the other; "thou art a proper fellow of thy
hands, and I have taken a fancy for thy companionship. Lead on thy steed
good William; a cup of Canary and a toast will cheer thee."

And thus did Shakespeare make a friend and procure the refreshments he
so much required, and with the poor player sitting beside him on the
bench, whilst they held the horses beneath the tree, under the influence
of "the good familiar creature, wine," he unbosomed himself to this new
comrade.

"I will befriend thee in all I can," said the player, and who in truth,
being but a sorry stick, was himself rarely employed, "I will myself
advocate thy fortunes, good rustic," he continued. "I do spy in thy face
and figure marvellous proper attributes for certain parts, for the which
we are in want of actors. Ah, by Apollo! thou hast the limbs, and thews,
and form, to captivate the fancy of ladies fair."



CHAPTER XLI.

THE TAVERN REVEL.


The general aspect of London in the reign of Elizabeth is so singular
when contrasted with the same great metropolis of our own day, that we
must again refer to it.

The houses in the heart of the city, like those in the suburbs, were
still chiefly built of wood, or of wood and brick; the poverty of their
appearance being the more apparent from their being, ever and anon,
relieved by the stately and massive building of former days. The dark
monastery, the massive wall, or the castellated edifice, were constantly
to be seen amidst streets so crooked and narrow, and so dismal from the
abutments overhead, that foreigners, as they threaded their way, and
amidst damp and wind, are said to have likened London to the vale of
death. In wet weather the streets were especially dismal, and so
prevalent were consumption and pestilence that bonfires were oft-times
kindled in order to purify the air and avert the plague. Nay, even kites
and ravens were to be seen hopping about the various thoroughfares,
being kept by many inhabitants for the purpose of devouring the filth.

Nothing, indeed, could well exceed the contrast during Elizabeth's reign
between the splendid, though somewhat barbaresque, magnificence of the
mansions of the nobles and gentry, and the houses of the commoner sort
of people. Yet still, although the houses of the citizens were for the
most part poor and ill-contrived, yet every now and then would be found
amongst them, the dwelling of some richer trader which broke the
uniformity of the general mass; such edifice having a quantity of gable
ends at all heights and in all directions, with chimneys of fantastic
shape and profuse ornament, and covered with decorations; the
multitudinous frames in its windows completed the picture.

These were the dwellings of some of the merchant-princes of the town,
whose strongly-barred and iron-studded doors showed that where wealth
was to be found defence was necessary against the lawless spirits
roaming through the dark thoroughfares at hand.

Another contrast to the filthy, unpaved, and uncared-for state of the
streets and thoroughfares at this period, was the costly style in which
many of the houses were ornamented on any occasion of rejoicing or
pageantry. At such times every window and pent-house was garnished with
banners and strips of tapestry, or hung with rich fragments of velvet,
damask, or silk, whilst the city functionaries and the various companies
"in robe and furred gown," and attended by a host of proper fellows,
apparelled in silk and chain of gold, contributed to make up the show.

On the morning which followed the night Shakespeare made acquaintance
with the poor player he awoke in a small, low roofed apartment in the
upper floor of the hostel of the Globe. He felt himself considerably
refreshed, and rising from his truckle bed he threw open the window and
looked forth upon the well wooded hills of Surrey, It was a pleasant
picture at that time, and the inn itself, being of considerable size,
presented a stirring and bustling scene. Immediately beneath him was the
ample stable-yard, with long rows of out-buildings and sheds
appropriated to the varieties of cattle usually driven from the country
on certain days of the week, the horses of the carriers being on one
side, and the stabling for those of travellers of a better sort on the
other. Then there were other buildings appropriate to the large
quantities of poultry which it was customary at this period to rear,
besides the ample dove-cot, which stood beyond the bowery garden, and
which harboured such flights of pigeons that their rush through the air
was heard at considerable distance as they wheeled and circled about.

"Tired nature's great restorer, balmy sleep," had laid so heavily upon
the wanderer that it was somewhat late when he awoke, and the bustle in
the inn-yard below proclaimed that the business of the day had
commenced.

Returning from the window he sat himself down on the bed to consider his
prospects. After awhile he took from an inside pocket of his doublet a
small roll of paper. It was an unfinished poem, "the first heir of his
invention," and which he had carefully preserved and brought with him,
intending to finish and, if possible, get it into print at some future
opportunity.

The composition seemed to please him, for his countenance brightened as
he read it, and he quickly lost all thought of self in the thoughts
conjured up. Taking out his tablets, for pen and ink were articles not
so readily found at hand as in our own times, as he gazed upon the
well-wooded hills in the distance "burnished with the morning sun," he
added the following stanza to his poem--

    "Lo, here the gentle lark, weary of rest,
      From his moist cabinet mounts up on high.
    And wakes the morning, from whose silver breast
      The sun arises in his majesty;
    Who doth the world so gloriously behold,
      That cedar tops and hills seem burnished gold."

Scarcely had he thus commenced when a slight tap at his door disturbed
him, and his new friend the player entered.

"Ah! by St. Paul," said the player, "have we writers here? How, Sir
traveller, inditest thou thus early? I aroused thee not--I called thee
not--I disturbed thee not; for much toil maketh the limbs weary, and I
would have thee, good rustic, freshened and refreshened. But lad, I find
thee up and working with brain and pencil. Come--I have brought thee a
chalice for thy morning draught. Indue thy habiliments--descend to the
lower world--and I will take thee before Master Marlow, who will,
peradventure, find thee apt, and capable of preferment."

Shakespeare thanked the player, whose bombast considerably amused him;
and putting up his poem, accompanied him to the common apartment of the
tavern, then filled with a motley assemblage. After procuring something
by way of a breakfast, which the remaining portion of the money given
him the night before enabled him to do, he accompanied his new
acquaintance over to the Globe.

Early as was the hour, the business of the morning had commenced, and
many of the actors engaged in rehearsing a new play.

The scene altogether was a new and striking one, and instantly engaged
his attention.

As his eye took the whole interior in its glance, a forcible impression
was made upon his mind. The stage--the rude half-circle of seats and
benches, seen thus in the shadowy light admitted from several small
openings--the various picturesque figures sitting and lounging about,
some of them being on the centre of the stage, and rehearsing their
parts--the melody of the tragic rhythm--all impressed him. He even, at
the moment, conceived a visionary project of one day making the means
and appliances he beheld around subservient to his own mighty
conceptions. In an instant, the want of something long sought seemed
found; and then again, as he looked round, and his mind grasped the
possibility of his project he said to himself--

    "But, can this cock-pit hold
    The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
    Within this wooden O, the very casques
    That did affright the air at Agincourt?"

Whether it could or not, he was not then permitted further to consider.
The possibility of such an event, time was to show; and in the meanwhile
the player disturbing the current of his thoughts, tapped him on the
shoulder, and invited him to follow to a small apartment, situated on
one side of the building, and which constituted a sort of manager's
room.

The proprietor of this apartment was at the moment engaged in the
composition of a new piece; and as he wrote, he ever and anon rose from
his seat, and with voice and gesture, recited a portion of his
composition, though, perhaps, had he better known the man introduced
into his presence, he would have been less verbose before him.

As it was, he continued to rehearse in a ranting tone, sawing the air
with his hand, and strutting up and down to give effect to the lines.

During a pause of consideration, he observed the player and his
companion, "Ah!" he said, "what wants that youth?"

"Pay and employment, good master mine," said the player.

"Hath he wit?--can he speak?--are his legs strong?--arms pliant?"

"He is young, strong, and of good parts," said the player--"I can avouch
it."

"Then will we find him in employment," said the manager; "he shall have
charge of the foot-lights, and snuff the lamps." And so Shakespeare
became attached to the theatre.



CHAPTER XLII.

MORE STRANGE THAN TRUE.


In a former chapter we have seen Walter Arderne, after many and various
adventures by flood and field, returning to the home and haunts of his
childhood. The good and gallant youth (although from station and
prospects he might reasonably have hoped for ease and happiness in life)
had hitherto seemed but a step-son of fortune after all. And now, "like
a younker and a prodigal" lean, rent, and tattered, having endured
shipwreck and been sold to slavery by the insolent foe, by a sudden
freak of fortune was once more safe in Warwickshire and with his beloved
uncle at Clopton. The meeting between Sir Hugh and his nephew was
extremely affecting. They were now all in all to each other, for both
had experienced losses which to both were irreparable. The grief,
however, they experienced for past sorrows had now considerably abated,
so that they could hold converse upon bygone events and even find
benefit from such communion.

Still, when Walter looked around him in his old neighbourhood, like Sir
Hugh when he had first returned, he felt at times a sense of desolation
which was almost insupportable. The loss of his old and tried friend,
the eccentric Martin, was also a heavy blow to him; and in addition to
this the absence and delinquency of the singular friend, whose
conversation had made so great an impression upon them all during their
short acquaintance, especially grieved him. The breath of slander, when
he came to inquire into the facts leading to young Shakespeare's
departure, had rendered that youth's conduct so reckless and even
criminal that Walter was us much surprised as grieved at all he heard.

"It was a good thing," Mr. Doubletongue said, "that the _Ne'er-do-well_
had made off with himself, or the Lord knew what he would be after next.
Stealing of deer by night, and catching rabbits by day, would perhaps
have been the least part of the story. Nay," he continued, "the lad
(albeit he had a most comely female to wife) had as sharp an eye and as
devilish a tongue for the lasses in Stratford as--"

When the lawyer accordingly entered, he made so many contortions of
body, and bent and bowed so often and so humbly to the three gentlemen,
never even venturing to lift his eyes from the floor, that the Knight of
Clopton desired him to desist from his prostrations, and deliver
himself.

Upon this Master Grasp muttered some words about his sorrow for past
passages, and his desire to oblige the good Sir Hugh, and ended by
depositing on the table the eternal blue bag he always carried; saying,
as he did so, that he had no particular business at that moment with Sir
Hugh Clapton at all.

"Then, if such is the case," said Sir Hugh, "as I especially hate law
and all appertaining, Master Grasp, as speedily an convenient, remove
yourself from our premises."

"Nay," said Grasp, "good Sir Hugh, I pray you bear with me, since I come
to bring joyful tidings to one _near_ and _dear_ to you--even your
worshipful nephew there, Master Walter Arderne. And in order to convince
you thereof, with permission, I will enter upon the matter at once." As
he said this, Grasp emptied the contents of his bag upon the table, and
forthwith began to fumble amongst a whole heap of parchments, strewing
them about in most admired disorder.

"Gad-be-here!" exclaimed the old knight, as he looked with astonishment
upon the vast quantity of documents and deeds. "Here be matter enough to
undo half the families in Warwickshire. 'Fore Heaven, I ne'er looked
upon such a mass of parchments before. Lord help thee, Walter, and keep
pen and ink out of thy hands, for an thou settest thy name to these
deeds, thou'lt never be thine own man again. I pr'ythee," he continued
to the lawyer, "leave sorting that mass, and explain thy business."

Grasp, however, had now made good his footing, and produced his
impression. And, as he pointed with fore-finger from paper to paper, he
began to recapitulate the various tracts of land, domains, and estates
and all and sundry thereunto belonging, with messuages, tenements, and
matters appertaining, so rapidly that Sir Hugh stood aghast, with eyes
starting and face of wonder, as he listened.

At length, the knight put a stop to it all with a voice of thunder, and
insisted upon a more clear demonstration of the matter in hand. "What,
in the fiend's name," he said, "hath my nephew to do with your heirs
male, your tenures, domains, your castles, windmills, your fee-simples,
your tails and entails, your arable lands, wastes, commons, fishponds,
and woodlands, and all the litany of impertinence you have been
jittering for the last half hour?"

"In fact and in right," said Grasp, "_de facto_ and _de jure_, all and
every thing hath your nephew to do herewith."

"How so?" said Arderne. "I know nought about the lands you have named,
unless it be that here, in Warwickshire, I have heard such places
exist."

"Nevertheless, as sure as they exist, they to all appearance are at this
moment your own, good Master Arderne," said Grasp.

"Mine?" said Arderne. "The man is mad. I pray you explain."

"I will so," said the lawyer. "May I be permitted to sit in this
presence."

"Take a chair," said Sir Hugh. And the lawyer accordingly seated
himself, wiped his glasses, and commenced again.

"You doubtless are aware that, by the father's side, you can claim
kindred with the noble house of Plantagenet," he said.

"It's a far-away relationship then," said Arderne. "Nevertheless I
believe such is the case; but what of that?"

"You know it well enough, good Master Arderne," said Grasp; "for it is a
thing to thank God and to be proud of; and you also know that the Lady
Clara de Mowbray was also akin to you. As thus:--Geoffrey Plantagenet
wedded with----."

"Well, a truce with all matter of that sort," interrupted Arderne. "I
know my lineage well as thou canst tell it me, Master Grasp. But what of
Clara de Mowbray? Granting I am her distant kinsman, and distant indeed
must the relationship be----."

"Nevertheless it is true, as I am in a condition to prove," said Grasp.
"Nay, not only are you her kinsman, but you are her sole remaining
kinsman, and to obviate all controversy about succession, she hath
constituted and appointed you her sole heir."

"You do, indeed, astonish me," said Arderne; "is then the beautiful
Clara de Mowbray dead?"

"'Tis so rumoured, set down, and given out," said Grasp.

"She is said to have gone to foreign parts," said Sir Hugh; "died she
there!"

"She did," said Grasp.

"Alas! my poor daughter's dear and only friend!" exclaimed Sir Hugh. And
then there was a pause of some moments amongst the party, whilst Grasp,
whose heart was as hard and dry as the parchment he idolized, became
again so deeply involved amongst his papers, that he seemed to lose
sight of everything else around him; nay, even Sir Hugh and Arderne
seemed totally to have forgotten his presence. Arderne, indeed, was lost
in the thoughts this intelligence had conjured up. He called to mind the
exceeding beauty of the high-born lady who thus had made him the heir to
all her vast possessions; and as he did so, many little passages between
them, during his intimacy with his cousin Charlotte, flashed across his
brain. At length, as his eye fell upon Grasp, he again questioned him.

"You were apparently employed," he said, "by the Lady Clara de Mowbray
as her lawyer, Master Grasp?"

"I had that honour," said Grasp. "I was the instrument by which, under
direction of her major-domo, or house steward, she gathered in her
various rents. May I hope for a continuance of favour for the like, from
your honour?"

"Know you the circumstances of the lady's decease, and where she died?"
inquired Arderne.

"I do," said Grasp, "inasmuch as having been bound for the term of one
year to keep the circumstances pertaining to the event secret; that time
having now expired, I am at liberty to divulge to this honoured company
all I know thereof."

"I pray you to proceed," said Arderne.

"It seemeth, then," said Grasp, "as I am given to understand by the
steward or major-domo before-named, that since the melancholy fate of
the daughter of the honoured master of this house, and who was (under
favour for mentioning it) buried alive----"

"How! buried alive?" said the captain, laying down his pipe, whilst Sir
Hugh groaned aloud, rose from his seat, and walked to the window, and
Walter Arderne started as if he had received a bullet through his brain.

"Buried alive!" iterated Grasp, as he watched his auditors with the
utmost satisfaction and curiosity. "I conceive it is no libel to say so
much, _inasmuch_ as it is well known, and has indeed made some talk at
the time."

"I pray you," said Arderne sternly, "to continue your relation, without
further circumstance. You pain us all by such unnecessary particulars."

"Nay," said Grasp, "I crave pardon; but as the particularly horrible
nature of that young lady's end was in some sort necessary to what
follows, I felt obliged, in some sort, to refer to it. Howbeit, I will
now expedite my narrative, taking it from the events I have thus brought
back to your remembrance. It seems, I say, that the particularly awful
nature of the said Miss Charlotte Clopton's death made a great
impression upon the mind of the before-named Lady Clara de Mowbray, and
whose intimate friend the before-mentioned Charlotte was; and that
moreover the said Clara de Mowbray mourned over her said friend's sad
fate with strict observance of privacy for many months. Nay, that on the
news first being told her of Mistress Charlotte's having been buried,
she, in fact, shut herself up from all communion with the world."

"We heard as much," said Arderne; "I pray you to proceed. She resided at
Shottery Hall at that time I think?"

"She did so," continued Grasp, "and where, somewhat on the sudden (as I
learn from her confidential servant,--also my client,) she conceived the
idea of changing the current of her thoughts and ameliorating her grief
by seeing foreign lands. In pursuance of which design she fitted out a
vessel, hired a crew, engaged a gentleman of approved valour as captain,
and sailed for the New World."

"How! said ye," exclaimed Captain Fluellyn, "fitted out a ship, engaged
a crew and captain, and adventured to the New World?"

"What ship did she sail in, Master Lawyer Rasp?"

"Grasp, good sir, and it so please ye," said the lawyer.

"What ship, quotha--let me see. I have a document here, signed by one of
her followers, and which states the name of the ship, the number of her
crew, the title of the said captain, and all thereunto appertaining and
belonging. Ah! let me see," he continued, (fumbling about amongst his
papers.) "the 'Eagle'--the 'Estridge'--the 'Heron'--the 'Hawk'--no, it
was none of those. The--ah! here it is--the 'Falcon,' that was the
vessel; Fluellyn, captain commanding; owner, Count Falconara."

The Captain looked at Walter Arderne, in whose face was reflected the
astonishment depicted in his own; and both, as if by common impulse,
rose from their seats, and walked forth into the open air.

Arderne took a turn along the dark walk which led to the rivulet at the
bottom of the garden, ere he spoke. At length he approached the Captain
(who, out of respect, had remained near the house).

"This is a strange matter!" said Fluellyn.

"It is indeed!" said Arderne. "It seems to me like something unreal. I
can scarce believe that Clara de Mowbray hath perished in such a
venture."

"You knew the lady, then?" said the Captain.

"I did," said Arderne. "She was the friend and intimate of Charlotte
Clopton, she of whom ye have heard me speak, and consequently in former
days much here; nay, she rented a mansion at Shottery for the purpose of
being near her friend."

"Perhaps" said the Captain, "for the purpose of being near her
_friend's_ friend. 'Tis evident she loved you, and you saw it not."

"Nay!" said Arderne, "she knew I was betrothed to my cousin."

"Tush, man! that mattered not amaravedi," said the Captain; "she loved
you, spite of fate, and against hope. 'Tis not uncommon with women. She
heard of your desolate condition through the worthy Martin; and (urged
by her strong love) she persuaded him to adventure with her, in the hope
of discovering and rescuing you from your desolate situation: so much I
can myself answer for. How she bore herself in that adventure, I have
also reason to know. All we required to know further was the name of
this Count of quality, and, behold! we have it. Come--thou art at least
a richer man by the knowledge."

"Would to Heaven," said Arderne mournfully, "she were in the enjoyment
of her own wealth. I seem to make shipwreck of all that interest
themselves in my welfare."

"Ah!" said the blunt Captain, "I doubt thee not, good Master Arderne.
Such a woman were worthy of an emperor's love; one to worship in life,
and evermore sigh for when dead. But come--no more sad brow and sighing
breath. Thou art the likeliest man in all the country,--hast fair
domains, castles, parks, and warrens, according to yonder scrivener.
Such an one need not sigh for a wife methinks. Let us in, lest the old
knight and the law-man fall to buffets, spite of the news brought."

"Sir Hugh must indeed not know of this," said Arderne, "at least, not at
present; 'twould but revive his grief for Martin's loss. Over a cup of
Canary after dinner we will relate the story."

And thus did Walter Arderne become the possessor of many fair domains in
Warwickshire and other countries; for as there was none at that time to
dispute possession, and as their former possessor was fairly identified,
and her death deposed to by more than one of her own followers, so there
was nothing to hinder him in the succession.

There was, however, a certain degree at melancholy attached to the whole
affair, which seemed to throw a gloom over the estates, as he in turn
visited them,--a something wanting--a deserted look--an inexpressible
feeling of dislike to assume the mastery and ownership of these fair and
fertile lands. "I can even yet hardly reconcile to myself the right of
proprietorship here," he said to Sir Hugh, as they looked forth one day
from the towers at Hill Morton upon a vast chase below. "It seems to me
that I am an interloper--an usurper here."

"Tush--man!" said Sir Hugh; "this is to be overscrupulous. Take the good
the gods send, and make no words on't."

And thus matters rested quietly for days, weeks, and months, and then
there arose matter which took the thoughts of men, throughout the land,
from their own particular concerns, and (whilst the whole nation rang
with the news) called up the energies of all.

Sir Hugh was with his nephew and friend when the first intimation of the
certainty of this event reached Clopton. The day was hot, for it was
just at the end of April, and the knight had ordered the dinner to be
served in the hall, where they were enjoying the half hour after their
meal "with pippins and cheese" and a whiff or two of the pleasant weed.

The soothing influence of his pipe was just composing the old knight to
sleep when the sharp sound of hoofs were heard in the court without, and
a messenger, "bloody with sparring, fiery red with haste," came clanking
into the presence.

The sealed brief he handed to Sir Hugh--with the words, ride, ride,
ride, upon the cover, in a few minutes after its perusal effectually
dispelled the influence of the weed Sir Walter loved, inasmuch as it was
from Sir Walter himself, and dated from Deptford.

"Come forth, my old friend," said the letter, "the time hath arrived for
all to be stirring, 'Tis now certain the Armada is about to sail. Let
your nephew look to his command and bring up his companions. Our ships
are ready for sea and men are wanted. 'Fore Heaven, _we will singe the
Dons whiskers for him_,[19] or smoke for it ourselves."

[Footnote 19: A saying of Sir Francis Drake's at this time.]



CHAPTER XLIII.

ENGLAND ON THE DEFENSIVE.


Our story having now (with swift passage) glided o'er some two years, we
arrive at a period in which all England was aroused by the alarm of a
dreadful invasion.

All corners that the eye of Heaven visited throughout the island were
indeed frightened from their proprietary by the mighty preparation of
the Spaniard,--a preparation of such vast magnitude that it shewed the
determination of the foe to subdue, and put to indiscriminate slaughter,
the whole population of the country, if possible exterminate heresy at
one blow, and acquire eternal renown by reuniting the whole Christian
world in the Catholic Communion. England at this period, it must be
owned, was in a critical situation. A long peace had deprived it of all
military discipline and experience. It was exposed to invasions from all
quarters, as it was in reality neither fortified by art or nature;
whilst the numerous Catholics, with which it still abounded, it was
feared would be ready to join the invader the moment he succeeded in
landing.

In addition to this, men began to consider the difference between the
English and Spanish forces. To remember the overwhelming power of the
naval force of the Spaniard, and the vast numbers, reputation, and
veteran bravery of his armies, and then--as they sat and brooded over
these matters--they reflected that the fate of England must be decided
in two battles, one at sea and one on land. Deep and portentous were the
thoughts and fears these things conjured up when the certainty of the
visitation became apparent. Whole families, high and low, rich and poor,
looked each other in the face with vacant horror and dire apprehension.
From the hut to the castle, from the cottage to the baronial hall,
spread the whispered fear. Not altogether the fear of being beaten in
fair and open fight, but of being overwhelmed by the mighty power of a
tremendous foe without chance of a successful defence. Nor is it to be
wondered at, if the hearts of the islanders did quail at this juncture,
when we remember the three years' preparation which (_now completed_)
was about to be precipitated like a mighty torrent upon the shores of
England.

According to a letter of Sir John Hawkins, written at the time to Sir
Francis Walsingham, the main strength of the Armada consisted in a
squadron of fifty-four magnificent and invincible ships, embracing nine
galleons of Portugal, twenty great argosies of Venice, twenty huge
Biscayns, four large Galleasses, and a ship of the Duke of Florence of
800 tons. Besides these were thirty smaller ships and thirty hulks,
which, together with others, amounted to 132 ships and 20 caravals.

On board this huge fleet were 8,766 mariners, and 21,855 soldiers,
besides 2,088 galley-slaves; and in addition, the Armada contained
stores for the army, cannon, double cannon, culverin, and field-pieces,
7,000 muskets, 10,000 halberts, 56,000 quintals of gunpowder, and 12,000
quintals of match. Nay, so confident were these overweening Spaniards of
success, that their huge ships even contained horses, mules, carts,
waggons, spades, mattocks, baskets, and everything necessary for
settling upon the land they meant, at one blow, to conquer and enslave.

Both fleet and army were also provided on a scale of unexampled
profusion, and the officers who were to lead, and who were of the
noblest families of Spain, even embarked their suites of attendants and
their physicians. But, perhaps, the most galling accompaniment to the
Englishman, and which this dread Armada, had provided itself with, was
one hundred and eighty monks and Jesuits, carrying with them chains,
wheels, racks, and whips to be employed in the conversion of those
heretics they might choose to spare from the infliction of a cruel
death. In fact, every part of the vast empire of the malignant Spaniard
had resounded with "dreadful note of preparation and the noise of
armaments," whilst all his ministers, generals, and admirals were
sweating in aid of the design.

But this was not all that England had to fear, for the Duke of Parma and
Asmodeus of Savoy had also prepared in the Netherlands an army of 30,000
men; whilst the Duke of Guise was conducting to the coast of Normandy
12,000 troops, in order to embark and land on the west of England. So
that in the Netherlands also the air resounded with the busy hammer of
smiths and carpenters, collected in Flanders, Lower Germany, and the
coasts of the Baltic, and who "making the night joint-labourer with the
day," were engaged in the construction of vessels and flat-bottomed
boats, for the transport of their infantry and cavalry.

The hearts and minds of many for the moment quailed under the thought of
this tremendous armament; whilst all Europe apprehended that England was
doomed, and must be overwhelmed and enslaved.

A deep gloom and a secret horror was indeed upon the hearts of all. They
stooped, however, but for a moment beneath the tide, and then the whole
nation seemed to start up at the imperious challenge of Spain, sword in
hand, sheathed in complete steel.

Not a county in England, not a town or village even, but seemed to rise
simultaneously in arms--not a corner of the land but rang with
preparation and muster, and awoke endeavour for defence! Nay, such was
the incredible alacrity with which from shire to shire the soldiers were
raised, and mustered and marched, that from Cornwall all along southward
towards Kent, and thence eastward to Lincolnshire, (as the account of
the period is worded) "was there a place to be doubted for the landing
of these foreigners; but that within forty-eight hours, on horseback or
on foot, 20,000 men, completely armed, with ammunition, provision, and
carriages, commanded by the principal nobles of their counties, and
captains of knowledge, would be ready to oppose them."

In the interior, also, every man capable of bearing a weapon, rushed to
arms.

The green fields, near Tilbury in Essex, gleamed with the white tents of
22,000 foot, and 2,000 horse, whilst another army, close at hand,
counted 28,000 men.

The narrow streets of London, too, resounded night and day with roll of
drum and blast of trumpet; every church and tower and hall was rummaged
for arms and armour. Each citizen stood in harness of proof. The armour,
which had "hung unsecured by the walls" even from the Crusades, was
taken down and put in requisition; and in addition to this, 10,000
additional troops were raised within the walls, together with 5,000 more
as a reserve.

All this, however, against the overwhelming moral force of Philip, in
the minds of many experienced men, was thought insufficient; and whilst
the bold spirits of the leaders of the host led them to affirm that they
were strong enough to cut to pieces the whole Spanish force the moment
they land, there were others quite aware that the ocean was the element
on which to meet the foe.

"A mighty power," said the great Raleigh at the juncture, "in a goodly
fleet of ships, and which neither foot nor horse can follow, cannot be
desirable to land where it list in England; unless it be hindered and
unconnected by a fleet of answerable strength." It was accordingly under
advice of men of approved valour and conduct, that Elizabeth set about
to equip a fleet suitable, as far as possible, to the occasion.

Notwithstanding, however, the almost incredible exertions made to meet
the foe on the seas, the naval power of England seemed quite inadequate
to resist so terrible an enemy upon the waters. All the sailors in
England amounted to but 14,000 men, and the size of the shipping was so
small that, with the exception of a few of the Queen's ships of war,
there were not four vessels belonging to the merchants which exceeded
400 tons. The royal navy consisted but of twenty-eight sail, many of
them of small size, and indeed for the most part deserving the name of
pinnaces rather than ships.

To counterbalance this disproportion, however, the English felt
consolation in the known dexterity and valour of her seamen, their
constant custom of sailing in tempestuous seas, and being undeterred by
the dangers of the element on which they had now to fight; a virtue
which will ever render our glorious sailors more than a match for any
foe.

In addition to this small navy, all the commercial towns in England
furnished forth ships. The citizens of London fitted out and equipped
thirty vessels, and the gentry and nobility hired, armed, and manned
forty-three ships.

Such then was the mighty preparation of the Spaniard, and such was the
"awakened endeavour of England for defence,"--an endeavour perhaps
without parallel in the history of our country, and which we have thus
minutely brought to the recollection of our readers, because it was
witnessed and keenly observed by one whose mighty mind seized upon
whatever came within his piercing ken, and who, whilst he was the most
careful of observers, was, at the same time, possessed of judgment as
remarkable as his imagination and genius were wonderful; one who
treasured up what he then beheld, although he stood, apparently, but as
"a cypher to that great accompt;" and whilst he thus in reality, beheld
"a kingdom for a stage, princes to act, and monarchs to behold the
swelling scene," himself possessed--

    "A muse of fire; that would ascend
    The brightest heaven of invention;

afterwards giving his observations to the world in descriptions of
chivalrous grandeur, such as none other in any age has equalled. One who
himself saw that brave fleet so hastily collected and prepared for the
occasion.

    "With silken streamers the young Phebus fanning,
                And in them beheld,
    Upon the hempen tackle, ship-boys climbing;
    Heard the shrill whistle, which did order give,
    To sounds confus'd. Beheld the threaden sails,
    Borne with the invisible and creeping wind,
    Draw the huge bottoms through the furrowed sea,
    Breasting the lofty surge.
    Who stood upon the rivage and beheld
    A city as the inconstant billows dancing,
    For so appeared the fleet majestical."

Yes, whilst the choice-drawn cavaliers of Elizabeth's age stood in arms,
and whilst, upon the waves rode those adventurous seamen, Shakespeare
stood amongst the file, and as his capable eye marked the big muster,
his heart beat with each roll of the drum, as it resounded amidst the
narrow streets of old London.

And what, indeed, must have appeared to such a man "this post haste and
homage through the land," this "threatening of the threatener," this
"pomp and circumstance of glorious war?" What must have been the
feelings of that one man as he stood amidst the throng--

    "For who was he, whose chin was but enriched
    With one appearing hair, that would not follow
    Those culled and choice-drawn cavaliers?"

He saw the daily and hourly preparation; he beheld the knightly and the
noble "all plumed like ostriches;" he saw the closes, the streets and
alleys of Lud's old town swarming with men-at-arms.

    "He beheld the strict and most observant watch,
    Which nightly toiled the subject of the land:
    The impress of shipwrights, whose sore task
    Did not divide the Sunday from the week:
    And then he put himself in arms."



CHAPTER XLIV.

THE BOAR'S HEAD IN EAST CHEAP.


Whilst London, and indeed all England, was thus aroused by this sound of
deadly preparation, a gay and jovial party sat carousing in one of the
apartments of an antique tavern in East Cheap.

They sat around a huge table situated in the centre of the apartment,
and which was indifferently well furnished with savoury viands and
generous wines; and a single glance sufficed to proclaim them the choice
spirits of the tavern. Daring, reckless blades, companions who daffed
the world aside, men heeding nothing, caring for nothing, dreading
nothing, and to whom the spirit of the times was peculiarly delightful.
They loved action, those revellers. Their lives were made up of the
false fleeting excitement of some four hours' exhibition before the
flickey foot-lights of a theatre. They were indeed actors all, but their
vocation was over for the time amidst the excitement of the coming war.

And as they sat at supper at one of their old haunts, the Boar's Head in
East Cheap, they aroused the neighbourhood with their revelry. Amongst
them, however, was one whose voice in an instant caused attention. When
he spoke their clamour ceased, and whilst some envied, others wondered
at, and one or two even disliked (for amongst men of this sort there is
ever a something of jealousy) all listened to and sought to catch his
slightest remark. Nor was it at all surprising that such should be the
case, for this man, who had joined their company, and become an actor
about a couple of years before, had made an extraordinary impression
upon them all. He had come amongst them a stranger, a fugitive, and in
distress. He had taken the meanest, the most subordinate parts in the
dramatic representations then performing; but his words, appearance, and
manners had been instantly recognized as something uncommon.

Amongst those men, and whom he had accidentally, and as if by a sort of
fate, at once fallen in with, were some who read character deeply and
instantly, who caught peculiarities and appreciated talent at a glance.

Such then is the association in which we again, after a brief interval
look upon Shakespeare. The actor's of Elizabeth's day--a jovial racy
set--men who could play the parts assigned them in the inn yard, or with
the hawthorn-bush for a scene, and trust to their own good acting and
energy to keep their audience amused.

And these men had Shakespeare astonished by the genius and talents he
possessed, whilst his conversation displayed the wildest sallies of
fancy, the most brilliant wit, and the utmost depth of observation. In
fact, he had become their oracle, their adviser, their leader. He had
already altered and improved some of the rude scenes of their dramas,
shewn them how to put them effectively upon the stage, taught them to
suit the action to the word, and in short shewn a taste and genius for
the profession that at once astonished and delighted all.

To many it will doubtless appear strange and startling thus to mark
Shakespeare down to a period of our island history, which for stirring
import had never been exceeded, to find him thus, with his companions of
the theatre, on the eve of so terrific an encounter as was then about to
take place "between two mighty monarchies," to behold him a living,
breathing man, at a moment when all England was aroused to beat off the
invader from her shores, or fall and perish miserably beneath the yoke.

The feeling of the thousands then in arms was as of one man; not an
islander stood enranked with iron upon his breast, but owned a heart as
brave and true as the weapon by his side; nay, every right arm felt a
limb of steel, and each fist, as it grasped the rapier's hilt, was ready
to rain its storm of blows upon the crests of the overweening Spaniard,
and smite him dead upon the earth he came to invade. And such will it
always be in "this sceptered isle."

'Twas a picturesque-looking party that assemblage in the old room of the
tavern in East Cheap. The chimes, sounding from the tower of St. Paul's,
proclaimed the hour of midnight through an open casement which admitted
the fresh and balmy breeze of May. In different parts of the room were
to be seen portions of the arms and armour the wearers had cast aside
when they sat down to their carouse,--the heavy rapier, the cuirass, the
helmet, and the plumed hat are thrown carelessly into corners, whilst
the story, the biting jest, and the song is heard:--

    "And let me the canakin, clink, clink, clink,
    And let me the canakin clink,
    A soldier's a man, and life's but a span,
    Why then let a soldier drink."

We have said that Shakespeare had obtained an influence amongst the men
with whom he had become associated, and the present circumstance of this
tavern meeting shews it,--"that tiger's heart wrapped in a player's
hide, had stirred them up to join him in the present enterprise." The
players have turned soldiers, and are about to seek service amongst the
troops embarking with Drake, Hawkins, and Frobisher. With the dawn they
are to take boat, and drop down towards Tilbury Fort, where the Queen in
person is to inspect her troops; and this night they hold perhaps their
last revel in one of their old haunts, this night perhaps they drain
their last cup in old London.

Fast and furious grows the revel. The spirit of the time lends its charm
to men so easily excited, so "of imagination all compact." They drink
deep to the healths of the bold spirits of the day. To Lord Howard of
Effingham, who commands upon the seas; to the Earl Leicester, who
defends the capital at Tilbury; to Lord Seymour; to Lord Hunsdon; to the
Queen,--

    "Cup her till the world go round."

And then that _one man's_ voice is heard, as he rises and drains his
glass, and his tongue gives utterance to words which still more fire the
hearts of his hearers. For he speaks of his native land:

    "That England hedged in with the main,
    That water-walled bulwark, still secure
    And confident from foreign purposes.
    England, that never did, nor ever shall
    Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror,
    Unless she first doth help to wound herself."

And now, as the breaking dawn sheds a faint and pale light upon tower,
and church, and lofty roof, gradually redeeming the narrow and
overshadowed streets from the gloom of night, the sounds of bustle are
heard around. Then comes the rattle and roll of drum, the blast of horn,
and the quick tramp of armed men. Up Fish-street Hill, down St. Magnus
Corner, rattles and reverberates the rolling sheepskin; now it sounds
dead and dull beneath the caves and penthouses of St. Margarit's and
Pudding Lane; and now it beats loud and shrill as it emerges into Chepe,
whilst Aldgate, and Houndsditch, and Hog Lane, and Tower Street, and
Cornhill, and Budge Row, also are filled with replications of the
clamour.

As the tongue of war thus suddenly startles the ears of the revellers,
they start from their seats, and hastily resume the defensive armour. A
few minutes more and East Cheap seems filled with men, and all the
crafts of London to have turned out and put themselves in arms. Then
comes the short quick word of command, the halt and front, the trail of
the puissant pike, and the ringing noise of caliver upon the hard
ground.

Then, as the Golden Cheap, as it was called, displays its rich treasures
from each window, its cloth of gold and silver, and velvets of various
hue, its arras and rich carpetings and silk, and, more than all, its
comely wives and the handsome daughters of the wealthy burghers standing
at the casements they have thus adorned,--then on come the levies
destined for the defence of the coast, or about to embark in various
ships, lying in the Thames, and which, passing through the double rank
of the civic battalions, with quick pace and heavy tramp, turn towards
London Bridge.

As these sounds, we say, salute the ears of the revellers, they leave
their flagons, and, hastily selecting their various arms and defensive
armour, call lustily for something substantial else they join the
newly-raised levies. They go forth to the war as to another
revel,--those players. They vow to singe the whiskers of the overweening
Don. And Shakespeare halloos them on.

          "Hostess, my breakfast, come,
    O, I could wish this tavern were my drum."



CHAPTER XLV.

THE CAMP AT TILBURY.


To describe minutely the magnificent force assembled at Tilbury, and the
camp there, would be both a tedious and a twice-told tale. My Lord of
Leicester (who had the ordering of all matters thereunto appertaining)
had arranged things not altogether so unskilfully. It was at his
instigation, and invitation too, that the Queen herself paid a visit to
her troops there; for, says his letter to her on this occasion, "If it
may please your Majesty, your army being about London, as at Stratford,
East Ham, Hackney, and the villages thereabout, shall be not only a
defence, but a ready supply to Essex and Kent, if need be. In the
meantime your Majesty, to comfort this army, and the people of both
these counties, may (if it so please you) spend some days to see both
camps and forts." And so the bold Tudor, in martial array, visited the
camp; and never, perhaps, did the world witness a more heroic sight. The
glorious sun of a summer's day poured its rays upon a glittering host.
Line beyond line they stood enranked on either side, and beyond the
blockhouse, as the Queen landed; and as the drums rattled, and the
cannon roared, when she stepped from her barge, down went ensign, and
pike, and caliver.

The Earl of Leicester and his officers received her on landing; and two
thousand horse, dividing into two brigades, together with two thousand
infantry, formed her immediate guard.

The next day she reviewed her troops on the hill near Tilbury church,
attended by the Earls of Leicester and Ormond. She wore a corslet of
polished steel upon her breast, (a page bearing her plumed helm,) and
thus, bare-headed, and carrying a marshal's truncheon in her hand, she
rode through the ranks amidst the most deafening cheers; after which she
harangued the host in a speech of considerable length.

The scene was one likely to make a deep and lasting impression upon the
minds of all who witnessed it. The assembled troops were, in
themselves, worthy of note; for, besides the regular and trained
infantry and cavalry of the period, there stood enranked, and _doing the
duty of private volunteers_, some of the noblest in England. The gentry
of the various counties had donned their harness, and come forth to do
the duty of common soldiers; scarfed, and plumed, and belted, they stood
there, resolved to lay down their life, ere they yielded one foot of
their native land to the invader. As the Queen passed on amidst this
steel-clad host, there was one who stood somewhat apart, and in an
interval of the lines of infantry; he raised his voice amidst the
general enthusiasm, as the royal Tudor rode along the rank near which he
was posted; and then he lowered his weapon, and as he leaned upon it,
keenly observed the whole scene.

He saw that lion-hearted woman, and who had then borne the sceptre for
thirty years; her body cleped in steel; her high pale forehead furrowed
with care; her bright and piercing eye, and her majestic form unbent by
the pressure of years. He saw her thus, mounted upon her magnificent
steed, like a true daughter of the Plantagenet, vindicating the honour
of her kingdom. He saw her thus, undismayed by the tremendous armament
threatening her coast, pass on from rank to rank, "with cheerful
semblance, and sweet majesty;" and as she rode--

    "A largess universal, like the sun,
    Her liberal eye did give to every one."

Those who have stood in the ranks of an English battalion can perhaps
best imagine the proud feeling which must have animated the breast of
Shakespeare at this moment. His eye passed rapidly over the glittering
files, and then it dwelt with curiosity upon the stern features of the
troops, as each glance was bent upon that one form, "so regal, so
majestical;" and, as he looked upon the expression of those bearded
men, he felt that no power which the invader could bring would be
likely to subdue such a host. The English might be struck
dead--blasted--annihilated by some wrathful bolt from the skies, but,
unless the power of Heaven fought against them, no foreign force could
subdue that _island-host_ upon their own ground. And then, whilst he
gazed upon this inspiriting sight, as the Queen passed off the ground,
and took her way "so strongly guarded" amongst the innumerable white
tents, a wild flourish of martial music floated through the air, the
firm unbent forms of the soldiery relaxed, the sword point was lowered,
the pike trailed, drum and fife sounded, and the various companies
wheeled off then-several positions and followed through the camp. As
column after column moved past, still that observant eye was rivetted
upon them. The musqueteers in the front rank; the pikemen in a dense
column behind; then came the cavalry, slow and stately, with a rushing
ringing sound, the horses reined back to keep time to the trumpets'
clang. Squadron after squadron, they moved past with stately pace and
slow; the several leaders armed in steel, galloping up and down the
ranks, and giving the word as they wheeled round and moved off the
field. They were led by one scarce two-and-twenty years of age, who
seemed, on his magnificent charger, with his beaver raised, "the prince
of chivalry," the "arm and burgonet of men." The young Earl of Essex,
just then in the zenith of his fame, and to whom the Queen had given
command of the cavalry.

And so the eye of the "poor player" pierced through the camp and
witnessed all the "pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war;"
himself, in his humble suit of buff, with buck and breast and helm of a
common soldier, the greatest man there. He saw the tented field, so as
only a nation's "endeavour for defence" could have shown it him. He
mingled amongst tho white tents of the soldiery, and he visited the huts
made of boughs of trees and poles, beneath which many of the gentry from
the various counties and their followers were sheltered.

At this period of his life his profusion had made him known to many of
the nobles and leaders present, and those who fell in with him were
pleased to have a word with "the pleasant Willie" amidst the excitement
and bustle of the hour. As he turned from the scene, and, with his
companions threaded his way amidst the crowd of soldiers, suttlers, and
the other accompaniments of a huge army, he was met and accosted by one
high in authority amongst the host.

"Ah! Will Shakespeare," said the noble, "hast thou too put thyself in
arms? 'Fore Heaven, man, thou shalt come with me to my tent. See, here
is my Lord of Southampton, and other gallants, 'the very elements of the
camp,' would fain have a rouse ere they wait upon the Queen. Come, man,
a word from thee will spice the cup. No denial," continued the noble, as
Shakespeare endeavoured to excuse himself on the plea of wishing to make
on toward Dover that night. "No denial. Come, thou shalt cup us this day
in the field. I could better lack the best of my followers on the day of
battle than lose thee now we have once met here. What says't thou, my
Lord of Southampton, thou canst not excuse the gentle William, eh?" And
so it was late in the day ere Shakespeare left the tented field of
Tilbury.

When he did so he crossed over a bridge of boats and barges which had
been drawn across the Thames at Gravesend. This bridge had been
constructed for the purpose of opposing the passage of the invading
fleet, should any portion of the expedition succeed in crossing the
Nore, and to afford a means of communication for supplies of men and
munition from Kent and Sussex.

With two or three companions (and who, like himself, were resolved to
hasten to the coast and, if possible, get on board some vessel at
Dover,) Shakespeare hastened, after leaving Gravesend, along the Old
Kent Road, then the most beaten track in England.

Thus then, under circumstances so peculiar, the players found themselves
in the county of Kent, that interesting county, which has been the
battle-ground of the English for so many centuries, and which yet
retains the ancient name Cæsar,[20] conferred upon it upwards of
eighteen hundred years before.

[Footnote 20: Cæsar denominated this county, Cantium; time, therefore,
has made no further alteration than in giving it an English sound.]

Much as was the traffic on this thoroughfare at the period of our story,
the road was still in a very primitive state, thickly shadowed by trees
on either side, ill kept and full of deep ruts and quagmires, whilst the
country on either hand seemed one entire forest, and thus, amidst the
bustle of the time, troops marching and counter-marching, "posts tiring
on," pack-horses, and wains, and carriers occasionally overtaking them,
Shakespeare took his way.

We leave our readers to imagine the feelings of the poet as he passed
along this, the old Roman road.

As his eye pierced through the gloom, he beheld the road ascending
through a leafy tunnel, and as he mounted a steep hill, he looked into
the thick shadow on either hand, and then stopped and contemplated the
place with a curious eye. It is more than probable, whilst he looked
upon this locality, covered as it was with enormous trees, the road
darkened by their shadow, the overhanging bank covered with fern, the
crow winging to his nest, the moon just beginning to appear, that some
passages he had perused in one of the old chronicles of England flashed
across his brain, for in the scene thus beheld at so sweet an hour
Shakespeare looked upon GAD'S HILL.

And now, as the players left the woodlands, and descended the hill on
the other side, a magnificent sight was presented to their
view,--looking in the pale moonlight like some romantic view exhibited
during the scenic hour, the Keep of Rochester, white and spectral,
towered above the flanking walls that surrounded it; the rushing waters
of the river flowing just beneath; the old picturesque town (then in
comparison but a hamlet) lying dark and sombre on the left. 'Twas a
scene that spake of former passages in Britain's history; and as
Shakespeare looked upon it he felt the impression. There beneath him
flowed the broad Medway, where the Britons had made their stand against
the legions of Rome. On the bank, surrounded with battled towers,
frowned the tower of the Norman Gundulph, now, as of yore, filled with
glittering troops; the flaming cresset glaring from its walls, and
reflected in the stream. The "panoply of war, grim-visaged, but glorious
war," once again had revived its thick-ribbed towers. And in the old
hostel of the Crown, Shakespeare and his troop slept that night,--a
locality since immortalised, for 'tis _the inn-yard at Rochester_, of
the scenic hour.



CHAPTER XLVI.

THE INVINCIBLE ARMADA.


At a time when every rank of men in England buried all party
distinctions, and prepared with order, as well as vigour, to resist the
violence of the invaders, the Catholics throughout the land were not
found wanting. Many gentlemen of that sect, conscious that they could
not justly expect either trust or authority, entered themselves as
volunteers in the fleet or army, whilst many equipped ships at their own
charge, and gave the command of them to Protestants; others again
bestirred themselves, and animated their tenantry, servants, and
neighbours to join in the defence.

Amongst these, Sir Hugh Clopton and Walter Arderne had manfully
bestirred themselves. Sir Hugh had mustered his servants and followers,
and putting them under conduct of his good friend, Sir Thomas Lucy,
marched off as a simple volunteer to Tilbury Camp, whilst Walter
Arderne, with no less zeal, and tenfold means, (for be it remembered he
was now the possessor of an enormous fortune,) had equipped several
ships at his own charge, intending to join Sir Francis Drake.

And thus having brought our readers to this period of general
enthusiasm, we now almost lose sight of the individuals more immediately
connected with our story in the universal excitement. The huge Armada,
after having by a variety of reports seemed to threaten every foot of
the coast in turn, was at length first discerned making its approach. A
Dutch pirate brought intelligence to Plymouth that the Duke of Medina
Sidonia was in reality in the English Channel. The captains and
commanders of the English vessels were at the moment of this
intelligence being brought playing at bowls at Plymouth; and Sir Francis
Drake, with the true spirit of an English seaman, insisted upon playing
out the game. "Play it out," my masters all, he said, "play it out. We
have plenty of time to win the game first and beat the Spaniards
afterwards."

A south-west wind, however, blew so strongly at the moment that the
vessels had considerable difficulty in warping out. At length, however,
by the tremendous efforts of all hands, (for the anxiety of the troops
and sailors to get at the enemy is hardly to be described,) the English
ships were fairly at sea, and, with every sail set, bearing up for the
enemy.


    "And now sits expectant in the air,"


for whilst the sea bears upon its bosom the opposing fleets, the shores
of England are bristling with the armed legions watching the event. The
islanders standing "like greyhounds in the slips straining upon the
start," and thus, whilst "borne by the invisible and creeping wind," the
ships neared each other, was to be seen those characteristics of the
islanders which furnished forth descriptions like the blast of trumpet
to a Briton's ear.


        "On! on! you noblest English,
    Whose blood is set from fathers of war proof!
    Fathers, that, like so many Alexanders,
    Have, in these parts, from morn till even fought,
    And sheathed their swords for lack of argument.
    Dishonour not your mothers. Now attest,
    That those that you call'd fathers, did beget you;
    Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
    And teach them how to war."[21]


[Footnote 21: "Henry the Fifth."]

It is not our purpose fully to describe the action with, and the
discomfiture of, the Huge Don, only such portions of the engagement as
embraces the fate of those connected with our story being necessary.

Suffice it then that the fleet of the mighty Spaniard came on slowly,
awfully, and, according to the description given by Camden, so
tremendous in appearance that the very winds seemed tired of propelling
and the ocean groaned with its weight. That the English ships, dwarfs as
they appeared by comparison, and few as they were in number, resolutely
encountered, and, like bulldogs, which never leave the animal they are
pitted against whilst life lasts, stuck to and worried the bloated Don
till they completely pulled down his pride.

The proximity of Plymouth to the Spanish coast had rendered it probable
that that part of England would be selected by the enemy for his first
attempt, and there accordingly the Queen had appointed as Guardian one
of the noblest and most approved soldiers of her realm. That aspiring
hero, the gallant Sir Walter Raleigh, in himself a host at such a
moment, was appointed Lord-Warden of Plymouth, with office of
Lieutenant-General of the county of Cornwall, and 5,000 men under him.

No post or appointment on land, however, could satisfy such a man, when
he himself knew the element on which the English ought to meet their
foes was the sea. Accordingly, the blast of war and the thunder at the
cannon found Sir Walter amidst the foremost, fighting hand to hand like
some avenger, and covered with the smoke and blood of the hot encounter.
Sir Walter, indeed, with a brilliant company of nobles and gentlemen,
had left Plymouth in a small squadron, and quickly came up with the
Spanish fleet. As they sighted the enemy, it was joined by a small force
fitted out by Walter Arderne, and the two made into the midst of the
fight.

Notwithstanding, however, the desperate valour of Sir Walter Raleigh,
and which at times amounted to rashness, in the present instance he
displayed his superior seamanship, and used discretion. He was aware
that the lighter and less numerous vessels of the English had an
advantage over the unwieldy Spanish galleons, provided the former
avoided close quarters.

He therefore ran near the floating castles of the enemy, and poured in
his broadsides, whilst they found it almost impossible to bring their
great ordnance to bear, ere he was off again. This plan of operation was
adopted by the whole English fleet. Ever asunder, but always in motion,
they took advantage of the wind to tack whenever they could most annoy
the foe; pouring in broadside after broadside, and sheering off out of
range of the Spanish guns, and then again boldly returning ere the
latter could well reload; performing, as Sir Henry Wooton described it,
a perfect morris-dance upon the water.[22]

[Footnote 22: Oldy's "Life of Raleigh."]

It was in vain that the Spanish fleet bore down upon their antagonists,
anxious, by bringing them to a closer action, at once to destroy them.
The skilful English sailors avoided the contact by continually
separating into small divisions. Six of the English ships, however, led
by Sir Martin Frobisher and Lord Thomas Howard, were so disjoined from
the rest, that the galleasses of the Armada came close upon them, and
continued a desperate engagement for many hours. At the same time,
another squadron of the English fiercely assailed the division of the
Armada stationed to the westward; nay, such was the desperation of the
English, that they in a short time disabled every ship in the line
there.

Amidst the storm of hurling iron, hid from one another by volumes of
white smoke which hung upon the waters and enveloped everything around,
two individuals sprang from their vessels, and, followed by their crews,
sword in hand, clambered with desperate energy up the hull of one of the
Spanish ships. The dense smoke on all sides is only relieved by the
rapid volume of fire which seemed to pour out of every part of the
Spaniard. The tearing of timbers, the shriek of agony, the cry of
despair, and the deep curse, is answered by the wild joyous cheer of the
jolly Briton. Amidst a storm of blows, the two leaders, the forlorn hope
of the boarders, gaining the high deck of the Spanish craft, sprung upon
the enemy's deck, where they were instantly followed by their
strong-armed countrymen. What can resist, what can front them and live!
Their blows are like the lightning's flash! Their force, strength, and
ire, is terrible to look upon! They carve a passage; they bear down all
before them! The deck of the Spaniard is slippery with blood; the
thunder of the cannon is even hushed for the instant; and then is heard
the ringing noise of hundreds hand-to-hand,--the cold dull smite of
steel upon the body, the deadly curse, the cry of horror, and the shriek
of death.

During this terrible encounter, even whilst mounting the side of the
Spanish vessel, the two men we have first described caught sight of, and
recognised each other. In the face of him who sprang from a small craft
called the Falcon, one of the sometime players of the Globe recognized
Walter Arderne; and in that countenance beside him, although now with
smoke and powder disguised "as if besmeared in hell," Arderne has for an
instant recognised the features of one known in fair Warwickshire in
happier days. They see, they recognized each other, but their thoughts
are as the red flash of the artillery around them, and the next moment
they are in the midst of blows and death. A contest of this sort, so
fought and followed, is seldom of long duration. One side or other must
generally be overborne; and, accordingly, the entire crew of the Spanish
galleon were either driven to the poop of their vessel, or dead upon her
decks. So numerous, however, were the Spaniards, that even in this
desperate extremity they were formidable; and still the contest raged.

In the midst of the _melée_, the player who we have before seen amongst
the first to board the Spaniard, is now fighting hand-to-hand with the
Spanish captain.

Hard pressed, (for the rapier of the Englishman bears the _invincible_
Don almost to the planks of his vessel,) the latter turns and flies
below. Entering his cabin, he snatches up a pistol, and attempts to fire
it into a huge barrel of gunpowder, and so blow up his vessel. Like
lightning the Englishman strikes the pistol from his grasp, and calls
upon him to yield.

The Spaniard, however, renews the contest like a tiger at bay. Rushing
upon his foe, for the moment he bears him backward; he then as suddenly
turns towards a youth who, crouched in one corner of the cabin, seemed
terrified, and unable to protect himself. Him the Spaniard now rushes
upon, and attempts to pierce with his rapier; but the Englishman again
anticipates him, strikes the weapon aside, and pierces the _invincible_
Don to the heart at the very moment the vessel is captured; and one loud
English cheer fills the air. Curiosity and humanity leads the victor to
approach the boy whom he had so opportunely saved. He drags from before
him the body of the Spanish captain, bids the lad look up and fear
nothing; but, overcome with the terrors of the situation, the lad had
fainted. At this moment the cabin is filled with the excited
captors--they are maddened with rage and blood, and ready to strike down
all before them. Anxious for the poor boy, the gallant player lifts him
up, throws him across his shoulder, and carries him upon deck, never
leaving him till he has placed him in safety in his own vessel.

Amidst the turmoil, confusion, and horror of such a scene, (for, of all
battles, perhaps a sea-fight presents the most savage and desperate
picture of warfare,) the "poor player," who had thus rescued the youth
from death, and borne him to a place of comparative safety, had but
small leisure to pay attention to him.

Nevertheless, as he placed him in the cabin of the English vessel, he
could scarcely fail to observe his extreme beauty; and as the lad came
to himself, and thanked his preserver, the player found, by his accent,
that the lad was English born.

Commending him, therefore, hastily to the care of some of the sailors at
hand, (as his ear again caught the wild huzza of the victors,) the
player again sprang upon the deck of his own ship, and the next moment
was once more amidst the scene of death and slaughter--enveloped in
smoke and fire--deafened with the roar of guns, and in the midst of
crashing timbers and falling spars.

The Spanish galleon had been captured ere he again reached her decks;
but still on went those English red-handed from slaughter to slaughter,
"with ladies' faces, and fierce dragon's spleens," they assailed ship
after ship of the squadron they had become entangled with, and night
only arrested the terrible encounter.

Awful indeed is the destructive power of man, when once his rage is let
loose upon his fellow. Those stately Spanish vessels, covered with
gilding and ornament, and which had come heaving upon the wave, stately
in movement, and beautiful in appearance as a bevy of swans, were now
dismantled wrecks, blackened, half burnt, and, as if tortured into
madness by their swift enemies, they vomited forth their fire at random,
their shot flying over the heads of their adversaries, and hurting each
other in the confusion of the scene.

In other parts of the engagement the English had been equally
industrious; and had it not been for the gross mismanagement of those in
authority, and through whose parsimony the ships ran short of
ammunition, the success would have been instantly followed up; as it
was, the parsimony of the Queen might have cost her her crown, for
thrice were the English baulked in the midst of success for want of
ammunition, and obliged to take advantage of wind to get out of fire,
and as often did they return, like avengers, to smite and destroy.

The sequel of this glorious contest is too well known for us to dwell
upon; only so far as it bears upon our story have we followed it. To
that poor player, the intrepidity of demeanour, the confidence in the
love of her subjects, and the activity and foresight of the royal Tudor,
was not lost. He saw of what his own countrymen were capable; and when
he dipped his pan in his own heart, and described deeds of knightly
fame, he wrote as he felt.

The noble Howard of Effingham, profiting by the faults of the Duke of
Medina, and the difficulties experienced by the Spanish seamen in
manoeuvring their floating castles, made a terrible example of the
enemy, and all around is crushing ruin, flight, and pursuit. Those ships
which were scattered he followed, and the whole fleet of Medina was
already vanquished and flying, when the elements effected the rest.

    "So, by a roaring tempest as the flood,
    A whole Armada of collected sail
    Is scatter'd and disjoined from fellowship."

It was during the continuance of tho storm which followed, and whilst
the few Spaniards who returned to their own shores were filling the ears
of their countrymen with reports of the desperate valour of the English,
and the tempestuous violence of the ocean which surrounded them, that
two solitary travellers took their way along the old Kent road leading
from Sandwich to Canterbury. Having quitted the ships in which they had
arrived at the old Cinque Porte town, the two wayfarers were now making
their way towards the metropolis.

In our own times they would have come under the denomination of
strollers, since one of them was in reality an actor, and, in the form
of the other who walks by his side, our readers must recognise the youth
rescued during the preceding action with the Armada.

Light is the step and joyous the voice of that player. It almost cheers
the heavy heart of the melancholy lad, his companion. Nay, it does, in
some sort, apparently chase from his memory some rooted sorrow; for the
large glowing orbs of the boy are oft-times turned towards the player as
he speaks, and his step becomes more firm as they proceed.

Scarce a mile has been traversed from the town, ere the eye of the
player catches sight of a gray and massive ruin on his right, and the
steps of both are turned towards it.

Long lingered their footsteps beside that magnificent relic, and deeply
ponders the player upon the surrounding scene.

His companion listened to his words with breathless interest. The
glittering helmets of the cohorts of Rome seem to pass within the arena.

Nay, the spirit of the Roman, who reared the fortress, like a rock, upon
that elevation, eighteen hundred years before, seems still to pervade
the spot. There--where the thistle rears its lonely head, and the long
grass of centuries waves in the wind--the shadowy forms of the imperial
soldiery seem to glide by.

"And such," said the youth, as he listened to the words of his
companion, "is in truth the impression felt in each locality where the
pick and spade of the Roman has left trace of his conquering arm. The
feelings you have just described, the shadowy remembrance such locality
seems to conjure up, I have oft-times felt whilst at Clopton."

The player started. "At Clopton?" he said, as he looked curiously at the
expressive countenance of his companion. In both there was a sort of
dreamy recollection of having met before. "At Clopton, boy? True, there
is a Roman trench in the park there. And so, then, thou knowest fair
Warwickshire?"

The youth sighed,--his usual answer when his companion, during their
short acquaintance, had inquired his history. "I do," he said.

"And know you Stratford-upon-Avon?" inquired the player.

"But too well," answered the youth, again sighing.

"Ah," said the player thoughtfully, "then well may I."

"And wherefore?" said the lad, looking archly in his face.

"I was born there," returned the player. "Have friends, wife, children
at Stratford."

"And your name?" inquired the youth.

"Shakespeare, for fault of a better," said the player. And the pair soon
afterwards left the Roman ruin and wended on towards London.



CHAPTER XLVII.

THE PLAYER AT COURT.


And now a new epoch seems to have arrived, and England (for the time
being) may indeed be called "_merrie England_." The good old days of
good Queen Bess are now in full force. The nation seems like a burly
giant, who, lately weighed down by some heavy disease, and which it
required all the strength of his constitution to surmount, suddenly
finds himself again in health and strength.

    "Now he breathes again, and can give audience to any tongue,
            Speak il of what it may."

The enjoyment of the sometime invalid is tenfold from the sudden
rebound. Earth and sea, air and sky, look doubly beautiful, and each
hour is one of enjoyment. The whole nation revels in the excitement and
the joyous feelings consequent upon its deliverance from a fearful yoke.
The anticipation of dishonour, torture, and slavery, are no more. The
overweening Spaniard, "that Armado hight," has been smitten with deadly
vengeance, and all care is thrown to the winds. The Queen, the
courtiers, the soldiers, sailors, citizens, nay, all the realm are
dancing a galliard through the country. And of all those dancers none
danced more vigorously, or cut higher capers, than the royal Tudor
herself and her dancing chancellor, Sir Christopher Hatton.

    "Full oft within the spacious walls,
      When he had fifty winters o'er him,
    My grave lord-keeper led the brawls,
      And seals and maces danced before him.
    His bushy beard, and shoe-strings green,
      His high-crowned hat and satin doublet,
    Moved the stout heart of England's Queen,
      Though Pope and Spaniard could not trouble it."

Leicester, Essex, Raleigh, and Hatton, the especial gallants of the
Court, "glittering in golden coats like images," are amongst those
revellers.

In London and its environs, bear-baitings, bull-baitings, masques,
morris dancers, theatrical exhibitions, and all sorts of diversions
filled up the hours.

Great crowds of noblemen and gentlemen (who had met the Queen on her
landing at Westminster after the dispersion of the Armada) attended her
to St. James's Palace, and, day after day, entertained her, "all
furnished, all in arms," with tilts and tourneys.

Fully did the English at this moment appreciate the merits of their
Queen. She was extolled, glorified, and almost deified in the exuberance
of their joy and loyalty.[23]

[Footnote 23: Stow mentions a little jobbing tailor who absolutely went
mad for love of, and died glorifying the perfections of the Queen.]

Oh that it came within the compass of our pen to describe the appearance
of the Court. To introduce our reader, but for one short hour, within
the walls of the palace; amidst that throng of princely gentlemen and
stately dames clustered around one of the most gifted and extraordinary
women that ever wielded a sceptre. Alas! the times are so changed, that
the might, the magnificence of royalty, the grandeur of the scene
within, and the halo shed around even the precincts of the palace, can
scarcely be understood. The stately forms of the bearded yeomen; the
glitter of the halbert, and the flash of weapons amidst tower and
turret; the emblazoned doublet; the measured tread of men-at-arms on
every post, and port, and passage; the lounging pages and servants, who
throng the courts and offices; the hundreds of hangers-on upon royalty
at this joyous period. The very sacred character of much that pertained
to a palace seems to have vanished. The bold grandeur of the times seem
to have departed with those cloistered and embattled buildings and the
stately beings who inhabited them.

The very precincts of the Court,--the "whereabout of royalty," seemed
invested with a sacred character during the reign of Elizabeth. The
stern grandeur which pervaded tho habitations of the terrible Harry, her
father, still surrounded the various dwellings of the no less majestic
daughter.

Our readers must now imagine the Court in all its splendour at that old
palace whose gateway and flanking towers still bear the cognizance and
initials of the burly Harry; not as now, however, where the echoes of
the drum and trumpet which rings and rattles out upon occasion of pomp
and parade, reverberated from the goodly dwellings and ample streets by
which it is neighboured.

St. James's palace, in Elizabeth's day, stood in the open country. It
had been built upon the site of the dissolved hospital of St. James, by
the bluff King, and its buttressed walls were surrounded by a sort of
chase or park, the grounds of which to the north were, for the most
part, wet and marshy. The heron flapped his wing in the pool where now
the Green Park is situated, and amidst the tall trees upon the hill, at
present called Bond Street, the deer couched in the fern. It was indeed
a picturesque and noble building, exceeding handsome, as a writer of the
sixteenth century describes it, built of brick, embattled for defence,
and surrounded at the top with crenelles, the chase always green, and in
which the Court can walk in summer. Indeed, every part around St.
James's, built upon and populated as it now is, at the period of our
story was the occasional haunt of Queen Elizabeth, where she rode,
walked, and meditated, considered her household affairs, or disported
with her ladies, her courtiers, and her lovers.

And what a picture did the scene without the palace exhibit a few weeks
after the dispersion of the Armada, and whilst many of these noblemen
and gentry, who, at the moment remained in London, were in constant
attendance upon the Queen, and endeavouring to outshine each other in
their devices and designs.

It is near the hour of noon; the sun shines upon tower and turret, and
glances bright upon the arms of the various sentinels upon rampart and
gateway. Within, the courtyard is crowded with men-at-arms and persons
of all ranks passing in and out. And amongst these are the stately forms
of many whom the page of history has had occasion to tell of. In the
park without, numerous youthful cavaliers are careering about, mounted
upon steeds splendidly caparisoned, whilst a mounted guard of honour
stands enranked about a bow-shot in front of the principal entrance.
Huntsmen and falconers too, bedight with the royal arms, their
greyhounds in couples, and other dogs of the chase, are seen amidst the
clank of arms, as the sentinels are relieved. Nay, the perfume of the
scented courtiers pervade the air as they dismount and enter the palace.
The steaming smell of hot dishes and savoury viands also salute the
nostril, as cooks, scallions, servitors, and pages, are seen in the
inner court leading from the kitchen, as the hour approaches for the
royal banquet.

Shift the scene to the interior, and a magnificent sight strikes the
eye, "the presence strew'd." The walls are hung with rich tapestry, and
on either hand are the nobles of the Court, "a glittering throng." The
Queen is about to pass through, and all are bare-headed. What a picture
do those men present! Cloaked, ruffed, and rapiered, their Very apparel
and arms studded with jewels, their bearded faces, so celebrated for
manly beauty,--for the Queen loves to look upon the handsomest men the
age can produce,--and limbs, and thews, and features, are sure to find
favour in her sight. Whilst the nobility stand thus enranked, (many of
lesser note at the bottom of the chamber,) a gentleman usher, dressed in
velvet, with a golden chain, suddenly appears, the doors are thrown
open, and the majestic Tudor is announced as at hand.

First come forth, with proud step and reared heads, some of those lately
so celebrated in the "world's debate." Bare-headed, they have had
especial and private audience in the presence. Raleigh, with hawk's eye
and aquiline features, his very spirit glancing as he looks
good-naturedly, but haughtily around. Then Essex, majestic in mien and
regal-looking in demeanour, and seeming to carry on his dress the cost
of whole manors. Then Leicester, splendid in person and dress, but with
somewhat of a restless, uneasy, and sinister expression; dark as a
gipsy, and so haughty and unbending in demeanour, that his countenance
freezes the blood in the gazer's veins, and yet withal wearing a sort of
smile, ever and anon, to shew his pearly teeth; his hand plays nervously
with the hilt of his jewelled poniard, as he bows to the several nobles
he recognises. And so they file in, and fall into line on either hand.

And now, whatever of conversation, amidst the assemblage, has been going
on, suddenly ceases; and each man standing erect, and with his
embroidered cloak advanced somewhat over the left arm, the one hand upon
the rapier's heavy hilt, the plumed hat in the other--with eyes of
expectation, await the moment of the Queen's appearance. A flourish of
twelve trumpets and two kettle-drums immediately ring and rattle out;
the battle-axes of the gentlemen-at-arms are lowered; and, lo, the
Majesty of England has passed the door.

Elizabeth at this period of her reign was fifty-six years of age. Her
face, although exceedingly majestic, shewed the deep furrows of
care--the care which is the heir-loom of the diadem; her nose was
somewhat hooked; her lips, narrow; her teeth, discoloured. In her ears
she wore two enormous pearls with rich drops; and her small crown rested
upon a mass of false red hair. Her bosom it was her pleasure to display
uncovered (the custom of all English ladies before marriage); on her
neck was a necklace of costly jewels. The dress she wore was of white
silk, embroidered with enormous pearls, larger than beans. Over this
dress she wore a costly mantle of coloured silk, shot with silver
threads; and her long train was borne by a marchioness. In addition to
all this, she wore, in place of a chain, a magnificent collar of gold
and jewels. Her aspect upon the whole was at first sight pleasing; but
on a steady view of her countenance, there was to be found the
unendurable look of a line of kings. The eye that could gaze down a
lion; the fierce glance of the royal Harry, was there; a glance which
proclaimed the excitable nature of the Tudor blood.

She remained stationary for a few brief moments as soon as she entered
the room, and seemed to comprehend the whole assemblage in one rapid
glance. She then advanced, with her bevy of attendant ladies, and, at
her pleasure, spoke first to one and then another of the nobles present.
To one or two giving her hand to kiss, as a mark of special favour, her
favourites (albeit they had already been favoured with a private
audience) being every now and then appealed to; whilst the moment her
eye detected any person of peculiar note, or not immediately belonging
to her circle, she fixed him like a basilisk.

"Ah! Master Spenser," she said, as she stopped near the author of the
"Faery Queen," "hast thou received the guerdon I promised thee for thy
song yet? We rated Burleigh soundly for disobeying our orders, and
bringing forth that jangling rhyme of thine, which touched our honour.
Let me see how went it;" and the Queen repeated, with good emphasis and
discretion, the words of the poet:

    "I was promised on a time.
    To have reason for my rhyme:

    Since that time until this season,
    I have had nor rhyme nor reason."

"The radiant Gloriana," said Spenser, "doth overmuch honour my poor
couplet by repeating it; nevertheless the rhyme still hath reason. Of
that, our shepherd of the ocean[24] can testify."

[Footnote 24: Raleigh.]

"How! Raleigh," said the Queen, "hath not thy friend received the
hundred pounds I promised him? This is overbold of Burleigh!" And the
eye of the Queen shewed the lioness' glance as she looked around for
the offender. Burleigh, however, had anticipated a storm, and sought the
lower end of the room; meanwhile Raleigh, who seldom let an opportunity
pass for pressing any suit he had to carry, replied that Spenser had as
yet received nothing of the promised coin.

"My friend is as unlucky as myself," he said; "for neither hath he
received his guerdon, any more than I myself have obtained the grant of
lands your gracious bounty half promised."

"Ah!" said the Queen, (who spite of her partiality for the wit, genius,
and valour of the adventurous and daring knight, little relished his
rapacity). "Ah!" she said, "what, that suit of the fields at Mitcham
again? And when will you cease to be a beggar, Raleigh?"

Raleigh saw he had half offended, but his impudence and readiness
brought him through. "When your Majesty ceases to be a benefactress," he
said, gracefully bowing.

The angry spot left the Queen's brow. She smiled and shook her head.
"Thou art an accomplished courtier," she said, as she passed on, "but
thou gettest not the Mitcham meadows of us yet notwithstanding."

"What mutterest thou, Tarleton?" she continued sharply, to one of the
attendant clowns or comedians, whom she frequently admitted to her
presence.

"I mutter nothing that I will not stand to, Madona," said Tarleton; "and
that which your Majesty calls muttering, was but an assurance to my
gossip, Raleigh, of all he requires, Raleigh hath but to open his mouth,
and the tid bits from your royal table are sure to be cast into it."

"So!" said the Queen, rather angrily.

"Yes," returned the bold jester, "Look but on my lord there--he of the
dark eye and olive complexion. By my fay, he hath swollen to such a huge
bulk in the sunshine of your royal eye, that anon we shall all be
overwhelmed!"

This sally of Tarleton's against the Earl of Leicester was received with
a titter of applause, and Burleigh, who had indeed tutored the poor
jester, greatly enjoyed it.

Elizabeth saw the feeling, and affecting to hear it with unconcern,
turned to another of the court fools. "Well, Pace," she said, "and now I
suppose we shall hear from you also of our faults."

"What is the use of speaking of that which all the town is talking of?"
growled Pace.

Although the Queen permitted considerable license to men of this class,
she was more deeply offended than she chose to shew, and passed on
without another word. A few moments afterwards, however, both Pace and
Tarleton were observed, at a hint from one of the gentlemen-at-arms, to
quit the presence.

"Ah, Bacon," said the Queen to her ample-browed Lord Keeper, "we are
sorry to see thee still suffering from the old enemy, the gout. Remain
not standing here, my lord; go sit thee down. We make use of your good
head, not your bad legs!"

Lord Bacon, nothing loth, bowed and hobbled off.

"My Lord Bacon's soul lodgeth well," she observed to one of her ladies,
"and truly do we honour him therefore. We are the enemy of all dwarfs
and monsters in shape, and would have all appointments, either civil or
military, bestowed on men of good appearance. What sayest thou?"

"Certies, I am woman enough to be of your Majesty's opinion," answered
the lady; "and yet your Majesty cannot always suit wit and judgment with
a splendid dwelling: witness your royal choice of Sir Robert Cecil."

"True," said the Queen, "Cecil hath both a mean look and an ugly
expression; but we cannot want the crook back."

The Queen now turned, and taking Leicester aside, held him for some time
in conversation, during which all kept aloof. She then, as it was near
the hour of dining, again passed down the line, still speaking to and
noticing all she felt any inclination to propitiate, Leicester, Raleigh,
and one or two of the more privileged courtiers following. As she passed
into the second chamber, she observed amongst the _élite_ several whose
rank had not entitled them to be in the presence-chamber; and wherever
her eye fell on a handsome face and form, she stopped and made inquiry
concerning such persons.

"I pray you, Mignonne," she said, turning to one of her ladies, "who is
yonder handsome youth--he who stands there near the door?"

"I know not his name, Madam," said the lady.

"Pshaw," said the Queen, "I have ever those about me who are ignorant.
Leicester," she continued, "what is the name of yonder youth?"

"He whom your Majesty's eye hath fascinated, even to the crimsoning of
his cheeks," said Leicester, "is Charles Blount."

"Nay," said the Queen, "I could have sworn there was good blood in his
veins. He is brother of Lord William Mountjoye, is he not so?"

"He is, Madam," said Leicester, "his younger brother, and now studying
at the inns of court. He was in Drake's ship, and did good service
against the Spaniard."

"Nay," said Elizabeth, "by my fay, an he was with Drake, he was like to
be where blows were rife. Bid him approach."

The youth accordingly came forward and knelt to the Queen, who, still
more struck by his handsome form and features, gave him her hand to
kiss.

"Come again to Court, good Master Blount," she said, "and I will bethink
me of your future fortunes."

The young man again blushed, and being extremely bashful, stammered some
incoherent reply of thanks which, still more interested the Queen, and
again she added words of encouragement.

The Earls of Essex and Leicester smiled contemptuously, and Essex, who
stood near the Queen, made some sneering remark, which was partially
overheard. Not even, however, could the favourite Essex escape censure
at such a moment.

"Ha!" she said (turning sharply upon him), "say'st thou, my Lord? Stand
back, lest we teach you manners here."

Essex bit his lip, but he was fain to obey, observing to my Lord
Southampton "that every fool he thought was coming into favour."

"Then," said Southampton, who stood near, "'tis fit we introduce
something not altogether so silly, and there is one here to-day I much
wish her Majesty to notice. Ha! and look ye, she hath already found
him."

"Of whom speak ye?" inquired Essex.

"Of one well beloved by thee," said Southampton. "See thou not the man
there standing amidst the throng, somewhat behind the beefeaters?"

"I do," said Essex. "'Tis Will Shakespeare."

Meanwhile, whilst Essex, whose proud spirit being somewhat chafed, had
thus remained behind the royal party, the Queen passed on talking right
and left as was her wont, and discussing matters of political interest
with those near her. "We will think of this matter, my Lord of
Effingham," she said, in answer to something that noble had said. "I am
ready, as thou hast seen, to arm for defence, but I make no wars."

"Nevertheless, your majesty should strike a blow at Spain ere he recover
the effects of his discomfiture. I hear again of formidable preparations
being in contemplation to avenge the destruction of his ships. Nay,
Philip hath affirmed, and that on oath, that he will be revenged even if
he is reduced to pawn the last candlestick on his altar."

"Nay, my Lord," said the Queen, "if the dollars of silver and ingots of
gold, and which the wretched Indians work for in their native mines,
could effect the conquest of this realm, he would assuredly succeed, hut
I fear him not. We have stout hearts and heavy blades here in England to
oppose to his glittering coin. Whilst you yourself, Raleigh, Frobisher,
Drake, and other daring spirits are ready for the sea, we shall hold our
own, my Lord."

"Nevertheless, your Majesty will, I trust, hear at a future opportunity
what myself and my Lord of Essex have to urge in favour of an expedition
against Spain."

"It may be we will hear both," said the Queen, "but in truth Essex is
hardly to be entrusted with command. His impetuosity requireth a bridle,
my Lord, rather than a spur. He is the soul of chivalry, but rash as he
is brave; and see you there now," she said, turning and looking after
Essex, "I reproved him but with one word, and his choler is aroused even
towards us, his benefactress."

The Queen turned now to a tall, gaunt, but exceedingly noble looking old
man, his costume partaking both of the soldier and the courtier. "Sir
Thomas Lucy," she said, "we have heard of your gallantry during the
action with the Armada. We thank, in your presence, all those gentlemen
of fair Warwickshire for their alacrity in fitting out ships, and their
bravery in fighting them. We heard of you Sir Thomas, in the hottest
part of the battle."

"And where your Highness shall ever find me when the foes of England are
to be met," said the old knight, proudly, and at the same time rearing
his head as he watched the progress of the royal Tudor, Presently,
however, the countenance of Sir Thomas underwent a slight change, he
seemed to start at some name her Majesty pronounced. His pale iron-gray
visage became flushed; nay, had Sir Thomas received an insult in the
presence, the expression of his countenance could not have more
instantly changed. Slowly and with contracted brows, his eyes rested
upon the person Her Majesty was speaking to, and that, indeed, not five
paces from where he himself stood. He was fixed--astonished. He could
scarcely believe his eyes.

"What! Master Shakespeare," said the Queen, as her eagle-eye caught
sight of the poet standing amongst a crowd of officials, "and so thou
too hast come to Court? We have not ourself yet seen thy last poem--thy
Tarquin and Lucrece, but Raleigh and Essex have repeated some passages
to us."

Shakespeare bent his knee and presented a small roll of paper to the
Queen, which she received graciously, and after glancing at it, "'tis
well," she said, "we will, good William, be present." She then gave the
poet her hand to kiss and passed through the door.

As Shakespeare rose from his knee he was immediately accosted and
congratulated by the Earls of Essex and Southampton, whilst many others
of the Court came about him.

Sir Thomas Lucy, meanwhile, continued to exhibit the utmost
astonishment. The countenance of the poet he could hardly mistake. The
name, too, he had caught the sound of, and in the person of one
apparently on the most familiar terms with the grandees of Elizabeth's
court, nay, one who was received with favour by the haughty Tudor
herself, he saw the individual who had broke his park, stolen his deer,
and decamped to avoid punishment for his offence.

Whilst, therefore, Shakespeare stood amidst the glittering throng, Sir
Thomas still continued rapt in astonishment. Proud as he himself was, he
felt (in common with all country squires), that removed from his own
little domain, and transplanted into the wondrous world of fashion of
London, he was but a "cypher in the great accompt." But a small mite
indeed, helping to swell the grandeur of the court.

    "A substitute shines brightly as a king
    Until a king be by, and then his state

    Empties itself (as doth an inland brook,)
    Into the main of waters."

"A parliament member," he muttered to himself, as the lampoon kept
recurring to his mind, and as he watched the courtiers, so interested
and so joyous, whilst in the influence of Shakespeare's wit. "It must be
him--I am sure it's him--I know it's him--A justice of peace," he
muttered: "at home a poor scarecrow. And on such terms here at court
too! In London an ass," he continued, as he approached somewhat nearer,
and took a more keen survey of the unconscious poet. "Yes, it is him
sure enough; and yet--I'll make bold to make sure," and Sir Thomas
accosted Sir Christopher Hatton, and inquired somewhat tartly, the name
of the gentleman who seemed to keep the Lords Essex, Bacon, Leicester,
and Sir Walter Raleigh, in such exceeding mirth.

"His name?" said Hatton, who was himself hastening to the feast of wit,
"Why, it's our Shakespeare, man--The gentle Will--Knowest thou not Will
Shakespeare, the very element of wit and pleasantry?"

"Shakespeare!" said Sir Thomas. "Shakespeare! Thank you. Sir
Christopher. Shakespeare! the element of wit and pleasantry! And what
may be the present calling of this element of whit?" he inquired.

"His calling; why, he's an actor, Sir Thomas--a poet, and a right good
one. A player, sir, and a writer of plays; one, too, who keeps us
amused.

"Oh!" said Sir Thomas, "'Tis so, is it? Good!--an actor--a mummer--a
morisco."

"Come, Sir Thomas," said Sir Christopher, "I'll make him known to thee;
I'll assure you he's a rare fellow, this Will Shakespeare."

"I thank you, la," said the knight truly. "I hold not acquaintance with
mummers and wild moriscos. Farewell, Sir Christopher, I am away to
Warwickshire. An ass, quotha. Well, this 'tis to have deer, and parks,
and warrens--this 'tis to be a player. The world's turned athwart.
Farewell, Sir Christopher, (he continued hurriedly to the dancing
favorite,) fail not to come to Charlecote, we'll kill the buck
there--eh?" And so Sir Thomas left the palace.



CHAPTER XLVIII.

SIR THOMAS LUCY IN LONDON.


The more Sir Thomas Lucy heard, during his sojourn in London on the
subject that had so startled him at Court, the more he wondered.

It was but a few days after he had caught a glimpse of the Warwickshire
lad, whom he had hunted from his native town, that he found the name of
William Shakespeare in the mouths of almost all he met. That his name
should be at all subject of conversation at this precise moment, was
indeed astonishing, considering the habits and pursuits of the
generality of the Londoners. The warm citizens of London were for the
most part a staid and grave set. The more juvenile were rude and rough;
fond of athletic sports and out-door pastimes. They loved to see the
bear tug and hug the hound; to witness the cruel conflict 'twixt mastiff
and monkey; to see the bull driven to madness; or to shout over the bout
at quarter-staff. Added to these pastimes it must be owned, however,
that the patience with which they could sit at a (so-called) theatrical
exhibition, and listen to the long-winded orations, speeches, and
mysteries then in fashion, and which had been handed from their more
ignorant ancestors, was a perfect marvel; for except that the fool or
clown uttered here and there a conceit, a theatrical exhibition was a
weary business. Shakespeare, who had now spent some time, in a sort of
apprenticeship, amongst the players, had already altered this style; and
just before the invasion of the Spaniards, he had perfectly astonished
the town by producing a piece of his own writing--a play, which, albeit
in our own time it is in comparison but slightly regarded, possessed in
Elizabeth's day peculiar attractions. This play, which was called
Pericles, had greatly delighted the Court and the city. It in some sort
partook of the style of production most suited to the taste of the time,
and prepared the way for more perfect productions.

It is not therefore matter of so much surprise, that just at this
precise moment, when the fierce revelry consequent upon the dispersion
of the Armada was beginning to pall upon the "monster with uncounted
heads," the circumstance of William Shakespeare being about to produce
another play, should make some stir.

As Sir Thomas passed through the Golden Chepe, he found, by the
conversation of many whom he met, that the Queen intended to be at the
Blackfriars Theatre that afternoon.

Now Sir Thomas had never in his life been inside a theatre in London. He
had seen mysteries, mummeries, morris-dances, and Christmas revels in
his own hall at Charlecote. But other sort of dramatic representation,
in common with others of his class, he had no conception of or care
for.

"Diccon," he said to one of the attendants who walked behind him (for
Sir Thomas always promenaded the town with half-a-dozen serving men at
his back,) "What is this play we heard my Lord Keeper speaking of?"

"Marry, Sir Thomas, it is a play written, I be informed, by one Sampson
Beakspere of this town."

"Ah," said Sir Thomas, "Beakspere, said ye? Art sure that is the name?"

"One cannot be sure of anything, an it so please ye, in this sink of
iniquity," said Diccon, "where lying, thieving, and every sort of
villany existeth in open daylight. Nay, one cannot be sure of finding
one's throat hale and sound in the morning when one lays down at night.
By the same token, at the hostel where I lay, they cut off the badge
containing the three silver pike-fish from all our sleeves."

"_Beak_speare," said Sir Thomas, merely glancing at the denuded coat
sleeve of his head serving-man. "Art sure it is not _Shake_speare,
Diccon?"

"I cannot tell your honour. Beakspere was the name I understood, but it
may probably be Shakespeare. Nay, I should not be surprised even if it
was the very fellow who stole your honour's deer and stuck up bills
against our park-gates. Nothing is too bad for this town and the people
in it. I would we were fairly back in Warwickshire."

Sir Thomas looked hard at his serving-man, so unusually talkative in his
presence. "Amongst other things they do in this town, Diccon," he said
sharply, "it seems they have taught you to drink more strong beer before
breakfast than your brains can bear. Go to, sirrah; less circumstance
when you answer." And the stately knight held his way along Chepe.

On this morning he was intending to pay a visit to an old friend
residing at Dowe-gate, and afterwards to take boat, at Styll-yard, and
cross over to Bank-side, there to see the bear-bayting, and accordingly
his serving-men turned down Bucklersbury, traversed Canwick Street, and
completely bewildered themselves in East Chepe.

These thoroughfares were somewhat strait and exceedingly intricate in
Elizabeth's day, whilst the encroaching stories of the houses grazed the
plumes on the tall knight's castor, as he walked, so much so that he was
fain to hold down his head. By which proceeding he, ever and anon, run
full butt against some tall fellow or other, receiving such abuse as
rather kept his philosophy from rusting.

"How now, thou mandrake, thou thin-faced gull!" said a tall man, dressed
with great bravery, and who, accompanied by several others, was
advancing from the water side; "how mean ye by that? Thou hast run thy
hatchet visage full in my breast, and murdered my ruff, thou ass!"

"I cry ye mercy, fair sir," said Sir Thomas, who was always the
gentleman. "I am as ready to make amends, as I have unconsciously
offended."

"Offended, quotha," said the gallant, as he stood pluming himself, like
a bird, and pinching out his crushed ruff, which starched with yellow
starch stood out a foot at least from his neck. "Thou hast murdered my
ruff, I tell thee, and shalt duly answer it."

"Of a verity," said Sir Thomas, "an I have endamaged thy ruff I will pay
thy laundress coin wherewith to re-stiffen it. An I have ruffled thine
honour I will give the reparation with my rapier, always presuming thou
art a gentleman of coat armour, and fit opponent for my poor person, for
thy language, to say sooth, is foul, and thy manner coarse even for this
foul town."

"How speakest thou,--a gentleman and fit opponent for thee? Betake thee
straight to thy weapon. Know I am a gentleman to the Earl of Leicester."

"Diccon," said Sir Thomas, sheathing his half-drawn rapier and stepping
aside, "this is thy business. Tell this caitiff, that the language and
behaviour of a menial should be at least civilized when he encounters a
gentleman."

"Wilt not fight with me?" said the bully, who, together with his fellow,
now rudely pressed upon the knight's party.

"Not willingly will I fight with a scavenger," said Sir Thomas, "the
quarrel shall be a good quarrel, for I will fasten it upon the Earl thy
master. I stand aside here--smite him, Diccon--well, Diccon--lay on my
men all, and clear a passage. I would pass on."

Upon this the followers of Sir Thomas threw the round targets they
carried on their left arms, before their breasts, and, spreading out
over the whole width of the thoroughfare, drew their blades, and
advancing upon the rude followers of the Earl of Leycester bore them
back, so that Sir Thomas passed on his way to the bear-bayting.



CHAPTER XLIX.

THE THEATRE OF THE BLACKFRIARS.


In our times the profession of an actor presents a picture of
uninterrupted drudgery and discomfort. In Elizabeth's day such was not
the case. There was not then that continual craving after novelty, that
constant production of pieces, written for the hour and the topic of the
day, which gives an actor no rest. In comparison to our own race of
actors (excellent as many of them are for the sort of work they have to
do,) the actors of Elizabeth's day were a company of magnificoes,
"proper fellows of their hands," and "tall gentlemen in their own
esteem."

The thing they took easily, and with a certain dignity of deportment. It
was indeed edifying to see one of these goodly fellows with part in his
hand, his plumed hat, "short cloak and slops," and eke his rapier,
taking his early walk, either in the fields or on Bank Side, or
peradventure hiring a boat at the Blackfriars, and thus gesticulating,
with a short and diminutive bowled pipe in his mouth, studying the
author's meaning to the letter, and _getting up his lengths_.

Sometimes they went forth in companies, these men, to some favourite
rural haunt, some delightfully situated hostel or tavern by the river's
bank, or to the bowery woods near Richmond or Greenwich. On such
occasions they would take boat, and make the river echo with their
jokes, and puns, and witticisms, as they were wafted along on its glassy
surface. At other times a select few would hire horses and beat up the
towns of Windsor, Mortlake[25], and other places which the occasional
residence of the Court made more gay and populous; for these actors
loved to haunt the whereabout of royalty. Their professional knowledge
made them exceeding good companions too. Glorious fellows. And then how
dearly too did "mine host of the tavern," enter into their joviality,
and aid them in those little waggeries they were so prone to engage in.

[Footnote 25: Elizabeth, with her court, frequently moved to these
places.]

None but those who have mixed amongst actors of talent, and know them
intimately, can have an idea of the charm of their society. The very
characters they have to personate, good or ill, and the moralities
taught in the pieces they are obliged to study, ought to, and does,
render them better men. Their study also is to give peculiar effect to
all they say and do. And oft-times with them the most common place
sentence is pointed into something witty. They understand the "jest's
prosperity," and in an instant they penetrated through the follies, the
ignorance and the cunning of the common-place. Their ideas being for the
most part free, unfettered, and unshackled by mercantile matters, their
sentiments are ennobled by the study of those parts they have to
perform.

And oh, what fascination, what delight, what a world of itself, is the
scenic hour! The romance of feeling, the inexpressible charm, belonging
to that brilliant little period, none know but the actors themselves. It
is oft-times their all of life; the rest is flat and stale? they live
but for those few brief moments in which they glitter the observed of
all observers, the admiration, the delight, nay, almost the envy of the
audience. Like the lunatic, the lover, and the poet, they are "of
imagination all compact." The actor has thrown himself into the author's
conception. The poet's world is also the world of him who enacts the
part the poet has written. He lives in his author's period, not only
whilst acting, but whilst studying the part. The loves, the hates, the
fears, the joys, the doing of all around are pertaining to himself--as
if "'twas reality he felt."

Some of these men were very noble fellows, (if we may so term it), noble
at least in sentiment, if not in blood, and who would have scorned to
perform the mean acts perpetrated by men in a class far above them. They
knew, too, in what the point of honour consisted, and were "sudden and
quick in quarrel" where they conceived themselves insulted; and it was
this virtue in the better sort of the actors of Elizabeth's day which
made them sought for, and associated with, by many of the best of the
nobility. Nay, it must be remembered that at a somewhat later period of
England's history, and when civil war "channelled her fields," the
actors were, to a man, found enranked amongst the cavaliers, and
fighting "on the party of the King." Their professional education taught
them to "hold in hate the canting round-heads," and they fought and bled
for the better cause.

How dearly Shakespeare loved the scenic hour his own doings have, we
think, proclaimed. The world around him, too, at the period in which he
lived and wrote presented much that was grand and exciting. He had but
to note what he observed in the vicinity of Elizabeth's Court, in order
to pourtray some of his scenes.

From the first moment of his introduction within the walls of the
theatre, he had felt the fascination of the "scenic hour," and become
captivated with the society of the actors, oven rude as the pieces were
which he found them performing. To one of his own natural parts and
brilliant wit, there was to be found an endless fund of amusement
amongst such men. Their way of life also had its charm. How he loved
those summer excursions amidst the sweet scenery of Old Windsor--those
country revels in which he mingled amongst the rural throng, in all the
sports and pastimes "of the old age." He had now been resident in London
some time, and besides being noticed by many of the "choice and master
spirits of the age," had become acquainted with some of the native
burghers of the city, and their connexions in the country around.

The amusements of the early portion of Elizabeth's reign for the most
part consisted in her dearly-loved bull and bear-baiting, with
occasionally the more refined masques and pageants. These latter,
however, were of rare occurrence, and usually called forth by some
exciting occasion, such for instance as the visit of a foreign
ambassador, the celebration of a victory, or the return of some joyous
festival. The votaries of the "deformed thief, Fashion," did not then
herd together as now. Factions, jealousies, and fears together with the
dangerous intrigues which the great carried on against each other, and
which oft-times brought the heads of such contrivers to the block, kept
the grandees apart. Added to which, those mediums of varied amusement
which assemble the _élite_ with one another in our own day, were not in
existence.

At the period in which our story had now arrived, however, an event was
about to take place which made some little stir, and drew a large
concourse from both Court and city into one focus.

This was neither more nor less than a new play, written as was then
said, by "a right pleasant and merry conceited companion," named William
Shakespeare. It was to be enacted within the walls of an old monastery
called the Blackfriars. The performance was entitled "The Lamentable
Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet;" and so great was the interest created,
that the Queen, with such of her Court as she chose should attend her on
the occasion, had signified an intention of being present.

It will doubtless appear somewhat extraordinary to many of our readers
to find such a performance taking place within the walls of a religious
edifice. But the civic authorities had so often opposed the
representation of regular performance in the city that the actors at
last sought a place without their jurisdiction, and finally obtained the
deserted building within the precincts of the dissolved monastery of the
Blackfriars, and fitted some parts up for a theatre.

In the preceding reigns there had been no public buildings exclusively
appropriated to dramatic entertainment. The most common places of
performance were the yards of the Chaucer-like hostels, in the various
towns through which the actors wandered.

Some of these inns are even yet remaining, although altered and
modernized, in the city of London, and also along the Old Kent Road. The
gateways of such houses formed one side of the quadrangle, whilst the
balconies, being accessible from the various chambers, obviated all
necessity of descending amongst the vulgar in the yard.

In such galleries kings and nobles, the fierce Norman of the Crusades,
the knight, the esquire, and the damsel of high decree, had leant over
the rails in the olden time, and witnessed the miracle-plays and
mysteries then exhibiting. Such for instance as the miracle-play of the
Creation, wherein Adam and Eve appeared "in puris naturalibus," and
were, as the play quaintly says, "NOT ASHAMED." The earliest of theatres
were churches; the earliest performers, monks and friars; and for the
most part their exhibitions being on religious subjects, such as the
descent of our Saviour to liberate our first parents, John the Baptist
and the prophets from the lower regions. On the accession of Henry the
Eighth, acting had become an ordinary profession, and companies of
players were attached to each town; but previous to the reign of the
bluff monarch, plays on general subjects were unknown, yet long before
that period it had been customary for great noblemen to have companies
of players attached to their household.

Such, then, is a short summary of theatrical affairs previous
to the period in which Shakespeare startled the town by his
productions,--making a single vault from the lowest depth of misrule and
barbarity to the highest pinnacle of excellence in dramatic art and
composition; and, apparently without any ostensible guide whereby to
steer his course, at once striking out a path, so exquisitely conceived,
so laden with perfumed flowers, so filled with romance and beauty, that
all the world of after-times has bowed down in worshipful adoration. Of
after-times, however, it is not our hint to speak. The sight and
impression of Shakespeare's own play, in the infancy of his career,
himself enacting a part, and speaking his own words, is what we have to
look upon. To bring before the reader's eye that "poor player, who
strutted his hour upon the stage, and then was heard no more." "_Heard
no more!_"--his own words! How "rounded in the ear," and yet how strange
to reflect upon.

We have already said that the expected performance had on this occasion
drawn together a considerable audience both from Court and city.

Such was indeed the case, and taking into consideration in what
consisted a considerable audience at that period, and when accommodation
was at best but scant, the concourse of persons hieing to witness Master
Shakespeare's new play was very great.

The _élite_ of the Court, for the most part, took boat from their own
residences, or from Westminster, where they waited within the Abbey
walls for the arrival of the Queen. The citizens, on the contrary, came
thronging through Paul's and Ludgate, and over Flete Bridge, and along
Knight Ryder's Street, filling the open space before the Abbey,
citywards, and cracking their jokes with each other on that side, whilst
other nobles and their attendants being congregated about the water-gate
or sauntering within the wall, (at that period extending along the
Thames from Baynard Castle to Bridewell), presented a gay and brilliant
appearance.

All along this part and up to the point of entrance, through the various
gateways and passages, until the theatre itself was reached, the actors
had strewn fresh rushes, and to and fro upon these flags walked several
whose names were famous in the world; and as they walked they debated of
matters appertaining.

And now, as the chimes sounded from Old Paul's proclaiming the hour of 4
p.m., soft music was heard upon the water at some little distance, with
the sullen boom of the kettle drum. Soon after which, boats containing
the yeomen of the guard touched the Abbey stairs, the men as they landed
falling in file by file in extended order beneath the various arches and
along the passages; and shortly afterwards, as boat after boat
discharged its brilliant freightage and shot off again, the Queen, with
several of her ladies attendant, and the _élite_ of the Court, stepped
on shore. As they took their way amidst the cloisters and gothic arches
of that old building so darkly venerable, and besides whose walls flowed
the broad Thames, it seemed singular to hear the echo of the gay
courtier, to listen to the clash of weapon, and the measured tread of
the guard, as they followed the royal Tudor, together with the mincing
step and affected voice of the Court fop. On the other side, and in the
same precincts was also to be heard the ribald jest of the 'prentice of
Chepe, and the ringing laugh of the city madam, as they entered the
theatre.

Within, too, what was the sight there? Methinks our readers will be
anxious to look within those walls, where their own Shakespeare was
living, breathing, nay, at that moment, perhaps, dressing for his part,
and about to fret his hour.

The aspect of the interior, as it bursts upon the gazer's eye, is indeed
curious.

Here was no vast triumphal specimen of architecture; the whole seemed
got up for the nonce. But oh! how exquisite--how characteristic of him
who was then striving against so many difficulties.

The partition-wall between two large apartments of the monastery had
been cut through, so as to form the stage, the proscenium, and the
circle. Nay, so rude was the whole construction, that, to a modern eye,
it would have seemed only suited to some "play of ten words long,"
wherein there was not "one word apt, one player fitted." And yet doth a
single glance within this rude theatre present all we can expect to
find. The boxes were a sort of gallery, along which stood and leant the
gallants and ladies of the Court. The Queen and her own especial party
being enthroned in ft sort of canopy in the centre--looking indeed very
like the lady in the lobster.

The rude throne on which she sat was merely railed off from the other
seats, and standing behind her chair, on either hand, were several of
her favourites. On her right stood Leicester, on her left Essex--both
magnificent in look and apparel. Immediately behind her also, on the
right of her chair, (stepping down whenever she addressed him), was Sir
Philip Sidney. Beside him stood Sir Christopher Hatton, and Bacon was
seated near, not being able to remain long on his gouty foot. The rich
costume of these magnificent looking men, and their splendid jewels, and
weapons, glittered in the reflection of the many torches held by some of
the Queen's servants, and even several of the guard held flaming torches
in their hands.

In what would now be called the pit, were congregated the citizens. The
members of the inns of court, etc., they stood (for there were no seats
in that part of the theatre), leaned upon their rapiers, and intently
_watched_, as it was then termed, the play.

The stage, which was somewhat elevated above the pit, was on each side
furnished with three-legged stools, and strewed with rushes and seated
thereon, and even, (one or two of them throwing their careless lengths
along), nay even smoking their diminutive pipes, were also several of
the privileged of the Court. Raleigh was upon one side, Spenser on the
other; my Lord Southampton was also half reclined upon the rushes,
whilst others of the privileged sprawled about.

Such was, indeed, a custom of the time (albeit it was exceedingly
distasteful to the audience), as these gallants, whilst they swaggered
with their rapiers, or combed their long curls, interfered frequently
with the business of the hour, mewing like cats, hissing like serpents,
tickling each other's ears with the rushes, and, if they had any pique
against actor or author, "damning him utterlie." Nay, it was extremely
fashionable at this period for a gallant to salute his friend in the
boxes, in the midst of the performance, or carry on a loud conversation
so as utterly to discontinue and distract the business of the hour, and
being thus in the very midst of the actors, perhaps, himself and company
would then get up and withdraw, making as much noise as possible. In
addition to this was the rudeness of the "all licensed clowns," who
laughed in order to set on the barren spectators to _laugh_ too, though,
in the mean time, "some necessary question of the play had to be
considered."

On the present occasion, however, albeit the conversation was somewhat
of the loudest, the company were necessitated to be somewhat restrained
within the bounds of propriety out of respect to the Queen.

The orchestra, we fear, must have _rather_ "split the ears of the
groundlings." The performers were, for the most part, situated behind
the scenes. It consisted principally of wind instruments and two
kettle-drums, which, ever and anon, sounded out a wild flourish of
martial music, whilst a viol-de-gamba and several fiddles occasionally
created a sort of relief to the troubled ear.

In our own times, indeed, magnificent as the whole scene must have
appeared, it would have been criticised severely. The loud talking of
those on the stage, the impertinence of the clowns, the rudeness and
small dimensions of the stage, and whole theatre, and which latter
indeed was calculated to give the actors a gigantic appearance, bringing
them too close to the audience, would have been cavilled at. In addition
to all this, was the lack of scenery and decorations; nay, so great was
the dearth of painted scenery at this interesting period, that the spot
on which the scene was supposed to occur, was indicated by a board or
placard, upon which was written the particular locality.

Still, with all those deficiencies, the whole aspect of the interior
would have presented an extraordinary effect to a modern spectator.

The Queen, beneath her canopy of state, for so was it be-fashioned; her
splendid guard standing immediately beneath, and bearing "staff
torches," which threw their glare upon the spectators, and lit up the
Gothic architecture of that abbey playhouse. The stage itself being
also, on this occasion, lighted by torches held by servitors having the
royal arms emblazoned on their doublets. Then those choice spirits of
the Court too, sitting or lying on either hand, and several of the
gentlemen-pensioners on guard at each wing. Altogether, rude as was the
theatre, the entire scene was, as we have already said, one of peculiar
splendour. Meanwhile, during the few brief minutes before the curtain
rises, a lively conversation was going on amongst the audience.

"Ah, what, Sir Thomas Lucy, art thou, too, come to see the play
to-night?" said Lord Burleigh to our old Warwickshire acquaintance, who
was elbowing his way into the gallery amongst the _élite_. "By cock and
pie, but 'tis long since thou and I have met at masque or revel."

"Fie! my lord. 'Tis so indeed," returned the knight, "some twenty
winters is it since we foregathered at Arundel Castle."

"Go to, Sir Thomas," said Lord Burleigh, "By 'ur Lady, 'tis thirty years
come Martinmas. Rememberest thou the revels there, what time we saw
enacted in the great hall the Castle of Perseverance?"

"Truly, I had forgotten that," said Sir Thomas Lucy. "Yet now I do
remember me thereof."

"Go to," said Lord Burleigh, "those were princely revels. Dost remember
in the performance how rare it was to see the seven deadly sins do their
parts?"

"Ah, and how featly the dancers tripped it?" struck in Sir Christopher
Hatton.

"I do now remember me," said Sir Thomas, "of those deadly sins. Let me
see, there was Pride, Wrath, Envy, Luxury, Sloth, and Gluttony. By the
same token they came mounted on their hobbys, and assailed the castle."

"Aye," said Hatton, "and then Humanum Genus (who defended it) was sore
bested; truly it was excellent, and then came Mors, or Dreary Death, and
took Humanum Genus and carried him off."

"Aye, but then the fool, Sir Thomas!" said Burleigh, "rememberest thou
the scurvy knave of a fool? By my fay, ha was the life o' the night.
Truly, Sir Thomas, the fool was a most worthy fool; not altogether an
ass,--eh?"

"Ahem!" said Sir Thomas, who liked not the word ass, "methinks Her
Majesty doth glance towards this part, nay, now she peradventure wisheth
a word with you."

"Go to," said Burleigh, "I will attend. Oh, that fool! methinks I had as
lief go hang as go see a play without a fool in't. Oh! that ass, Sir
Thomas; and Sir Thomas, and Lord Burleigh, and Hatton sidled up towards
the Queen, and joined in the conversation carried on there upon
theatrical subjects.

"Your Majesty will understand," said Lord Revel (who was something of a
fop), "that this Shakespeare hath a new style, which is very commendably
excellent. A most perfect style, altogether his own. Hast seen anything
yet of his producing, my Lord Burleigh?"

My Lord Burleigh shook his head, an old custom with him. "I have not,"
he replied, "but I hear great things of his poetry."

"Go to," said the Queen, in answer to some remark of Sir Philip
Sydney's. "Those matters, Sir Philip, were good, but here be better.
Didst thou witness the former play of this man's writing, Sir Thomas
Lucy?" she enquired of the Knight of Charlecote.

"If it is so, please your Majesty, I did not," he returned.

"'Fore Heaven, then, thou hadst a great loss. You heard of it?
peradventure."

"Truly, your Majesty, we hear not of such matters in Warwickshire as
these your London plays," said Sir Thomas drily.

"But you have heard of Master Shakespeare, and seen his verse? Nay,
methinks you must have seen his verse."

Sir Thomas coughed (he glanced at her Majesty in order to see if she was
bantering him), "His verse, your Majesty," he said.

"Truly so," said the Queen. "How like you Master Shakespeare's verse,
Sir Thomas."

"Very scurvily, in verity, what I have seen of it, that is to say.
Ahem!"

"That is singular," said the Queen. "Methinks there could hardly be a
double opinion upon Master Shakespeare's verse. It is most exquisite and
unmatchable."

"I cannot say I have seen anything I particularly admire in it
nevertheless," said Sir Thomas, drily.

"What verse have you seen?" inquired the Queen. "Can you repeat a
stanza?"

"Ahem! Your Majesty," said Sir Thomas, "I am not altogether good at
repeating poetry. I like it not. Sir Philip Sydney was about to observe
something,--he understands these matters."

"I am but saying to my Lord of Leicester," said Sir Philip, "that
according to the present system, those stage matters are managed in a
somewhat more rapid style than was wont to be the custom. Now, for
instance, we must tax our imagination. For look ye, if in the play the
ladies walk forth before one's eyes and gather flowers, what skills it
but your Majesty is forthwith to imagine the stage a garden. By-and-by
two wet mariners speak of shipwreck in the same place. Then indeed, are
we to blame an we accept it not for a barren sand or rock. Upon the back
of that cometh out a hideous monster with fire and smoke issuing from
his nostrils; and then the miserable beholders are bound to take it for
a cave, whilst in the meantime two armies flying in are represented by
some half-a-dozen swords and bucklers, and then what hard heart will not
receive it for a pitched field?"

"By my fay, Sir Philip," said the Queen, "we must then have imaginations
as fertile as him who writeth these changeful varieties."

"Truly so, your Majesty," said Sir Philip, who was rather affected in
his ordinary style. "Doubtless such sights are edifying, but then of
time, madam,--of time,--we must be even more liberal, for look ye, if
(as is not uncommon) two royal persons fall in love, we may see these
lovers become parents of a chubby boy. Then, your Majesty, such boy
becomes stolen and lost, and after many traverses he groweth to man's
estate, falleth in love in time, and _in time_ is ready to marry
and all this (an it so please ye) in some two hours' space."

"Nay, Sir Philip," saith the Queen, " methinks you are now taking some
pains to appeal to our imagination yourself, lest we should weary ere
the performance commences. But, look ye, in good time the drums have
ceased and the curtain rises."



CHAPTER L.

THE SCENIC HOUR.


When the curtain rose, it discovered the representation of a private
street, very rudely painted upon a sort of hanging screen at the back of
the stage, with a couple of wings to match, and upon a board or placard
was also written in good-sized characters an intimation for the benefit
of the spectators, worded thus:--"Scene during the greater part of the
play in Verona; once in ye-fifthe act, at Mantua," a flourish of
trumpets meantime rung out as the stage was displayed, and one dressed
in character as "Prologue," entered, and bowing low towards the royal
box, delivered the well-known but now omitted argument of the piece:--

     "Two households, both alike in dignity,
     In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
     From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
     Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
     From forth the fatal loins of these two foes,
     A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life;
     Whose misadventur'd piteous overthrows
     Do, with their death, bury their parents' strife.
     The fearful passage of their death mark'd love,
     And the continuance of their parents's rage
     Which, but their children's end, nought could remove,
     Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage:
     The which if you with patient ears attend,
     What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend."

"Methinks, my Lord of Essex," said the Queen, who had listened with
great interest to the words, "Master Prologue promiseth well. Marked you
how much was contained in those few lines? And lo, here begins the
piece."

As the Queen spoke, Sampson and Gregory, with their swords and bucklers,
and clad pretty much after the fashion of serving men of their own day,
entered, and instantly commenced their animated dialogue.

Not, however, be it understood "slubbered over" by inferior actors, as
in our times, but with exceeding humour, and with force and emphasis in
every word; for even these minor characters were performed by actors of
great talent.

Nothing could exceed the curiosity and interest in the audience even at
this, the very commencement. The lively and sharp dialogue, the action
so suited to the times in which the spectators lived; the animosity of
the Capulet underlings towards the servitors of the Montagu family--and
which bore so hardly upon several nobles present, whose followers
frequently brawled and fought in the streets--produced a great effect;
till, at length, as the lie was given, and Gregory, being prompted to
remember his swashing _blow_, drew out his weapon, and the whole four
engaged, the excitement, especially in the pit, was extraordinary. A
murmur of delight was heard, and whilst some clapped their hands upon
their rapiers, others shouted and seemed half inclined to jump upon the
stage, and "fight on part and part." The entrance of Benvolio and
Tybalt, however, produced a deep and silent attention.

    "What, art thou drawn amongst these heartless hinds?
    Turn thee, Benvolio, look upon thy death."

There was, indeed, now amongst the audience no inclination to pursue
their accustomed practical jokes--no mewling of cats, squeaking of pigs,
and tickling each other's ears with the rushes. The wondrous words of
the poet held them in a state of enchantment. The nobles of the Court
for the moment forgot the accustomed homage of eye and ear. Their
bearded faces betrayed their interest, and the templars and students, as
they stood leaning upon their heavy-hilted rapiers, sent their eyes upon
the stage as if they could have devoured each line.

Indeed, to have any ideas of the interest created, we most again call to
the reader's remembrance how great was the contrast between that which
_had been_ and that which _was_; and if the melody of the verse of
Shakespeare can, in the present day, make such an impression whilst we
have so many and such varied productions suited to the hour and the
time, in how much more was it likely to strike the senses of all
present, when it seemed to have descended at once, in all its glorious
beauty, like the music of the spheres!

There is that in theatrical representation, it has been observed by one
of the greatest writers of our day, which perpetually awakens whatever
of romance belongs to our characters. The comic wit, the strange art
that gives such meaning to the poet's lightest word, the fair exciting
life that is detailed before us, crowded into some little three
hours--all that our most busy ambition could desire, love, enterprize,
war, glory, the exaggeration of the sentiments which belong to the
stage--like our own boldest movements.

Meanwhile the interest increased momentarily. The audience, from the
Queen down to the meanest person there, seemed held in a state of
enchantment as the piece proceeded. How different was it already from
anything they had ever conceived of theatrical representation! It was a
picture of life, such as is in the order of nature; there was the
buoyant spirit of youth in every line! The Knight of Charlecote even
became young again; he cast his eyes for a moment around, and was
edified at beholding the deep, the breathless attention of the audience.
The royal Tudor, "with eye and ear attentive bent," the lovely faces of
her attendant ladies, each thrust forward and eager to catch the words
of the poet, and the fine features of the attendant cavaliers, lighted
up and animated with an expression of deep interest; the whole
assemblage seeming, he thought, to hang upon each word.

As the eye of Sir Thomas again turned from the audience and rested upon
the stage, he observed that the scene had been fresh placarded, and was
now "a street in fair Verona." Indeed the serving-man who had announced
to Lady Capulet, in the preceding scene, that "supper was served, Juliet
asked for, the nurse cursed in the pantry, and everything in extremity,"
had before his own exit changed the placard, and the next moment, as a
gay party of revellers filled up the back of the stage, Romeo, Mercutio,
and Benvolio, clad in masking costume, vizors in their hands, entered.

The masquing robes of Mercutio were partially dashed aside as he spoke
the few words which constitute his opening speech.

    "Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance."

At the same moment, too, the vizor which had bean held before his face
was lowered, and as the glance of the torch-light fell upon his rich
Italian dress and elegant figure, Sir Thomas started, whilst a murmur of
applause ran through the theatre, gradually breaking into load plaudits,
for in Mercutio they beheld the author of the piece--Shakespeare was on
the stage.

The applause, however, was hushed almost at its commencement in the
interest of the scene, and then came those startling lines which have
since become as household words:--

    "O, then, I see Queen Mab has been with you."

They came from the tongue of him who composed them, now uttered to an
audience for the first time. Who shall attempt to describe their
impression upon the hearers? Who shall describe the manner--the
look--the utterance of him who then gave them? Shall we go too far if we
say the world had since nothing to compare with that representation? The
life, the brilliancy, the style of the character was suited to the
actor. He was all fire, energy and spirit,--Mercutio was Shakespeare's
self,--the most mercurial and spirited of the production of his comic
muse; and the impressive manner in which he gave the words of the
character, and their fire and brilliancy, his exquisite intonation, nay,
the very dash of his look was irresistible.

The Queen, as he finished his speech, glanced around her. "'Fore Heaven,
my Lord of Essex," she said, "but is not this exquisite?"

The answer of Essex was drowned in the applause which at the moment
burst from all around as the graceful actor continued his part.

To ourselves, perhaps, at this moment, it would appear extraordinary
that even greater approbation and louder plaudits had not followed.
Shakespeare upon the stage, and speaking his own words, would seem to
call forth acclaiming shouts within the walls of that old monastic
playhouse which should almost have rent its roof in twain. To ourselves
it would seem that the spectators should have almost expired with their
enthusiasm; that "throats of brass, inspired with iron lungs," should
have greeted him. But, be it remembered, that, exquisite as the whole
performance was, as yet the audience knew little of the man, that the
consideration of years had to mature the judgment of the world. He was
actually giving them that which was too exquisite for the rudeness of
the age in which they lived.

And so the play went on, new beauties every moment coming over the ears
of that courtly audience, and at the same moment filling with delight
those of inferior degree.

Amongst the audience constituting the Court circle were two spectators
who stood somewhat apart, and beneath the arched entrance which admitted
to the rude gallery constituting the dress-circle. With folded arms they
watched the performance with, if possible, greater interest than any
there.

They were an old and a young man, who had been drawn to see this
performance from having heard the name of the author on their arrival in
London. Both were from the neighbourhood of Stratford-upon-Avon, and
(albeit they could scarce believe this play was the production of one
whom they had long lost sight of), still they came.

As the play proceeded they became convinced from the language that it
was indeed the production of the youth they had formerly known.

"By 'ur Lady," said Walter Arderne, "this must be our sometime friend!"

"No man else could have written even what we have already heard," said
Sir Hugh Clopton.

"I am amazed," said Walter; "and yet I ought not, for well do I remember
what the lad was."

"Hist," said Sir Hugh, "the scene is changed. Ah! and see, too, yonder
masquer just now speaking those lines of fire. Is it not he?"

"It is himself!" said Walter. "O glorious fellow!"

"Soft, good Walter," said Sir Hugh. "In God's name let us hear."

As Mercutio finished his speech, the uncle and nephew looked at each
other. The tears were in the eyes of Sir Hugh. "My poor Charlotte
prophesied this," he said. "Rememberest thou her words about this
Shakespeare when we first became acquainted with him?"

"I do," said Walter; "and she was indeed the only one amongst us who
fully appreciated his merits. Nay, from the very first, an you remember,
she said he would one day surprise us."

All further attempt to describe the progress of this play, and its
effect upon the minds of the spectators, we feel to be a mere
impertinence. It seems indeed to ourselves, as in imagination we after
eye it, a play within a play--where all is like romance. The audience,
that theatre, the players, that "foremost man of all the world" speaking
his own words; all is like the fabric of some vision seen before,--a
shadowy recollection of some brilliant hour set apart from the dull
stream of life, and that too, during a glorious epoch.

As the play proceeded, and the progress of Romeo's sudden passion
developed itself, the thoughts of that stately Queen returned to her
early youth, ere the sterner feeling of pride and power had obliterated
all gentler sensations. She thought upon the days when she loved the
handsome Sudley, with all the violence of a first passion.

And if the royal Tudor and all around her were delighted with the
delicious picture presented before them, in the halls of old Capulet,
and the masque held there, they were still more charmed with the garden
scene. They felt enchanted whilst they listened to the images of beauty
which appear to have floated in such profusion before the poet's mind.

The richness of that glorious Italian picture held them in a state of
enchantment. It had the sweetness of the rose, and all its freshness in
every line. All was bright as the moonlight which tipped with silver the
fruit-tree tops of the orchard, and yet all was soft as a southern
spring. The very air of that garden seemed to breath a transport of
delight; one almost expected to hear the language of the nightingale's
song. And then the refinement and delicacy of the author's conception of
the female character delighted the hearers as they listened to the words
of Juliet.

    "Thou know'st the mask of night is on my face,
    Else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek
    For that which thou hast heard me speak to-night.
    Fain would I dwell on form, fain deny
    What I have spoke--but farewell compliment;
    Dost thou love me? I know thou wilt say, ay,
    And I will take thee at thy word. Yet, if thou swear'st,
    Thou may'st prove false; at lovers' perjuries,
    They say Jove laughs. Oh, gentle Romeo,
    If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully;
    Or, if thou think I am too quickly won,
    I'll frown and be perverse, and say thee nay
    So thou wilt woo: but else not for the world.
    In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond;
    And therefore thou may'st think my 'haviour light;
    But trust me gentleman, I'll prove move true
    Than those who have more cunning to be strange."

"The world hath nothing like this," said Raleigh to Southampton.

"'Tis heaven on this base earth," returned Southampton. "Said I not the
master-mind of this man would produce wondrous matter?"

"Nay," said Sir Courtley Flutter, who was an ancient fop of the first
water, "'Fore Gad, my lords, 'tis indeed perfect paradise sent down upon
us poor worldlings here. I feel inspired altogether--repaired as it
were; my heart palpitates--my blood circulates! Ha! I am young again,
positively in love myself. Look, how these exquisite ladies, with the
Queen there, are overcome. Nay, my Lord Burleigh seems to have forgotten
the cares o' the state, and Bacon his gout. An we have another such
masque as that just now represented, Sir Christopher Hatton will
assuredly fling out amongst the dancers, and give us a coranto."

"By 'ur Lady!" said Sir Christopher, "I would ask no more beatitude in
life, during the mighty changes of the world, than what appears in this
changing drama, and the stuff of which it is composed. This lower world
hath no such bliss. Let me see how went it:--'A hall, a hall,--give way,
and foot it, girls!' Oh, 'twas exquisite stuff!"

The limits of the chapter we have dedicated to a description of "the
play" permits not of a full dilation upon all therein enacted, neither
can we describe the particular excellence of each actor; for each and
all performed their parts with a richness and appreciation of the
author's meaning the very tradition of which seems to have worn out from
the stage.

To the want of scenery during this period we are perhaps indebted for
many of those glorious descriptions with which the author has favoured
the world in his works.

One thing, and which with a more modern audience would have gone far to
take from the delight experienced, was the circumstance of Juliet's
being personated by a youth of some sixteen years of age. This, together
with the shambling clowns, who, with loose gait and slippery tongue
strolled about and vented their sourril jests amongst the audience,--one
moment tagging idle rhymes together, and the next venting truths deep as
the centre, shewing a most pitiful ambition to make themselves
prominent. These circumstances, in some sort, took from the effect.

As for Mercutio, the fire and dash of his character so excited the
spectators that they could hardly contain themselves within bounds. He
was like some bright exhalation, lending fire to the sphere in which he
moved. And when, with the foot and hand, he gave the speech ending "Ah,
the immortal passado! the punto reverso! the hay!" the Court gallants,
the benchers of the temple, and the citizens, shouted with delight. His
death took all by surprise, and his absence from the scene was felt as a
shock of reality. It was an age of bright deeds and fierce doers, and
accordingly there was a murmur of disapprobation and disappointment when
"Tybalt, alive, in triumph," made his exit,--till, as Romeo breaks
through his apathy, and, assuming some of the fire of his kinsman's
spirit, fiercely encounters and kills "the envious Capulet," a shout of
gratified vengeance filled the house. Queen Elizabeth had herself been
delighted with Mercutio. "That was a character, my Lord of Essex," she
said, "after my own heart. But he was too brilliant to last. His were
the faults that travellers give the moon,--

    "He shone too bright. But died, alas! too soon."

"'Fore heaven, Sir Christopher Hatton," she continued, "we will not let
Mercutio altogether die. An he was so brilliant that the author was
enforced to kill him thus early, we will ourself raise him up. Go round,
Sir Christopher, and summon that Shakespeare to our presence, in order
that we may express to him our approbation of his efforts. What think
ye, ladies," she continued, turning to her female attendants, "we will
have both the character and the creator of the character beside us."

Shakespeare accordingly, by royal command, entered the royal stand or
box, where he knelt and kissed the Queen's hand. After which he remained
beside her.

And thus he stood on the right hand of the Queen with his face turned
towards the royal countenance, his side towards the stage, and as the
play proceeded, he received the compliments of Elizabeth, and answered
the various questions she put to him. Nay, she ordered back whoever came
so close as to inconvenience the poet, and seemed altogether delighted
at having him so near her.

"We will keep you beside us, Master Shakespeare," said she, "and whilst
your play proceeds, you shall act as chorus, explaining what may seem
wanting to our duller senses."

Shakespeare bowed his thanks. "I attend your Highness," he said, "with
all true duty,"--and thus he remained immovable as a statue during the
remainder of the play, the mark of more than one bright glance from the
fair bevy in attendance. This was the poet's triumphant hour, and yet
the mind of the man was too great to be elevated beyond bounds.

He knew "the art o' the Court," and the uncertain favour of the great;
and that there was--

    "Between that smile, he would aspire to,
    That sweet aspect of princes, and their ruin,
    More pangs and fears, than wars or women have."

Amongst the audience, there was a female bright and exquisite as one of
the creations of that author's after years. She stood with an attendant,
and almost concealed beneath one of the gothic arches of the building,
and wore (as was indeed not uncommon at that period) a sort of masking
costume. Her features, indeed, were so completely concealed by her mask
that only her brilliant eyes were visible.

It was one who, even at this early period of the poet's career, fully
appreciated his genius and talents, and (like Charlotte Clopton) at once
saw what the world would take years to discover. And what a sight was it
for that private friend to behold! She saw him, to whom she owed so
much, in his hour of triumph, and marked his expressive countenance as
he stood beside the Queen. She marked, too, the surprise and delight
pourtrayed upon the countenance of Walter Arderne and Sir Hugh Clopton,
as they looked upon the poor player thus honoured in the presence of the
mighty Tudor; and then she beheld with a smile, for she knew his story,
the astonishment of Sir Thomas Lucy, as the knight's eyes wandered to
the stage, and again returned to the figure of the sometime
deer-stealer; and whilst his ears drank in the honeyed words of that
poet, Sir Thomas felt he could forgive all his juvenile delinquencies,
and longed to grasp him by the hand.

"Pshaw," he said, "I have been an ass. I am an ass--_ergo_, we are all
asses in comparison to this _one_ man, this Shakespeare."



CHAPTER LI.

THE TAVERN.


It was about an hour after the performance we have attempted to
describe, that a solitary individual stood near the water-gate of the
monastery of the Blackfriars. He stood, apparently lost in thought, and
listening to the distant sound of music on the waters--the roll of the
kettle-drum and the flourish of trumpet, as the Queen and her party
returned towards St. James's.

As Shakespeare stood thus alone (after having attended the Queen to the
Abbey stairs, and seen her embark), all around seemed dark and sombre.
The cloisters of that abbey no longer flashed in the torch-light; the
theatre was empty and deserted; all that was brilliant had
departed--vanished like the pleasures of the world, and left a dreary
contrast behind him.

"Oh, time," he thought to himself, "thou art the most indefatigable of
things! The past is gone, the future to come, and the present becomes
the past even while we attempt to define it,--like the flash of
lightning, it exists and expires."

His companions of the theatre had sought the genial license of the
tavern, there to revel over the success of the night, and canvass the
merits and demerits of what they had enacted; and whilst he, the poet
himself, the idol of the hour, and whom all wished to have with them,
felt at that moment unfitted for society.

As he cast his eyes up at the "brave o'erhanging firmament, fretted with
golden fire," he felt that "the wide, the universal theatre," was at
that moment most congenial to his soul.

Whilst numerous boats continued to pass and repass, many of them filled
with companies who had witnessed the performance, he hailed one he
observed disengaged; and after rowing to his own lodging, and changing
his dress, he re-embarked.

We have already stated that the mind of the man had not been elevated
beyond bounds at the success he had achieved. To such a mind as
Shakespeare's the prosperity of the hour was more likely to produce a
degree of melancholy than any undue elevation. An incomprehensible
feeling of contempt and distrust of all worldly success. Perhaps of all
mortals this great man was the least given to vanity. The present hour
would indeed seem to proclaim as much. He was on that night wished for,
sought for, not only by many of the nobles who had witnessed his play,
but his companions of the stage too sought for him to join their tavern
revel after the performance, and several of the audience had even
lingered about the doors, to gain a look at him as he came forth, whilst
the unconscious poet, wrapped in his own thoughts, slowly floated down
the river. Nay, so utterly careless was he of all he had effected, that
the very play which had made so great a sensation scarcely existed but
in the memories of the performers who had recited it.

It had, previous to performance, been copied into lengths, as the
several parts are technically denominated, and given to the actors to
study, whilst the manuscript itself was left casting about amidst the
properties of the theatre, to be searched for, if required, at the next
performance.

As the gentle Shakespeare, during the silent hour of night, passed
slowly along the stream, his thoughts indeed were of other matters
rather than his own particular affairs. The ripple of the water, the
plash of the oars, the faint sound of music from afar, soothed his
thoughts after the false exciting hour.

        "Soft stillness and the night,
    Became the touches of sweet harmony."

Meantime, whilst the poet floats onwards, we must return to the city,
and observe the events taking place immediately after the representation
of his play.

In a goodly room of a good-sized tavern, situated in the purlieus of Old
St. Paul's, were congregated, on this night, many who had been
spectators of the recent performance at the Blackfriars, and several
other chance customers.

Besides the more respectable merchants, who had put into the tavern
after the play, there were several ruffling blades of the inns of Court,
one or two bullying fellows whose moans and professions were extremely
doubtful--a sort of Alsatian companions, "as ready to strike as to
speak," who drank deep wherever they could obtain liquor, and diced
whenever they could pick up a cully; and also several guests from the
country.

The Londoners, who constituted a party by themselves, sat at a table
extending about half-way along the ample room; whilst two or three
smaller tables were occupied by those parties who had sought the hostel
on matters of business, and who transacted their affairs or enjoyed
themselves apart from the rest.

The aspect of the room shewed that it had been reduced to its present
state from a more respectable occupation. The ample window which ran
along one entire side, looked into a good-sized court: and on the
capacious stone chimney was carved various coats-of-arms, and all sorts
of herald devices and designs.

Those guests who were apart from the sort of ordinary, or common table,
were at the upper end of the room, and on either side the chimney. They
carried on their conversation amongst each other, and were, for the most
part, strangers to the town.

At one of the smaller tables, placed quite up in the corner of the room,
were seated a party of four individuals, and two of them being natives
of the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, our readers are already acquainted
with.

This company consisted of Lawyer Grasp; a rich client, for whom he was
professionally employed; a member of the Temple, with whom he was in
consultation; and Master Doubletongue.

Besides these, there were also four or five other persons seated upon
the long bench beneath the window, and they also carried on their
occupation apart from either the guests at the supper table, or the
other parties in the room. Some two or three were deeply engaged in
play, rattling the dice and staking their coin with an eagerness equal
to the absorption of their comrades who watched the game.

Such being the mixed nature of the assemblage, as two fresh guests
entered the room and made their way to the upper end of it, the
conversation of the various parties formed a sort of confused jargon,
very like the cross-reading of a modern newspaper.

Such as it was, it seemed greatly to interest the late arrivals, and, as
they stood with their backs towards the fire-place, they lent an
attentive ear, more especially to the conversation of Grasp and his
small party, and a look of intelligence ever and anon passed between
them.

The table at which Grasp sat was covered with the produce of his eternal
blue bag, and, as his quick moving fingers pointed to the various
documents and deeds, he held forth with his accustomed volubility whilst
every now and then a roar from the table, or a dispute amongst the
dicers, interrupted his dissertations.

"Here," he said to the Temple lawyer, "here we have the matter duly
executed. And here," he continued, "I will prove our right."

"Stay," said the Temple lawyer, "if I remember rightly, there is no
mention of this place in the Conqueror's survey."

"A fico for the Conqueror and his survey," cried Grasp; "trouble not
yourself upon that subject; mark and perpend--from Geoffrey Clinton it
descended to the Verduns in marriage with Leosceline, daughter of that
same Geoffrey, as did also the manors of Brandon, and I take it--"

"On my word," roared a tall Alsatian-looking fellow at the long table,
"I take it that this Romeus and Julietta, or whatever else 'tis called,
is the most exquisite piece ever submitted to a crowned head."

"A pestilence seize Romulus and Julia," said Grasp; "how that fellow
bawls. And now, sirs, that name Anselm de Clinton, of whom I was before
speaking, was first enfeoffed thereof."

"Up with his heels then," cried one of the dicers, as he threw. "Play.
Ha! seven by Old Paul's. More sack, drawer!"

"The fiend sack those dicers," said Grasp, "marry and amen; as I was
saying, good sir, by a multitude of testimonies I can prove--"

"A lie, knave, throw again." "Ha! ha!" roared another of the gamblers.

"They are certified to hold it," continued Grasp, "of that family by the
service of half a knight's fee, and they of the Earls of Warwick. Now my
client here--"

"A cheater, I'll be sworn. A murrain take thee!" cried another of the
gamblers.

"But how said ye," inquired the Temple lawyer, "that you became opposed
to this Arderne? Methinks, when I last consulted you, you were employed
and trusted by him."

"At first, _only_ at first," said Grasp. "In virtue of my having
informed him of his good fortune he did employ me,--entrusted me with
management of his estates, and I did but eject--"

"Cheatery, villany!" cried the dicer. "I'll not restore a dernier."

"Pshaw," said Grasp, "I did but eject one or two of the poorer tenants,
and put relatives of mine own into their holdings, when he ejected both
them and myself. This, my good sir, I liked not, and, as upon careful
examination I found one I thought more nearly related to the deceased,
and the will distinctly says next of kin. I forthwith sought out my
client; there now is our case."

"The case is a good case, an exceeding good case, and so I said from the
first," said the Templar. "You have this Arderne fairly upon the hip, an
he pay not he must to jail, unless you give him time."

"Not a day, not an hour," said Grasp; "we got a verdict in a former
suit, and he shall incontinent to prison."

"Such is the law of a verity," said the Templar, emptying his glass,
filling his pipe, and turning now to regard the guests at the ordinary,
as they seemed getting up a dispute upon the subject of the play they
had witnessed.

"I perfectly agree with you," said a person who sat opposite to the tall
Alsatian, "in so far as regards the excellence of the play we have this
night seen. But in respect of its newness to the world there I
disagree."

"How?" cried the other fiercely, "dost mean to affirm that such
exquisite portraits as that lady who loved the youth Romeo, that
brilliant Mercutio, and that hot-brained Tybalt were ever drawn by
mortal man before? Didst ever behold any thing so like reality as that
loquacious, secret, obsequious nurse, or the little Peter who carried
her fan? Didst ever--"

"Pshaw," said the other, "I quarrel not with your nurse, neither do I
take exception at Peter,--what I say I will maintain with my rapier here
or elsewhere. And thus it is: the subject-matter of that play is not new
to the world. 'Tis manifestly constructed upon the novel of Italy,
written by Luigi da Porto, a Venetian gentleman now deceased--gainsay
that who will." And the student rose, drew up his tall form, twisted his
mustachio, and looked fiercely around.

"We shall assuredly have a riot here," said Grasp, looking up from the
copy of a will he was perusing. "I like it not."

"Nay," said Doubletongue, "'tis but a controversy upon a play. I saw the
greater portion of it myself, and came away to my appointment here.
'Twas but a paltry performance methought, full of bombast and fustian."

"Was it not then liked?" inquired the Temple lawyer.

"'Fore Heaven, I cannot answer for that," said Doubletongue. "I only
know it liked me not."

"Methinks," said the Templar, "you are hard to please, good Master
Doubletongue. Master Shakespeare is somewhat of a favourite here."

"Who, said ye?" exclaimed Grasp, looking over his glasses, and speaking
with great rapidity. "Master Shakespeare--methinks I ought to know that
name. Comes he from Warwickshire? Is he to be met withal? Canst tell me
aught of Master Shakespeare? 'Fore Heaven, I have matter on hand with
Master Shakespeare, an' his name be William, and he cometh from
Stratford-upon-Avon."

"I pr'ythee settle one thing at a time, my good Grasp," said the London
lawyer. "Permit me to glance at that testament you was perusing once
more."

"Here 'tis," said Grasp. "Nay, you shall find that I do hear a brain;
whoso trusts to Lawyer Grasp shall be--."

"Ruined, hip and thigh," cried one of the dicers, hurling the dice-box
at the head of his opponent, whilst, at the same time the disputants at
the ordinary being also pretty well flushed, a general riot immediately
ensued, and swords being drawn the whole room became a scene of
confusion.

The two guests who had last entered took advantage of this scene to
press close upon the table at which Grasp and his party had been seated.
They were both clad in the costume of sea-faring men of the period,
their sea-caps so completely drawn over their heads that their features
were not discernible, though one appeared a slight youth, and the other
a middle aged and powerful man.

As Grasp, in some alarm, seized upon his blue bag and withdrew more into
the corner, the elder of the strangers, as if to keep from the fray,
seated himself in the chair the lawyer had left, and whilst he puffed
out huge volumes of smoke from his pipe, abstracted from amongst the
papers the will the Templar had been perusing. Handing it then to his
youthful companion, the latter seized a pen, and, unobserved, wrote a
codicil to it. He then restored it to its place, and as the riot
increased and Grasp seized upon his papers and thrust them into his bag,
the pair took an opportunity of withdrawing as quietly as they had
entered.



CHAPTER LII.

THE PLAYER IN HIS LODGING.


All that Shakespeare had lately seen and gone through made considerable
impression upon his mind. In the short period during which the national
convulsion we have described was taking place, it seemed to him that he
had lived whole years.

Those events, and the great men which the stirring times had produced,
seemed indeed to have passed before the poet, for the very purpose of
finishing and perfecting the great mind of the man.

He sat himself down on his return to London, and, as he thought over the
past experience of his life, such a chaos of bright thoughts and
wondrous images presented themselves before and seemed to overflow his
brain, that, at first, it seemed utterly impossible to turn them to
shape.

Already had his "muse of fire" given him employment at various times,
and even taken a dramatic shape; nay, the room he inhabited was filled
with fragments--unfinished beginnings; and one or two of the novels of
the period had been partially dramatized and then cast aside, after the
inspiration which called them forth had, in other pursuits, been
forgotten.

His avocations as a player had too frequently led him into scenes of
revelry. His way of life was still desultory. He knew not his own value.
And whilst his brilliant wit and companionable qualities had kept him
too much among the society of men in his own class, he had failed to
carry out any of his bright conceptions. His companions hunted him,
haunted him, took him from his own thoughts, and dragged him, even when
satiated with revelry, into more company; for what party was complete
amongst them that had not in it _that one_--that "foremost man of all
the world."

His poetry was beginning to be appreciated ere the national danger had
fully occupied men's minds, and so fully employed them that all else for
the time being was necessarily forgotten. He had written a poem
peculiarly suited to the taste of the age, and which was greatly the
fashion amongst the gay cavaliers of Elizabeth's Court. This he had
dedicated to Lord Southampton, a nobleman, whose acquaintance he had
made on the boards of the theatre. Added to this, some sonnets, which
had almost by accident found their way into circulation (for no man was
more careless or thoughtless of his own works than William Shakespeare)
were greatly admired. Nay, the Queen had been so much struck with one or
two of them, that she had shewn favour to the poet; and spoken words of
encouragement in his ear.

The starched and stately Tudor was indeed becoming extremely fond of
dramatic representations, tedious and ill-contrived as they, for the
most part, were; and now often frequented the theatre, in place of the
bear and bull-baiting arenas. Besides his stage companions, also
Shakespeare had, amongst his acquaintance, at this period of his life,
some of the most brilliant of the courtiers--Sydney and Raleigh, Essex
and Spenser, all were personally known to the gentle Willie. They sought
his society for his wit; and they respected him for his fine feelings,
his noble sentiments, and his universal knowledge. Nay, these great men
felt an internal conviction, whilst in the society of Shakespeare, that
great as they themselves were, this man, of almost unknown origin, was
immeasurably their superior; that, had his station in life been more
elevated and his opportunities greater, he might have risen to the
highest eminence in the State. They saw in him--

    "The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's eye, tongue, sword."

The war was now for the present over, and amidst the general excitement
around him, Shakespeare sat himself down to think upon all he had
beheld. The quick result of such confederation our readers will as
quickly imagine. The poet seized his pen,--

    "Imagination bodied forth the form of things unknown."

His pen "turned them to shape, and gave to airy nothing a local
habitation and a name."

Scarce had the joyous shouts for the glorious victory over the
invincible Don subsided, ere the poet bad completed one of those
finished productions which left all competition behind. Yet stop we here
for a space in our narrative, even whilst the reader looks upon
Shakespeare thus engaged.

This is indeed a period in the man's life which most of us have sought
for with the mind's eye.

The living Shakespeare, still comparatively unknown, still
disregarded--for, however he might have been appreciated by the very few
who were acquainted with him at this time, the wide and universal
theatre had yet to discover the greatness of the man. The living
Shakespeare, employed in writing that language never equalled, never to
be equalled, deserves somewhat of a pause to look upon. The room, the
house, the chairs, the tables, each and all, require an especial
description. Like his own Iachimo, we must "note the chamber. Such and
such pictures. There the windows. Such the adornment of the bed. The
arras and figures. Why such and such."

Stay, then, gentle reader, if only for a brief space, and look upon the
man--the gentle Shakespeare, as he was denominated amongst his
familiars. He sits in a room, which to all appearance has belonged to a
building of some pretensions in the palmy days of such edifices. The
chamber is large, low in roof, and somewhat gloomy withal. A good-sized
bay window, heavy in mullion, and which looks out upon the silver Thames
beneath, affording a delicious view of the Surrey hills on the opposite
side, gives light to (at least) one-half of the apartment. The morning
sun streams through small diamond panes of many colours, which ornament
the upper part of the casement, and is reflected in fainter hues, like
a fading rainbow upon the oaken floor. The ceiling is richly carved. It
displays the cunning skill of the architects of old. And on the heavy
oaken beam, which traverses it, is cut from end to end the coats of arms
of some city functionary of Old London, for the house (albeit it is now
but partially inhabited by one or two of the actors of the Blackfriars
theatre, and some portion of it even suffered to run to decay) has, in
the preceding reign, belonged to one of the citizen princes--the
merchants of Blackfriars. "The chimney-piece, south of the chamber," is
elaborately carved, with gigantic figures, "exceedingly ugly;" and
tapestry, (albeit it is somewhat faded), displaying pictorial scenes
from scriptural and mythological history, hangs to the wall. One side
has King David dancing before the ark; the other, "Cytherea hid in
sedges."

A massive oaken table stands near the fire-place; a high-backed chair on
either hand, and two more in the embayment of the window; and an antique
cabinet occupies a place directly opposite the chimney.

The house, we have said, is situated on the river bank, and has once
been occupied by a rich merchant, but is now let out in compartments.
You ascend to the chamber which Shakespeare occupies, by a broad carved,
oaken staircase, and advance along a vast passage which has rooms on
either side.

The autumn wind sighs, and soughs, in this old dwelling, as it rushes
through the long passages from the water side. In such room our
Shakespeare sits and writes. Sometime he stops and considers for a
space--thinks, and thinks deeply. Then again his pen glides swiftly over
the paper before him, and he writes like the wind. The table at which he
is seated is but little removed from the embayment of the window, and
his eye, ever and anon, glances out upon the rushing tide, and wanders
over the opposite landscape, then consisting of green meadows and
stunted trees.

As he thus looks out upon the river, he sees boats filled with gay
parties, cloaked and ruffed, and rapiered, attended by other boats,
carrying musicians, who make the air resound with their melody--a gay
and gallant sight, for these are courtiers going to Greenwich, or
Mortlake, or Chelsea, such excursions being common in Elizabeth's day.

As the poet writes, there seems no effort in the composition. His
thoughts flow, for the most part, so easily, that it seems but the
careless noting down of whatever comes uppermost. He writes as his own
Falstaff speaks--as if almost without the trouble of thought. Anon, he
smiles and pauses; then he rises from his high-backed chair, takes a
turn through the room, and gives utterance to the conceit which has
suddenly struck him. The actor predominates over the author at such a
moment, and he recites aloud the recent thought, and which his "often
rumination" upon, the extravagance of action, amongst his associates,
has conjured up.



CHAPTER LIII.

THE POET AND HIS PATRON.


Whilst he gives his thoughts tongue, the door opens, and a bulky form
seems to fill up the entrance--no other, indeed, than our old Stratford
acquaintance John Froth.

"Ah! thou mad compound," said Froth, "and is such thy advice to the
fraternity of the Blackfriars?"

"It is," returned Shakespeare.

"Then would we might see it approved in the acting," said Froth; "but
'tis thrown away upon me, as thou know'st. I am not for the personation
of aught requiring such rules. If I am to turn mummer, I must enact
something fit for a man of my parts to appear in."

"And therefore," said Shakespeare, "will I write a character fit only
for thy huge bulk and greater follies."

"Nay, by my fay," said Froth, "I thought thou hadst already put me into
shape, for so hast thou promised any time these two months past."

"'Tis better as it is," said Shakespeare, "for till I saw thy vagaries
during this last affair with the Spaniard, thy arrant cowardice, thy
shifts, for preferment, and then thy desire to keep out of action, I
hardly could have displayed such a marvellous compound of frailty and
flesh."

"Trouble me not with the remembrance thereof," said Froth; "I received
my guerdon, my remuneration, and that was the aim in end."

"And which remuneration thou hast already dissipated in dice and
liquor,--is't not so?" inquired Shakespeare.

"Thou hast spoken it, and not I," said Froth, "and so spoken it that I
may hardly venture to gainsay it. Wilt furnish me forthwith a few crowns
for present need, good William?"

"The more readily," returned Shakespeare, as he handed him the coin, "as
I would fain be rid o' thee. See'st thou not, thou idle reveller, that I
am busy here with deep premeditated lines--with written matters
studiously devised?"

"Well, Will, I will hinder thee not. I will mar not thy labours. I will
but fill me a chalice, and drink success to thy muse, and then to the
tavern."

So saying, Froth helped himself from the flask upon the table, and
pledged the health of his friend, smacking his lips after the draught
with a sense of ineffable relish.

"Thou art a wondrous fellow, Will," he said, as he looked upon his
friend; "thou wilt thrive. But, in sooth, envy already begins to dog thy
heels. Green and Marlow like thee not, William; Green calls thee an
upstart crow dressed with his feathers."

"Ah!" said Shakespeare, smiling, "methinks Green hath little reason to
speak thus, seeing I have imp'd his wing with some of my own feathers.
He will scarce say that to my face."

"Nay," said Froth, "I dare be sworn he will not, for many of them know
thee too well to offer insult to thy face. Marlow too speaks of thee as
that 'tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide.'"

"Well," said Shakespeare, "their sayings pass by me like the wind. I
pr'ythee be nought awhile, if thou art to remain here, or else betake
thyself to other haunts."

"Farewell," said Froth; "you shall find me at the old haunt in Paul's
whilst this coin holds out."

Scarcely had Froth departed, ere the sound of horses was heard without,
and a man of noble presence, dressed in the extreme of fashion of that
age of brave attire, entered the room. Shakespeare instantly rose, and
advanced to meet him.

"I am proud to welcome my Lord of Southampton to my poor lodging," said
the poet.

"Nay, by my fay, not altogether so poor either," said the noble, looking
around him. "I am glad to find thee removed from thy old haunt to so
goodly a lodgment, good William."

"And am I not indebted to your lordship's kind favour and friendship for
being thus well lodged?" said Shakespeare. "When we first met, my lord,
I was somewhat lower in estate than at the present time. A poor
unfriended outcast; I do, indeed, owe thee much."

"Not a whit," said the Earl; "you owe all to your own surpassing
excellence. I am greatly charmed with thy Tarquin and Lucrece. Nay,
Raleigh, Essex, and others do swear by it as the most exquisite thing
extant. I, who know thee better, think even better of thee than shall
here say."

"You do me too much honour, my Lord," said Shakespeare; "like Venus and
Adonis, (and which I had the honour of dedicating to you), Tarquin and
Lucrece was but a first effort, when I was green in judgment. I shall
hope better to deserve with more experience."

"I pray you to inform me," said Lord Southampton, after a pause, "who
and what is yonder companion of thine, and whom I met as I entered the
house,--a gross, fat man?"

Shakespeare smiled at the question. "A strange fellow, my Lord," he
replied, "and who was known to me in my native town, and whom I have
lately fallen in with here. Like myself, he was obliged to fly from
Stratford, and being in some difficulties, I procured him employment in
the theatres."

"A somewhat bulky actor," said Lord Southampton, "is he not."

"Nevertheless one whom I think even of giving a part to. The man is
himself a character worth the studying, and if he exhibits himself
before the curtain as he does in his true character, cannot fail to keep
the audience in continual laughter. His peculiar humour, tone of voice,
look, and jesture, coupled to such a person, are almost indescribable.
Added to this, he is so extraordinary a mimic that no one of us can move
or speak before him, but he carries their voice, look, mien, and motion
into another company.

"And yet upon the stage he may not be able to execute the same degree of
perfection," said Southampton. "Some of your companions of the theatre,
I have found prime fellows and witty knaves over their cups, and yet but
heavy upon the boards."

"Truly so, my lord," said Shakespeare; "this is one of Nature's secrets,
and which I have observed. Necessary qualifications which cannot be well
spared in an actor, oftimes exist in men of the profession; and yet,
with the assistance of all these united, we see such persons come forth
upon the boards but poor and barren. In writing a character for my
friend, I shall avoid making him play off his ordinary parts, except to
produce himself when I think he will tell forcibly."

"I feel some curiosity to know this witty knave," said the noble
"pr'ythee bring him with thee to Southampton House when next you come."

"Providing your lordship can away with his grossness, and resist the
attacks he is sure to make upon your purse," said Shakespeare, "you will
be amused with him. But, unluckily, 'tis a familiar creature who makes
himself enemies as easily as his humour delights."

"And this new play of thine," said Southampton, "holds it still for next
week?"

"It does, my lord," said Shakespeare.

"Then have I news for thee of price, good William," said Southampton.
"The Queen intends to be present. She takes wondrous interest in all
that thou dost, and has of late spoken most approvingly of thy efforts."

"I am much bounden to her Majesty," returned the poet; "and there again
must feel grateful to your lordship for having turned her eye of favour
towards my unworthy efforts."

"Thou hast sufficiently delighted us all, good William," said Lord
Southampton; "and, if I am to judge by the mass of papers I behold here,
you intend still further to delight us. Are these portions of manuscript
pertaining to another production of the same sort?"

"In truth, my lord," said Shakespeare, "they do in some sort tend that
way. But at present I am somewhat desultory in my doings. I have so many
plans, on so many subjects, that what you behold are but the rough notes
of such ideas as pass current. The scraps are of all sorts; perhaps fit
for little else but to be cast to the waves without."

"Thou art, at least industrious," said Southampton, "and permit me to
say, I believe not in the valueless quality of what I behold here. May I
look upon one of these same unworthy scraps?" And Lord Southampton took
up a fragment of paper containing some few lines of blank verse.

At first he seemed disposed to read it cursorily, as one slightly
curious to know what had employed the pen of his friend. The very first
line, however, seemed to strike him, and he read the verse attentively
from beginning to end. He then recommenced it, and read it more slowly,
observing the wondrous force of the lines more and more as he did so. He
then stopped and looked at the pleasant smiling countenance of the
writer, so unassuming, so devoid of all self-conceit, and then he read
aloud--

    "Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back,
    Wherein he puts alms for oblivion,
    A great-siz'd monster of ingratitudes:
    Those scraps are good deeds past: which are devour'd
    As fast as they are made, forgot as soon
    As done: Perseverance, dear my lord,
    Keeps honour bright; To have done is to hang
    Quite out of fashion, like a rusty mail,
    In monumental mockery. Take the instant way;
    For honour travels in a strait so narrow,
    Where one but goes abreast: keep then the path;
    For emulation hath a thousand sons,
    That one by one pursue. If you give way,
    Or hedge aside from the direct forth right,
    Like to an enter'd tide, they all rush by,
    And leave you hindmost;--
    Or, like a gallant horse fallen in first rank,
    Lie there for pavement to the abject rear,
    O'errun and trampled on. Then what do they in present,
    Though less than yours in past, most o'ertop yours:
    For time is like a fashionable host
    That slighly shakes his parting guest by the hand;
    And with his arms out-stretch'd as he would fly,
    Grasps in the corner: Welcome ever smiles,
    And farewell goes that sighing."

"Why," he said, "thou hast written here a whole volume in a few brief
lines. Not all the learning of the ancients ever produced so much in
such compass. I will learn these lines, and have them ever before me. To
what pertain they, good William?"

Shakespeare smiled. "Nay, 'tis but a fragment," he said. "My often
rumination supplies many such. I shall perhaps adopt them in a play I
have been thinking of writing."

"Thou wilt completely alter the old style of representation," said
Southampton.

"'Tis my purpose so to do," returned Shakespeare.

"From what thou hast before shewn me," said Lord Southampton, "I think
thou wilt do much. But bethink ye, William Shakespeare, albeit thou hast
a quick wit and rapid pen, thou must not let things come hastily from
thy hands. Good works, I take it, are plants of slow produce. The city
lads and the inns of court have, I find, began to regard thee since thou
hast remodelled the company of the Blackfriars. And hast thou,"
continued the earl after a pause, "still the name purpose of becoming a
part proprietor in the theatre here?"

"Such is my ambition," said Shakespeare; "but that must be at a future
period, when further success shall give warranty to my hopes."

"Nay, want of means shall not baulk thee, good William," said Lord
Southampton, "since I see plainly that more power will greatly
facilitate the bringing forth thy inimitable works. Look," he continued,
taking the pen Shakespeare had been writing with, and scrawling a few
lines, "there is an order for a thousand pounds; present it to my
steward when thou wilt, and 'tis thine. Nay, double the sum, if
required."

Shakespeare thanked his generous patron in terms of manly gratitude; and
soon afterwards the noble, after appointing his poetic friend to visit
him, took his leave.

After the departure of Lord Southampton, the poet sat for some time,
with his forehead leaning upon his hand, gazing upon the order his
friend had given him.

Between my Lord Southampton and Shakespeare there was the most sincere
friendship. The young noble appreciated the genius of the man, and felt
quite a veneration for him; whilst the poet honoured one possessed of
the fine feelings and generous and heroic spirit belonging to a more
early and chivalrous age.

Since Shakespeare's flight from Stratford some time had now elapsed,
during which he had not returned there. He had made a vow not to do so
until he could re-appear under circumstances that would disarm the
malevolence of his enemies; not until he had achieved a name. Oft-times
had he written, and as often heard from his friends, sending them the
greater portion of his earnings his efforts continually brought in. This
was not the first gift of Lord Southampton; and a considerable sum he
had before received had enabled him to settle his wife and children in
comfortable circumstances in his native town. The money his noble friend
had just now conferred upon him gave him a nearer prospect of revisiting
Stratford be thought. And so the poet, with renewed energy, seized his
pen, and again gave vent to his wondrous conceptions. As he writes, he
remembers former days, and his thoughts revert again to his own sweet
home and its neighbourhood, and again he dips his pen in his own heart.
Then he revels in the recollection of those orgies amidst the choice
spirits of Old London. Those tavern suppers in the quaint dark courts
where the hostels of the crowded city are situated. Those secluded
taverns of Old London town now, indeed, no longer to be found. The
player's loved haunt, and where the rollicking 'prentice and even
occasionally, the nobles of the Court congregated. Where he himself had
fallen in with the Alsatian bully, the humourist, and all the varieties
of the tavern haunter of the age; and from such he now draws his
character, life-like and real, as if they walked and breathed and spoke
before him.

And so the first part of the day passes, and still Shakespeare writes,
for the fit is upon him, and like many of his class, albeit he spends in
whole weeks, at times in joviality, excursionising with his comrades to
Windsor and Greenwich, and "dafling the world aside" with the idlest;
still there comes upon the man fits of deep thought, which are only to
be relieved by the pen.

Whilst he writes, as the clanking tones of the clock of Barnard's Castle
strike the sixth hour, the sound of a lute is heard in an adjoining
apartment, accompanied by a voice of ravishing sweetness.



CHAPTER LIV.

A CONSULTATION.


As those dulcet sounds reached the ears of the poet, he laid down his
pen and listened attentively. That voice, no rich in tone, so sweetly
modulated, seemed deeply to affect him; and, as the song ceased, he rose
and paced the apartment.

Again, he bears a short prelude upon the instrument, and pushing aside
the arras from the wall, he opened a sliding panel, leading into a
narrow passage; one of those passages so peculiar to old buildings, and
which communicate from chamber to chamber, oft-times along, one entire
wing of such edifice.

As he did so, the voice of the singer is again and again more plainly
heard. How sweetly it sounds in that house, and at that hour, for the
shadows are beginning to descend upon Old London.

The poet stands transfixed. His glorious countenance so softened by the
sorrowful notes of the musician, proclaim how powerfully the strains
affect him--"He is never merry when he hears sweet music."

Again the strains cease and all is silent, save the moaning of the wind
without, and which hums through the casement like an Æolian harp. After
a pause, the poet again withdrew the tapestry which hung before the
doorway, and, traversing the passage, knocks gently against a small door
which stood partially open at its extremity.

A sweet voice bids him enter, and the next moment he is in the presence
of a young and beautiful female. Traces of recent illness are to be
observed upon her cheek, as she sits, half inclined, upon a sort of
couch placed near the window of the apartment;--a small lamp, placed
upon a table near, giving better light for an attendant female, who is
occupied in knitting.

The lady half rises, as the poet enters and as she does so, he sinks
upon one knee, and respectfully kisses the hand she extends to him.

Nothing, indeed, can exceed the respectful attention with which the poet
stands in the presence of that female. He does not even take the chair,
placed near the couch on which she is seated, till she requires him to
do so. And well indeed might Shakespeare gaze with interest, and no less
admiration, upon that lady, as she again reclined upon the couch from
which she had half risen at his entrance.

The perfect proportions of her form and features, softened as they both
were in the subdued light of that antique apartment, rendered her in the
eyes of the poet even more beautiful. Her dark hair fell in wavy
ringlets upon her shoulders, and her large eyes beamed with an
expression of sweetness and regard upon him, which made them full of
peril to one so impassioned.

Frankly and gracefully she again stretched forth her hand. "My kind
preserver," she said, "my generous and noble friend; but that weakness
keeps me a prisoner to my couch, 'tis I who ought to kneel to thee."

"I heard the sweet tones, lady," said the poet, "which gave notice that
I might approach."

"Alas!" she replied, "how can I ever requite thy generosity? Had it been
my fortune to fall into other hands, I might, indeed, have been unhappy;
but thou, oh! thou art different from other mortals."

"Beauty, lady," said Shakespeare, "provoketh thieves even sooner than
gold. Nay, it is that beauty which has made fearful of trusting you in
this evil town, save whilst I can myself guard over you. The wild and
reckless spirits who dwell around us here, the desperate characters of
many who, in their outward seeming, are of the virtuous, render a
sojourn in this city unsafe, and therefore have I brought thee hither;
and therefore have I constituted myself thy sole guardian till recovered
strength shall enable you to take the journey you contemplate."

"You will forgive me, then," said the lady, "that although I have
related to you some portion of my story, I yet conceal my own, and the
name of those connected with the tale".

"I am in all thy friend and servant," said Shakespeare.

"And now that I have somewhat recovered," she continued, "recall to me
in how much I am indebted to you during my illness. The attendant you
have furnished me with hath partially informed me of your goodness, but
I would fain hear the recital from your own lips."

"Your disguise," said Shakespeare, "whilst we journeyed hitherward,
beguiled me, or I had never so far taxed your strength."

"Ah! but that journey," said the lady, "so travelled, can one mile of
it, think you, be forgotten?"

"Nay," said the poet, smiting, "still can I not forgive myself. Those
moonlight walks during our route have, I fear, wearied you."

"Could it be possible," said the lady, "for mortal to feel fatigue
amidst those scenes, I might have wearied."

Shakespeare again smiled. He felt gratified at the compliment paid him.
He was no perfect mortal, and to say that he could look coldly upon the
glorious creature before him, would be to belie his nature. He could no
more do so than he could have "held a fire in his hand by thinking of
the frosty Caucasus." His finer feelings, however, rendered that
unprotected female as safe whilst beneath his roof, as if she had been
guarded by a host. He seated himself again beside her, and an he calmly
and kindly regarded her exquisite form, whilst he again spoke, a bright
and pure beam of divine expression was on his bearded face, an
expression, which diffused a calm feeling of happiness and contentment
over the soul of her who beheld it.

The long crushed spirit of the lady felt the influence of his presence.

"That I had in my ignorance of your sex somewhat overtaxed your strength
during our journey," he said, "the result has shewn, since on our
reaching London, you was seized with an illness which nearly cost your
life."

"I remember nothing," said the lady, "after our arrival at the hotel of
the Globe."

"Unluckily," said the poet, "it happened that some seamen who
disembarked but a few days before had brought the plague into that
neighbourhood. That disease in London is usually so dire in its effect,
that, for mere suspicion, the inhabitants act as if for surety. Your
ship-boy's semblance, and your illness, gave the host of the tavern a
suspicion that you was infected, and he expelled us from his door. Nay,
such was the rapidity with which the alarm travelled, that I found it
impossible to procure a shelter for you in that neighbourhood; and it
was whilst conveying you, still insensible, to the water-side, that I
became suspicious of your sex. This discovery increased the difficulty
of our situation, till I recollected an asylum in which I could safely
carry you, and e'en procure the assistance of medicine. I remembered an
old poor man, one so needy, starved, and miserable, that I had oft-times
sought, and alleviated his condition. Nay, gratitude had prompted me so
to do, since, in my own need, and when, alone and friendless, I first
sought this town, he himself befriended me. To the habitation of this
man, who indeed, possesses considerable skill in leechcraft, I conveyed
you, and to his care, attention, and skill, for night and day did he
watch over you, are you indebted for your life."

"And whilst yourself also cared for me," said the lady, "still fearless
of the tyrant fever with which I was burnt up; nay, you have since
removed me hither, and so continued to guard over me. And all this in
favour of one alike hopeless and friendless."

"Such circumstances, lady," said the poet, "should in themselves alone
suffice to enlist me in your service. But come," he continued, "we will
no more of this. A letter I have just received from my sometime home, in
Warwickshire, gives much of news. I have unfolded to you so much of my
history, that I may now further inform you there is hope of once more
revisiting the friends I left whilst in trouble and disgrace."

"This is, indeed, pleasing intelligence," said his companion. "My own
destination is in that neighbourhood."

"To guard over you till I can safely convey you amongst those friends
you have hinted at," said Shakespeare, "is my wish; nay, our exertions,
and the generosity of a nobleman, my friend, has enabled me to complete
a purchase I had in contemplation--a share in the neighbouring theatre
here. I have also another play toward, and should it succeed in the
represental, I will then attend on you with all true duty."

"But your letter?" said the lady; "pardon my seeming curiosity. In
happier days I have owned friends in the neighbourhood of your home.
Speaks it of any resident around Stratford-upon-Avon?"

"It does," said Shakespeare. "It is from my father, and gives much
gossip of the locality. Amongst other matter it informs me of some
difficulties a gentleman, my friend, has fallen into."

"And his name," said the lady, "is Walter Arderne?"

"The same," returned Shakespeare.

The lady's face immediately became crimson, and then deadly pale. "And
how then hath Walter Arderne fallen into difficulties?" she inquired.
"Methought I heard from you, during our journey, that he had succeeded
to great wealth."

"It was even so," said Shakespeare, "but I fear I am again taxing your
strength. You look somewhat pale."

"'Tis nothing," said his fair companion. "Proceed, I beseech you, I am
most anxious to know of the welfare of this Arderne."

"The young man, then," continued Shakespeare, "it appears by the story,
after coming into possession of this fortune, and many parks, and walks,
and manors, in England, hath busied himself in various acts of goodness.
Amongst other things he hath built alms-houses, hospitals, for the use
of the afflicted."

"To such a one," said the lady, "fortune should ever belong; but to your
story. What more of this Arderne? Methinks I am overfond to hear of so
much generosity."

"There is little more to tell," said Shakespeare. "The sums he hath
bestowed and the various charities he hath endowed, have involved him in
difficulties. His virtues have served him but as enemies. Nay, he seems,
I am grieved to say, on the brink of ruin; for, in addition to all I
have enumerated, it appears he hath expended large sums during the
invasion of the Spaniard, both in fitting out numerous ships, and
enrolling and embodying men, all which vessels, through his desperate
valour in leading them into the hot encounter, have been either
destroyed or returned to port rent and beggared."

"Nay, but," said the lady, "I am still in ignorance how this could
possibly involve Walter Ardene in ruin. The fortune he inherited would
have borne all this, methinks, and much more, without endamagement."

"Truly so, lady," said Shakespeare; "but it hath suddenly transpired
that Walter Arderne is not the lawful heir. A caitiff wretch, named
Grasp, and whose ferrit eyes and evil spirit are always seeking
mischief, hath, by dint of searching over worm-eaten deeds and musty
parchments, hunting out tombstones, and manufacturing pedigrees, somehow
found a nearer relation; and all the sums Master Arderne hath expended
since the hour he came into possession, the law will enforce him to
refund. This, together with the suits he is involved in, will go nigh to
ruin both himself and his good uncle, Sir Hugh Clopton."

"And this nearer kinsman!" said the lady. "Does your information extend
so far as to name the person of such claimant?"

"'Tis one who is the friend of a powerful noble," said Shakespeare, "of
one whom it is dangerous to speak of in other terms but those of
respect."

"Methinks I can name him," said the lady. "It is one whose unbounded
stomach and high ambition long soared towards a crown by marriage; one
whose evil disposition would halt not to obtain power or riches,
magnificent as his fortune already is. The Earl with the dark
countenance and gloomy soul--he whom Sussex calls the Gipsey; the
dangerous Leicester."

"The same," said Shakespeare.

"Nay, then, an Walter Arderne hath that noble for an enemy, let him
beware the cup, as well as the law, for Leicester is sure to succeed by
fair means or foul. He is the most successful dealer in poison in the
kingdom."

"Would to Heaven," said Shakespeare, "some help might be found; for the
strait this generous man is like to be driven to sorely oppresses him!"

"Let it no longer do so," said the lady. "Continue to inform me of the
progress of events; I will be warranty for his safe extrication from all
his difficulties."

Shakespeare looked surprised; but he forbode remark; and soon after this
conversation retired to his own lodging.

After the interview, the poet reflected deeply upon the conversation
which had taken place, and as he did so, many things which had not
previously struck him forced themselves upon his mind regarding his
mysterious friend, and which now enabled him in some sort to pluck out
the heart of her mystery.

During the time he had watched over her during her illness, and the
delirium consequent upon it, she had uttered names which recalled former
passages of his life. She had called upon Charlotte Clopton, and bade
her leave the horrid charnel-house in which she had been entombed alive,
and even named localities familiar to him in his native county.

These things, whilst they contributed to elucidate her story, more
deeply interested him. He saw she could appreciate a true heart and bold
spirit in man, and could love with all the truth and innocence of a
Juliet. There was in her no false pride or prudery, but unconscious of
her own excellence, she was indeed one of those bright creatures so
often bestowed where they are unvalued. Had such a one fallen to his own
share, he thought, how would he have worshipped! But such was not to be.
He who was the gentlest, the noblest of mankind, was not to be so
companioned. His course was steered, at this period, alone. For him,
high birth and bright excellence should have been reserved, because he
so well could have appreciated them.

There was, however, to be observed in this singular female a sort of
character which even more interested him than her radiant beauty. With
all her amiability, she possessed a determination of purpose, which made
it impossible to control her designs. From what he could fathom of her
intentions and her story, she seemed only anxious to confer or secure
some important benefit to the individual she loved, and then to retire
from the world, to enter some convent abroad, "and be for aye in shady
cloister mew'd." And so, as the poet sat and thought over these matters,
he again seized his pen, and wrote.



CHAPTER LV.

ILL WEAVED AMBITION.


The machinations of Pouncet Grasp had not been without their due effect.
His evil disposition was as great as his industry, and his very face and
form, twisted and contorted as both were, proclaimed the mind of the man
as plainly as if he had carried a window in his breast.

Few specimens of the human countenance presented indeed less of the
divine about it than did that of the Stratford lawyer. The term _ugly as
sin_ might, in verity, have been applied to him, for, when he was
hatching any particular piece of rascality, the working of his features
gave him a diabolical look.

Not only had he succeeded in his design of weaving a web about Walter
Arderne, and getting incarcerated within the walls of a prison for debt,
but he even managed, by some strange underhand practice, to bring him
under the suspicion of the Queen's council for treasonable matter. And
yet, with all this malignancy of disposition, Grasp carried about him
such an air of _bonhommie_ that, until he was found out, he was seldom
distrusted. After he had, by the most careful approaches, (like a spider
securing a victim in his web, who is too powerful to be openly
attacked), fairly enmeshed Walter Arderne, he turned his thoughts upon
his old Stratford enemy, William Shakespeare, and, whose whereabout he
now had little difficulty in discovering, since after the successful
performance of Romeo and Juliet, the author's name was in the mouths of
many.

Sir Thomas Lucy had departed only few days before for Stratford, or
Grasp would immediately have sought him out, and, as he himself was also
on the eve of returning to Warwickshire, together with his new client,
in order to take immediate possession of the inheritance succeeded to,
he resolved to delay till his arrival the discovery he had made.

Meanwhile, the situation of Arderne was sufficiently disagreeable. He
was arrested for an enormous sum, and-when Sir Hugh Clopton sought to
clear him of the difficulty, by making some great sacrifices, that good
old man found, to his further dismay, that some secret foe had denounced
his nephew as a conspirator against the life of the Queen.

In Elizabeth's reign, those persons of condition who came under
suspicion and were confined within the walls of a prison found it no
easy matter to clear themselves, and some, even in the higher ranks of
the nobility, without any sustained charge but "for mere suspicion, were
treated as if for surety," finding their graves in the dismal chambers
of the Tower.

The news of the imprisonment of his early friend greatly troubled
Shakespeare. He was just at this time contemplating a return to his
native town, for now that he had so far achieved success, and felt
within himself the power of future fame, the longing for home, added to
the desire of once more embracing all he had dear there, he felt to be
irresistible.

To leave London, however, without an effort to serve his early friend
was impossible. He visited Arderne in his prison, and afterwards sought
Lord Leicester in order to interest that noble in his favour.

The time was, however, somewhat out of joint for making a successful
suit to Leicester at this moment. He was in one of those periodical fits
of ill-temper which usually attacked him when his "high-reaching"
schemes failed. He was out of favour with the Queen too, somewhat on the
sudden, and so wide was the breach that, albeit he was seeking by some
underhand contrivances to regain a place in her good graces, all his
attempts were futile.

To explain this to our readers, we must remind them that after the
services of Leicester at Tilbury, Elizabeth had created for the
favourite the office of Lord Lieutenant of England and Ireland; an
office which would have invested him with greater power than any
sovereign of this country had ever ventured to bestow on a subject. The
patent for this unprecedented dignity was actually made out, and only
awaited the royal signature, when Burleigh and Hatton, by their earnest
remonstrances, deterred Her Majesty from investing him with such power.

It was during the fit of rage consequent upon disappointment, that
Leicester had behaved with a degree of intemperance so distasteful to
Her Majesty, that she dismissed him in anger, and refused to be
reconciled.

The despondence which followed the violence of his rage on this occasion
brought on an illness, from which he, in truth, never recovered.

At the moment Shakespeare obtained an interview, he accordingly found
the earl in so ill a frame of mind, that he refused to interest himself
in favour of Walter Arderne.

He was about, he said to quit London for his castle of Kenilworth, and
was so utterly disgusted with Courts and all pertaining, that he vowed
to Heaven he would no more return.

As the poet looked in the face of this ambitious and still powerful
noble, he thought it not unlikely his words would prove true; for the
inroads of his peculiar disease were so apparent in his countenance,
that the grisly tyrant seemed to have put his mark upon him.

Leicester, at this period of his life, had grown bulky, and lost much of
that striking beauty of face and form for which he had been so
celebrated. His countenance shewed traces of his ungovernable temper and
evil disposition; his hair, lately coal-black, had become a "sable
silvered;" his frown had contracted into an habitual scowl; his dark
complexion, and from which he had obtained the _sobriquet_ of "The
Gipsey," had changed to a sickly yellow; his fine features had become
bloated; and every part about him seemed blasted with premature age.

As he rose from his seat during the interview, the poet observed that he
looked the personification of an evil-disposed but powerful man. One who
was torn by the fiend of avarice, the lust of power, and the chagrin of
blasted ambition. The Court smile was gone for ever from that once
pliant brow, and the scowl of hate seated in its stead.

To the surprise of the poet, whilst he flatly refused interference on
the subject of Arderne's imprisonment, he even seemed to experience
satisfaction at that youth's danger. The poisonous mind of the most
successful poisoner of the age was now recklessly displayed. He seemed
to rejoice in the misfortunes of his fellow-men, whilst he felt that his
own further success in life was ended. He was indeed at that moment
sinking into the grave a hopeless unbeliever, "a bold bad man."

"Sir Thomas Lucy," he said, rudely and abruptly, "hath sought me on the
subject of this Arderne, praying of me to intercede with the Queen. But
I meddle not again with matters of state or the business of others. My
health requires change from the pestilential vapour of this city. I have
done with Courts and seek my castle at Kenilworth."

Shakespeare bowed, and was about to withdraw, when Leicester turned and
again spoke.

"I advise you yourself, Master Shakespeare," he said, "to keep free of
such matters. Peril not your present favour by mixing in treasonable
affairs, and so farewell."

"Nay, my Lord," said Shakespeare, "this gentleman, my friend, hath been
most unjustly accused. He is one to whom I owe much love. I may not
cease from making what interest I can in his favour."

"And I tell thee then," said Leicester, imperiously, "that in me you
will find an opponent in his cause; my interest lieth in the very
opposite direction, since I am informed by a law-man of your native town
that, in right of my wife, I can claim some of those estates in
Warwickshire so lately in possession of this Arderne."

Shakespeare felt surprised at this intimation, and immediately the
interview terminated.

There was evidently a secret enemy at work, he thought, as he left the
house; and, as he passed through the gateway, he ran against a man who
was entering.

The poet was so wrapped in his own thoughts that he observed not the
features of this person; but Grasp (for it was no less a person who was
entering the courtyard) started at the well-known form of his sometime
clerk, and, hesitating for the moment, seemed divided as to whether he
should not defer his present business and follow the poet.

Whilst he stood undecided, Shakespeare took boat, and so Grasp turned
towards the building.

"I shall find the pestilent fellow," he said, "and I shall also
penetrate into the mystery of that fair Lindabrides who dwells beneath
his roof, and masquerades about the city at nights. My certie, but I'll
spoil his actings, his writings, his inditings, his poetizing, and
rhapsodizing. I can myself indite, aye, and play a part, too, as well as
he; and so, Master William Shakespeare, look to thyself, for thou art in
jeopardy;" and so Grasp turned and proceeded, across the court of
Leicester House rejoicing.



CHAPTER LVI.

THE ASSOCIATES.


So great were the talents possessed by Grasp for smelling out a plot,
whether it existed or not, that he seemed peculiarly fitted for the
period in which he lived, and in which conspiracies, either real or
pretended, were so frequently agitating the kingdom.

Plot and pestilence, indeed, during Elizabeth's reign seemed the
bug-bears of the time. At one moment the Court was driven from its
locality, by some of the attendants being seized at the very palace
gates with some infectious disorder, and the next, some dark,
evil-minded fanatic was apprehended, dagger in hand, almost in the very
presence-chamber.

Since the execution of the Queen of Scots those conspirators had been
more hopeless of success; yet still, ever and anon, a new and dangerous
attempt against the life of the Queen was brought to light.

Just at the present period of our story, such a design was pounced on by
Grasp; but, like all over-zealous persons, he was liable, in his
eagerness, to run upon a wrong scent, and lose sight of the game he had
started.

It happened, during his visit to London at this time, and in an interval
spared from his numerous avocations, (for Grasp was now a man in full
business), that he, one night, amused himself by witnessing an execution
in company with his friend Doubletongue.

This execution was one possessing considerable interest, inasmuch as
several criminals were to suffer for conscience-sake, and that was
always a popular exhibition during Elizabeth's reign. Six were Catholic
priests, who were hung, drawn, and quartered, for conspiring against the
Queen's life. Two more were laymen, who, having embraced protestantism
and returned to the old belief, were to be burned alive in company with
a wretched atheist named Francis Wright, alias Kit Wyndham. Besides
these there was one other named Word, who was to be executed for
concealment of Catholics under suspicion of treason.

The execution took place in Smithfield, and, like those of more modern
times, when the cut-purse is seen to exercise his vocation beneath the
gallows on which a fellow thief was struggling, so was treason watching
within the scorching influence of the fire which burned these traitors.

One Reginald Deville, an usurer and an informer, who also bore the
appropriate cognomen of Reynard Devil, had tracked a suspicious
character into Smithfield on this very night; a fanatic being, whose
husband had been in the service of the Queen of Scots, and who, in the
disguise of a man, was known to be in concealment in London for the
purpose of assassinating Elizabeth.

In the crowd, and during the excitement of the execution, Deville had
lost sight of this person, almost at the moment he was about to gain
assistance and pounce upon her; and, as he was prying about, he stumbled
upon Grasp, whom he had formerly known.

Now Grasp himself, besides his other business, occasionally did a little
in the informing way. Such pursuit formed a sort of afterhour recreation
with him. He and Doubletongue, at such times, hunted in couples, and as
evil speaking, lying, and slander, were the peculiar talents of his
friend, so the more covert villany was his own peculiar forte.

The moment Reginald Deville stumbled upon Grasp and his friend, in his
eagerness he half divulged the secret intelligence with which he was
furnished.

"Ah," he said, "my good friend Grasp, I am glad to meet. Hast seen a
slight rakish figure pass this minute, wearing a cloak of scarlet serge,
a red feather in his hat, a brace of petronels in his girdle, and drab
trunks with hose to match?"

Grasp was never at fault. "I have," he said hastily.

"Which way went he, in God's name," said Deville. "Quick, or I lose a
chance--he's worth the having, I can assure you."

"I will put you upon his trail," said Grasp, "perhaps inform you where
he haunts, an you promise half profits and tell me what's his crime."

"Treason is his crime," said Deville, "'Tis a female in man's apparel,
one Margaret Lambrun. Her husband died of grief after Queen Mary was
executed. The woman was in the service of Mary, and hath resolved on the
death of the Queen. I had secret intelligence from a cousin of my own in
Scotland, and have been in pursuit for some days."

"Well, then," said Grasp, "I can only tell you in return for your secret
that your man, or woman rather, was here beside me in company with four
others. Catholics, I dare be sworn, for they looked upon the burning of
yonder priests with a devilish expression of horror, in place of viewing
it as you and I. They marked me as I watched them, and they are off; but
I heard one of them name some place in Blackfriars as where he resided."

"How said ye," exclaimed Doubletongue, "in Blackfriars? then, by my fay,
I think I can give ye a clue to this same female."

"As how?" inquired Grasp, eagerly.

"As thus," said Doubletongue. "Dost remember the night on which we
consulted with Lawyer Quillet at the Blue Boar Inn?"

"Truly so," said Grasp, "and what o' that?"

"On that night I marked, although you did not, a couple of persons who
kept themselves altogether apart from the other guests--a young and a
middle-aged person. Nay, I especially marked the younger of the twain,
and as I looked upon the tiny foot, the sparkling eyes, and the slender
form, methinks I penetrated through the disguise worn, and beheld a
female."

"Ah! caitiff," said Grasp, "thou were't ever a devil to spy out a
farthingale. And so--"

"And so, I said to myself, where disguise is there mischief is meant,
and I resolved to know more. Acting upon this resolve, albeit I lost
sight of them during the riot which ensued in the tavern, I followed
them out into the street, dodged them to their lair--"

"And that is--?" inquired Deville impatiently.

"In the Blackfriars, at a house down by the water-side, and which I can
point out."

"But thou may'st have been mistaken," said Grasp, "appearances may have
deceived thee."

"Not a whit," said Doubletongue. "I took some pains to make assurance;
for, sooth to say, I was taken with this mysterious female. I watched
about the house till I again saw her. I even ventured within, concealed
myself during the absence of herself and him who seemed her protector,
and I found in the room which she inhabited--"

"What?" said Grasp, who expected a written list of the conspirators. "In
God's name what did you find?"

"Her doublet and hose," said Doubletongue. "The very pair of nether
garments in which I had seen her masquerading at the Blue Boar the first
night I beheld her."

"Oh, monstrous!" said Grasp. "Tis, undoubtedly the person of whom you
are in quest. See, the execution is over and the criminals burnt.
Wherefore not at once, proceed to Blackfriars and identify the house?
To-morrow we will procure assistance and pounce upon her;" and the two
immediately pushed their way through the crowd and left Smithfield.



CHAPTER LVII.

THE POET AND HIS FRIENDS.


The success of Shakespeare's play of Romeo and Juliet had placed him in
a somewhat different situation amongst his companions of the theatre. By
the majority he was immediately looked up to as a rising star, and
whilst others again viewed him with increasing envy, there were one or
two who were so much struck with the extraordinary merit of the
composition that they already pronounced him the wonder of the age.

Such, however, was the agitated state of the kingdom at the moment, and
fears, factions, and jealousies, so absorbed the minds of men of all
ranks, that except beyond the circle of his own professional brethren,
and amongst his own immediate friends of the Court, my Lord of Essex,
Sir Walter Raleigh, Lord Southampton, &c., the effect produced was,
after all, but evanescent.

The English nation at this time was yet struggling to emerge from
barbarity. The philology of Italy had been transplanted hither in the
reign of Henry the Eighth, and the learned languages cultivated by
Lilly, Linacre, More, and others. Greek was now taught in some of the
principal schools, and many of the learned read the Italian and Spanish
poets. But still literature was even yet confined in a great measure to
professed scholars, or persons of high rank. The body public was but
gross and dark; and to read and write, an accomplishment valued
according to its rarity.

Thus, then, the people who witnessed the great curiosity of
Shakespeare's new play hardly knew how to judge. It was welcome even to
the most rude and vulgar; they looked at it with a sort of childish
wonder. It was a delicious and startling change from the giants,
dragons, and enchantments they had been used to. Nay, it even bid fair
to supersede the interesting exhibition of the bear hugging the dog to
death, or the bull driven into madness by agony. The show and bustle of
the new play even charmed the rudesby's, who could scarce even
comprehend the beauty and elegance of the poetry.

It was on the morning of the same day on which Grasp had witnessed the
execution in Smithfield, that Shakespeare made his unsuccessful
application to the Earl of Leicester in behalf of his friend Arderne.
After his interview with the fallen favourite, the poet returned, sad
and somewhat out of sorts, to his new lodgings in Blackfriars. As was
his wont on all occasions wherein his capacious mind had received an
impression, he contemplated the object that had furnished it. Indeed,
his interview with that ambitious courtier, whose whole life had been a
mistake, had been to him a whole volume. "How wretched," he thought, "is
that poor man that hangs on prince's favours!" and then he seized his
pen and wrote,--

                        "Fling away ambition,
    By that sin fell the angels, how can man, then,
    The image of his Maker, hope to rise by it."

Whilst the poet wrote, as was not uncommonly the case, a whole levée of
visitors continually interrupted his labours. This, however, was a
circumstance that seemed rather to aid than disturb the current of his
thoughts. He laid down his pen to laugh with the light-hearted, and he
thrust aside his manuscript to listen to the more serious. He was all
things with all men. The courtier, the soldier, the scholar, all and
each found in him something to wonder at and admire. On this day, which
was the sixth for the representation of his play, his visitors were
numerous. In addition to many of his brother authors, several of the
actors and other persons connected with the theatre, the Earl of Essex,
Sir Walter Raleigh, Lord Southampton, and the poet Spenser, sought him
in his lodging. Master Doubletongue too, who on this day had been
seeking an opportunity of introducing himself into the house, as he met
with some actor or other visitor coming out, hesitated as to the safety
of such espial. Nay, he felt considerably astonished at the number and
quality of the persons who seemed, as the day advanced, to come
thronging about the locality.

Whilst he continued watching for some person he appeared to expect, he
beheld the open space in front of the house filled with the attendants
of several nobles of the Court; their magnificent steeds, gaily
caparisoned, being led up and down, or held by servitors with the
emblazoned badges of the favourites of the Queen.

It is indeed curious to consider the poet himself during the visit of
these magnificoes, and who, in the enjoyment of his society, sought a
new pleasure; visitors who, like himself, were elevated above "the
common cry of curs," and, leaving their high rank out of the question,
worthy of the friendship of Shakespeare. The poet himself, too, was
perfectly at his ease in the company of these haughty nobles. He sat and
conversed with them in all the freedom of unchecked enjoyment.

To attempt any description of the conversation carried on amongst these
choice and master spirits of the age would be vain and ridiculous, since
it exceeds the power of our pen to describe it. Nay, were it possible so
to do, we must of necessity furnish forth to the world a dialogue such
as is only to be found in the page of him who acted as the host to the
assemblage.

Let us look at the picture, for it is one worthy of regard. Shakespeare
sits beneath the ample chimney, his table is before him, strewed with
papers. He leans back in his chair; a divine expression, a sweet smile
is on his bearded face. Opposite to him is his patron, Lord Southampton,
his chin resting upon the hilt of his sheathed rapier, his eyes and ears
intent upon the subject Shakespeare is speaking of. Beside Shakespeare,
leaning his cheek upon his hand, his elbow upon the table, sits the
magnificent Essex; he also is intently regarding the poet, admiration in
his gaze. Standing somewhat behind Lord Southampton, his back against
the carved chimney, is the poet Spenser. Raleigh sits within the
embayment of the window; his plumed hat is carelessly thrown down beside
him, and his quick, restless glance is ever and anon turned from the
poet towards the different craft which pass and repass upon the Thames
below. Beside these, _élite_ of the company, there is Tarleton, the
comedian and Court fool, who, under cover of his folly, shoots his bolts
upon all the party. One more addition, and the party is completed; and
it is made up by the dissolute friend of the poet, the fat and jovial
Froth.

Whilst they are engaged in conversation, the drawer from an adjoining
tavern enters with wine and other refreshments. From long-necked and
quaint-looking bottles is poured the wines of Gascony and Spain. The
means, too, and appliances for indulgence in Sir Walter's favourite weed
is then handed round, and (as was the custom of the period) each guest
takes a whiff; the thin blue smoke mounts into the air, and eddies about
the carved ceiling; and, as the mirth and joviality of the party grows
faster, time flies unheeded by, the shadows descend upon the Thames,
again and again the bottles are renewed, and another day dawns upon the
party, ere they recollect how the hours have fled.

Can our readers wonder at this, when they remember of what that party
consisted, and their entertainer? Those magnificoes had come to pay the
poet a morning visit, and they had stayed half a day and one entire
night. Shakespeare was their entertainer!

As the first faint streaks of dawn began to "lace the severing clouds,"
the poet stood alone in his apartment. His guests had left him, and his
room shewed tokens of the revel they had been engaged in.

The revellers had drank deep, for they were such as would be most likely
to give themselves up to the peculiar enjoyment of the hour. Shakespeare
had cheered the cup for them.

As the glorious poet glanced upon the heap of empty flaskets, broken
bottles, remnants of long-necked glasses, and capacious bowled pipes,
together with all the _débris_ of a long-continued orgie, he smiled, and
stepping to the lattice-window, threw it open, and stood to enjoy the
refreshing breeze from the river.

Whilst he stood and gazed upon the Thames, the boats containing his
recent guests glided past, on their way to Greenwich; for Essex and
Southampton, when they found themselves regularly set in for an orgie,
had some time before sent away their steeds.

They waved their hands an they passed, on observing the poet, and he
remained listening to the music from the boat which followed the barge
of Essex, as it grew fainter and fainter in the distance.

As Shakespeare turned from the window, the arras near the fire-place was
lifted, and two persons noiselessly entered. He started as he beheld
them, for by the faint morning light he distinguished in one of them the
beautiful female we have before remarked, dwelling beneath his roof; the
other was our old friend Martin. Something more than ordinary he well
knew must have caused her to enter the wing of the building he
inhabited; in addition to which, he saw she was equipped in her
masculine costume, and, together with her companion, prepared for a
journey.

"We have come to bid you farewell," she said, as the poet stepped up to
her, and took her hand.

"This is somewhat sudden," he returned. "I hoped to have been of your
party into Warwickshire."

"Certain spies, good Master Shakespeare," said Martin, "have it seems
noted this lady's residence beneath your roof, and she has fallen under
suspicion of treasonable matter."

"Yes," said the lady, "my faithful friend and adviser here has
discovered so much. My presence here might even compromise you, my kind
friend and preserver. We have therefore resolved, at once, to set off on
our journey."

"And how then have you learnt this?" inquired Shakespeare.

"Nay, heed not my means of intelligence," said Martin. "Thou know'st I
possess the secret of divination, or I could never have at last escaped
the Spanish Inquisition, and discovered the residence of this lady in
London. Suffice it we know our danger, and must fly."

"And do you then still purpose seeking Kenilworth?" inquired Shakespeare
of his beautiful friend.

"I do," she replied. "Lady Leicester is my friend. She will, I trust,
be able to do service to him we wish well to. My best hope is from that
quarter."

"I have already seen the Earl," said Shakespeare, "and my own
expectations, in that quarter, touch ground."

"From the Earl himself I never entertained a particle of hope," said the
lady, "his Countess may, however, serve us, for she is my friend."

"All good angels, then, speed you on your journey!" said Shakespeare. "I
have myself other chances here. The Earl of Essex hath promised to speak
with the Queen, ere another day passes, added to which, Lord Southampton
and Sir Walter Raleigh have sworn to back his suit."

"Have you, then, seen the Earl of Essex on this matter?" inquired
Martin, in some surprise.

"He and Lord Southampton were here but now," said Shakespeare, smiling,
and pointing to the confused state of the apartment. "Behold the witness
of their revel. Some ten minutes back they left me to take boat for
Greenwich, where the Queen at present stays."

"Farewell, then," said the lady sorrowing, "we dare no longer stay, may
we soon meet again!"

"Heaven grant it, fair excellence," said Shakespeare, "until I again
revisit my home in Warwickshire, I shall have but small contentment. But
until I see my friend out of jeopardy, and clear of imprisonment, I have
neither home nor friends there."

"'Tis like yourself," said the lady. "Farewell! We shall soon then meet,
I trust. Walter Arderne once relieved from durance, and my task is
effected."



CHAPTER LVIII.

STRATFORD AND ITS NEIGHBOURHOOD.


After absence from a well-known locality how fresh and verdant seems
every spot there. The mind which has dwelt, again and again, upon every
nook and corner, unmarked perhaps and unappreciated whilst in the
neighbourhood, becomes enamoured absolutely of trivialities and trifles.
How well doth the exile, eating the bitter bread of banishment, perhaps
breathing the hot air of the tropics, many, many thousand leagues from
the quiet village in which he first drew breath--how well doth he
recollect, and dwell with fondness upon each street or lane of the
village suburb, the school-boy spot, the home the wanderer longs for
with an undying desire!

And if such be the case, how anxiously, and even sadly, do we think upon
those relatives and friends domesticated in the far-away home, and see
them in their old-accustomed places. Relations so dear and friends so
esteemed, yet, perhaps, never again to be met with in life, and
therefore more cherished in our thoughts.

And Shakespeare had oft-times felt this anxiety during the time his
self-exile lasted. In his own mind he had resolved that, until he had
"name and fame," he had "nothing at Stratford." Those dearly loved
friends should not again look upon the unthrift younker; and unless the
man redeemed the courses wild of the youth, he would no more return.

How far he had already succeeded our readers have seen; and even the
little world of Stratford began to feel pride in him they had before so
lightly regarded.

Master William Shakespeare, it was affirmed amongst the wise-acres of
the Falcon Inn, had indited two several poems, some said three, of such
exceeding merit, that they had afforded exceeding delight to the
grandees and gallants of Elizabeth's court. Sonnets, too, innumerable,
had fallen amongst the fair dames of the palace, like the perfumed
flowers blown by the sweet south.

Nay, William Shakespeare was said to be a favourite with the Queen
herself. Two plays he had also produced--plays of most exquisite fancy.
The Adonis of the Court,--the "wealthy-curled darling of the land," the
favourite Essex, was his personal friend. My Lord Southampton his
patron. And more than this, than these, than all, William Shakespeare
had made money, thriven, purchased property, become a proprietor of one
of the theatres in London.

"'Fore Heaven, I wonder what made him ever go away from us?' said Master
Mumble, the head-bailiff.

"I always said there was something in him," said Master Lamb.

"He was ever a clever dog though a mischievous one," said Cramboy.

"Dost think he will come back amongst us?" inquired Teazle. "Methinks I
long to look upon one who hath written three poems, a whole litany of
sonnets, and two masques or mysteries."

"An he do come amongst us again," said the head-bailiff, "I, for one,
vote we make him master of the free school."

"Nay," said Cramboy, "I know not how far to agree with you there, before
we go to such lengths, let us peruse his works; there is some
difference, my masters all, between teaching one's boys their _quis_,
their _quæs_, and their _quods_, and writing jingling rhymes for the
amusement of the Londoners and the Court."

"Well," said the mayor, "we might make him parish-clerk. Something we
ought to offer him, methinks, an he comes back amongst us. Body o' me,
hath he not written two poems and a play? There be those amongst us who
cannot even write their own names, much more a poem such as 'tis said
this William Shakespeare hath produced."

"Hath any one seen these poems you speak of?" inquired Master Scourge.

"Truly, I believe mine host hath a copy of one brought from London by a
gentleman of the Court, and left behind him. I saw it myself not a week
ago and looked at the title-page, 'tis called Tartquin and Lucrece, a
very clever book, if I may judge from the look of the binding."

"We will see that poem," said the bailiff; and the host, being
accordingly summoned, produced a small volume, which the head-bailiff
with infinite gravity, after laying aside his pipe and adjusting his
spectacles, proceeded to read. Scarcely, however, had he got through one
verse ere he paused and looked over his glasses at the grave auditors
who sat in judgment upon the production, whilst they themselves puffed
out such clouds of smoke, that it appeared they were resolved the
bailiff should scarce observe the impression produced.

"You do not speak, my masters," said the head-bailiff, "have you heard?"

"Perfectly," returned Master Cramboy.

"And do you approve?" inquired the head-bailiff.

"Ahem," said the mercer, "'Speak that I may know thee,' saith the
proverb; proceed;" and the bailiff read another verse.

"Fie! fie!" said Master Teazle, "what stuff is here? My service to you,
my masters all, and a merry Christmas. How say you now to making Master
William Shakespeare master of the free school,--eh?"

"Shall I proceed any further?" inquired the head-bailiff.

"Not a line," said Cramboy. "I feel quite scandalized. What a depraved
taste the Court must have! Allow me, however to look at the binding of
this volume," and Cramboy quietly noted down where the book was to be
bought in order that he might procure and read it as soon as he could,
the rest of the company quietly following his example.

"Well," said John Peto, the tanner, "after all what is fame? Here hath
our fellow-townsman gained much celebrity by such matter as we have
heard. Trash, my masters; lies, conjured up by the fumes of sack and
Canary. Marry, the lad hath a quick wit, I dare be sworn, but how he
hath gotten himself into the good graces of the powerful by such matter
I marvel."

"I remember me," said Master Richard Coomb, (who was known amongst his
co-mates by the sobriquet of Thin Beard, from the circumstance of his
wearing a starved cane-coloured beard), "I remember me that our
townsman, John Shakespeare, father of this William, had from his youth
upwards, a quick and shrewd wit. Nay, by 'ur Lady, he must be about my
own age; by the same token I played oft-times with him when he was a boy
and living with his father at Snitterfield."

"Aye," said Mumble, "he came to Stratford from Snitterfield. He held
lands there when he was better off. Did'st know Richard Shakespeare,
grandfather to this William? He was well to do, and had lands and beeves
at Snitterfield."

"I did know him," returned Coomb; "that is, I do remember me of him. By
'ur Lady, a proper man of his hands as ever you would wish to look
on,--aye, and a pleasant man to speak with too."

"Did not your brother, John Coomb, accommodate Master John Shakespeare,
at his need, with moneys, not long back?" inquired Cramboy.

"In sooth did he," returned Thin Beard, "more than once, I can tell
thee."

"And did I not hear that John Coomb pressed him hard for repayment, and
would have clapped him up in jail but for the debt being defrayed by
this poet of our's,--this William his son,--so soon as he became aware
of it?"

"Nay, 'tis true enough," said Thin Beard; "I may not deny that my
brother doth press hard for moneys due."

"Go to," said Mumble; "we all know John Coomb and his usances well
enough without your confession. 'Tis creditable to Master hath been
given to courses wild. I like him better for his befriending his father
than for his poetry."

"Come," said the head bailiff, laying down his pipe, and rising from his
chair, "Let us drink the health of our good townsman, since he hath so
far done honour to the place of his birth. Who knows, he may do even
better yet! We have not altogether approved of the production here
before us, peradventure his songs and sonnets are in better taste than
his lampoons. Fill, my masters, to the brim. Since the Queen delights to
honour Master Shakespeare, here's his health, and may he soon return
amongst us!"

And if such was the feeling entertained towards the poet by the more
mechanical portion of the community of Stratford, those of higher degree
felt a proportionable share of respect, since they could better
appreciate his merits.

And now, having once more returned to the spot from whence we started,
we must again revisit some of the localities in and around that sweet
neighbourhood. Sir Hugh Clopton having also returned from London on
business of import, is once more to be seen in his old dwelling.

Since we last beheld him located there, many stirring events have
transpired. His life, on the whole, has passed, since the action with
the Armada, in ease and quietude. At the present moment, however, he is
in some trouble, consequent upon the untoward events connected with his
nephew. Nay, he has returned to London for the purpose of parting with
all he possesses, so that he may but pay off the huge debts Walter
Arderne has become liable for, and save him from the other difficulties
he is surrounded by.

It is now far advanced in the month of September. The season is wet and
dreary,--one of those unhealthy seasons which produce much sickness
throughout the land. The continued rain had flooded the country around.
The roads, never at this period good, are now almost impassable. The
woods are wrapped in mist, and the marsh lands a perfect sea.

    "The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
    And crows are fatted with the murrain flocks,
    The nine men's morris is filled up with mud,
    And the quaint mazes in the wanton green,
    For lack of tread, are undistinguishable;
    Whilst on old Hyem's chin and icy crown,
    An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds,
    Is, as in mockery, set."

Sir Hugh, after conferance with his man of business, is preparing in a
few days again to set off for London. A journey of such extent is,
however, matter of some consideration and considerable danger at such a
season, with weather so unpropitious.

As the old knight looks out upon the chase, the gloom of the aspect adds
to the gloom of his spirits.

Such a prospect is always calculated to beget a certain share of
despondency, even in the most cheerful temper, and Sir Hugh has had
enough of sorrow in his time to make him rather a grave than a merry
companion.

The old knight, however, is not the man to give way to despair under
circumstances like the present.

"Goods news, an Heaven will," he said, as he suddenly descried a
horseman, with head bent to the saddle-bow, come sparring against the
driving wind, his cloak blown into a balloon, the mire and water flying
into the air as he dashed across the chase towards the mansion.

During the prevalence of heavy and continued rain, any object which
enlivens the wet landscape, even in our own dull times, becomes of
interest. In Elizabeth's day, when so many events of import were
transpiring, and when news came but rarely to a country place, the
arrival of a post as tho armed and heavily-accoutred horseman was
called was of peculiar interest. He brought, perhaps, intelligence of
the danger or death of those nearest and dearest, and now heard for the
first time. He bore, perchance, some secret intelligence of warning,
some caution against an imminent, deadly foe, some hint to put the seas
between the receiver and his native land.

To Sir Hugh the sight of the coming horseman, as he emerged from the
belt of plantation, and dashed into the open chase, was fraught almost
with alarm.

"God grant," he said, an he strained his eyes to observe if he could
recognize the features of the rider, "that this new comer may bring me
good tidings of our Walter."

The increasing gloom, however, for it was now evening, hindered the
knight from recognizing the person of the horseman. He heard the clatter
of the hoofs of the steed along the approach, and, as he threw open the
door, the rider having dismounted, unceremoniously entered the room. The
next moment his hand was caught in the iron gripe of Captain Fluellyn.

"Thou hast news, Captain," said Sir Hugh, "news of import, or thou
would'st scarce have left my nephew in his captivity?"

"I _have_ news, good Sir Hugh," said the Captain; "and when I have in
something recovered wind enough, I will unfold it to you!"

"Good! an Heaven will," said Sir Hugh; "my nephew, good Captain--?"

"Is well," returned the Captain, "and commends him to you. Nay, he is,
in some sort, out of his difficulties--that is to say, in as far as the
charge of treason goeth."

"Nay, then, Heaven be praised for that!" said Sir Hugh, "for the other
matter, the worst is but worldly loss."

"We are not so sure of that, either," returned the Captain, "affairs
have altogether taken a new turn. Your nephew hath desired my return at
once to inform you thereof, so as to stop your making any sacrifice of
property."

"'Fore Heaven, this doth surprise me!" said the Knight, "but come, we
will hear such matter at more leisure, and after you have refreshed
yourself, for you seem to have ridden far and fast since morning."

"I have," said the Captain. "I am stained with variation of each soil,
'twist this seat of yours and the town of Oxford, and the ways are
wondrous foul and hard to travel over, too. A cup of wine and a rasher
will be welcome."

"You shall have the best that Clopton can afford," said the Knight,
hurrying out, and calling lustily to his servants to prepare the evening
meal without delay.

Accordingly, the Captain, having divested himself of his heavy
riding-cloak, and removed the long petronels, rapier, and dagger from
his side, was in a few minutes more seated cozily in a high-backed chair
beneath the chimney, and opposite his host.

Between the pair stood a small table, plentifully furnished with several
sorts of wine. A glorious log of wood blazed upon the hearth, and whilst
the servants brought in the refreshments which furnished forth the
evening meal, the new comer between each mouthful delivered his news to
the greedy ears of his host.

"Many events of import have transpired," said he, as he at length pushed
his plate from him, in token that the inner man was satisfied; "aye, and
that too in the short period since you left London to arrange matters
here. In the first place, I need not inform you that both yourself and
Walter Arderne had a secret foe at Court."

"Of that I have long been aware," said Sir Hugh.

"Most probably," said the Captain. "A foe is generally found sooner or
later, like the blind mole, by the effects of his progress; but I have
unearthed this mole."

"Good," said Sir Hugh, "that's a point gained any how."

"Nay, more, I have discovered you have also a secret and powerful friend
at Court, and the friend is more powerful than the foe. Witness the
effects. Your nephew is released from all responsibility on the subject
of the treasonable charge trumped up against him, and, as he himself
bade me deliver to you, is in a fair way of getting rid also of other
matters appertaining."

"And how is this derived?" said Sir Hugh. "You amaze me with so much
good news, I pray you expound unto me the names of these persons who
have interested themselves for and against me and mine. Set this foe
before me, that I may know him, good Captain. 'Fore Heaven, I am old,
but I have still some skill in fence. Thou shalt bear a cartel to the
caitiff."

"It could be easily done," returned the Captain, filling his pipe and
puffing out a volume of smoke.

"'Fore gad, then," said Sir Hugh, lighting a fellow pipe, and performing
upon it with equal gusto, "you shall find it shall be as promptly done."

"Have you ever had personal quarrel with the Earl of Leicester?"
inquired the Captain.

"None, as I am a gentleman," said Sir Hugh.

"And yet," said the Captain, "hath it been through his means that your
nephew's late troubles have been brought to a serious issue, so indeed
as to threaten his life as well as deprive him of his liberty."

"Were he twenty times an earl," said Sir Hugh, "he shall answer it. Thou
shalt seek him, Captain, in my name, and demand the why and wherefore."

"I had much rather be excused," said the Captain, eyeing the gyrations
of the smoke, and then peeping at Sir Hugh.

"How?" said Sir Hugh. "Wilt not be then my friend, good Captain? Well,
be it so, I will to my good neighbour, Sir Thomas Lucy. He is a man to
beard fifty earls, be they ever so powerful."

"Sir Thomas Lucy could hardly do your message either," said the Captain.

"Ha, say'st thou! Truly, then, thou knowest not the goodness and
hot-valour of the knight of Charlecote; he is a true friend, and right
honest. But wherefore should Sir Thomas refuse to carry a cartel to the
Earl?"

"Because Sir Thomas would scarce carry a cartel to one unable to reply
to it," said the Captain. "The Earl of Leicester is dead. He died two
nights back at Cornbury, on his way to Kenilworth. So much I learnt as I
tarried at Oxford, where, moreover, I further heard strange rumours of
the manner of his death."

"Gad-a-mercy!" said Sir Hugh, "this doth indeed surprise me. What a
world is this we live in. Dead, quotha! and mine enemy too! Well this is
news, indeed. But then this friend at Court, good Captain? methinks I
should not forget to ask for him."

"Ahem!" said the Captain. "Of that, anon. Bless me! how heavily the rain
beats against the casement. Foul weather this, good Sir Hugh, for
travellers. Truly the night hath come down dark, as a wolf's mouth, and
ways be both foul and dangerous."

"Hast any friend on the road to-night, good Captain?" inquired Sir Hugh.

"I was consorted," said the Captain, "as far as Oxford by one who
over-rode me on the way soon after leaving London, and whom I left at
Oxford with a purpose of following hitherward. He is a native of
Stratford, and one of pleasanter mood I never travelled withal. The man,
I think, you know."

"And his name?" inquired Sir Hugh. "Come, fill your glass."

"William Shakespeare," said the Captain. "He who wrote the play we saw
in London."

Sir Hugh laid down his pipe, and rose to his feet. "Is Shakespeare
coming back?" he said. "'Fore Heaven, thou canst not think, my good
friend the pleasure such information gives me. Thou canst not tell what
I feel towards that young man--so little known, yet so well
appreciated."

"Ha," said the Captain, "so have I heard you say."

"I have before named to thee," said Sir Hugh, "former passages in which
my family became acquainted with this Shakespeare, and how we received
an inestimable service from him in his early youth. And I tell thee now
my very soul yearned to go to that man when in London and clasp him to
my heart, but I was ashamed. I gave ear to the tales of his enemies; I
believed him to have become worthless and an outcast in the world. And,
as I shamed to take part with him in adversity, so I shame to see his
face in his hour of triumph. But I love that man. Nay, I am old,
Captain, but the words of his poetry, as we listened to it that night,
yet ring in mine ears."

"Truly then," said the Captain, whose rough nature was in something
moved, "your friendship is not ill bestowed. This Shakespeare hath
bestirred himself in your nephew's favour, and procured his release from
the graver charge of treason. He hath interested the Queen, through my
Lords of Essex and Southampton, and hath given me a clue by which I have
discovered the villany of our Stratford lawyer here, Pouncet Grasp, the
secret foe through whose influence the Earl of Leicester was made
instrumental. Nay, Shakespeare hath been your good friend, Sir Hugh."

"And is he in sooth coming back to Stratford?" said Sir Hugh, rubbing
his hands. "In prosperity or adversity, he shall be welcome as if he
were mine own son."

"Truly," said the Captain, "I can in some sort almost feel the same
towards this friend of thine, for never travelled I with one who so
cheered the long miles 'twixt post and post. He was right pleasant and
facetious all the miry way 'twixt Acton and Oxbridge. I wished the miles
twice us long whilst we pricked across the waste land towards
Beaconsfield. Neither wind nor rain, or mud or mire, could alter his
merry mood, as, by night, we made our way towards Walting Town; and when
we lost our route, and were nearly drowned in the marshes of Abingdon,
he turned our danger into a jest. Nothing came amiss to this
Shakespeare; he had a saying for every mistake, and a good word for
every misfortune."

"Such a comrade," said Sir Hugh, "were worth something on a journey."

"Nay, Sir Hugh," returned the Captain, "I have travelled far and near,
yet never met I with such another. By 'ur Lady, I have consorted with
your Dane, drank with your Hollander, revelled with your Frenchman, and
fought with your Spaniard, yet none did I ever find who could hold
comparison with this man."

"I marvel you came not on further together," said Sir Hugh, "since you
so well relished his companionship."

"He tarried, as I told you, at Oxford," returned the Captain, "where it
seems he had appointed to meet other company. Nay, I myself also tarried
one night at Oxford, to rest my horse. We put up at the hostel of the
Crown, and, in sooth, a merrier night I never spent withal. This
Shakespeare hath a peculiar art. He made himself familiar amidst the
various guests, and drew them out to exhibit themselves after the most
exquisite fashion. Nay, the hostess of the Crown was herself a woman of
exceeding wit and beauty, and seemed to relish the society of the
player."

"I know that hostel," said Sir Hugh. "'Tis kept by one Davenant; and the
hostess is indeed, as you say, 'a most sweet wench.'"[26]

[Footnote 26: There is an anecdote extant in Oxfordshire, of the
intimacy subsisting between this hostess and Shakespeare. Shakespeare is
said to have always rested at the Crown, at Oxford, whilst _en route_
from London to Stratford.]



CHAPTER LIX.

KENILWORTH.


Our readers, we doubt not, have for some time entertained a shrewd
suspicion regarding the somewhat indistinct character latterly flitting
about amongst the _dramatis personæ_ of our story. The Lady Clara de
Mowbray, in her own proper person, has of late been but little seen in
the twisted and ravelled skein of this history.

The fortunes of him who is enshrined in all hearts, has of necessity
thrown all minor characters into the shade.

Nevertheless, the doings of so exquisite a creature as Clara de Mowbray,
are worthy of the contemplation of our readers, for both in station and
disposition she was considerably elevated above the ordinary fragments
of the world.

She was a being in whom the best elements were mingled that she might
well have been the worshipped idol of the noblest of the other sex. And
yet have we seen this female, by one of those curious chances so common
in real life, left alone almost in the world, steering her course across
the ocean of adventurous deeds, unknown, and, apparently, unappreciated.
And is not thin oft-times the case? Do we not oft-times see in the world
the most paltry portions of humanity, the most impudent and assuming?
The moat common-place, the most vain, and the most unworthy, exacting
the most homage? Nay, succeeding in life better than the good and
virtuous?

Clara de Mowbray was one worthy of an emperor's love; a creature we do
occasionally, but rarely, meet with in the world; a sort of descended
angel amongst mortals, sent apparently as the pattern, the model, for
the baser worldlings to "dress themselves by." The world, however, would
perhaps be likely to censure Clara, and her virtues to stand her but as
enemies--her innocence and her regardlessness of form and ceremony, her
recklessness of paltry opinion, be considered unmaidenly and bold! and
so might the world think and say, for Clara possessed a spirit as
undaunted in the resolve to carry out her projects as she was pure in
heart and beautiful in person. If she had a fault it was her unbended
determination to go through with any thing she once undertook. She was
the creature of romance too, and altogether would have been better
suited for a more romantic age than that in which she lived. Albeit her
own times gave some scope for the exercise of her peculiarities.

We have seen that from childhood she had loved Arderne; she had had so
many opportunities of observing his excellence and worth, that spite of
her better reason, and against hope, she had loved. It was one of those
unselfish passions which hopes all for the being beloved, and nothing
for self. She knew that the object of her thoughts had been engaged
elsewhere, that his affections were buried in the tomb of Charlotte
Clopton, but that altered not her feelings towards him a jot. Whilst he
lived, it was something to breathe in the same hemisphere; and to add to
his happiness and prosperity, even by stealth, was her study.

Hence have we seen her in disguise seeking to deliver him from the
horrors of captivity or starvation on a desolate shore. Herself enduring
the extremity of mishap, and then rescued from captivity of the
Spaniard. Hence have we seen her bequeathing, in the event of her own
death, all she possessed upon the one so beloved, and hence have we
seen her, and her extraordinary disposition revelled in such a
situation, the disguised comrade, and then the guest of the wonderful
man whose course of life it has been our task to follow. And hence we
find her, up to the present period of our story, still bending all her
energies to restore the fortunes and happiness of Walter Arderne.

In all things, however, Clara de Mowbray, as we have before hinted,
chose to follow her own notions comparatively unknown, certainly she
thought unloved by the object of her affections. She shrank from all
idea of being recognised as the benefactor of Arderne, lest he should
consider himself bound to tender her the devotion of the life she had
sought to save. She pursued, therefore, an extremely cautious and
erratic mode in all her proceeding. Even Shakespeare, the friend, the
wonderful man who had saved her from the Spaniard, she feared entirely
to place confidence in. The poet, however, had carefully studied the
character of this beautiful female, resolved to thwart her ultimate
intentions regarding herself, and if possible, to make her happy.

How strangely then flows the tide of human events. Clara de Mowbray
alive, in health, and the real possessor of enormous wealth, was
apparently dead to the world as to herself, her affections she thought
unrequited. On the object of those affections she had conferred all her
worldly goods, and herself she had intended to dedicate to Heaven.

She was a Catholic, and she meant, as soon an she saw all her schemes in
a fair way of completion, to seclude herself from the world. She had
arranged matters so as to retire to a convent in Navarre. With Arderne
the case was as singular. This youth, so much thought of for his
excellent disposition, albeit he mourned the beautiful Clara as one
dead, adored her memory as a reality, and, had he suspected her of being
in life, would have put a girdle round the earth to find her out.

    "Love like a shadow flies, when substation love pursues,
    Pursuing that that flies, and flying what pursues."

And that such should be the case,--that the melancholy Walter should
become enamoured of what seemed but a shadow, is not surprising in a man
of his disposition. The splendid domains be had succeeded to, the
romance of the situation altogether, his remembrance of the sometime
heiress of these broad lands, at last caused him to be so enamoured of
her bare memory that the subject of her beauty formed the entire subject
of his thoughts. It seemed to him that she haunted each dell and glided
about the stately halls of her forefathers, sighed in the winds which
swept around the battlements of her ancestry; and, indeed, pervaded
every spot around the woods and groves she had conferred upon him. The
remembrance of his former love was by a newer object quite obliterated.
The good Walter, in short, became a sort of dreamy person. For hours
together would he stand in the long gallery at Shottery, and
contemplate the picture of Clara de Mowbray; and had not Grasp's
machinations, by driving him from these thoughts and from possession of
the domains, driven him from the haunts that engendered them, he would
most probably have become a melancholy maniac or a misanthrope.

Clara de Mowbray had in her early youth, beside the unfortunate
Charlotte Clopton, one other dear and valued friend, the unhappy
Countess of Leicester. This beautiful woman, whom the dark Earl had
become enamoured of whilst her first husband was alive, he was reported
to have "played most foully for." He was said, indeed to have poisoned
Walter, Earl of Essex, in order to gain her hand.

The sorrowful Countess, who had ample leisure to repent of her second
marriage, had been greatly attached to Clara, and frequently when she
could escape from the splendid cares, "the glistering grief," of her own
home, had been wont to pour her sorrows into the ear of the heiress. She
had consequently been the only person, except the eccentric Martin, who
was the entire confident of Clara. She had known of her attachment, and
also had been privy to her adventure in search of her lover; she also
knew of her determination to retire from the world it she succeeded, and
in common with the world, she imagined Clara had perished in the
attempt; but as she had been sworn to secresy by her young friend, ere
she departed, so she had faithfully kept counsel.

Now, however, but a few days before the Earl of Leicester's death, to
her astonishment, in the disguised individual who sought her at
Kenilworth, the Countess beheld her dearly-loved friend, accompanied by
the long lost Martin. How they had escaped from shipwreck and all the
"portance of their travelled history," the Countess had small time to
learn, for soon after their arrival she herself was summoned to the sick
Earl at Cornbury Park.

The Countess, however, had granted Clara the boon she asked,--a letter
to the Queen in favour of Arderne; and this letter, together with the
applications of Essex and Southampton, had procured Walter's release;
after which, together with the faithful Martin, Clara again sought
retirement at Kenilworth.

And, oh! if that splendid record of pride and power could have spoken,
what tales of sorrow and suffering, as well as of grandeur, what proofs
of unbridled power could it have told. Those magnificent buildings of
Leicester, where such princely revels had been held--how could they have
uttered forth a wailing lament over the wickedness of unchecked and
headstrong will! Those gaudy and tapestried chambers, the last built,
the first to go to decay--how well could they have divulged the
whispered deceit of human nature, the cunning and the baseness of the
_parvenu_ Earl who reared them!

For one hour those rooms had "blazed with light, and bray'd with
minstrelsy," how many dark and melancholy weeks had they to tell of,
whilst sorrow and whispered horror, and surmise that "dared not speak
its fear," had reigned there! How had the very domestics feared the
descending shadows in those vast rooms, and where the night-shriek
"disturbed the curtain sleep!" Deeds of evil note had had their reign in
those chambers. The wail of sorrow had been heard oft-times in the long
winter's nights, in the dungeons of that castle; and, even to her who
was the mistress there, that bright castle-lake, the fair scene without,
all had been looked upon from those arched windows with eyes that marked
not their beauty,--she, who was the wife of their possessor, slept there
in fear.

Through the instrumentality of Essex and Southampton, on becoming better
known to those chivalrous men, Arderne had been so much liked, that they
had introduced him to the Queen; and Elizabeth was so struck with his
handsome form and gallant bearing, that she had taken him into favour,
and employed him in her service.

The national spirit of England had been so much, aroused by the Spanish
invasion, that nothing less than some attempt at retaliation would
satisfy the people. Don Anthonia, titular King of Portugal, was a
suppliant at the English Court for assistance to establish him on the
throne of his ancestors; and as Elizabeth rather relished the policy,
albeit she liked not the cost of such a measure, she gave leave to her
subjects to fit out an expedition for the liberation of Portugal from
the Spanish yoke, always providing they did it at their own proper
charge, she lending them ships of war.

This expedition the valiant Arderne resolved, at a hint from the Queen,
to join; and, albeit he was forbidden to have anything to do with it by
the doating Queen, the rash and headstrong Essex also resolved to play
the knight-errant, and, escaping from the silken fetters of his courtly
mistress, as a simple volunteer accompany the expedition.

Clara de Mowbray, meantime, was the guest of her early friend, Lettice,
Countess of Leicester, at Kenilworth; the Countess, during the period of
her mourning, being resident at the castle. Some three weeks had passed
away since the Earl's death, and even in that short space, many events
bad transpired. Arderne was released from all graver charges; Grasp,
although discomfited, terrified and conscience-stricken, was still
endeavouring to make a good fight for his client; and Shakespeare was
returning to his wife and family. True to his resolve, after his own
return to Stratford-upon-Avon, Grasp as soon as he recovered himself,
had hastened to Charlecote with intelligence that the "sometime
deer-stealer" was at length forthcoming, and would but Sir Thomas give
fresh instructions, he, Grasp, would still pursue the delinquent, and
bring him to condign punishment.

Sir Thomas had, however, entirely changed his opinion upon the subject
of the offence, it appeared. He had also changed his opinion of Grasp,
and summoning his head-falconer, old Hubert, he desired him to call
together several of his followers, and toss Grasp in a blanket in the
park--the knight watching the operations with infinite gusto from his
window.

Such happiness, therefore, as usually falls to the share of mortals in
this work-a-day world, may be supposed to have fallen to the share of
many of tho individuals connected with our story.

In outward seeming, such was, indeed the case.

But perfect happiness is, in reality, beyond the reach of mortals. It is
the green spot in the distance, and that on which we stand is ever but a
sterile promontory.

    "What we have not, still we strive to get,
    And what we have, _forget_."

It was one evening, about three weeks after Leicester's death, that the
Countess and her interesting friend were seated in one of those
magnificent apartments in the buildings to which the Earl had given his
name.

Few, as we have before said, as they gaze upon this now ruined shell,
can have an adequate notion of its former state and grandeur. The
buildings reared by that proud Earl, almost for the sole purpose of
offering to the Queen the most sumptuous entertainment ever given by
subject to sovereign, seemed, indeed, reared but for that one scene of
pomp and grandeur, and afterwards to have remained a sad memento of the
mutability of human greatness, and then sank unnoted to decay. As they
had added their sum of more to that before enormous pile, so had they,
in their vastness, remained almost too spacious for a subject's means.
For the castle altogether, with its numerous flanking towers, and the
additions which had been made to it from time to time seemed capable of
containing an army within the roundure of its walls.

As the Countess sat with her friend in one of the magnificent apartments
of Leicester's Building, she listened to the recital Clara had to give
of her own escape from death, when taken prisoner by the Spaniard.

'Twas a delicious evening. The October winds sighed upon the lake
without, and scattered the dried leaves from the woodland on the
opposite shore. The setting sun shone like gold upon the turrets of the
castle, and tinged the massive forest, as the Lady Clara glanced
occasionally in the direction where lay Stratford-upon-Avon. The
Countess marked that glance as she sat opposite to her friend and
beneath the huge chimney, for the coldness of the season, and the size
of the room, made the blazing fire upon the hearth anything but
disagreeable.

"And after enduring so much," said the Countess, "you mean then, to
retire for ever from the world--you will forsake him for whom you have
adventured life, fortune, reputation."

"I forsake none," said Clara. "Who knows or cares for one so solitary in
the world! I bequeath to him I most love, all my worldly goods--myself I
dedicate to heaven."

"There is one other," said the Countess, "and whom I have heard you
mention in terms of admiration and respect--will not his persuasion
avail."

"He is indeed a man," said Clara, with enthusiasm, "one whose words
might do much. But are you quite sure he would not rather approve than
censure my resolve? He knows something of my story, but like yourself,
he is bound by me to secresy whilst I remain in England."

"Listen," said the Countess, "to what this friend has to urge;" and
taking from a sort of cabinet a small packet, she read the following:--

                      I.

    "From fairest creatures we desire increase,
        That thereby beauty's rose might never die.
    But as the riper should by time decease,
        His tender heir might bear his memory:
    But then, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
        Feed'st thy light's frame with self-substantial fuel,
    Making a famine where abundance lies,
        Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel,
    Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament,
        And only herald to the gaudy spring,
    Within thine own bud buriest thy content,
        And, tender churl, mak'st waste in niggarding,
    Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
    To eat the world's due, by the grave and thee.

                     II.

    When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
        And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field,
    Thy youth's proud livery, so gazed on now,
        Will be a tatter'd weed, of small worth held:
    Then, being ask'd where all thy beauty lies,
        Where all the treasure of thy lusty days;
    To say, within thine own deep sunken eyes,
        Were an all-eating shame, and thriftless praise.
    How much more praise deserved thy beauty's use,
        If thou could'st answer--'This fair-child of mine
    Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,'--
        Proving his beauty by succession thine.
    This were to be new made, when thou art old,
    And see thy blood warm, when thou feel'st it cold."

There was a pause after the Countess had read these sonnets, and which
she, in common with the entire Court circle, had been delighted with
when they first appeared. The beauty of the poetry, like sweet music,
placed a spell upon the pair; such verse in those lordly apartments had
a double influence.

As Clara gazed around upon the arrassed walls, and then glanced from the
window upon the sweet scene without,--when she looked towards the home
of the poet, the spirit of that man seemed to breath around. In some
sort the Countess of Leicester felt this, for both these high-born
ladies knew Shakespeare; his exquisite poetry had stolen over their
hearts. They were of the few of their day who already appreciated him.

"Your story, Clara," said Lady Leicester, at length breaking silence,
"convinces me this generous man carries with him the remembrance of some
early grief--some secret sorrow never to be expressed. I feel as firmly
convinced of it, as that you yourself are the excited cause of those
sonnets I have just perused. The time of their production and
circulation amongst us by Essex and Southampton--the circumstances under
which you was rescued by this Shakespeare from the Spaniard--his
discovery of your true sex, and subsequent contemplation of your
exquisite disposition, Clara, all confirm it. Heaven grant thou sweetest
and best of women, that this poetic friend does not himself love, and
whilst he has pleaded for license to inform his friend Arderne of your
secret, has not indeed felt a pang sharp as the stilleto of the
Italian."

Clara started at the words of the Countess, and a slight flush suffused
her check. The thought was, for the moment, fraught with pleasant
reminiscences, but then feelings of alarm pervaded her, lest there
should be in reality some truth in the suspicion of her friend. That
man, so immeasurably above all other mortals, to love her--that man,
whose influence seemed always to pervade every spot around her, where
aught noble, refined, or chivalrous breathed--that man, without whose
society, even granting she were wedded to him she loved, she must now
experience a void, a blank. For be it remembered that Clara de Mowbray
had, from circumstances, been the intimate, the companion of
Shakespeare, knew his sentiments, been with him in the hour when poetry
flowed from lip as well as pen; and that whilst she had listened, his
words had produced thoughts and imaginings belonging to the fabled ages
of the early world, in Crete, in Sparta, and in Thessaly.

As the Countess remarked the effect her words had produced, she arose
and walked to the window. How sad, she thought to herself, that the life
of one so amiable should be an aimless one! How sad, that sorrow should
inhabit that form where so much grace and beauty dwelt!

Her thoughts, however, were speedily withdrawn from her friend, for at
that moment the Major Domo, or steward of the Castle, his white wand in
his hand, announced the arrival of a messenger from London bearing
dispatches.

"News," she said, as she took the several sealed packets and examined
them. "News, Clara, and from my truant son."

"The messenger, an it so please ye," said the steward, "announces the
Earl is on his road hitherward, and with a goodly company."

"'Tis even so," said Lady Leicester; "he writes me word he hath returned
from Lisbon, where nothing but discomfort, sickness, and mortality
attended the English army. Six out of eighteen thousand having already
fallen victims to the climate."

"And have you news of others present in that ill-omened expedition?"
inquired Clara.

"Nothing save that some of his companions of the expedition are with
him. The Queen, I find, by another packet," said Lady Leicester, "is
much blamed for permitting this expedition to be undertaken at all since
it has thus failed. Nay, she hath been rated by Burleigh. The royal
lioness is, therefore, chafed in spirit."

"Ah! and here is another letter," continued the Countess, as she perused
a somewhat curious document, as curiously worded, and after a fashion
not uncommon at a period when, "in speaking of dangerous majesty," it
was necessary to be guarded. The letter was brief and secret, partly in
figures, and the Countess read it aloud to her friend:

"Let not 1500[27] gain sight of 1000 till anger subdueth, or the hot
blood of 1000 will chafe at what may peradventure follow; 1500 is
wrathful, and the enemies of 1000 have worked during absence; keep,
therefore, valour and worth employed till matters cool. Not only hath
the disobedience of 1000 offended in the expedition, but 1500 hath seen
a printed volume[28] of _t--t's_, title to _a--a_, a device, doubtless,
of some crafty knave and enemy; 50 hath been committed this day to the
tower."

[Footnote 27: Elizabeth was expressed in those letters by the figures
1500; Essex by 1000; _a--a_ was the crown.]

[Footnote 28: A seditious Catholic publication, dedicated to Essex, to
ruin him.]

"I understand it not," said Clara. "Albeit it is plain enough to the
eye, the sense is mysterious."

"It speaks to me of danger to my gallant son," said the Countess with a
sigh, "and is from a dear and true industrious friend. It means that the
Queen is angry with my son, and we must, therefore, hold him here if
possible. You must aid me in this Clara, and we must endeavour to make
Kenilworth a pleasing prison to him for a brief space."

"Thou knowest," said Clara, "that I am thy guest under promise of strict
incognito; thou knowest, dear Lettice, that I am strict in my resolve to
remain unknown."

"I know thou art proud in spirit, Clara, as becomes one of the princely
line of Plantagenet. But 'tis a mother who asks thee to aid her in
keeping her darling son from danger. Heaven knows I have little heart
for revelling just now, but something we must invent to detain Essex at
Kenilworth till the danger blows over."



CHAPTER LX.

THE RETURN.


     Our readers must now again look upon the town of Stratford,
     whilst the bright mid-day sun shines upon its roof and
     chimneys, mid glitters like innumerable diamonds upon its
     multitudinous windows.

With one of those sudden changes so common to our climate, the damp
weather has cleared up, and turned to frost. The air is light and
cheerful, and a hoary tinge is given to all around.

How sweetly rural are the quiet old towns of England, as the approaching
winter begins to give us that cozy anticipation of the comforts and
fire-side enjoyments to come with the snow and the bracing blast.

In Elizabeth's day, when the season was fraught with games and revels,
each house in the quaint-looking street seemed to promise its
hospitality. The citizens' wives, as they bustled through the street,
appeared to experience this feeling. The native burghers seemed to
accost each other with a more cordial greeting. The change, even in the
open country, albeit it is sterile, and the "one red leaf" is all that
dances on the tall tree, is so seasonable, that it is grateful. The
human mortals love the coming winter. Its change seems to freshen up all
around. Even the old crone, shivering in the ingle neuk, looks with a
renewed feeling of pleasure upon the frosted pane, and listens to the
sound of the wind without with a kind of enjoyable feeling as she turns
her eye again upon the bright hearth-log. Its very crackle seems to
chirp of Christmas festivities--"to tell of youthful prime," and those
departed days of lusty bachelorship and maiden coyness, with all the
romps and revels of the time. And then, with the changeful current of
thought, as remembrance dwells upon the many departed, amidst the many
known,--then comes the more sombre picture, the superstitions of the old
age, the sheeted ghost, the evil genius, the witch, and the thrice-told
tale of Gramarie--those cherished remembrances of the hallowed period

    "Wherein the Saviour's birth was celebrated."

Stratford, so picturesque in its old-world look, so peculiarly English,
is just now putting on its winter garb.

A couple of days subsequent to that on which Captain Fluellyn arrived at
Clopton, whilst the inhabitants progressed the streets, they seemed once
more filled with the import of recent news. Rumour, in the absence of
all assured information, with all its exaggeration of circumstance, was
afloat amongst them. The great difficulty amidst the variety of
information was to gain the real story which had arrived. Grasp, who
had suddenly returned, had brought it; but then Grasp, who was hardly to
be believed on his oath, had shut himself up the moment he arrived, and
would see no one. Certain, however, it was (for everybody said it) that
another desperate attempt had been made upon the life of the Queen. By
some it was reported she had been stabbed; by others that she had been
shot. Master Doubletongue went so far as to say that she was both dead
and buried! But as such surmise amounted to treason, he was ordered by
the head-bailiff to go about and deny all he had asserted, the drummer
of the town being sent round with him, in order that he might proclaim
himself a liar at every corner.

Those of our readers who have an eye for the picturesque can, we dare
say, imagine the High Street of Stratford-upon-Avon at this season of
the year, peopled thus with inhabitants clad in their quaint costume,
their short cloaks, doublets, and high-crowned hats. Those respectable,
dignified, and grave-looking men, progressing with an assured and
stately step, cane in hand, not hurrying about, as at the present day,
but greeting each other with something of ceremony in their deportment.
Many of them stand in groups of three or four and discuss the news,
whilst the good wives of the town, albeit they are few in number, for it
was not considered over seemly for the sober sort of females to be much
upon the tramp, are also to be observed in their wide-brimmed hats,
mufflers and kirtles, passing and repassing along the highway.

The street altogether has, with the beetling stories on either hand, the
clear frosty air, and the costumed figures, with here and there a red
cloak amongst other sad-coloured suits, altogether the appearance of a
winter view in an old Dutch painting.

The news is of import, and all seem impressed with it--for, in
Elizabeth's day, so much importance was attached to the life of the
Queen by her Protestant subjects, that man looked grave and anxious at
such a rumour as the present. Public safety and the prosperity of the
nation seemed to hang upon her life.

Grasp, albeit he was slightly regarded in the town, was called on
several times, but no one could gain admittance at Grasp's. He seemed to
have rammed up his doors against the world. He was sick, engaged, not
within, not to be molested. Meanwhile, as the day passed and the evening
approached, a light and gentle fall of snow seemed to herald the coming
winter weather. And as light thickened, the sharp and rapid sound of an
approaching horseman is heard at a distance on the Warwick road. Let us
listen to the sound, as the sharp spur of that rider urges on his steed;
now from a rapid trot to a gallop, and then again apparently he pulls up
to a slower pace.

'Tis sweet to hear, in the still evening, the sound of hoofs on the hard
road, mellowed by distance, now clattering along, loud and sharp, and
now again so indistinct as to be almost lost to the ear.

One or two of the townsfolk have walked forth to meet that traveller and
inquire the news, and at length he nears the suburb, spurs on his steed,
and enters the inn; an event in the annals of that place which, could
the inhabitants have appreciated it, would have doubtless been
sufficiently noted.

He came comparatively unknown amongst them, that horseman, unannounced
even to his own family. He thought not of his own importance, he knew it
not, yet not a building, could it have spoken and felt, but would, we
think, have uttered a note of joy. The very bells of the old tower
should have rung out a joyous peal, and the hollow steeple of the guild
of the Holy Cross have cracked with the reverberation of the sound.

Nay, we can almost wonder that the inhabitants did not, one and all, go
forth to greet the rider in the high-crowned hat, long boots, ample
cloak, and the long petronels in his girdle, for, take him for all in
all, Stratford will never look upon his like again. His capable eye
glanced down the High Street, as he rode; a tear glistened on his cheek
as he beheld its well-known aspect, and then he spurred his steed, and
rode up Henley Street. A few moments more and he was in the midst of his
relatives. William Shakespeare had returned to Stratford-upon-Avon.



CHAPTER LXI.

THE DISCOMFITED SCRIVENER.


     Grasp's return home was somewhat more sudden than he had
     intended. He returned indeed in an exceedingly discomfited and
     excited state.

His friend Dismal was the only person who had gained access to him, and
that but for a few moments. During the interview, however, Dismal had
gathered from Doubletongue, who also arrived in all haste, that great
events had transpired in London, of one sort or other. But so
extraordinary and so perturbed did both the lawyer and his friend seem,
that except certain incoherent expressions about an attempt upon the
Queen's life, a spectre he himself had beheld, and various allusions to
poison, assassination, death, destruction, and utter ruin. Dismal
completely failed in discovering the exact news the travellers had to
tall, and hence the variety of reports circulated through the town.
Something certainly seemed to have gone all wrong with the lawyer. His
friend Doubletongue had never seen him so put out, and altogether he
feared that his wits were going.

To explain the meaning of this agitated and nervous state of the worthy
Stratford lawyer, we must go back a few paces in our history.

Grasp, then, it will be remembered, whilst in London, had considerably
extended his practice. He had apparently involved Walter Arderne in
ruin; he had even carried on his intrigues so as to make the dark Earl,
he of Leicester, a party concerned in his plot. For Grasp had given the
Earl a hint about certain abbey lands and a manor near Kenilworth, which
would fall to the said Earl in the event of Arderne's decease. He had
ferreted out the existence of a plot, by means of which he hoped to rise
to great preferment; and he had succeeded in beguiling a simple-minded
gentleman, resident in Warwickshire, that he was indeed the real and
undisputed heir to the estates of the before-named Clara de Mowbray, and
actually by bribery, and using all sorts of villainy, got a verdict in
such person's favour, and placed him in possession of some portion of
the property.

Somehow or other, however, like the labours of the alchemist, which at
the moment of projection are frequently overthrown by the bursting of
some vessel containing the divine elixir, so all Grasp's schemes seemed
unaccountably blown to the winds, and himself discomfited.

Acting upon wrong information, he had followed a female, who travelled
in male disguise, as far as Oxford, where he lost all trace of her; and
whilst he tarried at the City of Palaces, an express overtook him, with
directions to hasten with all speed to Cornbury Park, where the Earl of
Leicester was then lying sick, having arrived there by easy stages on
the way to Kenilworth, a few days before.

Now, Grasp, since his first introduction to the Earl of Leicester, had
made such considerable advances in that bad man's good graces, that the
Earl had sent an express for him, in order to make some alterations in
his will.

Grasp accordingly set forth, leaving directions that Sir Humphrey
Graball, the gentleman who was disputing the succession of the Mowbray
estates, and Master Quillett, the Temple lawyer, and with whom he had
arranged a meeting at Oxford, should follow him to Cornbury. For Grasp
argued very wisely, that both the matters of business apertaining to the
Earl's claim, and the concoction of a new will, might be arranged at one
and the same time.

The will of the sick and fallen favourite, had we space to dilate upon
it, would perhaps be well worthy of contemplation. That part of it
especially in which he bequeathed a costly legacy to his royal
mistress--the bequest being wrapped up in a preamble of honeyed words,
being not the least curious part of the document.

It was night when the Earl finished his business with Grasp, and the
bleak winds of September sounded through the park of Cornbury, as the
lawyer, after the interview, sat with the before-named client and the
Templar, in a small apartment of the mansion. It was a dark hour, and a
certain feeling of awe seemed to pervade that household.

The overgrown and fallen courtier lying helpless and hopeless, alike
body and soul. His "ill-weaved ambition" shrank to the smallest
span--his parks, his walks, his manors forsaking him. His swollen body,
a thing abhorrent even to himself. That beautiful Countess too,
attending upon him without love; and whilst duty called her to the side
of him who had so vilely used her, the selfish courtier even envying her
the life and health she enjoyed.

Nothing however, could exceed the elation of Grasp. He beheld in
prospect a glorious array of difficulties and litigation consequent upon
the matters he was engaged in; and most of all the success of his
machinations in favour of Sir Humphrey Graball, and his succession to
the manors of Mowbray, promised him endless profits.

"Sir Humphrey is altogether an easy simpleton," he said, "a most weak
and debile man, and can as easily be led by the nose as an ass. Ergo, I
shall thrive."

Accordingly, as Grasp sat with his client discussing matters of moment,
whilst they relieved their labours by occasional indulgence in the good
wine of the house, amongst other papers called for, was the will of the
Lady Clara de Mowbray--an instrument we have, on a former occasion seen
in his possession. There is always a secret horror suitable to the time,
when in some antique apartment, and, by night, men meet together to
peruse the musty documents which speak the last wishes of those within
the tomb, more especially when sickness and those signs which foretell
the ending of mortality pervade the habitation. On this rough night

    "The owl shrieked, the fatal bellman
    Which gives the sternest good night."

Suddenly, as Grasp glanced upon that will, he became, as it were,
transfixed. At the same moment a sort of hubbub seemed to pervade the
house. In place of the silence which the sick Earl had commanded there
was suddenly heard an opening and shutting of doors--a summons of
persons in all haste, and something apparently of dreadful import in
agitation.

Grasp, however, heeded it not. He seemed still engrossed with the
parchment before him. He held it back at arm's length; he drew it close
to his nose; he uttered an exclamation of astonishment, and the word
"codicil" escaped, as one of the domestics rushed into tho room to
announce that the Earl was dying in fearful agony.

Without heeding the news, Grasp fled from the room, rushed to the
stable, mounted his horse, and rode off for Oxford. With the will still
in his hand, the excited lawyer dismounted from his steed, and strode
into the tavern, where, heeding not the assembled guests, he threw
himself into a vacant seat, with the air of one possessed by a demon.
And, again, with fearful eye, regarded the instrument he hold in his
hand.

"Can such things be?" he said. "Can the dead return to life, or is it
the evil one himself who thus palters with my sight and senses?"

The tavern was on this night tolerably well filled with guests. One of
them, who was seated opposite to the lawyer, was a person of a most
expressive and pleasant style of countenance. His conversation and wit
had indeed been setting the whole assemblage, gentle and simple, in
roars, during the entire evening--the host and hostess of the tavern
being not the least amused.

The advent of Grasp in his perturbed state, his extraordinary grimaces,
his abstracted demeanour, and his travel-stained appearance altogether,
called forth from this person so many curious remarks, that the laughter
which had for the moment been interrupted by his entrance was renewed
tenfold at Grasp's expense, till, as on unfixing his gaze from the
basilisk he seemed to hold in his hand, he looked round upon the
assemblage, and then steadily regarded his tormentor, he beheld himself
face to face with the old subject of his former enmity--Master William
Shakespeare.

"There is no rest for the wicked," saith the old proverb; and the
renewed roar which followed the expression of Grasp's countenance at
this sudden recognition, was actually driving him from the room, when
Doubletongue, who had followed his friend, suddenly entered, and
whispered something in his ear.

"Poisoned say ye?" exclaimed Grasp, starting in surprise; "my Lord of
Leicester deceased--dead--defunct, and thus suddenly? Poisoned, say ye?
Art sure 'tis the Countess you mean?"

"No, 'tis the Earl himself," said Doubletongue; "and your having been
with him just before, together with your sudden departure, hath raised a
suspicion among the household that----"

"'Fore heaven, what mean ye?" said Grasp. "They surely suspect not that
I had ought to do with the poisoning of my Lord of Leicester? There must
have been some dire mistake in the matter. 'Fore heaven, I shall be
hanged through this mistake!" and Grasp immediately left the room,
bribed the ostler to procure him a fresh horse, and set off with all
speed towards Stratford-upon-Avon.

Scarce had he gained a dozen miles when he came up with a couple of
riders progressing the same road as himself. Company was ever welcome in
those days, and the horsemen gladly acceded to his request to be allowed
to ride in their escort.

The habitual caution of the lawyer, however, caused him to cast certain
searching glances at his companions as often as the moon's light gave
him opportunity of doing so, and ere long he became almost confirmed in
the belief that in one of the armed riders he was accompanying he had
fallen in with the identical female in male apparel whom he had before
been in search of. There was comfort, at all events, in this
supposition, and as they emerged from the dark covert of a wood they had
been progressing through, he managed to push his horse between them and
gain a good look at their features. And here again Grasp apparently
beheld that which renewed his former perturbation. The face of the rider
he first encountered wore the actual expression of one he had reason to
believe had long been dead, and as he turned his startled glance upon
the other, he beheld the exact lineaments of Clara de Mowbray. Pale she
looked, as if her features were of sculptured alabaster; but as she
turned her countenance full upon him, he could not be mistaken in their
identity.

Conscience had already made a coward of Grasp--his clear spirit was
puddled. The deep sea had apparently cast up the dead to discomfort him,
and clapping spars to his steed, he fled onwards on his route towards
Stratford-upon-Avon.



CHAPTER LXII.

OLD FRIENDS.


Our story now draws towards conclusion, and we once more return to the
point from which we at first started. Clopton Hall, after so many years
of gloom, may now be said to have quite resumed that appearance of
hospitality and prosperity as when we first beheld it in the early
passages of our story, and ere disease, death, and misery, had so
prevailed there.

For the first time for many years its rooms and offices, its stalls,
kennels, and falconries, were all tenanted. After so many vicissitudes
and strange events, in which its inmates had been separated, and became
wanderers in the world, such of them as were in being were again
assembled within its old walls.

The coming Christmas, that season so ceremoniously observed at the
period, promised again to be the harbinger of festive scenes and old
world rites of hospitality.

The old knight, for the first time for many years, seemed really to hold
up his head, and glance around him with feelings of pride and
contentment. His dearly beloved nephew was again with him; he had just
come from over sea with Essex, and having left the Earl on the road
towards Kenilworth, had galloped forward to Clopton.

In addition to this, too, which seemed to give Sir Hugh as much content
as astonishment, that tried old friend, the trusty and shrewd Martin,
who had so long been mourned as dead there, had suddenly reappeared at
Clopton.

The old knight could scarce contain himself within bounds as he looked
upon the pair. 'Twas hardly to be thought of, so much of contentment,
after having so long been a lonesome mourner; for one way or other, Sir
Hugh had now been in trouble so many years, that his happiness almost
alarmed him, lest something should turn up to mar it afresh.

It was on the evening of the day on which we have introduced our readers
to the inmates of Kenilworth that Martin and Arderne, together with
others connected with our story, were seated beneath the hospitable roof
of Sir Hugh.

To describe the unmixed pleasure experienced by these good and amiable
friends on that evening exceeds the power of our pen; albeit we may
attempt to describe some portion of the conversation which took place.
Few things, we opine, are more gratifying than to glance upon a circle
of true friends, so bound together as the ones in question, and on this
occasion the party consisted of some half-dozen individuals, for,
besides those we have already named, the circle contained the worthy
Captain Fluellyn, and, "though last, not least," William Shakespeare sat
a guest beneath that old chimney.

'Twas indeed a goodly fellowship, and in which, though perhaps 'tis a
rare thing to say, where six mortals quaffed a loving cup together, not
a particle of envy, hatred, or uncharitableness, pervaded.

The divine expression of Shakespeare's face, as he sipped the ruby
liquor, the noble countenance of Arderne, as he glanced first at one and
then another of the friends around, the excitement of the old host, as
he pushed the cup about, the quaint look of the shrewd Martin, and the
bluff, jovial style of the sea captain, as he puffed away at his
capacious pipe, our readers must imagine. They sat in a circle round the
huge log upon the hearth, and each and all had something to relate or
something to listen to of stirring interest, for as each spoke of his
own adventures, 'twas as if some brother told the tale.

"Your story, good Martin," said Shakespeare, as Martin paused after
telling some portion of his adventure and escape from the Spaniard, "on
mine own authority I would hardly dare avouch. 'Tis like some of those
events in real life which scarce pass even in fiction."

"I dare be sworn on't," said Martin. "'Tis an over credulous and yet
unbelieving world this, an' I may so word it, a mad world, my masters,
and yet, ha, ha, 'tis a pleasant world, too. Aye, and this not
altogether so bad a way of passing the time in't. What says the song,

    "'Tis merry in hall when beards wag all,
    And welcome merry Christmas."

"I pr'ythee, good friend," said Arderne, "continue the narrative of this
tragedy; for I must needs call that a tragedy which comprehends the loss
of so exquisite a lady as Clara de Mowbray."

"Aye, truly so," said Martin; "that was a sigh, indeed, Master Walter.
Sighing, however, is of little avail when the object is beyond reach.
'Tis too true an evil; the Lady Clara is lost to us."

"Thou did'st, however, aid her escape from that burning carrick?" said
Fluellyn, "and in which, indeed, we all suffered with those we saw
suffer. 'Twas a fearful sight."

"I take some credit to say I did so," returned Martin, dallying with his
glass, and looking at the red flame of the fire through the ruby liquor.
"Ah, ah, methinks I see those overweening Dons grilling in their
treasure ship at this moment. I did aid in the lady's escape by the same
token, I myself caused the conflagration that aided our escape; I
myself, in my immaculate valour, destroyed the enemy, as Drake hath it,
I singed the Dons' whiskers with a vengeance. Ha, ha."

"Tell us the manner of the exploit," said Shakespeare, who, by the way,
had heard it from other lips.

"In few, then," said Martin, "and to continue from where I left. You are
to know that the commander of the carrick no sooner beheld us upon his
deck than he was about to cast us off again, and into the roaring sea.
As he seized, however, upon my companion in misfortune, lo! you, he
discovered he had prisoner of a female. The stately Don upon this
steadily regarded his prisoner, and became struck all on a heap with her
beauty. He then transferred his gaze to me, and (albeit he saw nothing
extremely feminine, or even beautiful in my outward form) he was pleased
to extend his clemency to us both. In few the blood of the Castillian
was inflamed at the sight of the exquisite Clara; and, whilst the two
ships lay glaring upon each other, we were both hurried down below,
there to remain till more leisure should enable the magnifico to pay
personal attention to us. My fate, doubtless, was to have been the sea.
My companion's, perhaps, even worse. Whatever fate, however, was in
store for us at the hands of the Don, we determined in no wise to submit
to it. The cabin in which we were confined had a window in roar of the
carrick. Without that window hung a boat. My companion got into that
boat, and after I myself had lighted a bonfire in the cabin, and placed
several barrels of gunpowder in very dangerous proximity thereto, I
managed to lower that boat after getting into it, and finally, to cut
her adrift. The blow-up of the barrels, and the gloom of the coming
night, effectually diverted attention from our frail craft, as we
mounted upon the crest of wave after wave. As we did so, we were
horrified spectators of the scene of terror we had caused. One moment
the burning ship was lifted on high, like some huge beacon, and the nest
lost in the deep valley of waters. Thus did we escape, for that time,
the death and dishonour that awaited us, and, weak and debile ministers,
destroyed our foes at one and the same time. But oh," continued Martin,
"conceive us, my masters all, wanderers upon that vast heaving world, in
a rotten carcase of a boat--no knowledge where to steer for, no
knowledge how to steer, if we knew where to steer--no expectation but
death. Do I not seem to ye like one sitting here telling of things
imagined in a dream? That heaving water, in which our boat could scarce
live--those roaring winds, which almost stopped our very breathing in
their violence--that lady, whose form every sea drenched, and who for
two long nights endured this extremity of dire distress."

"And died she so?" inquired Arderne.

"Not a whit," said Martin. "Her's was a miserable strait to be reduced
to; but her spirit was great. She had scarce time to die. She helped me
to bale out the waters, as they continually washed into our boat. She
shared my small portion of biscuit with me, and she drank from the
flasket I filched from the cabin when we escaped from the ship; and so
she lived, good sir, lived to be picked up in the dreary waste of
waters. For, look ye, we had constructed a sort of sail, when the wind
moderated, and that betrayed us to the companion of the carrick we had
burned. Yes, we were descried and picked up by another Don, commanded by
another courageous Captain of Compliments, and forthwith carried off to
the country of the Spaniard."

"And that lady," said Arderne. "Pr'ythee, good Martin, follow out your
story. Her fate I dread to ask, and yet would learn."

"Nay," said Martin, archly, "methinks mine own fate might in some sort
interest my hearers. But truly I seem not to command much attention in
this story of adventure: and yet I showed myself courageous, and aided
the weaker vessel too."

Shakespeare smiled, and a look passed between him and Martin. "'Tis the
duty of doublet and hose to show itself courageous to petticoat," he
said. "We are naturally given to pity the young and beautiful, rather
than the strong and sturdy. Besides, thou hast escaped, art here to
avouch it thyself."

"And so may that lady, for aught I know to the contrary," said Martin.

"How!" exclaimed Arderne. "Escaped! Methought she died, died in Spain."

"It may be so," said Martin, "but I never said it. When we arrived in
Spain, we were both clapped up as heretics between the walls of the
Inquisition, where, doubtless, I for one should have died upon the rack,
but that I was eventually made useful at the oar. My companion's fate I
cannot further avouch. I myself was rescued whilst helping against my
will, to invade my native land, amongst other galley slaves. The craft
we worked in was captured by one of Frobisher's vessels, and in that
vessel I was forthwith carried to the Indies after the fight, and in
that vessel have I returned; and here I am once more at Clopton."

"Nay then," said Arderne, "if such be the case, thou hast but momentarily
raised my hope and dashed it again, good Martin. Had that lady lived,
and were I of all kingdoms king, I would give all for but one scattered
smile of one so excellent."

The narration of Martin caused a sudden check to the previous hilarity
of the company, since it recalled to most there the loss of kindred or
relatives in former days.

Shakespeare, as he glanced around, remembered former scenes of mingled
grief and joy in that house; the melancholy of Arderne was a melancholy
of his own, the sundry contemplation of his mishaps and misfortunes,
founded, as he then thought, principally upon the loss of one, who when
alive, was unappreciated; whilst the captain and Martin also, in pure
melancholy and troubled brain puffed away at their pipes with double
vigour.

"Come," said Sir Hugh, who observed this gloomy fit stealing over his
party, "we trifle time when we sorrow for what is past and irrevocable.
It draws toward supper time. Remember, neighbours and friends, this is
the first time of our meeting together after long years and much misery.
Gloom shall not hold sovereign sway over Clopton again, an I can drive
it hence. Music ho!" he said, rising and clapping his hands. "'Fore
heaven, nephew, we will e'en be jovial to-night. Have we not Shakespeare
here, and can'st forget those scenes he furnished forth at the
Blackfriars? Come, let music play, and serve the supper, lads!"

The custom of the period permitted this in the halls of the great. Many
of the nobles and even gentry of condition kept up a sort of orchestra
or band composed of their own domestics or servitors, and which gave a
degree of enjoyment to their entertainment unknown to modern times. The
sweet tones of the instruments kept off that starched etiquette, that
awkward stiffness oft-times felt during the intervals of conversation,
that struggle for wit that came not when called for, it filled up the
evening, and the soft strains of melody engendered bright thoughts,
whilst they soothed the mind at the same time. Whatever of romance is in
our character is called forth at such a time by music.

And so the party sat around the festive board in their quaint costume,
old and young, poet and philosopher, whilst as the musicians puffed at
tho French horn, and drew forth dulcet sounds from those antiquated
stringed instruments, serving-men hastened about, trencher in hand, and
bearing liquor on their salvers. Topics of conversation were plentiful,
for still flowed the tide of interest concerning each other's separate
fortunes during their career, and the jest's propriety lay in the ears
of those who listened, whilst Shakespeare was the speaker.

Sir Hugh promised his friends a merry Christmas at Clopton; a Christmas
observed with all due observance of the time.

In Elizabeth's day, most people, even of the higher grade of society,
kept comparatively early hours. Those who dined at eleven and twelve,
necessarily supped at five or six. The supper too, was the most festive
meal, and most enjoyed; and when the season of the year, or old custom,
gave warranty, your old English host not unfrequently kept wassail all
night long.

On the present occasion the old Knight felt inclined to drink deep and
sit late. He seemed resolved for a carouse. Martin and Shakespeare
banded about their quaint sayings, and Sir Hugh seemed to revel in the
idea of a merry Christmas at Clopton, observed with all due observance
of the time; an observance, which in Warwickshire at that day was looked
upon by old and young, rich and poor, with a feeling of enjoyment and
love amounting to a passion. Every sport was got up with religious
fervour; every old-world custom regarded with a veneration unknown to
our own squalid days.

Christmas Day was at hand, and the old Knight talked of it like a child
talks of a new toy; but whilst he spoke of good cheer and wine and
wassail to set before his guests, a reeking post arrived, inviting
himself and all consorting him to a feast held during the Christmas week
at Kenilworth. The Countess of Leicester greeting her friend Sir Hugh,
bade him welcome to her poor house of Kenilworth, to come with hawk and
hound, kith, kindred and friends presently consorting him.

The Countess of Leicester was one in whom Sir Hugh had much interest.
She was the daughter of his old friend, Lettice, Lady Knolleys, sister
to Carey, Lord Hundsdon.

The Knight pitied her for her misfortune in marrying the evil-minded
Leicester, for he had indeed loved her with a paternal affection; albeit
the troublous current of his own life had lately hindered him from
seeing much of her.

Under these circumstances, Sir Hugh felt delighted with the invitation,
and resolved, if his party agreed, to accept it.

"How say ye, lads," he said, "shall we to this feast? Methinks I should
like hugely to visit Kenilworth, and my charming friend, after so many
years of absence. How say ye, Walter, shall we dine once more beneath
the towers of old John of Gaunt, and Geoffrey Clinton?"

The company, as a matter of course, left it to their entertainer to
accept or refuse, as he thought best.

"I am for a revel and a brawl any bow," said Martin, "now I have come
once more to a Christian land. Be it at Clopton or Kenilworth, all's one
to Martin."

And so the party resolved to join in the Christmas revels at
Kenilworth.



CHAPTER LXIII.

WHICH ENDS THIS STRANGE EVENTFUL HISTORY.


The festival held at Kenilworth on occasion of Christmas-tide, was not
on such an extended scale as on former occasions had been customary
there, when Norman kings feasted and kept wassail, and when "kettle-drum
and trumpet brayed out the triumph of their pledge."

In Elizabeth's reign, however, when a noble held a festival in his own
halls, the entertainment was sufficiently magnificent, and conducted
with all the observances of older times.

The late demise of the dark Earl, of necessity curtailed the
hospitalities: yet, still the enjoined rites of the period gave the
Countess an excuse for some circumstance, some little pageantry of the
season. Her brilliant son, too, "the glass of fashion and the mould of
form," was to be with her. And, albeit the party she invited to meet him
was but small, still it was composed of some of the _élite_ of the
country round. Almost all entertainments of this period partook of the
dramatic character, the taste for such was universal; and it seemed,
indeed, as if he who was in reality to create the drama in England, had
sprung up just at this period to supply the want of that which wan so
imperfect, to substitute his own brilliant conceptions for those heavy
long-winded stupid exhibitions then in vogue.

With all her power of persuasion, the Countess had not been able to
persuade her friend, Clara de Mowbray, to promise her presence and
participation during the intended festivities. All she could obtain
being a promise, that, as that lady's departure was fixed to take place
in a few days, she would remain over Christmas-eve; as on that night the
Countess had invited Shakespeare to be present.

The fair Clara had before taken leave of her friend the poet in
Stratford; but still, to see him at Kenilworth, and during the gaieties
enacted there, would, she felt, be a great treat.

The Countess resolved to receive her son in the great hall of the
Castle, an apartment which, those who have carefully perused the
building will doubtless remember,--eighty-six feet long by forty-five in
width. It had, some few years before, beheld those fierce vanities, what
time Leicester, "with pomp, with triumph, and with revelling,"
entertained the Queen and her followers for seventeen successive days;
and now, all in that lighted hall was green with holly and winter
ornaments. The large bow window was festooned with "rarest mistletoe,"
the various arms and trophies were covered with green boughs, whilst the
white-hall, the presence-chamber, and other rooms of which nothing now
remains but the fragments of walls and the staircases which led to
them, were lighted up and ornamented for the nonce. There is ever
something cheering in the aspect of all around at this period of the
year; something bright and joyous in the country, when old Hymns "with
his icy crown," seems to wield his severe sceptre and pervade the scene;
when cottage and castle, lake and forest,--all are bound down by the
sharp and biting frost. The good fellowship of the world seems then more
rife, and Christian feeling and brotherly love to prevail. Perhaps, the
good cheer enjoyed, and expectation of more to be enjoyed, openeth the
heart of men. At Kenilworth, all was hospitality. The Countess was soon
to give up possession to Ambrose, Earl of Warwick, her late husband's
brother; and she resolved to quit the neighborhood in no niggardly
fashion. Butts of ale were broached for the poor in the villages and
hamlets around, and oxen and sheep were roasted. The young Earl was
expected on the eve of Christmas-day, and his popularity was just then
so great, especially in that neighbourhood, that the coming of royalty
itself could scarce have made a greater sensation.

The day was one of excitement to the Countess. Dearly she loved that
brilliant Noble, and well she knew the dizzy pinnacle on which he stood.
Her fears even then anticipated that ruin which was to ensue. Conversant
with "the art o' the Court," and the dangerous mood of Majesty, she saw
already a dark cloud in perspective. Nay, that which she was now about
to do, namely, to receive her son, and entertain him beneath the towers
of Kenilworth, when it came to be known, would be attended with danger.
The Queen liked not interference with her pleasures or her purposes. She
was at that moment seeking to beguile the tedium of the favourite's
absence by visiting the seats of her different nobles; and during which
her irritability was but too apparent. He, the adored, the magnificent,
should on his arrival in England, have bent the knee in all haste, and
asked pardon for his truant disposition. But he was haughty and rash as
his queenly relative. The day had been one of excitement to the fair
Countess. There is ever something to be thought of and arranged, even by
the great. The Earl was to dine _en route_ with his array at Rugby, and
afterwards ride forward to Kenilworth, so as to join the select friends
invited to meet him. In Elizabeth's day nothing was more thought of than
dancing and playing (says Rowland White), and the invitation given by
Lady Leicester might have parodied that of Capulet to his friends. There
came Sir John de Astley and his wife and daughters, the noble knight of
Clopton and his friends consorting, the Lord de la Warde and his
beauteous sisters, the Lady widow of Lord Falconberg, good Master
Murdake and his nieces, Sir Thomas Lucy and his lovely daughters, the
Lady Wolvey, and the lively Throckmorton. These guests, for the most
part, were in the castle, but more were expected as the evening
advanced.

Mistress Bridges, the most beautiful of the Queen's maids of honour, she
whom Essex loved, and of whom the Queen was so jealous that she is said
to have publicly struck her; Blount, too, the lover of the Countess of
Leicester, and the Lady Katharine Howard, all were expected to grace the
assemblage. And, at length, as the Countess and her guests awaited the
hour in the great hall, the trumpet from the gate-house announced the
Earl's arrival.

It was a brilliant sight to behold;--that gallant youth amidst the
associates he brought with him. The magnificent Essex, looking some
paladin of romance, came forth from amidst the glittering band, and
gracefully saluted his handsome mother. A something regal was in his
look, which suited well with that magnificent hall.

Nay, 'twas almost the last occasion on which those buildings entertained
so noble an assemblage: they seem to have afterwards fallen to decay, as
though later times and fashions would be unsuited to their grandeur--as
though their work was done--their hour passed away.

On this night, however, as Essex and his followers entered, there came
one individual with a somewhat smaller party, whose presence was more
worthy of note than oven the Plantagenet Kings who had dwelt there--one
whose name would live

    "Spite of cormorant devouring time,
    The heir to all eternity."

He passed on with Sir Hugh Clopton and others of lesser note; and after
exchanging a few words with the noble hostess, he perused the assembled
company at his leisure. As he did so, he entered the building called the
White Hall, and stood for a moment to gaze upon all around, for such a
scene was likely to make a deep impression upon his mind. Softly the
sounds of music floated through those vast rooms, and where all he
beheld spoke of the past, and conjured up scenes he has himself
impressed upon us all. For when, indeed, doth sweet music in lordly
chambers, or in solitude, steal upon the ear, but imagination bodies
forth those scenes which Shakespeare, and Shakespeare alone, is
identified with. All the poetry of life is associated in those charming
ideas. The man himself seems to glide around us. At such hour--assembled
amidst the lovely and the high-born, amidst minstrelsy and lighted
halls, there doth his glorious spirit seem to pervade.

And so Shakespeare passed on amidst the company, and quietly took his
way through the gorgeous rooms.

It was evident the poet had before visited those chambers, for he
appeared familiar with the various passages he passed through, till at
length he reached a room at the extremity of the buildings. Here he
stopped, and quietly regarded the apartment, which in its magnificent
style might well have furnished forth the description he has left us in
his own Cymbeline, for Shakespeare adopted in many of his descriptions
the costume of the time.

Whilst he stood, a small door opened, and a figure, lovely as his own
Juliet, advanced towards him. It was Clara de Mowbray! She uttered an
exclamation of joy when she beheld the poet, and in an instant was at
his side. The poet took her hand and led her to a seat, and the pair
held converse together for some time.

Whilst they did so, it was evident the tongue of that poor player made
some impression on his fair hearer.

"Marriage is a matter of more worth, lady," he said, as he at length
rose from his seat; "than to be dealt in by attorneyship. You consent to
an interview with my friend."

Clara, whose eyes were bent upon the ground in deep thought, glanced
quickly upon Shakespeare. There was no mistaking the expression of that
face. He was gazing upon her with feelings of mingled admiration and
regret. The next moment, as if unwilling again to meet her glance, he
turned and hastily left the apartment.

A few minutes more, and the Countess of Leicester entered the room,
accompanied by a tall cavalier, clad in mourning costume. The sad
expression, however, which for many months had suited with his habit,
now however gave place to surprise, joy and admiration; and Walter
Arderne beheld the living original of the portrait his eyes had loved to
dwell upon. He knelt at the feet of Clara de Mowbray.

Our story is now so far ended. The sequel may be gathered "by what went
before." Time and space alloweth not of dilation upon the gay revel held
that night in the halls of Kenilworth. Shakespeare, whose mind was but
ill-fitted for revelry, soon afterwards left the castle.

For some reason, which we are unable to explain, he felt unfitted for
society. He left the hall of Kenilworth, and in the free air gave vent
to the feelings with which he was oppressed. In the woods of Stoneleigh,
the dawn found him, despite the coldness of the season, laying along
"under an oak, whose boughs were mossed with age," and "high top-bald
with dry antiquity." And as his eye glanced from heaven to earth--from
earth to heaven, whilst the deer swept by,[29] his imagination bodied
forth the forms of Jaques and Rosalind in Arden.

[Footnote 29: Amongst the few traditions concerning Shakespeare, in
Warwickshire, there is one which was kindly communicated to me by a
nobleman resident there, namely, that he wrote the character of Jaques,
in the park of Stoneleigh.]

About a fortnight subsequent to the revel at Kenilworth, a noble-looking
cavalier, accompanied by a lady (both mounted and attended by a numerous
retinue,) rode on to the green before old Hathaway's cottage at
Shottery. The cavalier and the lady dismounted, and left their horses
with the attendants, and as they approached the cottage, they conversed
upon the subject of some dearly-loved friend.

"I offered him," said Walter Arderne, "in your name, dearest Clara, half
of what we possess, so he would but remain with us here; but the spirit
of the man is great, and he will pursue his fortunes after his own
fashion. Listen to what himself says;" and Arderne produced a letter,
which he read an extract from, worded somewhat thus:--

"The portion of time I have spent amongst my companions of the theatre
has made me desire to continue in my vocation. The success I have
already achieved gives warranty to my expectations. I have friends, to,
as thou knowest, amongst the nobles of the Court; and the spirit of my
father, which I think is within me, leads me to think I can yet go on
towards even a higher fortune than this that I have reached. In few, I
could not with contentment at this period of my life sit down here in
Stratford. My residence will be at my old haunt, where I shall hope yet
to see those I so dearly love."

"In London, then, we will see him, Walter," said the lady.

"We will so," returned Arderne. "After our marriage, Clara, we will yet
hope to visit our friend."

And should our readers also wish to visit the poet, amidst his
associates of the theatre in London, we will also follow him to his old
haunt in Paul's.

THE END.





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