Shakespeare's Christmas and Stories
Shakespeare's Christmas and Stories
"Yet Diogenes was a gentleman. Put it that, like him, I am searching for an honest man."
"Then we are well met. I' faith we are very well met," responded the countryman, recognising Burbage's grave face and plum-coloured doublet.
"Or, as one might better say, well overtaken," said Burbage.
"Marry, and with a suit. I have some acquaintance, Sir, with members of your honourable calling, as in detail and at large I could prove to you. Either I have made poor use of it or I guess aright, as I guess with confidence, that after the triumph will come the speech-making, and the supper's already bespoken."
"At Nance Witwold's, by the corner of Paris Garden, Sir, where you shall be welcome."
"I thank you, Sir. But my suit is rather for this young friend of mine, to whom I have pledged my word."
"He shall be welcome, too."
"He tells me, Sir, that you are Richard Burbage. I knew your father well, Sir-an honest Warwickshire man: he condescended to my roof and tasted my poor hospitality many a time; and belike you, too, Sir, being then a child, may have done the same: for I talk of prosperous days long since past-nay, so long since that 'twould be a wonder indeed had you remembered me. The more pleasure it gives me, Sir, to find James Burbage's sappy virtues flourishing in the young wood, and by the branch be reminded of the noble stock."
"The happier am I, Sir, to have given you welcome or ever I heard your claim."
"Faith!" said the apprentice to himself, "compliments begin to fly when gentlefolks meet." But he had not bargained to sup in this high company, and the prospect thrilled him with delicious terror. He glanced nervously across the yard, where some one was approaching with another lantern.
"My claim?" the countryman answered Burbage. "You have heard but a part of it as yet. Nay, you have heard none of it, since I use not past hospitalities with old friends to claim a return from their children. My claim, Sir, is a livelier one--"
"Tom Nashe! Tom Nashe!" called a voice, clear and strong and masculine, from the darkness behind the advancing lantern.
"Anon, anon, Sir," quoted Nashe, swinging his own lantern about and mimicking.
"Don't tell me there be yet more wagons arrived?" asked the voice.
"Six, lad-six, as I hope for mercy: and outside the gate at this moment."
"There they must tarry, then, till our fellows take breath to unload 'em. But-six? How is it managed, think you? Has Dick Burbage called out the train-bands to help him? Why, hullo, Dick! What means--" The newcomer's eyes, round with wonder as they rested a moment on Burbage, grew rounder yet as they travelled past him to the countryman. "Father?" he stammered, incredulous.
"Good evening, Will! Give ye good evening, my son! Set down that lantern and embrace me, like a good boy: a good boy, albeit a man of fame. Didst not see me, then, in the theatre this afternoon? Yet was I to the fore there, methinks, and proud to be called John Shakespeare."
"Nay, I was not there; having other fish to fry."
"Shouldst have heard the applause, lad; it warmed your old father's heart. Yet 'twas no more than the play deserved. A very neat, pretty drollery-upon my faith, no man's son could have written a neater!"
"But what hath fetched you to London?"
"Business, business: a touch, too, maybe, of the old homesickness: but business first. Dick Quiney--But pass me the lantern, my son, that I may take a look at thee. Ay, thou hast sobered, thou hast solidified: thy beard hath ta'en the right citizen's cut-'twould ha' been a cordial to thy poor mother to see thee wear so staid a beard. Rest her soul! There's nothing like property for filling out a man's frame, firming his eye, his frame, bearing, footstep. Talking of property, I have been none so idle a steward for thee. New Place I have made habitable-the house at least; patched up the