Magister Nicholas Udal, the Lady Mary’s pedagogue, was very hungry and very cold. He stood undecided in the mud of a lane in the Austin Friars. The quickset hedges on either side were only waist high and did not shelter him. The little houses all round him of white daub with grey corner beams had been part of the old friars’ stables and offices. All that neighbourhood was a maze of dwellings and gardens, with the hedges dry, the orchard trees bare with frost, the arbours wintry and deserted. This congregation of small cottages was like a patch of common that squatters had taken; the great house of the Lord Privy Seal, who had pulled down the monastery to make room for it, was a central mass. Its gilded vanes were in the shape of men at arms, and tore the ragged clouds with the banners on their lances. Nicholas Udal looked at the roof and cursed the porter of it.
‘He could have given me a cup of hypocras,’ he said, and muttered, as a man to whom Latin is more familiar than the vulgar tongue, a hexameter about ‘pocula plena.’
He had reached London before nine in one of the King’s barges that came from Greenwich to take musicians back that night at four. He had breakfasted with the Lady Mary’s women at six off warm small beer and fresh meat, but it was eleven already, and he had spent all his money upon good letters.
He muttered: ‘Pauper sum, pateor, fateor, quod Di dant fero,’ but it did not warm him.
The magister had been put in the Lady Mary’s household by the Lord Privy Seal, and he had a piece of news as to the Lady’s means of treasonable correspondence with the Emperor her uncle. He had imagined that the news—which would hurt no one because it was imaginary—might be worth some crowns to him. But the Lord Privy Seal and all his secretaries had gone to Greenwich before it was light, and there was nothing there for the magister.
‘You might have known as much, a learned man,’ the porter had snarled at him. ‘Isn’t the new Queen at Rochester? Would our lord bide here? Didn’t your magistership pass his barge on the river?’
‘Nay, it was still dark,’ the magister answered. The porter sniffed and slammed to the grating in the wicket. Being of the Old Faith he hated those Lutherans—or those men of the New Learning—that it pleased his master to employ.
Udal hesitated before the closed door; he hesitated in the lane beyond the corner of the house. Perhaps there would be no barges at the steps—no King’s barges. The men of the Earl Marshal’s service, being Papists, would pelt him with mud if he asked for a passage; even the Protestant lords’ men would jeer at him if he had no pence for them—and he had none. He would do best to wait for the musicians’ barge at four.
Then he must eat and shelter—and find a wench. He stood in the mud: long, thin, brown in his doctor’s gown of fur, with his black flapped cap that buttoned well under his chin and let out his brown, lean, shaven and humorous face like a woodpecker’s peering out of a hole in a tree.
The volumes beneath his arms were heavy: they poked out his gown on each side, and the bitter cold pinched his finger ends as if they had been caught in a door. The weight of the books pleased him for there was much good letters there—a book of Tully’s epistles for himself and two volumes of Plautus’ comedies for the Lady Mary. But what among his day’s purchases pleased him most was a medallion in silver he had bought in Cheapside. It showed on the one side Cupid in his sleep and on the other Venus fondling a peacock. It was a heart-compelling gift to any wench or lady of degree.
He puckered up his deprecatory and comical lips as he imagined that that medal would purchase him the right to sigh dolorously in front of whatever stomacher it finally adorned. He could pour out odes in the learned tongue, for the space of a week, a day, or an afternoon according to the rank, the kindness or the patience of the recipient.
Something invisible and harsh touched his cheek. It might have been snow or hail. He turned his thin cunning face to the clouds, and they threatened a downpour. They raced along, like scarves of vapour, so low that you might have thought of touching them if you stood on tiptoe.
If he went to Westminster Hall to find Judge Combers, he would get his belly well filled, but his back wet to the bone. At the corner of the next hedge was the wicket gate of old Master Grocer Badge. There the magister would find at least a piece of bread, some salt and warmed mead. Judge Combers’ wife was easy and bounteous: but old John Badge’s daughter was a fair and dainty morsel.
He licked his full lips, leered to one side, muttered, ‘A curse on all lords’ porters,’ and made for John Badge’s wicket. Badge’s dwelling had been part of the monastery’s curing house. It had some good rooms and two low storeys—but the tall garden wall of the Lord Privy Seal had been built against its side windows. It had been done without word or warning. Suddenly workmen had pulled down old Badge’s pigeon house, set it up twenty yards further in, marked out a line and set up this high wall that pressed so hard against the house end that there was barely room for a man to squeeze between. The wall ran for half a mile, and had swallowed the ground of twenty small householders. But never a word of complaint had reached the ears of the Privy Seal other than through his spies. It was, however, old Badge’s ceaseless grief. He had talked of it without interlude for two years.
The Badges’ room—their houseplace—was fair sized, but so low ceiled that it appeared long, dark and mysterious in the winter light There was a tall press of dark wood with a face minutely carved and fretted to represent the portal of Amiens Cathedral, and a long black table, littered with large sheets of printed matter in heavy black type, that diffused into the cold room a faint smell of ink. The old man sat quavering in the ingle. The light of the low fire glimmered on his silver hair, on his black square cap two generations old; and, in his old eyes that had seen three generations of changes, it twinkled starrily as if they were spinning round. In the cock forward of his shaven chin, and the settling down of his head into his shoulders, there was a suggestion of sinister and sardonic malice. He was muttering at his son:
‘A stiff neck that knows no bending, God shall break one day.’
His son, square, dark, with his sleeves rolled up showing immense muscles developed at the levers of his presses, bent his black beard and frowned his heavy brows above his printings.
‘Doubtless God shall break His engine when its work is done,’ he muttered.
‘You call Privy Seal God’s engine?’ the old man quavered ironically. ‘Thomas Cromwell is a brewer’s drunken son. I know them that have seen him in the stocks at Putney not thirty years ago.’
The printer set two proofs side by side on the table and frowningly compared them, shaking his head.
‘He is the flail of the monks,’ he said abstractedly. ‘They would have burned me and thousands more but for him.’
‘Aye, and he has put up a fine wall where my arbour stood.’
The printer took a chalk from behind his ear and made a score down his page.
‘A wall,’ he muttered; ‘my Lord Privy Seal hath set up a wall against priestcraft all round these kingdoms——’
The printer said darkly:
The old man pulled his nose and glanced down.
‘We were all Papists in my day. I have made the pilgrimage to Compostella, for all you mock me now.’
He turned his head to see Magister Udal entering the door furtively and with eyes that leered round the room. Both the Badges fell into sudden, and as if guilty, silence.
‘Domus parva, quies magna,’ the magister tittered, and swept across the rushes in his furs to rub his hands before the fire. ‘When shall I teach your Margot the learned tongues?’
‘When the sun sets in the East,’ the printer muttered.
Udal sent to him over his shoulder, as words of consolation:
‘The new Queen is come to Rochester.’
The printer heaved an immense sigh:
‘God be praised!’
Udal snickered, still over his shoulder:
‘You see, neither have the men of the Old Faith put venom in her food, nor have the Emperor’s galleys taken her between Calais and Sandwich.’
‘Yet she comes ten days late.’
‘Oh moody and suspicious artificer. Afflavit deus! The wind hath blown dead against Calais shore this ten days.’
The old man pulled his long white nose:
‘In my day we could pray to St Leonard for a fair wind.’
He was too old to care whether the magister reported his words to Thomas Cromwell, the terrible Lord Privy Seal, and too sardonic to keep silence for long about the inferiority of his present day.
‘When shall I teach the fair Margot the learned tongue?’ Udal asked again.
‘The Lord Privy Seal never stood higher,’ Udal said. ‘The match with the Cleves Lady hath gained him great honour.’
‘God cement it!’ the printer said fervently.
The old man pulled at his nose and gazed at nothing.
‘I am tired with this chatter of the woman from Cleves,’ he croaked, like a malevolent raven. ‘An Anne she is, and a Lutheran. I mind we had an Anne and a Lutheran for Queen before. She played the whore and lost her head.’
‘Where’s your niece Margot?’ Udal asked the printer.
‘You owe me nine crowns,’ the old man said.
‘I will give your Margot ten crowns’ worth of lessons in Latin.’
‘Hold and enough,’ the printer muttered heavily. ‘Tags from Seneca in a wench’s mouth are rose garlands on a cow’s horns.’
‘The best ladies in the land learn of me,’ Udal answered.
‘Aye, but my niece shall keep her virtue intact.’
‘You defame the Lady Mary of England,’ Udal snickered.
The old man said vigorously, ‘God save her highness, and send us her for Queen. Have you begged her to get me redress in the matter of that wall?’
‘Why, Providence was kind to her when it sent her me for her master,’ Udal said. ‘I never had apter pupil saving only one.’
‘Shall Thomas Cromwell redress?’ the old man asked.
‘If good learning can make a good queen, trust me to render her one,’ Udal avoided the question. ‘But alas! being declared bastard—for very excellent reasons—she may not——’
‘You owe me nine crowns,’ old Badge threatened him. He picked irritably at the fur on his gown and gazed at the carved leg of the table. ‘If you will not induce Privy Seal to pull down his wall I will set the tipstaves on you.’
Master Udal laughed. ‘I will give thy daughter ten crowns’ worth of lessons in the learned tongues.’
Udal pushed back the furs at his collar. ‘Master Printer John Badge the Younger,’ he flickered, ‘if you break my crown I will break your chapel. You shall never have license to print another libel. Give me your niece in wedlock?’
The old man said querulously, ‘Here’s a wantipole without ten crowns would marry a wench with three beds and seven hundred florins!’
Udal laughed. ‘Call her to bring me meat and drink,’ he said. ‘Large words ill fill an empty stomach.’
The younger John went negligently to the great Flemish press. He opened the face and revealed on its dark shelves a patty of cold fish and a black jack. With heavy movements and a solemn face he moved these things, with a knife and napkins, on to the broad black table.
The old man pulled his nose again and grinned.
‘Margot’s in her chamber,’ he chuckled. ‘As you came up the wicket way I sent my John to turn the key upon her. It’s there at his girdle.’ It clinked indeed among rules, T-squares and callipers at each footstep of the heavy printer between press and table.
Magister Udal stretched his thin hands towards it. ‘I will give you the printing of the Lady Mary’s commentary of Plautus for that key,’ he said.
The printer murmured ‘Eat,’ and set a great pewter salt-cellar, carved like a Flemish pikeman, a foot high, heavily upon the cloth.
Udal had the appetite of a wolf. He pulled off his cap the better to let his jaws work.
‘Here’s a letter from the Doctor Wernken of Augsburg,’ he said. ‘You may see how the Lutherans fare in Germany.’
The printer took the letter and read it, standing, frowning and heavy. Magister Udal ate; the old man fingered his furs and, leaning far back in his mended chair, gazed at nothing.
‘She was a Howard, and the Howards are all whores,’ the printer said, over the letter. ‘Your Doctor Wernken writes like an Anabaptist.’
‘They are even as the rest of womenkind,’ Udal laughed, ‘but far quicker with their learning.’
A boy rising twenty, in a grey cloak that showed only his bright red stockings and broad-toed red shoes, rattled the back door and slammed it to. He pulled off his cap and shook it.
‘It snows,’ he said buoyantly, and then knelt before his grandfather. The old man touched his grandson’s cropped fair head.
‘Benedicite, grandson Hal Poins,’ he muttered, and relapsed into his gaze at the fire.
The young man bent his knee to his uncle and bowed low to the magister. Being about the court, he had for Udal’s learning and office a reverence that neither the printer nor his grandfather could share. He unfastened his grey cloak at the neck and cast it into a corner after his hat. His figure flashed out, lithe, young, a blaze of scarlet with a crowned rose embroidered upon a chest rendered enormous by much wadding. He was serving his apprenticeship as ensign in the gentlemen of the King’s guard, and because his dead father had been beloved by the Duke of Norfolk it was said that his full ensigncy was near. He begged his grandfather’s leave to come near the fire, and stood with his legs apart.
‘The new Queen’s come to Rochester,’ he said; ‘I am here with the guard to take the heralds to Greenwich Palace.’
The printer looked at him unfavourably from the corner of his dark and gloomy eyes.
‘You come to suck up more money,’ he said moodily. ‘There is none in this house.’
‘As Mary is my protectress!’ the boy laughed, ‘there is!’ He stuck his hands into his breeches pocket and pulled out a big fistful of crowns that he had won over-night at dice, and a long and thin Flemish chain of gold. ‘I have enow to last me till the thaw,’ he said. ‘I came to beg my grandfather’s blessing on the first day of the year.’
‘Dicing … Wenching …’ the printer muttered.
‘If I ask thee for no blessing,’ the young man said, ‘it’s because, uncle, thou’rt a Lutheran that can convey none. Where’s Margot? This chain’s for her.’
‘The fair Margot’s locked in her chamber,’ Udal snickered.
‘Why-som-ever then? Hath she stolen a tart?’
‘Nay, but I would have her in wedlock.’
‘Thou—you—your magistership?’ the boy laughed incredulously. The printer caught in his tone his courtier’s contempt for the artificer’s home, and his courtier’s reverence for the magister’s learning.
‘Keep thy sister from beneath this fox’s tooth,’ he said. ‘The likes of him mate not with the like of us.’
‘The like of thee, uncle?’ the boy retorted, with a good-humoured insolence. ‘My father was a gentleman.’
‘Who married my sister for her small money, and died leaving thee and thy sister to starve.’
‘Nay, I starve not,’ the boy said. ‘And Margot’s a plump faggot.’
‘A very Cynthia among willow-trees,’ the magister said.
‘Why, your magistership shall have her,’ the boy said. ‘I am her lawful guardian.’
His grandfather laughed as men laugh to see a colt kick up its heels in a meadow.
But the printer waved his bare arm furiously at the magister.
‘Get thee gone out of this decent house.’ His eyes rolled, and his clenched fist was as large as a ham. ‘Here you come not a-wenching.’
‘Moody man,’ the magister said, ‘your brains are addled with suspicions.’
‘Young ass’s colt!’ the printer fulminated. ‘Would’st have thy sister undone by this Latin mouth-mincer?’
Udal grinned at him, and licked his lips. The printer snarled:
‘Know’st thou not, young ass, that this man was thrown out of his mastership at Eton for his foul living?’
Udal was suddenly on his feet with the long pasty-knife held back among the furs of his gown.
‘Ignoble …’ he began, but he lost his words in his trembling rage. The printer snatched at his long measuring stick.
‘Down knife,’ he grunted, for his fury, too, made his throat catch.
‘Have a care, nunkey,’ the young man laughed at the pair of them. ‘They teach knife-thrusts in his Italian books.’
‘I will have thy printer’s licence revoked, ignoble man,’ the magister said, grinning hideously. ‘Thou, a Lutheran, to turn upon me who was undone by Papist lies! They said I lived foully; they said I stole the silver cellars….’
He turned upon the old man, stretching out the hand that held the knife in a passionate gesture:
‘Your Papists said that,’ he appealed. ‘But not a one of them believed it, though you dub me Lutheran…. See you, do I not govern now the chief Papist of you all? Would that be if they believed me filthy in my living. Have I not governed in the house of the Howards, the lord of it being absent? Would that have been if they had believed it of me?… And then….’ He turned again upon the printer. ‘For the sake of your men … for the sake of the New Learning, which God prosper, I was cast down.’
The printer grunted surlily:
”Tis known no wench is safe from thy amorousness. How many husbands have broken thy pate?’
The magister threw the knife on to the table and rose, frostily rustling in his gown.
‘If thou hast the power to do that,’ the old man asked suddenly, ‘wherefore canst not get me redress in the matter of my wall?’
The magister answered angrily:
‘Privy Seal hath swallowed thy land: he shall not disgorge. But this man he shall swallow. Know you not that you may make a jack swallow, but no man shall make him give back; I, nor thou, nor the devil’s self?’
‘Oh, a God’s name bring not Flail Crummock into this household,’ the young man cut in. ‘Would you undo us all?’
‘Ignoble, ignoble, to twit a man with that Eton villainy,’ the magister answered.
‘A God’s name bring not Privy Seal into the quarrel,’ the young man repeated. ‘None of us of the Old Faith believe that lie.’
‘Keep thy tongue off Cromwell’s name, young fool,’ his grandfather said. ‘We know not what walls have ears.’
The young man went pale: the printer himself went pale, remembering suddenly that the magister was a spy of Cromwell’s; all three of them had their eyes upon Udal; only the old man, with his carelessness of his great age, grinned with curiosity as if the matter were a play that did not concern him. The magister was making for the door with the books beneath his arm and a torturing smile round his lips. The boy, with a deep oath, ran out after him, a scarlet flash in the darkening room.
Old Badge pulled at his nose and grinned maliciously at the fire beside him.
‘That is thy deliverer: that is thy flail of the monks,’ he croaked at his son. The printer gazed moodily at the fire.
‘Nay, it is but one of his servants,’ he answered mechanically.
‘And such servants go up and down this realm of England and ride us with iron bridles.’ The old man laughed dryly and bitterly. ‘His servant? See how we are held—we dare not shut our doors upon him since he is Cromwell’s servant, yet if he come in he shall ruin us, take our money that we dare not refuse, deflower our virgins…. What then is left to us between this setter up of walls and his servants?’
The printer, fingering the T-square in his belt, said, slowly, ‘I think this man loves too well that books should be printed in the Latin tongue to ruin any printer of them upon a private quarrel. Else I would get me across the seas.’
‘He loves any wench much better,’ the old man answered maliciously. ‘Hearken!’
Through the wall there came a scuffling sound, thumps, and the noise of things falling. The wall there touched on the one that Cromwell had set up, so that there was bare room for a man to creep between.
‘Body of God,’ the printer said, ‘is he eavesdropping now?’
‘Nay, this is courtship,’ the old man answered. His head leaned forward with a birdlike intentness; he listened with one hand held out as if to still any sound in the room. They heard footsteps from the floor above, a laugh and voices. ‘Now Margot talks to him from her window.’
The printer had a motion of convulsed rage:
‘I will break that knave’s spine across my knee.’
‘Nay, let be,’ the old man said. ‘I command thee, who am thy father, to let the matter be.’
‘Would you have him …’ the printer began with a snarl.
‘I would not have my house burnt down because this Cromwell’s spy’s body should be found upon our hands…. To-morrow the wench shall be sent to her aunt Wardle in Bedfordshire—aye, and she shall be soundly beaten to teach her to love virtue.’
The young man opened the house door and came in, shivering in his scarlet because he had run out without his cloak.
‘A pretty medley you have made,’ he said to his uncle, ‘but I have calmed him. Wherefore should not this magister marry Margot?’ He made again for the fire. ‘Are we to smell always of ink?’ He looked disdainfully at his uncle’s proofs, and began to speak with a boy’s seriousness and ingenuous confidence. They would tell his uncle at Court that if good print be the body of a book, good learning is even the soul of it. At Court he would learn that it is thought this magister shall rise high. There good learning is much prized. Their Lord the King had been seen to talk and laugh with this magister. ‘For our gracious lord loveth good letters. He is in such matters skilled beyond all others in the realm.’
The old man listened to his grandson, smiling maliciously and with pride; the printer shrugged his shoulders bitterly; the muffled sounds and the voices through the house-end continued, and the boy talked on, laying down the law valiantly and with a cheerful voice…. He would gain advancement at Court through his sister’s marriage with the magister.
Going back to the palace at Greenwich along with the magister, in the barge that was taking the heralds to the King’s marriage with Anne of Cleves, the young Poins was importunate with Udal to advance him in his knowledge of the Italian tongue. He thought that in the books of the Sieur Macchiavelli upon armies and the bearing of arms there were unfolded many secret passes with the rapier and the stiletto. But Udal laughed good-humouredly. He had, he said, little skill in the Italian tongue, for it was but a bastard of classical begettings. And for instruction in the books of the Sieur Macchiavelli, let young Poins go to a man who had studied them word by word—to the Lord Privy Seal, Thomas Cromwell.
They both dropped their voices at the name, and, another gentleman of the guard beginning to talk of rich men who had fallen low by the block, the stake, and gaming, Udal mentioned that that day he had seen a strange sight.
‘There was in the Northern parts, where I governed in his absence the Lord Edmund Howard’s children, a certain Thomas Culpepper. Main rich he was, with many pastures and many thousands of sheep. A cousin of my lady’s he was, for ever roaring about the house. A swaggerer he was, that down there went more richly dressed than earls here.’
That day Udal had seen this Culpepper alone, without any servants, dressed in uncostly green, and dragging at the bridle of a mule, on which sat a doxy dressed in ancient and ragged furs. So did men fall in these difficult days.
‘How came he in London town?’ the Norroy King-at-Arms asked.
‘Nay, I stayed not to ask him,’ Udal answered. He sighed a little. ‘Yet then, in my Lord Edmund’s house I had my best pupil of all, and fain was I to have news of her…. But he was a braggart; I liked him not, and would not stay to speak with him.’
‘I’ll warrant you had dealings with some wench he favoured, and you feared a drubbing, magister,’ Norroy accused him.
The long cabin of the state barge was ablaze with the scarlet and black of the guards, and with the gold and scarlet of the heralds. Magister Udal sighed.
‘You had good, easy days in Lord Edmund’s house?’ Norroy asked.
Categories: English Literature