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as he closed the door and was advancing into the room, I'faith thou lookest as fine as a snake that hath just cast its skin; and," added he with more emphasis, "art as useful to any good purpose I'll be bound."
"Will! Will! thou hast a most malignant wit!" cried the other, as he approached his friend with mock gravity, and shook him earnestly by the hand. "But what thinkest thou of these braveries?" said he, standing as upright as he might, spreading out his cloak, and readjusting his hat. "I fancied that we, the queen's majesty's poor players, ought to dress as becomes the queen's majesty, and therefore have I robed myself anew. What thinkest thou of the cock of this hat? 'Tis in admirable conceit, is it not?-and the feather-doth it not hang marvellously well? Doth not this cloak become me infinitely? and the slashing of this doublet, is it not of the most superlative fashion?"
"In truth, Dick," remarked his companion, drily, as he pushed back his chair to take a better view of his visitor, "I've seen many a jackdaw cut a finer figure.”
"A plague on thy pestilent jests!" exclaimed the other with assumed indignation.
"But as thou askest for my opinion," he resumed, "I will tell thee. Didst thou wish to attire thyself as becometh the queen's majesty, thou shouldst have had recourse to the queen's majesty's wardrobe for in honest truth, Dick, I do not think thy present dress would become that illustrious princess in the smallest degree""Oh thou pernicious varlet!"
"As for the cock of thy hat, 'tis certainly in admirable conceit, or rather, the conceit is in it, for thy head is in it; and I do not flatter thee when I say there is no lack of conceit there."
"Perdition seize thy wit!"
"Thy feather doth hang marvellously well-i'faith I doubt much if thou wouldst hang better thyself."
"Enough, enough, Will," eagerly exclaimed his associate, putting his hands together, as if begging for mercy, "if thou hast any bowels of compassion spare me."
"And if thou wert half as well slashed as thy doublet," continued his friend, inattentive to his remonstrance, "I think thou wouldst be in a much more superlative fashion than thou art now."
"O'my word, Will," said the other, laughing, as he took off his hat and flung himself into a chair, "thou art all points, like a hedgehog, or like the naughty girl in the story-book, out of thy mouth there cometh nothing but venomous things."
"But what mercer art thou attempting to ruin?" enquired his companion.
"A fig for the mercer-'tis the mercer's daughter I seek!" replied his guest.
Attempt to ruin a mercer's daughter!" exclaimed the other, half starting from his chair with affected surprise. reprobate! thou art enough to corrupt us all;
"Fie on thee, for a thou wilt have the
whole city up in arms against us, and we shall be obliged to fly from
the Bankside to escape the stocks."
"I meant not that, Will-I am a heathen if I meant that; but thou knowest my failing-I am always after the women. Oh, those exquisite sweet creatures!"
"Thou shouldst have more ambition, Dick; precedency is man's natural right in such instances, but if thou art always after the women, thou canst never hope to get before them."
"Thou hast me again," cried his companion, as he threw himself back in his seat to give vent to his laughter; "I would as soon attempt to parry jests with thee as to eat thistles with a jackass; so take thy fill, and be hanged to thee. But I tell thee how it is, Will. This mercer's daughter is said to be the richest heiress in the city. I saw her at the Bear Garden with the old hunks her father, whom she ruleth most filially; and observing that she had an eye like Venus
'Only one, Dick?" enquired his companion, innocently.
"Two, or I'm a sinner," replied he, "and a bust like Juno; ay, and every grace that all Olympus possessed. In brief, a beauty of such ravishing perfections, that immediately I found her gaze upon me, I felt as many of Cupid's arrows in my heart as there are pins in her huswife, and thereupon fell most continently in love."
"With her father's strong box, Dick?" asked the other.
"With her own sweet self, thou aggravating varlet. I presently made up to the father, and did enter into very sober discourse, till I found I had got hold of the daughter's ear, and then I pointed out the persons of distinction in the company, and seasoned my conversation with some delicate compliments, all which she did receive in very good fashion, rewarding me with such looks from her soft hazel eyes as warmed my veins like a stoup of canary. The old fellow courteously invited me to his house, and the dear wench did repeat some most enticing words, which sent me to the mercer's in a presently. To please him, I ordered these fallals, and to please her, I wear them. I met her by appointment since then in Paul's Walk, and after that she gave me some delicious interviews alone in her father's dwelling, of which I made right profitable use. I tell thee, she is ready to melt in my arms."
"A wax doll would do the same, Dick," drily remarked the other, "if thou wert warm enough."
Away with thy pestilent similes!" exclaimed his guest, starting up from his seat, as if in anger; then, resuming his place, continued: "She shewed me yesterday a sonnet, or some other pernicious mischief of the kind, which had been written in commendation of her beauty-perhaps by some crazy engrosser of parchments. The plague of bad clients be upon him!-and asked me to try what I could do in that way. Now, unless I can produce some such verses -my malediction rest upon Apollo and all his generation!-I feel assured I may spare myself the trouble of venturing within the preeincts of her tenement. Thou knowest I could as soon fly as rhyme. I have scratched my head till it ached, and looked up to the ceiling till my neck was as stiff as my ruff; but if ever I succeeded in making reason of my rhyme, or rhyme of my reason, I'm worse than a jew. So I tell thee what, sweet Will, thou shalt help me in this
strait with thine own unparalleled talents, and if I be not grateful, call me a dog."
"Dog, quotha!" cried his guest, in seeming amazement, "art thou not the veriest dog that howls o'nights? What a face hast thou, thou impudent varlet, after having, with thy miserable breath, cursed Apollo and all his generation, to come, cap in hand, to one of the humblest of his followers! Go to, I'll ha' none o'thee! I abandon thee to the fury of the immortal gods."
"Nay, but, sweet Will."
Ay, 'sweet Will' thou callest me now; yet a moment since I was likened to a jackass eating thistles. Hast thou no shame? Dost think, because thine own wretched hack will not stir a foot, that thou shalt ride on my Pegasus? I'm an oyster if I let thee."
"What! not assist thy old friend and comrade?" asked the other, in the same bantering tone he had used from the first; "how often have I done thee a good turn that way? Dost remember, in merry Stratford, when we were both boys, yet with an intolerant inclination for the honours of manhood, how often I did lead Sir Thomas Lucy's game keeper in search of imaginary deer-stealers, whilst thou wert courting his niece in the shrubbery?"
"Ha! ha! thou hast me there, Dick," replied his friend, unable to refrain from laughing at the odd associations which came crowding to his memory, "thou hast me there of a surety. Ah, Kate! she was a delectable little gipsey, with a most enticing ankle, and a smile that would thaw a six weeks' frost. But dost forget thine own tricks, old memorandum? Hast forgot when thou wert laying siege to Barbara, the sexton's pretty daughter, behind the church, how I, with a sheet I had stolen for the nonce, and a turnip-lantern and candle, did stalk through the church-yard, to keep the folks from disturbing thee-to the horror of the whole neighbourhood, and the near frightening to death of three ancient spinsters, two drunken ploughboys, and the parish constable?"
"Ha! ha! ha!" shouted the other, with an obstreperous fit of mirth, "'tis as true as life; I'm nothing better than a Turk, if ev'ry word isn't gospel. But," added he gravely, "who could imagine Master William Shakspeare playing the ghost in a country churchyard ?"
"Or Master Richard Burbage playing the lover to a sexton's daughter?"
And thereupon the two worthies did laugh till the tears ran down their cheeks, and for some time every word they added seemed to act as a provocative to their mirth.
"I'faith, after all's said and done," observed Master Shakspeare, when he had recovered his gravity, "'twas most exquisite fooling." "I'faith it was," said Master Burbage. "But thou wilt let me have the verses ?" he added, as he sauntered up to the table.
"Ay, marry will I, for old acquaintance sake," replied his friend, and immediately did search among his papers, from which he presently selected one. Scrutinising it earnestly, he continued, "Ha! here is a string of idle rhymes that mayhap may suit thy purpose, and thy mercer's daughter also. I think of it indifferently; nay, I
will acknowledge I fancy 'tis rather discreditable to me; but each has his own taste, and therefore it may stand a chance of pleasing thy inamorata. Listen, and I will read it to thee."
Master Burbage did lean his elbow on the table, having his body bent forward, and supporting his head with his hand; and kept a profound attention whilst Master Shakspeare read the following lines.
"The Time hath passed for godlike forms
The Time hath passed when Phœbus flung
With hymns of bliss, and shouts of mirth.
The Sea Nymphs dance not on the shore;
And Pan's sweet reed is heard no more.
And from his hand his bow hath cast;
Its tune hath fled-THE TIME HATH PASSED!
"Gone are the glorious visitants
Who gave this world so bright a grace,
That once made all Olympus glad;
Or perish with the mean and bad.
And I, who strove with heart and mind,
That famished souls might break their fast,
Discover now that Heaven is blind,
The world is dead-THE TIME HATH PASSED!
"Oh, no, the Time's restored again,
And with it all its gladdening shapes,
The whilst, from off the breast and brain,
Thy words chaste Dian's voice enslave,
And as for Pan's Arcadian reed,
Tuned with the Dryads, measured trips,
What blissful melodies exceed
The music breathing from thy lips?
Well cared for is the green earth still,
When round thee all Olympus glows;
Well honoured is the poet's skill,
When worth like thine its praise bestows.
Then blessings be upon thy path,
And joy that no ill breath can blast
Be with thee-now the world's poor wrath
Can harm me not-THE TIME HATH PASSED!"
"Excellent good, i'faith !" exclaimed Master Burbage, delightedly. "Excellent good! If she be not satisfied with it, nothing less than another Iliad will gratify her cormorant fancy. Give me the paper, sweet Will! Dan Homer was a blind ballad-monger to thee, thou prince of rhymers."
"Avaunt, thou horrid flatterer!" cried Master Shakspeare, as he allowed his companion to conceal the verses in his purse. "But 'tis poor fishing with other folks' tackle, Dick," he added, in his own facetious way.
"Faith, I care not an' I have good sport: and I'll pay thee for thy tackle with a loose fish or two," replied the other, with a chuckle of inward satisfaction.
"I'll ha' none o' thy gudgeons," said his friend, with mock disdain. "When I fish I catch whales."
"Then hast thou a very blubberly taste," rejoined Master Burbage, "and when I want salve for a wound I'll come to thee; for thou must have a most infinite stock of spermaceti."
Thus they proceeded, bantering and laughing at one another, and indulging their humours with perfect satisfaction to themselves, when a knock was heard at the door, and admittance being granted, there entered a man of a pleasant aspect, and of spare figure, not so gaily garmented as Master Burbage, yet having much of the outward appearance of respectability.
Welcome, good Lazarus Fletcher. Welcome!" cried Master Shakspeare.
"Hail to thee, Lazarus!" added Master Burbage, in his usual jocose manner. "Hast thou come to the rich man's table, Lazarus ? Look for the crumbs, man! Look for the crumbs! and thou art not like to get anything else; for the table hath nothing better than a bare trencher and an empty tankard. Catch the crumbs that have fallen then, for, in truth, thou lookest woefully like a right hungry Lazarus."
"If I look as hungry as Lazarus, thou lookest as fine as Dives," retorted Master Fletcher.
What, be there no dogs to lick this Lazarus, that he seemeth so woundily sore?" said the other. "But I tell thee what, Lazarus, an' thou ever liest in Abraham's bosom, thou hadst best tuck up thine ancles, for thou must needs find there a plentiful lack of bed
"Mind not the reprobate, worthy Fletcher," observed Master Shakspeare-yet unable to refrain from laughing.
"Marry, why should I mind him," replied the other, "he only showeth that he hath a spice of the ability of Sampson: for he maketh a goodly use of the jawbone of an ass.'
"Ha, ha!" shouted Master Shakspeare, chafing his hands in the intensity of his delight. "Spare him not, good Lazarus; an' thou loveth me, spare him not." Then looking towards his friend, he added, "I'faith, Dick, thou hast found thy match."
"Match!" exclaimed Master Burbage, turning sharp round from the casement out of which he had that moment been leaning, "ay, marry! and like other matches-all the good lieth in the brimstone.