"Ay, that we are!" replied a chorus of voices.
"By my troth, the wench is wondrously beautiful!" said Kit Coo, one of the yeomen of the guard.
"No wonder the king is smitten with her," said Launcelot Rutter, the bladesmith; "her eyes shine like a dagger's point."
"And she carries herself like a wafter on the river," said the bargeman.
"Her complexion is as good as if I had given her some of my sovereign balsam of beauty," said Domingo Lamelyn.
"Much better," observed Joungevello, the minstrel; "I shall write a canzonet in her praise, and sing it before the king."
"And get flouted for thy pains by the Lady Anne," said Kit Coo.
"The damsel is not so comely as I expected to find her," observed Amice Lovekyn, one of the serving-women, to Hector Cutbeard, the clerk of the kitchen.
"Why, if you come to that, she is not to be compared to you, pretty Amice," said Cutbeard, who was a red-nosed, red-faced fellow, with a twinkling merry eye.
"Nay, I meant not that," replied Amice, retreating.
"Excuse my getting up to receive you, fair mistress," cried Simon Quanden, who seemed fixed to his chair; "I have been bustling about all day, and am sore fatigued -- sore fatigued. But will you not take something? A sugared cate, and a glass of hypocras jelly, or a slice of capon? Go to the damsel, dame, and prevail on her to eat."
That will I," replied Deborah. "What shall it be,sweetheart? We have a well-stored larder here. You have only to ask and have."
"I thank you, but Jam in want of nothing," replied Mabel.
"Nay, that is against all rule, sweetheart," said Deborah; no one enters the king's kitchen without tasting his royal cheer."
"I am sorry I must prove an exception, then," returned Mabel, smiling; "for I have no appetite."
"Well, well, I will not force you to eat against your will," replied the good dame "But a cup of wine will do you good after your walk."
"I will wait upon her," said the Duke of Shoreditch.' who vied with Paddington and Nick Clamp in attention to the damsel.
"Let me pray you to cast your eyes upon these two dogs, fair Mabel," said Will Sommers, pointing to the two turn-spits, "they are special favourites of the king's highness. They are much attached to the cook, their master; but their chief love is towards each other, and nothing can keep them apart."
"Will Sommers speaks the truth," rejoined Simon Quanden. "Hob and Nob, for so they are named, are fast friends. When Hob gets into the box to turn the spit, Nob will watch beside it till his brother is tired, and then he will take his place. They always eat out of the same platter, and drink out of the same cup. I once separated them for a few hours to see what would happen, but they howled so piteously, that I was forced to bring them together again. It would have done your heart good to witness their meeting, and to see how they leaped and rolled with delight. Here, Hob," he added, taking a cake from his apron pocket, "divide this with thy brother."
Placing his paws upon his master's knees, the nearest turnspit took the cake in his mouth, and proceeding towards Nob, broke it into two pieces, and pushed the larger portion towards him.
While Mabel was admiring this display of sagacity and affection a bustling step was heard behind her, and turning, she beheld a strange figure in a parti-coloured gown and hose, with a fool's cap and bells on his head, whom she immediately recognised as the cardinal's jester, Patch. The new-comer recognised her too, stared in astonishment, and gave a leering look at Will Sommers.
"What brings you here, gossip Patch?" cried Will Sommers. "I thought you were in attendance upon your master, at the court at Blackfriars."
"So I have been," replied Patch, "and I am only just arrived with his grace."
"What! is the decision pronounced?" cried Will Sommers eagerly. "Is the queen divorced? Is the king single again? Let us hear the sentence."
"Ay, the sentence! -- the sentence!" resounded on all hands.
Stimulated by curiosity, the whole of the party rose from the table; Simon Quanden got out of his chair; the other cooks left their joints to scorch at the fire; the scullions suspended their work; and Hob and Nob fixed their large inquiring black eyes upon the jester.
"I never talk thirsting," said Patch, marching to the table, and filling himself a flagon of mead. "Here's to you, fair maiden," he added, kissing the cup to Mabel, and swallowing its contents at a draught. "And now be seated, my masters, and you shall hear all I have to relate, and it will be told in a few words. The court is adjourned for three days, Queen Catherine having demanded that time to prepare her allegations, and the delay has been granted her."
"Pest on it! -- the delay is some trick of your crafty and double-dealing master," cried Will Sommers. "Were I the king, I know how I would deal with him."
"What wouldst thou do, thou scurril knave? "cried Patch angrily.
"I would strip him of his ill-gotten wealth, and leave him only thee -- a fitting attendant -- of all his thousand servitors," replied Will.
"This shall to his grace's ears," screamed Patch, amid the laughter of the company -- " and see whether your back does not smart for it."
"I fear him not," replied Will Sommers. "I have not yet told the king my master of the rare wine we found in his cellar."
"What wine was that, Will?" cried Jack of the Bottles.
"You shall hear," replied Will Sommers, enjoying the disconcerted look of the other jester. "I was at the palace at Hampton, when this scant- witted knave invited me to taste some of his master's wine, and accordingly to the cellar we went. 'This wine will surprise you,' quoth he, as we broached the first hogshead. And truly it did surprise me, for no wine followed the gimlet. So we went on to another, and another, and another, till we tried half a score of them, and all with the same result. Upon this I seized a hammer which was lying by and sounded the casks, but none of them seeming empty, I at last broke the lid of one -- and what do you think it contained?"
A variety of responses were returned by the laughing assemblage, during which Patch sought to impose silence upon his opponent. But Will Sommers was not to be checked.
"It contained neither vinegar, nor oil, nor lead," he said, " but gold; ay, solid bars of gold-ingots. Every hogshead was worth ten thousand pounds, and more."
"Credit him not, my masters," cried Patch, amid the roars of the company; "the whole is a mere fable -- an invention. His grace has no such treasure. The truth is, Will Sommers got drunk upon some choice Malmsey, and then dreamed he had been broaching casks of gold."
"It is no fable, as you and your master will find when the king comes to sift the matter," replied Will. "This will be a richer result to him than was ever produced by your alchemical experiments, good Signor Domingo Lamelyn."
"It is false! -- I say false!" screamed Patch. " let the cellars be searched, and I will stake my head nothing is found."
"Stake thy cap, and there may be some meaning in it," said Will, plucking Patch's cap from his head and elevating it on his truncheon. "Here is an emblem of the Cardinal of York," he cried, pointing to it.
A roar of laughter from the company followed this sally, and Hob and Nob looked up in placid wonderment.
"I shall die with laughing," cried Simon Quanden, holding his fat sides, and addressing his spouse, who was leaning upon his shoulder.
In the meantime Patch sprang to his feet, and, gesticulating with rage and fury, cried, "Thou hast done well to steal my cap and bells, for they belong of right to thee. Add my folly to thy own, and thou wilt be a fitting servant to thy master; or e'en give him the cap, and then there will be a pair of ye."
"Who is the fool now, I should like to know?" rejoined Will Sommers gravely. "I call you all to witness that he has spoken treason."
While this was passing Shoreditch had advanced with a flagon of Malmsey to Mabel, but she was so interested in the quarrel between the two jesters that she heeded him not; neither did she attend to Nicholas Clamp, who was trying to explain to her what was going forward. But just as Patch's indiscreet speech was uttered an usher entered the kitchen and announced the approach of the king.