Before the porch were grouped the earl's attendants, most of whom had dismounted, and were holding their steeds by the bridles. At this juncture the door of the hostel opened, and a fat jolly-looking personage, with a bald head and bushy grey beard, and clad in a brown serge doublet, and hose to match, issued forth, bearing a foaming jug of ale and a horn cup. His appearance was welcomed by a joyful shout from the attendants.
"Come, my masters!" he cried, filling the horn, "here is a cup of stout Windsor ale in which to drink the health of our jolly monarch, bluff King Hal; and there's no harm, I trust, in calling him so."
"Marry, is there not, mine host;" cried the foremost attendant. "I spoke of him as such in his own hearing not long ago, and he laughed at me in right merry sort. I love the royal bully, and will drink his health gladly, and Mistress Anne Boleyn's to boot."
And he emptied the horn.
"They tell me Mistress Anne Boleyn is coming to Windsor with the king and the knights-companions to-morrow -- is it so?" asked the host, again filling the horn, and handing it to another attendant.
The person addressed nodded, but he was too much engrossed by the horn to speak.
"Then there will be rare doings in the castle," chuckled the host; "and many a lusty pot will be drained at the Garter. Alack-a-day! how times are changed since I, Bryan Bowntance, first stepped into my father's shoes, and became host of the Garter. It was in 1501 -- twenty-eight years ago -- when King Henry the Seventh, of blessed memory, ruled the land, and when his elder son, Prince Arthur, was alive likewise. In that year the young prince espoused Catherine of Arragon, our present queen, and soon afterwards died; whereupon the old king, not liking -- for he loved his treasure better than his own flesh -- to part with her dowry, gave her to his second son, Henry, our gracious sovereign, whom God preserve! Folks said then the match wouldn't come to good; and now we find they spoke the truth, for it is likely to end in a divorce."
"Not so loud, mine host!" cried the foremost attendant; "here comes our young master, the Earl of Surrey."
"Well, I care not," replied the host bluffly. "I've spoken no treason. I love my king; and if he wishes to have a divorce, I hope his holiness the Pope will grant him one, that's all."
As he said this, a loud noise was heard within the hostel, and a man was suddenly and so forcibly driven forth, that he almost knocked down Bryan Bowntance, who was rushing in to see what was the matter. The person thus ejected, who was a powerfully-built young man, in a leathern doublet, with his muscular arms bared to the shoulder, turned his rage upon the host, and seized him by the throat with a grip that threatened him with strangulation. Indeed, but for the intervention of the earl's attendants, who rushed to his assistance, such might have been his fate. As soon as he was liberated, Bryan cried in a voice of mingled rage and surprise to his assailant, "Why, what's the matter, Mark Fytton? -- are you gone mad, or do you mistake me for a sheep or a bullock, that you attack me in this fashion? My strong ale must have got into your addle pate with a vengeance.
"The knave has been speaking treason of the king's highness," said the tall man, whose doublet and hose of the finest green cloth, as well as the how and quiverful of arrows at his back, proclaimed him an archer -- " and therefore we turned him out!"
"And you did well, Captain Barlow," cried the host.
"Call me rather the Duke of Shoreditch," rejoined the tall archer; "for since his majesty conferred the title upon me, though it were but in jest, when I won this silver bugle, I shall ever claim it. I am always designated by my neighbours in Shoreditch as his grace; and I require the same attention at your hands. To-morrow I shall have my comrades, the Marquises of Clerkenwell, Islington, Hogsden, Pancras, and Paddington, with me, and then you will see the gallant figure we shall cut."
"I crave your grace's pardon for my want of respect," replied the host. "I am not ignorant of the distinction conferred upon you at the last match at the castle butts by the king. But to the matter in hand. What treason hath Mark Fytton, the butcher, been talking?"
"I care not to repeat his words, mine host," replied the duke; "but he hath spoken in unbecoming terms of his highness and Mistress Anne Boleyn."
"He means not what he says," rejoined the host. "He is a loyal subject of the king; but he is apt to get quarrelsome over his cups."
"Well said, honest Bryan," cried the duke; "you have one quality of a good landlord -- that of a peacemaker. Give the knave a cup of ale, and let him wash down his foul words in a health to the king, wishing him a speedy divorce and a new queen, and he shall then sit among us again."
"I do not desire to sit with you, you self-dubbed duke," rejoined Mark; "but if you will doff your fine jerkin, and stand up with me on the green, I will give you cause to remember laying hands on me."
"Well challenged, bold butcher!" cried one of Surrey's attendants. "You shall be made a duke yourself."
"Or a cardinal," cried Mark. "I should not be the first of my brethren who has met with such preferment."
"He derides the Church in the person of Cardinal Wolsey!" cried the duke. "He is a blasphemer as well as traitor."
"Drink the king's health in a full cup, Mark," interposed the host, anxious to set matters aright, "and keep your mischievous tongue between your teeth."
"Beshrew me if I drink the king's health, or that of his minion, Anne Boleyn!" cried Mark boldly. "But I will tell you what I will drink. I will drink the health of King Henry's lawful consort, Catherine of Arragon; and I will add to it a wish that the Pope may forge her marriage chains to her royal husband faster than ever."