Talk you of young Master Lancelot? —Merchant of Venice.
After some brief interval, Master Goldthred, at the earnest instigation of mine host, and the joyous concurrence of his guest, indulged the company with, the following morsel of melody:—
“Of all the birds
on bush or tree,
Commend me to the owl,
Since he may best ensample be
To those the cup that trowl.
For when the sun hath left the west,
He chooses the tree that he loves the best,
And he whoops out his song, and he laughs at his jest;
Then, though hours be late and weather foul,
We’ll drink to the health of the bonny, bonny owl.
“The lark is but
a bumpkin fowl,
He sleeps in his nest till morn;
But my blessing upon the jolly owl,
That all night blows his horn.
Then up with your cup till you stagger in speech,
And match me this catch till you swagger and screech,
And drink till you wink, my merry men each;
For, though hours be late and weather be foul,
We’ll drink to the health of the bonny, bonny owl.”
“There is savour in this, my hearts,” said Michael, when the mercer had finished his song, “and some goodness seems left among you yet; but what a bead-roll you have read me of old comrades, and to every man’s name tacked some ill-omened motto! And so Swashing Will of Wallingford hath bid us good-night?”
“He died the death of a fat buck,” said one of the party, “being shot with a crossbow bolt, by old Thatcham, the Duke’s stout park-keeper at Donnington Castle.”
“Ay, ay, he always loved venison well,” replied Michael, “and a cup of claret to boot—and so here’s one to his memory. Do me right, my masters.”
When the memory of this departed worthy had been duly honoured, Lambourne proceeded to inquire after Prance of Padworth.
“Pranced off—made immortal ten years since,” said the mercer; “marry, sir, Oxford Castle and Goodman Thong, and a tenpenny-worth of cord, best know how.”
“What, so they hung poor Prance high and dry? so much for loving to walk by moonlight. A cup to his memory, my masters-all merry fellows like moonlight. What has become of Hal with the Plume—he who lived near Yattenden, and wore the long feather?—I forget his name.”
“What, Hal Hempseed?” replied the mercer. “Why, you may remember he was a sort of a gentleman, and would meddle in state matters, and so he got into the mire about the Duke of Norfolk’s affair these two or three years since, fled the country with a pursuivant’s warrant at his heels, and has never since been heard of.”
“Nay, after these baulks,” said Michael Lambourne, “I need hardly inquire after Tony Foster; for when ropes, and crossbow shafts, and pursuivant’s warrants, and such-like gear, were so rife, Tony could hardly ’scape them.”