Sunday, November 24, 2013

Troubled Songs in London Town (excerpt, If I Should Live So Long, 11-13)

On the morrow when I rose it was yet early, and the woman on the nearby cot had ceased snoring. Neither were any of the beggars yet stirring. The bells of morning Prime began pealing, however, and I could hear monks and nuns scurrying through the empty halls. I decided I should try to find Vincebus, and inform him of my plan- that I would leave and go to London with haste.
I found Vincebus in a courtyard near to his cell, in a most indiscreet situation. He was holding a pigeon by its throat, and it were fair past dead. Its guts lay in a splat all about it of nearly a yard’s circle. While he yet held in his right hand the pigeon, and in his left, the knife which had killed it, he was on his knees, and taking the knife to spread the entrails of the bird about and picking through them.
“Here, here, what are you up to, Monk? What is this you mess about with that bird?”
“Ah, it is Master Julian of Chester. He would like to know of what I do! Out to catch me out to the abbot then, are you?”
I told him I had no need to do so, but was forthwith only curious. Such a bloody mess, and why?
“This is my auguring. You see I take this bird and disembowel it, and from the way in which the organs fall, I foretell many things.”
“I foretell only a roast squab for someone’s delight at supper.”
“Well said! Indeed! And such shall the Master Prior Abbot make of him. See here, how the liver fell in the southwest quadrant? And the heart, over here to the left? This is auspicious. It means that we are holding forth this autumn with great harvests, and great events of state!”
“You know these just by the falling of the guts of a bird? Why that is soothspeak. Thought me, silly one, that Monks and Nuns and Abbots and Priors were forbidden to prophesy!”
“You are really a silly ignorant bumpkin, aren’t you! Why, Saint Augustine himself told of his doing just such in his Confessio. So long as it is done as such, with none of the other monks awares, so shall I continue. For my prophecy I speak to the Prior often on Midsummer Day shall this year of course be full of good portent. It will mean high revenues to the Priory, and many many guest. Perhaps who knows, even the King?”
“What thou does alone is fit for none to know, aye I shall agree at that.”
“Then you will speak it not?”
“Indeed. But I came to tell you other things. I am going to London- walking, and straightaway.”
“You will not stay to break fast with our Brothers and Sisters?”
“I’ve me a hen’s leg left in my pouch, such it will do for my repast as I go. But tell me, who is this man you say I must see, and where do I find him? And also, where do I find the Inns of Court?”
“Ho ho, he fancies himself a man of the law, does he? The Inns of Court are near the center of the town. Go thou hence and you shall discover them. The man I want you so badly to see is called Songgemonger. He has his office near the Smithfield market. It is too early for Bartholomew Fair, but yet, there shall you find many such as yourself- all strugglers of talents, all poor as the day is long, suffering your art for its vanity against the teeming hordes! Go then! Tell Songgmonger Vincebus sends greetings and a blessing!”
Songgemonger? What and who forthwith was this man? I would soon learn.
I set me out then from the priory gates, and walked south along the Ebry Way to the London High Street, which became the Edgeware Road, and was walking the better part of all morning. It was fair an hour past noon when I arrived at the Inns of Court. There, I took about my letter, looking for Esquire Dover.
And had I not had the absolute luck of running straight into the man, perhaps I should still even be seeking him! And I asked if he knew where I might find the Esquire, and he gave a little concerted look about himself either side, as if, perhaps the Esquire were hiding someplace about. Then he looks to me and asks “And who is it wishes to seek him? For he is I!”
“Sire, sir, I am a minstrel in travel from the far west, from Chester. I have come to make something of the sights of the city briefly while I rest myself, and take off again for home before the change of moon. I was given a scroll to hand to you. It is from a rogue of the land named False Taffy.”
And with that I handed out the scroll.
“False Taffy, eh? Yes, we know him. What has he to say for himself?”
And he undid the seal, and took it up and read it. He gave a most pleased, but yet curious look to me.
“And how did you chance to meet this False Taffy? Did he recruit you as messenger? Did he recruit you to his business?”
“As messenger, yes, but to business, no. I spent fair time with him enough to know, such is the like of man I should keep no company with.”
“Well smart you are to do so! For he has a bounty ‘pon his head. Well sent, lad, though. I have enough to worry about. And False Taffy has little to complain for of my confidence in his case, for well I know it. Now, can you take a message back to him? From me?”
“I suppose, though I hope not to make his acquaintance a second time.”
“Very well. I shall hold you no ill should you not deliver it. It will only complicate matters should he think you are doing the work of the courts! But say this, should you find yourself so engaged- Esquire Dover knows the particulars of the case. He holds False Taffy innocent of the murder of Lew Grimspittle- the man who helped to rape his wife. Well met it is that False Taffy came out the winner in the contest, but only by a beating of a vein. For while he has that bounty upon him, the King himself would care to hear the case, and may well forbear in his favor, if he truly is unjustly put out by it all. But as for my advice to him, as well- bet to put down his thievery, it has won him no friends here in London! And he would do well to keep in hide! That’s all, m’lad.
Go thee well on thy way. And I wish you good luck at your minstrelry.”
And so I left the Inns of Court. My next stop then had to be Smithfield Market, and the Street of the Charter House, where I might find this Songgemonger man.
Twas not a long walk, in fact, only  a quarter hour’s stroll back the way I had come, when I found the Smithfield Market. There were plenty of livestock to be seen penned and unpenned, and many men attending to them, slaughtering, and hoisting sides of the beasts to scales for weighing.
That part I could do without, for I had seen enough of guts (I had thought) for the morning. The street of Charterhouse was full of many many people- wives out for market hauling great baskets of food, laundresses hauling great baskets of clothes, here and there there were players on flute, pipe, drum, and viol, and yet, none of these looked half to be the match of ones such as Ranulf and myself. For they were all ragged and thin and beggarly.
Somehow one of them pointed me to a doorway where said Songgemonger resided. I knocked on the door.
Presently it was answered by a crabbed old man, at least Porcull’s age, grey of hair, and fierce of eye. “Oh, it’s a minstrel, is it? Come in, then, come in. Up the stairs with you!”  He pressed me with the back of his walking stick up a tall flight of stairs, nudging me uncomfortably with it at every second step.
“So. Who are ye and what is your line? Yes, I see you play the lute. I get a lot of ye. I see also you are garbed quite well. New to town, then?”
“Wel l, it won’t take long to make a mess of ye, will it?” he laughed.
I stood full and addressed him.
 “I am Julian Plectrum of Chester, sir. I am a man of my own and no man is the boss of me!”
“Well, we’ll see about that. Are you any good?”
He sat down at a stool beside a writing desk. The room we were in was both parlor and study, and it was indeed gloomy. Outdoors there was yet overcast and rain had begun to fall. What light there was seeped in through tall windows, but diffused before it reached the carpet. Which was, I noted, of some Turkish make.
I took Luisa up and played. I played mostly some of the new dances, but also some older pieces. These he took rather well, but sat unmoved.
“You have unusual style, lad, I will note that. You play with the plectrum and the fingers? Whatever possessed you such?”
I was about to tell him, I had met a demon at the crossroad, but that was an old wive’s tale he would quickly recognize. “This just came to me. I note that few persons use a plectrum, but this one has magic, and was given me by the great Clarence of Mousehole.”
At that, he harrumphed. “The Great. And that is why I have never heard of him?”
“I had never heard of you, sire, until I came to seek out Abbot Vincebus.”
“That old fat dog of Bentlea Prior? Ha!” he scoffed. “Yes, he always sends you little naifs my way. I humor him by seeing each and every one of you. These were all fair pieces, lad, but have you any real songs?”
“Well, you asked if I was any good to play, and so, I gave you some of my favorite and finest. Of course, I know songs! I have some of my own, as well!”
“Then give me ear- let me hear one.”
I began my Lay of Robin Hood. I had made up several new verses while I rode with False Taffy and his Erstwhile Monks. These I laid out.
“Hmm. Robin Hood, eh? That’s not so original.”
“Sir each of those verses is my own. Not so original! Ha!” and now I was the one full of beans.
“Young sir, do you not know? I can make you or break you in this town! Humble thyself, you churl! For I could have better things to do than sit and suffer the like of you!”
I wondered just what those things could be, for he seemed to be a pretty idle old chap, and he did not look occupied with wife nor family, as well. He was probably some old scrivener, and he made his living by scraping the profits off what nitwits passed through. I could see clear through him from miles off.
And indeed, as it turned out, I was right!
He offered me then and there a groat- a groat! For the new verses of my Robin Hood Ballad. This he scribbled out on a piece of foolscap, from memory.
“Nay, sir, a groat is what I may make with my lute, on a poor night in Chester! No, no, you must offer more. Or Robin shall not fill your plate!”
“Two groats, then!”
“Nay, four! And no less shall ye have him. Robin shall well have ‘scaped the forest afore he sets at the Sheriff’s tables for a measly two-groat!”
“Alright, then, done!” says he, and waddled over to his desk, fetched me two more groats from a sack hid inside it, and bid me adieu. “Off, off with you!” he sped me with his walking stick, and down the stairs I went again.
Now I was out on the street, and London was dark, and wet, but I had my bedroll, and Luisa, and had not lost a thing. Only several verses to a song I could easily find again. Up the Charterhouse street I wandered. And then I heard a tune most kind.
There was a young girl singing. She sang a song about meeting her lover at a fair.
The words- felt to me just like what it was like to meet Mary! And spoke to me in my heart as to how I had met her... and “soon would be our wedding day!” Indeed! This melody inflamed me, and I stood nearby the girl and plucked at the lute until I had the chords.
“Please, sing once again! I shall accompany you.”
And this was the song she sang:

My young love said to me,
My mother won't mind
And my father won't slight you
For your lack of kine.
And she laid her hand on me
And this she did say:
It will not be long, Love,
Till our wedding day.

 As she stepped away from me
And she moved through the fair
And fondly I watched her
Move here and move there.
And then she made her way homeward,
With one star awake,
As the swan in the evening
Moved over the lake.

 The people all were saying
No two e'er were wed
But one had a sorrow
That never was said.
And I smiled as she passed
With her goods and her gear,
And that was the last
That I saw of my dear

 Last night she came to me,
My dead love came in.
So softly she came
That her feet made no din.
As she laid her hand on me,
And this she did say:
It will not be long, love,
'Til our wedding day.      

Of course, my Mary was not dead, and I was not fooled, but yet this melody itself haunted me.
I thanked the young girl who sang it, and gave her a farthing, and she bowed to me. I asked her did she know a cheap inn hereabout where I might stay the night?
I was pointed down the Poultry street. “The Lame Ox on Cock’s Lane is just three blocks on. Go there, and say you played with Susanna of Derby. The taverner is a kind soul. He will listen and perhaps pay you.”
“Thank you, Susanna Derby! This makes a fine end to a not-half bad eve!”
I wandered in that direction, and so I did come to the Lame Ox, its sign swinging above the Cock’s Lane. The picture upon the sign was of a man beating his Ox which was bent to the knee and not rising. Inside, there were a number of patrons, none of whom looked up from their pursuits. A fine fire roared in a brick fireplace, and several tables of men nearby were playing at chess. This would be a great place to stop! But first, I wanted to make it known to the keeper that I wanted sore of a bed.
I found the man behind his bar, drawing ale from a cask. This he would set out in great cups of wood and men would eagerly grab these, yell “Wassail, ho!” kiss each other on the cheek, and drink great gulps. Of course much ale was sloshed and splashed about the floors. They looked none the worse for it, as a number of dogs strolled between the table legs, lapping up what puddles there were.
“Sire tavern keeper!”
“Aye, that’s me. What will you have, lad?”
“A pitcher of perry and a bed for the night!”
“Aye, I’ve a bed, but just one left. 'Tis summer, a'comin’ in, you know, and we get the travelers here a lot”
“No matter for me- I am easily pleased. And may I play for you as well? I have just come from Susanna of Derby and played with her a bit.”
“Susanna? Oh, that one. Yes. Well. If you are as good as her then you will probably please this lot here. They are a fine set.”
I looked about at the tavern guests. The men in their great cloaks by the fire were deep in their chess. But nearer the bar there were one or two in lively talk with pretty young women.
One of them called out to me.
“Minstrel! Minstrel, I say, over here. Can you give us a song?”
“And what be your preference?”
“Sing us something of the country! Sing us something of love!”
and because the tune of it was so close in my mind, I played the melody I had only just learned. I gave it words of my own, however, to fit my suit with Mary!
O my true love you are so fair, my true love mine
And you are so much like me, indeed, you are so kind
And you will throw your arms about me
And swear to allus be there
Oh you know it will not be long now
Until we haste away

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