WHERE THERE’S A WILL THERE’S A WAY

Jack Smith is introduced to the reader–He takes part in the rejoicing
at the defeat of the Spanish Armada–His relations to the sons of
Lord Willoughby–He runs away from school and sells his books and
satchel–He is starting for London when his father dies–He is
apprenticed to a merchant and shipowner–He tires of life at the desk
and deserts the counting-house–His guardian consents to his going into
the world and furnishes him with ten shillings–Jack takes the road to
London with a bundle on his back–He meets Peregrine Willoughby.

It was the day following that memorable Monday in August, 1588, when
the English fleet scattered the galleons and galleasses of Spain and
Portugal and chased them into the North Sea. The bells were pealing
from every steeple and church tower in Merry England, whilst beacon
fires flashed their happy tidings along the chain of hill-tops from
Land’s End to John O’Groats. The country was wild with joy at the
glorious victory over the Great Armada, and well it might be, for
never was a fight more gallant nor a cause more just. It was night and
long past the hour when the honest citizens of Good Queen Bess’s realm
were wont to seek their couches and well-earned repose, but this night
excitement ran too high to admit of the thought of sleep.

In the little village of Willoughby, Master Gardner, portly and
red-faced, was prepared to keep the D’Eresby Arms open until daylight
despite law and custom. The villagers who passed up and down the one
street of the hamlet exchanging greetings and congratulations had more
than a patriotic interest in the great event, for at least half of them
had sons or brothers amongst the sturdy souls who had flocked from
every shire and town to their country’s defence at the first call for
help.

Beside the fountain in the market place, interested spectators of the
scene, stood a lusty lad and an elderly man, bowed by broken health.

“The Lord be praised that He hath let me live to see this glorious
day,” said the man, reverently and with a tremor in his voice. “Our
England hath trounced the proud Don, my son. I’ faith! ’tis scarce to
be believed that our little cockle-shells should overmatch their great
vessels of war. Thank the Lord, lad, that thou wast born in a land
that breeds men as staunch as the stuff from which their ships are
fashioned. If one who served–with some distinction if I say it–under
the great Sir Francis, might hazard a prediction, I would say that the
sun of England hath risen over the seas never to set.”

“Would I had been there, Sir!” cried the boy with eyes aglow.

“Thou, manikin!” replied his father smiling, as he patted the bare
head. “Thou! But it gladdens my heart that a Smith of Willoughby fought
with Drake on the _Revenge_ in yester battle and I’ll warrant that my
brother William demeaned himself as becomes one of our line.”

“And thus will I one day,” said the lad earnestly.

“Nay, nay child!” quickly rejoined the man. “Harbor not such wild
designs John, for thou art cast for a farmer. Thou must train thy hand
to the plow and so dismiss from thy mind all thought of the sea. Come,
let us return. Thy mother will be aweary waiting.”

Perhaps it is not strange that Master George Smith, who had followed
the sea in his younger days, should have sought to dissuade his son
from thought of a similar course. The career of adventure had not
resulted in any improvement of the father’s fortune. On the contrary,
he had finally returned home with empty pockets and wrecked health to
find the farm run down and the mother whom he had loved most dearly,
dead. Now, feeling that but few more years of life remained to him, it
was his aim to improve the property and his hope that John would grow
up to be a thrifty farmer and take care of his mother and the younger
children.

Master George Smith came of a family of armigers, or gentlemen, and was
accounted a well-to-do farmer in those parts. His holding lay within
the estate of the Baron Willoughby, the Lord of the Manor, and he
held his lands in perpetuity on what was called a quit rent. This may
have consisted of the yearly payment of a few shillings, a firkin of
butter, or a flitch of bacon–any trifle in short which would suffice
to indicate the farmer’s acknowledgment of the Baron as his overlord.

In the earlier feudal period, lands were granted in consideration of
military service. The nobleman received his broad acres from the king
upon condition of bringing a certain number of armed retainers into
the field whenever summoned. The lord, in order to have the necessary
retainers always at command, divided up his domain into small holdings
amongst men who pledged themselves to join his banner when called
upon. As a reminder of his obligation, each retainer was required to
make some slight payment to his lord every year, and this was deemed
an acquittance of rent. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth, feudal
tenure–that is the holding of lands in consideration of military
service–had ceased to exist, but the custom of paying quit rent
continued and it is observed in many parts of England to this day.

Master Smith sent his son to the grammar school in the neighboring
village of Alford. It was perhaps one of the many schools of the kind
founded by the wise young king, Edward the Sixth, for the benefit of
the great mass of his subjects who could not afford to have their sons
educated at the more expensive colleges. John was an apt scholar and
made good progress, but even in early boyhood his mind was, as he tells
us, “set upon brave adventure.” And so, although he applied himself
diligently to learning whilst at school, he was impatient to cut loose
from his books and go into the world of action.

This is not difficult to understand when we consider the lad’s
temperament and the circumstances in which he was placed. Willoughby
and Alford were on the coast. The people were for the most part
sea-faring men. Many of them made voyages to the continent of Europe
and some had visited more distant parts. Like most seamen, they were
doubtless always ready to tell of their experiences, and we may be sure
that little Jack Smith was an eager listener to their yarns.

He was nine years of age when England throbbed with excitement at the
approach of the great Armada of Spain. He saw all the able-bodied men
of his village hurrying south to join their country’s defenders, and
without doubt he wished that he were old enough to go with them. A few
weeks later, the gallant men of Willoughby came home to harvest their
fields, undisturbed by fear of an invasion of the Dons. Every one of
them had done his full share in the fight. Jack’s uncle had served on
Francis Drake’s ship. That fierce sea-hawk was in the thick of the
strife and it was a brave story that Master William Smith had to relate
to his delighted nephew.

As the lad grew older, he began to read of the glorious deeds of his
countrymen in former days, stories of battle and adventure on land and
sea, of knights and sea captains, of shipwreck and discovery. Books
were costly and hard to come by in those days and very few would be
found in the home of even a prosperous farmer. But Jack Smith was
fortunate in the fact that Robert and Peregrine, the sons of Lord
Willoughby, were his schoolfellows and playmates. Through them he had
access to the castle with its grand hall full of armor and weapons, its
gallery of old portraits, and above all its library, containing many of
the kind of books from which he derived the greatest pleasure.

More than that, Lord Willoughby was one of the most renowned warriors
of his day. On the Continent his name was linked with those of Sir
Philip Sidney and Sir Walter Raleigh. His feats of arms were recorded
by historians and sung in ballads. One of these, which you may find in
a curious old book named “Percy’s Reliques,” commences thus:

“The fifteenth day of July,
With glistening spear and shield,
A famous fight in Flanders,
Was foughten in the field.
The most courageous officers
Were English captains three,
But the bravest man in battel
Was the brave Lord Willoughbie.”

This song was composed at about the time that Jack was at school, and
you may depend upon it that he with every one else in Willoughby sang
it, for they were all right proud of their lord.

Lady Willoughby was, of course, fond of recounting her husband’s brave
exploits. He was at this time fighting in the Low Countries, and at
every opportunity he sent her word of the adventures that befell
him. Parts of these letters she would read to her sons, and Jack was
often present. At other times she would sit in a large oaken chair
before the great fireplace in the hall, the three lads and two huge
stag-hounds grouped about her feet in the ruddy light of the log fire.
Many a delightful evening was thus spent, the stately lady telling of
the stirring deeds performed by her lord and the boys listening with
breathless interest.

During one winter the little circle received a welcome addition in
the son of Count Ployer. The young Frenchman was in England for the
purpose of finishing his education. His father was a friend of Lord
Willoughby and in company with the latter was fighting in the Low
Countries. The young nobleman was thus in a position to contribute his
share to the stories of military adventure in which they were all so
deeply interested.

As he walked home in the dark after one of these recitals, Jack would
flourish his staff and shout words of command to imaginary followers,
or tilt at a bush, or wage a furious duel with a milestone. The baying
of “Sir Roger,” the old watchdog at the homestead, would recall him
to his senses, and he would steal up to his truckle bed in the attic
wishing that he were a man and his own master.

By the time Jack reached the age of thirteen, the desire to seek his
fortune in the world had become too strong to be longer resisted. His
mother was dead, his brother and sister were younger than himself and
his father’s mind was still set upon making him a farmer. There was no
one to whom he could turn for advice or assistance and so, with the
self-reliance which he displayed through after-life, Jack determined to
take matters into his own hands. The only things of any value which he
possessed were his school books and satchel. These he sold for a few
shillings. With this money in his pocket he was on the point of setting
out for London, when the sudden death of his father upset his plan.

Master Smith left the farm to his son John, but placed it and the boy
in the hands of a Master Metham, who was to act as guardian of both
until such time as Jack should attain the legal age to inherit. This
Master Metham was a trader, and he thought that he was doing very well
by Jack when he put him in the way of learning business. He apprenticed
the lad to Master Thomas Sendall, a shipowner and merchant of the
neighboring seaport of Lynn. At first this arrangement was decidedly to
Jack’s liking, for his guardian held out the prospect of voyages to the
many foreign countries visited by Master Sendall’s vessels. But in this
Jack was disappointed. Sailor-boys his master could easily get, but it
was not such a ready matter to find a bright youngster for work in the
counting-house. So Jack found himself pinned down to a desk in sight of
the busy wharves and shipping. Here for some months he sat chafing at
the inactivity and at length he determined to run away.

One night he slipped out of the warehouse in which he slept and, with
his bundle of clothes slung on a stick over his shoulder, started for
Willoughby, which he reached after a few days’ tramp. Jack went boldly
up to his guardian’s house and told him that he had run away from his
master, feeling assured that there was little chance of travel whilst
he remained in his employment.

“Nor will I return,” said Jack in conclusion, “for I am determined
to see the world and I beg of you to supply me with the means.” Now
this speech smacked somewhat of over-confidence, for in those days
truant apprentices were severely dealt with and Jack was liable to
have been sent back to his master, who might then have flogged him.
However, Master Metham knew that his friend Sendall would not wish to
be troubled with an unwilling apprentice, and a plan occurred to him
for curing Jack of his desire to roam. His idea was to give the lad
so little money that he could not go very far with it and would soon
experience a taste of hardship. This Master Metham thought would bring
his ward home, eager to return to his desk and settle down to the sober
life of a merchant’s clerk. The scheme might have worked very well with
many boys, but Jack was not of the kind that turn back.

“As you will,” said Master Metham, after some thought. “Here is the
money, and now go where you please.”

With that he handed our hero ten shillings.

“What is this?” cried Jack in amazement. “Ten shillings! Surely you
jest Master Metham.”

“Not so,” replied his guardian, assuming a stern air. “Take the money
and begone, or return it to me and go back to Master Sendall within the
hour.”

Jack thrust the coins into his pocket and turned on his heel without
another word. The next minute he was striding resolutely along the
highroad to London.

As Master Metham watched the receding figure of his ward from the
window, he could not help feeling admiration for the boy’s pluck, but a
grim smile played about the merchant’s lips as he said to himself, “And
I mistake not, yon humorist will be coming back in a fortnight or less,
with pinched face and tightened waistbelt.”

But Master Metham proved to be a poor prophet. Several years passed
before he set eyes on Jack again.

The journey to the capital was not unpleasant. The time was early
summer, when the fields are clad in the greenest grass, with a thick
sprinkling of wild flowers and the hedgerows give off the sweet smell
of honeysuckle and violets. Shade trees lined the road, so that Jack
was able to push along, even in the noonday heat, without serious
discomfort. He was a strong, healthy lad, to whom a tramp of twenty
miles in a day was no great matter. Often a passing wagoner gave him
a lift and sometimes shared with him a meal of bread and bacon washed
down with a draught of home-brewed ale. Milkmaids, going home with
their pails brimful, would offer him a drink, and occasionally a farmer
would ask him to the house to join in the family meal. He never failed
to find a lodging for the night if it was only in a barn or a stable.
Thus Jack, with a thriftiness which would have chagrined Master
Metham, had he known of it, contrived to husband his little store of
money and, indeed, he had not broken into it when a happy incident
relieved him of all further anxiety on the score of ways and means.

He was plodding along one day when two horsemen overtook him. They
looked back in passing and one of them suddenly reined in his horse and
turned it round.

“Not Jack Smith!” he cried in evident delight. “Whither away comrade?”

“I am setting out on my travels, Peregrine,” replied Jack, trying to
put on the air of a man of the world.

“And I also,” said the son of Lord Willoughby, for it was he, “but
come, you must join us, and we can exchange the news as we ride along.”
He ordered one of the two grooms who followed them to give his horse
over to Jack and the other to take the wayfarer’s bundle. Having
presented his young friend to the tutor and temporary guardian who
accompanied him, Peregrine drew alongside of Jack whilst the latter
told his story. The young lord in turn explained that he was on his way
to Orleans in France, there to join his elder brother and complete his
studies abroad after the manner of young noblemen of that day–and of
this, for that matter. He insisted that Jack should accompany him as
his guest, saying that it would be time enough to think of other plans
after they should have reached their destination.

As we see Jack thus fairly launched upon his adventures, we cannot help
smiling to think how it would have surprised good Master Metham to
learn how far ten shillings could carry our hero.