It is mine own; Therefore, I'll meet him on his way to court, And shrive him of it: there will be the sport.
ACT I. SCENE III. Kent. An outer court before lord Cobham's house.
[Enter three or four poor people: some soldiers, some old men.]
FIRST. God help! God help! there's law for punishing, But there's no law for our necessity: There be more stocks to set poor soldiers in, Than there be houses to relieve them at.
OLD MAN. Faith, housekeeping decays in every place, Even as Saint Peter writ, still worse and worse.
FOURTH. Master mayor of Rochester has given commandment, that none shall go abroad out of the parish; and they have set an order down forsooth, what every poor householder must give towards our relief: where there be some ceased, I may say to you, had almost as much need to beg as we.
FIRST. It is a hard world the while.
OLD MAN. If a poor man come to a door to ask for God's sake, they ask him for a license, or a certificate from a Justice.
SECOND. Faith we have none but what we bear upon our bodies, our maimed limbs, God help us.
FOURTH. And yet, as lame as I am, I'll with the king into France, if I can crawl but a shipboard. I had rather be slain in France, than starve in England.
OLD MAN. Ha, were I but as lusty as I was at the battle of Shrewbury, I would not do as I do: but we are now come to the good lord Cobham's, to the best man to the poor that is in all Kent.
FOURTH. God bless him! there be but few such.
[Enter Lord Cobham with Harpoole.]
COBHAM. Thou peevish, froward man, what wouldst thou have?
HARPOOLE. This pride, this pride, brings all to beggary. I served your father, and your grandfather; Show me such two men now! No! No! Your backs, your backs, the devil and pride, Has cut the throat of all good housekeeping.-- They were the best Yeomens' masters, That ever were in England.
COBHAM. Yea, except thou have a crew of seely knaves And sturdy rogues still feeding at my gate, There is no hospitality with thee.
HARPOOLE. They may sit at the gat well enough, but the devil of any thing you give them, except they will eat stones.
COBHAM. Tis long, then, of such hungry knaves as you.
[Pointing to the beggars.]
Yea, sir, here's your retinue; your guests be come. They know their hours, I warrant you.
OLD MAN. God bless your honour! God save the good Lord Cobham And all his house!
SOLDIER. Good your honour, bestow your blessed alms Upon poor men.
COBHAM. Now, sir, here be your Alms knights. Now are you As safe as the Emperour.
HARPOOLE. My Alms knights! nay, th' are yours. It is a shame for you, and I'll stand too 't; Your foolish alms maintains more vagabonds, Than all the noblemen in Kent beside. Out, you rogues, you knaves! work for your livings!-- Alas, poor men! O Lord, they may beg their hearts out, There's no more charity amongst men than amongst So many mastiff dogs!--What make you here, You needy knaves? Away, away, you villains.
SECOND SOLDIER. I beseech you, sir, be good to us.
COBHAM. Nay, nay, they know thee well enough. I think that all the beggars in this land are thy acquaintance. Go bestow your alms; none will control you, sir.
HARPOOLE. What should I give them? you are grown so beggarly, you have scarce a bit of bread to give at your door. You talk of your religion so long, that you have banished charity from amongst you; a man may make a flax shop in your kitchen chimneys, for any fire there is stirring.
COBHAM. If thou wilt give them nothing, send them hence: let them not stand here starving in the cold.
HARPOOLE. Who! I drive them hence? If I drive poor men from your door, I'll be hanged; I know not what I may come to my self. Yea, God help you, poor knaves; ye see the world, yfaith! Well, you had a mother: well, God be with thee, good Lady; thy soul's at rest. She gave more in shirts and smocks to poor children, than you spend in your house, & yet you live a beggar too.
COBHAM. Even the worst deed that ere my mother did was in relieving such a fool as thou.