Kenilworth, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter XX.

Clown. You have of these pedlars, that have more in’em than you’d think, sister.

Winter’s Tale, Act IV., Scene 3.

In his anxiety to obey the Earl’s repeated charges of secrecy, as well as from his own unsocial and miserly habits, Anthony Foster was more desirous, by his mode of housekeeping, to escape observation than to resist intrusive curiosity. Thus, instead of a numerous household, to secure his charge, and defend his house, he studied as much as possible to elude notice by diminishing his attendants; so that, unless when there were followers of the Earl, or of Varney, in the mansion, one old male domestic, and two aged crones, who assisted in keeping the Countess’s apartments in order, were the only servants of the family.

It was one of these old women who opened the door when Wayland knocked, and answered his petition, to be admitted to exhibit his wares to the ladies of the family, with a volley of vituperation, couched in what is there called the Jowring dialect. The pedlar found the means of checking this vociferation by slipping a silver groat into her hand, and intimating the present of some stuff for a coif, if the lady would buy of his wares.

“God ield thee, for mine is aw in littocks. Slocket with thy pack into gharn, mon — her walks in gharn.” Into the garden she ushered the pedlar accordingly, and pointing to an old, ruinous garden house, said, “Yonder be’s her, mon — yonder be’s her. Zhe will buy changes an zhe loikes stuffs.”

“She has left me to come off as I may,” thought Wayland, as he heard the hag shut the garden-door behind him. “But they shall not beat me, and they dare not murder me, for so little trespass, and by this fair twilight. Hang it, I will on — a brave general never thought of his retreat till he was defeated. I see two females in the old garden-house yonder — but how to address them? Stay — Will Shakespeare, be my friend in need. I will give them a taste of Autolycus.” He then sung, with a good voice, and becoming audacity, the popular playhouse ditty —

“Lawn as white as driven snow,

Cyprus black as e’er was crow,

Gloves as sweet as damask roses,

Masks for faces and for noses.”

“What hath fortune sent us here for an unwonted sight, Janet?” said the lady.

“One of those merchants of vanity, called pedlars,” answered Janet, demurely, “who utters his light wares in lighter measures. I marvel old Dorcas let him pass.”

“It is a lucky chance, girl,” said the Countess; “we lead a heavy life here, and this may while off a weary hour.”

“Ay, my gracious lady,” said Janet; “but my father?”

“He is not my father, Janet, nor I hope my master,” answered the lady. “I say, call the man hither — I want some things.”

“Nay,” replied Janet, “your ladyship has but to say so in the next packet, and if England can furnish them they will be sent. There will come mischief on’t — pray, dearest lady, let me bid the man begone!”

“I will have thee bid him come hither,” said the Countess; —“or stay, thou terrified fool, I will bid him myself, and spare thee a chiding.”

“Ah! well-a-day, dearest lady, if that were the worst,” said Janet sadly; while the lady called to the pedlar, “Good fellow, step forward — undo thy pack; if thou hast good wares, chance has sent thee hither for my convenience and thy profit.”

“What may your ladyship please to lack?” said Wayland, unstrapping his pack, and displaying its contents with as much dexterity as if he had been bred to the trade. Indeed he had occasionally pursued it in the course of his roving life, and now commended his wares with all the volubility of a trader, and showed some skill in the main art of placing prices upon them.

“What do I please to lack?” said the lady, “why, considering I have not for six long months bought one yard of lawn or cambric, or one trinket, the most inconsiderable, for my own use, and at my own choice, the better question is, What hast thou got to sell? Lay aside for me that cambric partlet and pair of sleeves — and those roundells of gold fringe, drawn out with cyprus — and that short cloak of cherry-coloured fine cloth, garnished with gold buttons and loops; — is it not of an absolute fancy, Janet?”

“Nay, my lady,” replied Janet, “if you consult my poor judgment, it is, methinks, over-gaudy for a graceful habit.”

“Now, out upon thy judgment, if it be no brighter, wench,” said the Countess. “Thou shalt wear it thyself for penance’ sake; and I promise thee the gold buttons, being somewhat massive, will comfort thy father, and reconcile him to the cherry-coloured body. See that he snap them not away, Janet, and send them to bear company with the imprisoned angels which he keeps captive in his strong-box.”

“May I pray your ladyship to spare my poor father?” said Janet.

“Nay, but why should any one spare him that is so sparing of his own nature?” replied the lady. —“Well, but to our gear. That head garniture for myself, and that silver bodkin mounted with pearl; and take off two gowns of that russet cloth for Dorcas and Alison, Janet, to keep the old wretches warm against winter comes. — And stay — hast thou no perfumes and sweet bags, or any handsome casting bottles of the newest mode?”

“Were I a pedlar in earnest, I were a made merchant,” thought Wayland, as he busied himself to answer the demands which she thronged one on another, with the eagerness of a young lady who has been long secluded from such a pleasing occupation. “But how to bring her to a moment’s serious reflection?” Then as he exhibited his choicest collection of essences and perfumes, he at once arrested her attention by observing that these articles had almost risen to double value since the magnificent preparations made by the Earl of Leicester to entertain the Queen and court at his princely Castle of Kenilworth.

“Ha!” said the Countess hastily; “that rumour, then, is true, Janet.”

“Surely, madam,” answered Wayland; “and I marvel it hath not reached your noble ladyship’s ears. The Queen of England feasts with the noble Earl for a week during the Summer’s Progress; and there are many who will tell you England will have a king, and England’s Elizabeth — God save her! — a husband, ere the Progress be over.”

“They lie like villains!” said the Countess, bursting forth impatiently.

“For God’s sake, madam, consider,” said Janet, trembling with apprehension; “who would cumber themselves about pedlar’s tidings?”

“Yes, Janet!” exclaimed the Countess; “right, thou hast corrected me justly. Such reports, blighting the reputation of England’s brightest and noblest peer, can only find currency amongst the mean, the abject, and the infamous!”

“May I perish, lady,” said Wayland Smith, observing that her violence directed itself towards him, “if I have done anything to merit this strange passion! I have said but what many men say.”

By this time the Countess had recovered her composure, and endeavoured, alarmed by the anxious hints of Janet, to suppress all appearance of displeasure. “I were loath,” she said, “good fellow, that our Queen should change the virgin style so dear to us her people — think not of it.” And then, as if desirous to change the subject, she added, “And what is this paste, so carefully put up in the silver box?” as she examined the contents of a casket in which drugs and perfumes were contained in separate drawers.

“It is a remedy, Madam, for a disorder of which I trust your ladyship will never have reason to complain. The amount of a small turkey-bean, swallowed daily for a week, fortifies the heart against those black vapours which arise from solitude, melancholy, unrequited affection, disappointed hope —”

“Are you a fool, friend?” said the Countess sharply; “or do you think, because I have good-naturedly purchased your trumpery goods at your roguish prices, that you may put any gullery you will on me? Who ever heard that affections of the heart were cured by medicines given to the body?”

“Under your honourable favour,” said Wayland, “I am an honest man, and I have sold my goods at an honest price. As to this most precious medicine, when I told its qualities, I asked you not to purchase it, so why should I lie to you? I say not it will cure a rooted affection of the mind, which only God and time can do; but I say that this restorative relieves the black vapours which are engendered in the body of that melancholy which broodeth on the mind. I have relieved many with it, both in court and city, and of late one Master Edmund Tressilian, a worshipful gentleman in Cornwall, who, on some slight received, it was told me, where he had set his affections, was brought into that state of melancholy which made his friends alarmed for his life.”

He paused, and the lady remained silent for some time, and then asked, with a voice which she strove in vain to render firm and indifferent in its tone, “Is the gentleman you have mentioned perfectly recovered?”

“Passably, madam,” answered Wayland; “he hath at least no bodily complaint.”

“I will take some of the medicine, Janet,” said the Countess. “I too have sometimes that dark melancholy which overclouds the brain.”

“You shall not do so, madam,” said Janet; “who shall answer that this fellow vends what is wholesome?”

“I will myself warrant my good faith,” said Wayland; and taking a part of the medicine, he swallowed it before them. The Countess now bought what remained, a step to which Janet, by further objections, only determined her the more obstinately. She even took the first dose upon the instant, and professed to feel her heart lightened and her spirits augmented — a consequence which, in all probability, existed only in her own imagination. The lady then piled the purchases she had made together, flung her purse to Janet, and desired her to compute the amount, and to pay the pedlar; while she herself, as if tired of the amusement she at first found in conversing with him, wished him good evening, and walked carelessly into the house, thus depriving Wayland of every opportunity to speak with her in private. He hastened, however, to attempt an explanation with Janet.

“Maiden,” he said, “thou hast the face of one who should love her mistress. She hath much need of faithful service.”

“And well deserves it at my hands,” replied Janet; “but what of that?”

“Maiden, I am not altogether what I seem,” said the pedlar, lowering his voice.

“The less like to be an honest man,” said Janet.

“The more so,” answered Wayland, “since I am no pedlar.”

“Get thee gone then instantly, or I will call for assistance,” said Janet; “my father must ere this be returned.”

“Do not be so rash,” said Wayland; “you will do what you may repent of. I am one of your mistress’s friends; and she had need of more, not that thou shouldst ruin those she hath.”

“How shall I know that?” said Janet.

“Look me in the face,” said Wayland Smith, “and see if thou dost not read honesty in my looks.”

And in truth, though by no means handsome, there was in his physiognomy the sharp, keen expression of inventive genius and prompt intellect, which, joined to quick and brilliant eyes, a well-formed mouth, and an intelligent smile, often gives grace and interest to features which are both homely and irregular. Janet looked at him with the sly simplicity of her sect, and replied, “Notwithstanding thy boasted honesty, friend, and although I am not accustomed to read and pass judgment on such volumes as thou hast submitted to my perusal, I think I see in thy countenance something of the pedlar-something of the picaroon.”

“On a small scale, perhaps,” said Wayland Smith, laughing. “But this evening, or tomorrow, will an old man come hither with thy father, who has the stealthy step of the cat, the shrewd and vindictive eye of the rat, the fawning wile of the spaniel, the determined snatch of the mastiff — of him beware, for your own sake and that of your distress. See you, fair Janet, he brings the venom of the aspic under the assumed innocence of the dove. What precise mischief he meditates towards you I cannot guess, but death and disease have ever dogged his footsteps. Say nought of this to thy mistress; my art suggests to me that in her state the fear of evil may be as dangerous as its operation. But see that she take my specific, for” (he lowered his voice, and spoke low but impressively in her ear) “it is an antidote against poison. — Hark, they enter the garden!”

In effect, a sound of noisy mirth and loud talking approached the garden door, alarmed by which Wayland Smith sprung into the midst of a thicket of overgrown shrubs, while Janet withdrew to the garden-house that she might not incur observation, and that she might at the same time conceal, at least for the present, the purchases made from the supposed pedlar, which lay scattered on the floor of the summer-house.

Janet, however, had no occasion for anxiety. Her father, his old attendant, Lord Leicester’s domestic, and the astrologer, entered the garden in tumult and in extreme perplexity, endeavouring to quiet Lambourne, whose brain had now become completely fired with liquor, and who was one of those unfortunate persons who, being once stirred with the vinous stimulus, do not fall asleep like other drunkards, but remain partially influenced by it for many hours, until at length, by successive draughts, they are elevated into a state of uncontrollable frenzy. Like many men in this state also, Lambourne neither lost the power of motion, speech, or expression; but, on the contrary, spoke with unwonted emphasis and readiness, and told all that at another time he would have been most desirous to keep secret.

“What!” ejaculated Michael, at the full extent of his voice, “am I to have no welcome, no carouse, when I have brought fortune to your old, ruinous dog-house in the shape of a devil’s ally, that can change slate-shivers into Spanish dollars? — Here, you, Tony Fire-the-Fagot, Papist, Puritan, hypocrite, miser, profligate, devil, compounded of all men’s sins, bow down and reverence him who has brought into thy house the very mammon thou worshippest.”

“For God’s sake,” said Foster, “speak low — come into the house — thou shalt have wine, or whatever thou wilt.”

“No, old puckfoist, I will have it here,” thundered the inebriated ruffian —“here, al fresco, as the Italian hath it. No, no, I will not drink with that poisoning devil within doors, to be choked with the fumes of arsenic and quick-silver; I learned from villain Varney to beware of that.”

“Fetch him wine, in the name of all the fiends!” said the alchemist.

“Aha! and thou wouldst spice it for me, old Truepenny, wouldst thou not? Ay, I should have copperas, and hellebore, and vitriol, and aqua fortis, and twenty devilish materials bubbling in my brain-pan like a charm to raise the devil in a witch’s cauldron. Hand me the flask thyself, old Tony Fire-the-Fagot — and let it be cool — I will have no wine mulled at the pile of the old burnt bishops. Or stay, let Leicester be king if he will — good — and Varney, villain Varney, grand vizier — why, excellent! — and what shall I be, then? — why, emperor — Emperor Lambourne! I will see this choice piece of beauty that they have walled up here for their private pleasures; I will have her this very night to serve my wine-cup and put on my nightcap. What should a fellow do with two wives, were he twenty times an Earl? Answer me that, Tony boy, you old reprobate, hypocritical dog, whom God struck out of the book of life, but tormented with the constant wish to be restored to it — you old bishop-burning, blasphemous fanatic, answer me that.”

“I will stick my knife to the haft in him,” said Foster, in a low tone, which trembled with passion.

“For the love of Heaven, no violence!” said the astrologer. “It cannot but be looked closely into. — Here, honest Lambourne, wilt thou pledge me to the health of the noble Earl of Leicester and Master Richard Varney?”

“I will, mine old Albumazar — I will, my trusty vender of ratsbane. I would kiss thee, mine honest infractor of the Lex Julia (as they said at Leyden), didst thou not flavour so damnably of sulphur, and such fiendish apothecary’s stuff. — Here goes it, up seyes — to Varney and Leicester two more noble mounting spirits — and more dark-seeking, deep-diving, high-flying, malicious, ambitious miscreants — well, I say no more, but I will whet my dagger on his heart-spone that refuses to pledge me! And so, my masters —”

Thus speaking, Lambourne exhausted the cup which the astrologer had handed to him, and which contained not wine, but distilled spirits. He swore half an oath, dropped the empty cup from his grasp, laid his hand on his sword without being able to draw it, reeled, and fell without sense or motion into the arms of the domestic, who dragged him off to his chamber, and put him to bed.

In the general confusion, Janet regained her lady’s chamber unobserved, trembling like an aspen leaf, but determined to keep secret from the Countess the dreadful surmises which she could not help entertaining from the drunken ravings of Lambourne. Her fears, however, though they assumed no certain shape, kept pace with the advice of the pedlar; and she confirmed her mistress in her purpose of taking the medicine which he had recommended, from which it is probable she would otherwise have dissuaded her. Neither had these intimations escaped the ears of Wayland, who knew much better how to interpret them. He felt much compassion at beholding so lovely a creature as the Countess, and whom he had first seen in the bosom of domestic happiness, exposed to the machinations of such a gang of villains. His indignation, too, had been highly excited by hearing the voice of his old master, against whom he felt, in equal degree, the passions of hatred and fear. He nourished also a pride in his own art and resources; and, dangerous as the task was, he that night formed a determination to attain the bottom of the mystery, and to aid the distressed lady, if it were yet possible. From some words which Lambourne had dropped among his ravings, Wayland now, for the first time, felt inclined to doubt that Varney had acted entirely on his own account in wooing and winning the affections of this beautiful creature. Fame asserted of this zealous retainer that he had accommodated his lord in former love intrigues; and it occurred to Wayland Smith that Leicester himself might be the party chiefly interested. Her marriage with the Earl he could not suspect; but even the discovery of such a passing intrigue with a lady of Mistress Amy Robsart’s rank was a secret of the deepest importance to the stability of the favourite’s power over Elizabeth. “If Leicester himself should hesitate to stifle such a rumour by very strange means,” said he to himself, “he has those about him who would do him that favour without waiting for his consent. If I would meddle in this business, it must be in such guise as my old master uses when he compounds his manna of Satan, and that is with a close mask on my face. So I will quit Giles Gosling tomorrow, and change my course and place of residence as often as a hunted fox. I should like to see this little Puritan, too, once more. She looks both pretty and intelligent to have come of such a caitiff as Anthony Fire-the-Fagot.”

Giles Gosling received the adieus of Wayland rather joyfully than otherwise. The honest publican saw so much peril in crossing the course of the Earl of Leicester’s favourite that his virtue was scarce able to support him in the task, and he was well pleased when it was likely to be removed from his shoulders still, however, professing his good-will, and readiness, in case of need, to do Mr. Tressilian or his emissary any service, in so far as consisted with his character of a publican.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29