I am an innkeeper, and know my grounds,
And study them; Brain o’ man, I study them.
I must have jovial guests to drive my ploughs,
And whistling boys to bring my harvests home,
Or I shall hear no flails thwack.
The New Inn.
It is the privilege of tale-tellers to open their story in an inn, the free rendezvous of all travellers, and where the humour of each displays itself without ceremony or restraint. This is specially suitable when the scene is laid during the old days of merry England, when the guests were in some sort not merely the inmates, but the messmates and temporary companions of mine Host, who was usually a personage of privileged freedom, comely presence, and good-humour. Patronized by him the characters of the company were placed in ready contrast; and they seldom failed, during the emptying of a six-hooped pot, to throw off reserve, and present themselves to each other, and to their landlord, with the freedom of old acquaintance.
The village of Cumnor, within three or four miles of Oxford, boasted, during the eighteenth of Queen Elizabeth, an excellent inn of the old stamp, conducted, or rather ruled, by Giles Gosling, a man of a goodly person, and of somewhat round belly; fifty years of age and upwards, moderate in his reckonings, prompt in his payments, having a cellar of sound liquor, a ready wit, and a pretty daughter. Since the days of old Harry Baillie of the Tabard in Southwark, no one had excelled Giles Gosling in the power of pleasing his guests of every description; and so great was his fame, that to have been in Cumnor without wetting a cup at the bonny Black Bear, would have been to avouch one’s-self utterly indifferent to reputation as a traveller. A country fellow might as well return from London without looking in the face of majesty. The men of Cumnor were proud of their Host, and their Host was proud of his house, his liquor, his daughter, and himself.
It was in the courtyard of the inn which called this honest fellow landlord, that a traveller alighted in the close of the evening, gave his horse, which seemed to have made a long journey, to the hostler, and made some inquiry, which produced the following dialogue betwixt the myrmidons of the bonny Black Bear.
“What, ho! John Tapster.”
“At hand, Will Hostler,” replied the man of the spigot, showing himself in his costume of loose jacket, linen breeches, and green apron, half within and half without a door, which appeared to descend to an outer cellar.
“Here is a gentleman asks if you draw good ale,” continued the hostler.
“Beshrew my heart else,” answered the tapster, “since there are but four miles betwixt us and Oxford. Marry, if my ale did not convince the heads of the scholars, they would soon convince my pate with the pewter flagon.”
“Call you that Oxford logic?” said the stranger, who had now quitted the rein of his horse, and was advancing towards the inn-door, when he was encountered by the goodly form of Giles Gosling himself.
“Is it logic you talk of, Sir Guest?” said the host; “why, then, have at you with a downright consequence —
‘The horse to the rack,
And to fire with the sack.’”
“Amen! with all my heart, my good host,” said the stranger; “let it be a quart of your best Canaries, and give me your good help to drink it.”
“Nay, you are but in your accidence yet, Sir Traveller, if you call on your host for help for such a sipping matter as a quart of sack; Were it a gallon, you might lack some neighbouring aid at my hand, and yet call yourself a toper.”
“Fear me not.” said the guest, “I will do my devoir as becomes a man who finds himself within five miles of Oxford; for I am not come from the field of Mars to discredit myself amongst the followers of Minerva.”
As he spoke thus, the landlord, with much semblance of hearty welcome, ushered his guest into a large, low chamber, where several persons were seated together in different parties — some drinking, some playing at cards, some conversing, and some, whose business called them to be early risers on the morrow, concluding their evening meal, and conferring with the chamberlain about their night’s quarters.
The entrance of a stranger procured him that general and careless sort of attention which is usually paid on such occasions, from which the following results were deduced:— The guest was one of those who, with a well-made person, and features not in themselves unpleasing, are nevertheless so far from handsome that, whether from the expression of their features, or the tone of their voice, or from their gait and manner, there arises, on the whole, a disinclination to their society. The stranger’s address was bold, without being frank, and seemed eagerly and hastily to claim for him a degree of attention and deference which he feared would be refused, if not instantly vindicated as his right. His attire was a riding-cloak, which, when open, displayed a handsome jerkin overlaid with lace, and belted with a buff girdle, which sustained a broadsword and a pair of pistols.
“You ride well provided, sir,” said the host, looking at the weapons as he placed on the table the mulled sack which the traveller had ordered.
“Yes, mine host; I have found the use on’t in dangerous times, and I do not, like your modern grandees, turn off my followers the instant they are useless.”
“Ay, sir?” said Giles Gosling; “then you are from the Low Countries, the land of pike and caliver?”
“I have been high and low, my friend, broad and wide, far and near. But here is to thee in a cup of thy sack; fill thyself another to pledge me, and, if it is less than superlative, e’en drink as you have brewed.”
“Less than superlative?” said Giles Gosling, drinking off the cup, and smacking his lips with an air of ineffable relish — “I know nothing of superlative, nor is there such a wine at the Three Cranes, in the Vintry, to my knowledge; but if you find better sack than that in the Sheres, or in the Canaries either, I would I may never touch either pot or penny more. Why, hold it up betwixt you and the light, you shall see the little motes dance in the golden liquor like dust in the sunbeam. But I would rather draw wine for ten clowns than one traveller. — I trust your honour likes the wine?”
“It is neat and comfortable, mine host; but to know good liquor, you should drink where the vine grows. Trust me, your Spaniard is too wise a man to send you the very soul of the grape. Why, this now, which you account so choice, were counted but as a cup of bastard at the Groyne, or at Port St. Mary’s. You should travel, mine host, if you would be deep in the mysteries of the butt and pottle-pot.”
“In troth, Signior Guest,” said Giles Gosling, “if I were to travel only that I might be discontented with that which I can get at home, methinks I should go but on a fool’s errand. Besides, I warrant you, there is many a fool can turn his nose up at good drink without ever having been out of the smoke of Old England; and so ever gramercy mine own fireside.”
“This is but a mean mind of yours, mine host,” said the stranger; “I warrant me, all your town’s folk do not think so basely. You have gallants among you, I dare undertake, that have made the Virginia voyage, or taken a turn in the Low Countries at least. Come, cudgel your memory. Have you no friends in foreign parts that you would gladly have tidings of?”
“Troth, sir, not I,” answered the host, “since ranting Robin of Drysandford was shot at the siege of the Brill. The devil take the caliver that fired the ball, for a blither lad never filled a cup at midnight! But he is dead and gone, and I know not a soldier, or a traveller, who is a soldier’s mate, that I would give a peeled codling for.”
“By the Mass, that is strange. What! so many of our brave English hearts are abroad, and you, who seem to be a man of mark, have no friend, no kinsman among them?”
“Nay, if you speak of kinsmen,” answered Gosling, “I have one wild slip of a kinsman, who left us in the last year of Queen Mary; but he is better lost than found.”
“Do not say so, friend, unless you have heard ill of him lately. Many a wild colt has turned out a noble steed. — His name, I pray you?”
“Michael Lambourne,” answered the landlord of the Black Bear; “a son of my sister’s — there is little pleasure in recollecting either the name or the connection.”
“Michael Lambourne!” said the stranger, as if endeavouring to recollect himself —“what, no relation to Michael Lambourne, the gallant cavalier who behaved so bravely at the siege of Venlo that Grave Maurice thanked him at the head of the army? Men said he was an English cavalier, and of no high extraction.”
“It could scarcely be my nephew,” said Giles Gosling, “for he had not the courage of a hen-partridge for aught but mischief.”
“Oh, many a man finds courage in the wars,” replied the stranger.
“It may be,” said the landlord; “but I would have thought our Mike more likely to lose the little he had.”
“The Michael Lambourne whom I knew,” continued the traveller, “was a likely fellow — went always gay and well attired, and had a hawk’s eye after a pretty wench.”
“Our Michael,” replied the host, “had the look of a dog with a bottle at its tail, and wore a coat, every rag of which was bidding good-day to the rest.”
“Oh, men pick up good apparel in the wars,” replied the guest.
“Our Mike,” answered the landlord, “was more like to pick it up in a frippery warehouse, while the broker was looking another way; and, for the hawk’s eye you talk of, his was always after my stray spoons. He was tapster’s boy here in this blessed house for a quarter of a year; and between misreckonings, miscarriages, mistakes, and misdemeanours, had he dwelt with me for three months longer, I might have pulled down sign, shut up house, and given the devil the key to keep.”
“You would be sorry, after all,” continued the traveller, “were I to tell you poor Mike Lambourne was shot at the head of his regiment at the taking of a sconce near Maestricht?”
“Sorry! — it would be the blithest news I ever heard of him, since it would ensure me he was not hanged. But let him pass — I doubt his end will never do such credit to his friends. Were it so, I should say”—(taking another cup of sack)—“Here’s God rest him, with all my heart.”
“Tush, man,” replied the traveller, “never fear but you will have credit by your nephew yet, especially if he be the Michael Lambourne whom I knew, and loved very nearly, or altogether, as well as myself. Can you tell me no mark by which I could judge whether they be the same?”
“Faith, none that I can think of,” answered Giles Gosling, “unless that our Mike had the gallows branded on his left shoulder for stealing a silver caudle-cup from Dame Snort of Hogsditch.”
“Nay, there you lie like a knave, uncle,” said the stranger, slipping aside his ruff; and turning down the sleeve of his doublet from his neck and shoulder; “by this good day, my shoulder is as unscarred as thine own.
“What, Mike, boy — Mike!” exclaimed the host; —“and is it thou, in good earnest? Nay, I have judged so for this half-hour; for I knew no other person would have ta’en half the interest in thee. But, Mike, an thy shoulder be unscathed as thou sayest, thou must own that Goodman Thong, the hangman, was merciful in his office, and stamped thee with a cold iron.”
“Tush, uncle — truce with your jests. Keep them to season your sour ale, and let us see what hearty welcome thou wilt give a kinsman who has rolled the world around for eighteen years; who has seen the sun set where it rises, and has travelled till the west has become the east.”
“Thou hast brought back one traveller’s gift with thee, Mike, as I well see; and that was what thou least didst: need to travel for. I remember well, among thine other qualities, there was no crediting a word which came from thy mouth.”
“Here’s an unbelieving pagan for you, gentlemen!” said Michael Lambourne, turning to those who witnessed this strange interview betwixt uncle and nephew, some of whom, being natives of the village, were no strangers to his juvenile wildness. “This may be called slaying a Cumnor fatted calf for me with a vengeance. — But, uncle, I come not from the husks and the swine-trough, and I care not for thy welcome or no welcome; I carry that with me will make me welcome, wend where I will.”
So saying, he pulled out a purse of gold indifferently well filled, the sight of which produced a visible effect upon the company. Some shook their heads and whispered to each other, while one or two of the less scrupulous speedily began to recollect him as a school-companion, a townsman, or so forth. On the other hand, two or three grave, sedate-looking persons shook their heads, and left the inn, hinting that, if Giles Gosling wished to continue to thrive, he should turn his thriftless, godless nephew adrift again, as soon as he could. Gosling demeaned himself as if he were much of the same opinion, for even the sight of the gold made less impression on the honest gentleman than it usually doth upon one of his calling.
“Kinsman Michael,” he said, “put up thy purse. My sister’s son shall be called to no reckoning in my house for supper or lodging; and I reckon thou wilt hardly wish to stay longer where thou art e’en but too well known.”
“For that matter, uncle,” replied the traveller, “I shall consult my own needs and conveniences. Meantime I wish to give the supper and sleeping cup to those good townsmen who are not too proud to remember Mike Lambourne, the tapster’s boy. If you will let me have entertainment for my money, so; if not, it is but a short two minutes’ walk to the Hare and Tabor, and I trust our neighbours will not grudge going thus far with me.”
“Nay, Mike,” replied his uncle, “as eighteen years have gone over thy head, and I trust thou art somewhat amended in thy conditions, thou shalt not leave my house at this hour, and shalt e’en have whatever in reason you list to call for. But I would I knew that that purse of thine, which thou vapourest of, were as well come by as it seems well filled.”
“Here is an infidel for you, my good neighbours!” said Lambourne, again appealing to the audience. “Here’s a fellow will rip up his kinsman’s follies of a good score of years’ standing. And for the gold, why, sirs, I have been where it grew, and was to be had for the gathering. In the New World have I been, man — in the Eldorado, where urchins play at cherry-pit with diamonds, and country wenches thread rubies for necklaces, instead of rowan-tree berries; where the pantiles are made of pure gold, and the paving-stones of virgin silver.”
“By my credit, friend Mike,” said young Laurence Goldthred, the cutting mercer of Abingdon, “that were a likely coast to trade to. And what may lawns, cypruses, and ribands fetch, where gold is so plenty?”
“Oh, the profit were unutterable,” replied Lambourne, “especially when a handsome young merchant bears the pack himself; for the ladies of that clime are bona-robas, and being themselves somewhat sunburnt, they catch fire like tinder at a fresh complexion like thine, with a head of hair inclining to be red.”
“I would I might trade thither,” said the mercer, chuckling.
“Why, and so thou mayest,” said Michael —“that is, if thou art the same brisk boy who was partner with me at robbing the Abbot’s orchard. ’Tis but a little touch of alchemy to decoct thy house and land into ready money, and that ready money into a tall ship, with sails, anchors, cordage, and all things conforming; then clap thy warehouse of goods under hatches, put fifty good fellows on deck, with myself to command them, and so hoist topsails, and hey for the New World!”
“Thou hast taught him a secret, kinsman,” said Giles Gosling, “to decoct, an that be the word, his pound into a penny and his webs into a thread. — Take a fool’s advice, neighbour Goldthred. Tempt not the sea, for she is a devourer. Let cards and cockatrices do their worst, thy father’s bales may bide a banging for a year or two ere thou comest to the Spital; but the sea hath a bottomless appetite — she would swallow the wealth of Lombard Street in a morning, as easily as I would a poached egg and a cup of clary. And for my kinsman’s Eldorado, never trust me if I do not believe he has found it in the pouches of some such gulls as thyself. — But take no snuff in the nose about it; fall to and welcome, for here comes the supper, and I heartily bestow it on all that will take share, in honour of my hopeful nephew’s return, always trusting that he has come home another man. — In faith, kinsman, thou art as like my poor sister as ever was son to mother.”
“Not quite so like old Benedict Lambourne, her husband, though,” said the mercer, nodding and winking. “Dost thou remember, Mike, what thou saidst when the schoolmaster’s ferule was over thee for striking up thy father’s crutches? — it is a wise child, saidst thou, that knows its own father. Dr. Bircham laughed till he cried again, and his crying saved yours.”
“Well, he made it up to me many a day after,” said Lambourne; “and how is the worthy pedagogue?”
“Dead,” said Giles Gosling, “this many a day since.”
“That he is,” said the clerk of the parish; “I sat by his bed the whilst. He passed away in a blessed frame. ‘Morior — mortuus sum vel fui — mori‘— these were his latest words; and he just added, ‘my last verb is conjugated.”
“Well, peace be with him,” said Mike, “he owes me nothing.”
“No, truly,” replied Goldthred; “and every lash which he laid on thee, he always was wont to say, he spared the hangman a labour.”
“One would have thought he left him little to do then,” said the clerk; “and yet Goodman Thong had no sinecure of it with our friend, after all.”
“Voto a Dios!” exclaimed Lambourne, his patience appearing to fail him, as he snatched his broad, slouched hat from the table and placed it on his head, so that the shadow gave the sinister expression of a Spanish brave to eyes and features which naturally boded nothing pleasant. “Hark’ee, my masters — all is fair among friends, and under the rose; and I have already permitted my worthy uncle here, and all of you, to use your pleasure with the frolics of my nonage. But I carry sword and dagger, my good friends, and can use them lightly too upon occasion. I have learned to be dangerous upon points of honour ever since I served the Spaniard, and I would not have you provoke me to the degree of falling foul.”
“Why, what would you do?” said the clerk.
“Ay, sir, what would you do?” said the mercer, bustling up on the other side of the table.
“Slit your throat, and spoil your Sunday’s quavering, Sir Clerk,” said Lambourne fiercely; “cudgel you, my worshipful dealer in flimsy sarsenets, into one of your own bales.”
“Come, come,” said the host, interposing, “I will have no swaggering here. — Nephew, it will become you best to show no haste to take offence; and you, gentlemen, will do well to remember, that if you are in an inn, still you are the inn-keeper’s guests, and should spare the honour of his family. — I protest your silly broils make me as oblivious as yourself; for yonder sits my silent guest as I call him, who hath been my two days’ inmate, and hath never spoken a word, save to ask for his food and his reckoning — gives no more trouble than a very peasant — pays his shot like a prince royal — looks but at the sum total of the reckoning, and does not know what day he shall go away. Oh, ’tis a jewel of a guest! and yet, hang-dog that I am, I have suffered him to sit by himself like a castaway in yonder obscure nook, without so much as asking him to take bite or sup along with us. It were but the right guerdon of my incivility were he to set off to the Hare and Tabor before the night grows older.”
With his white napkin gracefully arranged over his left arm, his velvet cap laid aside for the moment, and his best silver flagon in his right hand, mine host walked up to the solitary guest whom he mentioned, and thereby turned upon him the eyes of the assembled company.
He was a man aged betwixt twenty-five and thirty, rather above the middle size, dressed with plainness and decency, yet bearing an air of ease which almost amounted to dignity, and which seemed to infer that his habit was rather beneath his rank. His countenance was reserved and thoughtful, with dark hair and dark eyes; the last, upon any momentary excitement, sparkled with uncommon lustre, but on other occasions had the same meditative and tranquil cast which was exhibited by his features. The busy curiosity of the little village had been employed to discover his name and quality, as well as his business at Cumnor; but nothing had transpired on either subject which could lead to its gratification. Giles Gosling, head-borough of the place, and a steady friend to Queen Elizabeth and the Protestant religion, was at one time inclined to suspect his guest of being a Jesuit, or seminary priest, of whom Rome and Spain sent at this time so many to grace the gallows in England. But it was scarce possible to retain such a prepossession against a guest who gave so little trouble, paid his reckoning so regularly, and who proposed, as it seemed, to make a considerable stay at the bonny Black Bear.
“Papists,” argued Giles Gosling, “are a pinching, close-fisted race, and this man would have found a lodging with the wealthy squire at Bessellsey, or with the old Knight at Wootton, or in some other of their Roman dens, instead of living in a house of public entertainment, as every honest man and good Christian should. Besides, on Friday he stuck by the salt beef and carrot, though there were as good spitch-cocked eels on the board as ever were ta’en out of the Isis.”
Honest Giles, therefore, satisfied himself that his guest was no Roman, and with all comely courtesy besought the stranger to pledge him in a draught of the cool tankard, and honour with his attention a small collation which he was giving to his nephew, in honour of his return, and, as he verily hoped, of his reformation. The stranger at first shook his head, as if declining the courtesy; but mine host proceeded to urge him with arguments founded on the credit of his house, and the construction which the good people of Cumnor might put upon such an unsocial humour.
“By my faith, sir,” he said, “it touches my reputation that men should be merry in my house; and we have ill tongues amongst us at Cumnor (as where be there not?), who put an evil mark on men who pull their hat over their brows, as if they were looking back to the days that are gone, instead of enjoying the blithe sunshiny weather which God has sent us in the sweet looks of our sovereign mistress, Queen Elizabeth, whom Heaven long bless and preserve!”
“Why, mine host,” answered the stranger, “there is no treason, sure, in a man’s enjoying his own thoughts, under the shadow of his own bonnet? You have lived in the world twice as long as I have, and you must know there are thoughts that will haunt us in spite of ourselves, and to which it is in vain to say, Begone, and let me be merry.”
“By my sooth,” answered Giles Gosling, “if such troublesome thoughts haunt your mind, and will not get them gone for plain English, we will have one of Father Bacon’s pupils from Oxford, to conjure them away with logic and with Hebrew — or, what say you to laying them in a glorious red sea of claret, my noble guest? Come, sir, excuse my freedom. I am an old host, and must have my talk. This peevish humour of melancholy sits ill upon you; it suits not with a sleek boot, a hat of trim block, a fresh cloak, and a full purse. A pize on it! send it off to those who have their legs swathed with a hay-wisp, their heads thatched with a felt bonnet, their jerkin as thin as a cobweb, and their pouch without ever a cross to keep the fiend Melancholy from dancing in it. Cheer up, sir! or, by this good liquor, we shall banish thee from the joys of blithesome company, into the mists of melancholy and the land of little-ease. Here be a set of good fellows willing to be merry; do not scowl on them like the devil looking over Lincoln.”
“You say well, my worthy host,” said the guest, with a melancholy smile, which, melancholy as it was, gave a very pleasant: expression to his countenance —“you say well, my jovial friend; and they that are moody like myself should not disturb the mirth of those who are happy. I will drink a round with your guests with all my heart, rather than be termed a mar-feast.”
So saying, he arose and joined the company, who, encouraged by the precept and example of Michael Lambourne, and consisting chiefly of persons much disposed to profit by the opportunity of a merry meal at the expense of their landlord, had already made some inroads upon the limits of temperance, as was evident from the tone in which Michael inquired after his old acquaintances in the town, and the bursts of laughter with which each answer was received. Giles Gosling himself was somewhat scandalized at the obstreperous nature of their mirth, especially as he involuntarily felt some respect for his unknown guest. He paused, therefore, at some distance from the table occupied by these noisy revellers, and began to make a sort of apology for their license.
“You would think,” he said, “to hear these fellows talk, that there was not one of them who had not been bred to live by Stand and Deliver; and yet tomorrow you will find them a set of as painstaking mechanics, and so forth, as ever cut an inch short of measure, or paid a letter of change in light crowns over a counter. The mercer there wears his hat awry, over a shaggy head of hair, that looks like a curly water-dog’s back, goes unbraced, wears his cloak on one side, and affects a ruffianly vapouring humour: when in his shop at Abingdon, he is, from his flat cap to his glistening shoes, as precise in his apparel as if he was named for mayor. He talks of breaking parks, and taking the highway, in such fashion that you would think he haunted every night betwixt Hounslow and London; when in fact he may be found sound asleep on his feather-bed, with a candle placed beside him on one side, and a Bible on the other, to fright away the goblins.”
“And your nephew, mine host, this same Michael Lambourne, who is lord of the feast — is he, too, such a would-be ruffler as the rest of them?”
“Why, there you push me hard,” said the host; “my nephew is my nephew, and though he was a desperate Dick of yore, yet Mike may have mended like other folks, you wot. And I would not have you think all I said of him, even now, was strict gospel; I knew the wag all the while, and wished to pluck his plumes from him. And now, sir, by what name shall I present my worshipful guest to these gallants?”
“Marry, mine host,” replied the stranger, “you may call me Tressilian.”
“Tressilian?” answered mine host of the Bear. “A worthy name, and, as I think, of Cornish lineage; for what says the south proverb —
‘By Pol, Tre, and Pen,
You may know the Cornish men.’
Shall I say the worthy Master Tressilian of Cornwall?”
“Say no more than I have given you warrant for, mine host, and so shall you be sure you speak no more than is true. A man may have one of those honourable prefixes to his name, yet be born far from Saint Michael’s Mount.”
Mine host pushed his curiosity no further, but presented Master Tressilian to his nephew’s company, who, after exchange of salutations, and drinking to the health of their new companion, pursued the conversation in which he found them engaged, seasoning it with many an intervening pledge.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00