I say, my lord, can such a subtilty
(But all his craft ye must not wot of me,
And somewhat help I yet to his working),
That all the ground on which we ben riding,
Till that we come to Canterbury town,
He can all clean turnen so up so down,
And pave it all of silver and of gold.
The Canon’s Yeoman’s Prologue, Canterbury Tales.
The artist commenced his narrative in the following terms:—
“I was bred a blacksmith, and knew my art as well as e’er a black-thumbed, leathern-aproned, swart-faced knave of that noble mystery. But I tired of ringing hammer-tunes on iron stithies, and went out into the world, where I became acquainted with a celebrated juggler, whose fingers had become rather too stiff for legerdemain, and who wished to have the aid of an apprentice in his noble mystery. I served him for six years, until I was master of my trade — I refer myself to your worship, whose judgment cannot be disputed, whether I did not learn to ply the craft indifferently well?”
“Excellently,” said Tressilian; “but be brief.”
“It was not long after I had performed at Sir Hugh Robsart’s, in your worship’s presence,” said the artist, “that I took myself to the stage, and have swaggered with the bravest of them all, both at the Black Bull, the Globe, the Fortune, and elsewhere; but I know not how — apples were so plenty that year that the lads in the twopenny gallery never took more than one bite out of them, and threw the rest of the pippin at whatever actor chanced to be on the stage. So I tired of it — renounced my half share in the company, gave my foil to my comrade, my buskins to the wardrobe, and showed the theatre a clean pair of heels.”
“Well, friend, and what,” said Tressilian, “was your next shift?”
“I became,” said the smith, “half partner, half domestic to a man of much skill and little substance, who practised the trade of a physicianer.”
“In other words,” said Tressilian, “you were Jack Pudding to a quacksalver.”
“Something beyond that, let me hope, my good Master Tressilian,” replied the artist; “and yet to say truth, our practice was of an adventurous description, and the pharmacy which I had acquired in my first studies for the benefit of horses was frequently applied to our human patients. But the seeds of all maladies are the same; and if turpentine, tar, pitch, and beef-suet, mingled with turmerick, gum-mastick, and one bead of garlick, can cure the horse that hath been grieved with a nail, I see not but what it may benefit the man that hath been pricked with a sword. But my master’s practice, as well as his skill, went far beyond mine, and dealt in more dangerous concerns. He was not only a bold, adventurous practitioner in physic, but also, if your pleasure so chanced to be, an adept who read the stars, and expounded the fortunes of mankind, genethliacally, as he called it, or otherwise. He was a learned distiller of simples, and a profound chemist — made several efforts to fix mercury, and judged himself to have made a fair hit at the philosopher’s stone. I have yet a programme of his on that subject, which, if your honour understandeth, I believe you have the better, not only of all who read, but also of him who wrote it.”
He gave Tressilian a scroll of parchment, bearing at top and bottom, and down the margin, the signs of the seven planets, curiously intermingled with talismanical characters and scraps of Greek and Hebrew. In the midst were some Latin verses from a cabalistical author, written out so fairly, that even the gloom of the place did not prevent Tressilian from reading them. The tenor of the original ran as follows:-
“Si fixum solvas, faciasque volare solutum,
Et volucrem figas, facient te vivere tutum;
Si pariat ventum, valet auri pondere centum;
Ventus ubi vult spirat — Capiat qui capere potest.”
“I protest to you,” said Tressilian, “all I understand of this jargon is that the last words seem to mean ‘Catch who catch can.’”
“That,” said the smith, “is the very principle that my worthy friend and master, Doctor Doboobie, always acted upon; until, being besotted with his own imaginations, and conceited of his high chemical skill, he began to spend, in cheating himself, the money which he had acquired in cheating others, and either discovered or built for himself, I could never know which, this secret elaboratory, in which he used to seclude himself both from patients and disciples, who doubtless thought his long and mysterious absences from his ordinary residence in the town of Farringdon were occasioned by his progress in the mystic sciences, and his intercourse with the invisible world. Me also he tried to deceive; but though I contradicted him not, he saw that I knew too much of his secrets to be any longer a safe companion. Meanwhile, his name waxed famous — or rather infamous, and many of those who resorted to him did so under persuasion that he was a sorcerer. And yet his supposed advance in the occult sciences drew to him the secret resort of men too powerful to be named, for purposes too dangerous to be mentioned. Men cursed and threatened him, and bestowed on me, the innocent assistant of his studies, the nickname of the Devil’s foot-post, which procured me a volley of stones as soon as ever I ventured to show my face in the street of the village. At length my master suddenly disappeared, pretending to me that he was about to visit his elaboratory in this place, and forbidding me to disturb him till two days were past. When this period had elapsed, I became anxious, and resorted to this vault, where I found the fires extinguished and the utensils in confusion, with a note from the learned Doboobius, as he was wont to style himself, acquainting me that we should never meet again, bequeathing me his chemical apparatus, and the parchment which I have just put into your hands, advising me strongly to prosecute the secret which it contained, which would infallibly lead me to the discovery of the grand magisterium.”
“And didst thou follow this sage advice?” said Tressilian.
“Worshipful sir, no,” replied the smith; “for, being by nature cautious, and suspicious from knowing with whom I had to do, I made so many perquisitions before I ventured even to light a fire, that I at length discovered a small barrel of gunpowder, carefully hid beneath the furnace, with the purpose, no doubt, that as soon as I should commence the grand work of the transmutation of metals, the explosion should transmute the vault and all in it into a heap of ruins, which might serve at once for my slaughter-house and my grave. This cured me of alchemy, and fain would I have returned to the honest hammer and anvil; but who would bring a horse to be shod by the Devil’s post? Meantime, I had won the regard of my honest Flibbertigibbet here, he being then at Farringdon with his master, the sage Erasmus Holiday, by teaching him a few secrets, such as please youth at his age; and after much counsel together, we agreed that, since I could get no practice in the ordinary way, I should try how I could work out business among these ignorant boors, by practising upon their silly fears; and, thanks to Flibbertigibbet, who hath spread my renown, I have not wanted custom. But it is won at too great risk, and I fear I shall be at length taken up for a wizard; so that I seek but an opportunity to leave this vault, when I can have the protection of some worshipful person against the fury of the populace, in case they chance to recognize me.”
“And art thou,” said Tressilian, “perfectly acquainted with the roads in this country?”
“I could ride them every inch by midnight,” answered Wayland Smith, which was the name this adept had assumed.
“Thou hast no horse to ride upon,” said Tressilian.
“Pardon me,” replied Wayland; “I have as good a tit as ever yeoman bestrode; and I forgot to say it was the best part of the mediciner’s legacy to me, excepting one or two of the choicest of his medical secrets, which I picked up without his knowledge and against his will.”
“Get thyself washed and shaved, then,” said Tressilian; “reform thy dress as well as thou canst, and fling away these grotesque trappings; and, so thou wilt be secret and faithful, thou shalt follow me for a short time, till thy pranks here are forgotten. Thou hast, I think, both address and courage, and I have matter to do that may require both.”
Wayland Smith eagerly embraced the proposal, and protested his devotion to his new master. In a very few minutes he had made so great an alteration in his original appearance, by change of dress, trimming his beard and hair, and so forth, that Tressilian could not help remarking that he thought he would stand in little need of a protector, since none of his old acquaintance were likely to recognize him.
“My debtors would not pay me money,” said Wayland, shaking his head; “but my creditors of every kind would be less easily blinded. And, in truth, I hold myself not safe, unless under the protection of a gentleman of birth and character, as is your worship.”
So saying, he led the way out of the cavern. He then called loudly for Hobgoblin, who, after lingering for an instant, appeared with the horse furniture, when Wayland closed and sedulously covered up the trap-door, observing it might again serve him at his need, besides that the tools were worth somewhat. A whistle from the owner brought to his side a nag that fed quietly on the common, and was accustomed to the signal.
While he accoutred him for the journey, Tressilian drew his own girths tighter, and in a few minutes both were ready to mount.
At this moment Sludge approached to bid them farewell.
“You are going to leave me, then, my old playfellow,” said the boy; “and there is an end of all our game at bo-peep with the cowardly lubbards whom I brought hither to have their broad-footed nags shed by the devil and his imps?”
“It is even so,” said Wayland Smith, “the best friends must part, Flibbertigibbet; but thou, my boy, art the only thing in the Vale of Whitehorse which I shall regret to leave behind me.”
“Well, I bid thee not farewell,” said Dickie Sludge, “for you will be at these revels, I judge, and so shall I; for if Dominie Holiday take me not thither, by the light of day, which we see not in yonder dark hole, I will take myself there!”
“In good time,” said Wayland; “but I pray you to do nought rashly.”
“Nay, now you would make a child, a common child of me, and tell me of the risk of walking without leading-strings. But before you are a mile from these stones, you shall know by a sure token that I have more of the hobgoblin about me than you credit; and I will so manage that, if you take advantage, you may profit by my prank.”
“What dost thou mean, boy?” said Tressilian; but Flibbertigibbet only answered with a grin and a caper, and bidding both of them farewell, and, at the same time, exhorting them to make the best of their way from the place, he set them the example by running homeward with the same uncommon velocity with which he had baffled Tressilian’s former attempts to get hold of him.
“It is in vain to chase him,” said Wayland Smith; “for unless your worship is expert in lark-hunting, we should never catch hold of him — and besides, what would it avail? Better make the best of our way hence, as he advises.”
They mounted their horses accordingly, and began to proceed at a round pace, as soon as Tressilian had explained to his guide the direction in which he desired to travel.
After they had trotted nearly a mile, Tressilian could not help observing to his companion that his horse felt more lively under him than even when he mounted in the morning.
“Are you avised of that?” said Wayland Smith, smiling. “That is owing to a little secret of mine. I mixed that with an handful of oats which shall save your worship’s heels the trouble of spurring these six hours at least. Nay, I have not studied medicine and pharmacy for nought.”
“I trust,” said Tressilian, “your drugs will do my horse no harm?”
“No more than the mare’s milk; which foaled him,” answered the artist, and was proceeding to dilate on the excellence of his recipe when he was interrupted by an explosion as loud and tremendous as the mine which blows up the rampart of a beleaguered city. The horses started, and the riders were equally surprised. They turned to gaze in the direction from which the thunder-clap was heard, and beheld, just over the spot they had left so recently, a huge pillar of dark smoke rising high into the clear, blue atmosphere. “My habitation is gone to wreck,” said Wayland, immediately conjecturing the cause of the explosion. “I was a fool to mention the doctor’s kind intentions towards my mansion before that limb of mischief, Flibbertigibbet; I might have guessed he would long to put so rare a frolic into execution. But let us hasten on, for the sound will collect the country to the spot.”
So saying, he spurred his horse, and Tressilian also quickening his speed, they rode briskly forward.
“This, then, was the meaning of the little imp’s token which he promised us?” said Tressilian. “Had we lingered near the spot, we had found it a love-token with a vengeance.”
“He would have given us warning,” said the smith. “I saw him look back more than once to see if we were off —’tis a very devil for mischief, yet not an ill-natured devil either. It were long to tell your honour how I became first acquainted with him, and how many tricks he played me. Many a good turn he did me too, especially in bringing me customers; for his great delight was to see them sit shivering behind the bushes when they heard the click of my hammer. I think Dame Nature, when she lodged a double quantity of brains in that misshapen head of his, gave him the power of enjoying other people’s distresses, as she gave them the pleasure of laughing at his ugliness.”
“It may be so,” said Tressilian; “those who find themselves severed from society by peculiarities of form, if they do not hate the common bulk of mankind, are at least not altogether indisposed to enjoy their mishaps and calamities.”
“But Flibbertigibbet,” answered Wayland, “hath that about him which may redeem his turn for mischievous frolic; for he is as faithful when attached as he is tricky and malignant to strangers, and, as I said before, I have cause to say so.”
Tressilian pursued the conversation no further, and they continued their journey towards Devonshire without further adventure, until they alighted at an inn in the town of Marlborough, since celebrated for having given title to the greatest general (excepting one) whom Britain ever produced. Here the travellers received, in the same breath, an example of the truth of two old proverbs — namely, that Ill news fly fast, and that Listeners seldom hear a good tale of themselves.
The inn-yard was in a sort of combustion when they alighted; insomuch, that they could scarce get man or boy to take care of their horses, so full were the whole household of some news which flew from tongue to tongue, the import of which they were for some time unable to discover. At length, indeed, they found it respected matters which touched them nearly.
“What is the matter, say you, master?” answered, at length, the head hostler, in reply to Tressilian’s repeated questions. —“Why, truly, I scarce know myself. But here was a rider but now, who says that the devil hath flown away with him they called Wayland Smith, that won’d about three miles from the Whitehorse of Berkshire, this very blessed morning, in a flash of fire and a pillar of smoke, and rooted up the place he dwelt in, near that old cockpit of upright stones, as cleanly as if it had all been delved up for a cropping.”
“Why, then,” said an old farmer, “the more is the pity; for that Wayland Smith (whether he was the devil’s crony or no I skill not) had a good notion of horses’ diseases, and it’s to be thought the bots will spread in the country far and near, an Satan has not gien un time to leave his secret behind un.”
“You may say that, Gaffer Grimesby,” said the hostler in return; “I have carried a horse to Wayland Smith myself, for he passed all farriers in this country.”
“Did you see him?” said Dame Alison Crane, mistress of the inn bearing that sign, and deigning to term husband the owner thereof, a mean-looking hop-o’-my-thumb sort or person, whose halting gait, and long neck, and meddling, henpecked insignificance are supposed to have given origin to the celebrated old English tune of “My name hath a lame tame Crane.”
On this occasion he chirped out a repetition of his wife’s question, “Didst see the devil, Jack Hostler, I say?”
“And what if I did see un, Master Crane?” replied Jack Hostler, for, like all the rest of the household, he paid as little respect to his master as his mistress herself did.
“Nay, nought, Jack Hostler,” replied the pacific Master Crane; “only if you saw the devil, methinks I would like to know what un’s like?”
“You will know that one day, Master Crane,” said his helpmate, “an ye mend not your manners, and mind your business, leaving off such idle palabras. — But truly, Jack Hostler, I should be glad to know myself what like the fellow was.”
“Why, dame,” said the hostler, more respectfully, “as for what he was like I cannot tell, nor no man else, for why I never saw un.”
“And how didst thou get thine errand done,” said Gaffer Grimesby, “if thou seedst him not?”
“Why, I had schoolmaster to write down ailment o’ nag,” said Jack Hostler; “and I went wi’ the ugliest slip of a boy for my guide as ever man cut out o’ lime-tree root to please a child withal.”
“And what was it? — and did it cure your nag, Jack Hostler?” was uttered and echoed by all who stood around.
“Why, how can I tell you what it was?” said the hostler; “simply it smelled and tasted — for I did make bold to put a pea’s substance into my mouth — like hartshorn and savin mixed with vinegar; but then no hartshorn and savin ever wrought so speedy a cure. And I am dreading that if Wayland Smith be gone, the bots will have more power over horse and cattle.”
The pride of art, which is certainly not inferior in its influence to any other pride whatever, here so far operated on Wayland Smith, that, notwithstanding the obvious danger of his being recognized, he could not help winking to Tressilian, and smiling mysteriously, as if triumphing in the undoubted evidence of his veterinary skill. In the meanwhile, the discourse continued.
“E’en let it be so,” said a grave man in black, the companion of Gaffer Grimesby; “e’en let us perish under the evil God sends us, rather than the devil be our doctor.”
“Very true,” said Dame Crane; “and I marvel at Jack Hostler that he would peril his own soul to cure the bowels of a nag.”
“Very true, mistress,” said Jack Hostler, “but the nag was my master’s; and had it been yours, I think ye would ha’ held me cheap enow an I had feared the devil when the poor beast was in such a taking. For the rest, let the clergy look to it. Every man to his craft, says the proverb — the parson to the prayer-book, and the groom to his curry-comb.
“I vow,” said Dame Crane, “I think Jack Hostler speaks like a good Christian and a faithful servant, who will spare neither body nor soul in his master’s service. However, the devil has lifted him in time, for a Constable of the Hundred came hither this morning to get old Gaffer Pinniewinks, the trier of witches, to go with him to the Vale of Whitehorse to comprehend Wayland Smith, and put him to his probation. I helped Pinniewinks to sharpen his pincers and his poking-awl, and I saw the warrant from Justice Blindas.”
“Pooh — pooh — the devil would laugh both at Blindas and his warrant, constable and witch-finder to boot,” said old Dame Crank, the Papist laundress; “Wayland Smith’s flesh would mind Pinniewinks’ awl no more than a cambric ruff minds a hot piccadilloe-needle. But tell me, gentlefolks, if the devil ever had such a hand among ye, as to snatch away your smiths and your artists from under your nose, when the good Abbots of Abingdon had their own? By Our Lady, no! — they had their hallowed tapers; and their holy water, and their relics, and what not, could send the foulest fiends a-packing. Go ask a heretic parson to do the like. But ours were a comfortable people.”
“Very true, Dame Crank,” said the hostler; “so said Simpkins of Simonburn when the curate kissed his wife — ‘They are a comfortable people,’ said he.”
“Silence, thou foul-mouthed vermin,” said Dame Crank; “is it fit for a heretic horse-boy like thee to handle such a text as the Catholic clergy?”
“In troth no, dame,” replied the man of oats; “and as you yourself are now no text for their handling, dame, whatever may have been the case in your day, I think we had e’en better leave un alone.”
At this last exchange of sarcasm, Dame Crank set up her throat, and began a horrible exclamation against Jack Hostler, under cover of which Tressilian and his attendant escaped into the house.
They had no sooner entered a private chamber, to which Goodman Crane himself had condescended to usher them, and dispatched their worthy and obsequious host on the errand of procuring wine and refreshment, than Wayland Smith began to give vent to his self-importance.
“You see, sir,” said he, addressing Tressilian, “that I nothing fabled in asserting that I possessed fully the mighty mystery of a farrier, or mareschal, as the French more honourably term us. These dog-hostlers, who, after all, are the better judges in such a case, know what credit they should attach to my medicaments. I call you to witness, worshipful Master Tressilian, that nought, save the voice of calumny and the hand of malicious violence, hath driven me forth from a station in which I held a place alike useful and honoured.”
“I bear witness, my friend, but will reserve my listening,” answered Tressilian, “for a safer time; unless, indeed, you deem it essential to your reputation to be translated, like your late dwelling, by the assistance of a flash of fire. For you see your best friends reckon you no better than a mere sorcerer.”
“Now, Heaven forgive them,” said the artist, “who confounded learned skill with unlawful magic! I trust a man may be as skilful, or more so, than the best chirurgeon ever meddled with horse-flesh, and yet may be upon the matter little more than other ordinary men, or at the worst no conjurer.”
“God forbid else!” said Tressilian. “But be silent just for the present, since here comes mine host with an assistant, who seems something of the least.”
Everybody about the inn, Dame Crane herself included, had been indeed so interested and agitated by the story they had heard of Wayland Smith, and by the new, varying, and more marvellous editions of the incident which arrived from various quarters, that mine host, in his righteous determination to accommodate his guests, had been able to obtain the assistance of none of his household, saving that of a little boy, a junior tapster, of about twelve years old, who was called Sampson.
“I wish,” he said, apologizing to his guests, as he set down a flagon of sack, and promised some food immediately —“I wish the devil had flown away with my wife and my whole family instead of this Wayland Smith, who, I daresay, after all said and done, was much less worthy of the distinction which Satan has done him.”
“I hold opinion with you, good fellow,” replied Wayland Smith; “and I will drink to you upon that argument.”
“Not that I would justify any man who deals with the devil,” said mine host, after having pledged Wayland in a rousing draught of sack, “but that — saw ye ever better sack, my masters? — but that, I say, a man had better deal with a dozen cheats and scoundrel fellows, such as this Wayland Smith, than with a devil incarnate, that takes possession of house and home, bed and board.”
The poor fellow’s detail of grievances was here interrupted by the shrill voice of his helpmate, screaming from the kitchen, to which he instantly hobbled, craving pardon of his guests. He was no sooner gone than Wayland Smith expressed, by every contemptuous epithet in the language, his utter scorn for a nincompoop who stuck his head under his wife’s apron-string; and intimated that, saving for the sake of the horses, which required both rest and food, he would advise his worshipful Master Tressilian to push on a stage farther, rather than pay a reckoning to such a mean-spirited, crow-trodden, henpecked coxcomb, as Gaffer Crane.
The arrival of a large dish of good cow-heel and bacon something soothed the asperity of the artist, which wholly vanished before a choice capon, so delicately roasted that the lard frothed on it, said Wayland, like May-dew on a lily; and both Gaffer Crane and his good dame became, in his eyes, very painstaking, accommodating, obliging persons.
According to the manners of the times, the master and his attendant sat at the same table, and the latter observed, with regret, how little attention Tressilian paid to his meal. He recollected, indeed, the pain he had given by mentioning the maiden in whose company he had first seen him; but, fearful of touching upon a topic too tender to be tampered with, he chose to ascribe his abstinence to another cause.
“This fare is perhaps too coarse for your worship,” said Wayland, as the limbs of the capon disappeared before his own exertions; “but had you dwelt as long as I have done in yonder dungeon, which Flibbertigibbet has translated to the upper element, a place where I dared hardly broil my food, lest the smoke should be seen without, you would think a fair capon a more welcome dainty.”
“If you are pleased, friend,” said Tressilian, “it is well. Nevertheless, hasten thy meal if thou canst, For this place is unfriendly to thy safety, and my concerns crave travelling.”
Allowing, therefore, their horses no more rest than was absolutely necessary for them, they pursued their journey by a forced march as far as Bradford, where they reposed themselves for the night.
The next morning found them early travellers. And, not to fatigue the reader with unnecessary particulars, they traversed without adventure the counties of Wiltshire and Somerset, and about noon of the third day after Tressilian’s leaving Cumnor, arrived at Sir Hugh Robsart’s seat, called Lidcote Hall, on the frontiers of Devonshire.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00