Kenilworth, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter XIX.

Pistol. And tidings do I bring, and lucky joys,

And happy news of price.

Falstaff. I prithee now deliver them like to men of this world.

Pistol. A foutra for the world, and worldlings base!

I speak of Africa, and golden joys.

Henry IV. Part II.

The public room of the Black Bear at Cumnor, to which the scene of our story now returns, boasted, on the evening which we treat of, no ordinary assemblage of guests. There had been a fair in the neighbourhood, and the cutting mercer of Abingdon, with some of the other personages whom the reader has already been made acquainted with, as friends and customers of Giles Gosling, had already formed their wonted circle around the evening fire, and were talking over the news of the day.

A lively, bustling, arch fellow, whose pack, and oaken ellwand studded duly with brass points, denoted him to be of Autolycus’s profession, occupied a good deal of the attention, and furnished much of the amusement, of the evening. The pedlars of those days, it must be remembered, were men of far greater importance than the degenerate and degraded hawkers of our modern times. It was by means of these peripatetic venders that the country trade, in the finer manufactures used in female dress particularly, was almost entirely carried on; and if a merchant of this description arrived at the dignity of travelling with a pack-horse, he was a person of no small consequence, and company for the most substantial yeoman or franklin whom he might meet in his wanderings.

The pedlar of whom we speak bore, accordingly, an active and unrebuked share in the merriment to which the rafters of the bonny Black Bear of Cumnor resounded. He had his smile with pretty Mistress Cicely, his broad laugh with mine host, and his jest upon dashing Master Goldthred, who, though indeed without any such benevolent intention on his own part, was the general butt of the evening. The pedlar and he were closely engaged in a dispute upon the preference due to the Spanish nether-stock over the black Gascoigne hose, and mine host had just winked to the guests around him, as who should say, “You will have mirth presently, my masters,” when the trampling of horses was heard in the courtyard, and the hostler was loudly summoned, with a few of the newest oaths then in vogue to add force to the invocation. Out tumbled Will Hostler, John Tapster, and all the militia of the inn, who had slunk from their posts in order to collect some scattered crumbs of the mirth which was flying about among the customers. Out into the yard sallied mine host himself also, to do fitting salutation to his new guests; and presently returned, ushering into the apartment his own worthy nephew, Michael Lambourne, pretty tolerably drunk, and having under his escort the astrologer. Alasco, though still a little old man, had, by altering his gown to a riding-dress, trimming his beard and eyebrows, and so forth, struck at least a score of years from his apparent age, and might now seem an active man of sixty, or little upwards. He appeared at present exceedingly anxious, and had insisted much with Lambourne that they should not enter the inn, but go straight forward to the place of their destination. But Lambourne would not be controlled. “By Cancer and Capricorn,” he vociferated, “and the whole heavenly host, besides all the stars that these blessed eyes of mine have seen sparkle in the southern heavens, to which these northern blinkers are but farthing candles, I will be unkindly for no one’s humour — I will stay and salute my worthy uncle here. Chesu! that good blood should ever be forgotten betwixt friends! — A gallon of your best, uncle, and let it go round to the health of the noble Earl of Leicester! What! shall we not collogue together, and warm the cockles of our ancient kindness? — shall we not collogue, I say?”

“With all my heart, kinsman,” said mine host, who obviously wished to be rid of him; “but are you to stand shot to all this good liquor?”

This is a question has quelled many a jovial toper, but it moved not the purpose of Lambourne’s soul, “Question my means, nuncle?” he said, producing a handful of mixed gold and silver pieces; “question Mexico and Peru — question the Queen’s exchequer — God save her Majesty! — she is my good Lord’s good mistress.”

“Well, kinsman,” said mine host, “it is my business to sell wine to those who can buy it — so, Jack Tapster, do me thine office. But I would I knew how to come by money as lightly as thou dost, Mike.”

“Why, uncle,” said Lambourne, “I will tell thee a secret. Dost see this little old fellow here? as old and withered a chip as ever the devil put into his porridge — and yet, uncle, between you and me — he hath Potosi in that brain of his —‘sblood! he can coin ducats faster than I can vent oaths.”

“I will have none of his coinage in my purse, though, Michael,” said mine host; “I know what belongs to falsifying the Queen’s coin.”

“Thou art an ass, uncle, for as old as thou art. — Pull me not by the skirts, doctor, thou art an ass thyself to boot — so, being both asses, I tell ye I spoke but metaphorically.”

“Are you mad?’ said the old man; “is the devil in you? Can you not let us begone without drawing all men’s eyes on us?”

“Sayest thou?” said Lambourne. “Thou art deceived now — no man shall see you, an I give the word. — By heavens, masters, an any one dare to look on this old gentleman, I will slash the eyes out of his head with my poniard! — So sit down, old friend, and be merry; these are mine ingles — mine ancient inmates, and will betray no man.”

“Had you not better withdraw to a private apartment, nephew?” said Giles Gosling. “You speak strange matter,” he added, “and there be intelligencers everywhere.”

“I care not for them,” said the magnanimous Michael — “intelligencers? pshaw! I serve the noble Earl of Leicester. — Here comes the wine. — Fill round, Master Skinker, a carouse to the health of the flower of England, the noble Earl of Leicester! I say, the noble Earl of Leicester! He that does me not reason is a swine of Sussex, and I’ll make him kneel to the pledge, if I should cut his hams and smoke them for bacon.”

None disputed a pledge given under such formidable penalties; and Michael Lambourne, whose drunken humour was not of course diminished by this new potation, went on in the same wild way, renewing his acquaintance with such of the guests as he had formerly known, and experiencing a reception in which there was now something of deference mingled with a good deal of fear; for the least servitor of the favourite Earl, especially such a man as Lambourne, was, for very sufficient reasons, an object both of the one and of the other.

In the meanwhile, the old man, seeing his guide in this uncontrollable humour, ceased to remonstrate with him, and sitting down in the most obscure corner of the room, called for a small measure of sack, over which he seemed, as it were, to slumber, withdrawing himself as much as possible from general observation, and doing nothing which could recall his existence to the recollection of his fellow-traveller, who by this time had got into close intimacy with his ancient comrade, Goldthred of Abingdon.

“Never believe me, bully Mike,” said the mercer, “if I am not as glad to see thee as ever I was to see a customer’s money! Why, thou canst give a friend a sly place at a mask or a revel now, Mike; ay, or, I warrant thee, thou canst say in my lord’s ear, when my honourable lord is down in these parts, and wants a Spanish ruff or the like — thou canst say in his ear, There is mine old friend, young Lawrence Goldthred of Abingdon, has as good wares, lawn, tiffany, cambric, and so forth — ay, and is as pretty a piece of man’s flesh, too, as is in Berkshire, and will ruffle it for your lordship with any man of his inches; and thou mayest say —”

“I can say a hundred d — d lies besides, mercer,” answered Lambourne; “what, one must not stand upon a good word for a friend!”

“Here is to thee, Mike, with all my heart,” said the mercer; “and thou canst tell one the reality of the new fashions too. Here was a rogue pedlar but now was crying up the old-fashioned Spanish nether-stock over the Gascoigne hose, although thou seest how well the French hose set off the leg and knee, being adorned with parti-coloured garters and garniture in conformity.”

“Excellent, excellent,” replied Lambourne; “why, thy limber bit of a thigh, thrust through that bunch of slashed buckram and tiffany, shows like a housewife’s distaff when the flax is half spun off!”

“Said I not so?” said the mercer, whose shallow brain was now overflowed in his turn; “where, then, where be this rascal pedlar? — there was a pedlar here but now, methinks. — Mine host, where the foul fiend is this pedlar?”

“Where wise men should be, Master Goldthred,” replied Giles Gosling; “even shut up in his private chamber, telling over the sales of today, and preparing for the custom of tomorrow.”

“Hang him, a mechanical chuff!” said the mercer; “but for shame, it were a good deed to ease him of his wares — a set of peddling knaves, who stroll through the land, and hurt the established trader. There are good fellows in Berkshire yet, mine host — your pedlar may be met withal on Maiden Castle.”

“Ay,” replied mine host, laughing, “and he who meets him may meet his match — the pedlar is a tall man.”

“Is he?” said Goldthred.

“Is he?” replied the host; “ay, by cock and pie is he — the very pedlar he who raddled Robin Hood so tightly, as the song says —

‘Now Robin Hood drew his sword so good,

The pedlar drew his brand,

And he hath raddled him, Robin Hood,

Till he neither could see nor stand.’”

“Hang him, foul scroyle, let him pass,” said the mercer; “if he be such a one, there were small worship to be won upon him. — And now tell me, Mike — my honest Mike, how wears the Hollands you won of me?”

“Why, well, as you may see, Master Goldthred,” answered Mike; “I will bestow a pot on thee for the handsel. — Fill the flagon, Master Tapster.”

“Thou wilt win no more Hollands, think, on such wager, friend Mike,” said the mercer; “for the sulky swain, Tony Foster, rails at thee all to nought, and swears you shall ne’er darken his doors again, for that your oaths are enough to blow the roof off a Christian man’s dwelling.”

“Doth he say so, the mincing, hypocritical miser?” vociferated Lambourne. “Why, then, he shall come down and receive my commands here, this blessed night, under my uncle’s roof! And I will ring him such a black sanctus, that he shall think the devil hath him by the skirts for a month to come, for barely hearing me.”

“Nay, now the pottle-pot is uppermost, with a witness!” said the mercer. “Tony Foster obey thy whistle! Alas! good Mike, go sleep — go sleep.”

“I tell thee what, thou thin-faced gull,” said Michael Lambourne, in high chafe, “I will wager thee fifty angels against the first five shelves of thy shop, numbering upward from the false light, with all that is on them, that I make Tony Foster come down to this public-house before we have finished three rounds.”

“I will lay no bet to that amount,” said the mercer, something sobered by an offer which intimated rather too private a knowledge on Lambourne’s part of the secret recesses of his shop. “I will lay no such wager,” he said; “but I will stake five angels against thy five, if thou wilt, that Tony Foster will not leave his own roof, or come to ale-house after prayer time, for thee, or any man.”

“Content,” said Lambourne. —“Here, uncle, hold stakes, and let one of your young bleed-barrels there — one of your infant tapsters — trip presently up to The Place, and give this letter to Master Foster, and say that I, his ingle, Michael Lambourne, pray to speak with him at mine uncle’s castle here, upon business of grave import. — Away with thee, child, for it is now sundown, and the wretch goeth to bed with the birds to save mutton-suet — faugh!”

Shortly after this messenger was dispatched — an interval which was spent in drinking and buffoonery — he returned with the answer that Master Foster was coming presently.

“Won, won!” said Lambourne, darting on the stakes.

“Not till he comes, if you please,” said the mercer, interfering.

“Why, ‘sblood, he is at the threshold,” replied Michael. —“What said he, boy?”

“If it please your worship,” answered the messenger, “he looked out of window, with a musquetoon in his hand, and when I delivered your errand, which I did with fear and trembling, he said, with a vinegar aspect, that your worship might be gone to the infernal regions.”

“Or to hell, I suppose,” said Lambourne —“it is there he disposes of all that are not of the congregation.”

“Even so,” said the boy; “I used the other phrase as being the more poetical.”

“An ingenious youth,” said Michael; “shalt have a drop to whet thy poetical whistle. And what said Foster next?”

“He called me back,” answered the boy, “and bid me say you might come to him if you had aught to say to him.”

“And what next?” said Lambourne.

“He read the letter, and seemed in a fluster, and asked if your worship was in drink; and I said you were speaking a little Spanish, as one who had been in the Canaries.”

“Out, you diminutive pint-pot, whelped of an overgrown reckoning!” replied Lambourne —“out! But what said he then?”

“Why,” said the boy, “he muttered that if he came not your worship would bolt out what were better kept in; and so he took his old flat cap, and threadbare blue cloak, and, as I said before, he will be here incontinent.”

“There is truth in what he said,” replied Lambourne, as if speaking to himself —“my brain has played me its old dog’s trick. But corragio — let him approach! — I have not rolled about in the world for many a day to fear Tony Foster, be I drunk or sober. — Bring me a flagon of cold water to christen my sack withal.”

While Lambourne, whom the approach of Foster seemed to have recalled to a sense of his own condition, was busied in preparing to receive him, Giles Gosling stole up to the apartment of the pedlar, whom he found traversing the room in much agitation.

“You withdrew yourself suddenly from the company,” said the landlord to the guest.

“It was time, when the devil became one among you,” replied the pedlar.

“It is not courteous in you to term my nephew by such a name,” said Gosling, “nor is it kindly in me to reply to it; and yet, in some sort, Mike may be considered as a limb of Satan.”

“Pooh — I talk not of the swaggering ruffian,” replied the pedlar; “it is of the other, who, for aught I know — But when go they? or wherefore come they?”

“Marry, these are questions I cannot answer,” replied the host. “But look you, sir, you have brought me a token from worthy Master Tressilian — a pretty stone it is.” He took out the ring, and looked at it, adding, as he put it into his purse again, that it was too rich a guerdon for anything he could do for the worthy donor. He was, he said, in the public line, and it ill became him to be too inquisitive into other folk’s concerns. He had already said that he could hear nothing but that the lady lived still at Cumnor Place in the closest seclusion, and, to such as by chance had a view of her, seemed pensive and discontented with her solitude. “But here,” he said, “if you are desirous to gratify your master, is the rarest chance that hath occurred for this many a day. Tony Foster is coming down hither, and it is but letting Mike Lambourne smell another wine-flask, and the Queen’s command would not move him from the ale-bench. So they are fast for an hour or so. Now, if you will don your pack, which will be your best excuse, you may, perchance, win the ear of the old servant, being assured of the master’s absence, to let you try to get some custom of the lady; and then you may learn more of her condition than I or any other can tell you.”

“True — very true,” answered Wayland, for he it was; “an excellent device, but methinks something dangerous — for, say Foster should return?”

“Very possible indeed,” replied the host.

“Or say,” continued Wayland, “the lady should render me cold thanks for my exertions?”

“As is not unlikely,” replied Giles Gosling. “I marvel Master Tressilian will take such heed of her that cares not for him.”

“In either case I were foully sped,” said Wayland, “and therefore I do not, on the whole, much relish your device.”

“Nay, but take me with you, good master serving-man,” replied mine host. “This is your master’s business, and not mine:, you best know the risk to be encountered, or how far you are willing to brave it. But that which you will not yourself hazard, you cannot expect others to risk.”

“Hold, hold,” said Wayland; “tell me but one thing — goes yonder old man up to Cumnor?”

“Surely, I think so?” said the landlord; “their servant said he was to take their baggage thither. But the ale-tap has been as potent for him as the sack-spigot has been for Michael.”

“It is enough,” said Wayland, assuming an air of resolution. “I will thwart that old villain’s projects; my affright at his baleful aspect begins to abate, and my hatred to arise. Help me on with my pack, good mine host. — And look to thyself, old Albumazar; there is a malignant influence in thy horoscope, and it gleams from the constellation Ursa Major.”

So saying, he assumed his burden, and, guided by the landlord through the postern gate of the Black Bear, took the most private way from thence up to Cumnor Place.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00