Kenilworth, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter IX.

Far in the lane a lonely hut he found,

No tenant ventured on the unwholesome ground:

Here smokes his forge, he bares his sinewy arm,

And early strokes the sounding anvil warm;

Around his shop the steely sparkles flew,

As for the steed he shaped the bending shoe.

Gay’s Trivia.

As it was deemed proper by the traveller himself, as well as by Giles Gosling, that Tressilian should avoid being seen in the neighbourhood of Cumnor by those whom accident might make early risers, the landlord had given him a route, consisting of various byways and lanes, which he was to follow in succession, and which, all the turns and short-cuts duly observed, was to conduct him to the public road to Marlborough.

But, like counsel of every other kind, this species of direction is much more easily given than followed; and what betwixt the intricacy of the way, the darkness of the night, Tressilian’s ignorance of the country, and the sad and perplexing thoughts with which he had to contend, his journey proceeded so slowly, that morning found him only in the vale of Whitehorse, memorable for the defeat of the Danes in former days, with his horse deprived of a fore-foot shoe, an accident which threatened to put a stop to his journey by laming the animal. The residence of a smith was his first object of inquiry, in which he received little satisfaction from the dullness or sullenness of one or two peasants, early bound for their labour, who gave brief and indifferent answers to his questions on the subject. Anxious, at length, that the partner of his journey should suffer as little as possible from the unfortunate accident, Tressilian dismounted, and led his horse in the direction of a little hamlet, where he hoped either to find or hear tidings of such an artificer as he now wanted. Through a deep and muddy lane, he at length waded on to the place, which proved only an assemblage of five or six miserable huts, about the doors of which one or two persons, whose appearance seemed as rude as that of their dwellings, were beginning the toils of the day. One cottage, however, seemed of rather superior aspect, and the old dame, who was sweeping her threshold, appeared something less rude than her neighbours. To her Tressilian addressed the oft-repeated question, whether there was a smith in this neighbourhood, or any place where he could refresh his horse? The dame looked him in the face with a peculiar expression as she replied, “Smith! ay, truly is there a smith — what wouldst ha’ wi’ un, mon?”

“To shoe my horse, good dame,” answered Tressiliany: you may see that he has thrown a fore-foot shoe.”

“Master Holiday!” exclaimed the dame, without returning any direct answer —“Master Herasmus Holiday, come and speak to mon, and please you.”

Favete linguis,” answered a voice from within;” I cannot now come forth, Gammer Sludge, being in the very sweetest bit of my morning studies.”

“Nay, but, good now, Master Holiday, come ye out, do ye. Here’s a mon would to Wayland Smith, and I care not to show him way to devil; his horse hath cast shoe.”

Quid mihi cum caballo?” replied the man of learning from within; “I think there is but one wise man in the hundred, and they cannot shoe a horse without him!”

And forth came the honest pedagogue, for such his dress bespoke him. A long, lean, shambling, stooping figure was surmounted by a head thatched with lank, black hair somewhat inclining to grey. His features had the cast of habitual authority, which I suppose Dionysius carried with him from the throne to the schoolmaster’s pulpit, and bequeathed as a legacy to all of the same profession, A black buckram cassock was gathered at his middle with a belt, at which hung, instead of knife or weapon, a goodly leathern pen-and-ink case. His ferula was stuck on the other side, like Harlequin’s wooden sword; and he carried in his hand the tattered volume which he had been busily perusing.

On seeing a person of Tressilian’s appearance, which he was better able to estimate than the country folks had been, the schoolmaster unbonneted, and accosted him with, “Salve, Domine. Intelligisne linguam latinam?”

Tressilian mustered his learning to reply, “Linguae latinae haud penitus ignarus, venia tua, Domine eruditissime, vernaculam libentius loquor.”

The Latin reply had upon the schoolmaster the effect which the mason’s sign is said to produce on the brethren of the trowel. He was at once interested in the learned traveller, listened with gravity to his story of a tired horse and a lost shoe, and then replied with solemnity, “It may appear a simple thing, most worshipful, to reply to you that there dwells, within a brief mile of these tuguria, the best faber ferarius, the most accomplished blacksmith, that ever nailed iron upon horse. Now, were I to say so, I warrant me you would think yourself compos voti, or, as the vulgar have it, a made man.”

“I should at least,” said Tressilian, “have a direct answer to a plain question, which seems difficult to be obtained in this country.”

“It is a mere sending of a sinful soul to the evil un,” said the old woman, “the sending a living creature to Wayland Smith.”

“Peace, Gammer Sludge!” said the pedagogue; “Pauca verba, Gammer Sludge; look to the furmity, Gammer Sludge; curetur jentaculum, Gammer Sludge; this gentleman is none of thy gossips.” Then turning to Tressilian, he resumed his lofty tone, “And so, most worshipful, you would really think yourself felix bis terque should I point out to you the dwelling of this same smith?”

“Sir,” replied Tressilian, “I should in that case have all that I want at present — a horse fit to carry me forward; — out of hearing of your learning.” The last words he muttered to himself.

O caeca mens mortalium!” said the learned man “well was it sung by Junius Juvenalis, ‘Numinibus vota exaudita malignis!’”

“Learned Magister,” said Tressilian, “your erudition so greatly exceeds my poor intellectual capacity that you must excuse my seeking elsewhere for information which I can better understand.”

“There again now,” replied the pedagogue, “how fondly you fly from him that would instruct you! Truly said Quintilian —”

“I pray, sir, let Quintilian be for the present, and answer, in a word and in English, if your learning can condescend so far, whether there is any place here where I can have opportunity to refresh my horse until I can have him shod?”

“Thus much courtesy, sir,” said the schoolmaster, “I can readily render you, that although there is in this poor hamlet (nostra paupera regna) no regular hospitium, as my namesake Erasmus calleth it, yet, forasmuch as you are somewhat embued, or at least tinged, as it were, with good letters, I will use my interest with the good woman of the house to accommodate you with a platter of furmity — an wholesome food for which I have found no Latin phrase — your horse shall have a share of the cow-house, with a bottle of sweet hay, in which the good woman Sludge so much abounds, that it may be said of her cow, faenum habet in cornu; and if it please you to bestow on me the pleasure of your company, the banquet shall cost you ne semissem quidem, so much is Gammer Sludge bound to me for the pains I have bestowed on the top and bottom of her hopeful heir Dickie, whom I have painfully made to travel through the accidence.”

“Now, God yield ye for it, Master Herasmus,” said the good Gammer, “and grant that little Dickie may be the better for his accident! And for the rest, if the gentleman list to stay, breakfast shall be on the board in the wringing of a dishclout; and for horse-meat, and man’s meat, I bear no such base mind as to ask a penny.”

Considering the state of his horse, Tressilian, upon the whole, saw no better course than to accept the invitation thus learnedly made and hospitably confirmed, and take chance that when the good pedagogue had exhausted every topic of conversation, he might possibly condescend to tell him where he could find the smith they spoke of. He entered the hut accordingly, and sat down with the learned Magister Erasmus Holiday, partook of his furmity, and listened to his learned account of himself for a good half hour, ere he could get him to talk upon any other topic, The reader will readily excuse our accompanying this man of learning into all the details with which he favoured Tressilian, of which the following sketch may suffice.

He was born at Hogsnorton, where, according to popular saying, the pigs play upon the organ; a proverb which he interpreted allegorically, as having reference to the herd of Epicurus, of which litter Horace confessed himself a porker. His name of Erasmus he derived partly from his father having been the son of a renowned washerwoman, who had held that great scholar in clean linen all the while he was at Oxford; a task of some difficulty, as he was only possessed of two shirts, “the one,” as she expressed herself, “to wash the other,” The vestiges of one of these camiciae, as Master Holiday boasted, were still in his possession, having fortunately been detained by his grandmother to cover the balance of her bill. But he thought there was a still higher and overruling cause for his having had the name of Erasmus conferred on him — namely, the secret presentiment of his mother’s mind that, in the babe to be christened, was a hidden genius, which should one day lead him to rival the fame of the great scholar of Amsterdam. The schoolmaster’s surname led him as far into dissertation as his Christian appellative. He was inclined to think that he bore the name of Holiday quasi lucus a non lucendo, because he gave such few holidays to his school. “Hence,” said he, “the schoolmaster is termed, classically, Ludi Magister, because he deprives boys of their play.” And yet, on the other hand, he thought it might bear a very different interpretation, and refer to his own exquisite art in arranging pageants, morris-dances, May-day festivities, and such-like holiday delights, for which he assured Tressilian he had positively the purest and the most inventive brain in England; insomuch, that his cunning in framing such pleasures had made him known to many honourable persons, both in country and court, and especially to the noble Earl of Leicester. “And although he may now seem to forget me,” he said, “in the multitude of state affairs, yet I am well assured that, had he some pretty pastime to array for entertainment of the Queen’s Grace, horse and man would be seeking the humble cottage of Erasmus Holiday. Parvo contentus, in the meanwhile, I hear my pupils parse and construe, worshipful sir, and drive away my time with the aid of the Muses. And I have at all times, when in correspondence with foreign scholars, subscribed myself Erasmus ab Die Fausto, and have enjoyed the distinction due to the learned under that title: witness the erudite Diedrichus Buckerschockius, who dedicated to me under that title his treatise on the letter tau. In fine, sir, I have been a happy and distinguished man.”

“Long may it be so, sir!” said the traveller; “but permit me to ask, in your own learned phrase, Quid hoc ad iphycli boves? what has all this to do with the shoeing of my poor nag?”

Festina lente,” said the man of learning, “we will presently came to that point. You must know that some two or three years past there came to these parts one who called himself Doctor Doboobie, although it may be he never wrote even Magister Artium, save in right of his hungry belly. Or it may be, that if he had any degrees, they were of the devil’s giving; for he was what the vulgar call a white witch, a cunning man, and such like. — Now, good sir, I perceive you are impatient; but if a man tell not his tale his own way, how have you warrant to think that he can tell it in yours?”

“Well, then, learned sir, take your way,” answered Tressilian; “only let us travel at a sharper pace, for my time is somewhat of the shortest.”

“Well, sir,” resumed Erasmus Holiday, with the most provoking perseverance, “I will not say that this same Demetrius for so he wrote himself when in foreign parts, was an actual conjurer, but certain it is that he professed to be a brother of the mystical Order of the Rosy Cross, a disciple of Geber (Ex nomine cujus venit verbum vernaculum, gibberish). He cured wounds by salving the weapon instead of the sore; told fortunes by palmistry; discovered stolen goods by the sieve and shears; gathered the right maddow and the male fern seed, through use of which men walk invisible; pretended some advances towards the panacea, or universal elixir; and affected to convert good lead into sorry silver.”

“In other words,” said Tressilian, “he was a quacksalver and common cheat; but what has all this to do with my nag, and the shoe which he has lost?”

“With your worshipful patience,” replied the diffusive man of letters, “you shall understand that presently — patentia then, right worshipful, which word, according to our Marcus Tullius, is ‘difficilium rerum diurna perpessio.’ This same Demetrius Doboobie, after dealing with the country, as I have told you, began to acquire fame inter magnates, among the prime men of the land, and there is likelihood he might have aspired to great matters, had not, according to vulgar fame (for I aver not the thing as according with my certain knowledge), the devil claimed his right, one dark night, and flown off with Demetrius, who was never seen or heard of afterwards. Now here comes the medulla, the very marrow, of my tale. This Doctor Doboobie had a servant, a poor snake, whom he employed in trimming his furnace, regulating it by just measure — compounding his drugs — tracing his circles — cajoling his patients, et sic et caeteris. Well, right worshipful, the Doctor being removed thus strangely, and in a way which struck the whole country with terror, this poor Zany thinks to himself, in the words of Maro, ‘uno avulso, non deficit alter;’ and, even as a tradesman’s apprentice sets himself up in his master’s shop when he is dead or hath retired from business, so doth this Wayland assume the dangerous trade of his defunct master. But although, most worshipful sir, the world is ever prone to listen to the pretensions of such unworthy men, who are, indeed, mere saltim banqui and charlatani, though usurping the style and skill of doctors of medicine, yet the pretensions of this poor Zany, this Wayland, were too gross to pass on them, nor was there a mere rustic, a villager, who was not ready to accost him in the sense of Persius, though in their own rugged words —

Dilius helleborum certo compescere puncto

Nescius examen? Vetat hoc natura vedendi;’

which I have thus rendered in a poor paraphrase of mine own —

Wilt thou mix hellebore, who dost not know

How many grains should to the mixture go?

The art of medicine this forbids, I trow.

Moreover, the evil reputation of the master, and his strange and doubtful end, or at least sudden disappearance, prevented any, excepting the most desperate of men, to seek any advice or opinion from the servant; wherefore, the poor vermin was likely at first to swarf for very hunger. But the devil that serves him, since the death of Demetrius or Doboobie, put him on a fresh device. This knave, whether from the inspiration of the devil, or from early education, shoes horses better than e’er a man betwixt us and Iceland; and so he gives up his practice on the bipeds, the two-legged and unfledged species called mankind, and betakes him entirely to shoeing of horses.”

“Indeed! and where does he lodge all this time?” said Tressilian. “And does he shoe horses well? Show me his dwelling presently.”

The interruption pleased not the Magister, who exclaimed, “O caeca mens mortalium! — though, by the way, I used that quotation before. But I would the classics could afford me any sentiment of power to stop those who are so willing to rush upon their own destruction. Hear but, I pray you, the conditions of this man,” said he, in continuation, “ere you are so willing to place yourself within his danger —”

“A’ takes no money for a’s work,” said the dame, who stood by, enraptured as it were with the line words and learned apophthegms which glided so fluently from her erudite inmate, Master Holiday. But this interruption pleased not the Magister more than that of the traveller.

“Peace,” said he, “Gammer Sludge; know your place, if it be your will. Sufflamina, Gammer Sludge, and allow me to expound this matter to our worshipful guest. — Sir,” said he, again addressing Tressilian, “this old woman speaks true, though in her own rude style; for certainly this faber ferrarius, or blacksmith, takes money of no one.”

“And that is a sure sign he deals with Satan,” said Dame Sludge; “since no good Christian would ever refuse the wages of his labour.”

“The old woman hath touched it again,” said the pedagogue; “rem acu tetigit — she hath pricked it with her needle’s point. This Wayland takes no money, indeed; nor doth he show himself to any one.”

“And can this madman, for such I hold him,” said the traveller, “know aught like good skill of his trade?”

“Oh, sir, in that let us give the devil his due — Mulciber himself, with all his Cyclops, could hardly amend him. But assuredly there is little wisdom in taking counsel or receiving aid from one who is but too plainly in league with the author of evil.”

“I must take my chance of that, good Master Holiday,” said Tressilian, rising; “and as my horse must now have eaten his provender, I must needs thank you for your good cheer, and pray you to show me this man’s residence, that I may have the means of proceeding on my journey.”

“Ay, ay, do ye show him, Master Herasmus,” said the old dame, who was, perhaps, desirous to get her house freed of her guest; “a’ must needs go when the devil drives.”

Do manus,” said the Magister, “I submit — taking the world to witness, that I have possessed this honourable gentleman with the full injustice which he has done and shall do to his own soul, if he becomes thus a trinketer with Satan. Neither will I go forth with our guest myself, but rather send my pupil. — Ricarde! Adsis, nebulo.”

“Under your favour, not so,” answered the old woman; “you may peril your own soul, if you list, but my son shall budge on no such errand. And I wonder at you, Dominie Doctor, to propose such a piece of service for little Dickie.”

“Nay, my good Gammer Sludge,” answered the preceptor, “Ricardus shall go but to the top of the hill, and indicate with his digit to the stranger the dwelling of Wayland Smith. Believe not that any evil can come to him, he having read this morning, fasting, a chapter of the Septuagint, and, moreover, having had his lesson in the Greek Testament.”

“Ay,” said his mother, “and I have sewn a sprig of witch’s elm in the neck of un’s doublet, ever since that foul thief has begun his practices on man and beast in these parts.”

“And as he goes oft (as I hugely suspect) towards this conjurer for his own pastime, he may for once go thither, or near it, to pleasure us, and to assist this stranger. — ergo, heus Ricarde! adsis, quaeso, mi didascule.”

The pupil, thus affectionately invoked, at length came stumbling into the room; a queer, shambling, ill-made urchin, who, by his stunted growth, seemed about twelve or thirteen years old, though he was probably, in reality, a year or two older, with a carroty pate in huge disorder, a freckled, sunburnt visage, with a snub nose, a long chin, and two peery grey eyes, which had a droll obliquity of vision, approaching to a squint, though perhaps not a decided one. It was impossible to look at the little man without some disposition to laugh, especially when Gammer Sludge, seizing upon and kissing him, in spite of his struggling and kicking in reply to her caresses, termed him her own precious pearl of beauty.

Ricarde,” said the preceptor, “you must forthwith (which is profecto) set forth so far as the top of the hill, and show this man of worship Wayland Smith’s workshop.”

“A proper errand of a morning,” said the boy, in better language than Tressilian expected; “and who knows but the devil may fly away with me before I come back?”

“Ay, marry may un,” said Dame Sludge; “and you might have thought twice, Master Domine, ere you sent my dainty darling on arrow such errand. It is not for such doings I feed your belly and clothe your back, I warrant you!”

“Pshaw — nugae, good Gammer Sludge,” answered the preceptor; “I ensure you that Satan, if there be Satan in the case, shall not touch a thread of his garment; for Dickie can say his Pater with the best, and may defy the foul fiend — Eumenides, stygiumque nefas.”

“Ay, and I, as I said before, have sewed a sprig of the mountain-ash into his collar,” said the good woman, “which will avail more than your clerkship, I wus; but for all that, it is ill to seek the devil or his mates either.”

“My good boy,” said Tressilian, who saw, from a grotesque sneer on Dickie’s face, that he was more likely to act upon his own bottom than by the instructions of his elders, “I will give thee a silver groat, my pretty fellow, if you will but guide me to this man’s forge.”

The boy gave him a knowing side-look, which seemed to promise acquiescence, while at the same time he exclaimed, “I be your guide to Wayland Smith’s! Why, man, did I not say that the devil might fly off with me, just as the kite there” (looking to the window) “is flying off with one of grandam’s chicks?”

“The kite! the kite!” exclaimed the old woman in return, and forgetting all other matters in her alarm, hastened to the rescue of her chickens as fast as her old legs could carry her.

“Now for it,” said the urchin to Tressilian; “snatch your beaver, get out your horse, and have at the silver groat you spoke of.”

“Nay, but tarry, tarry,” said the preceptor —”sufflamina, Ricarde!”

“Tarry yourself,” said Dickie, “and think what answer you are to make to granny for sending me post to the devil.”

The teacher, aware of the responsibility he was incurring, bustled up in great haste to lay hold of the urchin and to prevent his departure; but Dickie slipped through his fingers, bolted from the cottage, and sped him to the top of a neighbouring rising ground, while the preceptor, despairing, by well-taught experience, of recovering his pupil by speed of foot, had recourse to the most honied epithets the Latin vocabulary affords to persuade his return. But to mi anime, corculum meum, and all such classical endearments, the truant turned a deaf ear, and kept frisking on the top of the rising ground like a goblin by moonlight, making signs to his new acquaintance, Tressilian, to follow him.

The traveller lost no time in getting out his horse and departing to join his elvish guide, after half-forcing on the poor, deserted teacher a recompense for the entertainment he had received, which partly allayed that terror he had for facing the return of the old lady of the mansion. Apparently this took place soon afterwards; for ere Tressilian and his guide had proceeded far on their journey, they heard the screams of a cracked female voice, intermingled with the classical objurgations of Master Erasmus Holiday. But Dickie Sludge, equally deaf to the voice of maternal tenderness and of magisterial authority, skipped on unconsciously before Tressilian, only observing that “if they cried themselves hoarse, they might go lick the honey-pot, for he had eaten up all the honey-comb himself on yesterday even.”

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