Kenilworth eBook: Page2

Walter Scott (2006)


  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, thefree rendezvous of all travellers, and where the humour of each displaysitself without ceremony or restraint. This is specially suitable whenthe scene is laid during the old days of merry England, when theguests were in some sort not merely the inmates, but the messmatesand temporary companions of mine Host, who was usually a personage ofprivileged freedom, comely presence, and good-humour. Patronized by himthe characters of the company were placed in ready contrast; and theyseldom failed, during the emptying of a six-hooped pot, to throw offreserve, 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 oldstamp, conducted, or rather ruled, by Giles Gosling, a man of a goodlyperson, and of somewhat round belly; fifty years of age and upwards,moderate in his reckonings, prompt in his payments, having a cellar ofsound liquor, a ready wit, and a pretty daughter. Since the days ofold Harry Baillie of the Tabard in Southwark, no one had excelled GilesGosling in the power of pleasing his guests of every description; and sogreat was his fame, that to have been in Cumnor without wetting a cupat the bonny Black Bear, would have been to avouch one's-self utterlyindifferent to reputation as a traveller. A country fellow might as wellreturn from London without looking in the face of majesty. The men ofCumnor 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 fellowlandlord, that a traveller alighted in the close of the evening, gavehis horse, which seemed to have made a long journey, to the hostler,and made some inquiry, which produced the following dialogue betwixt themyrmidons of the bonny Black Bear.

  "What, ho! John Tapster."

  "At hand, Will Hostler," replied the man of the spigot, showing himselfin his costume of loose jacket, linen breeches, and green apron, halfwithin and half without a door, which appeared to descend to an outercellar.

  "Here is a gentleman asks if you draw good ale," continued the hostler.

  "Beshrew my heart else," answered the tapster, "since there are but fourmiles betwixt us and Oxford. Marry, if my ale did not convince theheads of the scholars, they would soon convince my pate with the pewterflagon."

  "Call you that Oxford logic?" said the stranger, who had now quitted therein of his horse, and was advancing towards the inn-door, when he wasencountered by the goodly form of Giles Gosling himself.

  "Is it logic you talk of, Sir Guest?" said the host; "why, then, have atyou 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 aquart 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 onyour host for help for such a sipping matter as a quart of sack; Were ita gallon, you might lack some neighbouring aid at my hand, and yet callyourself a toper."

  "Fear me not." said the guest, "I will do my devoir as becomes a man whofinds himself within five miles of Oxford; for I am not come from thefield 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 wereseated together in different parties--some drinking, some playing atcards, some conversing, and some, whose business called them to be earlyrisers on the morrow, concluding their evening meal, and conferring withthe chamberlain about their night's quarters.

  The entrance of a stranger procured him that general and careless sortof attention which is usually paid on such occasions, from which thefollowing results were deduced:--The guest was one of those who, witha well-made person, and features not in themselves unpleasing, arenevertheless so far from handsome that, whether from the expressionof their features, or the tone of their voice, or from their gait andmanner, there arises, on the whole, a disinclination to their society.The stranger's address was bold, without being frank, and seemed eagerlyand hastily to claim for him a degree of attention and deference whichhe feared would be refused, if not instantly vindicated as his right.His attire was a riding-cloak, which, when open, displayed a handsomejerkin overlaid with lace, and belted with a buff girdle, whichsustained a broadsword and a pair of pistols.

  "You ride well provided, sir," said the host, looking at the weapons ashe 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 donot, like your modern grandees, turn off my followers the instant theyare useless."

  "Ay, sir?" said Giles Gosling; "then you are from the Low Countries, theland of pike and caliver?"

  "I have been high and low, my friend, broad and wide, far and near. Buthere 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, andsmacking his lips with an air of ineffable relish,--"I know nothingof superlative, nor is there such a wine at the Three Cranes, in theVintry, to my knowledge; but if you find better sack than that in theSheres, or in the Canaries either, I would I may never touch either potor penny more. Why, hold it up betwixt you and the light, you shall seethe 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 trustyour honour likes the wine?"

  "It is neat and comfortable, mine host; but to know good liquor, youshould drink where the vine grows. Trust me, your Spaniard is too wisea man to send you the very soul of the grape. Why, this now, which youaccount 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 bedeep in the mysteries of the butt and pottle-pot."

  "In troth, Signior Guest," said Giles Gosling, "if I were to travel onlythat I might be discontented with that which I can get at home, methinksI should go but on a fool's errand. Besides, I warrant you, there ismany a fool can turn his nose up at good drink without ever havingbeen out of the smoke of Old England; and so ever gramercy mine ownfireside."

  "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 havegallants among you, I dare undertake, that have made the Virginiavoyage, or taken a turn in the Low Countries at least. Come, cudgel yourmemory. Have you no friends in foreign parts that you would gladly havetidings of?"

  "Troth, sir, not I," answered the host, "since ranting Robin ofDrysandford was shot at the siege of the Brill. The devil take thecaliver that fired the ball, for a blither lad never filled a cupat midnight! But he is dead and gone, and I know not a soldier, or atraveller, who is a soldier's mate, that I would give a peeled codlingfor."

  "By the Mass, that is strange. What! so many of our brave English heartsare abroad, and you, who seem to be a man of mark, have no friend, nokinsman among them?"

  "Nay, if you speak of kinsmen," answered Gosling, "I have one wild slipof a kinsman, who left us in the last year of Queen Mary; but he isbetter lost than found."

  "Do not say so, friend, unless you have heard ill of him lately. Many awild colt has turned out a noble steed.--His name, I pray you?"

  "Michael Lambourne," answered the landlord of the Black Bear; "a son ofmy sister's--there is little pleasure in recollecting either the name orthe connection."

  "Michael Lambourne!" said the stranger, as if endeavouring to recollecthimself--"what, no relation to Michael Lambourne, the gallant cavalierwho behav
ed so bravely at the siege of Venlo that Grave Maurice thankedhim at the head of the army? Men said he was an English cavalier, and ofno high extraction."

  "It could scarcely be my nephew," said Giles Gosling, "for he had notthe 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 morelikely to lose the little he had."

  "The Michael Lambourne whom I knew," continued the traveller, "was alikely fellow--went always gay and well attired, and had a hawk's eyeafter a pretty wench."

  "Our Michael," replied the host, "had the look of a dog with a bottleat its tail, and wore a coat, every rag of which was bidding good-day tothe 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 afrippery warehouse, while the broker was looking another way; and, forthe hawk's eye you talk of, his was always after my stray spoons. He wastapster's boy here in this blessed house for a quarter of a year; andbetween misreckonings, miscarriages, mistakes, and misdemeanours, hadhe 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 totell you poor Mike Lambourne was shot at the head of his regiment at thetaking of a sconce near Maestricht?"

  "Sorry!--it would be the blithest news I ever heard of him, since itwould ensure me he was not hanged. But let him pass--I doubt hisend will never do such credit to his friends. Were it so, I shouldsay"--(taking another cup of sack)--"Here's God rest him, with all myheart."

  "Tush, man," replied the traveller, "never fear but you will have creditby your nephew yet, especially if he be the Michael Lambourne whom Iknew, and loved very nearly, or altogether, as well as myself. Can youtell me no mark by which I could judge whether they be the same?"

  "Faith, none that I can think of," answered Giles Gosling, "unless thatour Mike had the gallows branded on his left shoulder for stealing asilver caudle-cup from Dame Snort of Hogsditch."

  "Nay, there you lie like a knave, uncle," said the stranger, slippingaside his ruff; and turning down the sleeve of his doublet from his neckand shoulder; "by this good day, my shoulder is as unscarred as thineown.

  "What, Mike, boy--Mike!" exclaimed the host;--"and is it thou, in goodearnest? Nay, I have judged so for this half-hour; for I knew no otherperson would have ta'en half the interest in thee. But, Mike, an thyshoulder be unscathed as thou sayest, thou must own that Goodman Thong,the hangman, was merciful in his office, and stamped thee with a coldiron."

  "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 hasrolled the world around for eighteen years; who has seen the sun setwhere 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 wellsee; and that was what thou least didst: need to travel for. I rememberwell, among thine other qualities, there was no crediting a word whichcame from thy mouth."

  "Here's an unbelieving pagan for you, gentlemen!" said MichaelLambourne, turning to those who witnessed this strange interview betwixtuncle and nephew, some of whom, being natives of the village, were nostrangers to his juvenile wildness. "This may be called slaying a Cumnorfatted calf for me with a vengeance.--But, uncle, I come not fromthe husks and the swine-trough, and I care not for thy welcome or nowelcome; 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, thesight of which produced a visible effect upon the company. Some shooktheir heads and whispered to each other, while one or two of the lessscrupulous 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, hintingthat, if Giles Gosling wished to continue to thrive, he should turn histhriftless, godless nephew adrift again, as soon as he could. Goslingdemeaned himself as if he were much of the same opinion, for even thesight of the gold made less impression on the honest gentleman than itusually doth upon one of his calling.

  "Kinsman Michael," he said, "put up thy purse. My sister's son shall becalled to no reckoning in my house for supper or lodging; and I reckonthou wilt hardly wish to stay longer where thou art e'en but too wellknown."

  "For that matter, uncle," replied the traveller, "I shall consult my ownneeds and conveniences. Meantime I wish to give the supper and sleepingcup to those good townsmen who are not too proud to remember MikeLambourne, the tapster's boy. If you will let me have entertainment formy money, so; if not, it is but a short two minutes' walk to the Hareand Tabor, and I trust our neighbours will not grudge going thus farwith me."

  "Nay, Mike," replied his uncle, "as eighteen years have gone over thyhead, and I trust thou art somewhat amended in thy conditions, thoushalt not leave my house at this hour, and shalt e'en have whateverin reason you list to call for. But I would I knew that that purse ofthine, which thou vapourest of, were as well come by as it seems wellfilled."

  "Here is an infidel for you, my good neighbours!" said Lambourne, againappealing to the audience. "Here's a fellow will rip up his kinsman'sfollies 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. Inthe New World have I been, man--in the Eldorado, where urchins playat cherry-pit with diamonds, and country wenches thread rubies fornecklaces, instead of rowan-tree berries; where the pantiles are made ofpure gold, and the paving-stones of virgin silver."

  "By my credit, friend Mike," said young Laurence Goldthred, the cuttingmercer of Abingdon, "that were a likely coast to trade to. And what maylawns, cypruses, and ribands fetch, where gold is so plenty?"

  "Oh, the profit were unutterable," replied Lambourne, "especially whena handsome young merchant bears the pack himself; for the ladies of thatclime are bona-robas, and being themselves somewhat sunburnt, they catchfire like tinder at a fresh complexion like thine, with a head of hairinclining 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 samebrisk boy who was partner with me at robbing the Abbot's orchard. 'Tisbut a little touch of alchemy to decoct thy house and land into readymoney, and that ready money into a tall ship, with sails, anchors,cordage, and all things conforming; then clap thy warehouse of goodsunder hatches, put fifty good fellows on deck, with myself to commandthem, and so hoist topsails, and hey for the New World!"

  "Thou hast taught him a secret, kinsman," said Giles Gosling, "todecoct, an that be the word, his pound into a penny and his webs into athread.--Take a fool's advice, neighbour Goldthred. Tempt not the sea,for she is a devourer. Let cards and cockatrices do their worst, thyfather's bales may bide a banging for a year or two ere thou comest tothe Spital; but the sea hath a bottomless appetite,--she would swallowthe wealth of Lombard Street in a morning, as easily as I would apoached egg and a cup of clary. And for my kinsman's Eldorado, nevertrust me if I do not believe he has found it in the pouches of some suchgulls as thyself.--But take no snuff in the nose about it; fall to andwelcome, for here comes the supper, and I heartily bestow it on allthat will take share, in honour of my hopeful nephew's return, alwaystrusting that he has come home another man.--In faith, kinsman, thou artas like my poor sister as ever was son to mother."

  "Not quite so like old Benedict Lambourne, her husband, though," saidthe mercer, nodding and winking. "Dost thou remember, Mike, what thousaidst when the schoolmaster's ferule was over thee for striking up thyfather's crutches?--it is a wise child, saidst thou, that knows its ownfather. Dr. Bircham laughed till he cried again, and his crying savedyours."

  "Well, he made it up to me many a day after," said Lambourne; "and howis the worthy pedagogue?"<
br />
  "Dead," said Giles Gosling, "this many a day since."

  "That he is," said the clerk of the parish; "I sat by his bed thewhilst. He passed away in a blessed frame. 'MORIOR--MORTUUS SUM VELFUI--MORI'--these were his latest words; and he just added, 'my lastverb 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, afterall."

  "VOTO A DIOS!" exclaimed Lambourne, his patience appearing to fail him,as he snatched his broad, slouched hat from the table and placed it onhis head, so that the shadow gave the sinister expression of a Spanishbrave to eyes and features which naturally boded nothing pleasant."Hark'ee, my masters--all is fair among friends, and under the rose; andI have already permitted my worthy uncle here, and all of you, to useyour pleasure with the frolics of my nonage. But I carry sword anddagger, my good friends, and can use them lightly too upon occasion. Ihave learned to be dangerous upon points of honour ever since I servedthe Spaniard, and I would not have you provoke me to the degree offalling foul."

  "Why, what would you do?" said the clerk.

  "Ay, sir, what would you do?" said the mercer, bustling up on the otherside of the table.

  "Slit your throat, and spoil your Sunday's quavering, Sir Clerk,"said Lambourne fiercely; "cudgel you, my worshipful dealer in flimsysarsenets, into one of your own bales."

  "Come, come," said the host, interposing, "I will have no swaggeringhere.--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 honourof his family.--I protest your silly broils make me as oblivious asyourself; for yonder sits my silent guest as I call him, who hath beenmy two days' inmate, and hath never spoken a word, save to ask for hisfood and his reckoning--gives no more trouble than a very peasant--payshis shot like a prince royal--looks but at the sum total of thereckoning, and does not know what day he shall go away. Oh, 'tis a jewelof a guest! and yet, hang-dog that I am, I have suffered him to sitby himself like a castaway in yonder obscure nook, without so much asasking him to take bite or sup along with us. It were but the rightguerdon of my incivility were he to set off to the Hare and Tabor beforethe night grows older."

  With his white napkin gracefully arranged over his left arm, his velvetcap laid aside for the moment, and his best silver flagon in his righthand, mine host walked up to the solitary guest whom he mentioned, andthereby turned upon him the eyes of the assembled company.

  He was a man aged betwixt twenty-five and thirty, rather above themiddle size, dressed with plainness and decency, yet bearing an air ofease which almost amounted to dignity, and which seemed to infer thathis habit was rather beneath his rank. His countenance was reserved andthoughtful, with dark hair and dark eyes; the last, upon any momentaryexcitement, sparkled with uncommon lustre, but on other occasionshad the same meditative and tranquil cast which was exhibited by hisfeatures. The busy curiosity of the little village had been employed todiscover his name and quality, as well as his business at Cumnor;but nothing had transpired on either subject which could lead to itsgratification. Giles Gosling, head-borough of the place, and a steadyfriend to Queen Elizabeth and the Protestant religion, was at one timeinclined to suspect his guest of being a Jesuit, or seminary priest, ofwhom Rome and Spain sent at this time so many to grace the gallowsin England. But it was scarce possible to retain such a prepossessionagainst a guest who gave so little trouble, paid his reckoning soregularly, and who proposed, as it seemed, to make a considerable stayat 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 atBessellsey, or with the old Knight at Wootton, or in some other of theirRoman dens, instead of living in a house of public entertainment, asevery honest man and good Christian should. Besides, on Friday he stuckby the salt beef and carrot, though there were as good spitch-cockedeels 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 ina draught of the cool tankard, and honour with his attention a smallcollation which he was giving to his nephew, in honour of his return,and, as he verily hoped, of his reformation. The stranger at first shookhis head, as if declining the courtesy; but mine host proceeded tourge him with arguments founded on the credit of his house, and theconstruction which the good people of Cumnor might put upon such anunsocial humour.

  "By my faith, sir," he said, "it touches my reputation that men shouldbe merry in my house; and we have ill tongues amongst us at Cumnor (aswhere be there not?), who put an evil mark on men who pull their hatover their brows, as if they were looking back to the days that aregone, instead of enjoying the blithe sunshiny weather which God has sentus in the sweet looks of our sovereign mistress, Queen Elizabeth, whomHeaven long bless and preserve!"

  "Why, mine host," answered the stranger, "there is no treason, sure, ina 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 knowthere are thoughts that will haunt us in spite of ourselves, and towhich it is in vain to say, Begone, and let me be merry."

  "By my sooth," answered Giles Gosling, "if such troublesome thoughtshaunt your mind, and will not get them gone for plain English, we willhave one of Father Bacon's pupils from Oxford, to conjure them away withlogic and with Hebrew--or, what say you to laying them in a glorious redsea of claret, my noble guest? Come, sir, excuse my freedom. I am an oldhost, and must have my talk. This peevish humour of melancholy sits illupon you; it suits not with a sleek boot, a hat of trim block, a freshcloak, and a full purse. A pize on it! send it off to those who havetheir legs swathed with a hay-wisp, their heads thatched with a feltbonnet, their jerkin as thin as a cobweb, and their pouch without evera cross to keep the fiend Melancholy from dancing in it. Cheer up,sir! or, by this good liquor, we shall banish thee from the joysof blithesome company, into the mists of melancholy and the land oflittle-ease. Here be a set of good fellows willing to be merry; do notscowl 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 hiscountenance--"you say well, my jovial friend; and they that are moodylike myself should not disturb the mirth of those who are happy. I willdrink a round with your guests with all my heart, rather than be termeda mar-feast."

  So saying, he arose and joined the company, who, encouraged by theprecept and example of Michael Lambourne, and consisting chiefly ofpersons much disposed to profit by the opportunity of a merry meal atthe expense of their landlord, had already made some inroads upon thelimits of temperance, as was evident from the tone in which Michaelinquired after his old acquaintances in the town, and the bursts oflaughter with which each answer was received. Giles Gosling himselfwas 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 thesenoisy revellers, and began to make a sort of apology for their license.

  "You would think," he said, "to hear these fellows talk, that there wasnot one of them who had not been bred to live by Stand and Deliver; andyet tomorrow you will find them a set of as painstaking mechanics, andso forth, as ever cut an inch short of measure, or paid a letter ofchange in light crowns over a counter. The mercer there wears his hatawry, over a shaggy head of hair, that looks like a curly water-dog'sback, goes unbraced, wears his cloak on one side, and affects aruffianly vapouring humour: when in his shop at Abingdon, he is, fromhis flat cap to his glistening shoes, as precise
in his apparel as if hewas named for mayor. He talks of breaking parks, and taking the highway,in such fashion that you would think he haunted every night betwixtHounslow and London; when in fact he may be found sound asleep on hisfeather-bed, with a candle placed beside him on one side, and a Bible onthe other, to fright away the goblins."

  "And your nephew, mine host, this same Michael Lambourne, who is lord ofthe 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 mendedlike other folks, you wot. And I would not have you think all I saidof him, even now, was strict gospel; I knew the wag all the while, andwished to pluck his plumes from him. And now, sir, by what name shall Ipresent 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 Ithink, 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 shallyou be sure you speak no more than is true. A man may have one of thosehonourable prefixes to his name, yet be born far from Saint Michael'sMount."

  Mine host pushed his curiosity no further, but presented MasterTressilian to his nephew's company, who, after exchange of salutations,and drinking to the health of their new companion, pursued theconversation in which he found them engaged, seasoning it with many anintervening pledge.