There entering in, they found the goodman selfe Full busylie unto his work ybent, Who was to weet a wretched wearish elf, With hollow eyes and rawbone cheeks forspent, As if he had been long in prison pent.--THE FAERY QUEENE.
"Are we far from the dwelling of this smith, my pretty lad?" said Tressilian to his young guide.
"How is it you call me?" said the boy, looking askew at him with his sharp, grey eyes.
"I call you my pretty lad--is there any offence in that, my boy?"
"No; but were you with my grandam and Dominie Holiday, you might sing chorus to the old song of
'We three Tom-fools be.'"
"And why so, my little man?" said Tressilian.
"Because," answered the ugly urchin, "you are the only three ever called me pretty lad. Now my grandam does it because she is parcel blind by age, and whole blind by kindred; and my master, the poor Dominie, does it to curry favour, and have the fullest platter of furmity and the warmest seat by the fire. But what you call me pretty lad for, you know best yourself."
"Thou art a sharp wag at least, if not a pretty one. But what do thy playfellows call thee?"
"Hobgoblin," answered the boy readily; "but for all that, I would rather have my own ugly viznomy than any of their jolter-heads, that have no more brains in them than a brick-bat."
"Then you fear not this smith whom you are going to see?"
"Me fear him!" answered the boy. "If he were the devil folk think him, I would not fear him; but though there is something queer about him, he's no more a devil than you are, and that's what I would not tell to every one."
"And why do you tell it to me, then, my boy?" said Tressilian.
"Because you are another guess gentleman than those we see here every day," replied Dickie; "and though I am as ugly as sin, I would not have you think me an ass, especially as I may have a boon to ask of you one day."
"And what is that, my lad, whom I must not call pretty?" replied Tressilian.
"Oh, if I were to ask it just now," said the boy, "you would deny it me; but I will wait till we meet at court."
"At court, Richard! are you bound for court?" said Tressilian.
"Ay, ay, that's just like the rest of them," replied the boy. "I warrant me, you think, what should such an ill-favoured, scrambling urchin do at court? But let Richard Sludge alone; I have not been cock of the roost here for nothing. I will make sharp wit mend foul feature."
"But what will your grandam say, and your tutor, Dominie Holiday?"
"E'en what they like," replied Dickie; "the one has her chickens to reckon, and the other has his boys to whip. I would have given them the candle to hold long since, and shown this trumpery hamlet a fair pair of heels, but that Dominie promises I should go with him to bear share in the next pageant he is to set forth, and they say there are to be great revels shortly."
"And whereabouts are they to be held, my little friend?" said Tressilian.
"Oh, at some castle far in the north," answered his guide--"a world's breadth from Berkshire. But our old Dominie holds that they cannot go forward without him; and it may be he is right, for he has put in order many a fair pageant. He is not half the fool you would take him for, when he gets to work he understands; and so he can spout verses like a play-actor, when, God wot, if you set him to steal a goose's egg, he would be drubbed by the gander."
"And you are to play a part in his next show?" said Tressilian, somewhat interested by the boy's boldness of conversation and shrewd estimate of character.
"In faith," said Richard Sludge, in answer, "he hath so promised me; and if he break his word, it will be the worse for him, for let me take the bit between my teeth, and turn my head downhill, and I will shake him off with a fall that may harm his bones. And I should not like much to hurt him neither," said he, "for the tiresome old fool has painfully laboured to teach me all he could. But enough of that--here are we at Wayland Smith's forge-door."
"You jest, my little friend," said Tressilian; "here is nothing but a bare moor, and that ring of stones, with a great one in the midst, like a Cornish barrow."
"Ay, and that great flat stone in the midst, which lies across the top of these uprights," said the boy, "is Wayland Smith's counter, that you must tell down your money upon."
"What do you mean by such folly?" said the traveller, beginning to be angry with the boy, and vexed with himself for having trusted such a hare-brained guide.
"Why," said Dickie, with a grin, "you must tie your horse to that upright stone that has the ring in't, and then you must whistle three times, and lay me down your silver groat on that other flat stone, walk out of the circle, sit down on the west side of that little thicket of bushes, and take heed you look neither to right nor to left for ten minutes, or so long as you shall hear the hammer clink, and whenever it ceases, say your prayers for the space you could tell a hundred--or count over a hundred, which will do as well--and then come into the circle; you will find your money gone and your horse shod."
"My money gone to a certainty!" said Tressilian; "but as for the rest--Hark ye, my lad, I am not your school-master, but if you play off your waggery on me, I will take a part of his task off his hands, and punish you to purpose."
"Ay, when you catch me!" said the boy; and presently took to his heels across the heath, with a velocity which baffled every attempt of Tressilian to overtake him, loaded as he was with his heavy boots. Nor was it the least provoking part of the urchin's conduct, that he did not exert his utmost speed, like one who finds himself in danger, or who is frightened, but preserved just such a rate as to encourage Tressilian to continue the chase, and then darted away from him with the swiftness of the wind, when his pursuer supposed he had nearly run him down, doubling at the same time, and winding, so as always to keep near the place from which he started.
This lasted until Tressilian, from very weariness, stood still, and was about to abandon the pursuit with a hearty curse on the ill-favoured urchin, who had engaged him in an exercise so ridiculous. But the boy, who had, as formerly, planted himself on the top of a hillock close in front, began to clap his long, thin hands, point with his skinny fingers, and twist his wild and ugly features into such an extravagant expression of laughter and derision, that Tressilian began half to doubt whether he had not in view an actual hobgoblin.
Provoked extremely, yet at the same time feeling an irresistible desire to laugh, so very odd were the boy's grimaces and gesticulations, the Cornishman returned to his horse, and mounted him with the purpose of pursuing Dickie at more advantage.
The boy no sooner saw him mount his horse, than he holloed out to him that, rather than he should spoil his white-footed nag, he would come to him, on condition he would keep his fingers to himself.
"I will make no conditions with thee, thou ugly varlet!" said Tressilian; "I will have thee at my mercy in a moment."
"Aha, Master Traveller," said the boy, "there is a marsh hard by would swallow all the horses of the Queen's guard. I will into it, and see where you will go then. You shall hear the bittern bump, and the wild-drake quack, ere you get hold of me without my consent, I promise you."
Tressilian looked out, and, from the appearance of the ground behind the hillock, believed it might be as the boy said, and accordingly determined to strike up a peace with so light-footed and ready-witted an enemy. "Come down," he said, "thou mischievous brat! Leave thy mopping and mowing, and, come hither. I will do thee no harm, as I am a gentleman."
The boy answered his invitation with the utmost confidence, and danced down from his stance with a galliard sort of step, keeping his eye at the same time fixed on Tressilian's, who, once more dismounted, stood with his horse's bridle in his hand, breathless, and half exhausted with his fruitless exercise, though not one drop of moisture appeared on the freckled forehead of the urchin, which looked like a piece of dry and discoloured parchment, drawn tight across the brow of a fleshless skull.
"And tell me," said Tressilian, "why you use me thus, thou mischievous imp? or what your meaning is by telling me so absurd a legend as you wished but now to put on me? Or rather show me, in good earnest, this smith's forge, and I will give thee what will buy thee apples through the whole winter."
"Were you to give me an orchard of apples," said Dickie Sludge, "I can guide thee no better than I have done. Lay down the silver token on the flat stone--whistle three times--then come sit down on the western side of the thicket of gorse. I will sit by you, and give you free leave to wring my head off, unless you hear the smith at work within two minutes after we are seated."
"I may be tempted to take thee at thy word," said Tressilian, "if you make me do aught half so ridiculous for your own mischievous sport; however, I will prove your spell. Here, then, I tie my horse to this upright stone. I must lay my silver groat here, and whistle three times, sayest thou?"
"Ay, but thou must whistle louder than an unfledged ousel," said the boy, as Tressilian, having laid down his money, and half ashamed of the folly he practised, made a careless whistle--"you must whistle louder than that, for who knows where the smith is that you call for? He may be in the King of France's stables for what I know."
"Why, you said but now he was no devil," replied Tressilian.
"Man or devil," said Dickie, "I see that I must summon him for you;" and therewithal he whistled sharp and shrill, with an acuteness of sound that almost thrilled through Tressilian's brain. "That is what I call whistling," said he, after he had repeated the signal thrice; "and now to cover, to cover, or Whitefoot will not be shod this day."
Tressilian, musing what the upshot of this mummery was to be, yet satisfied there was to be some serious result, by the confidence with which the boy had put himself in his power, suffered himself to be conducted to that side of the little thicket of gorse and brushwood which was farthest from the circle of stones, and there sat down; and as it occurred to him that, after all, this might be a trick for stealing his horse, he kept his hand on the boy's collar, determined to make him hostage for its safety.
"Now, hush and listen," said Dickie, in a low whisper; "you will soon hear the tack of a hammer that was never forged of earthly iron, for the stone it was made of was shot from the moon." And in effect Tressilian did immediately hear the light stroke of a hammer, as when a farrier is at work. The singularity of such a sound, in so very lonely a place, made him involuntarily start; but looking at the boy, and discovering, by the arch malicious expression of his countenance, that the urchin saw and enjoyed his slight tremor, he became convinced that the whole was a concerted stratagem, and determined to know by whom, or for what purpose, the trick was played off.
Accordingly, he remained perfectly quiet all the time that the hammer continued to sound, being about the space usually employed in fixing a horse-shoe. But the instant the sound ceased, Tressilian, instead of interposing the space of time which his guide had required, started up with his sword in his hand, ran round the thicket, and confronted a man in a farrier's leathern apron, but otherwise fantastically attired in a bear-skin dressed with the fur on, and a cap of the same, which almost hid the sooty and begrimed features of the wearer. "Come back, come back!" cried the boy to Tressilian, "or you will be torn to pieces; no man lives that looks on him." In fact, the invisible smith (now fully visible) heaved up his hammer, and showed symptoms of doing battle.
But when the boy observed that neither his own entreaties nor the menaces of the farrier appeared to change Tressilian's purpose, but that, on the contrary, he confronted the hammer with his drawn sword, he exclaimed to the smith in turn, "Wayland, touch him not, or you will come by the worse!--the gentleman is a true gentleman, and a bold."
"So thou hast betrayed me, Flibbertigibbet?" said the smith; "it shall be the worse for thee!"
"Be who thou wilt," said Tressilian, "thou art in no danger from me, so thou tell me the meaning of this practice, and why thou drivest thy trade in this mysterious fashion."
The smith, however, turning to Tressilian, exclaimed, in a threatening tone, "Who questions the Keeper of the Crystal Castle of Light, the Lord of the Green Lion, the Rider of the Red Dragon? Hence!--avoid thee, ere I summon Talpack with his fiery lance, to quell, crush, and consume!" These words he uttered with violent gesticulation, mouthing, and flourishing his hammer.
"Peace, thou vile cozener, with thy gipsy cant!" replied Tressilian scornfully, "and follow me to the next magistrate, or I will cut thee over the pate."
"Peace, I pray thee, good Wayland!" said the boy. "Credit me, the swaggering vein will not pass here; you must cut boon whids." ["Give good words."--SLANG DIALECT.]
"I think, worshipful sir," said the smith, sinking his hammer, and assuming a more gentle and submissive tone of voice, "that when so poor a man does his day's job, he might be permitted to work it out after his own fashion. Your horse is shod, and your farrier paid--what need you cumber yourself further than to mount and pursue your journey?"
"Nay, friend, you are mistaken," replied Tressilian; "every man has a right to take the mask from the face of a cheat and a juggler; and your mode of living raises suspicion that you are both."
"If you are so determined; sir," said the smith, "I cannot help myself save by force, which I were unwilling to use towards you, Master Tressilian; not that I fear your weapon, but because I know you to be a worthy, kind, and well-accomplished gentleman, who would rather help than harm a poor man that is in a strait."
"Well said, Wayland," said the boy, who had anxiously awaited the issue of their conference. "But let us to thy den, man, for it is ill for thy health to stand here talking in the open air."
"Thou art right, Hobgoblin," replied the smith; and going to the little thicket of gorse on the side nearest to the circle, and opposite to that at which his customer had so lately crouched, he discovered a trap-door curiously covered with bushes, raised it, and, descending into the earth, vanished from their eyes. Notwithstanding Tressilian's curiosity, he had some hesitation at following the fellow into what might be a den of robbers, especially when he heard the smith's voice, issuing from the bowels of the earth, call out, "Flibertigibbet, do you come last, and be sure to fasten the trap!"
"Have you seen enough of Wayland Smith now?" whispered the urchin to Tressilian, with an arch sneer, as if marking his companion's uncertainty.
"Not yet," said Tressilian firmly; and shaking off his momentary irresolution, he descended into the narrow staircase, to which the entrance led, and was followed by Dickie Sludge, who made fast the trap-door behind him, and thus excluded every glimmer of daylight. The descent, however, was only a few steps, and led to a level passage of a few yards' length, at the end of which appeared the reflection of a lurid and red light. Arrived at this point, with his drawn sword in his hand, Tressilian found that a turn to the left admitted him and Hobgoblin, who followed closely, into a small, square vault, containing a smith's forge, glowing with charcoal, the vapour of which filled the apartment with an oppressive smell, which would have been altogether suffocating, but that by some concealed vent the smithy communicated with the upper air. The light afforded by the red fuel, and by a lamp suspended in an iron chain, served to show that, besides an anvil, bellows, tongs, hammers, a quantity of ready-made horse-shoes, and other articles proper to the profession of a farrier, there were also stoves, alembics, crucibles, retorts, and other instruments of alchemy. The grotesque figure of the smith, and the ugly but whimsical features of the boy, seen by the gloomy and imperfect light of the charcoal fire and the dying lamp, accorded very well with all this mystical apparatus, and in that age of superstition would have made some impression on the courage of most men.
But nature had endowed Tressilian with firm nerves, and his education, originally good, had been too sedulously improved by subsequent study to give way to any imaginary terrors; and after giving a glance around him, he again demanded of the artist who he was, and by what accident he came to know and address him by his name.
"Your worship cannot but remember," said the smith, "that about three years since, upon Saint Lucy's Eve, there came a travelling juggler to a certain hall in Devonshire, and exhibited his skill before a worshipful knight and a fair company.--I see from your worship's countenance, dark as this place is, that my memory has not done me wrong."
"Thou hast said enough," said Tressilian, turning away, as wishing to hide from the speaker the painful train of recollections which his discourse had unconsciously awakened.
"The juggler," said the smith, "played his part so bravely that the clowns and clown-like squires in the company held his art to be little less than magical; but there was one maiden of fifteen, or thereby, with the fairest face I ever looked upon, whose rosy cheek grew pale, and her bright eyes dim, at the sight of the wonders exhibited."
"Peace, I command thee, peace!" said Tressilian.
"I mean your worship no offence," said the fellow; "but I have cause to remember how, to relieve the young maiden's fears, you condescended to point out the mode in which these deceptions were practised, and to baffle the poor juggler by laying bare the mysteries of his art, as ably as if you had been a brother of his order.--She was indeed so fair a maiden that, to win a smile of her, a man might well--"
"Not a word more of her, I charge thee!" said Tressilian. "I do well remember the night you speak of--one of the few happy evenings my life has known."
"She is gone, then," said the smith, interpreting after his own fashion the sigh with which Tressilian uttered these words--"she is gone, young, beautiful, and beloved as she was!--I crave your worship's pardon--I should have hammered on another theme. I see I have unwarily driven the nail to the quick."
This speech was made with a mixture of rude feeling which inclined Tressilian favourably to the poor artisan, of whom before he was inclined to judge very harshly. But nothing can so soon attract the unfortunate as real or seeming sympathy with their sorrows.
"I think," proceeded Tressilian, after a minute's silence, "thou wert in those days a jovial fellow, who could keep a company merry by song, and tale, and rebeck, as well as by thy juggling tricks--why do I find thee a laborious handicraftsman, plying thy trade in so melancholy a dwelling and under such extraordinary circumstances?"
"My story is not long," said the artist, "but your honour had better sit while you listen to it." So saying, he approached to the fire a three-footed stool, and took another himself; while Dickie Sludge, or Flibbertigibbet, as he called the boy, drew a cricket to the smith's feet, and looked up in his face with features which, as illuminated by the glow of the forge, seemed convulsed with intense curiosity. "Thou too," said the smith to him, "shalt learn, as thou well deservest at my hand, the brief history of my life; and, in troth, it were as well tell it thee as leave thee to ferret it out, since Nature never packed a shrewder wit into a more ungainly casket.--Well, sir, if my poor story may pleasure you, it is at your command, But will you not taste a stoup of liquor? I promise you that even in this poor cell I have some in store."
"Speak not of it," said Tressilian, "but go on with thy story, for my leisure is brief."
"You shall have no cause to rue the delay," said the smith, "for your horse shall be better fed in the meantime than he hath been this morning, and made fitter for travel."
With that the artist left the vault, and returned after a few minutes' interval. Here, also, we pause, that the narrative may commence in another chapter.
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