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Black Bartlemy's Treasure(Chapter8)

2006-08-28 21:45

  Chapter VIII. How I Fell in With One God-Be-Here, A Peddler

  Evening was at hand as I reached a little alehouse well away from the road and pleasantly secluded by trees: thither came I, fondling Penfeather's money in my pocket, for I was again mightily sharp set. But all at once I stopped, for, passing the open lattice, I heard loud laughter and a merry voice:

  "And there, believe me, gossips" (quoth this voice), "as sure as this be beef——aye, and good beef and cooked to a turn, mistress—— there's this great, lob-lolly, hectoring Tom Button fast i' the pillory——and by this good ale, a woeful sight, his eyes blacked, his nose a-bleeding, his jerkin torn and a dead cat about his neck, oho——aha! Tom Button——big Tom, fighting Tom so loud o' tongue and ready o' fist——Tom as have cowed so many——there is he fast by the neck and a-groaning, see ye, gossips, loud enough for six, wish I may die else! And the best o' the joke is——the key be gone, as I'm a sinner! So they needs must break the lock to get him out. Big Tom, as have thrashed every man for miles." But here merry voice and laughter ceased and a buxom woman thrust smiling face from the window, and face (like her voice) was kindly when she addressed me:

  "What would ye, young master?"

  "A little food, mistress," says I, touching my weather-worn hat and pulling it lower over my bruised and swollen features.

  "Why come in, master, come in——there be none here but my Roger and Godby the peddler, as knoweth everyone."

  So I entered forthwith a small, snug chamber, and seating myself in the darkest corner, acknowledged the salutations of the two men while the good-looking woman, bustling to and fro, soon set before me a fine joint of roast beef with bread and ale, upon which I incontinent fell to.

  The two men sat cheek by jowl at the farther end of the table, one a red-faced, lusty fellow, the other, a small, bony man who laughed and ate and ate and laughed and yet contrived to talk all the while, that it was a wonder to behold.

  "Was you over to Lamberhurst way, master?" says he to me, all at once.

  "Aye!" I nodded, busy with the beef.

  "Why then, happen ye saw summat o' the sport they had wi' the big gipsy i' the pillory——him as 'saulted my Lady Brandon and nigh did for her ladyship's coz?"

  "Aye," says I again, bending over my platter.

  "'Tis ill sport to bait a poor soul as be helpless, I think——nay I know, for I've stood there myself ere now, though I won't say as I didn't clod this fellow once or twice to-day myself——I were a rare clodder in my time, aha! Did you clod this big rogue, master?"

  "No!"

  "And wherefore not?"

  "Because," says I, cutting myself more beef, "I happened to be that same rogue." Here Roger the landlord stared, his buxom wife shrank away, and even the talkative peddler grew silent awhile, viewing me with his shrewd, merry eyes.

  "Aha!" says he at last, "'Twas you, was it?"

  "It was!"

  "And why must ye 'sault a noble lady?"

  "I never did!"

  "Gregory swears to it."

  "Gregory's a liar!"

  "Which is true enough——so he be!" nodded the landlord.

  "And a cruel-hard man!" added his wife. "But Lord, young master, they do ha' used ye ill——your poor face, all bruised and swole it be!"

  "Which it be!" nodded Roger. "Likewise cut! Which be ill for 'ee though——like Godby here——I won't say but what I moughtn't ha' took a heave at ye, had I been there, it being nat'ral-like to heave things at such times, d'ye see?"

  "Very natural!" says I.

  "And then why," questioned the little peddler, "why break open the wicket-gate?"

  "To get in!"

  "Aha!" quoth Godby the peddler, winking roguish eye, "On the prigging lay perchance, cull, or peradventure the mill-ken? Speak plain, pal, all's bowmon!"

  "I'm no flash cull," says I, "neither buzz, file, mill-ken nor scamperer."

  "Mum, pal, mum! I'm no more flash than you be, though I've no love for the harmon-becks as Roger here will tell 'ee. A peddler be I and well liked——wish I may swing else! Aye, well beloved is kind Godby, specially by wenches and childer——aha, many's the yard o' riband and lace, the garters, pins, ballads, gingerbread men, pigs and elephants, very fair gilt, as they've had o' kind Godby, and all for love! And yet, plague and perish it——here's me warned off my pitch, here's me wi' the damned catchpolls on my heels, and all along o' this same Gregory Bragg——rot him!"

  "As to all that, I know not," says I, "but this I'll swear to, you are a man, Godby the peddler, and one with a bold and kindly heart inside you."

  "How so?" he questioned, his bright eyes all of a twinkle. "How so, my bully boy?"

  "That pannikin of water."

  "Which you didn't get, my cock's-body lad!"

  "Which you were man enough to bring me."

  "Which Tom Button did ye out of!"

  "Which you knocked him down for!"

  "Which is Gospel-true, Roger and Cicely, 'twas a neat throw. Tom bumped heavy——aye, uncommon flat were Tom, let me eat worms else!"

  "For all of the which," says I, cutting more beef, "I ask you now to drink a stoup of ale with me."

  "Wi' all my heart!" cries the peddler.

  "Then," says I, laying my money on the table, "let us all drink in fellowship, for ale, like fellowship, is a goodly thing and good things be rare in this world!"

  "And that's true, o' conscience!" smiled the buxom Cicely.

  "And ye'll find no better brew than our own!" quoth Roger.

  "And that I'll swear to!" laughed the peddler. "Cram me wi' spiders else!"

  So the good ale was brought and Godby, lifting his tankard, smiled and nodded over the creamy foam:

  "Here's a griping colic to every catchpoll, harmon-beck and the like vermin 'twixt this and London town!" says he, and lifted the ale to his lips; but suddenly he sat it down untasted and rose: "Friends, I'm took!" quoth he. "See yonder!" As he spake the narrow doorway was darkened and two rough fellows entered, and each bore a formidable bludgeon.

  "Aye," says one, a big, surly-voiced fellow, "here be us, peddler, and there be you, so best come easy——an' no tricks, mind!"

  "Then easy does it, lads!" says Godby, no whit abashed. "No lamb could come milder than Godby, aye lambs, doves and babes is roaring lions compared wi' Godby——so easy does it. What is't this time, codgers?"

  "Fower hours i' the pillory, three i' the stocks, and a month in Maidstone jail and that's what!"

  "And enough too!" growled Roger the landlord, clenching hairy fist and glancing furtively towards a rusty sword suspended above the hearth.

  "Let be, Roger——I'm a lamb!" sighed the peddler. "And I wouldn't ha' you in trouble by me——besides this room o' yourn, though snug, ain't fit for struggling nor striving! So, friends——good- bye!" Then he turned away between his two captors, but as he did so, his bright eyes for one moment met mine and in his look I read appeal.

  Now scarce were they gone when I got me to my feet, whereat the landlord, Roger, did the like:

  "What's to do?" he questioned, glancing yearningly from me to the rusty sword.

  "Why now," says I, counting out my reckoning, "bide you here——for your good wife's sake."

  "Aye, do now, Roger!" she pleaded. "'Twould be ruination to us!"

  "Moreover," says I, reaching for my cudgel, "they are but two, so bide you here." Then I stepped forth of the tavern and very soon came up with the two fellows, their prisoner walking betwixt them meekly enough. But, as I approached, they halted all three.

  "And what be you after?" demanded the surly fellow.

  "You!"

  "And what d'ye want of us——hey?"

  "Your prisoner!"

  "Ha! And what for him?"

  "I've a mind to him!"

  "O! Ye have, eh?"

  "I have. Do I get him?"

  "Be curst for a black, ugly rogue."

  "That's no answer!"

  "'Tis all you'll get o' we, save 'ard knocks!" says the man, spitting in his hand and taking firm grip of his bludgeon.

  "Why then I must take him!" says I.

  "Try and be damned!" roared the fellow. "Ha——look alive, Jem!" And whirling up his staff, he made at me amain; but I sprang aside and, as his rush carried him past, my answering stroke caught him fairly 'twixt wrist and elbow and his cudgel spun harmlessly into the hedge; breathing curses he sought to close with me, but I, keeping my distance, smote him (very blithely) how and where I would until he (his arm useless), misliking my bludgeon-play and reading no mercy in my look, very wisely betook him to his heels. Hereupon I turned to find the little peddler sitting astride his man's neck and his fist against the fellow's nose:

  "Smell it, Job!" he was saying. "Smell it, lad, 'tis the fist of a man as would be a-groping for your liver if it weren't for the respect I do bear your old mother——skin me else! So thank your old mother, lad, first as you've got a liver and second for a- saving o' that same liver. And now, get up, Job——begone, Job, arter your pal, and tell folk as kind Godby, though sore tempted, never so much as set finger on your liver, and all along o' your good old mother——away wi' ye!" So the fellow got him to his legs (mighty rueful) and sped away after his comrade.

  "Pal," says the little peddler, reaching out and grasping my hand, "here's full quittance for that pannikin o' water as you never got! And now——what's the word?"

  "Now," says I, "let us go back and drink the good ale!"

  "Pal," quoth the peddler, with a flash of white teeth, "wi' all my heart!"

  Thus we presently returned to the little tavern and found there Roger the landlord, the rusty sword in one brawny fist, his wife holding fast to the other. At sight of us he dropped the weapon and roared joyously, and Cicely, running to us, clasped our hands in hearty welcome. So we sat down all four, and while we quaffed the ale Godby described our late encounter with great exactness.

  "Pal," says he thereafter, reaching across the table to grip my hand again, "what might your name be?"

  "Martin."

  "Why then, Martin, have ye any friends or kin?"

  "None!"

  "No more have I, and look now, this Kent country is no fit place for you or me arter to-day! So what I says is, lets you and me pad it, pal——the road, lad——the good high-road, aha! How say ye, Martin?"

  "No!"

  "Why no, pal?"

  "Because, after to-night, if I chance to be neither dead nor in prison, I'm for shipboard."

  "'Tis an ill life, pal!"

  "Why, life is an ill thing!" says I.

  "Nay, look'ee, Martin, life may be worth whiles now and then—— aye, lad, there be times, good times."

  "What times?"

  "Well, Martin, to lie snug 'neath hedge o' star-time, when your fire's low an' the stars peep down through leaves at a man——wink, they go, and wink, wink, till, watching 'em, a man forgets his troubles awhile and knows something o' content. Aha, many's the time o' star-time they have winked me and my troubles asleep. Then there's wakings o' bird-time, wi' the sun up, dew a-sparkle and life calling within ye and without, and the birds——O the birds, Martin——a-filling the world wi' brave songs o' hope new- born like the day! Ah, many's the morn the birds ha' waked me and I as merry as any grig——Lord love their beaks and wings! There's hay-time o' the evening full o' soft, sweet smells——aye, sweet as lad's first kiss; there's wheat-time at noon wi' the ears a-rustle and the whitt-whitt o' scythe and whetstone; there's night, Martin, and the long, black road dipping and a- winding, but wi' the beam o' light beyond, lad——the good light as tells o' journey done, of companionship and welcomes and belike—— eyes o' love, with——"

  "Lusty ale!" quoth Roger, setting three new-filled pipkins before us. "And none better nor ourn——eh, wife?"

  "That I do swear to, Roger!" laughed the peddler, "Choke me else! But now, as to the sea, Martin pal——'tis a dog's life!"

  "You know the sea, then?"

  "Like my hand, Martin, and all along o' my father's godliness. A fine, big man he was and devout as he was lusty. Having begot me his next duty was to name me, and O pal, name me he did! A name as no raskell lad might live up to, a name as brought me into such troublous faction ashore that he packed me off to sea. And if you ax me what name 'twas, I'll answer ye bold and true——'God- be-here Jenkins,' at your service, though Godby for short and 'twixt friends."

  Now the more I saw of this little peddler the better I liked him, so that the hour was late when, having supped excellently well, I rose to take my leave.

  "If you must be away, young master," said the buxom Cicely, "don't 'ee forget there be ever a welcome for 'ee at the Hop- pole——eh, Roger?"

  "There is so!" nodded the landlord. "Likewise a pipkin of ale and a bite and all gratus to a pal!"

  "And look 'ee, Martin my cove," quoth the peddler, grasping my hand, "there be ever and always the good high-road leading on and away to better things, so happen ye should change your mind, seek me here 'twixt this and dawn, if to-morrow ye shall hear o' Godby at the Fox at Spelmonden. So luck go wi' ye, my bien cull."

  "And you," says I, "should you be minded to sail with me, go to the Peck-o'-Malt at Bedgbury Cross——the word is 'The Faithful Friend,' and ask for Adam Penfeather."

  So I presently stepped forth of the little tavern where I had found such kindliness and, turning from the narrow lane, struck off across the fields.

  It was a sweet, warm night, the moon not up as yet, thus as I went I lifted my gaze to the heavens where stars made a glory. And beholding these wondrous fires I needs must recall the little peddler's saying and ponder his "good times"——his "times of stars and birds, of noon and eventide, of welcomes sweet and eyes of love."

  And now I was of a sudden filled with a great yearning and passionate desire that I too might know such times. But, as I climbed a stile, my hand by chance came upon the knife at my girdle, and sitting on the stile I drew it forth and fell to handling its broad blade, and, doing so, knew in my heart that such times were not for me, nor ever could be. And sitting there, knife in hand, desire and yearning were lost and 'whelmed in fierce and black despair.

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