“And excellent said,” cried Castleton.
“None of ye know the West,” went on the coureur. “Your Virginia, we know well of it—a collection of beggars, prostitutes and thieves. Your New England—a lot of cod-fishing, starving snivelers, who are most concerned how to keep life in their bodies from year to year. New France herself, sitting ever on the edge of an icy death, with naught but bickerings at Quebec and naught but reluctant compliance from Paris—what hath she to hope? I tell ye, gentlemen, ’tis beyond, in the land of the Messasebe, where I shall for my part seek out my home; and no man shall set iron on my soul again.”
He spoke bitterly. The group about him, half amused, half cynical and all ignorant, as were their kind at this time of the reign of William, were none the less impressed and thoughtful. Yet once more the sneering voice of Wilson broke in.
“A strange land, my friend,” said he, “monstrous strange. Your unicorns are great, and your women are little. Methinks to give thy tale proportion thou shouldst have shown shoon somewhat larger.”
“Peace! Beau,” said Castleton, quickly. “As for the size of the human foot—gad! I’ll lay a roll of louis d’or that there’s one dame here in London town can wear this slipper of New France.”
“Done!” cried Wilson. “Name the one.”
“None other than the pretty Lawrence whom thou hast had under thine ancient wing for the past two seasons.”
The face of Wilson gathered into a sudden frown at this speech. “What doth it matter”—he began.
“Have done, fellows!” cried Pembroke with some asperity. “Lay wagers more fit at best, and let us have no more of this thumb-biting. Gad! the first we know, we’ll be up for fighting among ourselves, and we all know how the new court doth look on that.”
“Come away,” laughed Castleton, gaily. “I’m for a pint of ale and an apple; and then beware! ’Tis always my fortune, when I come to this country drink, to win like a very countryman. I need revenge upon Lady Betty and her lap-dog. I’ve lost since ever I saw them last.”
AT SADLER’S WELLS
Sadler’s Wells, on this mild and cheery spring morning, was a scene of fashion and of folly. Hither came the elite of London, after the custom of the day, to seek remedy in the reputed qualities of the springs for the weariness and lassitude resultant upon the long season of polite dissipations which society demanded of her votaries. Bewigged dandies, their long coats of colors well displayed as they strutted about in the open, paid court there, as they did within the city gates, to the powdered and painted beauties who sat in their couches waiting for their servants to bring out to them the draft of which they craved healing for crow’s-feet and hollow eyes. Here and there traveling merchants called their wares, jugglers spread their carpets, bear dancers gave their little spectacles, and jockeys conferred as to the merits of horse or hound. Hawk-nosed Jews passed among the vehicles, cursed or kicked by the young gallants who stood about, hat in hand, at the steps of their idols’ carriages.