“Now, Heaven forgive them,” said the artist, “who confounded learned skill with unlawful magic! I trust a man may be as skilful, or more so, than the best chirurgeon ever meddled with horse-flesh, and yet may be upon the matter little more than other ordinary men, or at the worst no conjurer.”
“God forbid else!” said Tressilian. “But be silent just for the present, since here comes mine host with an assistant, who seems something of the least.”
Everybody about the inn, Dame Crane herself included, had been indeed so interested and agitated by the story they had heard of Wayland Smith, and by the new, varying, and more marvellous editions of the incident which arrived from various quarters, that mine host, in his righteous determination to accommodate his guests, had been able to obtain the assistance of none of his household, saving that of a little boy, a junior tapster, of about twelve years old, who was called Sampson.
“I wish,” he said, apologizing to his guests, as he set down a flagon of sack, and promised some food immediately—“I wish the devil had flown away with my wife and my whole family instead of this Wayland Smith, who, I daresay, after all said and done, was much less worthy of the distinction which Satan has done him.”
“I hold opinion with you, good fellow,” replied Wayland Smith; “and I will drink to you upon that argument.”
“Not that I would justify any man who deals with the devil,” said mine host, after having pledged Wayland in a rousing draught of sack, “but that—saw ye ever better sack, my masters?—but that, I say, a man had better deal with a dozen cheats and scoundrel fellows, such as this Wayland Smith, than with a devil incarnate, that takes possession of house and home, bed and board.”
The poor fellow’s detail of grievances was here interrupted by the shrill voice of his helpmate, screaming from the kitchen, to which he instantly hobbled, craving pardon of his guests. He was no sooner gone than Wayland Smith expressed, by every contemptuous epithet in the language, his utter scorn for a nincompoop who stuck his head under his wife’s apron-string; and intimated that, saving for the sake of the horses, which required both rest and food, he would advise his worshipful Master Tressilian to push on a stage farther, rather than pay a reckoning to such a mean-spirited, crow-trodden, henpecked coxcomb, as Gaffer Crane.
The arrival of a large dish of good cow-heel and bacon something soothed the asperity of the artist, which wholly vanished before a choice capon, so delicately roasted that the lard frothed on it, said Wayland, like May-dew on a lily; and both Gaffer Crane and his good dame became, in his eyes, very painstaking, accommodating, obliging persons.
According to the manners of the times, the master and his attendant sat at the same table, and the latter observed, with regret, how little attention Tressilian paid to his meal. He recollected, indeed, the pain he had given by mentioning the maiden in whose company he had first seen him; but, fearful of touching upon a topic too tender to be tampered with, he chose to ascribe his abstinence to another cause.