“Which Tony Foster mean you?” said the innkeeper.
“Why, him they called Tony Fire-the-Fagot, because he brought a light to kindle the pile round Latimer and Ridley, when the wind blew out Jack Thong’s torch, and no man else would give him light for love or money.”
“Tony Foster lives and thrives,” said the host. “But, kinsman, I would not have you call him Tony Fire-the-Fagot, if you would not brook the stab.”
“How! is he grown ashamed on’t?” said Lambourne, “Why, he was wont to boast of it, and say he liked as well to see a roasted heretic as a roasted ox.”
“Ay, but, kinsman, that was in Mary’s time,” replied the landlord, “when Tony’s father was reeve here to the Abbot of Abingdon. But since that, Tony married a pure precisian, and is as good a Protestant, I warrant you, as the best.”
“And looks grave, and holds his head high, and scorns his old companions,” said the mercer.
“Then he hath prospered, I warrant him,” said Lambourne; “for ever when a man hath got nobles of his own, he keeps out of the way of those whose exchequers lie in other men’s purchase.”
“Prospered, quotha!” said the mercer; “why, you remember Cumnor Place, the old mansion-house beside the churchyard?”
“By the same token, I robbed the orchard three times—what of that? It was the old abbot’s residence when there was plague or sickness at Abingdon.”
“Ay,” said the host, “but that has been long over; and Anthony Foster hath a right in it, and lives there by some grant from a great courtier, who had the church-lands from the crown. And there he dwells, and has as little to do with any poor wight in Cumnor, as if he were himself a belted knight.”
“Nay,” said the mercer, “it is not altogether pride in Tony neither; there is a fair lady in the case, and Tony will scarce let the light of day look on her.”
“How!” said Tressilian, who now for the first time interfered in their conversation; “did ye not say this Foster was married, and to a precisian?”
“Married he was, and to as bitter a precisian as ever ate flesh in Lent; and a cat-and-dog life she led with Tony, as men said. But she is dead, rest be with her! and Tony hath but a slip of a daughter; so it is thought he means to wed this stranger, that men keep such a coil about.”
“And why so?—I mean, why do they keep a coil about her?” said Tressilian.
“Why, I wot not,” answered the host, “except that men say she is as beautiful as an angel, and no one knows whence she comes, and every one wishes to know why she is kept so closely mewed up. For my part, I never saw her—you have, I think, Master Goldthred?”
“That I have, old boy,” said the mercer. “Look you, I was riding hither from Abingdon. I passed under the east oriel window of the old mansion, where all the old saints and histories and such-like are painted. It was not the common path I took, but one through the Park; for the postern door was upon the latch, and I thought I might take the privilege of an old comrade to ride across through the trees, both for shading, as the day was somewhat hot, and for avoiding of dust, because I had on my peach-coloured doublet, pinked out with cloth of gold.”