“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.”