“I think,” proceeded Tressilian, after a minute’s silence, “thou wert in those days a jovial fellow, who could keep a company merry by song, and tale, and rebeck, as well as by thy juggling tricks—why do I find thee a laborious handicraftsman, plying thy trade in so melancholy a dwelling and under such extraordinary circumstances?”
“My story is not long,” said the artist, “but your honour had better sit while you listen to it.” So saying, he approached to the fire a three-footed stool, and took another himself; while Dickie Sludge, or Flibbertigibbet, as he called the boy, drew a cricket to the smith’s feet, and looked up in his face with features which, as illuminated by the glow of the forge, seemed convulsed with intense curiosity. “Thou too,” said the smith to him, “shalt learn, as thou well deservest at my hand, the brief history of my life; and, in troth, it were as well tell it thee as leave thee to ferret it out, since Nature never packed a shrewder wit into a more ungainly casket.—Well, sir, if my poor story may pleasure you, it is at your command, But will you not taste a stoup of liquor? I promise you that even in this poor cell I have some in store.”
“Speak not of it,” said Tressilian, “but go on with thy story, for my leisure is brief.”
“You shall have no cause to rue the delay,” said the smith, “for your horse shall be better fed in the meantime than he hath been this morning, and made fitter for travel.”
With that the artist left the vault, and returned after a few minutes’ interval. Here, also, we pause, that the narrative may commence in another chapter.
I say, my lord, can
such a subtilty
(But all his craft ye must not wot of me,
And somewhat help I yet to his working),
That all the ground on which we ben riding,
Till that we come to Canterbury town,
He can all clean turnen so up so down,
And pave it all of silver and of gold.
—The canon’s yeoman’s prologue, Canterbury tales.
The artist commenced his narrative in the following terms:—
“I was bred a blacksmith, and knew my art as well as e’er a black-thumbed, leathern-aproned, swart-faced knave of that noble mystery. But I tired of ringing hammer-tunes on iron stithies, and went out into the world, where I became acquainted with a celebrated juggler, whose fingers had become rather too stiff for legerdemain, and who wished to have the aid of an apprentice in his noble mystery. I served him for six years, until I was master of my trade—I refer myself to your worship, whose judgment cannot be disputed, whether I did not learn to ply the craft indifferently well?”
“Excellently,” said Tressilian; “but be brief.”