A chapter of fools.
The same afternoon, as it happened, a little company of rustics, who had just issued from the low hatch-door of the village inn, stood for a moment under the sign of the Crown and Mitre, which swung huskily creaking from the bough of an ancient thorn tree, then passed on to the road, and took their way together.
‘Hope you then,’ said one of them, as continuing their previous conversation, ’that we shall escape unhurt? It is a parlous business. Not as one of us is afeard as I knows on. But the old earl, he do have a most unregenerate temper, and you had better look to’t, my masters.’
’I tell thee, master Upstill, it’s not the old earl as I’m afeard on, but the young lord. For thou knows as well as ere a one it be not without cause that men do call him a wizard, for a wizard he be, and that of the worst sort.’
‘We shall be out again afore sundown, shannot we?’ said another. ‘That I trust.’
’Up to the which hour the High Court of Parliament assembled will have power to protect its own—eh, John Croning?’
’Nay, that I cannot tell. It be a parlous job, and for mine own part, whether for the love I bear to the truth, or the hatred I cherish toward the scarlet Antichrist, with her seven tails—’
’Tush, tush, John! Seven heads, man, and ten horns. Those are the numbers master Flowerdew read.’
’Nay, I know not for your horns; but for the rest I say seven tails. Did not honest master Flowerdew set forth unto us last meeting that the scarlet woman sat upon seven hills—eh? Have with you there, master Sycamore!’
’Well, for the sake of sound argument, I grant you. But we ha’got to do with no heads nor no tails, neither—save and except as you may say the sting is in the tail; and then, or I greatly mistake, it’s not seven times seven as will serve to count the stings, come of the tails what may.’
‘Very true,’ said another; ’it be the stings and not the tails we want news of. But think you his lordship will yield them up without gainsaying to us the messengers of the High Parliament now assembled?’
‘For mine own part,’ said John Croning, ’though I fear it come of the old Adam yet left in me, I do count it a sorrowful thing that the earl should be such a vile recusant. He never fails with a friendly word, or it may be a jest—a foolish jest—but honest, for any one gentle or simple he may meet. More than once has he boarded me in that fashion. What do you think he said to me, now, one day as I was a mowin’ of the grass in the court, close by the white horse that spout up the water high as a house from his nose-drills? Says he to me—for he come down the grand staircase, and steps out and spies me at the work with my old scythe, and come across to me, and says he, “Why, Thomas,” says he, not knowin’ of my name, “Why, Thomas,” says he, “you