At eve, within yon studious nook,
Notwithstanding the prescription of the genial hermit, with which his guest willingly complied, he found it no easy matter to bring the harp to harmony.
``Methinks, holy father,'' said he, ``the instrument wants one string, and the rest have been somewhat misused.''
``Ay, mark'st thou that?'' replied the hermit; ``that shows thee a master of the craft. Wine and wassail,'' he added, gravely casting up his eyes--- ``all the fault of wine and wassail!---I told Allan a-Dale, the northern minstrel, that he would damage the harp if he touched it after the seventh cup, but he would not be controlled---Friend, I drink to thy successful performance.''
So saying, he took off his cup with much gravity, at the same time shaking his head at the intemperance of the Scottish harper.
The knight in the meantime, had brought the
strings into some order, and after a short prelude,
asked his host whether he would choose a sirvente
in the language of oc, or a lai in the language of
oui, or a virelai, or a ballad in the vulgar English.*
[*] Note C. Minstrelsy.
``A ballad, a ballad,'' said the hermit, ``against all the ocs and ouis of France. Downright English am I, Sir Knight, and downright English was my patron St Dunstan, and scorned oc and oui, as he would have scorned the parings of the devil's hoof---downright English alone shall be sung in this cell.''
``I will assay, then,'' said the knight, ``a ballad composed by a Saxon glee-man, whom I knew in Holy Land.''
It speedily appeared, that if the knight was not a complete master of the minstrel art, his taste for it had at least been cultivated under the best instructors. Art had taught him to soften the faults of a voice which had little compass, and was naturally rough rather than mellow, and, in short, had done all that culture can do in supplying natural deficiencies. His performance, therefore, might have been termed very respectable by abler judges than the hermit, especially as the knight threw into the notes now a degree of spirit, and now of plaintive enthusiasm, which gave force and energy to the verses which he sung.
THE CRUSADER'S RETURN.
High deeds achieved of knightly fame,
``Joy to the fair!---thy knight behold,
``Joy to the fair! whose constant knight
`` `Note well her smile!---it edged the blade
``Joy to the fair!---my name unknown,
During this performance, the hermit demeaned himself much like a first-rate critic of the present day at a new opera. He reclined back upon his seat, with his eyes half shut; now, folding his hands and twisting his thumbs, he seemed absorbed in attention, and anon, balancing his expanded palms, he gently flourished them in time to the music. At one or two favourite cadences, he threw in a little assistance of his own, where the knight's voice seemed unable to carry the air so high as his worshipful taste approved. When the song was ended, the anchorite emphatically declared it a good one, and well sung.
``And yet,'' said he, ``I think my Saxon countrymen had herded long enough with the Normans, to fall into the tone of their melancholy ditties. What took the honest knight from home? or what could he expect but to find his mistress agreeably engaged with a rival on his return, and his serenade, as they call it, as little regarded as the caterwauling of a cat in the gutter? Nevertheless, Sir Knight, I drink this cup to thee, to the success of all true lovers---I fear you are none,'' he added, on observing that the knight (whose brain began to be heated with these repeated draughts) qualified his flagon from the water pitcher.
``Why,'' said the knight, ``did you not tell me that this water was from the well of your blessed patron, St Dunstan?''
``Ay, truly,'' said the hermit, ``and many a hundred of pagans did he baptize there, but I never heard that he drank any of it. Every thing should be put to its proper use in this world. St Dunstan knew, as well as any one, the prerogatives of a jovial friar.''
And so saying, he reached the harp, and entertained
his guest with the following characteristic
song, to a sort of derry-down chorus, appropriate
to an old English ditty.*
[*] It may be proper to remind the reader, that the chorus of ``derry down'' is supposed to be as ancient, not only as the times of the Heptarchy, but as those of the Druids, and to have furnished the chorus to the hymns of those venerable persons when they went to the wood to gather mistletoe.
THE BAREFOOTED FRIAR.
I'll give thee, good fellow, a twelvemonth or twain,
Your knight for his lady pricks forth in career,
Your monarch?---Pshaw! many a prince has been known
The Friar has walk'd out, and where'er he has gone,
He's expected at noon, and no wight till he comes
He's expected at night, and the pasty's made hot,
Long flourish the sandal, the cord, and the cope,
``I uncanonical!'' answered the hermit; ``I scorn the charge---I scorn it with my heels!---I serve the duty of my chapel duly and truly---Two masses daily, morning and evening, primes, noons, and vespers, _aves, credos, paters_------''
``Excepting moonlight nights, when the venison is in season,'' said his guest.
``_Exceptis excipiendis_,'' replied the hermit, ``as our old abbot taught me to say, when impertinent laymen should ask me if I kept every punctilio of mine order.''
``True, holy father,'' said the knight; ``but the devil is apt to keep an eye on such exceptions; he goes about, thou knowest, like a roaring lion.''
``Let him roar here if he dares,'' said the friar; ``a touch of my cord will make him roar as loud as the tongs of St Dunstan himself did. I never feared man, and I as little fear the devil and his imps. Saint Dunstan, Saint Dubric, Saint Winibald, Saint Winifred, Saint Swibert, Saint Willick, not forgetting Saint Thomas a Kent, and my own poor merits to speed, I defy every devil of them, come cut and long tail.---But to let you into a secret, I never speak upon such subjects, my friend, until after morning vespers.''
He changed the conversation; fast and furious grew the mirth of the parties, and many a song was exchanged betwixt them, when their revels were interrupted by a loud knocking at the door of the hermitage.
The occasion of this interruption we can only explain by resuming the adventures of another set of our characters; for, like old Ariosto, we do not pique ourselves upon continuing uniformly to keep company with any one personage of our drama.