PISTOL. And tidings do I bring, and lucky joys,
And happy news of price.
FALSTAFF. I prithee now deliver them like to men of this world.
PISTOL. A foutra for the world, and worldlings base!
I speak of Africa, and golden joys. HENRY IV. PART II.
The public room of the Black Bear at Cumnor, to which the scene of our story now
returns, boasted, on the evening which we treat of, no ordinary assemblage of guests.
There had been a fair in the neighbourhood, and the cutting mercer of Abingdon, with
some of the other personages whom the reader has already been made acquainted
with, as friends and customers of Giles Gosling, had already formed their wonted circle
around the evening fire, and were talking over the news of the day.
A lively, bustling, arch fellow, whose pack, and oaken ellwand studded duly with brass
points, denoted him to be of Autolycus's profession, occupied a good deal of the
attention, and furnished much of the amusement, of the evening. The pedlars of those
days, it must be remembered, were men of far greater importance than the degenerate
and degraded hawkers of our modern times. It was by means of these peripatetic
venders that the country trade, in the finer manufactures used in female dress
particularly, was almost entirely carried on; and if a merchant of this description arrived
at the dignity of travelling with a pack-horse, he was a person of no small consequence,
and company for the most substantial yeoman or franklin whom he might meet in his
The pedlar of whom we speak bore, accordingly, an active and unrebuked share in the
merriment to which the rafters of the bonny Black Bear of Cumnor resounded. He had
his smile with pretty Mistress Cicely, his broad laugh with mine host, and his jest upon
dashing Master Goldthred, who, though indeed without any such benevolent intention
on his own part, was the general butt of the evening. The pedlar and he were closely
engaged in a dispute upon the preference due to the Spanish nether-stock over the
black Gascoigne hose, and mine host had just winked to the guests around him, as who
should say, "You will have mirth presently, my masters," when the trampling of horses
was heard in the courtyard, and the hostler was loudly summoned, with a few of the
newest oaths then in vogue to add force to the invocation. Out tumbled Will Hostler,
John Tapster, and all the militia of the inn, who had slunk from their posts in order to
collect some scattered crumbs of the mirth which was flying about among the
customers. Out into the yard sallied mine host himself also, to do fitting salutation to his
new guests; and presently returned, ushering into the apartment his own worthy
nephew, Michael Lambourne, pretty tolerably drunk, and having under his escort the
astrologer. Alasco, though still a little old man, had, by altering his gown to a riding-
dress, trimming his beard and eyebrows, and so forth, struck at least a score of years
from his apparent age, and might now seem an active man of sixty, or little upwards. He