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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Hermit—Friar Tuck
By Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832)
 
From ‘Ivanhoe’

THE ANCHORITE, not caring again to expose his door to a similar shock, now called out aloud, “Patience, patience—spare thy strength, good traveler, and I will presently undo the door; though it may be my doing so will be little to thy pleasure.”  1
  The door accordingly was opened; and the hermit—a large, strong-built man, in his sackcloth gown and hood, girt with a rope of rushes—stood before the knight. He had in one hand a lighted torch, or link; and in the other a baton of crab-tree, so thick and heavy it might well be termed a club. Two large shaggy dogs, half greyhound, half mastiff, stood ready to rush upon the traveler as soon as the door should be opened. But when the torch glanced upon the lofty crest and golden spurs of the knight who stood without, the hermit—altering probably his original intentions—repressed the rage of his auxiliaries, and changing his tone to a sort of churlish courtesy, invited the knight to enter his hut; making excuse for his unwillingness to open his lodge after sunset by alleging the multitude of robbers and outlaws who were abroad, and who gave no honor to our Lady or St. Dustan, nor to those holy men who spent life in their service.  2
  “The poverty of your cell, good father,” said the knight, looking around him, and seeing nothing but a bed of leaves, a crucifix rudely carved in oak, a missal, with a rough-hewn table and two stools, and one or two clumsy articles of furniture,—“the poverty of your cell should seem a sufficient defense against any risk of thieves; not to mention the aid of two trusty dogs, large and strong enough, I think, to pull down a stag, and of course to match with most men.”  3
  “The good keeper of the forest,” said the hermit, “hath allowed me the use of these animals to protect my solitude until the times shall mend.”  4
  Having said this, he fixed his torch in a twisted branch of iron which served for a candlestick; and placing the oaken trivet before the embers of the fire, which he refreshed with some dry wood, he placed a stool upon one side of the table and beckoned to the knight to do the same upon the other.  5
  They sat down and gazed with great gravity at each other, each thinking in his heart that he had seldom seen a stronger or more athletic figure than was placed opposite to him.  6
  “Reverend hermit,” said the knight, after looking long and fixedly at his host, “were it not to interrupt your devout meditations, I would pray to know three things of your Holiness: first, where I am to put my horse? secondly, what I can have for supper? thirdly, where I am to take up my couch for the night?”  7
  “I will reply to you,” said the hermit, “with my finger: it being against my rule to speak by words where signs can answer the purpose.” So saying, he pointed successively to two corners of the hut. “Your stable,” said he, “is there—your bed there; and—” reaching down a platter with two handfuls of parched pease upon it from the neighboring shelf, and placing it upon the table, he added—“your supper is here.”  8
  The knight shrugged his shoulders; and leaving the hut, brought in his horse (which in the interim he had fastened to a tree), unsaddled him with much attention, and spread upon the steed’s weary back his own mantle.  9
  The hermit was apparently somewhat moved to compassion by the anxiety as well as address which the stranger displayed in tending his horse; for, muttering something about provender left for the keeper’s palfrey, he dragged out of a recess a bundle of forage, which he spread before the knight’s charger, and immediately afterward shook down a quantity of dried fern in the corner which he had assigned for the rider’s couch. The knight returned him thanks for his courtesy; and this duty done, both resumed their seats by the table, whereon stood the trencher of pease placed between them. The hermit, after a long grace,—which had once been Latin, but of which original language few traces remained, excepting here and there the long rolling termination of some word or phrase,—set example to his guest by modestly putting into a very large mouth, furnished with teeth which might have ranked with those of a boar both in sharpness and whiteness, some three or four dried pease; a miserable grist, as it seemed, for so large and able a mill.  10
  The knight, in order to follow so laudable an example, laid aside his helmet, his corselet, and the greater part of his armor; and showed to the hermit a head thick-curled with yellow hair, high features, blue eyes remarkably bright and sparkling, a mouth well formed, having an upper lip clothed with mustaches darker than his hair,—and bearing altogether the look of a bold, daring, and enterprising man, with which his strong form well corresponded.  11
  The hermit, as if wishing to answer to the confidence of his guest, threw back his cowl, and showed a round bullet head belonging to a man in the prime of life. His close-shaven crown, surrounded by a circle of stiff curled black hair, had something the appearance of a parish pinfold begirt by its high hedge. The features expressed nothing of monastic austerity or of ascetic privations; on the contrary, it was a bold, bluff countenance, with broad black eyebrows, a well-turned forehead, and cheeks as round and vermilion as those of a trumpeter, from which descended a long and curly black beard. Such a visage, joined to the brawny form of the holy man, spoke rather of sirloins and haunches than of pease and pulse. This incongruity did not escape the guest. After he had with great difficulty accomplished the mastication of a mouthful of the dried pease, he found it absolutely necessary to request his pious entertainer to furnish him with some liquor; who replied to his request by placing before him a large can of the purest water from the fountain.  12
  “It is from the well of St. Dunstan,” said he, “in which, betwixt sun and sun, he baptized five hundred heathen Danes and Britons—blessed be his name!” And applying his black beard to the pitcher, he took a draught much more moderate in quantity than his encomium seemed to warrant.  13
  “It seems to me, reverend father,” said the knight, “that the small morsels which you eat, together with this holy but somewhat thin beverage, have thriven with you marvelously. You appear a man more fit to win the ram at a wrestling-match, or the ring at a bout at quarter-staff, or the bucklers at a sword-play, than to linger out your time in this desolate wilderness, saying masses and living upon parched pease and cold water.”  14
  “Sir Knight,” answered the hermit, “your thoughts, like those of the ignorant laity, are according to the flesh. It has pleased our Lady and my patron saint to bless the pittance to which I restrain myself, even as the pulse and water were blessed to the children Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who drank the same rather than defile themselves with the wine and meats which were appointed them by the king of the Saracens.”  15
  “Holy father,” said the knight, “upon whose countenance it hath pleased Heaven to work such a miracle, permit a sinful layman to crave thy name?”  16
  “Thou mayest call me,” answered the hermit, “the Clerk of Copmanhurst, for so I am termed in these parts. They add, it is true, the epithet holy; but I stand not upon that, as being unworthy of such addition. And now, valiant knight, may I pray thee for the name of my honorable guest?”  17
  “Truly,” said the knight, “Holy Clerk of Copmanhurst, men call me in these parts the Black Knight; many, sir, add to it the epithet of Sluggard, whereby I am no way ambitious to be distinguished.”  18
  The hermit could scarcely forbear from smiling at his guest’s reply.  19
  “I see,” said he, “Sir Sluggish Knight, that thou art a man of prudence and of counsel; and moreover, I see that my poor monastic fare likes thee not, accustomed perhaps as thou hast been to the license of courts and camps, and the luxuries of cities: and now I bethink me, Sir Sluggard, that when the charitable keeper of this forest walk left these dogs for my protection, and also those bundles of forage, he left me also some food,—which, being unfit for my use, the very recollection of it had escaped me amid my more weighty meditations.”  20
  “I dare be sworn he did so,” said the knight; “I was convinced that there was better food in the cell, Holy Clerk, since you first doffed your cowl. Your keeper is ever a jovial fellow; and none who beheld thy grinders contending with these pease, and thy throat flooded with this ungenial element, could see thee doomed to such horse-provender and horse-beverage” (pointing to the provisions upon the table), “and refrain from mending thy cheer. Let us see the keeper’s bounty, therefore, without delay.”  21
  The hermit cast a wistful look upon the knight, in which there was a sort of comic expression of hesitation, as if uncertain how far he should act prudently in trusting his guest. There was, however, as much of bold frankness in the knight’s countenance as was possible to be expressed by features. His smile too had something in it irresistibly comic, and gave an assurance of faith and loyalty with which his host could not refrain from sympathizing.  22
  After exchanging a mute glance or two, the hermit went to the farther side of the hut and opened a hutch, which was concealed with great care and some ingenuity. Out of the recesses of a dark closet, into which this aperture gave admittance, he brought a large pasty, baked in a pewter platter of unusual dimensions. This mighty dish he placed before his guest; who, using his poniard to cut it open, lost no time in making himself acquainted with its contents.  23
  “How long is it since the good keeper has been here?” said the knight to his host, after having swallowed several hasty morsels of this reinforcement to the hermit’s good cheer.  24
  “About two months,” answered the father hastily.  25
  “By the true Lord,” answered the knight, “everything in your hermitage is miraculous, Holy Clerk; for I would have been sworn that the fat buck which furnished this venison had been running on foot within the week.”  26
  The hermit was somewhat discountenanced by this observation; and moreover, he had made but a poor figure while gazing on the diminution of the pasty, on which his guest was making dangerous inroads,—a warfare in which his previous profession of abstinence left him no pretext for joining.  27
  “I have been in Palestine, Sir Clerk,” said the knight, stopping short of a sudden, “and I bethink me it is a custom there that every host who entertains a guest shall assure him of the wholesomeness of his food by partaking of it along with him. Far be it from me to suspect so holy a man of aught inhospitable; nevertheless, I will be highly bound to you would you comply with this Eastern custom.”  28
  “To ease your unnecessary scruples, Sir Knight, I will for once depart from my rule,” replied the hermit. And as there were no forks in those days, his clutches were instantly in the bowels of the pasty.  29
  The ice of ceremony being once broken, it seemed matter of rivalry between the guest and the entertainer which should display the best appetite; and although the former had probably fasted longest, yet the hermit fairly surpassed him.  30
  “Holy Clerk,” said the knight, when his hunger was appeased, “I would gage my good horse yonder against a zecchin, that that same honest keeper to whom we are obliged for the venison has left thee a stoup of wine, or a runlet of canary, or some such trifle, by way of ally to this noble pasty. This would be a circumstance, doubtless, totally unworthy to dwell in the memory of so rigid an anchorite; yet I think were you to search yonder crypt once more, you would find that I am right in my conjecture.”  31
  The hermit replied by a grin; and returning to the hutch, he produced a leathern bottle, which might contain about four quarts. He also brought forth two large drinking-cups, made out of the horn of the urus, and hooped with silver. Having made this goodly provision for washing down the supper, he seemed to think no further ceremonious scruple necessary on his part; but filling both cups, and saying in the Saxon fashion, “Waes hael, Sir Sluggish Knight!” he emptied his own at a draught.  32
  “Drink hael, Holy Clerk of Copmanhurst!” answered the warrior, and did his host reason in a similar brimmer.  33
  “Holy Clerk,” said the stranger, after the first cup was thus swallowed, “I cannot but marvel that a man possessed of such thews and sinews as thine, and who therewithal shows the talent of so goodly a trencherman, should think of abiding by himself in this wilderness. In my judgment you are fitter to keep a castle or a fort, eating of the fat and drinking of the strong, than to live here upon pulse and water, or even upon the charity of the keeper. At least were I as thou, I should find myself both disport and plenty out of the king’s deer. There is many a goodly herd in these forests, and a buck will never be missed that goes to the use of St. Dunstan’s chaplain.”  34
  “Sir Sluggish Knight,” replied the clerk, “these are dangerous words, and I pray you to forbear them. I am true hermit to the King and law; and were I to spoil my liege’s game I should be sure of the prison, and, an my gown saved me not, were in some peril of hanging.”  35
  “Nevertheless, were I as thou,” said the knight, “I would take my walk by moonlight, when foresters and keepers were warm in bed, and ever and anon—as I pattered my prayers—I would let fly a shaft among the herds of dun deer that feed in the glades. Resolve me, Holy Clerk, hast thou never practiced such a pastime?”  36
  “Friend Sluggard,” answered the hermit, “thou hast seen all that can concern thee of my housekeeping, and something more than he deserves who takes up his quarters by violence. Credit me, it is better to enjoy the good which God sends thee than to be impertinently curious how it comes. Fill thy cup and welcome; and do not, I pray thee, by further impertinent inquiries, put me to show that thou couldst hardly have made good thy lodging had I been earnest to oppose thee.”  37
  “By my faith,” said the knight, “thou makest me more curious than ever! Thou art the most mysterious hermit I ever met; and I will know more of thee ere we part. As for thy threats, know, holy man, thou speakest to one whose trade it is to find out danger wherever it is to be met with.”  38
  “Sir Sluggish Knight, I drink to thee,” said the hermit,—“respecting thy valor much, but deeming wondrous slightly of thy discretion. If thou wilt take equal arms with me, I will give thee, in all friendship and brotherly love, such sufficing penance and complete absolution that thou shalt not for the next twelve months sin the sin of excess and curiosity.”  39
  The knight pledged him, and desired him to name his weapons.  40
  “There is none,” replied the hermit, “from the scissors of Delilah and the tenpenny nail of Jael, to the scimitar of Goliah, at which I am not a match for thee. But if I am to make the election, what sayest thou, good friend, to these trinkets?”  41
  Thus speaking, he opened another hutch and took out from it a couple of broadswords and bucklers, such as were used by the yeomanry of the period. The knight, who watched his motions, observed that this second place of concealment was furnished with two or three good long-bows, a cross-bow, a bundle of bolts for the latter, and half a dozen sheaves of arrows for the former. A harp and other matters of very uncanonical appearance were also visible when this dark recess was opened.  42
  “I promise thee, brother clerk,” said he, “I will ask thee no more offensive questions. The contents of that cupboard are an answer to all my inquiries; and I see a weapon there” (here he stooped and took out the harp) “on which I would more gladly prove my skill with thee than at the sword and buckler.”  43
  “I hope, Sir Knight,” said the hermit, “thou hast given no good reason for thy surname of the Sluggard. I do promise thee I suspect thee grievously. Nevertheless, thou art my guest, and I will not put thy manhood to the proof without thine own free will. Sit thee down, then, and fill thy cup; let us drink, sing, and be merry. If thou knowest ever a good lay, thou shalt be welcome to a nook of pasty at Copmanhurst so long as I serve the chapel of St. Dunstan,—which, please God, shall be till I change my gray covering for one of green turf. But come, fill a flagon, for it will crave some time to tune the harp; and naught pitches the voice and sharpens the ear like a cup of wine. For my part, I love to feel the grape at my very finger-ends before they make the harp-strings tinkle.”  44
 
 
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