How the Mayor of Bideford Baited His Hook With His Own Flesh

“And therewith he blent, and cried ha!
As though he had been stricken to the harte.”
   —Palamon and Arcite.

So it befell to Chaucer’s knight in prison; and so it befell also to Don Guzman; and it befell on this wise.

He settled down quietly enough at Bideford on his parole, in better quarters than he had occupied for many a day, and took things as they came, like a true soldier of fortune; till, after he had been with Grenville hardly a month, old Salterne the Mayor came to supper.

Now Don Guzman, however much he might be puzzled at first at our strange English ways of asking burghers and such low-bred folk to eat and drink above the salt, in the company of noble persons, was quite gentleman enough to know that Richard Grenville was gentleman enough to do only what was correct, and according to the customs and proprieties. So after shrugging the shoulders of his spirit, he submitted to eat and drink at the same board with a tradesman who sat at a desk, and made up ledgers, and took apprentices; and hearing him talk with Grenville neither unwisely nor in a vulgar fashion, actually before the evening was out condescended to exchange words with him himself. Whereon he found him a very prudent and courteous person, quite aware of the Spaniard’s superior rank, and making him feel in every sentence that he was aware thereof; and yet holding his own opinion, and asserting his own rights as a wise elder in a fashion which the Spaniard had only seen before among the merchant princes of Genoa and Venice.

At the end of supper, Salterne asked Grenville to do his humble roof the honor, etc. etc., of supping with him the next evening, and then turning to the Don, said quite frankly, that he knew how great a condescension it would be on the part of a nobleman of Spain to sit at the board of a simple merchant: but that if the Spaniard deigned to do him such a favor, he would find that the cheer was fit enough for any rank, whatsoever the company might be; which invitation Don Guzman, being on the whole glad enough of anything to amuse him, graciously condescended to accept, and gained thereby an excellent supper, and, if he had chosen to drink it, much good wine.

Now Mr. Salterne was, of course, as a wise merchant, as ready as any man for an adventure to foreign parts, as was afterwards proved by his great exertions in the settlement of Virginia; and he was, therefore, equally ready to rack the brains of any guest whom he suspected of knowing anything concerning strange lands; and so he thought no shame, first to try to loose his guest’s tongue by much good sack, and next, to ask him prudent and well-concocted questions concerning the Spanish Main, Peru, the Moluccas, China, the Indies, and all parts.

The first of which schemes failed; for the Spaniard was as abstemious as any monk, and drank little but water; the second succeeded not over well, for the Spaniard was as cunning as any fox, and answered little but wind.

In the midst of which tongue-fence in came the Rose of Torridge, looking as beautiful as usual; and hearing what they were upon, added, artlessly enough, her questions to her father’s: to her Don Guzman could not but answer; and without revealing any very important commercial secrets, gave his host and his host’s daughter a very amusing evening.

Now little Eros, though spirits like Frank Leigh’s may choose to call him (as, perhaps, he really is to them) the eldest of the gods, and the son of Jove and Venus, yet is reported by other equally good authorities, as Burton has set forth in his “Anatomy of Melancholy,” to be after all only the child of idleness and fulness of bread. To which scandalous calumny the thoughts of Don Guzman’s heart gave at least a certain color; for he being idle (as captives needs must be), and also full of bread (for Sir Richard kept a very good table), had already looked round for mere amusement’s sake after some one with whom to fall in love. Lady Grenville, as nearest, was, I blush to say, thought of first; but the Spaniard was a man of honor, and Sir Richard his host; so he put away from his mind (with a self-denial on which he plumed himself much) the pleasure of a chase equally exciting to his pride and his love of danger. As for the sinfulness of the said chase, he of course thought no more of that than other Southern Europeans did then, or than (I blush again to have to say it) the English did afterwards in the days of the Stuarts. Nevertheless,

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.