Now, that is not ill sung, said Wamba, who had thrown in a few of his own flourishes to help out the chorus. But who, in the saints name, ever expected to have heard such a jolly chant come from out a hermits cell at midnight?
Marry, that should I, said Gurth, for the jolly Clerk of Copmanhurst is a known man, and kills half the deer that are stolen in this walk. Men say that the keeper has compiained to his official, and that he will be stripped of his cowl and cope altogether, if he keeps not better order.
While they were thus speaking, Locksleys loud and repeated knocks had at length disturbed the anchorite and his guest. By my beads, said the hermit, stopping short in a grand flourish, here come more benighted guests. I would not for my cowl that they found us in this goodly exercise. All men have their enemies, good Sir Sluggard; and there be those malignant enough to construe the hospitable refreshment which I have been offering to you, a weary traveller, for the matter of three short hours, into sheer drunkenness and debauchery, vices alike alien to my profession and my disposition.
Base calumniators! replied the knight; I would I had the chastising of them. Nevertheless, Holy Clerk, it is true that all have their enemies; and there be those in this very land whom I would rather speak to through the bars of my helmet than barefaced.
Get thine iron pot on thy head then, friend Sluggard, as quickly as thy nature will permit, said the hermit, while I remove these pewter flagons, whose late contents run strangely in mine own pate; and to drown the clatterfor, in faith, I feel somewhat unsteadystrike into the tune which thou hearest me sing; it is no matter for the wordsI scarce know them myself.
So saying, he struck up a thundering De profundis clamavi, under cover of which he removed the apparatus of their banquet; while the knight, laughing heartily, and arming himself all the while, assisted his host with his voice from time to time as his mirth permitted.
What devils matins are you after at this hour? said a voice from without.
Heaven forgive you, Sir Traveller! said the hermit, whose own noise, and perhaps his nocturnal potations, prevented from recognising accents which were tolerably familiar to him. Wend on your way, in the name of God and St. Dunstan, and disturb not the devotions of me and my holy brother.
Mad priest, answered the voice from without, open to Locksley!
Alls safealls right, said the hermit to his companion.
But who is he? said the Black Knight; it imports me much to know.
Who is he? answered the hermit; I tell thee he is a friend.
But what friend? answered the knight; for he may be friend to thee and none of mine.
What friend? replied the hermit; that, now, is one of the questions that is more easily asked than answered. What friend? why, he is, now I bethink me a little, the very same honest keeper I told thee of a while since.
Ay, as honest a keeper as thou art a pious hermit, replied the knight, I doubt it not. But undo the door to him before he beat it from its hinges.
The dogs, in the meantime, which had made a dreadful baying at the commencement of the disturbance, seemed now to recognise the voice of him who stood without; for, totally changing their manner, they scratched and whined at the door, as if interceding for his admission. The hermit speedily unbolted his portal, and admitted Locksley, with his two companions.
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