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Having arranged all my paraphernalia to my satisfaction, I returned to my sitting-room, where I found a tea equipage of gaudy colours displayed upon the table, garnished with shrimps and watercresses.
My obliging landlady, who was very fine, and talked a little too much, asked me if I did not intend to visit the hill, and see the mountebank, whose kind intentions of amusing the inhabitants and visiters had been announced in due form by the bellman; and she assured me that 'all Gravesend' would be there.
As I had come on purpose to see all Gravesend,' I thought this an excellent opportunity, and thanking her for her information, started in quest of pleasure, with my cherry-tree walking-stick in my grasp. I had no need of a guide, even had that giant landmark the windmill been wanting; for a stream of people sailors, and peasants, and gaily-dressed visiters, men, women, and children were flocking to the spot, appearing, as they wound over the hill, like a huge boa coiling about the back of a monstrous elephant.
I surmounted the hill. I looked around me -the panorama was beautiful. The hum of the crowd-the song of the larks-for there were many soaring from the cornfields below-filled the prosy Cockney with a poetical feeling of gladness!
Passing over the brow of the hill, I beheld a sort of natural amphitheatre formed by the declivity, interspersed with bramble and heath; while on the grassy spaces were seated the greater part of the 'genteeler' sort, with their children. At the foot was a meadow at the rear of a house of entertainment (the Old Prince of Orange), where a ring was formed by the humbler classes. As I wished to hear as well as see, never having witnessed an exhibition of the kind, I descended to take my place in this verdant parterre, with the determination of being 'first in the throng.'
What a merry set they were brimful of expectation! At length one of the countrymen shouted out, 'Here be Tom-fool!'
All eyes were instantly turned towards the house, and behold! a clown came capering forward, leading a donkey, laden with the implements of the craft, and a sorry nag, gaudily caparisoned in fringes of yellow and red worsted. Two men in smock-frocks followed; one trundling a cartwheel, and the other leading a sheep in a string.
'Here we are!' cried the fool. Open the door of the " green "-room for the greatest ass in the three kingdoms!'
Whereat there arose a shout that would have been esteemed a flattering greeting by one of the first comic actors of the age. Then drawing out a penny trumpet, he blew a charge. 'Rear-guard, advance!' cried he, and his followers entered, and deposited their 'properties' in the centre of the space. He was a short, thickset little fellow, broad-shouldered, and rather bow-legged; but he skipped about with all the briskness of a dancing-master.
Casting his eyes towards the hill-side, he bawled out to the company, 'Ladies and gentlemen, all the seats are taken; but there is plenty of standing-room.'
Many took the hint, and descended. 'There's another donkey coming,' continued he; and presently there appeared a slim figure of a man, attired in white pantaloons and pumps, and a spangled jacket; a cotton velvet cap, stuck jauntily on his head, surrounded by a plume of ostrich feathers; and dangling a riding-whip in his hand.
'My honoured master,' said he, obsequiously, I just proclaimed your
coming to the eager multitude. Allow me to introduce you to the circle of my acquaintance.'
Which ceremony he performed in extravagant dumb-show. His 'honoured master' immediately bowed his white plumes à la cavalier to the grinning audience, and then with an airy agility chasse'd towards the horse. Mr. Merriman, throwing himself upon his hands, revolved in the fashion of a wheel till he arrived at the centre, when, seizing a long whip in one hand, he led the animal to the edge of the circle.
Meanwhile one of the attendants in the smock-frocks threw a drum across his shoulders, thrust his pandean pipes in his waistcoat, and struck up an air.
'Here's the dog's meat, sir!' said the clown.
"The dog's meat, sirrah! It's a thorough-bred hunter.'
'So am I,' replied he. 'I'm always hunting for my bread.'
'Come, Mr. Merriman, don't keep the ladies and gentlemen waiting, but give an eye to the horse; lend me a hand, and give me a leg.'
'How liberal!' exclaimed the clown.
And pray what am I to do
with the rest of myself?'
'What do you mean, Mr. Merriman ?'
'Why, when I've given an eye to the horse, and lent you a hand, and given you a leg, there's the best half of me gone, and your humblecum-stumble servant may go all on one side like a crab the rest of his days.'
Come, sirrah! I want no words.'
'Oh! I'm not quarrelsome,' replied the other consequentially.
"Then skip along,' said his master, striking him with his riding-whip. 'How can I skip along with a wale on my back?' demanded the clown, rubbing his brawny shoulders, and writhing about; and then, taking his master by the ancle, he assisted him to mount.
Away started the horse on his accustomed round, gradually inclining his body inwards, increasing his speed as the clown followed him, cracking his long whip.
Suddenly the glittering equestrian stood upon the saddle, bending his knees to the cantering motion of the animal, and striking him on the shoulders with his whip while he held the long reins in his left hand.
'Ride a cock-horse
To Banbury cross!'
sang out the clown.
Anon the rider held out one leg behind him, and then the other.
'There he goes, round and round, like a teetotum—all upon one leg!' exclaimed the clown. And now, to the admiration of his audience, he threw down the reins, and holding the riding-whip in the fashion of a skipping-rope, sprang over, both backwards and forwards, while in full
Laying aside his whip, Mr. Merriman extracted from their baggage two oranges stuck on two forks, and handed them to his master, singing,
Oranges and lemons,
Says the bells at St. Clement's!'
The mountebank then disencumbered himself of his cap and plume, and tossed them to his motley servitor, together with his whip.
'There's ingratitude!' exclaimed Mr. Merriman. 'I take care of his cast-off finery, and he gives me a whip-in!'
Tossing the oranges alternately in the air, and catching them in quick succession on the prongs of the forks, the master galloped on his neverending road, amid the plaudits of the spectators.
'There's a dabster in dough for ye !' cried the clown. He has had a good education and no mistake, and-those are the fruits of it.'
Having performed these evolutions, the mountebank gradually reined in his steed, and slipped astride the padded saddle, his legs dangling loosely and wearily against the panting sides of the tired animal.
'Now, Mr. Merriman, help me to alight,' said he.
'In the twinkling of a bed-post,' replied his humorous attendant, and drawing out a box of lucifer-matches from his capacious pockets, lighted one in an instant and presented it.
'What's that, booby?'
'Booby? Didn't you go for to ask me to help you to a light?' 'Assist me to get down, you fool, I meant.'
'There now! what a thousand little pities it is so it is-you were not born a goose-for they always get down without assistance! But I can see which way the cat jumps-it's as plain as the nose on my face that, clever as you are, you're offended 'cause I've found a match for you.'
Mr. Merriman, you're a sad fellow, but I'll help myself;' so saying, the mountebank stood upon the saddle, and leaping up, turned a summerset, and came cleverly upon his feet.
There for ye, ain't that droll now? he gets up to get down! What a natural turn he has to the business!' exclaimed the clown; then turning to the grinning crowd. Now can any of ye guess this, riddle-ma-riddle-ma-ree! Why is my master a liberal fellow? Why, 'cause he "comes down" handsomely. Come, now, ain't that smart?' addressing his superior, who was adjusting his velvet cap, and yet you called me a fool.'
'Ay, a great fool.'
'Certainly, or I should not own such a master.'
'How mean you, sirrah?'
'I'll explain allegorically, metaphorically, categorically, and paregorically,' replied the clown, and gradually elevating the cart-wheel, he clasped the nave, and supported it with one hand. There, that's it to a tittle! Don't you see the nave has got the upper hand of the fool? The nave's you, and I'm me-the fool-by reason of being under you.'
At this practical illustration there arose a general laugh.
'And now, ladies and gentlemen,' said the mountebank in a loud voice, we are about to offer you by lottery a large and valuable collection of tea-trays, gown and waistcoat pieces, knives and forks, candlesticks and candleboxes, and numerous other articles both useful and ornamental. There are so many prizes that none of you can possibly lose -more than one shilling, which is the small price at which we offer the tickets.'
While he was thus addressing and inviting them to try their fortune, the clown was busily occupied in unpacking the bales, and spreading the bright and gaudy gown-pieces on the grass, and scattering hither and thither the painted tea-trays and glittering tin-candlesticks and candleboxes all over the interior of the circle in the most alluring confusion.
Having quickly executed this temptation part of the business, he ran round, distributing the tickets to the spectators, and I was pleased to observe that the sale went on rapidly; indeed he had such a facetious and irresistible way of puffing his tickets that he extracted many a reluctant shilling, and relaxed the grasp of many a prudent hand.
A young country-woman in a red cloak, with an infant in her arms, who was standing before me, tried all her eloquence upon her husband to induce him to venture. She should so like to have those knives; they were just what they wanted so much!'
With much ado she at last prevailed, and holding out the shilling, called out eagerly for a ticket, apparently fearing her husband might repent, and perhaps recall the coin.
I could not help sympathizing in her sanguine expectations of a favour. able result. I too gave my shilling, which I considered due to the performers for the amusement they had afforded me.
'There's a prime dozen of knives and forks!' said the clown, exhibiting them. Twenty-four pieces! why it's only a halfpenny a-piece: who would use their fingers when they can get tools so dog-cheap? They are all town-made, too-warranted; there's blades for you; with an edge as keen as a February frost, and of as good a temper as the cobbler's wife, who kissed her husband for "welting" her!"
Having at last most profitably exerted his eloquence in the sale of the chances in this minor lottery, he proceeded to make a circuit with the lucky-bag, containing the blanks and prizes, in his hand.
The lots were speedily drawn by the eager expectants, who had ventured their shillings, and--only to see the tricks of that jade, Fortune-the young mother handed the mystic paper to her husband, who, unfolding it, declared to her disappointment that it was a blank, while mine turned up a capital prize, for I had won, without a wish, the much-coveted knives and forks. I felt half-ashamed of proclaiming my good luck. It occurred to me, however, that I might easily overcome this nervous difficulty, and handing the paper to the young woman, I said: "Will you do me the favour to take home these knives and forks for me?
'Surely, sir,' replied she, curtseying and blushing; 'where be you living, sir?'
'You mistake me,' I replied. I wish you to accept them as a gift.'
'Lauk, sir!-I'm sure-I thank you, sir,' said she.
Thank'ee kindly, sir,' interposed the husband; 'our Nell longed for they, and—'
'Say no more,' interrupted I, 'you're heartily welcome;' for I felt almost as much by the observation the expression of their gratitude drew upon me as I should have done in holding out my hand and claiming the prize before the gaze of the crowd; so I slunk away, and mingled with the group in another quarter, as stealthily as if I had picked a pocket, and feared detection, although I was really gratified in being able to give the young housekeeper so much pleasure at so slight a
All the prizes having been distributed, one of the men from the publichouse handed a pint of foaming porter to the clown, who presented it to
'Is that the way you offer the beverage to me, sirrah?' said he, with dignity.
Beverage?' exclaimed the clown. Why it's genuine malt and hops.' 'Bring me a glass,' said the mountebank, gracefully waving his hand. Upon which the clown presented him with a pocket looking-glass. 'You want to see the way to your mouth, I suppose,' said he. 'Put it into a tumbler, Mr. Merriman,' cried the other impatiently. Whereupon the fool stared, and then nodding, applied his lips to the measure, and drained it.
'Hollo! sirrah, what do you mean by that?'
'Didn't you tell me to put it into a tumbler?' said the quibbler, ' and ain't I a tumbler? Look at that!' And he immediately turned a summerset in the air, leaping up, and coming down upon his feet again without touching the ground with his hands.
A shout of merriment welcomed the conceit and the agility of the clown; and another pint, with a glass, being brought for the refreshment of the spangled rider, he remounted his steed, and recommenced his equestrian evolutions, skipping with a hoop, and anon rapidly passing it over his head, legs, and arms, while at full gallop.
After sundry other gymnastic feats were exhibited, not only by the master, but the man, to the evident delight of all assembled, both great and small,' the mountebank, standing upon the saddle, proclaimed aloud, that, 'encouraged by the liberality of his indulgent audience, he was induced to offer a sheep to be raffled for-if he could only make up a suffi cient number for so large a prize.'
'Only hear that!' said the clown. There never was such a man as my master. I verily believe he would give the little coat off his backif anybody would wear it; and thereby hangs a tale (I don't mean to his coat, but touching his liberality). When a mere boy-a hobbledehoy -he once gave a schoolfellow two whole radishes for one--cucumber! But here's mutton here, my masters and mistresses, and no mistake. Never was such a favourable opportunity offered to a discerning public for the profitable investment of a small capital. For the trifling risk of one shilling, the agriculturist may (possibly) purchase as much fine wether as will last him a whole fortnight. A lawyer may gain a profitable client, whom he may fleece' without fear of taxation, and have parchment enough left for a marriage settlement. Gentlemen of the bar -if there be any here-I pray ye put in for the baa-lamb! Nay, even those sapient noddles who go forth wool-gathering, may for once have a