Kenilworth (Chapter 1, page 1 of 11)


 
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Chapter 1

I am an innkeeper, and know my grounds,
And study them; Brain o' man, I study them.
I must have jovial guests to drive my ploughs,
And whistling boys to bring my harvests home,
Or I shall hear no flails thwack. -- THE NEW INN.

It is the privilege of tale-tellers to open their story in an inn, the
free rendezvous of all travellers, and where the humour of each displays
itself without ceremony or restraint. This is specially suitable when
the scene is laid during the old days of merry England, when the
guests were in some sort not merely the inmates, but the messmates
and temporary companions of mine Host, who was usually a personage of
privileged freedom, comely presence, and good-humour. Patronized by him
the characters of the company were placed in ready contrast; and they
seldom failed, during the emptying of a six-hooped pot, to throw off
reserve, and present themselves to each other, and to their landlord,
with the freedom of old acquaintance.

The village of Cumnor, within three or four miles of Oxford, boasted,
during the eighteenth of Queen Elizabeth, an excellent inn of the old
stamp, conducted, or rather ruled, by Giles Gosling, a man of a goodly
person, and of somewhat round belly; fifty years of age and upwards,
moderate in his reckonings, prompt in his payments, having a cellar of
sound liquor, a ready wit, and a pretty daughter. Since the days of
old Harry Baillie of the Tabard in Southwark, no one had excelled Giles
Gosling in the power of pleasing his guests of every description; and so
great was his fame, that to have been in Cumnor without wetting a cup
at the bonny Black Bear, would have been to avouch one's-self utterly
indifferent to reputation as a traveller. A country fellow might as well
return from London without looking in the face of majesty. The men of
Cumnor were proud of their Host, and their Host was proud of his house,
his liquor, his daughter, and himself.

It was in the courtyard of the inn which called this honest fellow
landlord, that a traveller alighted in the close of the evening, gave
his horse, which seemed to have made a long journey, to the hostler,
and made some inquiry, which produced the following dialogue betwixt the
myrmidons of the bonny Black Bear.

"What, ho! John Tapster."

"At hand, Will Hostler," replied the man of the spigot, showing himself
in his costume of loose jacket, linen breeches, and green apron, half
within and half without a door, which appeared to descend to an outer
cellar.

 
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