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Haw! haw ! haw !” And then he
the table a slap that made the horns jump again.
66 What I! I that have ever been the discreetest and virtuousest of virgins !” exclaimed the old woman, in a seeming monstrous to-do. “I'll be upon my oath I was never put in the stocks.”
66 Well, thou hast had exceeding good luck, then,” replied the mercer, winking at his companion, and endeavouring to keep a grave face; but he succeeded not, for he presently burst out in the same short loud laugh as at first.
Nay, I'll tarry not to be made game of,” cried she somewhat sulkily; and thereupon hurried out of the room.
“ Mayhap, if she tarry to be made game of, then should none hurry to put her on the spit. Haw! haw! haw!” shouted her master, his eyes twinkling very merrily at the conceit.
« Methinks it would be but barbarous to make a roast of her," observed the scrivener, with a perfect serionsness. “ And indeed she seemeth not very delicate eating."
“No more delicate eating than thou art; and I doubt not to find more juice in the fag end of a piece of dowlas than thou canst boast of in thy whole body,” replied the mercer, who being of a well-fed person himself, held the other's lankness in seeming contempt. “ But what sayest thou to
a dainty young wench of some sixteen years or so—fresh and plump and tender as a chicken? Doth not thy mouth water at such fare-ey, Gregory ?”
“In honest truth, I have no stomach for human flesh," answered the scrivener.
66 Out on thee for a dull wit !” exclaimed the other. “I'll be hanged if thou hast more brains than a roast chesnut. But as thou canst not entertain me with thy discourse, see if thou canst tune up thy pipe for a song. A song—a song, Gregory !”
“ Believe me, I have forgotten every tune but one," said the miser of St. Mary Axe in very serious fashion, “and that be the hundredth psalm.”
“ Psalm me no psalms ! Dos't take me for a puritan?” cried the jolly mercer.
“ Nay, but it be an excellent sober tune, Geoffrey Sarsnet."
66 Then shall it be the most unfit tune in the world over a full bowl. Haw! haw! haw !" shouted his companion in the same merry key as at first.
“Methinks I know of none other,” said Gregory Vellum.
6 Then ale of mine shalt thou never taste till thou hast bethought thee of something more to the purpose. So look to thy memory, and quickly.”
“ I do remember me there was a song I did use to
affect in an idle hour when I was but an apprentice,” observed the scrivener.
“ Prythee, then, out with it !” exclaimed the other.
“ Indeed, I have no voice for singing, gossip. Hem! hem !” and then the old fellow began to clear his throat very diligently, looking, or rather striving to look, exceeding modest all the time.
“ I have asked thee not to sing with any other voice than thine own; so I must needs make the best of it,” replied the jolly mercer very merrily.
66 Hem, hem !”
« Nay, I would as lief sit with a tailor as with one that doth nothing but hem,'” said his companion with a laugh as loud as ever.
“ I will fall to it as well as I may,” replied the scrivener. Then turning up his eyes to the ceiling, began in a wonderful shrill trembling pipe
“ When little birds sat on their nests
“ Nay, but good gossip, I be not in most excellent voice,” said he, ere he had got any further. “Hem, hem.”
“ It wants no conjuror to tell me that,” answered his companion with a chuckle.
66 But not a drop of my good ale shall moisten thy throat if thou dost not sing me the song before it be brought in."
“ Hem, hem !” repeated the other quickly, for he had no objection to any good thing at another's expense. Then with a lack-a-daisical look, the like of which it is impossible to conceive, he recommenced
“ When little birds sat on their nests,
And conies to the young wheat hied ;
• With my heigh-ho !
" I say nothing against the matter of thy ballad,” here interposed the mercer; "for it be as exquisite foolish stuff as heart can desire; but if thou art not singing it to the hundredth psalm then never gave I honest measure.”
“ 'Tis very like," replied the old miser gravely; 6 for I did tell thee I knew of no other tune.”
“ I'll have none on't. So look that thou sing the proper notes.” At this, with a preliminary hem or two, Gregory Vellum did essay the second verse, much after the same die-away fashion as at first.
“'Twas then a lover and his lass,
Her rosy cheek with his acquaint-" “ Thou art at the psalm again, and be hanged to thee!” here exclaimed his companion.
5. Indeed then I knew it not; but I will take good heed I fall no more into that strain.” And then he continued his ballad.
- Had set them on the tender grass;
“ Thou art clean past all hope,” cried Geoffrey Sarsnet. 6. For to one note of the ballad thou hast given a score of the hundredth psalm."
“ Ah, did I so ?---then in truth it did escape me unawares,” replied the other, and resumed his ditty, the first two or three notes of the which seemed of a fitting tune; but the rest was the psalm beyond all possibility of contradiction.
“ He kissed her once, he kissed her twice,
Though oft she coyly said him nay;
• Singing heigh-ho!
“ Odds, my life! thou hast no more notes in thy voice than hath a cuckoo, who singeth the same sorry tune ever," said the jolly mercer.
66 But here comes the bowl,” he added, seeing Margery