Pamela came to us before she started work one morning. She was shaken and swore to us she had seen Lady Devonside— that is, she swore she had seen the ghost of Lady Devonside- but she had done so in her rooms, which were in Penzance, not here at the inn, where they oft yet spoke her sometimes appearing.
“I was lying in my bed, when I heard a voice speaking.
“You can’t, you shant, I won’t, it doesn’t!” she repeated over and over. And I could hear this so clearly, I looked up from my sleep, for it had woke me- and she stood at the foot of my bed! This I swear Julian, it was The Lady! It was the same one as likeness be on your sign outside! Yes, and on the painting you hang in your entryway!’
“Know you this how so?” asked Mary.
“For, Mary she were dressed in the same manner- was a ribbon scarf about her neck, her hair was piled in a bun, just like the picture, and she wore a great gown! Oh was I ever frighted!”
“What do you think she means, ‘you can’ you shant, it won’t, it doesn’t?’’’ I asked.
“Heavens help me Julian but I know not! All I know is, it was The Lady, she was far from the inn, and she implored me with her speech. and she just repeated that, over and over, and after while I was afraid and also, tired of it.
“Leave me straightway, oh ghost! I mean you no ill!” I shouted, and then it looked startled, and faded away. Oh Mary, Julian, whatever does it mean?”
“That is what I should like to know,” I said. “We have tried to appease the ghost by hanging her painting, and by naming our tavern for her, and by painting her likeness on the signboard. We have done our best to assuage whatever it is that keeps her haunting us. It is disturbing that you say she visited you. For that means it is something concerning us. But I have no plans to build more, I have done all the building I shall, and I have no plans to do more, of anything! So what can she speak of?”
“I don’t know, Julian, but why does she visit me?”
“Maybe, Pamela, she speaks of your history. Did you have plans to speak of the Inn and of the Lady’s story?”
“I had thought of it, Julian, but I had not even begun the history! It is something on my mind, but it is not a question I have resolved.”
“But perhaps that is it,” said Mary. “Perhaps the Lady Devonside wants no word to the world of her untimely passage. Perhaps she might wish to be left in peace, and that the misfortune be forgotten.”
“Well, now I will definitely not breathe a word of it.”
“Yes, let us all keep this a dark memory, and perhaps she will leave us all to sleep in peace.”
I spoke with Pamela a bit more concerning what I felt would be the needed history she could write and how it might compare, I hoped with the work of Gerald of Wales. She nodded, and said that that was indeed a worthy ambition. Whether or not she were up to it, only those who came after her would be able to say. Meanwhile, the Lady Devonside herself was almost the least of all y own worries. Because I lived from week to week.
The mood of many of the armed men who came and went, at times, from The Lady, on their way toward Penzance, or up to Trewidden or off to London, or even north to Bristol or Exeter, had taken a different tone. Word had begun to have it with them that Owain Glndwyr had, indeed, actually treated with the French, and now, those French would not only perhaps raid more upon the coastlines, which threw Penzance into some immediate danger, but that they would now be sending forces directly to Wales, to assist Glyndwyr, and to take back the hospitality they had shown Henry IV himself during his years of exile.
I had no real position, I realized, but that my heart of course, was of the opinion whatever happened, Cheshire itself ought to be free finally of the Prince and of Henry too. Anything that brought that about would make me rather happy. Anything less was only more of the same. I continued then, to hide behind my taverner role, and that of taleteller, minstrel, and songmaker. For what I now perceived in myself was a new appreciation of my own surroundings, my domain, if you would.
The row of cypress trees that for me had become my landmark, and my touchstone for our home whenever I was far away, was but one of many such landmarks I carried about with me to remember the place. There was also the fine slanted hill which ran down the opposite ride of Whychoome Road, and the tumbling cliff, which was not but about a chest-high, that stood as barrier before the unbroken white sands that stretched up to Penzance, Saint Michael’s Mount, and the cliffs which suggested the other side of the Lizard. Beyond there of course, lay Plymouth, Dartmouth, Falmouth, and Pendennis, but for me, my proper thoughts held to Cornwall and Penwith, and on occasion, because so many men from there came by, to Saint Ives, the Ding Dong mine of Aleuderis, and places such as Saint Piran’s spring, and Caer Bran, the old tumbled-down fortress which had once ruled all of old Penwith, in the days of our forefathers. I now took a keen interest in everything about us, and I would sometimes gush to Pamela, in my hurried attempts to get her to begin writing our history of exile in these parts, how much it was that the Penwith and Dartmoor lands were now supplanting (if only that there was less trial associated with them) Cheshire and thoughts of homeland and heartland and my fondest nostalgias.
“I do not see your nostalgias disappearing, Julian,” Pamela told me, in return, one night when I had finished with the counting the coins, and was sitting with her at the dying fire, sipping a glass of spiced wine.
“If anything, Julian, you seem to get more and more that way the closer you get to your trip back home. Remember- when you go, can you? Please say a mass for my brother, and lay a flower at the altar, for me?’
“That I will do, Pamela. And we will see to it that we bring you more news from your good mother, when we do go.”
There was yet another set of things to care for before we traveled, and it would be a couple more weeks, anyway, but I had determined we should make that trip, and that we would return in good shape as well. I watched them often, my good workers, so well I knew they would take care of everything. Deprez, even, had seen to it that he would do the victual supply, and he had Wilmot to assist some small part of his stove work while he would be away. Clarence would act as myself, collecting the fares, making sure the tables were happy, and seeing to the general order of the place. I had the ultimate faith in Clarence- as an older man, he had been there and back as to the way people behave in this world, and well knew a number of our regular guests, already. The few nights that Clarence came to play on the lute, or on the tabor, and sang, himself, were always ones that left our guests cheerful, and often they left singing themselves.
I had made it quite clear through our grapevine, and Ranulf, that minstrels up and down the southern shires were always welcome to come to The Fallen Lady and take their risks at pleasing our crowd, who were always predisposed toward having a good time to begin with. Those who they accepted, I kept on, paying them each , when I could, a groat for their troubles, and at the very least, a meal and drink, if they did not make the patrons so pleased as it would justify them remaining another three or four nights of a week. Wilmot, in fact, worked quite hard each time he got up, but somehow there were always other minstrels they took to first, even though his vielle playing had become quite learned, and his presence duly affable. It was those others who came down from up-country who were really those I had to worry about.
Like the week we had both John the Farter, and a better man, Jack of Rowe, come in and compete against each other for the chance to sing a fortnight at The Lady. Wilmot, while he was also in the competitions, was yet not the presence each of those two men were. And I next shall speak of what occurred when I had all three of them to set before my merry crowd!
I was now in something of a predicament. Here was this new man, Jack of Rowe, he too a man of the lute, and there was John the Farter, preceded of course by his name, and a bit of the reek he carried about him. If I may contrast these two, it was certainly easy to do. For starters, Jack of Rowe was rather tall, slender, and his curling hair was brown, and roiled about his head much as a nimbus. He spoke delicately, and in short measured phrases with good pauses, as though he were one who considered what the import of his words might be before speaking. His manner of dress was as many I saw in London- long shoes, a jerkin tied with cord at the neck, and tights. He also kept himself with a hat, that had a great long plume, perhaps a peacock’s, surmounting it from his head and adding a full three feet to his total height, impressive to begin with. He busied himself with his lute at table as I dealt then with Exeter John.
John of Exeter, the famous Farter, played no instrument but the trumpet of his arse. And this he did seemingly so frequently, that when one observed him from the rear it was easily noticed that a large brown stain ran the length of the seam on the backside of his hose. He was short, fat, balding, with one cocked eye, he wore what appeared to be something of a monk’s cassock, but half its length, the wrong color (green) and sandals. His balding head bore patches of hair, but mostly not. He carried a walking stick, with which he would punctuate all his sentences, which themselves were rather grunted out in short panting expressions similar to a man who has just run up a tall hill. He begged me for a chance to show our guests why (should there be any need?) he had acquired this name, for he blew on his ars-trompe with alacrity and at will. Indeed, for he had blown it well for the court at Powderham Exeter, and perchance, those who now held Anselm’s hall might have heard their most of him, already.
“Allow me, sire, to give of these good fellows all what I have given to nobles and lords all over the country,” he offered. “I know much, but the one thing I know best, is that feasting men are easily graced, when one knows the special speech!” And at that, he farted toward me, and I was glad to have turned away, for the stench was commodious.
Waving off the foul fumes, I surrendered, hoping for the best.
“If my guests do not like you, I shall expect you shall hear of it, sir. I have only one opening for someone to take our evenings through the next week. The guests themselves will decide which of you they will make welcome on that. So then get to it! I have others to audition here, you are not but the most renowned, as if that of itself might win their favor.”
“Thank you, gracious taverner! I shall do my best!” he chortled, and then took his place near the hearth, and spoke aloud so all might hear.
“Good patrons of the Fallen Lady! I am John of Exeter, otherwise known as John the— (PPFFFT!) Farter! I have traveled hither and yon and learned just a few weeks ago of your lovely dining hall. I crept and crawled and hiked and choked my way here, through dangers manly and beastly, over hill and dale, and now, here I stand to you, and you, shall be entertained!” (PPPFFFT!)
“Let me tell you then a little tale...
There once was a cook
who lived in Plymouth town
Whose mouth was yet so full
he could not cram it down
He puffed a French tart
It only made him fart (PPPPFFFT!)
He ate a Welsh Taffy
it stuck up in his teef
He ate an Irish Stew
it gave him no relief
He ate a Cornish Hen
it was not good, again
But when he ate a Spanish Fly
it made his codpiece cry!” (PPPPFFFT! PPPPFTT! PPPFFFT! PPPFFFT!)
I heard a crash, a bang, a slam of a pot lid on the floor, and then I saw Deprez rushing forth from the kitchen, a look stern and grave, brandishing a long knife!
“Wait, Deprez, stop!” I cried. “What gives you such grief and displeasure?” The guests had now all hushed, for as they had been somewhat bemusedly ignoring John, they now were appalled at the sight of my own cook, in a heated state like a pestered bull, bearing quickly down on the short fat bald man, and looking all the world as though blood could be shed!
“Master Julian, he speaks of me! I know of this man, indeed, he knows of me... he says lies, and he says them of me!’
“What, pray tell, can he have said to so outrage you, Deprez?”
“This insulter—for that is what he is—a man who lives by insulting others—was in Plymouth three years ago- before I ever came to work for Anselm, and he was... I dare say I should mention this in front of all our guests...”
“Go on,” I said, “nothing you can say will be held against you by the, only your cooking...”
“He sold to me for two farthings a beetle powder- that Spanish fly! He sold it to me and told me it would make women weep for me! No! He made me lose my senses, with his insidious powder! For the crying of my nether parts, sir... It was I he spoke of, in jest! How he knows to find me here, I do not know, but I shall have his throat!”
John stood back, quite aghast, but, there was something about his look which told me that my cook was not lying, and that he had actually met Deprez before, and that John must have played some very painful trick upon Deprez, but Deprez found no fun in it at all.
“Both of you, come outside with me, do! Now!”
I had stopped Deprez from inserting his knife into the green cassock, but his eyes still glared murder at the jovial clown. I walked them both at arm’s length out into the side yard, by the bowls pitch. As I did so I signaled to Jack of Rowe that he could command the floor at his will.
“Let us have this all again. John of Exeter. You have come to my establishment, you say, to tell jokes, and blow your arse-trumpet, as befits your name, and make men laugh. Good enough. But if you are telling tales solely for the purpose of making an ass of our good cook, I am afraid I will have none of that, nor any more of you.”
“Sire, I assure you, it is an old tale I have told many times, and I had no idea that this... this man...”
“Are you admitting you did know him, and did such trickery upon him?”
“Well, um...” By his evasions, I knew that he had. I told Deprez to stand aside, or better, sit on the bench by the wall.
“John, I have had no trouble in this tavern yet. And if I can by God I shall never have any, if I should make it so. If you have told this tale for years then you could only have found it a funny thing to have outwitted a cook, whose only offense was having believed you, as a good pimp.”
He smarted at that word.
“I am no pimp...”
“But yet, you deal in Spanish fly, and you would as soon give it to any man who might have spared you the penny, the penny you could not earn by your jesting.”
“That is your opinion.”
“And such as it is, I tell you, I shall have none of it. Deprez, perhaps, John here made a laugh from you, but you are right to be offended. Put away your weapon, though! We will have no murder here at my tavern. Let him take his shame and slink away. Perhaps the Pelican Inn in town might have him. I wished I could give you the chance, John... but...”
“Oh, sire, give me the opportunity, as a man of your word! If I stand to make your guests laugh, and can draw a larger share of applause than that... gut-plucker you have in there now, will you not allow me that measure?”
I stood for a minute with my chin in my hand. He did have a point. I should at least honor my word, and grant him competition with Jack, before I tossed him. Let the guests decide. That was fair enough.
“Fine, then. Go back inside and try again. I have given precedence to the gut-plucker, so be kind and do not interrupt.”
“Good sir, that is most kind of you,” he complained, and in a voice both bright and creaky.
He went back inside. I was now alone with Deprez.
“This farter, he is as obnoxious as he smells, apparently?” I said it as much a question as a statement we both knew to be true.
“Indeed, sire Julian. If he has told that story up and down the land, then surely he has demeaned my honor.”
“Do not think of vengeance, Deprez. We should allow the inferiors their blather. There is a higher place for the likes of you. And you have held higher place than with the likes of me! But so long as you are employed by me I shall see that no hard words fall toward you. Unless, of course, you do something which earns them. So, don’t burn the food!”
“Julian, I do what I can. Oh! Not to burn the food! I’ve a pie to save!”
Deprez ran back indoors himself, leaving me to shake my head in wonderment- as I would do many, many times more in my life as keeper of the Fallen Lady.
I put my head back inside, but Jack of Rowe was just getting started on a new tale, and John the Farter sat with his back to him at a table, where Wilmot also sat. Wilmot apparently was after a turn, too, and had a vielle in his hands. I supposed I should give everyone a chance this night to see how they might fare. For I would even offer a tune or two myself, ere all was over with.
Jack of Rowe strummed his lute in a manner which betrayed his inexperience with it, I could see that by the way he held his right hand, thumb flat, fingers splayed upon the sounding board.
But he had a pleasant voice, which was good to listen to. And he had a tale to tell. To hear him tell it, and judging from the reaction of my crowd, I could see that they knew it much better than I.
“O’er Penwith’s shore ‘twas a Giant roared
What ruled the land and ruled the shore
He spiked the road with heaps of gore
That Giant’s name was Blunderbore
Blunderbore strode far and wide
With tooth and claw he rent the hide
Of doomed men and riders by the side
Of the King’s highway up to Saint Ives
He caught himself some twenty brides
And made them sleep in old beehives
Oh Blunderbore by the side o’ road
Blunderbore lie him down a heavy load
Tom the Tinker riding past
He roused the giant off his fast
Then Blunderbore tore a great elm tree
Up from its roots crying “hie, hie, thee!
Yet Tom the Tinker, madder still
Took from his wagon off an axle and a wheel
Smote Blunderbore fierce on the head
Struck and struck, ‘til the great giant was close to dead
Pray thee little man, your power great
You must take off me my proud estate
Take thee my brides and one and all
Send them back to Marazion, and their husbands’ call
I Blunderbore have struck my last
Now go little man, and go thee fast
So Blunderbore fell square down dead
And Tom the Tinker lay a bough of oak leaves ‘pon his head
With mistletoe I crown thee slain
And pretty women with freedom make again
Tom the Tinker won at last
Blunderbore was dust and now had passed
Good Tom took a maiden as his mate
And lived well and long in Penzance as his fate!”
They roared their appreciation. Anyone who might tell a story of their own lands and tell it in such an entertaining way surely had their favor. I motioned to Jack to come off, and he was a bit disappointed in having to do so. I mentioned to him I had promised John another shot, and Jack nodded, standing back. He was young and had miles to go, but something told me he might actually carry the night.
I took a seat by Wilmot and John the Farter clumped back to the hearthstones.
“Allow me, good people, to (PPPPFFFT!) Tell you a story... A tale so full of woe and grief, your heads will spin fair beyond belief! (PPFFFT! PPPPFFFFT!) “
His farting however did not elicit any more laughter from the guests, may of whom were picking at their plates, now. If anything he seemed to be an annoying distraction.
“Once upon a time, in Cloud Cuckoo Land, there was a famous Prince.
And this famous Prince was in love with a Lady Fair. Her name was Malthion.”
“Malthion was so fair that the geese blew their horns (PPPFFT! PPPFFFT! PFFFT!) in greeting each morning as she made her way to the well. Our dear Prince, Brendan, was sore in need of a fixing. When he first saw Malthion, his heart went pitterpat. (PPPFFFT PPFFFT! PPPFFT!) And he wondered long how he might make Malthion his ever-true heart.
“Well, one day, Malthion came skipping along her merry way, and Brendan lay in wait, a milk pitcher in his lap. He stopped her in the road. “Dear maid, have you not forgot something? I believe you came for this.”
“I did not, good sir, I came for water. See, my bucket is not yet full.”
“Why have a bucket of water when you could have pitchers of milk? Is there not more value in a cow?”
“And what cow? Kindly good sir leave me to my duty, or I should raise hue and cry that thou do detain me!”
Brendan bowed, and scraped, and let her pass. But as she went past, he whistled (PPPFFFT PPPFFFT! PPPFFFT!) a merry tune such as she had never heard...”
John of Exeter was now interrupted again. Not by Deprez, whose grumbling could still be heard from the kitchen, but by a few of the guests, who were catcalling him.
“Do your thing, fat man!”
He tried to continue, but they were overwhelming him now.
“Good people, if you will but allow me...”
“No! Nay! Weckfulladaddio!”
The noes and nays and other brickbats came on full force.
I took the hearth.
“Dear people, John and I had agreed that if he could not please you, then, this contest of talents should end and soon. I believe you have voiced your opinions in such a way that it should be clear. How many of you prefer the young minstrel Jack of Rowe?”
There was overwhelming approval. It became something of a chant.
“Jack of Rowe! Jack of Rowe! Jack of Rowe!”
I turned to the Farter, who was now a deep shade of red.
“It does seem, good sir, that the crowd have expressed a preference. Close the door lightly when you go.”
He was off, his staff shaking a disapproval to all as he turned and marched out upon the Whychoombe Road. Maybe he would go to Trewydden, if they indeed would have him there at all. But his fate interested me naught.
“I should not think he be back too quickly,” I told my guests. “Jack, play on.”
Jack returned, lute in hand, and gave them another song. When he finished I turned to Wilmot, and beckoned him to play.
This was obviously what he had been waiting for. His vielle was ready and tuned, and he was eager to please. Now Wilmot, being green and young and earnest, and not having had much cause nor opportune to play for persons, unless he had done so on his journey to Bristol, took his place at the hearth.
“I shall sing you a song which my master Clarence tells me is one he wrote himself. My name is Wilmot, I come to you from Mousehole, and I work for one of the finest players and luthiers in the whole of the kingdom, good Clarence, that is. This song he taught to me.”
I am a wineman for the county and I ride the Roman road
Searching with my son for another lost stray goat
I hear you singing in the fire, I can hear you through the vine
And the Glastonbury wineman is still drunk on the wine
I know I need some meditation but still it looks a lot like rain
And when the snow comes to the south, there will be a lot of pain
And I need to more than want to, and I want to all the time
But the Glastonbury wineman is still drunk on the wine
And I need to more than want to, and I want to all the time
But the Glastonbury wineman is still drunk on the wine...
People were clapping when he finished, but his response was nothing like Jack’s. And so I was fair drawn to lend to Jack the prize, which was, of course, to sing for his table and coin, for the next week of evenings, here at the Lady. I sidled over and told him this, and he seemed near to tears in gratitude.
“After all, son, it might have taken a lot —or not— to beat down old John the Farter. But you did, and fairly. My friend Wilmot here is yet the novice, and will have plenty more times to show himself, as he learns, and grows wiser in the minstrel trade. So take heart! Ask Pamela to draw you a jug of ale—you have done well.”
I set before him a groat, which he pocketed quite quickly, smiling and nodding.
Now it was for me to go before my people, and give them something of my own, which they were coming to expect, for I made it a part of each night that I would play to my own house.
Tonight I gave them something new— a tale from Wales, the Lay of Taliesin.
“My name was Gwion Bach— and I have come through ice and fire
I have seen the end of earth and burned the bracken briar
Let me give to you my story, I think you’ll find it not so thin
For my name is now no other than that of bard, they call me Taliesin!
When I was Gwion Bach, I stood upon the floor
of the wise old Ceridwen, she bade me stir the gore
this brew she made of magic sense,
three drops of which I took myself and hence
I changed my shape to rabbit, and leaped forthwith away. Hey!
Ceridwen she woke from sleep and seeing me bounding off, she made herself
into a hound, swift and lean, she chased me through a meadow green
Coming to a stream, I made myself a fish, but she now otter, quite heathenish
swam across the other side
I made myself into a bird and flyed
Afar above the checkered heath
Then she, a hawk, did drop from on high
and seeing this, I fell to earth
and became a grain of wheat, in a pile of dirt
She then became a guinea hen
and plucked me out, and swallowed then
I was transformed into the seed of a man within her
She lingered long at labor, then did relieve her
womb of me, and I full force sprung
my tongue with seasoned songs thrice blessed
Taliesin I am, and the secrets of the world I know inside and out!
I am the one they sing these songs about!