The table was of no great breadth, so that we could talk across in spite of the clatter of plates and dishes, the bustle of servants, and the deep murmur of voices.
'This is my father's household,' said our hostess, addressing herself to Saxon. 'There is not one of them who is not in his employ. He hath many apprentices in the wool trade. We sit down forty to meat every day in the year.'
'And to right good fare, too,' quoth Saxon, glancing down the table. 'Salmon, ribs of beef, loin of mutton, veal, pasties--what could man wish for more? Plenty of good home-brewed, too, to wash it down. If worthy Master Timewell can arrange that the army be victualled after the same fashion, I for one shell be beholden to him. A cup of dirty water and a charred morsel cooked on a ramrod over the camp fire are like to take the place of these toothsome dainties.'
'Is it not best to have faith?' said the Puritan maiden. 'Shall not the Almighty feed His soldiers even as Elisha was fed in the wilderness and Hagar in the desert?'
'Aye,' exclaimed a lanky-haired, swarthy young man who sat upon the right of Sir Gervas, 'he will provide for us, even as the stream of water gushed forth out of dry places, even as the quails and the manna lay thick upon barren soil.'
'So I trust, young sir,' quoth Saxon, 'but we must none the less arrange a victual-train, with a staff of wains, duly numbered, and an intendant over each, after the German fashion. Such things should not be left to chance.'
Pretty Mistress Timewell glanced up with a half startled look at this remark, as though shocked at the want of faith implied in it. Her thoughts might have taken the form of words had not her father entered the room at the moment, the whole company rising and bowing to him as he advanced to his seat.
'Be seated, friends,' said he, with a wave of his hand; 'we are a homely folk, Colonel Saxon, and the old-time virtue of respect for our elders has not entirely forsaken us. I trust, Ruth,' he continued, 'that thou hast seen to the wants of our guests.'
We all protested that we had never received such attention and hospitality.
''Tis well, 'tis well,' said the good wool-worker. 'But your plates are clear and your glasses empty. William, look to it! A good workman is ever a good trencherman. If a 'prentice of mine cannot clean his platter, I know that I shall get little from him with carder and teazel. Thew and sinew need building up. A slice from that round of beef, William! Touching that same battle of Ober-Graustock, Colonel, what part was played in the fray by that regiment of Pandour horse, in which, as I understand, thou didst hold a commission?'
This was a question on which, as may be imagined, Saxon had much to say, and the pair were soon involved in a heated discussion, in which the experiences of Roundway Down and Marston Moor were balanced against the results of a score of unpronounceable fights in the Styrian Alps and along the Danube. Stephen Timewell in his lusty youth had led first a troop and then a regiment through the wars of the Parliament, from Chalgrove Field to the final battle at Worcester, so that his warlike passages, though less varied and extensive than those of our companion, were enough to enable him to form and hold strong opinions. These were in the main the same as those of the soldier of fortune, but when their ideas differed upon any point, there arose forthwith such a cross-fire of military jargon, such speech of estacados and palisados, such comparisons of light horse and heavy, of pikemen and musqueteers, of Lanzknechte, Leaguers, and on-falls, that the unused ear became bewildered with the babble. At last, on some question of fortification, the Mayor drew his outworks with the spoons and knives, on which Saxon opened his parallels with lines of bread, and pushing them rapidly up with traverses and covered ways, he established himself upon the re-entering angle of the Mayor's redoubt. This opened up a fresh question as to counter-mines, with the result that the dispute raged with renewed vigour.