Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Fable

How the shoomakers stole away Saint Hugh's bones and made them working tools thereof, and the vertue that they found in the same; whereby it came that when any man saw a shoomaker travelling with a pack at his back, they would presently say: "There goes Saint Hugh's bones."

Upon a time it chanced that a company of journeymen shoomakers passed along by the place where Saint Hugh's dead body was hanging, and finding the flesh pickt cleane off from the bones, they entred thus into communication amoung themselves:

"Never was Saint Hugh so bare", quoth one, "to carry never a whit of skin upon his bones."

"Nor thou never so bare", said another, "to beare never a penny in thy purse. But now seeing you talk of Saint Hugh, it brings me to remembrance of his legacy that he gave us at his death."

"What was that?" said the rest.

"Marry", quoth he, "I will tell you. When the gentle prince saw that the cruelty of the time would not suffer him to be liberal to his friends, but that his life was taken away by one and his flesh given to others, he most kindly bequeathed his bones unto us."

"Tush", quoth another, "that was but to show his mind towards the shoomakers, because he had received of them so many favors; for alas, what can the dead man's bones pleasure the living?"

"No", quoth another, "I can tell you there may be as great vertue found in his bones as the brains of a weasill or the tongue of a frog."

"Much like", answered the rest, "but I pray thee shew us what vertue is in those things you speak of."

Quoth he, "I will tell you: the braines of a weasill hath this power, experientia docet, that if the powder be mingled with the runnet wherewith women make their cheese, no mouse dares touch it. In like manner the tongue of a water-frog hath such great force in it that if it be laid upon the breast of any one sleeping, it well cause them to tell whatsoever you shall demand: for by that meanes Dick Piper knew he was a cuckold. Againe, I know that those that are travellers are not ignorant that whosoever puts but six leaves of mugwort in his shooes, shall nere be weary, though he travell thirtie or fourtie miles on foot in a forenooon."

"That, indeed, may be true", quoth one, "for by the verie same hearb my last dame kept her ale from sowring. And it is said that where housleek is planted the place shall never be hurt with thunder. Pimpernel is good against witchcraft, and because my sister Joan carried alwayes some about her, Mother Bumby could not abide her. Therefore, what vertue a dead man's bones may have we know not till we have tryed it."

"Why, then", said the third man, "let us soon at night steal Saint Hughe's bones away and, albeit the tyrant will be displeased, yet it is no theft; for you say they were given us, and therefore we may the bolder take them. And because we will turn them to profit and avoid suspition, we will make divers of our tools with them; and then if any vertue do follow them, the better we shall find it."

To this motion every one gave his consent; so that the same night Saint Hughe's bones were taken down, and the same being brought before a sort of shoomakers, there they gave their opinion that it was necessary to fufill the will of the dead, and to take those bones in as good a part as if they were worth ten thousand pounds. Whereupon one stept out and thus did say:

My friends, I pray you, listen to me,
And mark what S. Hughe's bones shall be:
First a drawer and a dresser,
Two wedges, a more and a lesser.
A pretty block, three inches high,
In fashion squared like a die,
Which shall be called by proper name,
A heel-block, the very same.
A hand-leather and thumb-leather likewise,
To pull out shooe-thread we must devise;
The needle and the thimble
shall not be left alone,
The pincers, the pricking-aule,
and the rubbing stone;
The aule-steele and tackes,
the sow-haires beside,
The stirrop, holding fast,
while we sowe the cowhide;
The whetstone, the stopping-stick,
and the paring-knife --
All this doth belong
to a journeyman's life:
Our apron is the shrine
to wrap these bones in:
Thus shroud we Saint Hugh's bones
in a gentle lamb's skin.

"Now all you good yeomen of the Gentle Craft, tell me now", quoth he, "how like you this?"

"As well", replyed they, "as Saint George doth of his horse, for as long as we can see him fight with the dragon we will never part from this posie."

"And it shall be concluded that what journeyman soever he be, hereafter, that cannot handle his sword and buckler, his long sword or a quater-staffe, sound the trumpet or play upon the flute, and bear his part in a three-man's song, and readily reckon up his tools in rime --except he have born colours in the field, being a lieutenant, a sergeant, or corporall -- shall foreit and pay a pottle of wine, or be counted for a colt." To which they answered all, viva voce: "Content, content"; and then, after many merry songs, they departed. And never after did they travell without these tools on their back; which ever since were called Saint Hughe's bones.

The Gentle Craft
By Thomas Deloney, Alexis Frederick Lange
Published by Mayer & Müller, 1903

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