How Sir Scudamour Came to the House of Care
Thus Britomart, with much toil and grief, still sought the Knight whom she had seen in the magic mirror, and in all her sad misfortunes she found her fellow-wanderer, Amoret, a great comfort. But the gentle Scudamour, whose heart the malicious Até had filled with jealous discontent, was bent on revenge — on revenge against the blameless Princess. The wicked tale told by Até pricked his jealous heart like a thorn, and pierced his soul like a poisoned arrow. Nothing that Glaucé could do or say would alter his feeling; the more she tried to excuse Britomart, the worse it fretted and grieved him night and day, so that nothing but dire revenge might abate his anger.
Thus as they travelled, night, gloomy with cloud and storm and bitter showers, fell upon them before its usual hour. This forced them to seek some shelter where they might hide their beads in quiet rest. Not far away, unfitting for any guest, they spied a little cottage, like some poor man's dwelling. It was placed under a steep hillside, where the mouldering earth had hollowed out the bank. A small brook of muddy water, bad-smelling as a puddle, passed close to it, bordered by a few crooked willows.
When Sir Scudamour and Glaucé came nearer, they heard the sound of many iron hammers ceaselessly beating in turn, so that it seemed as though some blacksmith dwelt in that desert place. Entering, they found the good man himself bent busily at work. He was a wretched, worn creature, with hollow eyes and wasted cheeks, as if he had been long pent in prison. His face was black and grisly-looking, smeared with smoke that nearly blinded his eyes. He had a ragged beard and shaggy hair, which he never cut nor kept in order. His garment was rough and all torn to rags; he had no better, nor cared for any better. His hands were blistered and burnt from the cinders, all unwashed, with long nails fit to rend the food on which he lived.
This creature was called Care. He was a blacksmith by trade, who never ceased working, day or night, but made iron wedges of small use. (These are unquiet thoughts, that invade anxious minds.)
He kept six servants hard at work, always standing round the anvil with great huge hammers, who never rested from battering stroke on stroke. All six were strong men, but each was stronger than the one before, so they went up, as it were, in steps. So likewise the hammers which they bore succeeded, like bells, in due order of greatness. The last servant far exceeded the first in size; he was like some monstrous giant. So dreadfully did he beat the anvil that it seemed as if he would soon drive it to dust. So huge was his hammer, and so great his energy, that it seemed as though he could break and rend asunder a rock of diamond if he cared to try.
Sir Scudamour greatly wondered at the manner of their work and weary labour and, having beheld it for a long time, at last inquired the cause and end of it. But all his questions were in vain, for they would not stop from their work for anything, nor listen to what he said. Even the gusty bellows blew fiercely, like the north wind, so that no one could hear. "Sadness" moved them, and the bellows were "Sighs."
The warrior, seeing this, said no more, but lay down to rest in his armour. To rest he lay down on the floor — in olden days the best bed for adventurous knights — and thought to have refreshed his weary limbs. And the aged nurse, Glaucé, his faithful squire, also laid her feeble joints down, for her age and weakness much needed rest after so long and tiring a journey.
There lay Sir Scudamour, long expecting the moment when gentle sleep would close his weary eyes, turning often from side to side, and often choosing a new place where it seemed he might repose better. And often in wrath he again rose from there, and often in wrath lay down again. But wherever he disposed himself, he could by no means obtain the desired ease; every place seemed painful, and each alteration useless.
And evermore when he thought to sleep, the sound of the hammers jarred his nerves, and evermore when he began to get drowsy, the noise of the bellows disturbed his quiet rest. All night the dogs barked and howled around the house, scenting the stranger-guest, and now the crowing cock, and now the owl shrieking loudly, fretted his very soul.
If by fortune a little drowsiness chanced to fall on his heavy eyelids, immediately one of the villains rapped him on the head with his iron mallet, so that he awoke at once and started up quickly, as one afraid or as if one had suddenly called him. Thus he was often roused, and then he lay musing on the unhappy cause that had led him to the House of Care.
At last his weary spirit, too tired to resist further, gave place to rest, yet even now he was troubled with bad dreams. Then the wicked creature, the master-smith, took a pair of red-hot iron tongs and nipped him in the side, so that his heart quite quaked at the pain. Thereupon, he started up to be avenged on the person who had broken his quiet slumber but, looking round about him he could see no one, yet the smart remained, though the giver of it fled.
In such disquiet and heart-fretting pain, Sir Scudamour passed all that long night, and now the day began to peep over the earth, sprinkling the morning grass with pearly dew. Then up he rose, like a heavy lump of lead, and one could plainly read in his face, as in a looking-glass, signs of the anguish he had gone through.
He mounted his war-horse and set forth again on his former journey, and with him also went Glaucé, the aged squire, ready to share whatever pain and peril might be in store.
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