Page:A C Doyle - The White Company.djvu/69

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THE WHITE COMPANY

45

This loud speech, coming from a man of so formidable an appearance, somewhat daunted the disloyal party, and they fell into a sullen silence, which enabled Alleyne to hear something of the talk which was going on in the farther corner between the physician, the tooth-drawer, and the gleeman.

'A raw rat,' the man of drugs was saying, 'that is what it is ever my use to order for the plague—a raw rat with its paunch cut open.'

'Might it not be broiled, most learned sir?' asked the tooth-drawer. 'A raw rat sounds a most sorry and cheerless dish.'

'Not to be eaten,' cried the physician, in high disdain. 'Why should any man eat such a thing?'

'Why, indeed?' asked the gleeman, taking a long drain at his tankard.

'It is to be placed on the sore or swelling. For the rat, mark you, being a foul-living creature, hath a natural drawing or affinity for all foul things, so that the noxious humours pass from the man into the unclean beast.'

'Would that cure the black death, master?' asked Jenkin.

'Aye, truly would it, my fair son.'

'Then I am right glad that there were none who knew of it. The black death is the best friend that ever the common folk had in England.'

'How that then?' asked Hordle John.

'Why, friend, it is easy to see that you have not worked with your hands, or you would not need to ask. When half the folk in the country were dead it was then that the other half could pick and choose who they would work for, and for what wage. That is why I say that the murrain was the best friend that the borel folk ever had.'

'True, Jenkin,' said another workman; 'but it is not all good that is brought by it either. We well know that through it corn land has been turned into pasture, so that flocks of sheep with perchance a single shepherd wander now where once a hundred men had work and wage.'