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puts on his old hat and coat, and goes down to be scolded by his sweetheart, and led away out of mischief. Tom hears him say coaxingly, as he walks off
“ Now doan’t’ee, Rachel! I would'nt ha' done it, I only wanted summut to buy’ee a fairing wi', and I be as vlush o' money as a twod o' veathers.”
“ Thee mind what I tells 'ee,” rejoins Rachel, saucily," and doan’t’ee kep blethering about fairings.” Tom resolves in his heart to give Willum the remainder of his two shillings after the backswording.
Joe Willis has all the luck to-day. His next bout ends in an easy victory, while the shepherd has a tough job to break his second head; and when Joe and the shepherd meet, and the whole circle expect and hope to see him get a broken crown, the shepherd slips in the first round and falls against the rails, hurting himself so that the old farmer will not let him go on, much as he wishes to try; and that impostor Joe (for he is certainly not the best man) struts and swaggers about the stage the conquering gamester, though he hasn't had five minutes' really trying play.
Joe takes the new hat in his hand, and puts the money into it, and then as if a thought strikes him, and he doesn't think his victory quite acknowledged down below, walks to each face of the stage, and looks down shaking the money, and chaffing as how he'll stake hat and money and another halfsovereign “agin any gamester as hasn't played already.” Cunning Joe! he thus gets rid of Willum and the shepherd, who is quite fresh again.
No one seems to like the offer, and the umpire is just coming down, when a queer old hat, something like a Doctor of Divinity's shovel, is chucked on to the stage, and an elderly quiet man steps out, who has been watching the play, saying he should like to cross a stick wi’ the prodigalish young chap.
The crowd cheer and begin to chaff Joe, who turns up his nose and swaggers across to the sticks. “ Imp’dent old wosbird !” says he, “ I'll break the bald head on un to the truth.”
The old boy is very bald certainly, and the blood will show fast enough if you can touch him, Joe.
He takes off his long-flapped coat, and stands up in a long-flapped waistcoat, which Sir Roger De Coverley might have worn when it was new, picks out a stick, and is ready for Master Joe, who loses no time, but begins his old game, whack, whack, whack, trying to break down the old man's guard by sheer strength. But it won't do,-he catches every blow close by the basket, and though he is rather stiff in his returns, after a minute walks Joe about the stage, and is clearly a stanch old gamester. Joe now comes in, and making the most of his height, tries to get over the old man's guard at half-stick, by which he takes a smart blow in the ribs and another on the elbow and nothing more. And now he loses wind and begins to puff, and the crowd laugh: “ Cry "hold, Joe—thee'st met thy match!” Instead of taking good advice and getting his wind, Joe loses his temper, and strikes at the old man's body.
“ Blood, blood!” shout the crowd, “ Joe's head's broke!”
Who'd have thought it? How did it come? That body-blow left Joe's head unguarded for a moment, and with one turn of the wrist the old gentleman has picked a neat little bit of skin off the middle of his forehead, and though he won't believe it, and hammers on for three more blows despite of the shouts, is then convinced by the blood trickling into his eye. Poor Joe is sadly crestfallen, and fumbles in his pocket for the other half-sovereign, but the old gamester won't have it. • Keep thy money, man, and gi's thy hand,” says he, and they shake hands; but the old gamester gives the new hat to the shepherd, and soon after the half-sovereign to Willum, who thereout decorates his sweetheart with ribbons to his heart's content. (
“ Who can a be?” “ Wur do a cum from ?" ask the crowd. And it soon flies about that the old west-country champion, who played a tie with Shaw the Life-guardsman at “ Vizes,” twenty years before, has broken Joe Willis's crown for him.
How my country fair is spinning out! I see I must skip the wrestling, and the boys jumping in sacks, and rolling wheelbarrows blindfolded; and the donkey-race, and the fight which arose thereout, marring the otherwise peaceful “ veast;" and the frightened scurrying away of the female feast-goers, and descent of Squire Brown, summoned by the wife of one of the combatants to stop it; wbich he wouldn't start to do till he had got on his top-boots.
Tom is carried away by old Benjy dog-tired and surfeited with pleasure, as the evening comes on and the dancing begins in the booths; and though Willum and Rachel in her new ribbons and many another good lad and lass don't come away just yet, but have a good step out, and enjoy it, and get no harm thereby, yet we being sober folk will just stroll away up through the churchyard, and by the old yew-tree; and get a quiet dish of tea and a parle with our gossips, as the steady ones of our village do, and so to bed.
That's the fair true sketch, as far as it goes, of one of the larger village feasts in the Vale of Berks, when I was a little boy. They are much altered for the worse, I am told. I haven't been at one these twenty years, but I have been at the statute fairs in some west-country towns, where servants are hired, and greater abominations cannot be found. What village feasts have come to, I fear in many cases, may be read in the pages of Yeast, (though I never saw one so bad—thank God!)
Do you want to know why? It is because, as I said before, gentlefolk and farmers have left off joining or taking an interest in them. They don't either subscribe to the prizes, or go down and enjoy the fun.
Is this a good or a bad sign? I hardly know. Bad, sure enough, if it only arises from the further separation of classes consequent on twenty years of buying cheap and selling dear, and its accompanying overwork; or because our sons and daughters
THE OLD BOY MORALIZETH ON VEASTS.
have their hearts in London club-life, or so called society, instead of in the old English home duties; because farmers' sons are apeing fine gentlemen, and farmers' daughters caring more to make bad foreign music than good English cheeses. Good perhaps, if it be that the time for the old “veast” has gone by, that it is no longer the healthy sound expression of English country holiday-making; that in fact we as a nation have got beyond it, and are in a transition state, feeling for and soon likely to find some better substitute.
Only I have just got this to say before I quit the text. Don't let reformers of any sort think that they are going really to lay hold of the working boys and young men of England by any educational grapnel whatever, which hasn't some bonâ fide equivalent for the games of the old country 6 veast” in it; something to put in the place of the backswording and wrestling and racing; something to try the muscles of men's bodies, and the endurance of their hearts, and to make them rejoice in their strength. In all the new-fangled comprehensive plans I see, this is all left out; and the consequence is, that your great Mechanics’ Institutes end in intellectual prigg- | ism, and your Christian Young Men's Societies in religious Pharisaism.
Well, well, we must bide our time. Life isn't all beer and skittles,—but beer and skittles, or something better of the same sort, must form a good part of every Englishman's education. If I could only drive this into the heads of you rising Parliamentary