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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'l stake hat and money and another half-sovereign “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
JOE OUT OF LUCK.
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 hammerson 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.
66 Who can a be?" 6 Wur do a cum from ?” ask the crowd. And it soon flies about that the old westcountry champion, who played a tie with Shaw, the Life-guardsman at “ Vizes,” twenty years before, has broken Joe Willis's crown for him.
THE REVELS ARE OVER.
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; which 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
THE OLD BOY MORALIZETH ON VEASTS.
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 accompany. ing overwork; or because our sons and daughters have their hearts in London club-life, or so called society, instead of in the old English home duties; because farmers' sons are aping 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 bold of the working boys and young men of England by any educational grapnel whatever, which hasn't some bona fide equivalent for the games of the old country “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.
THE OLD BOY'S VIEWS OF MANY THINGS.
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 Lords, and young swells who “ have your ways made for you," as the saying is, - you, who frequent palaver houses and West-end clubs, waiting always ready to strap yourselves on to the back of poor dear old John, as soon as the present used-up lot (your fathers and uncles) who sit there on the great Parliamentary-majorities' pack-saddle, and make belief they're guiding him with their red-tape bridle, tumble, or have to be lifted off!
I don't think much of you yet - I wish I could; though you do go talking and lecturing up and down the country to crowded audiences, and are busy with all sorts of philanthropic intellectualism, and circulating libraries and museums, and heaven only knows what besides; and try to make us think, through newspaper reports, that you are even as we of the working classes. But, bless your hearts, we 6 ain't so green,” though lots of us of all sorts toady you enough certainly, and try to make you think so.
I'll tell you what to do now: instead of all this trumpeting and fuss, which is only the old Parliamentary-majority dodge over again — just you go each of you (you've plenty of time for it, if you'll only give up t'other line), and quietly make three or four friends, real friends, among us. You'll find a