The Scouring of the White Horse
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After this bout all the other play seemed to be tasteless; so, promising myself to come back and see the ties played off, (unless Miss Lucy turned up in the mean time, in which case I shouldn’t have dared to go near the stage, and in fact I felt rather nervous already, lest she should have seen or heard of me there,) I marched off, and joined the crowd which was collecting round the jingling ring. That crowd was one of the pleasantest sights of the whole day. The jingling match seemed a very popular sport, especially with the women. There they were, of all ranks – for I’m certain I saw some young ladies in riding habits, and others in beautiful muslins, whom I, and Jem Fisher, and little Neddy have often seen riding with very great people in the Park, when we have managed to get down to Rotten Row on summer evenings – seated on the grass or standing round the ring, in all sorts of dresses, from fine silks down to cottons at 2d. a yard, and all looking pleasant and good-tempered, and as if they were quite used to being mixed up like this every day – which I’m sure I wish they were, for my part, especially if the men were allowed to join in the crowd too, as we were round the jingling ring. For there were gentlemen, both parsons and others, and farmers, and ploughboys, and all manner of other men and boys.
I don’t know what sort of fun a jingling match is in general, but I thought this one much the slowest game I saw. The ring must have been forty yards across, or thereabouts, and there were only eight blindfolded men running after the bellman. To make it good fun, there should have been twenty-five or thirty at least. Then the bellman, who has his hands tied behind him, ought to have the bell tied round his neck, or somewhere where he can’t get at it to stop the ringing; but our bellman had the bell tied to his waistband behind, so that he could catch hold of it with his hands, and stop it when he was in danger. Then half the men could see, I’m sure, by the way they carried their heads up in the air, especially one gypsy, who, I think, won the prize at last. The men who couldn’t see were worth watching, for they kept catching and tumbling over one another. One time they made a rush to the rope, just where some of the young ladies were sitting, and, as nearly as could be, tumbled over among them. I thought there would have been a great scrambling and screaming; not a bit of it – they never flinched an inch, or made the least cry, and I was very proud to think they were my countrywomen. After the bellman had been caught about a minute, there was a great laugh at one of the blinded men, who made a rush, and caught a Committee-man, who was standing in the ring, in his arms. But on the whole, I thought the game a poor one, and was glad when it was over.
I hurried away directly after the jingling match, and went across the Castle, and out on to the down where the cart-horse race had been run to see the foot-races, which were run over the last half of the same course, on which ten good stiff sets of hurdles, at short distances apart, had been set up.I found a debate going on between the umpires and some of the men as to whether they were all to start together. The regular agricultural labourers were remonstrating as to some of the candidates.
“It bean’t narra mossel o’ use for we chaps to start along wi’ thay light-heeled gentry,” said one, – “Whoy, look ’ee here, zur’s one, and yander’s another, wi’ a kind o’ dancin’ pumps on, and that ’un at tother end wi’ a cricketin’ waistcut.”
“And there’s two o’ them little jockey chaps amongst ’em, sumweres, Zur,” said another, looking about for these young gentlemen, who dodged behind some of the bigger candidates.
“How can we help that?” said the umpire.
“Auh, Zur, thay be all too nimble by half for we to be of any account to ’em,” persisted the first speaker. “If twur for the sticks now, or wrastling – ”
“Well, but what shall we do then?” interrupted the umpire.
“Let I pick out ten or a dozen on ’em to run by theirselves.” The umpires proposed this to the rest, and, no one objecting, told Giles, the protester, to pick out the ten he was most afraid of. This Giles proceeded to do with a broad grin on his face, and generally seemed to make a good selection. But presently he arrived at, and after a short inspection passed over, a young fellow in his blue shirt-sleeves and a cloth cap, who to the umpire’s eye seemed a dangerous man.
“Why, Giles,” said he, “you’re never going to pass him over?”
“Auh, ees, Zur,” said Giles, “let he ’bide along wi’ we chaps. Dwont’ee zee, he’s a tipped and naayled ’un?”
When Giles had finished his selection, the first lot were started, and made a grand race; which was won by a Hampshire man from Kingsclere, the second man, not two feet behind, being a young Wiltshire farmer, who, having never been beaten in his own neighbourhood, had come to lose his laurels honourably at the Scouring.
The running in the second race was, of course, not so good, but much more amusing. The “tipped and naayled ’uns” were a rushing lot, but very bad at rising. Hurdle after hurdle went down before them with a crash, and the most wonderful summersaults were executed. The second hurdle finished poor Giles, who charged it manfully, and found himself the next moment on his broad back, gazing placidly up into the evening sky. The cloth cap, notwithstanding his shoes, went easily ahead, and won in a canter. I heard one of the umpires rallying Giles afterwards at his want of eyes.
“Ees, Zur,” said Giles, hunching up his great shoulders, “I wur tuk in, zure enough. He wur a town chap, arter all, as wouldn’t ha’ knowed a piece o’ clumpers afore he cum across to White Hos Hill.”
I left the umpires now to start the other races, and got back once again into the Castle. I was now beginning to get very tired in my legs, though not in my spirits, so I went and sat down outside the crowd, which was thicker than ever round the stage, for the ties were being played out. I could hear the umpires call every now and then for some gamester who was not forthcoming to play out his tie – “John Giles, if you beant on the stage in five minutes, to put to with James Higgins, you shall lose your head” – through all the cheers and shouts, which rose louder and louder now that every blow or trip might decide the prizes. And while I was sitting, the donkey races were run outside, and I heard were very good fun; especially the last one, in which no man rode his own donkey, and the last donkey had the prize. I hope my friend, the old suck-woman, entered neighbour Thorne’s beast, for if she did, I’ll be bound he carried off the prize for her. They were the only sports that I didn’t manage to see something of.
It was now just five o’clock, the hour for the pig-race, which seemed to be a most popular sport, for most of the lookers-on at the stage went off to see it, leaving only a select crowd of old and young gamesters, most of whom had been playing themselves, and whom nothing could drag five yards from the posts until the ties were all played out. I was just considering whether I should move or stay where I was, when Master George came striding by and caught sight of me.
“Hullo,” said he, “how is it you’re not on the move? You must see the pig-race; come along.” So I got up and shambled along with him.
The pig was to be started on the slope below the west entrance, where the old gentleman had stood and lectured me the day before about Earl Sidroc. There was the spring cart, covered with a net, with a fine young Berkshire pig in it, just at the place where the Bersirkir (as he called them) made their last stand. When we came up, the runners, thirty in number, with their coats and waistcoats off, were just being drawn up in line inside the Castle, from which place they were to be started, and run down through the west entrance out on to the open down, at the word “off.” It was thought that this rush down between the double banks, covered thickly with the crowd, would be the finest sight of the race. But the rush never came. Piggy was to have five minutes law, and the Committee-man who went down to turn him out put his snout towards Ashdown Park, and gave him a push in hopes that he would take straight away over the downs, and so get a good start. Of course, he turned right round and came trotting and grunting up towards the Castle, to see what all the bustle could be about. Then the crowd began to shout at him, and to press further and further down the outer earthworks, though all the Committee were there to keep the course clear for the regular runners; and at last, before half of the five minutes were over, the whole line broke up with a great shout, and the down was covered in a moment with countless men and boys in full chase of Piggy. Then the lawful candidates could stand it no longer, and away they went too, cleaving their way through the press, the Committee riding after them as fast as was safe in such a crowd, to see fair play if possible at the finish.
In a minute or two, Piggy was mobbed, surrounded, seized first by one of the crowd, and then by a lawful runner. These tumbled over in their struggle without loosing their hold and more of their friends over them, and from the middle of the mass poor Piggy sent up the most vigorous and dismal squeals, till the Committee-men rode in, laying about with their whips; and Farmer Whitfield, springing off, seized Piggy, and in another minute was cantering away with him towards Wayland Smith’s cave. Here he was turned out again for a fair race, and was won by Charles Ebury, of Fernham; who, fearing the results of his racing performances, sold him at once for 10s. to the Woolston carrier. But I am happy to say that he wasn’t really hurt, for I went to see him some days afterwards, and found him as hearty as pig could be.
Master George and I agreed, as we walked back to the Castle, that it is a shame to have a pig-race.
“No,” said he, “let men run any risk they like of broken heads or limbs for themselves; they may play or not as they like. But Piggy has no choice, and to let him run the risk of having the legs pulled out of his body before he is wanted for pork, isn’t fair.”
“He didn’t seem to think it was, certainly, Sir,” I said.
“No,” said he, laughing; “did you ever hear such a song as he made? No animal can talk like a pig. He can scold or remonstrate just as well as a Christian. Any one who knows the language can tell you just what he is saying. Well,” he went on, “I see you don’t believe me; now I will go and hear what he has to say about this proceeding, and give you it word for word.”
This was what he gave me afterwards, with the other songs he had promised me: —
THE LAY OF THE HUNTED PIG
Master George slipped away from me somehow, after the pig-race, so I strolled up into the Castle again. The sports were all over, so the theatres and shows were making a greater noise than ever, but I didn’t feel inclined to go to any of them, and kept walking slowly round the bank on the opposite side, and looking down at the fair. In a minute or two I heard cheering, and saw an open carriage, with postilions, driving out of the Castle, and three or four young ladies and a gentleman or two cantering along with it. I watched them for some way across the downs, and thought how nice it must be to be able to ride well, and to have nice horses to go galloping over the springy downs, into the golden sunset, putting up the larks and beautiful little wheatears; and, besides all that, to have all the people cheering one too! So down I went into the crowd, to find out who they were. It was Lord Craven and his party, the first man I came across told me; and then I quite understood why this carriage should be the only one to come inside the Castle, and why the people should cheer; because, you see, the White Horse, and Dragon’s Hill, and the Manger, all belong to him, and he is very good-natured in letting everybody go there and do pretty much what they please. There were other carriages going off now from the row outside, and coachmen bringing up their horses to harness, and a few of the foot people who came from the longest distances, starting along the Ridgeway, or down the Uffington Road. I was standing watching all this, and thinking how I was to find my party, and whether I should go behind in the four-wheel (which I began to feel very much inclined to do, for I was getting tired, and it would be dark), when I saw Joe bustling about amongst the crowd, and looking out for some one; so I made across to him.
“Ah, there you are,” said he, as soon as he caught sight of me, “I’ve been hunting for you; it’s all over for to-day. Lu sent me after you to come and have some tea. If you like, you can go home directly afterwards with her and Mr. Warton.”
I was much pleased to hear that Miss Lucy had sent after me, but I didn’t want to show it.
“What are you going to do?” said I.
“Oh,” said Joe, “I shan’t leave till all the Committee go; I must be at the giving away of the prizes in the tent; and then, if any thing should happen afterwards – any row, you know, or that sort o’ thing – I shouldn’t like to be gone.”
I didn’t say any thing more, as I thought I might just as well leave it open; so I followed him to the west side of the Castle, where the police tent stood, and it was quite quiet.
“Here they are,” said Joe, “over in the ditch;” and he scrambled up the bank, and I after him, and in the ditch below sure enough was a most cozy tea-party. Miss Lucy, with her bonnet off, was sitting cutting up a cake, and generally directing. Two other young women, nice fresh-looking girls, but not to be named with her, were setting out a few cups and saucers and plates, which they had borrowed from some of the stalls. Mr. Warton was on his knees with his hat off, blowing away till he was red in the face at a little fire made of chips and pieces of old hampers, over which the kettle, also borrowed, hung from three sticks driven into the ground so that their tops met above the fire. Two or three young farmers sat about looking on, or handing things as they were wanted, except one impudent young fellow of about eighteen, with scarcely a hair on his chin, who was almost in Miss Lucy’s pocket, and was meddling with every thing she was doing.
“Well, here you are, at last,” said she, looking up at us; “why, where have you been all day?”
“I am sure I have been hunting after you very often,” said I, which, perhaps, was rather more than I ought to have said; “but it isn’t easy for one who is a stranger to find people in such a crowd.”
“I don’t know that,” said she, with a pretty little toss of her head; “where there’s a will there’s a way. If I hadn’t found friends, I might have been alone all day – and there are three or four of the shows I have never seen, now.”
I began to look as sorry as I could, while I thought what to answer, when the young man who was close to her tried to steal some of the cake; she turned round quickly, and rapped his fingers with the back of her knife, and he pretended to be hurt. She only laughed, and went on cutting up the cake, but she called him Jack, and seemed so intimate with him that it put me out, and I sat down on the other side of the circle, some way off.
“It’s all right,” said the Parson, looking up from the fire; “boils splendidly – give me the tea.”
Miss Lucy handed him a little parcel of tea from her bag, and he put it into the kettle.
“I declare we have forgotten the milk,” said she; “do run and fetch it, Jack – it’s in a bottle under the back seat of the four-wheel.”
I jumped up before Jack, who hardly moved, and ran off to fetch the milk; for which she gave me a pleasant smile when I came back, and I felt better pleased, and enjoyed the tea and cake and bread and butter, and all the talk over it, very much; except that I couldn’t stand this Jack, who was forcing her to notice him every minute, by stealing her teaspoon or her cake, or making some of his foolish remarks.
The sun set splendidly before we had finished, and it began to get a little chilly.
“Well,” said Joe, jumping up, “I’m off to get the horse put to. You’d better be starting, Lu; you won’t be down hill much before dark, now, and there’s no moon – worse luck.”
“Very well,” said she, taking up her bonnet, and putting it on; “we shall be ready in five minutes.”
“You’ll go behind with them, I suppose,” said Joe to me.
“I’m to have a seat, mind,” struck in that odious Jack; “Lucy promised me that an hour ago.” I could have given him a good kick; however, I don’t think I showed that I was put out.
“How can you tell such fibs, Jack?” said she; but I didn’t take any notice of that.
“Thank you, I wish to stay on the hill,” said I. “Besides, the four-wheel will be full without me.”
She didn’t seem to hear; and began talking to one of the other girls.
“But how are you to get down?” said Joe.
“Oh, I can walk,” said I, “or ride behind you.”
“Very good, if you like,” said he; “the chestnut would carry six, if her back was long enough;” and away he went to get the four-wheel ready.
We followed; Miss Lucy sticking close to her friend, and never saying a word to any of us. I walked with Mr. Warton, who was in the highest spirits, looking over his shoulder, and raving about the green tints in the sunset.
When we got to the carriages, there was kissing and shaking of hands, and the rest went off, while the parson and Miss Lucy packed into the front seat, and Jack and Jem the carter-boy into the hind seat of the four-wheel; and away they drove, wishing us “good night.” I watched them for some time, and could see Jack leaning forward close to her ear; and turned back with Joe into the Castle, more out of sorts than I had been since I left London.
Joe hurried off to the police tent, where the Committee were giving away the prizes, saying I should find him there when I wanted him; and I loitered away to see whatever was to be seen. At first nothing seemed to please me. I watched the men and boys playing at three sticks a penny, and thought I might as well have been on Primrose Hill. Then I went and looked at the shows; and there was the fellow in flesh-coloured tights, turning over and over on the slack rope, and the clarionet and French horn and drum, played by the three men in corduroys, all out of tune and louder than ever, as if they had only just begun, instead of having been screaming and rumbling away all day; and the man outside the pink-eyed lady’s caravan was shouting away for the hundredth time all about her, and then playing the pan-pipes, as if no other woman in the world had pink eyes.
I was determined they shouldn’t have any of my money at any rate, so I strolled further down the line, and looked into a low booth where a fiddle was going. Here several couples were dancing, with their arms a-kimbo, on some planks which had been put down on the grass, and all the rest of the booth was crowded with others looking on. This pleased me better, for the dancers seemed to enjoy themselves wonderfully, and made a sort of clattering accompaniment to the music with their hob-nailed shoes, which was merry and pleasant.
When I was tired of watching them, I thought I would go and find Joe; so I went over to the tent, and there I got all right, and began to enjoy myself again.
In the further corner of the tent, the Squire and another justice were sitting, and hearing a charge of pocket-picking, of which there were only two during the whole day, the police told me. Opposite the door, the rest of the Committee were sitting at a table and giving away the prizes.
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