Thomas Hughes.

The Scouring of the White Horse





Joe beckoned me in, and I went round to the back of the table and looked on. As the men came up from the group round the door, when their names were called out, the umpires said a few words to each of them, and then gave them their prizes, and most of them made some sort of speech in answer; for they were much less shy than in the morning, I suppose from the sense of having earned their right to hold up their heads by winning. The owner of the successful donkey was just carrying out the flitch of bacon when I arrived; after him the Somersetshire backsword players were called in to take the first three prizes for that sport, they having beaten all the Wiltshire men; while old Seeley, the only Berkshire man entered, to everybodys surprise had not played out his tie, but had given his head (as they said) to his second opponent. Therefore, although entitled to the last prize for having won his first bout, he had not done all his duty in the eyes of the umpires, who gently complained, while handing him over his four half-crowns, and wondered that so gallant an old gamester, and a Yale man, should not have played out his ties for the honour of the county.

Well, genlmen, said old Seeley, giving a hitch with his shoulders, Ill just tell you how it was. You see, ther wur six Somersetshire old gamesters come up to play, and ther wur six of our side to play em; dree Wiltshire and dree Barkshire, if so be as we could have made a party. But the dree from Wiltshire they wouldnt go in along wi we, and turned their backs on me and my two mates; so my two mates wouldnt go in at all, and wanted me to give out too. But you see, genlmen, Id a spent a matter of a pound over getting myself a little better food, and making myself lissom; so thinks I, I must go up and have a bout, let it be how twool. And you saw, genlmen, as I played a good stick. When it cum to playing off the ties, there wur dree Somersetshire tiers, and two of our side, thats Slade and me. But when a man turns his back on me, genlmen, why I turns my back on him; so I guv my head to young Mapstone, and left Slade to win if he could. Though I thinks, if thay Wiltshire chaps had behaved theirselves as thay should, we might ha had the prize, for I knows as I never played freer in my life. And I hopes, genlmen, as you dont think I wur afeard of any man as ever got on that stage. Bless you! said old Seeley, warming up, I be that fond o thay sticks, I assure you, genlmen, Id as lief meet a man as is a man for a bout wi thay sticks, as I would a joint of roast beef.

Old Seeleys speech carried conviction, for there could be no mistake about the tone in which he drew his last comparison, after a moments pause to think of the thing he liked best, and he retired from the tent in high favour, as I think he deserved to be.

After watching these doings for some time, I began to feel very hungry, for I had eaten hardly any thing at tea, so I told Joe that he would find me over in the great booth getting some supper, and went out.

It was getting quite dark, and the stage and poles looked black and melancholy as I passed by them. But the publicans booths were all lighted up inside, and looked very cheerful, and were full of holiday folk, fortifying themselves with all sorts of meat and drink before starting for the descent of the hill, and the walk home in the dark.

I pushed my way through the crowd round the door, and reached the bar, where the landlord recognized me directly, and handed me over to Peter, who soon landed me at the table in the recess, which was still well supplied with cold joints and bread and cheese. While he went off to get my plate and ale, I had time to look round. The booth was much gayer than the day before; every post was decked more or less with flowers and evergreens, and the flags had been brought inside. The whole place was lighted with dips and flickering oil lamps, which gave light enough to let one see all parts of the tent pretty clearly.

There were a good many tables ranged about; the one nearest to ours wasnt yet occupied, but at all the others were groups of men drinking beer, and some smoking, and talking eagerly over the events of the day. Those nearest the high table seemed under some little restraint, and spoke low; but from the farther tables rose a loud hum of the broadest Berkshire, and an occasional scrap of a song. A few women were scattered here and there mostly middle-aged, hard-working housewives watching their good men, and anxious to carry them off in good time, and before too much of the harvest-savings had found its way to the landlords till. About the entrance was a continually-changing crowd, and the atmosphere of the whole was somewhat close, and redolent of not very fragrant tobacco.

At the supper-table where I was, were seven or eight men. The one just opposite me was a strong-built, middle-aged man, in a pepper-and-salt riding-coat and waistcoat, with an open, weather-beaten face, and keen, deep-set, gray eyes, who seemed bent on making a good supper. Next above him were the two Oxford scholars, but they didnt take the least notice of me, which I thought they might have done, after our mornings ride together. They had finished supper, and were smoking cigars, and chatting with one another, and with the pepper-and-salt man, whom they called Doctor. But my observations were soon cut short by Peter, who came back with my plate and knife and fork, and a foaming pewter of ale, and I set to work as heartily as the Doctor himself.

Youll find some of this lettuce and watercress eat well with your beef, Sir, said he, pushing across a dish.

Thank you, Sir, said I; I find that watching the games makes one very hungry.

The air, Sir, all the downs air, said the Doctor; I call them Doctor Downs. Do more for the appetite in six hours than I can in a week. Here, Peter, get this gentleman some of your mistresss walnut pickles.

And then the good-natured Doctor fell to upon his beef again, and chatted away with the scholars and me, and soon made me feel myself quite at home. I own that I had done my neighbours a little injustice; for they were pleasant enough when the ice was once broken, and I daresay didnt mean to be rude after all.

As soon as I had finished my supper, the shorter of the scholars handed me a large cigar, the first whiff of which gave me a high idea of the taste of my contemporaries of the upper classes in the matter of tobacco.

Just then the verse of a song, in which two or three men were joining, rose from the other end of the tent, from amidst the hum of voices.

I wish those fellows would sing out, said the short scholar; I cant make out more than a word or two.

You wouldnt be any the wiser if you could, said the other; we have ceased to be a singing nation. The people have lost the good old ballads, and have got nothing in their place.

How do you know? said the short scholar; I should like to hear for myself, at any rate.

What sort of ballads do you mean, Sir? said I to the long scholar.

Why, those in the Robin Hood Garland, for instance, said he. Songs written for the people, about their heroes, and, I believe, by the people. Theres nothing of the sort now.

What do you say to Theres a Good Time Coming? asked the short scholar.

Well, its the best of them, I believe, said the other; but you know it was written by Mackay, an LL.D. Besides, its essentially a town song.

Its a tip-top one, at any rate, said the short scholar; I wish I could write such another.

What I say, is, that the popular songs now are written by litterateurs in London, Is there any life or go in Woodman spare that Tree, or The Old Arm-Chair? and they are better than the slip-slop sentimental stuff most in vogue.

What a discontented old bird you are! said the short scholar; youre never pleased with any product of this enlightened century.

Let the century get a character, then; when it does, we shall get some good staves. Im not particular; a brave story, or a quaint story, or a funny story, in good rough verse, thats all I ask for. But, where to find one? Heres the Doctor for umpire. I say, Doctor, dont you agree with me, now?

Not quite, said the Doctor, looking up from his cold beef. I dare say you wouldnt think them worth much; but there are plenty of ballads sung about which you never hear.

What! real modern ballads, written by some of the masses, in this century, for instance? Where did you ever hear one, Doctor? What are they like, now?

Well, my work takes me a good deal about in queer places, and at queer times, amongst the country folk, and I hear plenty of them. Will one about Lord Nelson suit you? Theres an old patient of mine at the next table who owns a little coal wharf on the canal; he fell into the lock one night, broke his arm, and was nearly drowned, and I attended him. He takes a trip in the barges now and then, which makes him fancy himself half a sailor. I dare say I can set him off, if he hasnt had too much beer.

So the Doctor walked over to a lower table, and spoke to a grisly-headed old man in a velveteen coat and waistcoat, and a blue birdseye-neckerchief, who seemed pleased, and drew his sleeve across his mouth, and cleared his throat. Then there was a rapping on the table, and the old bargee began in a rumbling bass voice:

THE DEATH OF LORD NELSON

Come all you gallant seamen as unites a meeting,
Attend to these lines I be going to relate,
And when you have heard them twill move you with pity
To think how Lord Nelson he met with his fate.
For he was a bold and undaunted commander
As ever did sail on the ocean so wide;
He made both the French and the Spaniard surrender
By always a-pouring into them a broadside.


One hundred engagements twas he had been into,
And neer in his life was he known to be beat,
Though hed lost an arm, likewise a right eye, boys,
No power upon earth ever could him defeat.
His age at his death it was forty and seven;
And as long as I breathe, his great praises Ill sing;
The whole navigation was given up to him,
Because he was loyal and true to his king.


Then up steps the doctor in a very great hurry,
And unto Lord Nelson these words did he say:
Indeed, then, my Lord, it is Im very sorry,
To see you here lying and bleeding this way.
No matter, no matter whatever about me,
My time it is come, Im almost at the worst;
But heres my gallant seamen a-fighting so boldly,
Discharge off your duty to all of them first.


Then with a loud voice he calls out to his captain,
Pray let me, sir, hear how the battle does go,
For I think our great guns do continue to rattle,
Though death is approaching I firmly do know.
The antagonists ship has gone down to the bottom,
Eighteen we have captive and brought them on board,
Four more we have blown quite out of the ocean,
And that is the news I have brought you, my Lord.


Come all you gallant seamen as unites a meeting,
Always let Lord Nelsons memory go round,
For it is your duty, when you unites a meeting,
Because he was loyal and true to the crownd.
And now to conclude and finish these verses,
My time it is come; kiss me, Hardy, he cried.
Now thousands go with you, and ten thousand blessings
For gallant Lord Nelson in battle who died.


Mourn, England, mourn, mourn and complain,
For the loss of Lord Nelson, who died on the main.

The short scholar was in raptures; he shouted in the chorus; he banged the table till he upset and broke his tumbler, which the vigilant landlady from behind the casks duly noted, and scored up to him.

I worked away at my note-book, and managed to get all the song, except one verse between the second and third, which I couldnt catch.

Bravo, Doctor! Here, waiter, get me another tumbler, and some more gin-punch. What a stunning call. Couldnt the old bird give us another bit of history? Its as good as reading Southeys Life, and much funnier, rattled away the short scholar.

What a quaint old grisly party it is! said the long scholar; I shall stand him a pot of beer.

Well, he wont object to that, said the Doctor, working away at the beef and pickles.

Here, waiter, take a pot of beer, with my compliments, over to that gentleman, said the long scholar, pointing to the old bargeman, and say how much obliged we are to him for his song.

So Peter trotted across with the liquor, and the old man telegraphed his acknowledgments.

By the way, Doctor, said the short scholar, as you seem to know a good deal about these things, can you tell me what Vicar of Bray means? I saw two men quarrelling just after the games, and it was all their wives could do to keep them from fighting, and I heard it was because one had called the other Vicar of Bray.

It means turn-coat in Berkshire, answered the Doctor. I didnt think they used the name now; but I remember the time when it was the common term of reproach. I dare say you know Bray, gentlemen?

I should think so, said the short scholar; pretty village just below Maidenhead. I pulled by it on my way to town last June.

Yes, and its hard on such a pretty village to have had such a bad parson, said the Doctor.

I say, Doctor, give us the Vicar of Bray, now, it will set off some of the singing birds at the other end of the booth; I can see theyre getting into prime piping order.

Very good, if you like it, said the Doctor, pushing away his plate, and taking a finishing pull at his pewter, only the song is in print, I know, somewhere; so you mustnt think youve found much of a prize, Sir, added he to me, for my use of pencil and note-book hadnt escaped him.

No, Sir, said I; but I should like to hear it, of all things.

So the Doctor, without further preface, began in his jolly clear voice

THE VICAR OF BRAY

In good King Charless golden days,
When loyalty had no harm int,
A zealous High-Church man I was,
And so I gained preferment.
To teach my flock I never missed:
Kings were by God appointed;
And they are damned who dare resist,
Or touch the Lords anointed.
Chorus.And this is law, I will maintain
Until my dying day, sir,
That whatsoever king shall reign,
Ill be the Vicar of Bray, sir.


When Royal James obtained the throne,
And Popery grew in fashion,
The Penal Laws I hooted down,
And read the Declaration;
The Church of Rome I found would fit
Full well my constitution:
And I had been a Jesuit;
But for the Revolution.
And this is law, &c.


When William, our deliverer, came
To heal the nations grievance,
Then I turned cat-in-pan again,
And swore to him allegiance;
Old principles I did revoke,
Set conscience at a distance,
Passive obedience was a joke,
A jest was non-resistance.
And this is law, &c.


When glorious Anne became our queen,
The Church of Englands glory,
Another face of things was seen,
And I became a Tory.
Occasional Conformist case!
I damned such moderation;
And thought the Church in danger was
By such prevarication.
And this is law, &c.


When George in pudding-time came oer
And moderate men looked big, sir,
My principles I changed once more,
And so became a Whig, sir.
And thus preferment I procured
From our Faiths great Defender;
And almost every day abjured
The Pope and the Pretender.
For this is law, &c.


The illustrious House of Hanover,
And Protestant Succession,
By these I lustily will swear
While they can keep possession;
For in my faith and loyalty
I never once will falter,
But George my king shall ever be,
Except the times do alter.
For this is law, &c.

The short scholar was right as to the effect of the Doctors song. It was hailed with rapturous applause by the lower tables, though you would have said, to look at them, that scarcely a man of the audience, except those close round the singer, could have appreciated it. People dont always like best what they fully understand; and I dont know which is the greatest mistake, to fancy yourself above your audience, or to try to come down to them. The little stiffness which the presence of strangers belonging to the broad-cloth classes had at first created amongst the pastime folk was wearing off, and several songs were started at once from the distant parts of the booth, all of which, save one, came to untimely ends in the course of the first verse or so, leaving the field clear to a ruddy-faced, smock-frocked man, who, with his eyes cast up to the tent-top, droned through his nose the following mournful ditty:

THE BARKSHIRE TRAGEDY

A varmer he lived in the West Countree,
Hey-down, bow-down,
A varmer he lived in the West Countree,
And he had daughters one, two, and dree.
And Ill be true to my love,
If my lovell be true to me.


As thay wur walking by the rivers brim,
Hey-down, bow-down,
As thay wur walking by the rivers brim,
The eldest pushed the youngest in.
And Ill be true, &c.


Oh sister, oh sister, pray gee me thy hand,
Hey-down, &c.
And Ill gee thee both house and land.
And Ill, &c.


Ill neither gee thee hand nor glove,
Hey-down, &c.
Unless thoult gee me thine own true love.
And Ill, &c.


So down she sank and away she swam,
Hey-down, &c.
Until she came to the millers dam.
And Ill, &c.


The millers daughter stood by the door,
Hey-down, &c.
As fair as any gilly-flow-?r.
And Ill, &c.


Oh vather, oh vather, here swims a swan,
Hey-down, &c.
Very much like a drownded gentlewom?n.
And Ill, &c.


The miller he fot his pole and hook,
Hey-down, &c.
And he fished the fair maid out of the brook.
And Ill, &c.


Oh miller, Ill gee thee guineas ten,
Hey-down, &c.
If thoult fetch me back to my vather again.
And Ill, &c.


The miller he took her guineas ten,
Hey-down, &c.
And he pushed the fair maid in again.
And Ill, &c.


But the Crowner he cum, and the Justice too,
Hey-down, &c.
With a hue and a cry and a hulla-balloo.
And Ill, &c.


They hanged the miller beside his own gate,
Hey-down, &c.
For drowning the varmers daughter, Kate.
And Ill, &c.


The sister she fled beyond the seas,
Hey-down, &c.
And died an old maid among black savage?s.
And Ill, &c.


So Ive ended my tale of the West Countree,
And they calls it the Barkshire Trage-d?e.
And Ill, &c.

The Barkshire Tragedy, indeed! Now, Doctor, what have you to tell us about this? When did it happen? Who was the lady? Was she drowned in the Thames, the Kennet, or where?

Oh, I dont know. All I can say is, she was drowned before my time; for I remember hearing the song when I was a little chap in petticoats. But the story seems a common one. Theres a north-country ballad founded on it, I know, but I dont remember the name just now.

The Bonny Mill-dams of Binnorie, is not it? said the long scholar.

Aye, thats the name, I think.

Well, its very odd, for weve got the same story, all but the miller, and his daughter as fair as any gilly-flower (why are millers daughters always pretty, by the way?), on the Welsh marshes, said the long scholar.

Then, Sir, I must call on you to sing it. The call is with me at our end of the booth, said the Doctor. And, Peter, bring me a little cold gin-and-water, and a pipe. If I must breathe smoke-poison, I may as well make it myself, at any rate.

Well, singings rather more than I bargained for. However, I suppose I mustnt spoil sport; so here goes.

THE DROWNED LADY
Qy. another version of the Barkshire Tragedy?

Oh, it was not a pheasant cock,
Nor yet a pheasant hen,
But oh it was a lady fair
Came swimming down the stream.


An ancient harper passing by
Found this poor ladys body,
To which his pains he did apply
To make a sweet mel?dy.


To cat-gut dried he her inside,
He drew out her back-bone,
And made thereof a fiddle sweet
All for to play upon.


And all her hair so long and fair,
That down her back did flow,
Oh he did lay it up with care,
To string his fiddle bow.


And what did he with her fingers
Which were so straight and small?
Oh, he did cut them into pegs
To screw up his fid-d?ll.


Then forth went he, as it might be,
Upon a summers day,
And met a goodly company,
Who asked him in to play.


Then from her bones he drew such tones
As made their bones to ache,
They sounded so like human groans,
Their hearts began to quake.


They ordered him in ale to swim,
For sorrows mighty dry,
And he to share their wassail fare
Essayd right willingly.


He laid his fiddle on a shelf
In that old manor-hall,
It played and sung all by itself,
And thus sung this fid-d?ll:


There sits the squire, my worthy sire,
A-drinking hisself drunk,
And so did he, ah woe is me!
The day my body sunk.


There sits my mother, half asleep,
A-taking of her ease,
Her mind is deep, if one might peep,
In her preserves and keys.


There sits my sister, cruel Joan,
Who last week drownded me;
And theres my love, with heart of stone,
Sits making love to she.


There sits the Crowner, Uncle Joe,
Which comforteth poor me;
Hell hold his Crowners quest, I know,
To get his Crowners fee.


Now when this fiddle thus had spoke
It fell upon the floor,
And into little pieces broke,
No word spoke never more.

Thank you, Sir, said the Doctor; thats a queer tune though. I dont know that I ever heard one at all like it. But I shouldnt say all that song was old now.

Well, I believe youre right. But I can say, as you said of the Barkshire Tragedy, its all older than my time, for I remember my father singing it just as Ive sung it to you as long as I can remember any thing.





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