Thomas Hardy.

The return of the native (Volume 1) online

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without any particular beginning, middle, or
end, which perhaps, among all the dances
which throng an inspired fiddler's fancy,
best conveys the idea of the interminable —
the celebrated ' Devil's Dream.' The fury of
personal movement that was kindled by the
fury of the notes could be approximately
imagined by these outsiders under the moon,
from the occasional kicks of toes and heels
against the door, whenever the whirl round
had been of more than customary velocity.

The first five minutes of listening was
interesting^ enouofh to the mummers. The

o o

fivQ minutes extended to ten minutes, and


these to a quarter of an hour ; but no signs
of ceasing were audible in the Hvely Dream.
The bumping against the door, the laughter,
the stamping, were all as vigorous as ever,
and the pleasure in being outside lessened

* Why does Mrs. Yeobright give parties
of this sort ? ' Eustacia asked, a little sur-
prised to hear merriment so pronounced.

' It is not one of her bettermost parlour
parties. She's asked the plain neighbours
and workpeople without drawing any lines,
just to give 'em a good supper and such like.
Her son and she wait upon the folks.'

' I see,' said Eustacia.

' 'Tis the last strain, I think,' said Saint
George, with his ear to the panel. ' A young
man and woman have just swung into this
corner, and he's saying to her : " Ah, the
pity ; 'tis over for us this time, my own." '

' Thank God,' said the Turkish Knight,
stamping, and taking from the wall the con-
ventional staff that each of the mummers


carried. Her boots being thinner than those
of the young men, the hoar had damped her
feet and made them cold.

' Upon my song 'tis another ten minutes
for us,' said the VaHant Soldier, looking
through the keyhole as the tune modulated
into another without stopping. ' Grandfer
Cantle is standing in this corner, waiting his

* 'Twon't be long ; 'tis a six-handed reel,'
said the Doctor.

' Why not go in, dancing or no } They
sent for us,' said the Saracen.

' Certainly not,' said Eustacia authorita-
tively, as she paced smartly up and down
from door to gate to warm herself. 'We
should burst into the middle of them and stop
the dance, and that would be unmannerly.'

' He thinks himself somebody because he
has had a bit more schooling than we,' said
the Doctor.

* You may go to the deuce,' said Eustacia.
There was a whispered conversation be


tween three or four of them, and one turned
to her.

* Will you tell us one thing ? * he said, not
without gentleness. ' Are you Miss Vye ?
We think you must be.*

* You may think what you like,' said
Eustacia slowly. ' But honourable lads will
not tell tales upon a lady.'

'We'll say nothing, miss. That's upon
our honour.'

* Thank you,' she replied.

At this moment the fiddles finished off
with a screech, and the serpent emitted a last
note that nearly lifted the roof. When, from
the comparative quiet within, the mummers
judged that the dancers had taken their seats,.
Father Christmas advanced, lifted the latch^
and put his head inside the door.

* Ah, the mummers, the mummers ! ' cried
several guests at once. ' Clear a space for
the mummers.'

Hump-backed Father Christmas then
made a complete entry, swinging his huge


club, and In a general way clearing the stage
for the actors proper, while he informed the
company in smart verse that he was come,
welcome or welcome not ; concluding his
speech with

' Make room, make room, my gallant boys,

And give us space to rhyme ;
We've come to show Saint George's play,
Upon this Christmas time.'

The guests were now arranging themselves
at one end of the room, the fiddler was
mending a string, the serpent-player was
emptying his mouthpiece, and the play began.
First of those outside the Valiant Soldier
entered, in the interest of Saint George —

' Here come I, the Valiant Soldier ;
Slasher is my name;'

and so on. This speech concluded with a
challenge to the Infidel, at the end of which
it was Eustacia s duty to enter as the Turk-
ish Knight. She, with the rest who were
not yet on, had hitherto remained in the
moonlight which streamed under the porch»


With no apparent effort or backwardness she
came in, beginning —

' Here come I, a Turkish Knight,
Who learnt in Turkish land to fight ;
I'll fight this man with courage bold :
If his blood's hot I'll make it cold ! '

During her declamation Eustacia held her
head erect, and spoke as roughly as she
could, feeling pretty secure from observation.
But the concentration upon her part neces-
sary to prevent discovery, the newness of the
scene, the shine of the candles, and the con-
fusing effect upon her vision of the ribboned
visor which hid her features, left her abso-
lutely unable to perceive who were present as
spectators. On the further side of a table
bearing candles she could faintly discern
faces, and that was all.

Meanwhile Jim Starks as the Valiant
Soldier had come forward, and, with a glare
upon the Turk, replied —

'If, then, thou art that Turkish Knight,
Draw out thy sword, and let us fight ! '


And fight they did ; the Issue of the combat
being that the Vahant Soldier was slain
by a preternaturally inadequate thrust from
Eustacia, Jim, in his ardour for genuine his-
trionic art, coming down like a log upon the
stone floor with force enough to dislocate
his shoulder. Then, after more words from
the Turkish Knight, rather too faintly de-
livered, and statements that he'd fieht Saint
George and all his crew, Saint George him-
self magnificently entered with the well-
known flourish : —

' Here come I, Saint George, the valiant man,
With naked sword and spear in hand,
Who fought the dragon and brought him to the

And by this won fair Sabra, the King of Egypt's
daughter ;

What mortal man would dare to stand
Before me with my sword in hand ? '

This was the lad who had first recos^nlsed
Eustacia; and when she now, as the Turk,
replied with suitable defiance, and at once
began the combat, the young fellow took


especial care to use his sword as gently as
possible. Being wounded, the Knight fell
upon one knee, according to the direction.
The Doctor now entered, restored the
Knight by giving him a draught from the
bottle which he carried, and the fight was
again resumed, the Turk sinking by degrees
until quite overcome — dying as hard in this
venerable drama as he is said to do at the
present day.

This gradual sinking to the earth was, in
fact, one reason why Eustacia had thought
that the part of the Turkish Knight, though
not the shortest, would suit her best. A
direct fall from upright to horizontal, which
was the end of the other fighting characters,
was not an elegant or decorous part for a
girl. But it was easy to die like a Turk, by
a doofofed decline.

Eustacia was now amonof the number of
the slain, though not on the floor, for she
had managed to retire into a sitting position
against the clock-case, so that her head was


well elevated. The play proceeded between
Saint George, the Saracen, the Doctor, and
Father Christmas ; and Eustacia, having no
more to do, for the first time found leisure
to observe the scene around, and to search
for the form that had drawn her hither.












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Online LibraryThomas HardyThe return of the native (Volume 1) → online text (page 12 of 12)