« VorigeDoorgaan »
The costume, too, was based on general principles, though varied in detail. A greatcoat was the garment aimed at; and there were specimens exhibited, illustrative not only of different wardrobes, but of different generations. One Dibble had an upper benjamin fastened alternately by bows of tape and buttons; another had adapted the green plush shooting-jacket of a corpulent squire, which still bore one of its original mother-of-pearl buttons, hanging in unworthy association with others of horn and wood, assisted by an occasional pin; a third was happy in the possession of a braided coat, short-waisted, long-skirted, after the fashion of the Regency; and as this was the most diminutive individual of the party, the garment reached from his neck to his heels, giving him the appearance of a gentleman in his dressing-gown who had made a hasty toilet.
An article of apparel still more common to all was the comforter. It had its variations; sometimes it was white with pink ends, sometimes white with green ends, sometimes of an honest brown; but a comforter enveloped every Dibble chin and touched every Dibble nose. It was evidently either the orthodox costume of a wassailer, or a distinctive badge of the race.
They are vagabonds, all these Dibbles. Yet with a vitality not unusual to vagabond races, they had lived, thrived in their way, and spread like the horse-radish, generation after generation, in the same locality, outlasting and outliving old Norman families and good old Saxon houses, just as the badger and fox survived their mammoth contemporaries. The Dibbles had appeared in the parish register century after century, generally occupying the same place and position neither rising nor falling, hovering on pauperism, and coquetting with petty larceny, and only just skirting the workhouse and bridewell.
It was this pertinacity in multiplying, and this adherence to place,
which had gained them the nickname of the Royal Family.
This Royal Family was divided into several branches-there was the Unicorn, the Mermaid, the Beelzebub, and the Giant; and then the Mermaid had an offshoot, the Pretty Tommy, which had gained a distinctive appellation in consequence of having carried the Dibble physiognomy to the highest standard of development. These titles were a tradition- the unde derivatur was lost in obscurity.
The different houses acknowledged kinship, and formed a sort of oligarchy or union of royal tribes, equal and indivisible, as our friends across the Channel would say. Sometimes circumstances would give one house a temporary predominance, but the old unity and equality was generally very soon restored. Young Kit, a scion of the Unicorns, seized with the ambition of becoming a landed proprietor, squatted on a dreary moor, known only to the snipe and the peeweet, built a cob cottage, surrounded it with a garden, then enclosed a field about the size of a tablecloth, then added another and another tablecloth, until there had grown a tiny farm, which looked like an al fresco café with its boxes and compartments. female member too, about the same time, had set up in the fish, chowder, and apple-stall line, which gave a sort of commercial eclat to the house. The Unicorn was now in the ascendant, but someway they soon lapsed to the old Dibble standard.
Pretty Tommy had his turn. Under the pressure of a warrant for poaching or affiliation, he had entered on board a man-of-war, and served as a deck-swapper in the battle of Algiers. On his return he was paraded by his party as a hero; and 'twas considered doubtful whether he or Lord Exmouth contributed most to the victory. After having appeared, however, several times in the stocks, and suffered other indignities from the hands of officials, the hero-worship.
waned, and he fell back on the usual privileges and dignities of a Dibble. The Beelzebubs had a distinguished era, when their representative man was sexton of the parish for several years.
The Giants enjoyed the notoriety of possessing the most terrible witch in the neighbourhood.
The Royal Family had also its moral characteristics. It was a tradition and law with them never to work except as the alternative of starvation; and then the work chosen was always of a loose, vagabond kind, such as holding horses on fair and market days, lounging after sportsmen, carrying bills, or making brooms. Honest digging and delving was an abomination to them. Cleanliness and sanitary regulations were things also indignantly repudiated. A Dibble was supposed to live and die in utter innocence of cold water. Their homes were generally pitched amid gutters and dunghills; and there the young Dibbles squattered and gambolled and grew strong in defiance of typhus and boards of health. To get a sop from another man's dish, and a sup from another man's cup, was also a royal maxim; and there was a certain oiliness of tongue and wheedling manner peculiar to the members of all the houses, which was supposed to gain them access to larder and wardrobe, and be very effective in procuring broken victuals and cast-off raiment. A certain dry quaint humour, too, was known to be rewarded often by horns of ale and cider when hard-handed labour might go athirst. It was whispered, however, that the swains who took the daughters of the royal race to their hearths found that the oily voice could be pitched to a different key, and the wheedling manner raised to the imperiousness of a Zenobia.
Among other privileges, they claimed that of being the hereditary wassailers-the only true and orthodox ministrants of the jolly wassail. Filibusters had time after time attacked these rights, but had
always met with signal discomfiture. The Dibbles were the highpriests of wassail.
With the wassailers had entered a thin wiry man, with a pinched, snipy face and a keen twinkling eye. A stoop in the back and a bend in the knees would have given the impression of decrepitude to those who had not seen him working a cover or going across a country. He was dressed in a grey frockcoat, corduroy breeches and gaiters, and wore a broad-brimmed hat jammed well down over his forehead. There was a hunting-whip under his arm, and a pair of couples peeped from his pocket. He bore about with him a sense of doghe was of dogs, doggy. This was Jim Seecombe, in turn kennelkeeper, whip, huntsman, dog-trainer, dog-breeder, dog-doctor-in fact, holding any office in the dog administration, and sometimes, like the Great Duke, concentrating them all in his own person.
"Halloa, James," said the Garland Ox, "be you turned wassailer! I thoft none but the Royal Family had that privilege."
"No, landlord," replied James, "I han't that honour, but perhaps when my old missus goes I may prowpose to one of the princesses, and shall then tail in somewhere in the chowrusses."
"No, James," said Kit the Unicorn, we doesn't give or be given in marriage so easily. We must see the Peditree or the Jenny-Loggy, as the passon calls it, of a party before we takes un into our family."
"A queer Peditree Jim would show, I thinks," said the Beelzebub, who was evidently the bitter spirit of the race; "for them does say as how old Tom the huntsman found un wrapt up in a 'oss-cloth in the kennel, and the Squire said such a com-by-chance was a real drowit of the kennel, and so kept un there."
“Well, William," retorted Jim, "a kennel is as good a place to be born in as a garret, and good dowgs I hould to be better company than bad umans."
"Just so," rejoined Kit; "but we'rn an ould family, Jim, and can't take no com-by-chances-we'rn an ould family."
"You_comed over with the Conqueror, I s'pose; all the ould families comed with him. Old Mrs St Turnup says to me the other day, James,' says she, 'them fellows ought to pay me more respect, for the first St Turnup came over with the Conqueror, you know.' 'Yes, ma'am,' says I; and thinks I to myself, what a lot of shoeblacks and sich cattle comed over with that 'ere Conqueror."
"I don't knows nothing about Conquerors," rejoined Kit, "but we'rn an ould family-we haven't knowed many ups and downs-'tis as we was so we is, I thinks: we haven't changed much back'ards or for'ards, up'ards or down'ards; sometimes we hae a leek to our broth and sometimes we han't; sometimes we hae no puddin' to our flesh, sometimes no flesh to our puddin', and sometimes neyther one nor t'other; but here we've been for years upon years, and here we be still."
Increasing and multiplying, bless the Lord," snuffled old Beelzebub, who was a rigid Brianite.
"And you han't falled off in the breed, nayther," said Jim, pointing to the youngest scion of the Pretty Tommy branch.
"Ay," said old Kit, patting young Pretty Tommy admiringly on the head, "he's a pretty cheeld, and a raal Dibble."
There was certainly little doubt of the paternity, and no one would have questioned his legitimacy. This youth, like other rising characters, had to contend with the fame of a great father. It had always been prophesied of him that he never could rival that parent in personal appearance, but he had falsified all the predictions by achieving what was allowed to be the ne plus ultra of Dibble beauty. All the features were in him exaggerated-the lips were more blubbery, the nose was turned up, the hair was more lank, and
whiter, if possible, and hung on his head like the thatch of a dishevelled beehive. He had evidently, too, come in for the fag-end of the stage properties, and instead of being allotted a greatcoat, was attired in a blue dress-coat which came down over his hips, the tails hanging about his heels. He seemed to be very much flustered at the public notice he had attracted, and resented all the attempts to bring him forward with pokes of the elbow and abortive kicks.
"Ah," said old Kit, apologetically, "'tis the first time with un, and he is shy before company."
"And where be you a-going to spend your Christmas, Jim?" said the Garland Ox to the huntsman.
"Well, I've been axed to go to Tregarrow faarm, and I think one might go furder and fare wus."
You're right, Jim," chimed in old Kit, "no better than Tregarrow for Christmas cheer, but I thoft you was in disgrace there, and that he han't forgive you for being a 'complice of chuck sheep, as he called it."
"What's that, Kit?" choked out the Ox, chuckling in anticipation of a story.
Oh, you know, the hounds was a-passing through Faarmer Penrice's fields, when one of un, old Blackcap, was seed to chuck two sheep. The faarmer was in a cruel way, and stormed and cussed, and the Squire says very quietly, Will we gie un a Halgave trial? we'll hang un first and then try un after'ards.' So there was a gallows rose, and Jim was Jack Ketch, and ould Blackcap was left a-hanging. Pursently there was a fine bust, and the pack was going like mad across the thirty acres, when the Squire sings out, 'Why, dang it, there's ould Blackcap leading!' and there he wos, sartain enough. So the faarmer always swore Jim had tied the rope loose, or had gun back and cut un down."
"It's the missus favours James," remarked the mate of the Garland Ox, "'cause of young Maister Tom.”
"I thoft, marm," observed old
Kit, "that the faarmer didn't approve of Maister Tom's 'sociates, and wouldn't see none of um."
Yes, the faarmer may talk and bark, but he loveth in his heart anything that young Maister Tom liked, though good to know he've a right to hate 'em all-all them idle scamping fellows, who go about the country leading young men astray with their sporting, and their drinking, and their betting. There was young Harry Rankin-a pretty end he come to, a-carrying off young Miss Emily, and then leaving her, and nearly breaking the poor passon's heart. He were anither of your favourites, James."
"I beg your parding, marm," replied Jim, indignantly; "there were a great difference 'twixt he and Maister Tom, A good sportsman, marm, may be a good man, and a man may be a bad un, marm, without sporting. Men drink, marm, and gamble, marm, and run away with young garls, marm, who was never sportsman, and never knowed nothing about a oss or a doog. Maister Tom was a true man, jist a little hot and full-blooded; so he and the faarmer quarled, and he tuk off to try his luck; but he'll turn up all right yet, marm."
"Well, but, James, you were always a-praising that young goodfor-nothing Rankin."
"No, marm; I said he were a pretty man in the field, but I never tuk to un as I did to Maister Tom. I've seed un kick his doogs, and I've seed his osses shake when he com'd into the stable, and I've said to myself, "A man wot ill-treats them doomb things isn't the man for me.' I've seed un after a hunt sit down a-drinking in the publics with all them low fellars, and I never 'spects a gentleman wot demeans hisself that way. Maister Tom never did that he were another sort. The faarmer calls un a pordigal. Pordigal or no pordigal, he'll show hisself a true man yet, and we shall see un at Tregarrow once more, hearty as ever, and better p'rhaps for a little trial, marm."
Jim then took up his can, and, nodding round to the company, took a last sup with " A merry Christmas when it comes," then jammed his hat more than ever over his eyes, and slouched out.
During the latter part of the conversation the stranger turned once or twice on his bench so as to hear better without being more seen.
"Well, Kit," said the Ox, "what's your beat to-night?"
“Oh, landlord, we shall jist take one or two of the gintry in the village, and then go on to the passonage, and finish up, you know, at Tregarrow faarm, as there's nobody at the Hall now. The faarmer never will have us, you know, till it strike twelve. But we must be a-mixing for the bowl, so bring the materials, if you please, landlord."
These were soon forthcomingale, spice, a slight dash of cognac, and roasted apples. All of the Royal Family now congregated round the bowl, and were busy in compounding the wassail-cup. From the variety of tastes, and the variety of advice given, it was evidently not an easy matter. If too many cooks spoil the broth, too many advisers seemed more unfavourable still to the happy production of the wassail beverage. Every adviser, too, was a taster; and as every opinion was tested by a sip, the bowl soon was at a low ebb. The ceremony seemed endless. It was like the old story of ladling out a pool with a limpet shell which had a hole in the bottom. Whilst the committee of taste were still engaged in controversy and trials, the stranger had risen from the bench, and, approaching old Kit, touched him on the shoulder, and beckoned him into a corner. There a very earnest conference took place, and a chink of money might have been heard. At last old Kit, by sundry coughs and hems, and becks and nods, summoned the other heads of houses together. When the conclave was duly formed, Kit formally opened the debate. "Now you see, brother wassailers, this 'ere young man is
very anxious to join our company to-night."
Is he a Dibble?" said one patriarch. The stranger confessed that he was not sprung from that distinguished race.
"Be he married to a Dibble?" said another. The stranger also disclaimed this honour.
"No," said Kit, "he ben't connected wi' us at all, but he've behave very handsome [chinking the coins in his hand significantly], and says he wull pay all the expenses of the boul. P'rhaps he be a young chap belonging to one of them chowrus societies, or p'rhaps [lowering his voice] he be some young gemman out on a spree."
The arguments seemed to convince the heads of houses, as they gave their assent, with the proviso that it was not to be considered as a precedent, or in any way to derogate from the rights and privileges of the Dibbles to be the exclusive wassailers.
"Now then, comrade," says Kit, 'what shall we call thee?" "Oh, anything," responded the stranger; "Sailor Dick, if you like." "Well then, Sailor Dick, come along-we must be moving; and be that your doog making so bould?" pointing to a grey wolfish-looking animal which lay at the stranger's feet.
"Oh yes, he is mine; but he's very quiet, is old Dingo, and will obey orders."
The bowl being now satisfactorily filled, and young Pretty Tommy as the neophyte being charged with carrying a can containing materials for replenishing it, the whole party started forth trolling out the burden of their chorus, "Wassail, wassail, a jolly wassail!"
As they moved on, a female figure started from behind the wall, but so silently and so stealthily that it might have been a spirit; and none saw, none heard her, as she treaded quickly in their track.
The cold, too, had taken possession of the vicarage of St Maddock, fenced in as it was by a quadrangle of wall, hedge, and trees. The row of poplars in front looked like the white plumes of a hearse in their snowy drapery, but the laurel and their kin had made an effort to cast it off and assert a Christmas greenness. The walks were hidden, but there were evidences of attempts at prettiness in flower-beds and in creepers trellissed on the wall and over the porch. Neglect, however, was apparent everywhere. Shrubberies had become wildernesses luxuriance had grown into rankness -the training hand was evidently absent. The house was of that square kind which seemed to have been selected as the model of parsonage architecture at that time. There was a porch in the middle, and a square small sitting-room on either side. This style could have been invented only with the malig
nant intent, that the man who was doomed to meet everything that was mean and repulsive in his visits and daily ministrations, should not have the power of refreshing himself by the presence of beauty in his own home. We enter one of these square parlours; it is perhaps sparely furnished, but the furniture had been costly, though dingy now rather from neglect than use. There was here also a general look of neglect, a general want of neatness and order. Books lay about in every direction on the table, on chairs, on the hair sofa, and lay against one another in a degagée manner on the shelves. There is one only ornament a picture over the chimney-piece of a female face, almost angelic in its beauty.
In a large leathern chair by the fire sits Arthur Versturme, vicar. He may be middle-aged, but there is a worn look, which perhaps makes him older. The chest is narrowed