But the entrances to the house were not so numerous that they were likely to have neglected the usual precautions, and no one would have assumed the right to employ violence before the moment fixed for the conflict.
When they were weary of jumping about and shouting, the hemp-beater meditated a capitulation. He went back to his window, opened it cautiously, and hailed the discomfited besiegers with a roar of laughter:
“Well, my boys,” he said, “you’re pretty sheepish, aren’t you? You thought that nothing could be easier than to break in here, and you have discovered that our defences are strong. But we are beginning to have pity on you, if you choose to submit and accept our conditions.”
Speak, my good friends; tell us what we must do to be admitted to your fireside.
You must sing, my friends, but sing some song that we don’t know, and that we can’t answer with a better one.
“Never you fear!” replied the grave-digger, and he sang in a powerful voice:
“’Tis six months since the spring-time,”
“When I walked upon the springing grass,” replied the hemp-beater, in a somewhat hoarse but awe-inspiring voice. “Are you laughing at us, my poor fellows, that you sing us such old trash? you see that we stop you at the first word.”
“It was a prince’s daughter—”
“And she would married be” replied the hemp-beater. “Go on, go on to another! we know that a little too well.”
What do you say to this:
“When from Nantes I was returning—”
“I was weary, do you know! oh! so weary.” That’s a song of my grandmother’s day. Give us another one.
“The other day as I was walking—”
“Along by yonder charming wood!” That’s a silly one! Our grandchildren wouldn’t take the trouble to answer you! What! are those all you know?
Oh! we’ll sing you so many of them, that you will end by stopping short.
Fully an hour was passed in this contest. As the two combatants were the most learned men in the province in the matter of ballads, and as their repertory seemed inexhaustible, it might well have lasted all night, especially as the hemp-beater seemed to take malicious pleasure in allowing his opponent to sing certain laments in ten, twenty, or thirty stanzas, pretending by his silence to admit that he was defeated.