“Upon my song ’tis another ten minutes for us,” said the Valiant Soldier, looking through the keyhole as the tune modulated into another without stopping. “Grandfer Cantle is standing in this corner, waiting his turn.”
“’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 authoritatively, 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 between three or four of them, and one turned to her.
“Will you tell us one thing?” he said, not without gentleness. “Be 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
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
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 Turkish 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!”