“If any of the girls should turn after their father ’twill be a bad look-out for ’em, poor things! None of my family were sich vulgar sweaters, not one of ’em. But, Lord-a-mercy, the Dewys! I don’t know how ever I cam’ into such a family!”
“Your woman’s weakness when I asked ye to jine us. That’s how it was I suppose.” But the tranter appeared to have heard some such words from his wife before, and hence his answer had not the energy it might have shown if the inquiry had possessed the charm of novelty.
“You never did look so well in a pair o’ trousers as in them,” she continued in the same unimpassioned voice, so that the unfriendly criticism of the Dewy family seemed to have been more normal than spontaneous. “Such a cheap pair as ’twas too. As big as any man could wish to have, and lined inside, and double-lined in the lower parts, and an extra piece of stiffening at the bottom. And ’tis a nice high cut that comes up right under your armpits, and there’s enough turned down inside the seams to make half a pair more, besides a piece of cloth left that will make an honest waistcoat—all by my contriving in buying the stuff at a bargain, and having it made up under my eye. It only shows what may be done by taking a little trouble, and not going straight to the rascally tailors.”
The discourse was cut short by the sudden appearance of Charley on the scene, with a face and hands of hideous blackness, and a nose like a guttering candle. Why, on that particularly cleanly afternoon, he should have discovered that the chimney-crook and chain from which the hams were suspended should have possessed more merits and general interest as playthings than any other articles in the house, is a question for nursing mothers to decide. However, the humour seemed to lie in the result being, as has been seen, that any given player with these articles was in the long-run daubed with soot. The last that was seen of Charley by daylight after this piece of ingenuity was when in the act of vanishing from his father’s presence round the corner of the house—looking back over his shoulder with an expression of great sin on his face, like Cain as the Outcast in Bible pictures.
* * * * *
The guests had all assembled, and the tranter’s party had reached that degree of development which accords with ten o’clock P.M. in rural assemblies. At that hour the sound of a fiddle in process of tuning was heard from the inner pantry.
“That’s Dick,” said the tranter. “That lad’s crazy for a jig.”
“Dick! Now I cannot—really, I cannot have any dancing at all till Christmas-day is out,” said old William emphatically. “When the clock ha’ done striking twelve, dance as much as ye like.”
“Well, I must say there’s reason in that, William,” said Mrs. Penny. “If you do have a party on Christmas-night, ’tis only fair and honourable to the sky-folk to have it a sit-still party. Jigging parties be all very well on the Devil’s holidays; but a jigging party looks suspicious now. O yes; stop till the clock strikes, young folk—so say I.”