“Come, come, you women-folk; ’tis hands across—come, come!” said the tranter; and the conversation ceased for the present.
Dick had at length secured Fancy for that most delightful of country-dances, opening with six-hands-round.
“Before we begin,” said the tranter, “my proposal is, that ’twould be a right and proper plan for every mortal man in the dance to pull off his jacket, considering the heat.”
“Such low notions as you have, Reuben! Nothing but strip will go down with you when you are a-dancing. Such a hot man as he is!”
“Well, now, look here, my sonnies,” he argued to his wife, whom he often addressed in the plural masculine for economy of epithet merely; “I don’t see that. You dance and get hot as fire; therefore you lighten your clothes. Isn’t that nature and reason for gentle and simple? If I strip by myself and not necessary, ’tis rather pot-housey I own; but if we stout chaps strip one and all, why, ’tis the native manners of the country, which no man can gainsay? Hey—what did you say, my sonnies?”
“Strip we will!” said the three other heavy men who were in the dance; and their coats were accordingly taken off and hung in the passage, whence the four sufferers from heat soon reappeared, marching in close column, with flapping shirt-sleeves, and having, as common to them all, a general glance of being now a match for any man or dancer in England or Ireland. Dick, fearing to lose ground in Fancy’s good opinion, retained his coat like the rest of the thinner men; and Mr. Shiner did the same from superior knowledge.
And now a further phase of revelry had disclosed itself. It was the time of night when a guest may write his name in the dust upon the tables and chairs, and a bluish mist pervades the atmosphere, becoming a distinct halo round the candles; when people’s nostrils, wrinkles, and crevices in general, seem to be getting gradually plastered up; when the very fiddlers as well as the dancers get red in the face, the dancers having advanced further still towards incandescence, and entered the cadaverous phase; the fiddlers no longer sit down, but kick back their chairs and saw madly at the strings, with legs firmly spread and eyes closed, regardless of the visible world. Again and again did Dick share his Love’s hand with another man, and wheel round; then, more delightfully, promenade in a circle with her all to himself, his arm holding her waist more firmly each time, and his elbow getting further and further behind her back, till the distance reached was rather noticeable; and, most blissful, swinging to places shoulder to shoulder, her breath curling round his neck like a summer zephyr that had strayed from its proper date. Threading the couples one by one they reached the bottom, when there arose in Dick’s mind a minor misery lest the tune should end before they could work their way