Farewell rewards and fairies,
Good housewives now may say,
For now foul sluts in dairies
May fare as well as they.
An ancient leafless stump of a horse-chesnut stood in the middle of a dusty field, bordered on the south side by a row of houses of some pretension. Against this stump, a pretty delicate fair girl of seventeen, whose short lilac sleeves revealed slender white arms, and her tight, plain cap tresses of flaxen hair that many a beauty might have envied, was banging a cocoa-nut mat, chanting by way of accompaniment in a sort of cadence—
’I have found out a gift for my fur,
I have found where the wood-pigeons breed;
But let me the plunder forbear,
She will say—’
’Hollo, I’ll give you a shilling for ’em!’ was the unlooked-for conclusion, causing her to start aside with a slight scream, as there stood beside her a stout, black-eyed, round-faced lad, his ruddy cheeks and loutish air showing more rusticity than agreed with his keen, saucy expression, and mechanic’s dress.
‘So that’s what you call beating a mat,’ said he, catching it from her hands, and mimicking the tender clasp of her little fingers. ’D’ye think it’s alive, that you use it so gingerly? Look here! Give it him well!’ as he made it resound against the tree, and emit a whirlwind of dust. ’Lay it into him with some jolly good song fit to fetch a stroke home with! Why, I heard my young Lord say, when Shakspeare was a butcher, he used to make speeches at the calves, as if they was for a sacrifice, or ever he could lift a knife to ’em.’
’Shakspeare! He as wrote Romeo and Juliet, and all that! He a butcher! Why, he was a poet!’ cried the girl, indignantly.
‘If you know better than Lord Fitzjocelyn, you may!’ said the boy.
‘I couldn’t have thought it!’ sighed the maiden.
‘It’s the best of it!’ cried the lad, eagerly. ’Why, Charlotte, don’t ye see, he rose hisself. Anybody may rise hisself as has a mind to it!’
’Yes, I’ve read that in books said Charlotte. ’You can, men can, Tom, if you would but educate yourself like Edmund! in the Old English Baron. But then, you know whose son you are. There can’t be no catastrophe—’
‘I don’t want none,’ said Tom. ’We are all equal by birth, so the orator proves without a doubt, and we’ll show it one of these days. A rare lady I’ll make of you yet, Charlotte Arnold.’
’O hush, Tom, I can never be a lady—and I can’t stand dawdling here--nor you neither. ’Tisn’t right to want to be out of our station, though I do wish I lived in an old castle, where the maidens worked tapestry, and heard minstrels, never had no stairs to scour. Come, give me my mats, and thank you kindly!’
’I’ll take ’em in,’ said Tom, shouldering them. ’’Tis breakfast-hour, so I thought I’d just run up and ax you when my young Lord goes up to Oxford.