“Drunk!” roared Will Burdock. “Did you happen to say ‘drunk?’” And looking all the while at Gambier, he, with infernal cunning, swung at Wilfrid’s fated cheekbone. The latter rushed furiously into the press of them, and there was a charge from Ipley, and a lock, from which Wilfrid extricated himself to hurry off Emilia. He perceived that bad blood was boiling up.
“Forward!” cried Will Burdock, and Hillford in turn made a tide.
As they came on in numbers too great for Ipley to stand against, an obscuration fell over all. The fight paused. Then a sensation as of some fellows smoothing their polls and their cheeks, and leaning on their shoulders with obtrusive affection, inspirited them to lash about indiscriminately. Whoops and yells arose; then peals of laughter. Homage to the cleverness of Ipley was paid in hurrahs, the moment Hillford understood the stratagem by which its men of valour were lamed and imprisoned. The truth was, that the booth was down on them, and they were struggling entangled in an enormous bag of canvas.
Wilfrid drew Emilia from under the drooping folds of the tent. He was allowed, on inspection of features, to pass. The men of Hillford were captured one by one like wild geese, as with difficulty they emerged, roaring, rolling with laughter, all.
Yea; to such an extent did they laugh that they can scarce be said to have done less than make the joke of the foe their own. And this proves the great and amazing magnanimity of Beer.
A pillar of dim silver rain fronted the moon on the hills. Emilia walked hurriedly, with her head bent, like a penitent: now and then peeping up and breathing to the keen scent of the tender ferns. Wilfrid still grasped her hand, and led her across the common, away from the rout.
When the uproar behind them had sunk, he said “You’ll get your feet wet. I’m sorry you should have to walk. How did you come here?”
She answered: “I forget.”
“You must have come here in some conveyance. Did you walk?”
Again she answered: “I forget;” a little querulously; perhaps wilfully.
“Well!” he persisted: “You must have got your harp to this place by some means or other?”
“Yes, my harp!” a sob checked her voice.
Wilfrid tried to soothe her. “Never mind the harp. It’s easily replaced.”
“Not that one!” she moaned.
“We will get you another.”
“I shall never love any but that.”
“Perhaps we may hear good news of it to-morrow.”
“No; for I felt it die in my hands. The third blow was the one that killed it. It’s broken.”
Wilfrid could not reproach her, and he had not any desire to preach. So, as no idea of having done amiss in coming to the booth to sing illumined her, and she yet knew that she was in some way guilty, she accused herself of disregard for that dear harp while it was brilliant and serviceable. “Now I remember what poor music I made of it! I touched it with cold fingers. The sound was thin, as if it had no heart. Tick-tick!—I fancy I touched it with a dead man’s finger-nails.”