“Half-a-dozen hits like that a-piece, sir,” nodded Tom Breeks.
“There goes another!” Jim shouted.
“Not quite, my lad,” interposed Ned Thewk, though Peter Bartholomew was reeling in confirmation.
His blow at Jim missed, but came sharply in the swing on Wilfrid’s cheek-bone.
Maddened at the immediate vision of that feature swollen, purple, even as a plum with an assiduous fly on it, certifying to ripeness:—Says the philosopher, “We are never up to the mark of any position, if we are in a position beneath our own mark;” and it is true that no hero in conflict should think of his face, but Wilfrid was all the while protesting wrathfully against the folly of his having set foot in such a place:—Maddened, I say, Wilfrid, a keen swordman, cleared a space. John Girling fell to him: Ned Thewk fell to him, and the sconce of Will Burdock rang.
“A rascally absurd business!” said Gambier, letting his stick do the part of a damnatory verb on one of the enemy, while he added, “The drunken vagabonds!”
All the Hillford party were now in the booth. Ipley, meantime, was not sleeping. Farmer Wilson and a set of the Ipley men whom age had sagaciously instructed to prefer stratagem to force, had slipped outside, and were labouring as busily as their comrades within: stooping to the tent-pegs, sending emissaries to the tent-poles.
“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.