“How do you do, Mrs. Poyser?” said Arthur. “Weren’t you pleased to hear your husband make such a good speech to-day?”
“Oh, sir, the men are mostly so tongue-tied—you’re forced partly to guess what they mean, as you do wi’ the dumb creaturs.”
“What! you think you could have made it better for him?” said Mr. Irwine, laughing.
“Well, sir, when I want to say anything, I can mostly find words to say it in, thank God. Not as I’m a-finding faut wi’ my husband, for if he’s a man o’ few words, what he says he’ll stand to.”
“I’m sure I never saw a prettier party than this,” Arthur said, looking round at the apple-cheeked children. “My aunt and the Miss Irwines will come up and see you presently. They were afraid of the noise of the toasts, but it would be a shame for them not to see you at table.”
He walked on, speaking to the mothers and patting the children, while Mr. Irwine satisfied himself with standing still and nodding at a distance, that no one’s attention might be disturbed from the young squire, the hero of the day. Arthur did not venture to stop near Hetty, but merely bowed to her as he passed along the opposite side. The foolish child felt her heart swelling with discontent; for what woman was ever satisfied with apparent neglect, even when she knows it to be the mask of love? Hetty thought this was going to be the most miserable day she had had for a long while, a moment of chill daylight and reality came across her dream: Arthur, who had seemed so near to her only a few hours before, was separated from her, as the hero of a great procession is separated from a small outsider in the crowd.
The great dance was not to begin until eight o’clock, but for any lads and lasses who liked to dance on the shady grass before then, there was music always at hand—for was not the band of the Benefit Club capable of playing excellent jigs, reels, and hornpipes? And, besides this, there was a grand band hired from Rosseter, who, with their wonderful wind-instruments and puffed-out cheeks, were themselves a delightful show to the small boys and girls. To say nothing of Joshua Rann’s fiddle, which, by an act of generous forethought, he had provided himself with, in case any one should be of sufficiently pure taste to prefer dancing to a solo on that instrument.
Meantime, when the sun had moved off the great open space in front of the house, the games began. There were, of course, well-soaped poles to be climbed by the boys and youths, races to be run by the old women, races to be run in sacks, heavy weights to be lifted by the strong men, and a long list of challenges to such ambitious attempts as that of walking as many yards possible on one leg—feats in which it was generally remarked that Wiry Ben, being “the lissom’st, springest fellow i’ the country,” was sure to be pre-eminent. To crown all, there was to be a donkey-race—that sublimest of all races, conducted on the grand socialistic idea of everybody encouraging everybody else’s donkey, and the sorriest donkey winning.