“Match!” said Bartle. “Aye, as vinegar matches one’s teeth. If a man says a word, his wife ’ll match it with a contradiction; if he’s a mind for hot meat, his wife ’ll match it with cold bacon; if he laughs, she’ll match him with whimpering. She’s such a match as the horse-fly is to th’ horse: she’s got the right venom to sting him with—the right venom to sting him with.”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Poyser, “I know what the men like—a poor soft, as ’ud simper at ’em like the picture o’ the sun, whether they did right or wrong, an’ say thank you for a kick, an’ pretend she didna know which end she stood uppermost, till her husband told her. That’s what a man wants in a wife, mostly; he wants to make sure o’ one fool as ’ull tell him he’s wise. But there’s some men can do wi’out that—they think so much o’ themselves a’ready. An’ that’s how it is there’s old bachelors.”
“Come, Craig,” said Mr. Poyser jocosely, “you mun get married pretty quick, else you’ll be set down for an old bachelor; an’ you see what the women ’ull think on you.”
“Well,” said Mr. Craig, willing to conciliate Mrs. Poyser and setting a high value on his own compliments, “I like a cleverish woman—a woman o’ sperrit—a managing woman.”
“You’re out there, Craig,” said Bartle, dryly; “you’re out there. You judge o’ your garden-stuff on a better plan than that. You pick the things for what they can excel in—for what they can excel in. You don’t value your peas for their roots, or your carrots for their flowers. Now, that’s the way you should choose women. Their cleverness ’ll never come to much—never come to much—but they make excellent simpletons, ripe and strong-flavoured.”
“What dost say to that?” said Mr. Poyser, throwing himself back and looking merrily at his wife.
“Say!” answered Mrs. Poyser, with dangerous fire kindling in her eye. “Why, I say as some folks’ tongues are like the clocks as run on strikin’, not to tell you the time o’ the day, but because there’s summat wrong i’ their own inside...”
Mrs. Poyser would probably have brought her rejoinder to a further climax, if every one’s attention had not at this moment been called to the other end of the table, where the lyricism, which had at first only manifested itself by David’s sotto voce performance of “My love’s a rose without a thorn,” had gradually assumed a rather deafening and complex character. Tim, thinking slightly of David’s vocalization, was impelled to supersede that feeble buzz by a spirited commencement of “Three Merry Mowers,” but David was not to be put down so easily, and showed himself capable of a copious crescendo, which was rendering it doubtful whether the rose would not predominate over the mowers, when old Kester, with an entirely unmoved and immovable aspect, suddenly set up a quavering treble—as if he had been an alarum, and the time was come for him to go off.
The company at Alick’s end of the table took this form of vocal entertainment very much as a matter of course, being free from musical prejudices; but Bartle Massey laid down his pipe and put his fingers in his ears; and Adam, who had been longing to go ever since he had heard Dinah was not in the house, rose and said he must bid good-night.