Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

pray. Vouchsafe this last grace, and let me depart: it is not meet that I tarry in thy company after mine errand is done."

More moved than he cared to show, Ralph told her what she required. After murmuring the words over to herself softly twice or

thrice

"A brave soldierly name "-she said. "Heaven send it luck and renown. Beau sire, though one day you bear on your helm the sleeve of some high-born damoiselle or dame, ye need not scruple to avouch that you first showed prowess in the bucklering of a poor glee-maiden."

While she spoke, Ralph had drawn a broad gold piece from his gipsire, and would have forced it upon her.

"Take this at least "—he began, but broke off suddenly with the quick delicacy which was part of his nature, seeing that she shrank back evidently pained-"Nay, thou silly child, I meant it not as guerdon or alms, but rather as a token of this our meeting. Other have I none to give: thou need'st not barter it except at sore need.” Her small fingers closed round it eagerly enough now. "So may

all the saints have you in their keeping"--she said, almost in a whisper; and stooping down, laid her lips upon his hand once Before their print had vanished, she had flitted away like an elf into the darkness.

more.

After lingering there yet awhile, as if in thought, Ralph went back into the guest-hall, which was now emptying fast; and soon betook himself to the chamber which, as was the custom, he shared with some half-score other travellers: he slept not so soundly as he was wont; and more than once started from slumber, half persuaded that he felt on his hand the pressure of soft fingers, and of softer lips. Nay, some months elapsed ere such phantasms ceased to mingle with rougher visions of feast and war.

Two years later, when the plague, which laid England desolate, was beginning to abate its fury, those that carried the common bier found under a hovel on the banks of Thames the corpses of the minstrel and the glee-maiden. Both were thin and worn by privation; and it was plain they must have suffered almost of famine before the pestilence did its work: wherefore the grave-diggers marvelled the more to find hung round the girl's neck, and hidden under her bodice, a broad piece of gold. It helped to make them merry that night, after their hideous fashion; and, whilst they caroused, they passed many a foul jest on the love-token of the mad tymbestere.

Croquet.

BY W. S. GILBERT.

I AM not going to write a treatise on this deservedly-popular game. I confess that I am not in a position to do so. I have played it much and often; I have hurried my shaving in order to have time for a turn at it before breakfast; I have scamped my breakfast in order to extend the interval between that meal and luncheon to the extremest possible limits. My eagerness to return to the fascinating sport has reduced my luncheon to a shadow, and my dinner to a dream. From the early morning to the fading twilight of evening, I have been incessantly at it, and on one memorable occasion I played far into the night by the aid of bed-room candles. Still, as I said before, I am not in a position to write scientifically on the game. I have never played it scientifically, and I don't believe I know half the rules of the game. I don't care to know them; I am happier as I am. The real charm of the sport is not referable, I believe, to a conscientious adherence to accepted principles. In point of fact, I don't find that any known rules treat of the most indispensable essentials of the game. When I come across a code that provides

Firstly. That the sun shall always shine during the game.
Secondly. That the grass shall never be damp.

Thirdly. That only young ladies of fascinating exterior be permitted to play.

Fourthly. That the grass has its hair cut every morning.

Fifthly. That strawberries and cream, or other cooling fruits proper to the season, be provided for the players; and

Lastly. That no young lady who disfigures her ankles with Hessian boots with tassels, be suffered on any pretence whatever to join a croquet party.

When, I say, I come across a code that provides for these emergencies, I will devote myself conscientiously to a study of its contents.

No, I leave it to scientific pens to treat of the game of croquet as it is played by ladies and gentlemen. My present intention is to treat croquet from a totally new point of view. I propose to treat of the players from the point of view of the hoops, balls, and mallets.

It cannot

A ball or a mallet has an eventful and exciting career. be a matter of total indifference to a well-made gentlemanly implement of either class, whether, on the box being opened for the day's play,

he is to fall into the hands of a pretty sparkling maiden, or a fat, clumsy, hot, man-mountain; whether he is to be gently pressed by a glittering and dainty bottine, or be scrunched beneath the broad solid sole of a ponderous shooting-boot. These considerations must, I think, give rise to an unhealthy excitement which cannot but tell injuriously on the constitution of the implement.

Croquet possesses innumerable recommendations. It is an outdoor game, and differs from leap-frog, in being one of the very few in which both sexes can join with propriety. It is allied to many pleasant associations-a fine day, a smooth lawn, pretty boots, bewildering petticoats, and agreeable interludes. Moreover, "croquet" is a pretty word, and there is a great deal in this consideration. "Squails" may be a very good game-I know nothing about it—but the name is quite enough to keep me off. Now there is a coquettish crispness about the word "croquet" which would go far to compensate for any radical defect in the game itself. It involves a pretty pursing of the lips, a delicate twirl of the tongue, and an opportunity of suggesting a good French accent-considerations which are to me irresistible.

The true croquet player devotes herself and her "make-up" to the game. There is no redundancy about her costume, there is no absurdity in the nature of long dresses to be detected about her, there are no

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

bonnet-strings to get into her way, there are no cloaks or baggy sleeves to impede her movements: everything is trim, taut, and shipshape-cleared, I may say, for action. The amateur, the mere smat

terer, the croquet skimmer, is careless on these points. She dresses. herself with an eye to the picturesque, the startling, the bewildering. She appears on the croquet-ground like a transformation scene-so gilded, so gorgeous is she, and so much has she about her that nobody cares to see. She plays in gloves, she pretends to be ashamed to show her feet, she cheats, and she sits down between her strokes. Her train sweeps the balls about, and she is always falling over the hoops. She is possibly a good girl enough in her private sphere, and would no doubt be a desirable acquisition at a pic-nic (another pretty word) or a water party, but on the croquet-ground she is out of place.

But I am bound to admit that, as a rule, the objectionable features of a croquet party are embodied in the gentlemen players, and not the ladies. Ladies, of almost every age, appear to possess an instinctive taste for croquet. No lady who can toddle is too old (or too young, for the matter of that) for the game. I never yet met a lady who was too "blue" to condescend to an occasional turn-who thought it beneath her dignity to stoop to balls and mallets. But with men it is otherwise. They often find themselves bound to play whether they like it or not; and when they don't like it they are an insufferable nuisance.

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

Firstly,

I divide objectionable men-players into three classes. the men who don't like the game, but who are compelled, by stress of circumstances, over which they have no control, to take an occasional turn at it. Secondly, disputatious people, who stop the game to argue

out points on which nobody else ever has a doubt. Every stroke of their own, and of everybody else, is the occasion of a long and elabo

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

rate disquisition, divided into heads, and ending in a reference to a standing authority, with points reserved for future argument. The worst of it is, that they conduct the dispute with the utmost good nature and gentlemanly breeding, as far as they are personally concerned. If they would only quarrel to such an extent as not to be on speaking terms with each other, all would be well.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

The third class of objectionable men-players consists of people who go in for science, and who refer every mandate to the principles

« ZurückWeiter »