The Rustic Fete Fiasco
THE RUSTIC FÊTE FIASCO
BARTON BRIDGE was proud of its Temperance Society, but prouder still of its own breadth of mind. It had been a tradition for a quarter of a century that the Society should be non-sectarian. Under the sacred banner of temperance religious differences were forgotten, or at least mitigated, and Church and Chapel members could meet for once upon a common footing.
Nevertheless the rustic fête, with which it had been decided to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the society, presented some serious problems. Strict religious neutrality could not well be extended into the field of catering; the Church faction recoiled in horror from the thought of eating non-conformist sandwiches; while if the lemonade were to be of Church manufacture, it would mean that scores of dissenters would have a thirsty afternoon. It was Lady Knob-Kerrick who finally solved the problem by suggesting that the order be placed with a London caterer who, as a corporation, was not expected to have any religious convictions.
It was as a result of this suggestion that, some weeks later, Mr. Joseph Bindle, of London, sat meditatively upon the tailboard of a van that was lumbering its ungainly way along the Portsmouth Road. With the wholesome contempt of an incorrigible cockney he contemplated the landscape.
“'Edges, trees and fields, an' a mile to walk for a drink. Not for me,” he muttered, re-lighting his pipe with solemn gravity.
The ponderous juggernaut rumbled its way through hamlet or village. Now and then Bindle lightly tossed a few pleasantries to the rustics who stood aside to gaze at what to them constituted an event in the day's monotony of motorcars and dust. As the morning advanced, Bindle grew more direct in his criticisms on, and contempt for, the bucolic life. At last, out of sheer loneliness he climbed up beside the driver.
“Funny thing, you an' me comin' to a temperance fête,” he remarked. Then, regarding the driver's face critically, “'Ope you've got yer vanity-case with yer. You'll want to powder that nose o' yours 'fore the ladies come. 'Course it's indigestion—on'y they mightn't believe it.”
The driver grunted.
“Fancy,” continued Bindle, “'avin' to 'aul about chairs, and make up tables, a d'y like this, an' on lemonade, too. Can't yer see it, mate, in glass bottles with lemons stuck on top and no froth?”
The driver grumbled something inaudibly in his throat. The start had been an early one and he was dry, despite several ineffectual attempts to allay his thirst at wayside inns.
It was nearly eleven o'clock before a sprinkling of houses warned them that they were approaching Barton Bridge. Soon the van was awakening echoes in drowsy, old High Street. Halfway along what is practically the only thoroughfare, stands the Blue Dragon, outside of which the driver instinctively pulled up, and he and Bindle clambered down, ostensibly to inquire the way.
Behind the bar stood Mr. Cutts, wearing the inevitable red knitted cap that no one had ever seen him without during business hours. He was engaged in conversation with Dick Little, the doctor's son and by common consent the black sheep of Barton Bridge. The subject of their talk was temperance. He showed no particular inclination to come forward, and Bindle was extremely thirsty.
After regarding the red cap for a moment, Bindle approached the landlord.
“No offence, your 'Oliness! Sorry to be a noosance, but can you tell me where the Temperance Fête's to be 'eld. Me and my mate are delegates come all the way from Lunnon. No; your 'Oliness is wrong; it's indigestion. That nose of 'is always takes a lot of explainin'!”
Mr. Cutts flushed a deep purple at the reference to his cap. Dick Little laughed outright. It was he who answered Bindle quietly.
“Half a mile up, and down the avenue of poplars.”
“D'yer 'ear, mate?” Bindle turned to the driver. “D'yer know a poplar when yer see it? Same fer me.” The last remark referred to the driver's order for a pint of ale. After finishing his drink at one draught, the driver went out to see to the watering of his horses, whilst Mr. Cutts, having cast a look, which he conceived to be of withering scorn, at Bindle, retired to his parlor.
“Seem to 'ave 'urt Ol' Bung's feelin's” Bindle remarked genially to Dick Little.
“You said you were going to the Temperance Fête?”
“Yes, we're carryin' along the buns, sangwidges, cakes and lemonade.”
“Like a drink?” enquired Little.
“Well!” grinned Bindle judicially, as he surveyed his empty glass; “it would lay the dust a bit. Provided,” he added with mock gravity, “it ain't a split soda. Never could digest split sodas. Where's 'is 'Oliness?” he enquired looking round.
“Never mind him,” responded Little, taking a flask from his pocket. “Wash the glass out.”
Bindle did so and threw the water in a delicate line upon the floor. Little emptied the greater part of the contents of the flask into the glass held before him. With a happy look in his eyes, Bindle took a short drink, tasted the liquid critically, looked at Little, then with a puzzled expression emptied the glass at the second attempt.
“Wot d'yer call it, sir? It's new to me,” he remarked as he replaced his glass upon the counter.
“It hasn't got a name yet. I make it myself. It's not bad, eh?”
“It beats all I ever tasted. It ain't for suckin-babes though, sir. Pretty strong.”
“Yes. You said you had the lemonade for the Temperance Fête in there, didn't you?” inquired Little.
“Well, not exactly, sir. It's got to be watered down, see? There'll be about fifty gallons 'sides bottled stuff!”
“Are you open to earn a sovereign?” asked Little.
The driver put his head in at the door and muttered something about getting on.
“'Arf a mo', ol' son,” responded Bindle; then, turning to Little, added with a grin: “Anything short of murder, sir.”
“It won't be murder—quite,” Little, and he leaned toward the other, speaking confidentially.
Unholy joy illuminated Bindle's face.
“It's a go,” he cried, and the two laughed heartily.
BY half-past one o'clock everything was ready for the Temperance Fête. The large marquee had been erected under the superintendence of a man from London. The chairs and tables had been distributed about the meadow. Rustic stalls, gay with greenery and bunting, invited the visitor to refresh himself. In the center of a roped-off space stood a Maypole.
A cocoanut shy, a Punch-and-Judy Show and the old English game of Aunt Sally were some of the diversions provided. There was also to be Morris Dancing, the dancers having been trained by Miss Slocum, the vicar's daughter, aided, for reasons of policy rather than individual prowess, by Miss McFie, the sister of the Wesleyan-Methodist minister. The girl attendants, in their gaily colored dresses and sunbonnets, and the men in smock-frocks and large straw hats, added picturesqueness to the scene.
Bindle's activity had been prodigious. With the ease of a man who is thoroughly conversant with his subject, he had taken charge of the drink department. The lemonade had been distributed to the various stalls, and the right amount of water added, according to the directions upon each cask. Every drop of water had been fetched under the supervision of Bindle himself.
On arriving at the Fête ground. he had gone directly to a corner of the meadow and brought forth half a dozen large, stone jars, each capable of holding about two gallons. The contents of these he had carefully poured into the casks containing the nucleus of the lemonade. These same jars had been subsequently used for fetching water with which to weaken the lemonade. Finally they had been stowed away in the far end of the van.
Bindle stood out in strong relief from the other workers, both on account of his costume and personality. He wore the green baize apron of his class. On his head was the inevitable cricket cap, the color scheme of which had originally been alternating triangles of pale blue and white. His face had taken the same hue as his nose, and the smile that irradiated his features transcended in its joyous abandon the smiles of all the others. For everyone he had a merry word or jest. In the short space of two hours he had achieved an astonishing popularity.
By three o'clock the Fête was in full swing. Every stable in Barton Bridge was full, and the High Street presented a curious appearance, with its rows of horseless carriages, carts and traps. The coach houses and available sheds had all been utilized to give shelter to the scores of horses. The members of the committee, wearing big, dark blue rosettes, smiled largely their satisfaction. They knew that there were present reporters from The Blue Ribbon News and The Water World.
Bindle had entered into the spirit of the revelry in a way that attracted to him the attention of many members of the organizing committee.
“An extremely droll fellow, quite a valuable addition to our attendants,” the vicar remarked to the Rev. Andrew McFie, the young Wesleyan-Methodist pastor, as they stood surveying the scene.
“An admirable man, Meester Slocum,” the cautious Scot had replied; “I have no wish to be uncharitable; but I mistrust his nose.”
Entirely unconscious that he was a subject of conversation between the two shepherds of Barton Bridge, Bindle was standing behind a refreshment stall that he had appropriated to himself, surrounded by an amused crowd of revelers.
He was discoursing upon the virtues of lemonade upon a hot day. “Give 'er a drink, sir,” he called to one sheepish-looking rustic, who stood grasping in his the hand of a lumpy, red-faced girl, “Give 'er a drink, sir, do, or she'll faint. 'Er tongue's almost 'angin' out as it is. Be a sport.”
As they took their first sip of the much-praised lemonade, many looked wonderingly at Bindle. There was about it an unaccustomed something that they could not quite analyze or describe. Whatever it was it was pleasant to the taste and it gave them courage. Eyes that had previously been sheepish, became merry, almost bold. The prospect of joy seemed nearer.
The fame of the lemonade soon spread. The fringes about the stalls deepened. The air became bright with shouts and laughter. A spirit of wild revelry was indeed abroad. The cocoanut shy was the center of an uproarious throng. Balls were bought and flung with such wildness that none dared to replace the cocoanuts that had been knocked off, or to fetch what by right was his own property.
Mr. Slocum and Mr. McFie strolled round the grounds sedately benign. They, the representatives of Religion, must of necessity keep aloof from such pleasures, even temperance pleasures; still they were glad to see about them evidences of such simple and wholesome gaiety.
With measured steps they approached a considerable group of young people who were laughing and shouting boisterously. When within about twenty yards of the crowd it suddenly opened out.
“It's a race, sir,” shouted someone, and they smilingly stood aside to see the sport. A moment after their smiles froze upon their faces, and gave place to a look of wonder and of horror. It was indeed a race: but such a race! Coming towards them were five youths, each bearing, pick-a-back fashion, a girl. The contestants, laughing uproariously and bearing their giggling burdens with surprising ease, sped past the reverend gentlemen unmindful of the gasps which their appearance occasioned. Mr. McFie blushed and Mr. Slocum, remembering his companion's youth, gripped him by the arm and hurried him away with a muttered “Dreadful, dreadful.”
No other word was spoken until they reached the refreshment-stall over which Bindle presided. Then the vicar again murmured “Dreadful!”
“Have you any tea?” inquired Mr. McFie, more from a desire to say something than a feeling of thirst.
“No, sir,” responded Bindle, “tea's over there, sir. Try the lemonade sir, it's A1. It'll pull yer together, sir. Do try it, sir,” Bindle added, eagerly. “You look 'ot and tired, sir. It'll do yer good.”
The two pastors looked curiously at Bindle; but each accepted without comment a glass of lemonade. They put it to their lips, tasted it, looked at each other and then drank greedily.
“Another, sir?” inquired Bindle of the vicar when he had finished his glass.
“Er ... no ..." murmured Mr. Slocum; but Bindle had already refilled his glass and was doing a like service for Mr. McFie. When they left the stall it was arm-in-arm, and Mr, McFie directed his steps to the spot where, a few minutes previously, he had received so severe a shock; but the sport was over and the crowd had distributed itself elsewhere.
LADY KNOB-KERRICK drove round to the Fête ground to find the gate open and unattended and a tremendous clamor within. At first she thought that there had been an accident; but in the medley of shouts and screams she clearly distinguished the sound of laughter. She turned aside to Miss Isabel Strint, her companion, whom she always persisted in treating as she would not have dared to treat her maid. Miss Strint elevated her eyebrows and assumed a look that was intended to be purely tentative, capable of being developed into either horror or amusement.
“People say it takes beer to make the lower classes gay,” remarked her ladyship grimly, deciding to be only superior.
“I'm sure they couldn't make more noise if they were intoxicated,” responded Miss Strint, developing the tentative look into one of amused tolerance.
“Strint, you're a fool!” remarked Lady Knob-Kerrick.
Miss Strint subsided into vacancy.
Lady Knob-Kerrick looked around her disapprovingly. She was annoyed that no one should be there to welcome her.
“Strint, see if you can find Mr. Slocum and Mr. McFie, and tell them that I am here.” Then to the footman, “Thomas, you will come with me.”
At that moment Dick Little came towards the small group.
“How d'y do, Lady Kerrick,” he said, smiling easily. “Delighted to be the first to welcome the Lady of the Feast. May I get you some refreshment?”
“You may not,” was the ungracious response. Lady Knob-Kerrick disliked both Little and his well-bred manner. She was accustomed to deference and servility. With another smile and a lifting of his hat, he passed on in the direction of Barton Bridge.
Just as Lady Knob-Kerrick was preparing to descend from her carriage, a girl with a red face darted round the canvas screen that had been erected inside the gate. A moment after a man followed, coatless, hatless and flushed. He caught her, lifted her in his arms and carried her back screaming. Neither had seen the carriage or its occupants. Tool, the coachman, looked as only a well-trained man-servant can look—wooden; but Thomas grinned, and was withered by his mistress's eye.
The man who had pursued and caught the girl was Mr. Marsh, the people's church-warden, a widower with grown-up daughters. With an air of stern determination, Lady Knob-Kerrick descended from her carriage and marched boldly round the screen. Never in the whole of her life had she beheld such a scene as the one presented to her eyes that afternoon. She did not faint, she did not cry out; she grimly stood and watched.
Bindle had relinquished his refreshment-stall to assume the direction of the revels. All seemed to look to him for inspiration. His dingy cricket cap was bobbing about everywhere; his grin of enjoyment was all-embracing. He it was who set the Morris Dancers going and picked them up when they fell. He it was who explained to Miss Slocum, who hitherto had refreshed herself with tea, that their inability to keep an upright position was due to the heat.
“It's the 'eat, miss, 'as a wonderful effect. Look at 'er now.” He indicated to Miss Slocum's horror-stricken gaze the form of Miss McFie, who was sitting on the ground, feet wide apart, hat awry, singing quietly to herself. It was Bindle, too, who fetched for Miss Slocum a glass of lemonade after which she seemed to see more with the others.
The Maypole Dance was in full progress when Lady Knob-Kerrick entered the meadow. Youths and girls, men and women staggered unsteadily round the gaily decorated scaffold-pole, that had been lent by Mr. Ash, the builder. Lady Knob-Kerrick distinguished many of her tenants among the fringe of stumbling humanity, and two of her own domestics. The principal object of the men dancers seemed to be to kiss each girl as they passed her, and that of the girls to appear to try and avoid the caress without actually doing so. The dance ended prematurely, there being none of the dancers any longer capable of preserving an upright position.
A little to the right of the Maypole, Lady Knob-Kerrick beheld the Rev. Andrew McFie, who was endeavoring to give a representation of his native sword-dance to an enthusiastic group of admirers. On his head was a pink sunbonnet, round his waist, to represent a kilt, was tied a girl's jacket. His trousers were tucked up above the knees. On the ground sat a girl producing by the simple process of holding her nose and tapping her throat, strange piercing noises intended to represent the bagpipes.
In another part of the meadow, Mr. Grint, the chapel butcher and an elder of irreproachable respectability, was endeavoring to instruct a number of girls in the intricacies of a quadrille, which, as he informed them, he had once seen danced in Paris. It was this exhibition of shameless abandon that decided Lady Knob-Kerrick upon immediate action.
“Strint,” she called looking about for her companion, “Strint!” But Miss Strint was at that moment the helpless center of a circle of laughing, shouting and shrieking men and women, who were inviting her in song to “turn her back and tell her beau's name.”
“Thomas!” cried the horrified pillar of aristocracy.
“Yes; m' lady,” replied Thomas, his eyes fixed intently upon a group of youths and girls who were performing a species of exalted barn-dance.
“Fetch Saunders and Smith, tell them to fix the fire hose to the hydrant nearest the meadow, and connect as many lengths as are necessary to reach where I am standing. Quick!”
The last word was uttered in a tone that caused Thomas to wrench his eyes away from the dancers with great suddenness.
“Yes, m' lady,” and he reluctantly left the scene of festivity, full of envy and self-pity.
“Dear me, dear me! Whatever does this mean?”
It was Dr. Little who had just bustled around a corner, and almost collided with Lady Knob-Kerrick. He looked about him in astonishment. “Is everybody mad?” he exclaimed.
“Either that or intoxicated, doctor. I'm not a medical man. I've sent for my fire-hose.” There was a note of grim malevolence in Lady Knob-Kerrick's voice.
“Your fire-hose? I—I don't understand.” The doctor removed his panama and mopped his forehead with a large handkerchief.
“You will when it comes,” was her ladyship's reply.
“But surely,” broke out alarmed doctor; “you're not——”
“I am,” interrupted Lady Knob-Kerrick. “I most certainly am. It's my meadow.”
“Dear me. I must inquire into this. Dear me!” The doctor trotted off in the direction of the Maypole. where he encountered the prostrate form of the vicar, who lay under the the shadow of a refreshment-stall, breathing heavily. The doctor shook him.
“Slocum,” he called, “Slocum.”
“Goo' fellow that!” was the mumbled response. “Make him curate. Go 'way.”
“Good Lord!” ejaculated the doctor. “He's drunk. They're all drunk. What a—what a scandal.”
He sat down beside the vicar trying to think. He was stunned. Eventually he was aroused from his torpor of despair by a carelessly flung cocoanut which hit him sharply on the shin. He looked about quickly to admonish the culprit. At that moment he caught sight of the Rev. Andrew McFie arm-in-arm with Mr. Wace, the vicar's church-warden, singing at the top of their voices “Yip-I-Addy-I-Ay.” Mr. McFie's contribution was limited to a vigorous but tuneless drone. He was obviously unacquainted with the melody, but anxious to be convivial. He also threw in a rather unsteady sort of dance.
“Shissssssssssssh!” The two roysterers were on their backs gasping and choking beneath a deluge of water. Lady Knob-Kerrick's hose had arrived, and in the steady hands of Saunders, her head-gardner, seemed likely to bring the Temperance Fête to an immediate conclusion.
“A water-spout!” mumbled Mr. Wace vacuously.
“Water-spout be hanged!” shouted McFie, whose Highland blood was up. “It's that red-headed carlin wi' the hose.”
With a yell of rage he sprang to his feet and dashed at Saunders. Lady Knob-Kerrick screamed, Dr. Little uttered a plaintive “Dear me,” Saunders stood as if petrified, clinging irresolutely to the hose. He was a big man and strong; but the terrifying sight of the Wesleyan minister bearing down upon him with murder in his eyes clearly unnerved him. Releasing his hold of the hose he incontinently bolted. For a moment the force of the water caused the hose to rear its head like a snake preparing to strike, then after a moment's hesitation it gracefully descended, and discharged its stream full in the chest of Dr. Little, who sat down upon the grass with a little sob of surprise.
McFie's yell had attracted to him an ever-enlarging crowd.
“Turned the hose on me,” he explained thickly, “Me, Andrew McFie of Anglingach.” Suddenly catching sight of the retreating form of Lady Knob-Kerrick, he yelled, “It's all her doin', the old hen. Have at her, Scots wha hae wi' Wallace-bled.”
With a whoop he sprang after Lady Knob-Kerrick who, at that moment, was disappearing round the canvas screen seeking her carriage. The crowd followed and some bethought themselves of the hose. Lady Knob-Kerrick was just in the act of getting into her carriage, when the jet of water from the hose took her in the small of the back and literally washed her into her seat as, a moment later it washed her coachman off his. The horses reared and plunged; but McFie and Bindle rushed to their heads. Several men busied themselves with undoing the traces, the frightened animals were freed from the pole, and a cut from the whip, aided by the noise of the crowd was sufficient to send them cantering down the road.
Hitherto Bindle had been by tacit consent the leading spirit; but now the Rev. Andrew McFie assumed the mantle of authority. Ordering the coachman and footman to take their mistress home, he caused the carriage to be drawn into the meadow and placed across the gateway, thus forming a barricade. This done he mounted upon the box and harangued the throng. “Brothers and Sisters in love and charity,” he called them. The hour of freedom had come. They would hold this field against the whole forces of Mammon. They must prepare to resist the hosts of the ungodly, and he exhorted them to collect weapons. Cocoanuts and the balls used at the shy, together with the Aunt Sally sticks were collected and filed up near the gate, and every preparation made to hold the meadow against all comers.
McFie succeeded in working up his hearers into a state of frenzy. They danced and sang like mad creatures, ate and drank all that was left of the provisions and lemonade, made bonfires of the stalls and tables, in short turned Lady Knob-Kerrick's meadow into a very reasonable representation of an inferno.
“There's agoin' to be trouble over this 'ere little arternoon's diversion,” murmured Bindle to himself, as he slipped through a hole in the hedge and made his way very slowly and reluctantly towards Barton Bridge, whither he had already been preceded by a number of the more pacific spirits. “The cops'll be 'ere presently, or I don't know my own mother.”
Bindle was right. Lady Knob-Kerrick had telephoned to Ryford, and the police were already on their way in three motorcars. At Barton ridge they were reinforced by the two local constables and later by the men-servants from the Castle. They arrived at the entrance to the meadow, to find McFie leading an extremely out-of-tune rendering of “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Immediately he saw the approaching forces of Mammon, as he called them, he climbed down from his post of vantage and secured the hose.
The police and the retainers from the Castle approached the carriage to remove it and thus gain entrance to the meadow. Led by the red-faced superintendent from Ryford, they made an imposing array. Allowing them to approach quite close, McFie suddenly gave the signal for the water to be turned on. He had taken the precaution to post men at the hydrant to protect it.
The superintendent's legs flew up into the air as the jet of water caught him beneath the chin. In a few seconds the attacking party had been hosed into a gasping, choking and struggling heap. Cocoanuts, wooden balls, sticks, bits of chairs, glasses and crockery rained upon them. The forces of Mammon gathered themselves together and retired in disorder. Andrew McFie's blood was up. Victory was at hand. In his excitement he commanded that the carriage be removed, so that he might charge the enemy and complete its discomfiture.
His forces, however, had too long been accustomed to regard the police with awe, and most of the men, fearful of being recognized, sneaked through holes in the hedges, and made their way home by circuitous routes. Those who remained, together with a number of women and girls, fought until they were overpowered and captured, and the Barton Bridge Temperance Fête came to an inglorious end.
THAT same evening, having loaded up the van with such of the property and tents as had not been utilized for bonfires and missiles, Bindle took his seat on the tail-board, and the van lumbered off in the direction of London. He chuckled as he reviewed the events of the day. What particularly diverted him was the recollection of the way in which horses and vehicles had been mixed up in the confusion of retreat.
Bindle was grinning comfortably at the thought of the days it would take to sort out the horses and vehicles, when he saw the figure of a man jump out from the hedge. It was Dick Little. He handed a sovereign to Bindle, who eyed it enviously.
“No, sir,” he finally remarked, shaking his head. “I'm a bit of a sport, myself. Lord, wasn't they drunk.” He chuckled quietly. “That young parson chap, too. No, sir. I mixed the stuff wi' their lemonade, and I been paid for it in fun.”
Little had considerable difficulty in pressing the money upon his accomplice.
“Might I arst, sir,” he inquired as Little was about to turn back, “wot it was that made 'em so fidgitty?”
“It was pure alcohol mixed with distilled mead,” was the reply.
“Really. Well, it did the trick. Good night, sir. I'll not blab. Lord won't there be some 'eads wantin' 'oldin' in the mornin'.” He laughed joyously as the van rumbled noisily Londonwards.
This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.