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The Butcher's Tournament by E. V. Lucas

 

Marmaduke Mumbles was the son of a worthy butcher in the village town of Scrambles.

He was an only son, and as such, of course, petted by his father and spoiled by his mother.

Mrs. Mumbles had been in early life a lady's-maid, and, while in her waiting upon the Honourable Miss Languish, was employed not so much in millinery as novel reading, which she used to read to her young lady from morning till night, and from night till morning.

The tales which took the fancy of the Honourable Miss Languish, and which were echoed from the mouth and mind of Miss Squeamish were those of 'high romance,' as it is termed. Young, handsome, virtuous, and valiant heroes going through more wonderful adventures than our poor Mosette in her nine lives, and poor Neddy Bray in his, I do not know how many.

Then there must be, to please these novel readers, extraordinary situations, wonderful incidents, perplexing difficulties, overwhelming disasters, strange providences, and miraculous escapes, together with a proper assemblage of old castles, ruined tombs, yawning cloisters, grim vaults, mouldering coffins, unearthly sounds, awful visitations, spiritual appearances; ghosts in white sheets, with bleeding bosoms: hobgoblins with saucer eyes, fierce claws, and long tails; and catastrophes so tremendous as to set the hair on end, and convulse the whole frame with the delight of tenor, and the tenor of delight.

Such was the food of Miss Squeamish, afterwards Mrs. Mumbles, in her early days.

And she used to read and read and read till she looked upon the world in which she had to get her living as no world of hers, but a sort of common sphere made on purpose for tradespeople, washer-women, and cart-driving. She revelled in a world of the romances, where everything was made as it ought to be, where the virtuous were always rewarded and the wicked always punished, where high and noble sentiments met with the reception they deserved, and disinterestedness was duly appreciated, where passion and impulse, unmixed with the care of consequences, were held as the glory of both sexes, and everything that was fair and bright and beautiful, and free and elegant and good, shone triumphantly to the glory of the heroes and heroines who figured always so splendidly in these romantic pages.

But at last all these bright visions were to end. Miss Languish died of a consumption brought on from lying in bed night and morning to read novels. And Miss Squeamish, afterwards Mrs. Mumbles, was forced to turn out into the world to seek her living—into that very world which was so odious to her. But there was no resource, and so the lady who had been identified with so many heroines was obliged to set up as a milliner and dressmaker in the little town of Scrambles.

But the poor young woman soon found out that things were carried on in this world in a manner radically different from that in which the romances pictured. She soon found out that mutton was eightpence halfpenny a pound, and that if she did not look well after her butcher she would find her pound and a half of mutton chops weighing not quite a pound and a quarter; that bread was ten-pence a loaf, and that the baker was no more romantic than the butcher, and would, unless he was checked every day, find means to put down a 'dead one'; and that the milkman's chalk had got a notch in it, and would make two strokes instead of one. In short, that there was at the bottom of this best of all possible worlds a vast amount of sheer roguery.

The consequence of Miss Squeamish's want of a knowledge of all this was that she soon found out the impossibility of being able to make things come together—'to make ends meet'—as the saying is.

She floundered about in her business for a year or two, but grew poorer and poorer, got in debt largely with her grocer, baker, and butcher, and at last was obliged to stop for want of funds.

But it is an old proverb that 'when one door shuts another opens,' and this was the only part of Miss Squeamish's philosophy which had ever come true. No sooner was her shop shut up than the bills came in, and with Mrs. Shambles' bill the copy of a writ, so that Miss Squeamish was on the high road to a prison. But fortune sometimes favours those who will not favour themselves, and it somehow or other happened that Miss Squeamish pleaded so eloquently for herself and her destitute situation with Mr. Mumbles, the very fat butcher and her principal creditor, that he agreed to cancel his debt and pay the others on condition that Miss Squeamish would become Mrs. Mumbles.

And Mrs. Mumbles she did become. For Mr. Mumbles was very rich, and although in person he was not very imposing he made up in quantity for what he wanted in quality, and the prospect of plenty of meat and a good name to one destitute of either had such an effect on Miss Squeamish as to put to flight all her visionary ideas of perfection—love in a cottage and platonic affection—and she settled down, in appearance at least, as a very spruce butcher's wife, and took to caps, aprons, and blue ribands.

Mr. Mumbles was a thrifty man, and had been so all his life. He was about fifty years of age, and not disposed to alter his habits, but he required Mrs. Mumbles to alter hers. He proceeded, therefore, to give his worthy spouse some initiatory instructions in the art of jointing a scrag of mutton, cutting out a pluck, or chinning a whole sheep upon an occasion. This was very different from novel reading. She had, indeed, read of knights cleaving their adversaries from the 'chaps to the chine,' and of 'sticking to the heart,' and sometimes fancied, as she made a blow upon some unfortunate leg of mutton, which required shanking, that this would she do to the Knight of the Black Visage, or the cruel Tyrant of the Bloody Tower, or the Renegades of the Cross, or any other anti-hero, so that it might be said romance was scotched in her, not killed, as we shall hear in the sequel.

After Miss Squeamish became Mrs. Mumbles she determined to endeavour to 'civilize' her husband, as she called it. It did not follow because he was a butcher that he was to have butchering ideas for ever, or that he was to know nothing of 'literature,' as she termed it—that is, novels. Mr. Mumbles had read 'Puss in Boots,' 'Jack the Giant Killer,' 'Tom Thumb,' 'Jack and the Bean Stalk,' 'Whittington and his Cat,' and 'Mother Goose' in his childhood. In his boyhood he had gone through 'Robinson Crusoe,' 'The Pilgrim's Progress,' and 'The Seven Champions of Christendom,' and therefore knew there was something in the world besides scrags of mutton.

Having made these discoveries Mrs. Mumbles was determined to put her husband under regular training, to win him, by degrees, from his boorish estate to that of poetry and refinement. She looked at his unwieldy bulk—it was not exactly the size for a hero, but then she thought of bluff Harry the Eighth, who was both stout and romantic, and the Field of the Cloth of Gold, and so as Mr. Mumbles became romantic she made up her mind to put up with his stoutness.

Mr. Mumbles had no other relaxation on a summer's evening than a game of bowls, but as his fat increased so did his difficulty of playing this noble game. He used to think that once down it would require something more than the levers of his legs to lift him up again. So just as Mr. Mumbles had made up his mind within himself to leave off bowls did Mrs. Mumbles think of making him a hero outright. But she went cautiously about her work. She knew that to change the man she must first change the mind, and therefore she commenced her operations upon the mental part of Mr. Mumbles.

Her first thought was as to the kind of hero she was to train him into. She would not like him to be a 'Jack Sheppard,' for fear he might break into some lady's heart with a crowbar of his impudence. Nor would she like him to be a 'Eugene Aram,' for fear he should make a mistake and hang her some night instead of himself. He seemed fitter for a 'Jack Falstaff' than anything else. But Falstaff was too witty for a hero, and she thought, perhaps, that if he laughed any more he would be only so much the fatter.

She therefore put into his hands the most sentimental exotics of the publishing firms. There was the 'Elegant Maniac; or, the Snuff-coloured Rose and the Field of Silver,' a beautiful romance. Then there was the 'Sentimental Footpad; or, Honour among Thieves.' And 'Syngenesia,' the last of the melancholies; with the 'Knight of the Snorting Palfrey; or, the Silken Fetlock.' These works she read to Mr. Mumbles on evenings instead of suffering him to repair to his bowls, and after a short time had the satisfaction to find him a ready and an eager listener. She read and read and read, and he became more and more interested, till at last he could scarcely find time to serve a customer if one happened to come in when the hero was in some 'interesting situation.'

And so Mr. Mumbles began to find his business decline, for at last he would have his novel in his hand on a Saturday night, and would ask his customers concerning this or that book, which he happened to have been reading during the week. He would forget to joint the loins of mutton, to pickle the stale beef, to send out his orders; in short, his customers were treated with such neglect that his trade, long vacillating between going on and going off, suddenly stopped.

Nor did Mr. Mumbles care a whit for it, as he was rich when his father died, had grown richer since, and was worth at least ten thousand pounds in houses, lands, and money. He would soon have given up his business had it not given up him, and therefore when somebody told him it was time to 'shut up shop,' he said: 'Yes, and I intend to do it.'

Suiting the action to the word he forthwith began to retire. All the beasts and beastesses were sold off with the goodwill of the shop, the blocks, cleavers, hooks, and jemmies. And Mr. Mumbles planned out a house in a secluded spot about a mile from the town. It was to be called Mumbles Castle, and was to be built in the old English or baronial style, with turrets, low doors, battlements, arch windows, and gothic mouldings. The grand hall was twenty feet by fifteen, the armoury half the size, the refectory fourteen by fourteen. A long passage leading to the adjacent pigsties was called the corridor, and the bedchambers, four in number, were dignified with the names of the griffin room, the martlet, the rampant lion, and the wild boar, such being a part of the newly-formed armorial bearing of the Mumbles.

The adjacent grounds were also laid out in a style corresponding with the castle. There was, among other arrangements for the comfort and delight of visitors, a tournament court, an archery ground, and a hawking mound. Certainly they were not of very extraordinary dimensions, but they were rather beyond the general scale of the other parts of the building. Mrs. Mumbles had in contemplation to give a grand fête of some kind or other. Mumbles talked of the house-warming, but that was vulgar. But at last, to ease all difficulties on this score, Master Marmaduke Tristram St. George Mumbles was born.

When it was ascertained that provision for a baby was necessary Mr. Mumbles determined that everything should be conducted according to the established laws of chivalry. But having searched in vain among romances to find how such matters were managed, he gave up the matter in despair. He found that all romances having come to a marriage suddenly stopped. This was very perplexing, but there was no help for it, and as Master Marmaduke was in a hurry to come into the world he was born before his father and mother could arrange the solemn order of the proceedings.

But both Mr. and Mrs. Mumbles were determined that the christening should be conducted upon a scale of all conceivable splendour. There was no precedent for it, but then there was less likelihood of any mistake or more room for the fancy. But a gothic christening it was to be—a gothic christening it should be—a gothic christening it must be.

And what would redound to the glory of so mighty an event? This was the consideration, this was the feat to be achieved. Mr. and Mrs. Mumbles had many a discourse upon the subject at breakfast, dinner, and supper, at morning, noon, and night, but still the happy idea was too good to strike them suddenly.

At last Mrs. Mumbles had a dream. She dreamed of a tournament, and of all the glory of such an event. Polished helms, furbished arms, clang of trumpets, waving of banners and plumes, clouds of dust, clash of swords, unhorsing of knights, and outcry of heralds. When she awoke, she said emphatically to Mr. Mumbles, as he was beginning to take his morning yawn: 'I've hit it'; and gave him a sharp stroke on his wigless pate.

'I think you have,' said Mr. Mumbles, 'and I would thank you not to hit quite so hard. But what do you mean, my dear Celestia?'

'Mean,' replied the delighted spouse—'mean that I have hit upon a plan for doing honour to the birth of our son and heir, of the propagator of the glory of our house, and of the renowned name of Mumbles.'

'Have you, by gowls?' said Mr. Mumbles. 'What is it?'

'A tournament,' said she, 'a tournament, that glory of the chivalric ages; will it not be gloriously delightful to see once more “the light of other days” upon us? To see those battlements decked with the banners of the house of Mumbles, to hear the clarion ring, to listen to the strains of martial music, to see the lounge and thrust and anvil blow, knights unhorsed, armour riven, helms cloven.'

'It would be a good go,' said Mr. Mumbles.

'A good go; it would be a go and three-quarters—at least, according to your own phraseology. I think myself truly happy at having been blessed with such a revelation, and pray that I may be strengthened to perform my part of the ceremony.'

'And what may that be?' said Mr. Mumbles.

'Why of course I must be the queen of beauty, and you must be my king consort. The knights, having arranged themselves, must, first of all, pay their respects to me, and then the victor must kneel before me, and receive from my hands the richly-embroidered scarf and the crowning garland.'

'Well, it will be a grand day—an epoch in my existence—a sort of hera. I think they call it a hera. And if we could get the band of the Scrambles Volunteer Company it would be excellent; if not, I think I know some music that would suit.'

'What is that?' inquired Mrs. Mumbles.

'The marrow-bones and cleavers; they are very pretty music, and I should like them, band or no band.'

'The marrow-bones and cleavers,' said Mrs. Mumbles in astonishment.

'Yes,' said Mr. Mumbles, 'it was my glory when I was a boy, and we used to have them all rung at christenings and weddings. I have heard say that at my christening and at my mother's marriage they rang a treble bob-major.'

'And pray, what is a bob-major?' inquired Mrs. Mumbles. 'I have heard of a serjeant-major and a drum-major, but never heard of a bob-major.'

'A bob-major,' rejoined the elated butcher, 'is a long tune, that puzzles you to know when you will get to the end of it, and so you stand and wait and wait, till at last, all of a sudden, it stops.'

'And how does it go, my dear? Is it a pretty tune?'

'I should think it was a pretty tune—like the church bells, only more cutting, as it might be expected, from its coming from cleavers. It has made me cry like a child, Mrs. Mumbles.'

'I hope it won't make baby cry.'

'I hope not; but, cry or no cry, we must have it, and any other music you like.'

This point being settled the ardent pair began to prepare, with the greatest alacrity, for the forthcoming fête.

Mrs. Mumbles declared that no expense should be spared to make the proceedings go off with éclat, and Mr. Mumbles began to fidget himself concerning the tournament laws, rules, and regulations.

The principal difficulty was, however, in inducing others to take a part in this strange whim. Had it been bull-baiting or badger-drawing or cock-throwing or horse and donkey racing, hundreds would have been found ready to engage in the sport. But for a tournament! Most people did not even know the name of it, and Mr. Mumbles' description was in no way calculated to elucidate its mysteries, so that few seemed to care about lending themselves to the fête.

There was, however, in the town of Scrambles a sharp dapper lawyer's clerk, who saw at once into the affair and what a frolic it might be made. He therefore wrote a civil note to Mr. Mumbles, in which he expressed his delight at the forthcoming novelty, and offered himself as a candidate for the white silken scarf which was to be the reward of the victor in the field.

The letter being couched in chivalric language, and ornamented with armorial bearings, delighted Mr. and Mrs. Mumbles above all things. They now felt a prospect of the realization of their fondest hopes, and began to prepare accordingly. The lawyer's clerk, whose name was Quiddity, also set about publishing the whole of the matter abroad. He soon succeeded in inducing a number of young men and maidens to favour the joke, and to lend themselves to it. He explained the insane folly of this worthy pair with such irresistible drollery that everyone was eager to be one of the favoured company.

On the next interview Mr. Mumbles, delighted with the report of Quiddity, addressed him with truly dignified solemnity.

'Sir Knight,' said he, 'thou hast done thy spirit gently. Thy wondrous works have found favour in mine eyes; be thou our warden from this time, and for evermore.'

'With leave to thrust or lance,' said Quiddity; 'for I would not forego a rencontre for the lord-wardenship of the cinque ports.'

'Sink me if you shall not tilt with me rather than that you should not display your prowess. On the morning of that auspicious day will I dissolve thee from the wardenship, and give thee freedom to thy knighthood. I will, with my own hands, buckle on thy armour, with my right hand place a spear in thy grasp, and with my left salute thee.'

'And for me,' said Mrs. Mumbles, 'I will choose thee for my own dear knight, and thou shalt fight under my banner, and be victorious; and then, when thou resist from the field of glory, will I embrace thee, and thou shalt be the envy of all beholders.'

'We'll stow that,' said Mr. Mumbles, who did not appear to like the embracing part of the ceremony. 'But let us now form a committee of ways and means—that is to say, let us concoct the thing in a regular manner.'

And so the three concoctors sat down to arrange the order of the proceedings.

'And, first and foremost,' said Mr. Mumbles, 'we must have seats raised round the tilting coast, and a platform built at one end. Then at the other end must be a barrier for the knights to come in at; and then we must have a long pole straight across the ground, to prevent the horses falling foul of each other; and then we must have flags at different stations, charged with the armorial bearings of the knights, with their crests on the top of them.'

'And then,' said Mrs. Mumbles, taking up the same strain, 'we must begin to think of dresses. For my part, I shall wear a white satin robe, trimmed with silver lilies, and a scarf of azure blue, richly embroidered with gold. Seven ostrich plumes shall wave from my brow; a lion's skin shall be spread for my feet; all my jewels shall be displayed to the best advantage; and I think I shall, upon the whole, be pretty considerably imposing. As to Mr. Mumbles, I intend to have him dressed in a manner which shall be unique, imposing, and captivating.'

'We will first draw out a programme of the proceedings,' said Quiddity, 'and then we can select the various personages who are to be honoured with having a part in the ceremony.'

'Good,' said Mr. Mumbles.

'And I shall head it the “Mumblonian Tournament,” and publish a challenge to all the world to deny the peerless beauty of Mrs. Mumbles.'

'But won't that be coming it rather strong? I should like you to draw it pretty mild,' ejaculated Mr. Mumbles.

'Not a bit too strong,' said Mrs. Mumbles, with a toss of her head. 'Go on, pray, Mr. Quiddity.'

So Mr. Quiddity went on:

'And then, of course, we should find persons sending in their defiance, and extolling other dames, and therefore we should have all our knights, squires, horses, armour, and so on.'

'But must we not publish regulations afterwards?' observed Mumbles.

'Of course we must. That is to say, every knight who professes his readiness to break a lance must provide himself with horse, weapons, and esquire, and send in his certificate of noble blood and knightly bearing.'

'But where shall we place the proclamation?'

'On the doors of the church, certainly; upon the “cage”; upon the “pound”; and other public institutions of our country.'

'Good,' said Mr. Mumbles; 'I like to honour the institutions of my country, and therefore I would not have forgotten the parish pump.'

'Certainly not, my dear sir. Well, then, we must apply to the schoolmaster to let us have, on hire, the boys and girls of the national schools to walk in order before the procession, with silver wands in their hands and blue ribands in their hats, while the girls should be dressed all in white like nymphs, and strew flowers.'

'Capital,' said Mr. Mumbles; 'and then we can give them a tuck-out with rolls and treacle; won't the boys like it—ay, and the girls too! Lawks! how I did laugh once to see girls eat rolls and treacle! They beat the boys out and out at that fun. They dabbed the treacle into each other's eyes, and roped it over each other's shoulders, and swung it into each other's faces, like good 'uns. There is nothing like girls for a spree; when they do begin, they beat the boys hollow.'

'Well, then,' continued Quiddity, 'I thought of hiring for a day the old workhouse women, to act as matrons or sibyls, as the case may be. They will be a pretty contrast to the “gals.” And, that they may not cry out, we will treat them all to a pound of snuff apiece, and a new dress.'

'And a red brocade petticoat each, and a Margaret of Anjou cap or hat.'

'What, one of those with a long poke behind like a rolling-pin, and a veil at the end of it?' said Mr. Mumbles.

'Just so, my dear,' replied the lady; 'and they must have one stocking red and the other blue.'

'Ay, ay,' rejoined Mumbles, with an arch look, 'I know the reason of that; you fancy but for this expedient that in the crowd the old ladies would not otherwise know one leg from the other.'

'You are quite wrong, my dear; but we must follow the ancient costume, you know, or else we shall be laughed at.'

'What shall be next?' said Mr. Quiddity.

'Ay, what next, my dear?' said Mrs. Mumbles, who seemed herself to be got to her wits' end.

'Why, I was thinking, love, that after the old women we should have a bullock, dressed with blue ribands, and garnished with flowers, roasted whole.'

'Yes, upon the green, after the sports,' said Mrs. Mumbles; 'and, as I should like the whole of the ceremony to conclude with a bonfire and a discharge of fireworks, the fire that is to roast the bullock can be kept up, which will be killing two birds with one stone, you know.'

And thus the preliminaries for the grand entertainment were settled by the three who were to be chief actors in it. Quiddity, in the very frolicsomeness of his heart, now canvassed the town, and, with little difficulty, succeeded in bringing a number of persons into the plot or joke; and banners were prepared, armour was provided, and arms of every description brought into requisition.

At last the important day arrived. It was ushered in by a discharge of firearms from the back of the butcher's premises. A squadron of horsemen next paraded the town on horses, ponies, and donkeys, with the marrow-bones and cleavers, and rung most dolorous music. Mr. Mumbles arose from his bed at earliest dawn, and, having breakfasted, set to enrobing himself as a grand grandee of the first order. His dress was of the time of Louis XIV. of France, frilled and furbelowed; and, when fully arranged, Mr. Mumbles looked like a real Prince, and Mrs. Mumbles held up her hands in astonishment and delight.

The back premises of Mr. Mumbles had been already prepared; a rude scaffolding, with seats, skirted three sides of a quadrangle, to which admission was to be obtained for the small charge of one penny, the whole of the proceeds to go to the Institution for the Cure of Rheumatism. The people mustered in large numbers, and, although the tournament joust did not boast of many lords and ladies, or persons of high ancestral lineage, yet everyone was, according to Adamic heraldry, a perfect gentleman or lady in their own right; for they all bore arms, with the exception of Jack Sprat, the bellman, who could only muster one, with which he rang his bell.

In the centre of the platform, at the upper end, was a raised seat, and a canopy over it. The seat was covered with yellow baize, and the canopy was formed of the hangings of Mr. Mumbles' best spare bed. It was red, bordered with yellow, which hung in fanciful festoons, and a richly-carved bed-foot on each gave the whole a very imposing appearance. On this raised seat, which was made to hold two, were placed two armchairs, richly gilt, and around these were other chairs for persons of distinction, who now began to arrive in pretty considerable numbers. First, there was the Grand Master of the Odd Fellows, with a numerous retinue, with their emblematical tools, flags, banners, and devices. He entered the arena amid the clang of trumpets and the roll of drums, and proceeded to the place assigned him. Then came the President of the Anti-Lie-a-Bed Society, with a whole troop of boys and girls who had been cured of this great sin by drinking half a pint of yeast overnight, which made them rise early in the morning. They were received by 'artificial cock-crowing' by the gallant showman, who had a place assigned him as underwarden. Then came a batch of young damsels, all in white, being chimney-sweepers' daughters; and after them a flourish of trumpets—that is, cow-horns—a squadron of costermongers' donkey-lads mounted, with their pocket-handkerchiefs floating from the vulnerable point of 'bean-sticks.'

Next came the redoubtable Mr. Mumbles himself, leading Mrs. Mumbles by the hand, preceded by the young lawyer Quiddity. He ascended the throne provided for him with extraordinary dignity, and, having made a bow to the company by putting his hand to one of his curls, as if to pull his head down, and giving a scrape with his foot behind, the whole assembly burst out with a simultaneous cheer—'Mumbles for ever! Mumbles for ever!'

Soon after Mr. Mumbles had seated himself the clang of trumpets was heard, and Quiddity appeared on a splendid pony, richly caparisoned, with a hearthrug under his saddle as a saddle-cloth, having in one hand his baton of office, and in the other a banner. After making his obeisance to the king and queen of the tournament, Mrs. and Mr. Mumbles, he took his place in the centre. Immediately the horns were blown, the mob shouted, and Quiddity read the following proclamation:

    'To all whom it may concern, and to our beloved Neighbours, greeting,

'With a view to do away with and put down the cowardly, dastardly, and ungenteel sports of bull-baiting, badger-baiting, fox-hunting, pigeon-shooting, and other wicked and cruel amusements, we, John Mumbles and Co., King of Chivalry, Grand Master of this Tournament, invite all persons, gentlemen born, to engage in, and others to witness, trials of skill, might, prowess, and magnanimity by means of tilt, combat, or archery, and all those knights who have been enrolled as true knights, worthy to try their prowess in the tilts, are hereby invited to do so without fee or reward, fear or distinction.

    'GOD SAVE THE QUEEN.'

'Hurrah! hurrah!' said everybody, and then arose the flapping of white pocket-handkerchiefs, the waving of flags, the sounding of horns, and the beating of drums. The arena was cleared by Sam Swipes with a long cart-whip, and opposite to each other, by separate entrances, appeared the first two knights who were to engage—(1) The Knight of the Boiling Fish-kettle, (2) The Knight of the Red-hot Copper. The Knight of the Boiling Fish-kettle was armed with a splendid helmet of polished metal, something resembling a double block-tin dish-cover, No. 3 on the bottom; at the top was inverted a red-boiled lobster for a crest, over which hung in graceful curves three black cats' tails duly charged with electricity. A large pewter-dish formed the breast-plate of this knight, while his arms and thighs were plated with bands of tin, which had an exceedingly martial appearance. The shield of the knight was the lid of the fish-kettle, a broad oblong defence, upon which was painted the device of a leg of pork, with the motto 'Porkus est miceabus.' The lance-pole of this knight was a clothes-prop, at the end of which a pepper-box was duly fixed instead of a lance.

The Knight of the Copper was also mounted on a steed; it was of a reddish-brown, and for his saddle-cloth he had chosen a rich damask table-cover, which nearly covered the whole body of the animal. He had on his head a copper cake-mould in the shape of a porcupine. His breast-plate was a richly-figured japanned waiter. His armour consisted of muffin-tins fixed over his arms and legs, his crest was a 'scalded cat,' and his shield a copper-lid of wood. The copper-lid was painted green, and it had for its device a calve's head, with a lemon in its mouth, with the motto, 'Calve's head is best hot.'

The knights being set in due array and in proper position, at the sound of the herald's trumpets spurred their nags, and went towards each other with the velocity of lightning. At the first assault the pepper-box was dashed to pieces against the copper-lid, and the fractured fragments clattered about the combatants. The next charge upset the Knight of the Boiling Fish-kettle and his Rosinante at the same time, and both lay wallowing on the ground. Mr. Mumbles on this rose from his seat, and the Knight of the Red-hot Copper made his appearance on the throne or platform, where, kneeling down, he received at the hands of Mrs. Mumbles a beautiful white silken scarf, while the assembly shouted, the drums beat, and the trumpets sounded.

[Illustration: Knights in armour tumbled over their own steeds, donkeys ran snorting about, ladies shrieked.—Page 295.]

How long this foolery would have gone on I know not, but just as the ceremony was being performed of investing the conqueror knight with the silken scarf a loud cracking was heard under the platform. Mr. Mumbles looked red, Mrs. Mumbles looked pale, the company stood aghast, the music ceased, the uproar was quelled, and the applause subsided. Crack, snap, bang! What was the matter? The fireworks placed underneath the scaffolding, and which were to have concluded the evening's entertainments, had by some means or other ignited. Presently a rocket with a loud roar made a sweep in a slanting direction through the canvas at the top of the canopy, to the consternation of all. Before the alarm subsided, and before anyone could make his or her escape by flight, another and another rocket rushed from beneath the scaffolding with prodigious roar and flame. The alarm became general; Mrs. Mumbles fainted; Mr. Mumbles roared out 'Fire, fire!' as loud as he was able. But now the indiscriminate ignition of rockets, crackers, squibs, Catherines, fiery fountains, flaming cascades, sparkling arbours, and gunpowder and nitre pillars, and suns, stars, and comets enveloped the whole throne and its appurtenances in a blaze of fiery splendour. Rockets shot out on every side, fiery squibs ran along the ground, Catherine wheels danced on every shoulder, and crackers banged at every heel. Such a scene of confusion followed as is seldom witnessed. Knights in armour tumbled over their own steeds, donkeys ran snorting about, ladies shrieked, and fell over gentlemen, and gentlemen tumbled over ladies in pell-mell havoc and confusion, amid smoke and steam and hissing and cracking and banging and roaring.

It was with the greatest difficulty that Mr. and Mrs. Mumbles were extricated from the danger that threatened them—namely, being burnt alive. But Mrs. Mumbles was carried home in a wheelbarrow in a state of insensibility, while Mr. Mumbles had the same attention bestowed upon him through the intervention of a well-disposed hurdle and four of the marrow-bone and cleaver musicians.

Such was the untoward end of the Mumblonian tournament, an event not to be easily forgotten in the locality in which it took place. It was subsequently found out, as it ought to have been discovered before, that both Mr. and Mrs. Mumbles had driven themselves mad by novel and romance reading, and they were both obliged to be sent to a madhouse for some time before they could be cured of their egregious folly. But as they were cured, it may be said that the circumstances which I have related were 'all for the best.'

 
 
 

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