Adam Bede HTML version

24.The Health-Drinking
WHEN the dinner was over, and the first draughts from the great cask of birthday
ale were brought up, room was made for the broad Mr. Poyser at the side of the
table, and two chairs were placed at the head. It had been settled very definitely
what Mr. Poyser was to do when the young squire should appear, and for the last
five minutes he had been in a state of abstraction, with his eyes fixed on the dark
picture opposite, and his hands busy with the loose cash and other articles in his
breeches pockets.
When the young squire entered, with Mr. Irwine by his side, every one stood up,
and this moment of homage was very agreeable to Arthur. He liked to feel his
own importance, and besides that, he cared a great deal for the good-will of
these people: he was fond of thinking that they had a hearty, special regard for
him. The pleasure he felt was in his face as he said, "My grandfather and I hope
all our friends here have enjoyed their dinner, and find my birthday ale good. Mr.
Irwine and I are come to taste it with you, and I am sure we shall all like anything
the better that the rector shares with us."
All eyes were now turned on Mr. Poyser, who, with his hands still busy in his
pockets, began with the deliberateness of a slow- striking clock. "Captain, my
neighbours have put it upo' me to speak for 'em to-day, for where folks think
pretty much alike, one spokesman's as good as a score. And though we've
mayhappen got contrairy ways o' thinking about a many things--one man lays
down his land one way an' another another--an' I'll not take it upon me to speak
to no man's farming, but my own--this I'll say, as we're all o' one mind about our
young squire. We've pretty nigh all on us known you when you war a little un, an'
we've niver known anything on you but what was good an' honorable. You speak
fair an' y' act fair, an' we're joyful when we look forrard to your being our landlord,
for we b'lieve you mean to do right by everybody, an' 'ull make no man's bread
bitter to him if you can help it. That's what I mean, an' that's what we all mean;
and when a man's said what he means, he'd better stop, for th' ale 'ull be none
the better for stannin'. An' I'll not say how we like th' ale yet, for we couldna well
taste it till we'd drunk your health in it; but the dinner was good, an' if there's
anybody hasna enjoyed it, it must be the fault of his own inside. An' as for the
rector's company, it's well known as that's welcome t' all the parish wherever he
may be; an' I hope, an' we all hope, as he'll live to see us old folks, an' our
children grown to men an' women an' Your Honour a family man. I've no more to
say as concerns the present time, an' so we'll drink our young squire's health--
three times three."
Hereupon a glorious shouting, a rapping, a jingling, a clattering, and a shouting,
with plentiful da capo, pleasanter than a strain of sublimest music in the ears that
receive such a tribute for the first time. Arthur had felt a twinge of conscience