Richard and Kate; or, Fair-Day: a Suffolk Ballad


Come, Goody, stop your humdrum wheel,
Sweep up your orts, [1]  and get your Hat;
Old joys reviv’d once more I feel,
’Tis Fair-day;—ay, and more than that.
Have you forgot, Kate, prithee say,5
How many Seasons here we’ve tarry’d?
’Tis Forty years, this very day,
Since you and I, old Girl, were married!
Look out;—the Sun shines warm and bright,
The Stiles are low, the paths all dry;10
I know you cut your corns last night:
Come; be as free from care as I.
For I’m resolv’d once more to see
That place where we so often met;
Though few have had more cares than we,15
We’ve none just now to make us fret.’
Kate scorn’d to damp the generous flame
That warm’d her aged Partner’s breast:
Yet, ere determination came,
She thus some trifling doubts express’d:20
‘Night will come on; when seated snug,
And you’ve perhaps begun some tale,
Can you then leave your dear stone mug;
Leave all the folks, and all the ale?’
‘Ay, Kate, I wool;—because I know,25
Though time has been we both could run,
Such days are gone and over now;—
I only mean to see the fun.’
She straight slipp’d off the Wall, and Band, [2] 
And laid aside her Lucks and Twitches: [3] 30
And to the Hutch [4]  she reach’d her hand,
And gave him out his Sunday Breeches.
His Mattock he behind the door
And Hedging-gloves again replac’d;
And look’d across the yellow Moor,35
And urg’d his tott’ring Spouse to haste.
The day was up, the air serene,
The Firmament without a cloud;
The Bee humm’d o’er the level green,
Where knots of trembling Cowslips bow’d.40
And Richard thus, with heart elate,
As past things rush’d across his mind,
Over his shoulder talk’d to Kate,
Who, snug tuckt up, walk’d slow behind.
‘When once a gigling Mawther [5]  you,45
And I a redfac’d chubby Boy,
Sly tricks you play’d me not a few;
For mischief was your greatest joy.
Once, passing by this very Tree,
A Gotch [6]  of Milk I’d been to fill,50
You shoulder’d me; then laugh’d to see
Me and my Gotch spin down the Hill.’
‘’Tis true,’ she said; ‘But here behold,
And marvel at the course of Time;
Though you and I are both grown old,55
This Tree is only in its prime!’
‘Well, Goody, don’t stand preaching now;
Folks don’t preach Sermons at a Fair:
We’ve rear’d Ten Boys and Girls you know;
And I’ll be bound they’ll all be there.’60
Now friendly nods and smiles had they,
From many a kind Fair-going face:
And many a pinch Kate gave away,
While Richard kept his usual pace.
At length arriv’d amidst the throng,65
Grand-children bawling hem’d them round;
And dragg’d them by the skirts along
Where gingerbread bestrew’d the ground.
And soon the aged couple spy’d
Their lusty Sons, and Daughters dear:—70
When Richard thus exulting cried,
‘Did’nt I tell you they’d be here?’
The cordial greetings of the soul
Were visible in every face:
Affection, void of all controul,75
Govern’d with a resistless grace.
‘Twas good to see the honest strife,
Which should contribute most to please;
And hear the long-recounted life,
Of infant tricks, and happy days.80
But now, as at some nobler places,
Amongst the Leaders ‘twas decreed
Time to begin the Dicky Races; [7] 
More fam’d for laughter than for speed.
Richard look’d on with wond’rous glee,85
And prais’d the Lad who chanc’d to win;
Kate, wa’n’t I such a one as he?
As like him, ay, as pin to pin?
Full Fifty years are pass’d away
Since I rode this same ground about;90
Lord! I was lively as the day!
I won the High-lows [8]  out and out!
I’m surely growing young again:
I feel myself so kedge [9]  and plump.
From head to foot I’ve not one pain;95
Nay, hang me if I cou’dn’t jump.’
Thus spoke the Ale in Richard’s pate,
A very little made him mellow;
But still he lov’d his faithful Kate,
Who whisper’d thus, ‘My good old fellow,100
Remember what you promis’d me
And see, the Sun is getting low;
The Children want an hour ye see
To talk a bit before we go.’
Like youthful Lover most complying105
He turn’d, and chuckt her by the chin:
Then all across the green grass hieing,
Right merry faces, all akin.
Their farewell quart, beneath a tree
That droop’d its branches from above,110
Awak’d the pure felicity
That waits upon Parental Love.
Kate view’d her blooming Daughters round,
And Sons, who shook her wither’d hand:
Her features spoke what joy she found;115
But utterance had made a stand.
The Children toppled on the green,
And bowl’d their fairings down the hill;
Richard with pride beheld the scene,
Nor could he for his life sit still.120
A Father’s uncheck’d feelings gave
A tenderness to all he said;
‘My Boys, how proud am I to have
My name thus round the Country spread!
Through all my days I’ve labour’d hard,125
And could of pains and Crosses tell;
But this is Labour’s great reward,
To meet ye thus, and see ye well.
My good old Partner, when at home,
Sometimes with wishes mingles tears;130
Goody, says I, let what wool come,
We’ve nothing for them but our pray’rs.
May you be all as old as I,
And see your Sons to manhood grow;
And, many a time before you die,135
Be just as pleas’d as I am now.’
Then, (raising still his Mug and Voice,)
‘An Old Man’s weakness don’t despise!
I love you well, my Girls and Boys;
God bless you all;’… so said his eyes——140
For as he spoke, a big round drop
Fell, bounding on his ample sleeve;
A witness which he could not stop,
A witness which all hearts believe.
Thou, Filial Piety, wert there;145
And round the ring, benignly bright,
Dwelt in the luscious half-shed tear,
And in the parting word—Good Night.
With thankful Hearts and strengthen’d Love,
The poor old Pair, supremely blest,150
Saw the Sun sink behind the grove,
And gain’d once more their lowly rest. [10] 


[1] [Leftovers, usually of food, but here probably meaning remnants of wool from Kate’s spinning.] BACK

[2] [all edns add note:] Terms used in spinning. [‘Wall’ is presumably a variant of ‘whorl’, the weight on a spindle which acts as the pulley when it is mounted to a spinning-wheel. The ‘band’ is the driving belt between the wheel and the spindle. ‘Lucks’ are small portions of wool, twisted on the finger of the spinner of the distaff. ‘Twitches’ are pieces of wood wound round the forefinger of the left hand from which yarn is spun. See Eliza Leadbetter, Spinning and Spinning Wheels (Princes Risborough, Aylesbury, 1979), pp. 3–4; Joseph Wright, The English Dialect Dictionary (London, 1898–1905), III, p. 683 and VI, p. 289.] BACK

[3] [all edns add note:] Terms used in spinning. BACK

[4] [all edns add note:] Hutch. A chest. BACK

[5] [girl] BACK

[6] [all edns add note:] A pitcher. BACK

[7] [Donkey races] BACK

[8] [Bootnote: boots that cover the ankles] BACK

[9] [spirited] BACK

[10] [1st edn, 1st state adds note:] I do not wonder that one of the first men of the age for strength and compass of mind, for taste, variety of information, high and amiable qualities, a man generally admir’d, respected, and belov’d, even in times like these, has express’d the most particular satisfaction in this simple, characteristic, and most engaging Tale. C. L. April 1800.] omitted in 1st edn, 2nd state and later edns BACK