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of Dame Hart's kitchen to ring with their exceeding mirthfulness. Peal followed peal, and shout burst forth after shout, with so little show of dilatoriness, that, ere one was half spent, t'other was in full force. Had any listened to it but ever so small a space, he could scarce help being assured that the wantonest wits and very drollest varlets in all Stratford, ay, and for miles round, had thronged to the threshold of their good gossips, the jolly hatter, and his no less jovial spouse, and were there, with their famous tales and excellent good jests, intent on having the walls about their ears, from the effect of the huge tempest of laughter they must needs be provoking.
Yet had little Tommy Hart and his affectionate little helpmate no such company. In very truth, they had but got about them, as was their wont ever since the two had been made one-which was no great time-one or two neighbours and acquaintances of some standing, who were most of their humour, in a readiness to join in all lawful pleasures, to speak a jest in season that hurt none, and promote whatever of singing, or telling of stories, or other goodly frolic, that promised amusement sufficient for the wants of the hour and the company.
Hugely did folk of more serious sort marvel at the wondrous appetite for, and enjoyment in, matters of drollery of Joan Hart; a laugh seemed as necessary to her as is water to a fish; and, to look into her admirable clear eyes, and into the corners of her pouting lips, you would be ready to take oath on it she had such provocation to mirth at her commandment, nought should reach her, however remote from lightness, but her smiles should break out at it as bright and gladly as though, under its assumed gravity, there was jesting of the very exquisitest kind.
Our Joan was small in stature, it is true, but her heart was of an exceeding bigness, containing, as it seemed, whatever was most pleasant in all humanity, and in such measure, it looked to be in a constant humour of overflowing. But of this sort she had been from her earliest years. Never did Fate look so frowningly but she could make as though the frown was a smile of most covetable import. When she came to have lovers, she laughed famously at them all, which none could take so pleasantly as 'twas meant, save only little Toinmy Hart, an honest chapman of her native town, of a like size, of a like humour, and of a like age as herself, who laughed at her with as true a zest as did she at him. Ere any long space was passed, they laughed at each other-in perfect truthfulness, it may be said, with all their hearts-and, in the end, the daughter of the honest woolstapler, to the vast contentation of the whole neighbourhood, became the wife of the waggish maker of hats.
And now were they keeping the anniversary of that very wedding, in their holiday bravery, with no lack of jollity, as may be expected, the which, if example could bring a sufficiency, there was like to be the prodigalest display of it ever beheld. For there was Joan, with her face as brown as any berry, and as full of laughter as is the sun of fire, and looking nigh upon as warm withal, standing in the midst of a group, sitting round her ; whereof there was no one whose visage indicated not all the mad frolic in the which they were then engaged. There were they, a group of some twenty or so, of divers sorts, conditions, and ages; old and young, fat and spare, servant and master, alike enjoying themselves to the most absolute contentation ever known.
Prominent among these was seen the unwieldy form of Winifred Poppet, in a fair miniver cap, a dainty partlet of white thread, and a stamel red petticoat of a most choice fashion, as intent on the sport as if she took no heed of such braveries.
Nevertheless, this was by no means the case, for a careful observer might have noticed that ever and anon, however busy she seemed with the game that was going on, she turned a sly glance to some part or other of her gay apparel, and twitched a fold here, and smoothed a rumple there, with a look of as infinite contentation as ever brightened up the visage of threescore and ten.
By her side was seen the well-known figure of Jonas Tietape, in excellent favour among the burgesses' wives at Stratford, as a woman's tailor. That it was the cunning in his craft that made him so well liked of his customers, seemed evident enough, of all conscience; for gifts of person or countenance, for the obtaining of a fair woman's approval, had he none at all, seeing that his features were by no means comely, his height so dwarfish, that an ordinary boy, of some twelve or fourteen years, might, with no great difficulty, have glanced over his shoulder, and his head, arms, and feet of a bigness out of all proportion to the length and size of his limbs.
With these defects in him, Jonas was in such huge favour with his customers — ay, and with whoever were of his acquaintance — as was no woman's tailor in the whole county. And how came so marvellous a thing to pass, seeing that women, of all persons, are only to be taken by comeliness ? inquireth of me the courteous reader. Thus was it : He had so comic a manner with him, you could scarce look him in the face but you must needs laugh outright. So many droll antics and grimaces had he, such odd sayings, so great a multitude of quaint, diverting tricks, and such an infinite fund of good humour at his disposal, that you might as well expect a hungry dog to be indifferent to a full platter, as that man, woman, or child, in his neighbourhood, could hear him, or look on him, and carry on any melancholy or ungracious humours.
Yet it must also be recorded, he had gifts of some sort. Of a surety, as hath been said, they were not of person; nevertheless, I doubt not they did him more true service wherever he went, than could he have gained had he been ever so proper a man. There was no game known or heard of betwixt John O'Groat's house and the Land's End, he had not as pat as though he had played it all his days. Hot-cockles, or chuck-farthing, loggets, tick-tack, seize-noddy, barley-break, cross-and-pile, pick-point, shove-groat, and a lot more I cannot stop to name, were as familiar to him as his fingers and thumbs.
There was no sport at which he was not so skilled, it was rare indeed he met with his fellow at any. Cunning at the bow was he, as though he had sought to be held as a rival to Clym o' the Clough, or even to Robin Hood himself; and at quarter-staff none had dared touch him since he had cudgelled Sandie Daredevil, the big drover