The old woman stared, and strove to hear him; meanwhile Randal turned round abruptly, and sauntered towards the garden side of the handsome old house.
There was enough to attract any eye in the smooth greensward of the spacious lawn, in the numerous parterres of variegated flowers, in the venerable grandeur of the two mighty cedars, which threw their still shadows over the grass, and in the picturesque building, with its projecting mullions and heavy gables; yet I fear that it was with no poet's nor painter's eye that this young old man gazed on the scene before him.
He beheld the evidence of wealth—and the envy of wealth jaundiced his soul.
Folding his arms on his breast, he stood a while, looking all around him, with closed lips and lowering brow; then he walked slowly on, his eyes fixed on the ground, and muttered to himself,—
"The heir to this property is little better than a dunce; and they tell me I have talents and learning, and I have taken to my heart the maxim, 'Knowledge is power.' And yet, with all my struggles, will knowledge ever place me on the same level as that on which this dunce is born? I don't wonder that the poor should hate the rich. But of all the poor, who should hate the rich like the pauper gentleman? I suppose Audley Egerton means me to come into parliament, and be a Tory like himself? What! keep things as they are! No; for me not even Democracy, unless there first come Revolution. I understand the cry of a Marat,—'More blood!' Marat had lived as a poor man, and cultivated science—in the sight of a prince's palace."
He turned sharply round, and glared vindictively on the poor old Hall, which, though a very comfortable habitation, was certainly no palace; and, with his arms still folded on his breast, he walked backward, as if not to lose the view, nor the chain of ideas it conjured up.
"But," he continued to soliloquize,—"but of revolution there is no chance. Yet the same wit and will that would thrive in revolutions should thrive in this commonplace life. Knowledge is power. Well, then, shall I have no power to oust this blockhead? Oust him—what from? His father's halls? Well, but if he were dead, who would be the heir of Hazeldean? Have I not heard my mother say that I am as near in blood to this squire as any one, if he had no children? Oh, but the boy's life is worth ten of mine! Oust him from what? At least from the thoughts of his Uncle Egerton,—an uncle who has never even seen him! That, at least, is more feasible. 'Make my way in life,' sayest thou, Audley Egerton? Ay,—and to the fortune thou hast robbed from my ancestors. Simulation! simulation! Lord Bacon allows simulation. Lord Bacon practised it, and—"
Here the soliloquy came to a sudden end; for as, rapt in his thoughts, the boy had continued to walk backwards, he had come to the verge where the lawn slided off into the ditch of the ha-ha; and just as he was fortifying himself by the precept and practice of my Lord Bacon, the ground went from under him, and—slap into the ditch went Randal Leslie!
It so happened that the squire, whose active genius was always at some repair or improvement, had been but a few days before widening and sloping off the ditch just in that part, so that the earth was fresh and damp, and not yet either turfed or flattened down. Thus when Randal, recovering his first surprise and shock, rose to his feet, he found his clothes covered with mud; while the rudeness of the fall was evinced by the fantastic and extraordinary appearance of his hat, which, hollowed here, bulging there, and crushed out of all recognition generally, was as little like the hat of a decorous, hard-reading young gentleman—protege of the dignified Mr. Audley Egerton—as any hat picked out of a kennel after some drunken brawl possibly could be.
Randal was dizzy and stunned and bruised, and it was some moments before he took heed of his raiment. When he did so his spleen was greatly aggravated. He was still boy enough not to like the idea of presenting himself to the unknown squire and the dandy Frank in such a trim: he resolved incontinently to regain the lane and return home, without accomplishing the object of his journey; and seeing the footpath right before him, which led to a gate that he conceived would admit him into the highway sooner than the path by which he had come, he took it at once.
It is surprising how little we human creatures heed the warnings of our good genius. I have no doubt that some benignant power had precipitated Randal Leslie into the ditch, as a significant hint of the fate of all who choose what is, nowadays; by no means an uncommon step in the march of intellect,—namely, the walking backwards, in order to gratify a vindictive view of one's neighbour's property! I suspect that, before this century is out, many a fine fellow will thus have found his ha-ha, and scrambled out of the ditch with a much shabbier coat than he had on when he fell into it. But Randal did not thank his good genius for giving him a premonitory tumble,—and I never yet knew a man who did!
The squire was greatly ruffled at breakfast that morning. He was too much of an Englishman to bear insult patiently, and he considered that he had been personally insulted in the outrage offered to his recent donation to the parish. His feelings, too, were hurt as well as his pride. There was something so ungrateful in the whole thing, just after he had taken so much pains, not only in the resuscitation but the embellishment of the stocks. It was not, however, so rare an occurrence for the squire to be ruffled as to create any remark. Riccabocca, indeed, as a stranger, and Mrs. Hazeldean, as a wife, had the quick tact to perceive that the host was glum and the husband snappish; but the one was too discreet, and the other too sensible, to chafe the new sore, whatever it might be, and shortly after breakfast the squire retired into his study, and absented himself from morning service. In his delightful "Life of Oliver Goldsmith," Mr. Forster takes care to touch our hearts by introducing his hero's excuse for not entering the priesthood. "He did not feel himself good enough." Thy Vicar of Wakefield, poor Goldsmith, was an excellent substitute for thee; and Dr. Primrose, at least, will be good enough for the world until Miss Jemima's fears are realized. Now, Squire Hazeldean had a tenderness of conscience much less reasonable than Goldsmith's. There were occasionally days in which he did not feel good enough—I don't say for a priest, but even for one of the congregation,—"days in which," said the squire in his own blunt way, "as I have never in my life met a worse devil than a devil of a temper, I'll not carry mine into the family pew. He sha'n't be growling out hypocritical responses from my poor grandmother's prayer-book." So the squire and his demon stayed at home. But the demon was generally cast out before the day was over: and on this occasion, when the bell rang for afternoon service, it may be presumed that the squire had reasoned or fretted himself into a proper state of mind; for he was then seen sallying forth from the porch of his hall, arm-in-arm with his wife, and at the head of his household. The second service was (as is commonly the case in rural districts) more numerously attended than the first one; and it was our parson's wont to devote to this service his most effective discourse.
Parson Dale, though a very fair scholar, had neither the deep theology nor the archaeological learning that distinguish the rising generation of the clergy. I much doubt if he could have passed what would now be called a creditable examination in the Fathers; and as for all the nice formalities in the rubric, he would never have been the man to divide a congregation or puzzle a bishop. Neither was Parson Dale very erudite in ecclesiastical architecture. He did not much care whether all the details in the church were purely Gothic or not; crockets and finials, round arch and pointed arch, were matters, I fear, on which he had never troubled his head.
But one secret Parson Dale did possess, which is perhaps of equal importance with those subtler mysteries,—he knew how to fill his church! Even at morning service no pews were empty, and at evening service the church overflowed.
Parson Dale, too, may be considered nowadays to hold but a mean idea of the spiritual authority of the Church. He had never been known to dispute on its exact bearing with the State,—whether it was incorporated with the State or above the State, whether it was antecedent to the Papacy or formed from the Papacy, etc. According to his favourite maxim, "Quieta non movere,"—["Not to disturb things that are quiet."]—I have no doubt that he would have thought that the less discussion is provoked upon such matters the better for both Church and laity. Nor had he ever been known to regret the disuse of the ancient custom of excommunication, nor any other diminution of the powers of the priesthood, whether minatory or militant; yet for all this, Parson Dale had a great notion of the sacred privilege of a minister of the gospel,—to advise, to deter, to persuade, to reprove. And it was for the evening service that he prepared those sermons which may be called "sermons that preach at you." He preferred the evening for that salutary discipline, not only because the congregation was more numerous, but also because, being a shrewd man in his own innocent way, he knew that people bear better to be preached at after dinner than before; that you arrive more insinuatingly at the heart when the stomach is at peace. There was a genial kindness in Parson Dale's way of preaching at you. It was done in so imperceptible, fatherly, a manner that you never felt offended. He did it, too, with so much art that nobody but your own guilty self knew that you were the sinner he was exhorting. Yet he did not spare rich nor poor: he preached at the squire, and that great fat farmer, Mr. Bullock, the churchwarden, as boldly as at Hodge the ploughman and Scrub the hedger. As for Mr. Stirn, he had preached at him more often than at any one in the parish; but Stirn, though he had the sense to know it, never had the grace to reform. There was, too, in Parson Dale's sermons something of that boldness of illustration which would have been scholarly if he had not made it familiar, and which is found in the discourses of our elder divines. Like them, he did not scruple now and then to introduce an anecdote from history, or borrow an allusion from some non-scriptural author, in order to enliven the attention of his audience, or render an argument more plain. And the good man had an object in this, a little distinct from, though wholly subordinate to, the main purpose of his discourse. He was a friend to knowledge,—but to knowledge accompanied by religion; and sometimes his references to sources not within the ordinary reading of his congregation would spirit up some farmer's son, with an evening's leisure on his hands, to ask the parson for further explanation, and so to be lured on to a little solid or graceful instruction, under a safe guide.
Now, on the present occasion, the parson, who had always his eye and heart on his flock, and who had seen with great grief the realization of his fears at the revival of the stocks; seen that a spirit of discontent was already at work amongst the peasants, and that magisterial and inquisitorial designs were darkening the natural benevolence of the squire,—seen, in short, the signs of a breach between classes, and the precursors of the ever inflammable feud between the rich and the poor, meditated nothing less than a great Political Sermon,—a sermon that should extract from the roots of social truths a healing virtue for the wound that lay sore, but latent, in the breast of his parish of Hazeldean.
And thus ran—
THE POLITICAL SERMON OF PARSON DALE.
For every man shall bear his own burden.—Gal. vi. 5.
"BRETHREN! every man has his burden. If God designed our lives to end at the grave, may we not believe that He would have freed an existence so brief from the cares and sorrows to which, since the beginning of the world, mankind has been subjected? Suppose that I am a kind father, and have a child whom I dearly love, but I know by a divine revelation that he will die at the age of eight years, surely I should not vex his infancy by needless preparations for the duties of life? If I am a rich man, I should not send him from the caresses of his mother to the stern discipline of school. If I am a poor man, I should not take him with me to hedge and dig, to scorch in the sun, to freeze in the winter's cold: why inflict hardships on his childhood for the purpose of fitting him for manhood, when I know that he is doomed not to grow into man? But if, on the other hand, I believe my child is reserved for a more durable existence, then should I not, out of the very love I bear to him, prepare his childhood for the struggle of life, according to that station in which he is born, giving many a toil, many a pain, to the infant, in order to rear and strengthen him for his duties as man? So it is with our Father that is in heaven. Viewing this life as our infancy and the next as our spiritual maturity, where 'in the ages to come He may show the exceeding riches of His grace,' it is in His tenderness, as in His wisdom; to permit the toil and the pain which, in tasking the powers and developing the virtue of the soul, prepare it for 'the earnest of our inheritance.' Hence it is that every man has his burden. Brethren, if you believe that God is good, yea, but as tender as a human father, you will know that your troubles in life are a proof that you are reared for an eternity. But each man thinks his own burden the hardest to bear: the poor-man groans under his poverty, the rich man under the cares that multiply with wealth. For so far from wealth freeing us from trouble, all the wise men who have written in all ages have repeated, with one voice, the words of the wisest, 'When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes?' And this is literally true, my brethren: for, let a man be as rich as was the great King Solomon himself, unless he lock up all his gold in a chest, it must go abroad to be divided amongst others; yea, though, like Solomon, he make him great works,—though he build houses and plant vineyards, and make him gardens and orchards,—still the gold that he spends feeds but the mouths he employs; and Solomon himself could not eat with a better relish than the poorest mason who builded the house, or the humblest labourer who planted the vineyard. Therefore 'when goods increase, they are increased that eat them.' And this, my brethren, may teach us toleration and compassion for the rich. We share their riches, whether they will or not; we do not share their cares. The profane history of our own country tells us that a princess, destined to be the greatest queen that ever sat on this throne, envied the milk-maid singing; and a profane poet, whose wisdom was only less than that of the inspired writers, represents the man who, by force—and wit, had risen to be a king sighing for the sleep vouchsafed to the meanest of his subjects,—all bearing out the words of the son of David, 'The sleep of the labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much; but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep.'
"Amongst my brethren now present there is, doubtless, some one who has been poor, and by honest industry has made himself comparatively rich. Let his heart answer me while I speak: are not the chief cares that now disturb him to be found in the goods he hath acquired? Has he not both vexations to his spirit and trials to his virtue, which he knew not when he went forth to his labour, and took no heed of the morrow? But it is right, my brethren, that to every station there should be its care, to every man his burden; for if the poor did not sometimes so far feel poverty to be a burden as to desire to better their condition, and (to use the language of the world) 'seek to rise in life,' their most valuable energies would never be aroused; and we should not witness that spectacle, which is so common in the land we live in,—namely, the successful struggle of manly labour against adverse fortune,—a struggle in which the triumph of one gives hope to thousands. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention; and the social blessings which are now as common to us as air and sunshine have come from that law of our nature which makes us aspire towards indefinite improvement, enriches each successive generation by the labours of the last, and in free countries often lifts the child of the labourer to a place amongst the rulers of the land. Nay, if necessity is the mother of invention, poverty is the creator of the arts. If there had been no poverty, and no sense of poverty, where would have been that which we call the wealth of a country? Subtract from civilization all that has been produced by the poor, and what remains?—the state of the savage. Where you now see labourer and prince, you would see equality indeed,—the equality of wild men. No; not even equality there! for there brute force becomes lordship, and woe to the weak! Where you now see some in frieze, some in purple, you would see nakedness in all. Where stands the palace and the cot, you would behold but mud huts and caves. As far as the peasant excels the king among savages, so far does the society exalted and enriched by the struggles of labour excel the state in which Poverty feels no disparity, and Toil sighs for no ease. On the other hand, if the rich were perfectly contented with their wealth, their hearts would become hardened in the sensual enjoyments it procures. It is that feeling, by Divine Wisdom implanted in the soul, that there is vanity and vexation of spirit in the things of Mammon, which still leaves the rich man sensitive to the instincts of Heaven, and teaches him to seek for happiness in those beneficent virtues which distribute his wealth to the profit of others. If you could exclude the air from the rays of the fire, the fire itself would soon languish and die in the midst of its fuel; and so a man's joy in his wealth is kept alive by the air which it warms; and if pent within itself, is extinguished.
"And this, my brethren, leads me to another view of the vast subject opened to us by the words of the apostle, 'Every man shall bear his own burden.' The worldly conditions of life are unequal. Why are they unequal? O my brethren, do you not perceive? Think you that, if it had been better for our spiritual probation that there should be neither great nor lowly, rich nor poor, Providence would not so have ordered the dispensations of the world, and so, by its mysterious but merciful agencies, have influenced the framework and foundations of society? But if from the remotest period of human annals, and in all the numberless experiments of government which the wit of man has devised, still this inequality is ever found to exist, may we not suspect that there is something in the very principles of our nature to which that inequality is necessary and essential? Ask why this inequality? Why?—as well ask why life is the sphere of duty and the nursery of virtues! For if all men were equal, if there were no suffering and no ease, no poverty and no wealth, would you not sweep with one blow the half, at least, of human virtues from the world? If there were no penury and no pain, what would become of fortitude; what of patience; what of resignation? If there were no greatness and no wealth, what would become of benevolence, of charity, of the blessed human pity, of temperance in the midst of luxury, of justice in the exercise of power? Carry the question further; grant all conditions the same,—no reverse, no rise, and no fall, nothing to hope for, nothing to fear,—what a moral death you would at once inflict upon all the energies of the soul, and what a link between the Heart of Man and the Providence of God would be snapped asunder! If we could annihilate evil, we should annihilate hope; and hope, my brethren, is the avenue to faith. If there be 'a time to weep and a time to laugh,' it is that he who mourns may turn to eternity for comfort, and he who rejoices may bless God for the happy hour. Ah, my brethren, were it possible to annihilate the inequalities of human life, it would be the banishment of our worthiest virtues, the torpor of our spiritual nature, the palsy of our mental faculties. The moral world, like the world without us, derives its health and its beauty from diversity and contrast.
"'Every man shall bear his own burden.' True; but now turn to an earlier verse in the same chapter,—'Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.' Yes, while Heaven ordains to each his peculiar suffering, it connects the family of man into one household, by that feeling which, more perhaps than any other, distinguishes us from the brute creation,—I mean the feeling to which we give the name of sympathy,—the feeling for each other! The herd of deer shun the stag that is marked by the gunner; the flock heedeth not the sheep that creeps into the shade to die; but man has sorrow and joy not in himself alone, but in the joy and sorrow of those around him. He who feels only for himself abjures his very nature as man; for do we not say of one who has no tenderness for mankind that he is inhuman; and do we not call him who sorrows with the sorrowful humane?
"Now, brethren, that which especially marked the divine mission of our Lord is the direct appeal to this sympathy which distinguishes us from the brute. He seizes, not upon some faculty of genii given but to few, but upon that ready impulse of heart which is given to us all; and in saying, 'Love one another,' 'Bear ye one another's burdens,' he elevates the most delightful of our emotions into the most sacred of His laws. The lawyer asks our Lord, 'Who is my neighbour?' Our Lord replies by the parable of the good Samaritan. The priest and the Levite saw the wounded man that fell among the thieves and passed by on the other side. That priest might have been austere in his doctrine, that Levite might have been learned in the law; but neither to the learning of the Levite nor to the doctrine of the priest does our Saviour even deign to allude. He cites but the action of the Samaritan, and saith to the lawyer, 'Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that showed mercy unto him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.'
"O shallowness of human judgments! It was enough to be born a Samaritan in order to be rejected by the priest, and despised by the Levite. Yet now, what to us the priest and the Levite, of God's chosen race though they were? They passed from the hearts of men when they passed the sufferer by the wayside; while this loathed Samaritan, half thrust from the pale of the Hebrew, becomes of our family, of our kindred; a brother amongst the brotherhood of Love, so long as Mercy and Affliction shall meet in the common thoroughfare of Life!
"'Bear ye one another's burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ.' Think not, O my brethren, that this applies only to almsgiving, to that relief of distress which is commonly called charity, to the obvious duty of devoting from our superfluities something that we scarcely miss to the wants of a starving brother. No. I appeal to the poorest amongst ye, if the worst burdens are those of the body,—if the kind word and the tender thought have not often lightened your hearts more than bread bestowed with a grudge, and charity that humbles you by a frown. Sympathy is a beneficence at the command of us all,—yea, of the pauper as of the king; and sympathy is Christ's wealth. Sympathy is brotherhood. The rich are told to have charity for the poor, and the poor are enjoined to respect their superiors. Good: I say not to the contrary. But I say also to the poor, 'In your turn have charity for the rich;' and I say to the rich, 'In your turn respect the poor.'
"'Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.' Thou, O poor man, envy not nor grudge thy brother his larger portion of worldly goods. Believe that he hath his sorrows and crosses like thyself, and perhaps, as more delicately nurtured, he feels them more; nay, hath he not temptations so great that our Lord hath exclaimed, 'How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of heaven'? And what are temptations but trials; what are trials but perils and sorrows? Think not that you can bestow no charity on the rich man, even while you take your sustenance from his hands. A heathen writer, often cited by the earliest preachers of the gospel, hath truly said, 'Wherever there is room for a man there is place for a benefit.'
"And I ask any rich brother amongst you, when he hath gone forth to survey his barns and his granaries, his gardens and orchards, if suddenly in the vain pride of his heart, he sees the scowl on the brow of the labourer,—if he deems himself hated in the midst of his wealth, if he feels that his least faults are treasured up against him with the hardness of malice, and his plainest benefits received with the ingratitude of envy,—I ask, I say, any rich man, whether straightway all pleasure in his worldly possessions does not fade from his heart, and whether he does not feel what a wealth of gladness it is in the power of the poor man to bestow! For all these things of Mammon pass away; but there is in the smile of him whom we have served a something that we may take with us into heaven. If, then, ye bear one another's burdens, they who are poor will have mercy on the errors and compassion for the griefs of the rich. To all men it was said—yes, to Lazarus as to Dives—'Judge not, that ye be not judged.' But think not, O rich man, that we preach only to the poor. If it be their duty not to grudge thee thy substance, it is thine to do all that may sweeten their labour. Remember that when our Lord said, 'How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of heaven,' He replied also to them who asked, 'Who then can be saved?' 'The things which are impossible with men are possible with God,' that is, man left to his own temptations would fail; but, strengthened by God, he shall be saved. If thy riches are the tests of thy trial, so may they also be the instruments of thy virtues. Prove by thy riches that thou art compassionate and tender, temperate and benign, and thy riches themselves may become the evidence at once of thy faith and of thy works.
"We have constantly on our lips the simple precept, 'Do unto others as you would be done by.' Why do we fail so often in the practice? Because we neglect to cultivate that SYMPATHY which nature implants as an instinct, and the Saviour exalts as a command. If thou wouldst do unto thy neighbour as thou wouldst be done by, ponder well how thy neighbour will regard the action thou art about to do to him. Put thyself into his place. If thou art strong and he is weak, descend from thy strength and enter into his weakness; lay aside thy burden for the while, and buckle on his own; let thy sight see as through his eyes, thy heart beat as in his bosom. Do this, and thou wilt often confess that what had seemed just to thy power will seem harsh to his weakness. For 'as a zealous man hath not done his duty when he calls his brother drunkard and beast,' even so an administrator of the law mistakes his object if he writes on the grand column of society only warnings that irritate the bold and terrify the timid; and a man will be no more in love with law than with virtue, 'if he be forced to it with rudeness and incivilities.' If, then, ye would bear the burden of the lowly, O ye great, feel not only for them, but with! Watch that your pride does not chafe them, your power does not wantonly gall. Your worldly inferior is of the class from which the Apostles were chosen, amidst which the Lord of Creation descended from a throne above the seraphs."
The parson here paused a moment, and his eye glanced towards the pew near the pulpit, where sat the magnate of Hazeldean. The squire was leaning his chin thoughtfully on his hand, his brow inclined downwards, and the natural glow of his complexion much heightened.
"But," resumed the parson, softly, without turning to his book, and rather as if prompted by the suggestion of the moment—"but he who has cultivated sympathy commits not these errors, or, if committing them, hastens to retract. So natural is sympathy to the good man that he obeys it mechanically when he suffers his heart to be the monitor of his conscience. In this sympathy, behold the bond between rich and poor! By this sympathy, whatever our varying worldly lots, they become what they were meant to be,—exercises for the virtues more peculiar to each; and thus, if in the body each man bear his own burden, yet in the fellowship of the soul all have common relief in bearing the burdens of each other. This is the law of Christ,—fulfil it, O my flock!"
Here the parson closed his sermon, and the congregation bowed their heads.
SHOWING HOW MY NOVEL CAME TO BE CALLED "MY NOVEL."
"I am not displeased with your novel, so far as it has gone," said my father, graciously; "though as for the Sermon—" Here I trembled; but the ladies, Heaven bless them! had taken Parson Dale under their special protection; and observing that my father was puckering up his brows critically, they rushed forward boldly in defence of The Sermon, and Mr. Caxton was forced to beat a retreat. However, like a skilful general, he renewed the assault upon outposts less gallantly guarded. But as it is not my business to betray my weak points, I leave it to the ingenuity of cavillers to discover the places at which the Author of "Human Error" directed his great guns.
"But," said the captain, "you are a lad of too much spirit, Pisistratus, to keep us always in the obscure country quarters of Hazeldean,—you will march us out into open service before you have done with us?"
PISISTRATUS (magisterially, for he has been somewhat nettled by Mr. Caxton's remarks, and he puts on an air of dignity in order to awe away minor assailants).—"Yes, Captain Roland; not yet a while, but all in good time. I have not stinted myself in canvas, and behind my foreground of the Hall and the Parsonage I propose hereafter to open some lengthened perspective of the varieties of English life—"
BLANCHE (putting her hand on my father's lip).—"We shall know better the design, perhaps, when we know the title. Pray, Mr. Author, what is the title?"
MY MOTHER (with more animation than usual).—"Ay, Sisty, the title!"
PISISTRATUS (startled).—"The title! By the soul of Cervantes! I have never yet thought of a title!"
CAPTAIN ROLAND (solemnly).—"There is a great deal in a good title. As a novel reader, I know that by experience."
MR. SQUILLS.—"Certainly; there is not a catchpenny in the world but what goes down, if the title be apt and seductive. Witness 'Old Parr's Life Pills.' Sell by the thousand, Sir, when my 'Pills for Weak Stomachs,' which I believe to be just the same compound, never paid for the advertising."
MR. CAXTON.—"Parr's Life Pills! a fine stroke of genius. It is not every one who has a weak stomach, or time to attend to it if he have. But who would not swallow a pill to live to a hundred and fifty-two?"
PISISTRATUS (stirring the fire in great excitement).—"My title! my title!—what shall be my title?"
MR. CAXTON (thrusting his hand into his waistcoat, and in his most didactic of tones).—"From a remote period, the choice of a title has perplexed the scribbling portion of mankind. We may guess how their invention has been racked by the strange contortions it has produced. To begin with the Hebrews. 'The Lips of the Sleeping' (Labia Dormientium)—what book did you suppose that title to designate?—A Catalogue of Rabbinical Writers! Again, imagine some young lady of old captivated by the sentimental title of 'The Pomegranate with its Flower,' and opening on a Treatise on the Jewish Ceremonials! Let us turn to the Romans. Aulus Gellius commences his pleasant gossipping 'Noctes' with a list of the titles in fashion in his day. For instance, 'The Muses' and 'The Veil,' 'The Cornucopia,' 'The Beehive,' and 'The Meadow.' Some titles, indeed, were more truculent, and promised food to those who love to sup upon horrors,—such as 'The Torch,' 'The Poniard,' 'The Stiletto'—"
PISISTRATUS (impatiently).—"Yes, sir, but to come to My Novel."
MR. CAXTON (unheeding the interruption).—"You see you have a fine choice here, and of a nature pleasing, and not unfamiliar, to a classical reader; or you may borrow a hint from the early dramatic writers."
PISISTRATUS (more hopefully).—"Ay, there is something in the Drama akin to the Novel. Now, perhaps, I may catch an idea."
MR. CAXTON.—"For instance, the author of the 'Curiosities of Literature' (from whom, by the way, I am plagiarizing much of the information I bestow upon you) tells us of a Spanish gentleman who wrote a Comedy, by which he intended to serve what he took for Moral Philosophy."
PISISTRATUS (eagerly).—"Well, sir?"
MR. CAXTON.—"And called it 'The Pain of the Sleep of the World.'"
PISISTRATUS.—"Very comic, indeed, sir."
MR. CAXTON.—"Grave things were then called Comedies, as old things are now called Novels. Then there are all the titles of early Romance itself at your disposal,—'Theagenes and Chariclea' or 'The Ass' of Longus, or 'The Golden Ass' of Apuleius, or the titles of Gothic Romance, such as 'The most elegant, delicious, mellifluous, and delightful History of Perceforest, King of Great Britain.'" And therewith my father ran over a list of names as long as the Directory, and about as amusing.
"Well, to my taste," said my mother, "the novels I used to read when a girl (for I have not read many since, I am ashamed to say)—"
MR. CAXTON.—"No, you need not be at all ashamed of it, Kitty."
MY MOTHER (proceeding).—"Were much more inviting than any you mention, Austin."
MR. SQUILLS.—"Certainly. Nothing like them nowadays!"
MY MOTHER.—"'Says she to her Neighbour, What?'"
THE CAPTAIN.—"'The Unknown, or the Northern Gallery'—"
MR. SQUILLS.—"'There is a Secret; Find it out!'"
PISISTRATUS (pushed to the verge of human endurance, and upsetting tongs, poker, and fire-shovel).—"What nonsense you are talking, all of you! For Heaven's sake consider what an important matter we are called upon to decide. It is not now the titles of those very respectable works which issued from the Minerva Press that I ask you to remember,—it is to invent a title for mine,—My Novel!"
MR. CAXTON (clapping his hands gently).—"Excellent! capital! Nothing can be better; simple, natural, pertinent, concise—"
PISISTRATUS.—"What is it, sir, what is it? Have you really thought of a title to My Novel?"
MR. CAXTON.—"You have hit it yourself,—'My Novel.' It is your Novel; people will know it is your Novel. Turn and twist the English language as you will, be as allegorical as Hebrew, Greek, Roman, Fabulist, or Puritan, still, after all, it is your Novel, and nothing more nor less than your Novel."
PISISTRATUS (thoughtfully, and sounding the words various ways).—"'My Novel!'—um-um! 'My Novel!' rather bold—and curt, eh?"
MR. CAXTON.—"Add what you say you intend it to depict,—Varieties in English Life."
MY MOTHER.—"'My Novel; or, Varieties in English Life'—I don't think it sounds amiss. What say you, Roland? Would it attract you in a catalogue?"
My uncle hesitates, when Mr. Caxton exclaims imperiously.—"The thing is settled! Don't disturb Camarina."
SQUILLS.—"If it be not too great a liberty, pray who or what is Camarina?"
MR. CAXTON.—"Camarina, Mr. Squills, was a lake, apt to be low, and then liable to be muddy; and 'Don't disturb Camarina' was a Greek proverb derived from an oracle of Apollo; and from that Greek proverb, no doubt, comes the origin of the injunction, 'Quieta non movere,' which became the favourite maxim of Sir Robert Walpole and Parson Dale. The Greek line, Mr. Squills" (here my father's memory began to warm), is preserved by Stephanus Byzantinus, 'De Urbibus,'
Zenobius explains it in his proverbs; Suidas repeats Zenobius; Lucian alludes to it; so does Virgil in the Third Book of the AEneid; and Silius Italicus imitates Virgil,—
"'Et cui non licitum fatis Camarina moveri.'
"Parson Dale, as a clergyman and a scholar, had, no doubt, these authorities at his fingers' end. And I wonder he did not quote them," quoth my father; "but to be sure he is represented as a mild man, and so might not wish to humble the squire over-much in the presence of his family. Meanwhile, My Novel is My Novel; and now that, that matter is settled, perhaps the tongs, poker, and shovel may be picked up, the children may go to bed, Blanche and Kitty may speculate apart upon the future dignities of the Neogilos,—taking care, nevertheless, to finish the new pinbefores he requires for the present; Roland may cast up his account book, Mr. Squills have his brandy and water, and all the world be comfortable, each in his own way. Blanche, come away from the screen, get me my slippers, and leave Pisistratus to himself. [Greek line]—don't disturb Camarina. You see, my dear," added my father kindly, as, after settling himself into his slippers, he detained Blanche's hand in his own,—"you see, my dear, every house has its Camarina. Alan, who is a lazy animal, is quite content to let it alone; but woman, being the more active, bustling, curious creature, is always for giving it a sly stir."
BLANCHE (with female dignity).—"I assure you, that if Pisistratus had not called me, I should not have—"
MR. CAXTON (interrupting her, without lifting his eyes from the book he had already taken).—"Certainly you would not. I am now in the midst of the great Oxford Controversy. [The same Greek proverb]—don't disturb Camarina."
A dead silence for half-an-hour, at the end of which—
PISISTRATUS (from behind the screen).—"Blanche, my dear, I want to consult you."
Blanche does not stir.
PISISTRATUS.—"Blanche, I say." Blanche glances in triumph towards Mr. Caxton.
MR. CAXTON (laying down his theological tract, and rubbing his spectacles mournfully).—"I hear him, child; I hear him. I retract my vindication of man. Oracles warn in vain: so long as there is a woman on the other side of the screen, it is all up with Camarina."
It is greatly to be regretted that Mr. Stirn was not present at the parson's Discourse; but that valuable functionary was far otherwise engaged,—indeed, during the summer months he was rarely seen at the afternoon service. Not that he cared for being preached at,—not he; Mr. Stirn would have snapped his fingers at the thunders of the Vatican. But the fact was, that Mr. Stirn chose to do a great deal of gratuitous business upon the day of rest. The squire allowed all persons who chose to walk about the park on a Sunday; and many came from a distance to stroll by the lake, or recline under the elms. These visitors were objects of great suspicion, nay, of positive annoyance, to Mr. Stirn—and, indeed, not altogether without reason, for we English have a natural love of liberty, which we are even more apt to display in the grounds of other people than in those which we cultivate ourselves. Sometimes, to his inexpressible and fierce satisfaction, Mr. Stirn fell upon a knot of boys pelting the swans; sometimes he missed a young sapling, and found it in felonious hands, converted into a walking-stick; sometimes he caught a hulking fellow scrambling up the ha-ha to gather a nosegay for his sweetheart from one of poor Mrs. Hazeldean's pet parterres; not infrequently, indeed, when all the family were fairly at church, some curious impertinents forced or sneaked their way into the gardens, in order to peep in at the windows. For these, and various other offences of like magnitude, Mr. Stirn had long, but vainly, sought to induce the squire to withdraw a permission so villanously abused. But though there were times when Mr. Hazeldean grunted and growled, and swore "that he would shut up the park, and fill it [illegally] with mantraps and spring-guns," his anger always evaporated in words. The park was still open to all the world on a Sunday; and that blessed day was therefore converted into a day of travail and wrath to Mr. Stirn. But it was from the last chime of the afternoon-service bell until dusk that the spirit of this vigilant functionary was most perturbed; for, amidst the flocks that gathered from the little hamlets round to the voice of the pastor, there were always some stray sheep, or rather climbing, desultory, vagabond goats, who struck off in all perverse directions, as if for the special purpose of distracting the energetic watchfulness of Mr. Stirn. As soon as church was over, if the day were fine, the whole park became a scene animated with red cloaks or lively shawls, Sunday waistcoats and hats stuck full of wildflowers—which last Mr. Stirn often stoutly maintained to be Mrs. Hazeldean's newest geraniums. Now, on this Sunday, especially, there was an imperative call upon an extra exertion of vigilance on the part of the superintendent,—he had not only to detect ordinary depredators and trespassers; but, first, to discover the authors of the conspiracy against the stocks; and, secondly, to "make an example."
He had begun his rounds, therefore, from the early morning; and just as the afternoon bell was sounding its final peal, he emerged upon the village green from a hedgerow, behind which he had been at watch to observe who had the most suspiciously gathered round the stocks. At that moment the place was deserted. At a distance, the superintendent saw the fast disappearing forms of some belated groups hastening towards the church; in front, the stocks stood staring at him mournfully from its four great eyes, which had been cleansed from the mud, but still looked bleared and stained with the inarks of the recent outrage. Here Mr. Stirn paused, took off his hat, and wiped his brows.
"If I had sum 'un to watch here," thought he, "while I takes a turn by the water-side, p'r'aps summat might come out; p'r'aps them as did it ben't gone to church, but will come sneaking round to look on their willany! as they says murderers are always led back to the place where they ha' left the body. But in this here willage there ben't a man, woman, or child as has any consarn for squire or parish, barring myself." It was just as he arrived at that misanthropical conclusion that Mr. Stirn beheld Leonard Fairfield walking very fast from his own home. The superintendent clapped on his hat, and stuck his right arm akimbo. "Hollo, you, sir," said he, as Lenny now came in hearing, "where be you going at that rate?"
"Please, sir, I be going to church."
"Stop, sir,—stop, Master Lenny. Going to church!—why, the bell's done; and you knows the parson is very angry at them as comes in late, disturbing the congregation. You can't go to church now!"
"I says you can't go to church now. You must learn to think a little of others, lad. You sees how I sweats to serve the squire! and you must serve him too. Why, your mother's got the house and premishes almost rent-free; you ought to have a grateful heart, Leonard Fairfield, and feel for his honour! Poor man! his heart is well-nigh bruk, I am sure, with the goings on."
Leonard opened his innocent blue eyes, while Mr. Stirn dolorously wiped his own.
"Look at that 'ere dumb cretur," said Stirn, suddenly, pointing to the stocks,—"look at it. If it could speak, what would it say, Leonard Fairfield? Answer me that! 'Damn the stocks,' indeed!"
"It was very bad in them to write such naughty words," said Lenny, gravely. "Mother was quite shocked when she heard of it this morning."
MR. STIRN.—"I dare say she was, considering what she pays for the premishes;" (insinuatingly) "you does not know who did it,—eh, Lenny?"
LENNY.—"No, sir; indeed I does not!"
MR. STIRN.—"Well, you see, you can't go to church,—prayers half over by this time. You recollex that I put them stocks under your 'sponsibility,' and see the way you's done your duty by 'em! I've half a mind to—"
Mr. Stirn cast his eyes on the eyes of the stocks. "Please, sir," began Lenny again, rather frightened.
"No, I won't please; it ben't pleasing at all. But I forgives you this time, only keep a sharp lookout, lad, in future. Now you must stay here—no, there—under the hedge, and you watches if any persons comes to loiter about, or looks at the stocks, or laughs to hisself, while I go my rounds. I shall be back either afore church is over or just arter; so you stay till I comes, and give me your report. Be sharp, boy, or it will be worse for you and your mother; I can let the premishes for L4 a year more to-morrow."
Concluding with that somewhat menacing and very significant remark, and not staying for an answer, Mr. Stirn waved his hand and walked off.
Poor Lenny remained by the stocks, very much dejected, and greatly disliking the neighbourhood to which the was consigned. At length he slowly crept off to the hedge, and sat himself down in the place of espionage pointed out to him. Now, philosophers tell us that what is called the point of honour is a barbarous feudal prejudice. Amongst the higher classes, wherein those feudal prejudices may be supposed to prevail, Lenny Fairfield's occupation would not have been considered peculiarly honourable; neither would it have seemed so to the more turbulent spirits among the humbler orders, who have a point of honour of their own, which consists in the adherence to each other in defiance of all lawful authority. But to Lenny Fairfield, brought up much apart from other boys, and with a profound and grateful reverence for the squire instilled into all his habits of thought, notions of honour bounded themselves to simple honesty and straightforward truth; and as he cherished an unquestioning awe of order and constitutional authority, so it did not appear to him that there was anything derogatory and debasing in being thus set to watch for an offender. On the contrary, as he began to reconcile himself to the loss of the church service, and to enjoy the cool of the summer shade and the occasional chirp of the birds, he got to look on the bright side of the commission to which he was deputed. In youth, at least, everything has its bright side,—even the appointment of Protector to the Parish Stocks. For the stocks itself Leonard had no affection, it is true; but he had no sympathy with its aggressors, and he could well conceive that the squire would be very much hurt at the revolutionary event of the night. "So," thought poor Leonard in his simple heart,—"so, if I can serve his honour, by keeping off mischievous boys, or letting him know who did the thing, I'm sure it would be a proud day for Mother." Then he began to consider that, however ungraciously Mr. Stirn had bestowed on him the appointment, still it was a compliment to him,—showed trust and confidence in him, picked him out from his contemporaries as the sober, moral, pattern boy; and Lenny had a great deal of pride in him, especially in matters of repute and character.
All these things considered, I say, Leonard Fairfield reclined on his lurking-place, if not with positive delight and intoxicating rapture, at least with tolerable content and some complacency.
Mr. Stirn might have been gone a quarter of an hour, when a boy came through a little gate in the park, just opposite to Lenny's retreat in the hedge, and, as if fatigued with walking, or oppressed by the heat of the day, paused on the green for a moment or so, and then advanced under the shade of the great tree which overhung the stocks.
Lenny pricked up his ears, and peeped out jealously.
He had never seen the boy before: it was a strange face to him.
Leonard Fairfield was not fond of strangers; moreover, he had a vague belief that strangers were at the bottom of that desecration of the stocks. The boy, then, was a stranger; but what was his rank? Was he of that grade in society in which the natural offences are or are not consonant to, or harmonious with, outrages upon stocks? On that Lenny Fairfield did not feel quite assured. According to all the experience of the villager, the boy was not dressed like a young gentleman. Leonard's notions of such aristocratic costume were naturally fashioned upon the model of Frank Hazeldean. They represented to him a dazzling vision of snow-white trousers and beautiful blue coats and incomparable cravats. Now the dress of this stranger, though not that of a peasant or of a farmer, did not in any way correspond with Lenny's notion of the costume of a young gentleman. It looked to him highly disreputable: the coat was covered with mud, and the hat was all manner of shapes, with a gap between the side and crown.
Lenny was puzzled, till it suddenly occurred to him that the gate through which the boy had passed was in the direct path across the park from a small town, the inhabitants of which were in very bad odour at the Hall,—they had immemorially furnished the most daring poachers to the preserves, the most troublesome trespassers on the park, the most unprincipled orchard robbers, and the most disputatious asserters of various problematical rights of way, which, according to the Town, were public, and, according to the Hall, had been private since the Conquest. It was true that the same path led also directly from the squire's house, but it was not probable that the wearer of attire so equivocal had been visiting there. All things considered, Lenny had no doubt in his mind but that the stranger was a shop-boy or 'prentice from the town of Thorndyke; and the notorious repute of that town, coupled with this presumption, made it probable that Lenny now saw before him one of the midnight desecrators of the stocks. As if to confirm the suspicion, which passed through Lenny's mind with a rapidity wholly disproportionate to the number of lines it costs me to convey it, the boy, now standing right before the stocks, bent down and read that pithy anathema with which it was defaced. And having read it, he repeated it aloud, and Lenny actually saw him smile,—such a smile! so disagreeable and sinister! Lenny had never before seen the smile sardonic.
But what were Lenny's pious horror and dismay when this ominous stranger fairly seated himself on the stocks, rested his heels profanely on the lids of two of the four round eyes, and taking out a pencil and a pocket-book, began to write.
Was this audacious Unknown taking an inventory of the church and the Hall for the purposes of conflagration? He looked at one and at the other, with a strange fixed stare as he wrote,—not keeping his eyes on the paper, as Lenny had been taught to do when he sat down to his copy-book. The fact is, that Randal Leslie was tired and faint, and he felt the shock of his fall the more, after the few paces he had walked, so that he was glad to rest himself a few moments; and he took that opportunity to write a line to Frank, to excuse himself for not calling again, intending to tear the leaf on which he wrote out of his pocket-book and leave it at the first cottage he passed, with instructions to take it to the Hall.
While Randal was thus innocently engaged, Lenny came up to him, with the firm and measured pace of one who has resolved, cost what it may, to do his duty. And as Lenny, though brave, was not ferocious, so the anger he felt and the suspicions he entertained only exhibited themselves in the following solemn appeal to the offender's sense of propriety,—"Ben't you ashamed of yourself? Sitting on the squire's new stocks! Do get up, and go along with you!"
Randal turned round sharply; and though, at any other moment, he would have had sense enough to extricate himself very easily from his false position, yet Nemo mortalium, etc. No one is always wise. And Randal was in an exceedingly bad humour. The affability towards his inferiors, for which I lately praised him, was entirely lost in the contempt for impertinent snobs natural to an insulted Etonian.
Therefore, eying Lenny with great disdain, Randal answered briefly,—
"You are an insolent young blackguard."
So curt a rejoinder made Lenny's blood fly to his face. Persuaded before that the intruder was some lawless apprentice or shop-lad, he was now more confirmed in that judgment, not only by language so uncivil, but by the truculent glance which accompanied it, and which certainly did not derive any imposing dignity from the mutilated, rakish, hang-dog, ruinous hat, under which it shot its sullen and menacing fire.
Of all the various articles of which our male attire is composed, there is perhaps not one which has so much character and expression as the top covering. A neat, well-brushed, short-napped, gentlemanlike hat, put on with a certain air, gives a distinction and respectability to the whole exterior; whereas, a broken, squashed, higgledy-piggledy sort of a hat, such as Randal Leslie had on, would go far towards transforming the stateliest gentleman who ever walked down St. James's Street into the ideal of a ruffianly scamp.
Now, it is well known that there is nothing more antipathetic to your peasant-boy than a shop-boy. Even on grand political occasions, the rural working-class can rarely be coaxed into sympathy with the trading town class. Your true English peasant is always an aristocrat. Moreover, and irrespectively of this immemorial grudge of class, there is something peculiarly hostile in the relationship between boy and boy when their backs are once up, and they are alone on a quiet bit of green,—something of the game-cock feeling; something that tends to keep alive, in the population of this island (otherwise so lamblike and peaceful), the martial propensity to double the thumb tightly over the four fingers, and make what is called "a fist of it." Dangerous symptoms of these mingled and aggressive sentiments were visible in Lenny Fairfield at the words and the look of the unprepossessing stranger. And the stranger seemed aware of them; for his pale face grew more pale, and his sullen eye more fixed and more vigilant.
"You get off them stocks," said Lenny, disdaining to reply to the coarse expressions bestowed on him; and, suiting the action to the word, he gave the intruder what he meant for a shove, but what Randal took for a blow. The Etonian sprang up, and the quickness of his movement, aided but by a slight touch of his hand, made Lenny lose his balance, and sent him neck-and-crop over the stocks. Burning with rage, the young villager rose alertly, and, flying at Randal, struck out right and left.
Aid me, O ye Nine! whom the incomparable Persius satirized his contemporaries for invoking, and then, all of a sudden, invoked on his own behalf,—aid me to describe that famous battle by the stocks, and in defence of the stocks, which was waged by the two representatives of Saxon and Norman England. Here, sober support of law and duty and delegated trust,—pro aris et focis; there, haughty invasion and bellicose spirit of knighthood and that respect for name and person which we call "honour." Here, too, hardy physical force,—there, skilful discipline. Here—The Nine are as deaf as a post, and as cold as a stone! Plague take the jades! I can do better without them.
Randal was a year or two older than Lenny, but he was not so tall nor so strong, nor even so active; and after the first blind rush, when the two boys paused, and drew back to breathe, Lenny, eying the slight form and hueless cheek of his opponent, and seeing blood trickling from Randal's lip, was seized with an instantaneous and generous remorse. "It was not fair," he thought, "to fight one whom he could beat so easily." So, retreating still farther, and letting his arms fall to his side, he said mildly, "There, let's have no more of it; but go home and be good."
Randal Leslie had no remarkable degree of that constitutional quality called physical courage; but he had some of those moral qualities which supply its place. He was proud, he was vindictive, he had high self-esteem, he had the destructive organ more than the combative,—what had once provoked his wrath it became his instinct to sweep away. Therefore, though all his nerves were quivering, and hot tears were in his eyes, he approached Lenny with the sternness of a gladiator, and said between his teeth, which he set hard, choking back the sob of rage and pain,—
"You have struck me—and you shall not stir from this ground till I have made you repent it. Put up your hands,—defend yourself."
Lenny mechanically obeyed; and he had good need of the admonition; for if before he had had the advantage, now that Randal had recovered the surprise to his nerves, the battle was not to the strong.
Though Leslie had not been a fighting boy at Eton, still his temper had involved him in some conflicts when he was in the lower forms, and he had learned something of the art as well as the practice in pugilism,—an excellent thing too, I am barbarous enough to believe, and which I hope will never quite die out of our public schools. Ah, many a young duke has been a better fellow for life from a fair set-to with a trader's son; and many a trader's son has learned to look a lord more manfully in the face on the hustings, from the recollection of the sound thrashing he once gave to some little Lord Leopold Dawdle.
So Randal now brought his experience and art to bear; put aside those heavy roundabout blows, and darted in his own, quick and sharp, supplying to the natural feebleness of his arm the due momentum of pugilistic mechanics. Ay, and the arm, too, was no longer so feeble; for strange is the strength that comes from passion and pluck!
Poor Lenny, who had never fought before, was bewildered; his sensations grew so entangled that he could never recall them distinctly; he had a dim reminiscence of some breathless impotent rush, of a sudden blindness followed by quick flashes of intolerable light, of a deadly faintness, from which he was roused by sharp pangs—here—there—everywhere; and then all he could remember was, that he was lying on the ground, huddled up and panting hard, while his adversary bent over him with a countenance as dark and livid as Lara himself might have bent over the fallen Otho. For Randal Leslie was not one who, by impulse and nature, subscribed to the noble English maxim, "Never hit a foe when he is down;" and it cost him a strong, if brief, self-struggle not to set his heel on that prostrate form. It was the mind, not the heart, that subdued the savage within him, as muttering something inwardly—certainly not Christian forgiveness—the victor turned gloomily away.
Just at that precise moment, who should appear but Mr. Stirn! For, in fact, being extremely anxious to get Lenny into disgrace, he had hoped that he should have found the young villager had shirked the commission intrusted to him; and the right-hand man had slily come back to see if that amiable expectation were realized. He now beheld Lenny rising with some difficulty, still panting hard, and with hysterical sounds akin to what is vulgarly called blubbering, his fine new waistcoat sprinkled with his own blood, which flowed from his nose,—nose that seemed to Lenny Fairfield's feelings to be a nose no more, but a swollen, gigantic, mountainous Slawkenbergian excrescence; in fact, he felt all nose! Turning aghast from this spectacle, Mr. Stirn surveyed, with no more respect than Lenny had manifested, the stranger boy, who had again seated himself on the stocks (whether to recover his breath, or whether to show that his victory was consummated, and that he was in his rights of possession). "Hollo," said Mr. Stirn, "what is all this? What's the matter, Lenny, you blockhead?"
"He will sit there," answered Lenny, in broken gasps, "and he has beat me because I would not let him; but I doesn't mind that," added the villager, trying hard to suppress his tears, "and I am ready again for him—that I am."
"And what do you do lollopoping there on them blessed stocks?"
"Looking at the landscape; out of my light, man!"
This tone instantly inspired Mr. Stirn with misgivings: it was a tone so disrespectful to him that he was seized with involuntary respect; who but a gentleman could speak so to Mr. Stirn?
"And may I ask who you be?" said Stirn, falteringly, and half inclined to touch his hat. "What Is your name, pray? What's your bizness?"
"My name is Randal Leslie, and my business was to visit your master's family,—that is, if you are, as I guess from your manner, Mr. Hazeldean's ploughman!"
So saying, Randal rose; and moving on a few paces, turned, and throwing half-a-crown on the road, said to Lenny, "Let that pay you for your bruises, and remember another time how you speak to a gentleman. As for you, fellow,"—and he pointed his scornful hand towards Mr. Stirn, who, with his mouth open, and his hat now fairly off, stood bowing to the earth,—"as for you, give my compliments to Mr. Hazeldean, and say that when he does us the honour to visit us at Rood Hall, I trust that the manners of our villagers will make him ashamed of Hazeldean."
Oh, my poor Squire! Rood Hall ashamed of Hazeldean! If that message had been delivered to you, you would never have looked up again!
With those bitter words, Randal swung himself over the stile that led into the parson's glebe, and left Lenny Fairfield still feeling his nose, and Mr. Stirn still bowing to the earth.
Randal Leslie had a very long walk home; he was bruised and sore from head to foot, and his mind was still more sore and more bruised than his body. But if Randal Leslie had rested himself in the squire's gardens, without walking backwards and indulging in speculations suggested by Marat, and warranted by my Lord Bacon, he would have passed a most agreeable evening, and really availed himself of the squire's wealth by going home in the squire's carriage. But because he chose to take so intellectual a view of property, he tumbled into a ditch; because he tumbled into a ditch, he spoiled his clothes; because he spoiled his clothes, he gave up his visit; because he gave up his visit, he got into the village green, and sat on the stocks with a hat that gave him the air of a fugitive from the treadmill; because he sat on the stocks—with that hat, and a cross face under it—he had been forced into the most discreditable squabble with a clodhopper, and was now limping home, at war with gods and men; ergo (this is a moral that will bear repetition),—ergo, when you walk in a rich man's grounds, be contented to enjoy what is yours, namely, the prospect,—I dare say you will enjoy it more than he does!
If, in the simplicity of his heart and the crudity of his experience, Lenny Fairfield had conceived it probable that Mr. Stirn would address to him some words in approbation of his gallantry and in sympathy for his bruises, he soon found himself wofully mistaken. That truly great man, worthy prime minister of Hazeldean, might perhaps pardon a dereliction from his orders, if such dereliction proved advantageous to the interests of the service, or redounded to the credit of the chief; but he was inexorable to that worst of diplomatic offences,—an ill-timed, stupid, over-zealous obedience to orders, which, if it established the devotion of the employee, got the employer into what is popularly called a scrape! And though, by those unversed in the intricacies of the human heart, and unacquainted with the especial hearts of prime ministers and right-hand men, it might have seemed natural that Mr. Stirn, as he stood still, hat in hand, in the middle of the road, stung, humbled, and exasperated by the mortification he had received from the lips of Randal Leslie, would have felt that that young gentleman was the proper object of his resentment, yet such a breach of all the etiquette of diplomatic life as resentment towards a superior power was the last idea that would have suggested itself to the profound intellect of the premier of Hazeldean. Still, as rage, like steam, must escape somewhere, Mr. Stirn, on feeling—as he afterwards expressed it to his wife—that his "buzzom was a burstin'," turned with the natural instinct of self-preservation to the safety-valve provided for the explosion; and the vapours within him rushed into vent upon Lenny Fairfield. He clapped his hat on his head fiercely, and thus relieved his "buzzom."
"You young willain! you howdaeious wiper! and so all this blessed Sabbath afternoon, when you ought to have been in church on your marrow-bones, a praying for your betters, you has been a fitting with a young gentleman, and a wisiter to your master, on the wery place of the parridge hinstitution that you was to guard and pertect; and a bloodying it all over, I declares, with your blaggard little nose!" Thus saying, and as if to mend the matter, Mr. Stirn aimed an additional stroke at the offending member; but Lenny mechanically putting up both arms to defend his face, Mr. Stirn struck his knuckles against the large brass buttons that adorned the cuff of the boy's coat-sleeve,—an incident which considerably aggravated his indignation. And Lenny, whose spirit was fairly roused at what the narrowness of his education conceived to be a signal injustice, placing the trunk of the tree between Mr. Stirn and himself, began that task of self-justification which it was equally impolitic to conceive and imprudent to execute, since, in such a case, to justify was to recriminate.
"I wonder at you, Master Stirn,—if Mother could hear you! You know it was you who would not let me go to church; it was you who told me to—"
"Fit a young gentleman, and break the Sabbath," said Mr. Stirn, interrupting him with a withering sneer. "Oh, yes! I told you to disgrace his honour the squire, and me, and the parridge, and bring us all into trouble. But the squire told me to make an example, and I will!" With those words, quick as lightning flashed upon Mr. Stirn's mind the luminous idea of setting Lenny in the very stocks which he had too faithfully guarded. Eureka! the "example" was before him! Here he could gratify his long grudge against the pattern boy; here, by such a selection of the very best lad in the parish, he could strike terror into the worst; here he could appease the offended dignity of Randal Leslie; here was a practical apology to the squire for the affront put upon his young visitor; here, too, there was prompt obedience to the squire's own wish that the stocks should be provided as soon as possible with a tenant. Suiting the action to the thought, Mr. Stirn made a rapid plunge at his victim, caught him by the skirt of his jacket; and in a few seconds more, the jaws of the stocks had opened, and Lenny Fairfield was thrust therein,—a sad spectacle of the reverses of fortune. This done, and while the boy was too astounded, too stupefied, by the suddenness of the calamity, for the resistance he might otherwise have made,—nay, for more than a few inaudible words,—Mr. Stirn hurried from the spot, but not without first picking up and pocketing the half-crown designed for Lenny, and which, so great had been his first emotions, he had hitherto even almost forgotten. He then made his way towards the church, with the intention to place himself close by the door, catch the squire as he came out, whisper to him what had passed, and lead him, with the whole congregation at his heels, to gaze upon the sacrifice offered up to the joint powers of Nemesis and Themis.
Unaffectedly I say it—upon the honour of a gentleman, and the reputation of an author,—unaffectedly I say it, no words of mine can do justice to the sensations experienced by Lenny Fairfield, as he sat alone in that place of penance. He felt no more the physical pain of his bruises; the anguish of his mind stifled and overbore all corporeal suffering,—an anguish as great as the childish breast is capable of holding.
For first and deepest of all, and earliest felt, was the burning sense of injustice. He had, it might be with erring judgment, but with all honesty, earnestness, and zeal, executed the commission entrusted to him; he had stood forth manfully in discharge of his duty; he had fought for it, suffered for it, bled for it. This was his reward! Now in Lenny's mind there was pre-eminently that quality which distinguishes the Anglo Saxon race,—the sense of justice. It was perhaps the strongest principle in his moral constitution; and the principle had never lost its virgin bloom and freshness by any of the minor acts of oppression and iniquity which boys of higher birth often suffer from harsh parents, or in tyrannical schools. So that it was for the first time that that iron entered into his soul, and with it came its attendant feeling,—the wrathful, galling sense of impotence. He had been wronged, and he had no means to right himself. Then came another sensation, if not so deep, yet more smarting and envenomed for the time,—shame! He, the good boy of all good boys; he, the pattern of the school, and the pride of the parson; he, whom the squire, in sight of all his contemporaries, had often singled out to slap on the back, and the grand squire's lady to pat on the head, with a smiling gratulation on his young and fair repute; he, who had already learned so dearly to prize the sweets of an honourable name,—he to be made, as it were, in the twinkling of an eye, a mark for opprobrium, a butt of scorn, a jeer, and a byword! The streams of his life were poisoned at the fountain. And then came a tenderer thought of his mother! of the shock this would be to her,—she who had already begun to look up to him as her stay and support; he bowed his head, and the tears, long suppressed, rolled down.
Then he wrestled and struggled, and strove to wrench his limbs from that hateful bondage,—for he heard steps approaching. And he began to picture to himself the arrival of all the villagers from church, the sad gaze of the parson, the bent brow of the squire, the idle, ill-suppressed titter of all the boys, jealous of his unspotted character,—character of which the original whiteness could never, never be restored!
He would always be the boy who had sat in the stocks! And the words uttered by the squire came back on his soul, like the voice of conscience in the ears of some doomed Macbeth: "A sad disgrace, Lenny,—you'll never be in such a quandary." "Quandary"—the word was unfamiliar to him; it must mean something awfully discreditable. The poor boy could have prayed for the earth to swallow him.
"Kettles and frying-pans! what has us here?" cried the tinker.
This time Mr. Sprott was without his donkey; for it being Sunday, it is presumed that the donkey was enjoying his Sabbath on the common. The tinker was in his Sunday's best, clean and smart, about to take his lounge in the park.
Lenny Fairfield made no answer to the appeal.
"You in the wood, my baby! Well, that's the last sight I should ha' thought to see. But we all lives to larn," added the tinker, sententiously. "Who gave you them leggins? Can't you speak, lad?"
"Nick Stirn! Ay, I'd ha' ta'en my davy on that: and cos vy?"
"'Cause I did as he told me, and fought a boy as was trespassing on these very stocks; and he beat me—but I don't care for that; and that boy was a young gentleman, and going to visit the squire; and so Nick Stirn—" Lenny stopped short, choked by rage and humiliation.
"Augh," said the tinker, starting, "you fit with a young gentleman, did you? Sorry to hear you confess that, my lad! Sit there and be thankful you ha' got off so cheap. 'T is salt and battery to fit with your betters, and a Lunnon justice o' peace would have given you two months o' the treadmill.
"But vy should you fit cos he trespassed on the stocks? It ben't your natural side for fitting, I takes it."
Lenny murmured something not very distinguishable about serving the squire, and doing as he was bid.
"Oh, I sees, Lenny," interrupted the tinker, in a tone of great contempt, "you be one of those who would rayther 'unt with the 'ounds than run with the 'are! You be's the good pattern boy, and would peach agin your own border to curry favour with the grand folks. Fie, lad! you be sarved right; stick by your border, then you'll be 'spected when you gets into trouble, and not be 'varsally 'spised,—as you'll be arter church-time! Vell, I can't be seen 'sorting with you, now you are in this d'rogotary fix; it might hurt my c'r'acter, both with them as built the stocks and them as wants to pull 'em down. Old kettles to mend! Vy, you makes me forgit the Sabbath! Sarvent, my lad, and wish you well out of it; 'specks to your mother, and say we can deal for the pan and shovel all the same for your misfortin."
The tinker went his way. Lenny's eye followed him with the sullenness of despair. The tinker, like all the tribe of human comforters, had only watered the brambles to invigorate the prick of the horns. Yes, if Lenny had been caught breaking the stocks, some at least would have pitied him; but to be incarcerated for defending them! You might as well have expected that the widows and orphans of the Reign of Terror would have pitied Dr. Guillotin when he slid through the grooves of his own deadly machine. And even the tinker, itinerant, ragamuffin vagabond as he was, felt ashamed to be found with the pattern boy! Lenny's head sank again on his breast heavily, as if it had been of lead. Some few minutes thus passed, when the unhappy prisoner became aware of the presence of another spectator to his shame; he heard no step, but he saw a shadow thrown over the sward. He held his breath, and would not look up, with some vague idea that if he refused to see he might escape being seen.
"Per Bacco!" said Dr. Riccabocca, putting his hand on Lenny's shoulder, and bending down to look into his face,—"per Bacco! my young friend, do you sit here from choice or necessity?"
Lenny slightly shuddered, and winced under the touch of one whom he had hitherto regarded with a sort of superstitious abhorrence.
"I fear," resumed Riccabocca, after waiting in vain for an answer to his question, "that though the situation is charming, you did not select it yourself. What is this?"—and the irony of the tone vanished—"what is this, my poor boy? You have been bleeding, and I see that those tears which you try to check come from a deep well. Tell me, povero fanciullo mio" (the sweet Italian vowels, though Lenny did not understand them, sounded softly and soothingly),—"tell me, my child, how all this happened. Perhaps I can help you; we have all erred,—we should all help each other."
Lenny's heart, that just before had seemed bound in brass, found itself a way as the Italian spoke thus kindly, and the tears rushed down; but he again stopped them, and gulped out sturdily,—
"I have not done no wrong; it ben't my fault,—and 't is that which kills me!" concluded Lenny, with a burst of energy.
"You have not done wrong? Then," said the philosopher, drawing out his pocket-handkerchief with great composure, and spreading it on the ground,—"then I may sit beside you. I could only stoop pityingly over sin, but I can lie down on equal terms with misfortune."
Lenny Fairfield did not quite comprehend the words, but enough of their general meaning was apparent to make him cast a grateful glance on the Italian. Riccabocca resumed, as he adjusted the pocket-handkerchief, "I have a right to your confidence, my child, for I have been afflicted in my day; yet I too say with thee, 'I have not done wrong.' Cospetto!" (and here the doctor seated himself deliberately, resting one arm on the side column of the stocks, in familiar contact with the captive's shoulder, while his eye wandered over the lovely scene around)—"Cospetto! my prison, if they had caught me, would not have had so fair a look-out as this. But, to be sure, it is all one; there are no ugly loves, and no handsome prisons."
With that sententious maxim, which, indeed, he uttered in his native Italian, Riccabocca turned round and renewed his soothing invitations to confidence. A friend in need is a friend indeed, even if he come in the guise of a Papist and wizard. All Lenny's ancient dislike to the foreigner had gone, and he told him his little tale.
Dr. Riccabocca was much too shrewd a man not to see exactly the motives which had induced Mr. Stirn to incarcerate his agent (barring only that of personal grudge, to which Lenny's account gave him no clew). That a man high in office should make a scapegoat of his own watch-dog for an unlucky snap, or even an indiscreet bark, was nothing strange to the wisdom of the student of Machiavelli. However, he set himself to the task of consolation with equal philosophy and tenderness. He began by reminding, or rather informing, Leonard Fairfield of all the instances of illustrious men afflicted by the injustice of others that occurred to his own excellent memory. He told him how the great Epictetus, when in slavery, had a master whose favourite amusement was pinching his leg, which, as the amusement ended in breaking that limb, was worse than the stocks. He also told him the anecdote of Lenny's own gallant countryman, Admiral Byng, whose execution gave rise to Voltaire's celebrated witticism, "En Angleterre on tue un admiral pour encourager les autres."
["In England they execute one admiral in order to encourage the others."]
Many other illustrations, still more pertinent to the case in point, his erudition supplied from the stores of history. But on seeing that Lenny did not seem in the slightest degree consoled by these memorable examples, he shifted his ground, and reducing his logic to the strict argumentum ad rem, began to prove, first, that there was no disgrace at all in Lenny's present position, that every equitable person would recognize the tyranny of Stirn and the innocence of its victim; secondly, that if even here he were mistaken, for public opinion was not always righteous, what was public opinion after all?—"A breath, a puff," cried Dr. Riccabocca, "a thing without matter,—without length, breadth, or substance,—a shadow, a goblin of our own creating. A man's own conscience is his sole tribunal, and he should care no more for that phantom 'opinion' than he should fear meeting a ghost if he crossed the churchyard at dark."
Now, as Lenny did very much fear meeting a ghost if he crossed the churchyard at dark, the simile spoiled the argument, and he shook his head very mournfully. Dr. Riccabocca, was about to enter into a third course of reasoning, which, had it come to an end, would doubtless have settled the matter, and reconciled Lenny to sitting in the stocks till doomsday, when the captive, with the quick ear and eye of terror and calamity, became conscious that church was over, that the congregation in a few seconds more would be flocking thitherwards. He saw visionary hats and bonnets through the trees, which Riccabocca saw not, despite all the excellence of his spectacles; heard phantasmal rustlings and murmurings which Riccabocca heard not, despite all that theoretical experience in plots, stratagems, and treasons, which should have made the Italian's ear as fine as a conspirator's or a mole's. And with another violent but vain effort at escape, the prisoner exclaimed,—
"Oh, if I could but get out before they come! Let me out, let me out! Oh, kind sir, have pity,—let me out!"
"Diavolo!" said the philosopher, startled, "I wonder that I never thought of that before. After all, I believe he has hit the right nail on the head," and, looking close, he perceived that though the partition of wood had hitched firmly into a sort of spring-clasp, which defied Lenny's unaided struggles, still it was not locked (for, indeed, the padlock and key were snug in the justice-room of the squire, who never dreamed that his orders would be executed so literally and summarily as to dispense with all formal appeal to himself). As soon as Dr. Riccabocca made that discovery, it occurred to him that all the wisdom of all the schools that ever existed can't reconcile man or boy to a bad position—the moment there is a fair opportunity of letting him out of it. Accordingly, without more ado, he lifted up the creaking board, and Lenny Fairfield darted forth like a bird from a cage, halted a moment as if for breath, or in joy; and then, taking at once to his heels, fled, as a hare to its form, fast to his mother's home.
Dr. Riccabocca dropped the yawning wood into its place, picked up his handkerchief and restored it to his pocket; and then, with some curiosity, began to examine the nature of that place of duress which had caused so much painful emotion to its rescued victim. "Man is a very irrational animal at best," quoth the sage, soliloquizing, "and is frightened by strange buggaboos! 'T is but a piece of wood! how little it really injures! And, after all, the holes are but rests to the legs, and keep the feet out of the dirt. And this green bank to sit upon, under the shade of the elm-tree-verily the position must be more pleasant than otherwise! I've a great mind—" Here the doctor looked around, and seeing the coast still clear, the oddest notion imaginable took possession of him; yet, not indeed a notion so odd, considered philosophically,—for all philosophy is based on practical experiment,—and Dr. Riccabocca felt an irresistible desire practically to experience what manner of thing that punishment of the stocks really was. "I can but try! only for a moment," said he apologetically to his own expostulating sense of dignity. "I have time to do it, before any one comes." He lifted up the partition again: but stocks are built on the true principle of English law, and don't easily allow a man to criminate himself,—it was hard to get into them without the help of a friend. However, as we before noticed, obstacles only whetted Dr. Riccabocca's invention. He looked round, and saw a withered bit of stick under the tree; this he inserted in the division of the stocks, somewhat in the manner in which boys place a stick under a sieve for the purpose of ensnaring sparrows; the fatal wood thus propped, Dr. Riceabocca sat gravely down on the bank, and thrust his feet through the apertures.
"Nothing in it!" cried he, triumphantly, after a moment's deliberation. "The evil is only in idea. Such is the boasted reason of mortals!" With that reflection, nevertheless, he was about to withdraw his feet from their voluntary dilemma, when the crazy stick suddenly gave way and the partition fell back into its clasp. Dr. Riceabocca was fairly caught,—"Facilis descensus—sed revocare gradum!" True, his hands were at liberty, but his legs were so long that, being thus fixed, they kept the hands from the rescue; and as Dr. Riccabocca's form was by no means supple, and the twin parts of the wood stuck together with that firmness of adhesion which things newly painted possess, so, after some vain twists and contortions, in which he succeeded at length (not without a stretch of the sinews that made them crack again) in finding the clasp and breaking his nails thereon, the victim of his own rash experiment resigned himself to his fate. Dr. Riceabocca was one of those men who never do things by halves. When I say he resigned himself, I mean not only Christian but philosophical resignation. The position was not quite so pleasant as, theoretically, he had deemed it; but he resolved to make himself as comfortable as he could. At first, as is natural in all troubles to men who have grown familiar with that odoriferous comforter which Sir Walter Raleigh is said first to have bestowed upon the Caucasian races, the doctor made use of his hands to extract from his pocket his pipe, match-box, and tobacco-pouch. After a few whiffs he would have been quite reconciled to his situation, but for the discovery that the sun had shifted its place in the heavens, and was no longer shaded from his face by the elm-tree. The doctor again looked round, and perceived that his red silk umbrella, which he had laid aside when he had seated himself by Lenny, was within arm's reach. Possessing himself of this treasure, he soon expanded its friendly folds. And thus, doubly fortified within and without, under shade of the umbrella, and his pipe composedly between his lips, Dr. Riceabocca gazed on his own incarcerated legs, even with complacency.
"'He who can despise all things,'" said he, in one of his native proverbs, "'possesses all things!'—if one despises freedom, one is free! This seat is as soft as a sofa! I am not sure," he resumed, soliloquizing, after a pause,—"I am not sure that there is not something more witty than manly and philosophical in that national proverb of mine which I quoted to the fanciullo, 'that there are no handsome prisons'! Did not the son of that celebrated Frenchman, surnamed Bras de Fer, write a book not only to prove that adversities are more necessary than prosperities, but that among all adversities a prison is the most pleasant and profitable? But is not this condition of mine, voluntarily and experimentally incurred, a type of my life? Is it the first time that I have thrust myself into a hobble? And if in a hobble of mine own choosing, why should I blame the gods?"
Upon this, Dr. Riceabocca fell into a train of musing so remote from time and place, that in a few minutes he no more remembered that he was in the parish stocks than a lover remembers that flesh is grass, a miser that mammon is perishable, a philosopher that wisdom is vanity. Dr. Riccabocca was in the clouds.
The dullest dog that ever wrote a novel (and, entre nous, reader)—but let it go no further,—we have a good many dogs among the fraternity that are not Munitos might have seen with half an eye that the parson's discourse had produced a very genial and humanizing effect upon his audience.
[Munito was the name of a dog famous for his learning (a Porson of a dog) at the date of my childhood. There are no such dogs nowadays.]
When all was over, and the congregation stood up to let Mr. Hazeldean and his family walk first down the aisle (for that was the custom at Hazeldean), moistened eyes glanced at the squire's sun-burned manly face, with a kindness that bespoke revived memory of many a generous benefit and ready service. The head might be wrong now and then,—the heart was in the right place after all. And the lady leaning on his arm came in for a large share of that gracious good feeling. True, she now and then gave a little offence when the cottages were not so clean as she fancied they ought to be,—and poor folks don't like a liberty taken with their houses any more than the rich do; true that she was not quite so popular with the women as the squire was, for, if the husband went too often to the ale-house, she always laid the fault on the wife, and said, "No man would go out of doors for his comforts, if he had a smiling face and a clean hearth at his home;" whereas the squire maintained the more gallant opinion that "If Gill was a shrew, it was because Jack did not, as in duty bound, stop her mouth with a kiss!" Still, notwithstanding these more obnoxious notions on her part, and a certain awe inspired by the stiff silk gown and the handsome aquiline nose, it was impossible, especially in the softened tempers of that Sunday afternoon, not to associate the honest, comely, beaming countenance of Mrs. Hazeldean with comfortable recollections of soups, jellies, and wine in sickness, loaves and blankets in winter, cheering words and ready visits in every little distress, and pretexts afforded by improvement in the grounds and gardens (improvements which, as the squire, who preferred productive labour, justly complained, "would never finish") for little timely jobs of work to some veteran grandsire, who still liked to earn a penny, or some ruddy urchin in a family that "came too fast." Nor was Frank, as he walked a little behind, in the whitest of trousers and the stiffest of neckcloths,—with a look of suppressed roguery in his bright hazel eye, that contrasted his assumed stateliness of mien,—without his portion of the silent blessing. Not that he had done anything yet to deserve it; but we all give youth so large a credit in the future. As for Miss Jemima, her trifling foibles only rose from too soft and feminine a susceptibility, too ivy-like a yearning for some masculine oak whereon to entwine her tendrils; and so little confined to self was the natural lovingness of her disposition, that she had helped many a village lass to find a husband, by the bribe of a marriage gift from her own privy purse; notwithstanding the assurances with which she accompanied the marriage gift,—namely, that "the bridegroom would turn out like the rest of his ungrateful sex; but that it was a comfort to think that it would be all one in the approaching crash!" So that she had her warm partisans, especially amongst the young; while the slim captain, on whose arm she rested her forefinger, was at least a civil-spoken gentleman, who had never done any harm, and who would doubtless do a deal of good if he belonged to the parish. Nay, even the fat footman who came last, with the family Prayer-book, had his due share in the general association of neighbourly kindness between hall and hamlet. Few were there present to whom he had not extended the right-hand of fellowship with a full horn of October in the clasp of it; and he was a Hazeldean man, too, born and bred, as two-thirds of the squire's household (now letting themselves out from their large pew under the gallery) were.
On his part, too, you could see that the squire "was moved withal," and a little humbled moreover. Instead of walking erect, and taking bow and courtesy as a matter of course, and of no meaning, he hung his head somewhat, and there was a slight blush on his cheek; and as he glanced upward and round him—shyly, as it were—and his eye met those friendly looks, it returned them with an earnestness that had in it something touching as well as cordial,—an eye that said, as well as eye could say, "I don't quite deserve it, I fear, neighbours; but I thank you for your good-will with my whole heart." And so readily was that glance of the eye understood, that I think, if that scene had taken place out of doors instead of in the church, there would have been a hurrah as the squire passed out of sight.
Scarcely had Mr. Hazeldean got clear of the churchyard, ere Mr. Stirn was whispering in his ear. As Stirn whispered, the squire's face grew long, and his colour rose. The congregation, now flocking out of the church, exchanged looks with each other; that ominous conjunction between squire and man chilled back all the effects of the parson's sermon. The squire struck his cane violently into the ground. "I would rather you had told me Black Bess had got the glanders. A young gentleman, coming to visit my son, struck and insulted in Hazeldean; a young gentleman,—'s death, sir, a relation—his grandmother was a Hazeldean. I do believe Jemima's right, and the world's coming to an end! But Leonard Fairfield in the stocks! What will the parson say? and after such a sermon! 'Rich man, respect the poor!' And the good widow too; and poor Mark, who almost died in my arms! Stirn, you have a heart of stone! You confounded, lawless, merciless miscreant, who the deuce gave you the right to imprison man or boy in my parish of Hazeldean without trial, sentence, or warrant? Run and let the boy out before any one sees him: run, or I shall—"
The squire elevated the cane, and his eyes shot fire. Mr. Stirn did not run, but he walked off very fast. The squire drew back a few paces, and again took his wife's arm. "Just wait a bit for the parson, while I talk to the congregation. I want to stop 'em all, if I can, from going into the village; but how?"
Frank heard, and replied readily,—"Give 'em some beer, sir."
"Beer! on a Sunday! For shame, Frank!" cried Mrs. Hazeldean.
"Hold your tongue, Harry. Thank you, Frank," said the squire, and his brow grew as clear as the blue sky above him. I doubt if Riccabocca could have got him out of his dilemma with the same ease as Frank had done.
"Halt there, my men,—lads and lasses too,—there, halt a bit. Mrs. Fairfield, do you hear?—halt. I think his reverence has given us a capital sermon. Go up to the Great House all of you, and drink a glass to his health. Frank, go with them, and tell Spruce to tap one of the casks kept for the haymakers. Harry" (this in a whisper), "catch the parson, and tell him to come to me instantly."
"My dear Hazeldean, what has happened? You are mad."
"Don't bother; do what I tell you."
"But where is the parson to find you?"
"Where? gadzooks, Mrs. H.,—at the stocks, to be sure!"
Dr. Riccabocca, awakened out of his revery by the sound of footsteps, was still so little sensible of the indignity of his position, that he enjoyed exceedingly, and with all the malice of his natural humour, the astonishment and stupor manifested by Stirn, when that functionary beheld the extraordinary substitute which fate and philosophy had found for Lenny Fairfield. Instead of the weeping, crushed, broken-hearted captive whom he had reluctantly come to deliver, he stared speechless and aghast upon the grotesque but tranquil figure of the doctor enjoying his pipe, and cooling himself under his umbrella, with a sangfroid that was truly appalling and diabolical. Indeed, considering that Stirn always suspected the Papisher of having had a hand in the whole of that black and midnight business, in which the stocks had been broken, bunged up, and consigned to perdition, and that the Papisher had the evil reputation of dabbling in the Black Art, the hocus-pocus way in which the Lenny he had incarcerated was transformed into the doctor he found, conjoined with the peculiarly strange eldrich and Mephistophelean physiognomy and person of Riccabocca, could not but strike a thrill of superstitious dismay into the breast of the parochial tyrant; while to his first confused and stammered exclamations and interrogatories, Riccabocca replied with so tragic an air, such ominous shakes of the head, such mysterious equivocating, long-worded sentences, that Stirn every moment felt more and more convinced that the boy had sold himself to the Powers of Darkness, and that he himself, prematurely and in the flesh, stood face to face with the Arch-Enemy.