Mr. Stirn had not yet recovered his wonted intelligence, which, to do him justice, was usually prompt enough, when the squire, followed hard by the parson, arrived at the spot. Indeed, Mrs. Hazeldean's report of the squire's urgent message, disturbed manner, and most unparalleled invitation to the parishioners, had given wings to Parson Dale's ordinarily slow and sedate movements. And while the squire, sharing Stirn's amazement, beheld indeed a great pair of feet projecting from the stocks, and saw behind them the grave face of Dr. Riccabocca under the majestic shade of the umbrella, but not a vestige of the only being his mind could identify with the tenancy of the stocks, Mr. Dale, catching him by the arm, and panting hard, exclaimed with a petulance he had never before been known to display,—except at the whist-table,—
"Mr. Hazeldean, Mr. Hazeldean, I am scandalized,—I am shocked at you. I can bear a great deal from you, sir, as I ought to do; but to ask my whole congregation, the moment after divine service, to go up and guzzle ale at the Hall, and drink my health, as if a clergyman's sermon had been a speech at a cattle-fair! I am ashamed of you, and of the parish! What on earth has come to you all?"
"That's the very question I wish to Heaven I could answer," groaned the squire, quite mildly and pathetically,—"What on earth has come to us all? Ask Stirn:" (then bursting out) "Stirn, you infernal rascal, don't you hear? What on earth has come to us all?"
"The Papisher is at the bottom of it, sir," said Stirn, provoked out of all temper. "I does my duty, but I is but a mortal man, arter all."
"A mortal fiddlestick! Where's Leonard Fairfield, I say?"
"Him knows best," answered Stirn, retreating mechanically for safety's sake behind the parson, and pointing to Dr. Riccabocca. Hitherto, though both the squire and parson had indeed recognized the Italian, they had merely supposed him to be seated on the bank. It never entered into their heads that so respectable and dignified a man could by any possibility be an inmate, compelled or voluntary, of the parish stocks. No, not even though, as I before said, the squire had seen, just under his nose, a very long pair of soles inserted in the apertures, that sight had only confused and bewildered him, unaccompanied, as it ought to have been, with the trunk and face of Lenny Fairfield. Those soles seemed to him optical delusions, phantoms of the overheated brain; but now, catching hold of Stirn, while the parson in equal astonishment caught hold of him, the squire faltered out, "Well, this beats cock-fighting! The man's as mad as a March hare, and has taken Dr. Rickeybockey for Little Lenny!"
"Perhaps," said the doctor, breaking silence with a bland smile, and attempting an inclination of the head as courteous as his position would permit,—"perhaps, if it be quite the same to you, before you proceed to explanations, you will just help me out of the stocks."
The parson, despite his perplexity and anger, could not repress a smile, as he approached his learned friend, and bent down for the purpose of extricating him.
"Lord love your reverence, you'd better not!" cried Mr. Stirn. "Don't be tempted,—he only wants to get you into is claws. I would not go a near him for all the—"
The speech was interrupted by Dr. Riccabocca himself, who now, thanks to the parson, had risen into his full height, and half a head taller than all present—even than the tall squire—approached Mr. Stirn, with a gracious wave of the hand. Mr. Stirn retreated rapidly towards the hedge, amidst the brambles of which he plunged himself incontinently.
"I guess whom you take me for, Mr. Stirn," said the Italian, lifting his hat with his characteristic politeness. "It is certainly a great honour; but you will know better one of these days, when the gentleman in question admits you to a personal interview in another—and a hotter world."
"But how on earth did you get into my new stocks?" asked the squire, scratching his head.
"My dear sir, Pliny the elder got into the crater of Mount Etna."
"Did he, and what for?"
"To try what it was like, I suppose," answered Riccabocca. The squire burst out a laughing.
"And so you got into the stocks to try what it was like. Well, I can't wonder,—it is a very handsome pair of stocks," continued the squire, with a loving look at the object of his praise. "Nobody need be ashamed of being seen in those stocks,—I'should not mind it myself."
"We had better move on," said the parson, dryly, "or we shall have the whole village here presently, gazing on the lord of the manor in the same predicament as that from which we have just extricated the doctor. Now, pray, what is the matter with Lenny Fairfield? I can't understand a word of what has passed. You don't mean to say that good Lenny Fairfield (who was absent from church, by the by) can have done anything to get into disgrace?"
"Yes, he has though," cried the squire. "Stirn, I say, Stirn!" But Stirn had forced his way through the hedge and vanished. Thus left to his own powers of narrative at secondhand, Mr. Hazeldean now told all he had to communicate,—the assault upon Randal Leslie, and the prompt punishment inflicted by Stirn; his own indignation at the affront to his young kinsman, and his good-natured merciful desire to save the culprit from public humiliation.
The parson, mollified towards the rude and hasty invention of the beer-drinking, took the squire by the hand. "Ah, Mr. Hazeldean, forgive me," he said repentantly; "I ought to have known at once that it was only some ebullition of your heart that could stifle your sense of decorum. But this is a sad story about Lenny brawling and fighting on the Sabbath-day. So unlike him, too. I don't know what to make of it."
"Like or unlike," said the squire, "it has been a gross insult to young Leslie, and looks all the worse because I and Audley are not just the best friends in the world. I can't think what it is," continued Mr. Hazeldean, musingly; "but it seems that there must be always some association of fighting connected with that prim half-brother of mine. There was I, son of his own mother,—who might have been shot through the lungs, only the ball lodged in the shoulder! and now his wife's kinsman—my kinsman, too—grandmother a Hazeldean,—a hard-reading, sober lad, as I am given to understand, can't set his foot into the quietest parish in the three kingdoms, but what the mildest boy that ever was seen makes a rush at him like a mad bull. It is FATALITY!" cried the squire, solemnly.
"Ancient legend records similar instances of fatality in certain houses," observed Riccabocca. "There was the House of Pelops, and Polynices and Eteocles, the sons of OEdipus."
"Pshaw!" said the parson; "but what's to be done?"
"Done?" said the squire; "why, reparation must be made to young Leslie. And though I wished to spare Lenny, the young ruffian, a public disgrace—for your sake, Parson Dale, and Mrs. Fairfield's—yet a good caning in private—"
"Stop, sir!" said Riccabocca, mildly, "and hear me." The Italian then, with much feeling and considerable tact, pleaded the cause of his poor protege, and explained how Lenny's error arose only from mistaken zeal for the squire's service, and in the execution of the orders received from Mr. Stirn.
"That alters the matter," said the squire, softened; "and all that is necessary now will be for him to make a proper apology to my kinsman."
"Yes, that is just," rejoined the parson; "but I still don't learn how he got out of the stocks."
Riccabocca then resumed his tale; and, after confessing his own principal share in Lenny's escape, drew a moving picture of the boy's shame and honest mortification. "Let us march against Philip!" cried the Athenians when they heard Demosthenes—
"Let us go at once and comfort the child!" cried the parson, before Riccabocca could finish.
With that benevolent intention all three quickened their pace, and soon arrived at the widow's cottage. But Lenny had caught sight of their approach through the window; and not doubting that, in spite of Riccabocca's intercession, the parson was come to upbraid and the squire to re-imprison, he darted out by the back way, got amongst the woods, and lay there perdu all the evening. Nay, it was not till after dark that his mother—who sat wringing her hands in the little kitchen, and trying in vain to listen to the parson and Mrs. Dale, who (after sending in search of the fugitive) had kindly come to console the mother—heard a timid knock at the door and a nervous fumble at the latch. She started up, opened the door, and Lenny sprang to her bosom, and there buried his face, sobbing aloud.
"No harm, my boy," said the parson, tenderly; "you have nothing to fear,—all is explained and forgiven."
Lenny looked up, and the veins on his forehead were much swollen. "Sir," said he, sturdily, "I don't want to be forgiven,—I ain't done no wrong. And—I've been disgraced—and I won't go to school, never no more."
"Hush, Carry!" said the parson to his wife, who with the usual liveliness of her little temper, was about to expostulate. "Good-night, Mrs. Fairfield. I shall come and talk to you to-morrow, Lenny; by that time you will think better of it."
The parson then conducted his wife home, and went up to the Hall to report Lenny's safe return; for the squire was very uneasy about him, and had even in person shared the search. As soon as he heard Lenny was safe—"Well," said the squire, "let him go the first thing in the morning to Rood Hall, to ask Master Leslie's pardon, and all will be right and smooth again."
"A young villain!" cried Frank, with his cheeks the colour of scarlet; "to strike a gentleman and an Etonian, who had just been to call on me! But I wonder Randal let him off so well,—any other boy in the sixth form would have killed him!"
"Frank," said the parson, sternly, "if we all had our deserts, what should be done to him who not only lets the sun go down on his own wrath, but strives with uncharitable breath to fan the dying embers of another's?"
The clergyman here turned away from Frank, who bit his lip, and seemed abashed, while even his mother said not a word in his exculpation; for when the parson did reprove in that stern tone, the majesty of the Hall stood awed before the rebuke of the Church. Catching Riccabocca's inquisitive eye, Mr. Dale drew aside the philosopher, and whispered to him his fears that it would be a very hard matter to induce Lenny to beg Randal Leslie's pardon, and that the proud stomach of the pattern-boy would not digest the stocks with as much ease as a long regimen of philosophy had enabled the sage to do. This conference Miss Jemima soon interrupted by a direct appeal to the doctor respecting the number of years (even without any previous and more violent incident) that the world could possibly withstand its own wear and tear.
"Ma'am," said the doctor, reluctantly summoned away to look at a passage in some prophetic periodical upon that interesting subject,—"ma'am, it is very hard that you should make one remember the end of the world, since, in conversing with you, one's natural temptation is to forget its existence."
Miss Jemima's cheeks were suffused with a deeper scarlet than Frank's had been a few minutes before. Certainly that deceitful, heartless compliment justified all her contempt for the male sex; and yet—such is human blindness—it went far to redeem all mankind in her credulous and too confiding soul.
"He is about to propose," sighed Miss Jemima.
"Giacomo," said Riccabocca, as he drew on his nightcap, and stepped majestically into the four-posted bed, "I think we shall get that boy for the garden now!"
Thus each spurred his hobby, or drove her car, round the Hazeldean whirligig.
Whatever, may be the ultimate success of Miss Jemima Hazeldean's designs upon Dr. Riccabocca, the Machiavellian sagacity with which the Italian had counted upon securing the services of Lenny Fairfield was speedily and triumphantly established by the result. No voice of the parson's, charmed he ever so wisely, could persuade the peasant-boy to go and ask pardon of the young gentleman, to whom, because he had done as he was bid, he owed an agonizing defeat and a shameful incarceration; and, to Mrs. Dale's vexation, the widow took the boy's part. She was deeply offended at the unjust disgrace Lenny had undergone in being put in the stocks; she shared his pride, and openly approved his spirit. Nor was it without great difficulty that Lenny could be induced to resume his lessons at school,—nay, even to set foot beyond the precincts of his mother's holding. The point of the school at last he yielded, though sullenly; and the parson thought it better to temporize as to the more unpalatable demand. Unluckily, Lenny's apprehensions of the mockery that awaited him in the merciless world of his village were realized. Though Stirn at first kept his own counsel the tinker blabbed the whole affair. And after the search instituted for Lenny on the fatal night, all attempt to hush up what had passed would have been impossible. So then Stirn told his story, as the tinker had told his own; both tales were very unfavourable to Leonard Fairfield. The pattern-boy had broken the Sabbath, fought with his betters, and been well mauled into the bargain; the village lad had sided with Stirn and the authorities in spying out the misdemeanours of his equals therefore Leonard Fairfield, in both capacities of degraded pattern-boy and baffled spy, could expect no mercy,—he was ridiculed in the one, and hated in the other.
It is true that, in the presence of the schoolmaster and under the eye of Mr. Dale, no one openly gave vent to malignant feelings; but the moment those checks were removed, popular persecution began.
Some pointed and mowed at him, some cursed him for a sneak, and all shunned his society; voices were heard in the hedgerows, as he passed through the village at dusk, "Who was put into the stocks?—baa!" "Who got a bloody nob for playing spy to Nick Stirn?—baa!" To resist this species of aggression would have been a vain attempt for a wiser head and a colder temper than our poor pattern-boy's. He took his resolution at once, and his mother approved it; and the second or third day after Dr. Riccabocca's return to the Casino, Lenny Fairfield presented himself on the terrace with a little bundle in his hand. "Please, sir," said he to the doctor, who was sitting cross-legged on the balustrade, with his red silk umbrella over his head,—"please, sir, if you'll be good enough to take me now, and give me any hole to sleep in, I'll work for your honour night and day; and as for wages, Mother says, 'just suit yourself, sir.'"
"My child," said the doctor, taking Lenny by the hand, and looking at him with the sagacious eye of a wizard, "I knew you would come! and Giacomo is already prepared for you! As to wages, we'll talk of them by and by."
Lenny being thus settled, his mother looked for some evenings on the vacant chair, where he had so long sat in the place of her beloved Mark; and the chair seemed so comfortless and desolate, thus left all to itself, that she could bear it no longer.
Indeed the village had grown as distasteful to her as to Lenny,—perhaps more so; and one morning she hailed the steward as he was trotting his hog-maued cob beside the door, and bade him tell the squire that "she would take it very kind if he would let her off the six months' notice for the land and premises she held; there were plenty to step into the place at a much better rent."
"You're a fool," said the good-natured steward; "and I'm very glad you did not speak to that fellow Stirn instead of to me. You've been doing extremely well here, and have the place, I may say, for nothing."
"Nothin' as to rent, sir, but a great deal as to feelin'," said the widow. "And now Lenny has gone to work with the foreign gentleman, I should like to go and live near him."
"Ah, yes, I heard Lenny had taken himself off to the Casino, more fool he; but, bless your heart, 't is no distance,—two miles or so. Can't he come home every night after work?"
"No, sir," exclaimed the widow, almost fiercely; "he sha'n't come home here, to be called bad names and jeered at!—he whom my dead good man was so fond and proud of. No, sir; we poor folks have our feelings, as I said to Mrs. Dale, and as I will say to the squire hisself. Not that I don't thank him for all favours,—he be a good gentleman if let alone; but he says he won't come near us till Lenny goes and axes pardin. Pardin for what, I should like to know? Poor lamb! I wish you could ha' seen his nose, sir,—as big as your two fists. Ax pardin! if the squire had had such a nose as that, I don't think it's pardin he'd been ha' axing. But I let the passion get the better of me,—I humbly beg you'll excuse it, sir. I'm no schollard, as poor Mark was, and Lenny would have been, if the Lord had not visited us otherways. Therefore just get the squire to let me go as soon as may be; and as for the bit o' hay and what's on the grounds and orchard, the new comer will no doubt settle that."
The steward, finding no eloquence of his could induce the widow to relinquish her resolution, took her message to the squire. Mr. Hazeldean, who was indeed really offended at the boy's obstinate refusal to make the amende honorable to Randal Leslie, at first only bestowed a hearty curse or two on the pride and ingratitude both of mother and son. It may be supposed, however, that his second thoughts were more gentle, since that evening, though he did not go himself to the widow, he sent his "Harry." Now, though Harry was sometimes austere and brusque enough on her own account, and in such business as might especially be transacted between herself and the cottagers, yet she never appeared as the delegate of her lord except in the capacity of a herald of peace and mediating angel. It was with good heart, too, that she undertook this mission, since, as we have seen, both mother and son were great favourites of hers. She entered the cottage with the friendliest beam in her bright blue eye, and it was with the softest tone of her frank cordial voice that she accosted the widow. But she was no more successful than the steward had been. The truth is, that I don't believe the haughtiest duke in the three kingdoms is really so proud as your plain English rural peasant, nor half so hard to propitiate and deal with when his sense of dignity is ruffled. Nor are there many of my own literary brethren (thin-skinned creatures though we are) so sensitively alive to the Public Opinion, wisely despised by Dr. Riccabocca, as that same peasant. He can endure a good deal of contumely sometimes, it is true, from his superiors (though, thank Heaven! that he rarely meets with unjustly); but to be looked down upon and mocked and pointed at by his own equals—his own little world—cuts him to the soul. And if you can succeed in breaking this pride and destroying this sensitiveness, then he is a lost being. He can never recover his self-esteem, and you have chucked him half-way—a stolid, inert, sullen victim—to the perdition of the prison or the convict-ship.
Of this stuff was the nature both of the widow and her son. Had the honey of Plato flowed from the tongue of Mrs. Hazeldean, it could not have turned into sweetness the bitter spirit upon which it descended. But Mrs. Hazeldean, though an excellent woman, was rather a bluff, plain-spoken one; and after all she had some little feeling for the son of a gentleman, and a decayed, fallen gentleman, who, even by Lenny's account, had been assailed without any intelligible provocation; nor could she, with her strong common-sense, attach all the importance which Mrs. Fairfield did to the unmannerly impertinence of a few young cubs, which she said truly, "would soon die away if no notice was taken of it." The widow's mind was made up, and Mrs. Hazeldean departed,—with much chagrin and some displeasure.
Mrs. Fairfield, however, tacitly understood that the request she had made was granted, and early one morning her door was found locked, the key left at a neighbour's to be given to the steward; and, on further inquiry, it was ascertained that her furniture and effects had been removed by the errand cart in the dead of the night. Lenny had succeeded in finding a cottage on the road-side, not far from the Casino; and there, with a joyous face, he waited to welcome his mother to breakfast, and show how he had spent the night in arranging her furniture.
"Parson!" cried the squire, when all this news came upon him, as he was walking arm in arm with Mr. Dale to inspect some proposed improvement in the Almshouse, "this is all your fault. Why did you not go and talk to that brute of a boy and that dolt of a woman? You've got 'soft sawder enough,' as Frank calls it in his new-fashioned slang."
"As if I had not talked myself hoarse to both!" said the parson, in a tone of reproachful surprise at the accusation. "But it was in vain! O Squire, if you had taken my advice about the stocks,—'quieta non movere'!"
"Bother!" said the squire. "I suppose I am to be held up as a tyrant, a Nero, a Richard the Third, or a Grand Inquisitor, merely for having things smart and tidy! Stocks indeed! Your friend Rickeybockey said he was never more comfortable in his life,—quite enjoyed sitting there. And what did not hurt Rickeybockey's dignity (a very gentlemanlike man he is, when he pleases) ought to be no such great matter to Master Leonard Fairfield. But 't is no use talking! What's to be done now? The woman must not starve; and I'm sure she can't live out of Rickeybockey's wages to Lenny,—by the way, I hope he don't board the boy upon his and Jackeymo's leavings: I hear they dine upon newts and sticklebacks, faugh! I'll tell you what, Parson, now I think of it, at the back of the cottage which she has taken there are some fields of capital land just vacant. Rickeybockey wants to have 'em, and sounded me as to the rent when he was at the Hall. I only half promised him the refusal. And he must give up four or five acres of the best land round the cottage to the widow—just enough for her to manage—and she can keep a dairy. If she want capital, I'll lend her some in your name,—only don't tell Stirn; and as for the rent—we'll talk of that when we see how she gets on, thankless, obstinate jade that she is! You see," added the squire, as if he felt there was some apology due for this generosity to an object whom he professed to consider so ungrateful, "her husband was a faithful servant, and so—I wish you would not stand there staring me out of countenance, but go down to the woman at once, or Stirn will have let the land to Rickeybockey, as sure as a gun. And hark ye, Dale, perhaps you can contrive, if the woman is so cursedly stiffbacked, not to say the land is mine, or that it is any favour I want to do her—or, in short, manage it as you can for the best." Still even this charitable message failed. The widow knew that the land was the squire's, and worth a good L3 an acre. "She thanked him humbly for that and all favours; but she could not afford to buy cows, and she did not wish to be beholden to any one for her living. And Lenny was well off at Mr. Rickeybockey's, and coming on wonderfully in the garden way, and she did not doubt she could get some washing; at all events, her haystack would bring in a good bit of money, and she should do nicely, thank their honours."
Nothing further could be done in the direct way, but the remark about the washing suggested some mode of indirectly benefiting the widow; and a little time afterwards, the sole laundress in that immediate neighbourhood happening to die, a hint from the squire obtained from the landlady of the inn opposite the Casino such custom as she had to bestow, which at times was not inconsiderable. And what with Lenny's wages (whatever that mysterious item might be), the mother and son contrived to live without exhibiting any of those physical signs of fast and abstinence which Riccabocca and his valet gratuitously afforded to the student in animal anatomy.
Of all the wares and commodities in exchange and barter, wherein so mainly consists the civilization of our modern world, there is not one which is so carefully weighed, so accurately measured, so plumbed and gauged, so doled and scraped, so poured out in minima and balanced with scruples,—as that necessary of social commerce called "an apology"! If the chemists were half so careful in vending their poisons, there would be a notable diminution in the yearly average of victims to arsenic and oxalic acid. But, alas! in the matter of apology, it is not from the excess of the dose, but the timid, niggardly, miserly manner in which it is dispensed, that poor Humanity is hurried off to the Styx! How many times does a life depend on the exact proportions of an apology! Is it a hairbreadth too short to cover the scratch for which you want it? Make your will,—you are a dead man! A life do I say?—a hecatomb of lives! How many wars would have been prevented, how many thrones would be standing, dynasties flourishing, commonwealths brawling round a bema, or fitting out galleys for corn and cotton, if an inch or two more of apology had been added to the proffered ell! But then that plaguy, jealous, suspicious, old vinegar-faced Honour, and her partner Pride—as penny-wise and pound-foolish a she-skinflint as herself—have the monopoly of the article. And what with the time they lose in adjusting their spectacles, hunting in the precise shelf for the precise quality demanded, then (quality found) the haggling as to quantum,—considering whether it should be Apothecary's weight or Avoirdupois, or English measure or Flemish,—and, finally, the hullabuloo they make if the customer is not perfectly satisfied with the monstrous little he gets for his money, I don't wonder, for my part, how one loses temper and patience, and sends Pride, Honour, and Apology all to the devil. Aristophanes, in his comedy of "Peace," insinuates a beautiful allegory by only suffering that goddess, though in fact she is his heroine, to appear as a mute. She takes care never to open her lips. The shrewd Greek knew very well that she would cease to be Peace, if she once began to chatter. Wherefore, O reader, if ever you find your pump under the iron heel of another man's boot, Heaven grant that you may hold your tongue, and not make things past all endurance and forgiveness by bawling out for an apology!
But the squire and his son, Frank, were large-hearted generous creatures in the article of apology, as in all things less skimpingly dealt out. And seeing that Leonard Fairfield would offer no plaster to Randal Leslie, they made amends for his stinginess by their own prodigality. The squire accompanied his son to Rood Hall, and none of the family choosing to be at home, the squire in his own hand, and from his own head, indited and composed an epistle which might have satisfied all the wounds which the dignity of the Leslies had ever received.
This letter of apology ended with a hearty request that Randal would come and spend a few days with his son. Frank's epistle was to the same purport, only more Etonian and less legible.
It was some days before Randal's replies to these epistles were received. The replies bore the address of a village near London; and stated that the writer was now reading with a tutor preparatory to entrance to Oxford, and could not, therefore, accept the invitation extended to him.
For the rest, Randal expressed himself with good sense, though not with much generosity. He excused his participation in the vulgarity of such a conflict by a bitter, but short allusion to the obstinacy and ignorance of the village boor; and did not do what you, my kind reader, certainly would have done under similar circumstances,—namely, intercede in behalf of a brave and unfortunate antagonist. Most of us like a foe better after we have fought him,—that is, if we are the conquering party; this was not the case with Randal Leslie. There, so far as the Etonian was concerned, the matter rested. And the squire, irritated that he could not repair whatever wrong that young gentleman had sustained, no longer felt a pang of regret as he passed by Mrs. Fairfield's deserted cottage.
Lenny Fairfield continued to give great satisfaction to his new employers, and to profit in many respects by the familiar kindness with which he was treated. Riccabocca, who valued himself on penetrating into character, had from the first seen that much stuff of no common quality and texture was to be found in the disposition and mind of the English village boy. On further acquaintance, he perceived that, under a child's innocent simplicity, there were the workings of an acuteness that required but development and direction. He ascertained that the pattern-boy's progress at the village school proceeded from something more than mechanical docility and readiness of comprehension. Lenny had a keen thirst for knowledge, and through all the disadvantages of birth and circumstance, there were the indications of that natural genius which converts disadvantages themselves into stimulants. Still, with the germs of good qualities lay the embryos of those which, difficult to separate, and hard to destroy, often mar the produce of the soil. With a remarkable and generous pride in self-repute, there was some stubbornness; with great sensibility to kindness, there was also strong reluctance to forgive affront.
This mixed nature in an uncultivated peasant's breast interested Riccabocca, who, though long secluded from the commerce of mankind, still looked upon man as the most various and entertaining volume which philosophical research can explore. He soon accustomed the boy to the tone of a conversation generally subtle and suggestive; and Lenny's language and ideas became insensibly less rustic and more refined. Then Riccabocca selected from his library, small as it was, books that, though elementary, were of a higher cast than Lenny could have found within his reach at Hazeldean. Riccabocca knew the English language well,—better in grammar, construction, and genius than many a not ill-educated Englishman; for he had studied it with the minuteness with which a scholar studies a dead language, and amidst his collection he had many of the books which had formerly served him for that purpose. These were the first works he lent to Lenny. Meanwhile Jackeymo imparted to the boy many secrets in practical gardening and minute husbandry, for at that day farming in England (some favoured counties and estates excepted) was far below the nicety to which the art has been immemorially carried in the north of Italy,—where, indeed, you may travel for miles and miles as through a series of market-gardens; so that, all these things considered, Leonard Fairfield might be said to have made a change for the better. Yet, in truth, and looking below the surface, that might be fair matter of doubt. For the same reason which had induced the boy to fly his native village, he no longer repaired to the church of Hazeldean. The old intimate intercourse between him and the parson became necessarily suspended, or bounded to an occasional kindly visit from the latter,—visits which grew more rare and less familiar, as he found his former pupil in no want of his services, and wholly deaf to his mild entreaties to forget and forgive the past, and come at least to his old seat in the parish church. Lenny still went to church,—a church a long way off in another parish,—but the sermons did not do him the same good as Parson Dale's had done; and the clergyman, who had his own flock to attend to, did not condescend, as Parson Dale would have done, to explain what seemed obscure, and enforce what was profitable, in private talk, with that stray lamb from another's fold.
Now I question much if all Dr. Riccabocca's maxims, though they were often very moral and generally very wise, served to expand the peasant boy's native good qualities, and correct his bad, half so well as the few simple words, not at all indebted to Machiavelli, which Leonard had once reverently listened to when he stood by Mark's elbow-chair, yielded up for the moment to the good parson, worthy to sit in it; for Mr. Dale had a heart in which all the fatherless of the parish found their place. Nor was this loss of tender, intimate, spiritual lore so counterbalanced by the greater facilities for purely intellectual instruction as modern enlightenment might presume. For, without disputing the advantage of knowledge in a general way, knowledge, in itself, is not friendly to content. Its tendency, of course, is to increase the desires, to dissatisfy us with what is, in order to urge progress to what may be; and in that progress, what unnoticed martyrs among the many must fall baffled and crushed by the way! To how large a number will be given desires they will never realize, dissatisfaction of the lot from which they will never rise! Allons! one is viewing the dark side of the question. It is all the fault of that confounded Riccabocca, who has already caused Lenny Fairfield to lean gloomily on his spade, and, after looking round and seeing no one near him, groan out querulously,—"And am I born to dig a potato ground?"
Pardieu, my friend Lenny, if you live to be seventy, and ride in your carriage, and by the help of a dinner-pill digest a spoonful of curry, you may sigh to think what a relish there was in potatoes, roasted in ashes after you had digged them out of that ground with your own stout young hands. Dig on, Lenny Fairfield, dig on! Dr. Riccabocca will tell you that there was once an illustrious personage—[The Emperor Diocletian]—who made experience of two very different occupations,—one was ruling men, the other was planting cabbages; he thought planting cabbages much the pleasanter of the two!
Dr. Riccabocca had secured Lenny Fairfield, and might therefore be considered to have ridden his hobby in the great whirligig with adroitness and success. But Miss Jemima was still driving round in her car, handling the reins, and flourishing the whip, without apparently having got an inch nearer to the flying form of Dr. Riccabocca.
Indeed, that excellent and only too susceptible spinster, with all her experience of the villany of man, had never conceived the wretch to be so thoroughly beyond the reach of redemption as when Dr. Riccabocca took his leave, and once more interred himself amidst the solitudes of the Casino, and without having made any formal renunciation of his criminal celibacy. For some days she shut herself up in her own chamber, and brooded with more than her usual gloomy satisfaction on the certainty of the approaching crash. Indeed, many signs of that universal calamity, which, while the visit of Riccabocca lasted, she had permitted herself to consider ambiguous, now became luminously apparent. Even the newspaper, which during that credulous and happy period had given half a column to Births and Marriages, now bore an ominously long catalogue of Deaths; so that it seemed as if the whole population had lost heart, and had no chance of repairing its daily losses. The leading article spoke, with the obscurity of a Pythian, of an impending CRISIS. Monstrous turnips sprouted out from the paragraphs devoted to General News. Cows bore calves with two heads, whales were stranded in the Humber, showers of frogs descended in the High Street of Cheltenham.
All these symptoms of the world's decrepitude and consummation, which by the side of the fascinating Riccabocca might admit of some doubt as to their origin and cause, now, conjoined with the worst of all, namely, the frightfully progressive wickedness of man,—left to Miss Jemima no ray of hope save that afforded by the reflection that she could contemplate the wreck of matter without a single sentiment of regret.
Mrs. Dale, however, by no means shared the despondency of her fair friend, and having gained access to Miss Jemima's chamber, succeeded, though not without difficulty, in her kindly attempts to cheer the drooping spirits of that female misanthropist. Nor, in her benevolent desire to speed the car of Miss Jemima to its hymeneal goal, was Mrs. Dale so cruel towards her male friend, Dr. Riccabocca, as she seemed to her husband. For Mrs. Dale was a woman of shrewdness and penetration, as most quick-tempered women are; and she knew that Miss Jemima was one of those excellent young ladies who are likely to value a husband in proportion to the difficulty of obtaining him. In fact, my readers of both sexes must often have met, in the course of their experience, with that peculiar sort of feminine disposition, which requires the warmth of the conjugal hearth to develop all its native good qualities; nor is it to be blamed overmuch if, innocently aware of this tendency in its nature, it turns towards what is best fitted for its growth and improvement, by laws akin to those which make the sunflower turn to the sun, or the willow to the stream. Ladies of this disposition, permanently thwarted in their affectionate bias, gradually languish away into intellectual inanition, or sprout out into those abnormal eccentricities which are classed under the general name of "oddity" or "character." But once admitted to their proper soil, it is astonishing what healthful improvement takes place,—how the poor heart, before starved and stinted of nourishment, throws out its suckers, and bursts into bloom and fruit. And thus many a belle from whom the beaux have stood aloof, only because the puppies think she could be had for the asking, they see afterwards settled down into true wife and fond mother, with amaze at their former disparagement, and a sigh at their blind hardness of heart.
In all probability Mrs. Dale took this view of the subject; and certainly, in addition to all the hitherto dormant virtues which would be awakened in Miss Jemima when fairly Mrs. Riccabocca, she counted somewhat upon the mere worldly advantage which such a match would bestow upon the exile. So respectable a connection with one of the oldest, wealthiest, and most popular families in the shire would in itself give him a position not to be despised by a poor stranger in the land; and though the interest of Miss Jemima's dowry might not be much, regarded in the light of English pounds (not Milanese lire), still it would suffice to prevent that gradual process of dematerialization which the lengthened diet upon minnows and sticklebacks had already made apparent in the fine and slow-evanishing form of the philosopher.
Like all persons convinced of the expediency of a thing, Mrs. Dale saw nothing wanting but opportunities to insure its success. And that these might be forthcoming she not only renewed with greater frequency, and more urgent instance than ever, her friendly invitations to Riccabocca to drink tea and spend the evening, but she so artfully chafed the squire on his sore point of hospitality, that the doctor received weekly a pressing solicitation to dine and sleep at the Hall.
At first the Italian pished and grunted, and said Cospetto, and Per Bacco, and Diavolo, and tried to creep out of so much proffered courtesy. But like all single gentlemen, he was a little under the tyrannical influence of his faithful servant; and Jackeymo, though he could bear starving as well as his master when necessary, still, when he had the option, preferred roast beef and plum-pudding. Moreover, that vain and incautious confidence of Riccabocca touching the vast sum at his command, and with no heavier drawback than that of so amiable a lady as Miss Jemima—who had already shown him (Jackeymo) many little delicate attentions—had greatly whetted the cupidity which was in the servant's Italian nature,—a cupidity the more keen because, long debarred its legitimate exercise on his own mercenary interests, he carried it all to the account of his master's!
Thus tempted by his enemy and betrayed by his servant, the unfortunate Riccabocca fell, though with eyes not unblinded, into the hospitable snares extended for the destruction of his—celibacy! He went often to the Parsonage, often to the Hall, and by degrees the sweets of the social domestic life, long denied him, began to exercise their enervating charm upon the stoicism of our poor exile. Frank had now returned to Eton. An unexpected invitation had carried off Captain Higginbotham to pass a few weeks at Bath with a distant relation, who had lately returned from India, and who, as rich as Creesus, felt so estranged and solitary in his native isle that, when the captain "claimed kindred there," to his own amaze "he had his claims allowed;" while a very protracted sitting of parliament still delayed in London the squire's habitual visitors during the later summer; so that—a chasm thus made in his society—Mr. Hazeldean welcomed with no hollow cordiality the diversion or distraction he found in the foreigner's companionship. Thus, with pleasure to all parties, and strong hopes to the two female conspirators, the intimacy between the Casino and Hall rapidly thickened; but still not a word resembling a distinct proposal did Dr. Riccabocca breathe. And still, if such an idea obtruded itself on his mind, it was chased therefrom with so determined a Diavolo that perhaps, if not the end of the world, at least the end of Miss Jemima's tenure in it, might have approached and seen her still Miss Jemima, but for a certain letter with a foreign postmark that reached the doctor one Tuesday morning.
The servant saw that something had gone wrong, and, under pretence of syringing the orange-trees, he lingered near his master, and peered through the sunny leaves upon Riccabocca's melancholy brows.
The doctor sighed heavily. Nor did he, as was his wont after some such sigh, mechanically take up that dear comforter the pipe. But though the tobacco-pouch lay by his side on the balustrade, and the pipe stood against the wall between his knees, childlike lifting up its lips to the customary caress, he heeded neither the one nor the other, but laid the letter silently on his lap, and fixed his eyes upon the ground.
"It must be bad news indeed!" thought Jackeymo, and desisted from his work. Approaching his master, he took up the pipe and the tobacco-pouch, and filled the bowl slowly, glancing all the while towards that dark musing face on which, when abandoned by the expression of intellectual vivacity or the exquisite smile of Italian courtesy, the deep downward lines revealed the characters of sorrow. Jackeymo did not venture to speak; but the continued silence of his master disturbed him much. He laid that peculiar tinder which your smokers use upon the steel, and struck the spark,—still not a word, nor did Riccabocca stretch forth his hand.
"I never knew him in this taking before," thought Jackeymo; and delicately he insinuated the neck of the pipe into the nerveless fingers of the band that lay supine on those quiet knees. The pipe fell to the ground.
Jackeymo crossed himself, and began praying to his sainted namesake with great fervour.
The doctor rose slowly, and as if with effort; he walked once or twice to and fro the terrace; and then he halted abruptly and said,—
"Blessed Monsignore San Giacomo, I knew thou wouldst hear me!" cried the servant; and he raised his master's hand to his lips, then abruptly turned away and wiped his eyes.
"Friend," repeated Riccabocca, and this time with a tremulous emphasis, and in the softest tone of a voice never wholly without the music of the sweet South, "I would talk to thee of my child."
"The letter, then, relates to the signorina. She is well?"
"Yes, she is well now. She is in our native Italy." Jackeymo raised his eyes involuntarily towards the orange-trees, and the morning breeze swept by and bore to him the odour of their blossoms.
"Those are sweet even here, with care," said he, pointing to the trees. "I think I have said that before to the padrone."
But Riccabocca was now looking again at the letter, and did not notice either the gesture or the remark of his servant. "My aunt is no more!" said he, after a pause.
"We will pray for her soul!" answered Jackeymo, solemnly. "But she was very old, and had been a long time ailing. Let it not grieve the padrone too keenly: at that age, and with those infirmities, death comes as a friend."
"Peace be to her dust!" returned the Italian. "If she had her faults, be they now forgotten forever; and in the hour of my danger and distress she sheltered my infant! That shelter is destroyed. This letter is from the priest, her confessor. And the home of which my child is bereaved falls to the inheritance of my enemy."
"Traitor!" muttered Jackeymo; and his right hand seemed to feel for the weapon which the Italians of lower rank often openly wear in their girdles.
"The priest," resumed Riccabocca, calmly, "has rightly judged in removing my child as a guest from the house in which that traitor enters as lord."
"And where is the signorina?"
"With the poor priest. See, Giacomo, here, here—this is her handwriting at the end of the letter,—the first lines she ever yet traced to me."
Jackeymo took off his hat, and looked reverently on the large characters of a child's writing. But large as they were, they seemed indistinct, for the paper was blistered with the child's tears; and on the place where they had not fallen, there was a round fresh moist stain of the tear that had dropped from the lids of the father. Riccabocca renewed, "The priest recommends a convent."
"To the devil with the priest!" cried the servant; then crossing himself rapidly, he added, "I did not mean that, Monsignore San Giacomo,—forgive me! But your Excellency does not think of making a nun of his only child!"
[The title of Excellency does not, in Italian, necessarily express any exalted rank, but is often given by servants to their masters.]
"And yet why not?" said Riccabocca, mournfully; "what can I give her in the world? Is the land of the stranger a better refuge than the home of peace in her native clime?"
"In the land of the stranger beats her father's heart!"
"And if that beat were stilled, what then? Ill fares the life that a single death can bereave of all. In a convent at least (and the priest's influence can obtain her that asylum amongst her equals and amidst her sex) she is safe from trial and from penury—to her grave!"
"Penury! Just see how rich we shall be when we take those fields at Michaelmas."
"Pazzie!"—[Follies]—said Riccabocca, listlessly. "Are these suns more serene than ours, or the soil more fertile? Yet in our own Italy, saith the proverb, 'He who sows land reaps more care than corn.' It were different," continued the father, after a pause, and in a more resolute tone, "if I had some independence, however small, to count on,—nay, if among all my tribe of dainty relatives there were but one female who would accompany Violante to the exile's hearth,—Ishmael had his Hagar. But how can we two rough-bearded men provide for all the nameless wants and cares of a frail female child? And she has been so delicately reared,—the woman-child needs the fostering hand and tender eye of a woman."
"And with a word," said Jackeymo, resolutely, "the padrone might secure to his child all that he needs to save her from the sepulchre of a convent; and ere the autumn leaves fall, she might be sitting on his knee. Padrone, do not think that you can conceal from me the truth, that you love your child better than all things in the world,—now the Patria is as dead to you as the dust of your fathers,—and your heart-strings would crack with the effort to tear her from them, and consign her to a convent. Padrone, never again to hear her voice, never again to see her face! Those little arms that twined round your neck that dark night, when we fled fast for life and freedom, and you said, as you felt their clasp, 'Friend, all is not yet lost.'"
"Giacomo!" exclaimed the father, reproachfully, and his voice seemed to choke him. Riccabocca turned away, and walked restlessly to and fro the terrace; then, lifting his arms with a wild gesture, as he still continued his long irregular strides, he muttered, "Yes, Heaven is my witness that I could have borne reverse and banishment without a murmur, had I permitted myself that young partner in exile and privation. Heaven is my witness that, if I hesitate now, it is because I would not listen to my own selfish heart. Yet never, never to see her again,—my child! And it was but as the infant that I beheld her! O friend, friend!" (and, stopping short with a burst of uncontrollable emotion, he bowed his head upon his servant's shoulder), "thou knowest what I have endured and suffered at my hearth, as in my country; the wrong, the perfidy, the—the—" His voice again failed him; he clung to his servant's breast, and his whole frame shook.
"But your child, the innocent one—think now only of her!" faltered Giacomo, struggling with his own sobs. "True, only of her," replied the exile, raising his face, "only of her. Put aside thy thoughts for thyself, friend,—counsel me. If I were to send for Violante, and if, transplanted to these keen airs, she drooped and died—Look, look, the priest says that she needs such tender care; or if I myself were summoned from the world, to leave her in it alone, friendless, homeless, breadless perhaps, at the age of woman's sharpest trial against temptation, would she not live to mourn the cruel egotism that closed on her infant innocence the gates of the House of God?"
Jackeymo was appalled by this appeal; and indeed Riccabocca had never before thus reverently spoken of the cloister. In his hours of philosophy, he was wont to sneer at monks and nuns, priesthood and superstition. But now, in that hour of emotion, the Old Religion reclaimed her empire; and the sceptical world-wise man, thinking only of his child, spoke and felt with a child's simple faith.
"But again I say," murmured Jackeymo, scarce audibly, and after a long silence, "if the padrone would make up his mind—to marry!"
He expected that his master would start up in his customary indignation at such a suggestion,—nay, he might not have been sorry so to have changed the current of feeling; but the poor Italian only winced slightly, and mildly withdrawing himself from his servant's supporting arm, again paced the terrace, but this time quietly and in silence. A quarter of an hour thus passed. "Give me the pipe," said Dr. Riccabocca, passing into the belvidere.
Jackeymo again struck the spark, and, wonderfully relieved at the padrone's return to the habitual adviser, mentally besought his sainted namesake to bestow a double portion of soothing wisdom on the benignant influences of the weed.
Dr. Riccabocca had been some little time in the solitude of the belvidere, when Lenny Fairfield, not knowing that his employer was therein, entered to lay down a book which the doctor had lent him, with injunctions to leave it on a certain table when done with. Riccabocca looked up at the sound of the young peasant's step.
"I beg your honour's pardon, I did not know—"
"Never mind: lay the book there. I wish to speak with you. You look well, my child: this air agrees with you as well as that of Hazeldean?"
"Oh, yes, Sir!"
"Yet it is higher ground,—more exposed?"
"That can hardly be, sir," said Lenny; "there are many plants grow here which don't flourish at the squire's. The hill yonder keeps off the east wind, and the place lays to the south."
"Lies, not lays, Lenny. What are the principal complaints in these parts?"
"I mean what maladies, what diseases?"
"I never heard tell of any, sir, except the rheumatism."
"No low fevers, no consumption?"
"Never heard of them, sir."
Riccabocca drew a long breath, as if relieved. "That seems a very kind family at the Hall."
"I have nothing to say against it," answered Lenny, bluntly. "I have not been treated justly. But as that book says, sir, 'It is not every one who comes into the world with a silver spoon in his mouth.'"
Little thought the doctor that those wise maxims may leave sore thoughts behind them! He was too occupied with the subject most at his own heart to think then of what was in Lenny Fairfield's.
"Yes; a kind, English domestic family. Did you see much of Miss Hazeldean?"
"Not so much as of the Lady."
"Is she liked in the village, think you?"
"Miss Jemima? Yes. She never did harm. Her little dog bit me once,—she did not ask me to beg its pardon, she asked mine! She's a very nice young lady; the girls say she is very affable; and," added Lenny, with a smile, "there are always more weddings going on when she is down at the Hall."
"Oh!" said Riccabocca. Then, after a long whiff, "Did you ever see her play with the little children? Is she fond of children, do you think?"
"Lord, sir, you guess everything! She's never so pleased as when she's playing with the babies."
"Humph!" grunted Riccabocca. "Babies! well, that's woman-like. I don't mean exactly babies, but when they're older,—little girls?"
"Indeed, Sir, I dare say; but," said Lenny, primly, "I never as yet kept company with the little girls."
"Quite right, Lenny; be equally discreet all your life. Mrs. Dale is very intimate with Miss Hazeldean,—more than with the squire's lady. Why is that, think you?"
"Well, sir," said Leonard, shrewdly, "Mrs. Dale has her little tempers, though she's a very good lady; and Madame Hazeldean is rather high, and has a spirit. But Miss Jemima is so soft: any one could live with Miss Jemima, as Joe and the servants say at the Hall."
"Indeed! get my hat out of the parlour, and—just bring a clothes-brush, Lenny. A fine sunny day for a walk."
After this most mean and dishonourable inquisition into the character and popular repute of Miss Hazeldean, Signor Riccabocca seemed as much cheered up and elated as if he had committed some very noble action; and he walked forth in the direction of the Hall with a far lighter and livelier step than that with which he had paced the terrace.
"Monsignore San Giacomo, by thy help and the pipe's, the padrone shall have his child!" muttered the servant, looking up from the garden.
Yet Dr. Riccabocca was not rash. The man who wants his wedding-garment to fit him must allow plenty of time for the measure. But from that day, the Italian notably changed his manner towards Miss Hazeldean. He ceased that profusion of compliment in which he had hitherto carried off in safety all serious meaning. For indeed the doctor considered that compliments to a single gentleman were what the inky liquid it dispenses is to the cuttle-fish, that by obscuring the water sails away from its enemy. Neither did he, as before, avoid prolonged conversations with the young lady, and contrive to escape from all solitary rambles by her side. On the contrary, he now sought every occasion to be in her society; and entirely dropping the language of gallantry, he assumed something of the earnest tone of friendship. He bent down his intellect to examine and plumb her own. To use a very homely simile, he blew away that froth which there is on the surface of mere acquaintanceships, especially with the opposite sex; and which, while it lasts, scarce allows you to distinguish between small beer and double X. Apparently Dr. Riccabocca was satisfied with his scrutiny,—at all events under that froth there was no taste of bitter. The Italian might not find any great strength of intellect in Miss Jemima, but he found that, disentangled from many little whims and foibles,—which he had himself the sense to perceive were harmless enough if they lasted, and not so absolutely constitutional but what they might be removed by a tender hand,—Miss Hazeldean had quite enough sense to comprehend the plain duties of married life; and if the sense could fail, it found a substitute in good old homely English principles, and the instincts of amiable, kindly feelings.
I know not how it is, but your very clever man never seems to care so much as your less gifted mortals for cleverness in his helpmate. Your scholars and poets and ministers of state are more often than not found assorted with exceedingly humdrum, good sort of women, and apparently like them all the better for their deficiencies. Just see how happily Racine lived with his wife, and what an angel he thought her, and yet she had never read his plays. Certainly Goethe never troubled the lady who called him "Mr. Privy Councillor" with whims about "monads," and speculations on colour, nor those stiff metaphysical problems on which one breaks one's shins in the Second Past of the "Faust." Probably it may be that such great geniuses—knowing that, as compared with themselves, there is little difference between your clever woman and your humdrum woman—merge at once all minor distinctions, relinquish all attempts at sympathy in hard intellectual pursuits, and are quite satisfied to establish that tie which, after all, best resists wear and tear,—namely, the tough household bond between one human heart and another.
At all events, this, I suspect, was the reasoning of Dr. Riccabocca, when one morning, after a long walk with Miss Hazeldean, he muttered to himself,—
"Duro con duro Non fete mai buon muro,"—
which may bear the paraphrase, "Bricks without mortar would make a very bad wall." There was quite enough in Miss Jemima's disposition to make excellent mortar: the doctor took the bricks to himself.
When his examination was concluded, our philosopher symbolically evinced the result he had arrived at by a very simple proceeding on his part, which would have puzzled you greatly if you had not paused, and meditated thereon, till you saw all that it implied. Dr. Riccabocca, took of his spectacles! He wiped them carefully, put them into their shagreen case, and locked them in his bureau,—that is to say, he left off wearing his spectacles.
You will observe that there was a wonderful depth of meaning in that critical symptom, whether it be regarded as a sign outward, positive, and explicit, or a sign metaphysical, mystical, and esoteric. For, as to the last, it denoted that the task of the spectacles was over; that, when a philosopher has made up his mind to marry, it is better henceforth to be shortsighted—nay, even somewhat purblind—than to be always scrutinizing the domestic felicity, to which he is about to resign himself, through a pair of cold, unillusory barnacles. As for the things beyond the hearth, if he cannot see without spectacles, is he not about to ally to his own defective vision a good sharp pair of eyes, never at fault where his interests are concerned? On the other hand, regarded positively, categorically, and explicitly, Dr. Roccabocca, by laying aside those spectacles, signified that he was about to commence that happy initiation of courtship when every man, be he ever so much a philosopher, wishes to look as young and as handsome as time and nature will allow. Vain task to speed the soft language of the eyes through the medium of those glassy interpreters! I remember, for my own part, that once, on a visit to the town of Adelaide, I—Pisistratus Caxton—was in great danger of falling in love,—with a young lady, too, who would have brought me a very good fortune,—when she suddenly produced from her reticule a very neat pair of No. 4, set in tortoiseshell, and fixing upon me their Gorgon gaze, froze the astonished Cupid into stone! And I hold it a great proof of the wisdom of Riccabocca, and of his vast experience in mankind, that he was not above the consideration of what your pseudo-sages would have regarded as foppish and ridiculous trifles. It argued all the better for that happiness which is our being's end and aim that in condescending to play the lover, he put those unbecoming petrifiers under lock and key.
And certainly, now the spectacles were abandoned, it was impossible to deny that the Italian had remarkably handsome eyes. Even through the spectacles, or lifted a little above them, they were always bright and expressive; but without those adjuncts, the blaze was softer and more tempered: they had that look which the French call veloute, or velvety; and he appeared altogether ten years younger. If our Ulysses, thus rejuvenated by his Minerva, has not fully made up his mind to make a Penelope of Miss Jemima, all I can say is, that he is worse than Polyphemus, who was only an Anthropophagos,—
He preys upon the weaker sex, and is a Gynopophagite!
"And you commission me, then, to speak to our dear Jemima?" said Mrs. Dale, joyfully, and without any bitterness whatever in that "dear."
DR. RICCABOCCA.—"Nay, before speaking to Miss Hazeldean, it would surely be proper to know how far my addresses would be acceptable to the family."
DR. RICCAROCCA.—"The squire is of course the head of the family."
MRS. DALE (absent and distraite).—"The squire—yes, very true—quite proper." (Then, looking up, and with naivete) "Can you believe me? I never thought of the squire. And he is such an odd man, and has so many English prejudices, that really—dear me, how vexatious that it should never once have occurred to me that Mr. Hazeldean had a voice in the matter! Indeed, the relationship is so distant, it is not like being her father; and Jemima is of age, and can do as she pleases; and—but, as you say, it is quite proper that he should be consulted as the head of the family."
DR. RICCASOCCA.—"And you think that the Squire of Hazeldean might reject my alliance! Pshaw! that's a grand word indeed,—I mean, that he might object very reasonably to his cousin's marriage with a foreigner, of whom he can know nothing, except that which in all countries is disreputable, and is said in this to be criminal,—poverty."
MRS. DALE (kindly)—"You misjudge us poor English people, and you wrong the squire, Heaven bless him! for we were poor enough when he singled out my husband from a hundred for the minister of his parish, for his neighbour and his friend. I will speak to him fearlessly—"
DR. RICCABOCCA.—"And frankly. And now I have used that word, let me go on with the confession which your kindly readiness, my fair friend, somewhat interrupted. I said that if I might presume to think my addresses would be acceptable to Miss Hazeldean and her family, I was too sensible of her amiable qualities not to—not to—"
MRS. DALE (with demure archness).—"Not to be the happiest of men,—that's the customary English phrase, Doctor."
RICCABOCCA (gallantly).—"There cannot be a better. But," continued he, seriously, "I wish it first to be understood that I have—been married before!"
MRS. DALE (astonished).—"Married before!"
RICCABOCCA.—"And that I have an only child, dear to me,—inexpressibly dear. That child, a daughter, has hitherto lived abroad; circumstances now render it desirable that she should make her home with me; and I own fairly that nothing has so attached me to Miss Hazeldean, nor so induced my desire for our matrimonial connection, as my belief that she has the heart and the temper to become a kind mother to my little one."
MRS. DALE (with feeling and warmth).—"You judge her rightly there."
RICCABOCCA.—"Now, in pecuniary matters, as you may conjecture from my mode of life, I have nothing to offer to Miss Hazeldean correspondent with her own fortune, whatever that may be!"
MRS. DALE.—"That difficulty is obviated by settling Miss Hazeldean's fortune on herself, which is customary in such cases."
Dr. Riccabocca's face lengthened. "And my child, then?" said he, feelingly. There was something in that appeal so alien from all sordid and merely personal mercenary motives, that Mrs. Dale could not have had the heart to make the very rational suggestion, "But that child is not Jemima's, and you may have children by her."
She was touched, and replied hesitatingly, "But from what you and Jemima may jointly possess you can save something annually,—you can insure your life for your child. We did so when our poor child whom we lost was born" (the tears rushed into Mrs. Dale's eyes); "and I fear that Charles still insures his life for my sake, though Heaven knows that—that—"
The tears burst out. That little heart, quick and petulant though it was, had not a fibre of the elastic muscular tissues which are mercifully bestowed on the hearts of predestined widows. Dr. Riccabocca could not pursue the subject of life insurances further. But the idea—which had never occurred to the foreigner before, though so familiar with us English people when only possessed of a life income—pleased him greatly. I will do him the justice to say that he preferred it to the thought of actually appropriating to himself and to his child a portion of Miss Hazeldean's dower.
Shortly afterwards he took his leave, and Mrs. Dale hastened to seek her husband in his study, inform him of the success of her matrimonial scheme, and consult him as to the chance of the squire's acquiescence therein. "You see," said she, hesitatingly, "though the squire might be glad to see Jemima married to some Englishman, yet if he asks who and what is this Dr. Riccabocca, how am I to answer him?"
"You should have thought of that before," said Mr. Dale, with unwonted asperity; "and, indeed, if I had ever believed anything serious could come out of what seemed to me so absurd, I should long since have requested you not to interfere in such matters. Good heavens!" continued the parson, changing colour, "if we should have assisted, underhand as it were, to introduce into the family of a man to whom we owe so much a connection that he would dislike, how base we should be, how ungrateful!"
Poor Mrs. Dale was frightened by this speech, and still more by her husband's consternation and displeasure. To do Mrs. Dale justice, whenever her mild partner was really either grieved or offended, her little temper vanished,—she became as meek as a lamb. As soon as she recovered the first shock she experienced, she hastened to dissipate the parson's apprehensions. She assured him that she was convinced that, if the squire disapproved of Riccabocca's pretensions, the Italian would withdraw them at once, and Miss Hazeldean would never know of his proposals. Therefore, in that case, no harm would be done.
This assurance, coinciding with Mr. Dale's convictions as to Riccabocca's scruples on the point of honour, tended much to compose the good man; and if he did not, as my reader of the gentler sex would expect from him, feel alarm lest Miss Jemima's affections should have been irretrievably engaged, and her happiness thus put in jeopardy by the squire's refusal, it was not that the parson wanted tenderness of heart, but experience in womankind; and he believed, very erroneously, that Miss Jemima Hazeldean was not one upon whom a disappointment of that kind would produce a lasting impression. Therefore Mr. Dale, after a pause of consideration, said kindly,—
"Well, don't vex yourself,—and I was to blame quite as much as you. But, indeed, I should have thought it easier for the squire to have transplanted one of his tall cedars into his kitchen-garden than for you to inveigle Dr. Riccabocca into matrimonial intentions. But a man who could voluntarily put himself into the parish stocks for the sake of experiment must be capable of anything! However, I think it better that I, rather than yourself, should speak to the squire, and I will go at once."
The parson put on the shovel-hat, which—conjoined with other details in his dress peculiarly clerical, and already, even then, beginning to be out of fashion with Churchmen—had served to fix upon him emphatically the dignified but antiquated style and cognomen of "Parson;" and took his way towards the Home Farm, at which he expected to find the squire. But he had scarcely entered upon the village green when he beheld Mr. Hazeldean, leaning both hands on his stick, and gazing intently upon the parish stocks. Now, sorry am I to say that, ever since the Hegira of Lenny and his mother, the Anti-Stockian and Revolutionary spirit in Hazeldean, which the memorable homily of our parson had a while averted or suspended, had broken forth afresh. For though while Lenny was present to be mowed and jeered at, there had been no pity for him, yet no sooner was he removed from the scene of trial than a universal compassion for the barbarous usage he had received produced what is called "the reaction of public opinion." Not that those who had mowed and jeered repented them of their mockery, or considered themselves in the slightest degree the cause of his expatriation. No; they, with the rest of the villagers, laid all the blame upon the stocks. It was not to be expected that a lad of such exemplary character could be thrust into that place of ignominy, and not be sensible to the affront. And who, in the whole village, was safe, if such goings-on and puttings-in were to be tolerated in silence, and at the expense of the very best and quietest lad the village had ever known? Thus, a few days after the widow's departure, the stocks was again the object of midnight desecration: it was bedaubed and bescratched, it was hacked and hewed, it was scrawled over with pithy lamentations for Lenny, and laconic execrations on tyrants. Night after night new inscriptions appeared, testifying the sarcastic wit and the vindictive sentiment of the parish. And perhaps the stocks was only spared from axe and bonfire by the convenience it afforded to the malice of the disaffected: it became the Pasquin of Hazeldean.
As disaffection naturally produces a correspondent vigour in authority, so affairs had been lately administered with greater severity than had been hitherto wont in the easy rule of the squire and his predecessors. Suspected persons were naturally marked out by Mr. Stirn, and reported to his employer, who, too proud or too pained to charge them openly with ingratitude, at first only passed them by in his walks with a silent and stiff inclination of his head; and afterwards, gradually yielding to the baleful influence of Stirn, the squire grumbled forth "that he did not see why he should be always putting himself out of his way to show kindness to those who made such a return. There ought to be a difference between the good and the bad." Encouraged by this admission, Stirn had conducted himself towards the suspected parties, and their whole kith and kin, with the iron-handed justice that belonged to his character. For some, habitual donations of milk from the dairy and vegetables from the gardens were surlily suspended; others were informed that their pigs were always trespassing on the woods in search of acorns, or that they were violating the Game Laws in keeping lurchers. A beer-house, popular in the neighbourhood, but of late resorted to over-much by the grievance-mongers (and no wonder, since they had become the popular party), was threatened with an application to the magistrates for the withdrawal of its license. Sundry old women, whose grandsons were notoriously ill-disposed towards the stocks, were interdicted from gathering dead sticks under the avenues, on pretence that they broke down the live boughs; and, what was more obnoxious to the younger members of the parish than most other retaliatory measures, three chestnut-trees, one walnut, and two cherry-trees, standing at the bottom of the Park, and which had, from time immemorial, been given up to the youth of Hazeldean, were now solemnly placed under the general defence of "private property." And the crier had announced that, henceforth, all depredators on the fruit trees in Copse Hollow would be punished with the utmost rigour of the law. Stirn, indeed, recommended much more stringent proceedings than all these indications of a change of policy, which, he averred, would soon bring the parish to its senses,—such as discontinuing many little jobs of unprofitable work that employed the surplus labour of the village. But there the squire, falling into the department and under the benigner influence of his Harry, was as yet not properly hardened. When it came to a question that affected the absolute quantity of loaves to be consumed by the graceless mouths that fed upon him, the milk of human kindness—with which Providence has so bountifully supplied that class of the mammalia called the "Bucolic," and of which our squire had an extra "yield"—burst forth, and washed away all the indignation of the harsher Adam.
Still your policy of half-measures, which irritates without crushing its victims, which flaps an exasperated wasp-nest with a silk pocket-handkerchief, instead of blowing it up with a match and train, is rarely successful; and after three or four other and much guiltier victims than Lenny had been incarcerated in the stocks, the parish of Hazeldean was ripe for any enormity. Pestilent Jacobinical tracts, conceived and composed in the sinks of manufacturing towns, found their way into the popular beer-house,—Heaven knows how, though the tinker was suspected of being the disseminator by all but Stirn, who still, in a whisper, accused the Papishers. And, finally, there appeared amongst the other graphic embellishments which the poor stocks had received, the rude gravure of a gentleman in a broad-brimmed hat and top-boots, suspended from a gibbet, with the inscription beneath, "A warnin to hall tirans—mind your hi!—sighnde Captin sTraw."
It was upon this significant and emblematic portraiture that the squire was gazing when the parson joined him. "Well, Parson," said Mr. Hazeldean, with a smile which he meant to be pleasant and easy, but which was exceedingly bitter and grim, "I wish you joy of your flock,—you see they have just hanged me in effigy!"
The parson stared, and though greatly shocked, smothered his emotion; and attempted, with the wisdom of the serpent and the mildness of the dove, to find another original for the effigy.
"It is very bad," quoth he, "but not so bad as all that, Squire; that's not the shape of your bat. It is evidently meant for Mr. Stirn."
"Do you think so?" said the squire, softened. "Yet the top-boots—Stirn never wears top-boots."
"No more do you, except in the hunting-field. If you look again, those are not tops, they are leggings,—Stirn wears leggings. Besides, that flourish, which is meant for a nose, is a kind of hook, like Stirn's; whereas your nose—though by no means a snub—rather turns up than not, as the Apollo's does, according to the plaster cast in Riccabocca's parlour."
"Poor Stirn!" said the squire, in a tone that evinced complacency, not unmingled with compassion, "that's what a man gets in this world by being a faithful servant, and doing his duty with zeal for his employer. But you see things have come to a strange pass, and the question now is, what course to pursue. The miscreants hitherto have defied all vigilance, and Stirn recommends the employment of a regular nightwatch, with a lanthorn and bludgeon."
"That may protect the stocks certainly; but will it keep those detestable tracts out of the beer-house?"
"We shall shut the beer-house up the next sessions."
"The tracts will break out elsewhere,—the humour's in the blood!"
"I've half a mind to run off to Brighton or Leamingtongood hunting at Leamington—for a year, just to let the rogues see how they can get on without me!"
The squire's lip trembled.
"My dear Mr. Hazeldean," said the parson, taking his friend's hand, "I don't want to parade my superior wisdom; but, if you had taken my advice, 'quieta non movere!' Was there ever a parish so peaceable as this, or a country gentleman so beloved as you were, before you undertook the task which has dethroned kings and ruined States,—that of wantonly meddling with antiquity, whether for the purpose of uncalled-for repairs, or the revival of obsolete uses."
At this rebuke, the squire did not manifest his constitutional tendencies to choler; but he replied almost meekly, "If it were to do again, faith, I would leave the parish to the enjoyment of the shabbiest pair of stocks that ever disgraced a village. Certainly I meant it for the best,—an ornament to the green; however, now the stocks is rebuilt, the stocks must be supported. Will Hazeldean is not the man to give way to a set of thankless rapscallions."
"I think," said the parson, "that you will allow that the House of Tudor, whatever its faults, was a determined, resolute dynasty enough,—high-hearted and strong-headed. A Tudor would never have fallen into the same calamities as the poor Stuart did!"
"What the plague has the House of Tudor got to do with my stocks?"
"A great deal. Henry VIII. found a subsidy so unpopular that he gave it up; and the people, in return, allowed him to cut off as many heads as he pleased, besides those in his own family. Good Queen Bess, who, I know, is your idol in history—"
"To be sure!—she knighted my ancestor at Tilbury Fort."
"Good Queen Bess struggled hard to maintain a certain monopoly; she saw it would not do, and she surrendered it with that frank heartiness which becomes a sovereign, and makes surrender a grace."
"Ha! and you would have me give up the stocks?"
"I would much rather the stocks had remained as it was before you touched it; but, as it is, if you could find a good plausible pretext—and there is an excellent one at hand,—the sternest kings open prisons, and grant favours, upon joyful occasions. Now a marriage in the royal family is of course a joyful occasion! and so it should be in that of the King of Hazeldean." Admire that artful turn in the parson's eloquence!—it was worthy of Riccabocca himself. Indeed, Mr. Dale had profited much by his companionship with that Machiavellian intellect.
"A marriage,—yes; but Frank has only just got into coattails!"
"I did not allude to Frank, but to your cousin Jemima!"
The squire staggered as if the breath had been knocked out of him, and, for want of a better seat, sat down on the stocks. All the female heads in the neighbouring cottages peered, themselves unseen, through the casements. What could the squire be about? What new mischief did he meditate? Did he mean to fortify the stocks? Old Gaffer Solomons, who had an indefinite idea of the lawful power of squires, and who had been for the last ten minutes at watch on his threshold, shook his head and said, "Them as a cut out the mon a hanging, as a put it in the squire's head!"
"Put what?" asked his grand-daughter.
"The gallus!" answered Solomons,—"he be a going to have it hung from the great elfin-tree. And the parson, good mon, is a quoting Scripter agin it; you see he's a taking off his gloves, and a putting his two han's together, as he do when he pray for the sick, Jeany."
That description of the parson's mien and manner, which with his usual niceness of observation, Gaffer Solomons thus sketched off, will convey to you some idea of the earnestness with which the parson pleaded the cause he had undertaken to advocate. He dwelt much upon the sense of propriety which the foreigner had evinced in requesting that the squire might be consulted before any formal communication to his cousin; and he repeated Mrs. Dale's assurance, that such were Riccabocca's high standard of honour and belief in the sacred rights of hospitality, that, if the squire withheld his consent to his proposals, the parson was convinced that the Italian would instantly retract them. Now, considering that Miss Hazeldean was, to say the least, come to years of discretion, and the squire had long since placed her property entirely at her own disposal, Mr. Hazeldean was forced to acquiesce in the parson's corollary remark, "That this was a delicacy which could not be expected from every English pretender to the lady's hand." Seeing that he had so far cleared the ground, the parson went on to intimate, though with great tact, that since Miss Jemima would probably marry sooner or later (and, indeed, that the squire could not wish to prevent her), it might be better for all parties concerned that it should be with some one who, though a foreigner, was settled in the neighbourhood, and of whose character what was known was certainly favourable, rather than run the hazard of her being married for her money by some adventurer, or Irish fortune-hunter, at the watering-places she yearly visited. Then he touched lightly on Riccabocca's agreeable and companionable qualities; and concluded with a skilful peroration upon the excellent occasion the wedding would afford to reconcile Hall and parish, by making a voluntary holocaust of the stocks.
As he concluded, the squire's brow, before thoughtful, though not sullen, cleared up benignly. To say truth, the squire was dying to get rid of the stocks, if he could but do so handsomely and with dignity; and had all the stars in the astrological horoscope conjoined together to give Miss Jemima "assurance of a husband," they could not so have served her with the squire as that conjunction between the altar and the stocks which the parson had effected!
Accordingly, when Mr. Dale had come to an end, the squire replied, with great placidity and good sense, "That Mr. Rickeybockey had behaved very much like a gentleman, and that he was very much obliged to him; that he [the squire] had no right to interfere in the matter, further than with his advice; that Jemima was old enough to choose for herself, and that, as the parson had implied, after all she might go farther and fare worse,—indeed, the farther she went (that is, the longer she waited) the worse she was likely to fare. I own, for my part," continued the squire, "that though I like Rickeybockey very much, I never suspected that Jemima was caught with his long face; but there's no accounting for tastes. My Harry, indeed, was more shrewd, and gave me many a hint, for which I only laughed at her. Still I ought to have thought it looked queer when Mounseer took to disguising himself by leaving off his glasses, ha, ha! I wonder what Harry will say; let's go and talk to her."
The parson, rejoiced at this easy way of taking the matter, hooked his arm into the squire's, and they walked amicably towards the Hall. But on coming first into the gardens they found Mrs. Hazeldean herself, clipping dead leaves or fading flowers from her rose-trees. The squire stole slyly behind her, and startled her in her turn by putting his arm round her waist, and saluting her smooth cheek with one of his hearty kisses; which, by the way, from some association of ideas, was a conjugal freedom that he usually indulged whenever a wedding was going on in the village.
"Fie, William!" said Mrs. Hazeldean, coyly, and blushing as she saw the parson. "Well, who's going to be married now?"
"Lord! was there ever such a woman?—she's guessed it!" cried the squire, in great admiration. "Tell her all about it, Parson."
The parson obeyed.
Mrs. Hazeldean, as the reader may suppose, showed much less surprise than her husband had done; but she took the news graciously, and made much the same answer as that which had occurred to the squire, only with somewhat more qualification and reserve. "Signor Riccabocca had behaved very handsomely; and though a daughter of the Hazeldeans of Hazeldean might expect a much better marriage in a worldly point of view, yet as the lady in question had deferred finding one so long, it would be equally idle and impertinent now to quarrel with her choice,—if indeed she should decide on accepting Signor Riccabocca. As for fortune, that was a consideration for the two contracting parties. Still, it ought, to be pointed out to Miss Jemima that the interest of her fortune would afford but a very small income. That Dr. Riccabocca was a widower was another matter for deliberation; and it seemed rather suspicious that he should have been hitherto so close upon all matters connected with his former life. Certainly his manners were in his favour, and as long as he was merely an acquaintance, and at most a tenant, no one had a right to institute inquiries of a strictly private nature; but that, when he was about to marry a Hazeldean of Hazeldean, it became the squire at least to know a little more about him,—who and what he was. Why did he leave his own country? English people went abroad to save: no foreigner would choose England as a country in which to save money! She supposed that a foreign doctor was no very great things; probably he had been a professor in some Italian university. At all events, if the squire interfered at all, it was on such points that he should request information."
"My clear madam," said the parson, "what you say is extremely just. As to the causes which have induced our friend to expatriate himself, I think we need not look far for them. He is evidently one of the many Italian refugees whom political disturbances have driven to a land of which it is the boast to receive all exiles of whatever party. For his respectability of birth and family he certainly ought to obtain some vouchers. And if that be the only objection, I trust we may soon congratulate Miss Hazeldean on a marriage with a man who, though certainly very poor, has borne privations without a murmur; has preferred all hardship to debt; has scorned to attempt betraying the young lady into any clandestine connection; who, in short, has shown himself so upright and honest, that I hope my dear Mr. Hazeldean will forgive him if he is only a doctor—probably of Laws—and not, as most foreigners pretend to be, a marquis or a baron at least."
"As to that," cried the squire, "It is the best thing I know about Rickeybockey that he don't attempt to humbug us by any such foreign trumpery. Thank Heaven, the Hazeldeans of Hazeldean were never tuft-hunters and title-mongers; and if I never ran after an English lord, I should certainly be devilishly ashamed of a brother-in-law whom I was forced to call markee or count! I should feel sure he was a courier, or runaway valley-de-sham. Turn up your nose at a doctor, indeed, Harry!—pshaw, good English style that! Doctor! my aunt married a Doctor of Divinity—excellent man—wore a wig and was made a dean! So long as Rickeybockey is not a doctor of physic, I don't care a button. If he's that, indeed, it would be suspicious; because, you see, those foreign doctors of physic are quacks, and tell fortunes, and go about on a stage with a Merry-Andrew."
"Lord! Hazeldean, where on earth did you pick up that idea?" said Harry, laughing.
"Pick it up!—why, I saw a fellow myself at the cattle fair last year—when I was buying short-horns—with a red waistcoat and a cocked hat, a little like the parson's shovel. He called himself Dr. Phoscophornio, and sold pills. The Merry-Andrew was the funniest creature, in salmon-coloured tights, turned head over heels, and said he came from Timbuctoo. No, no: if Rickeybockey's a physic Doctor, we shall have Jemima in a pink tinsel dress tramping about the country in a caravan!"
At this notion both the squire and his wife laughed so heartily that the parson felt the thing was settled, and slipped away, with the intention of making his report to Riccabocca.
It was with a slight disturbance of his ordinary suave and well-bred equanimity that the Italian received the information that he need apprehend no obstacle to his suit from the insular prejudices or the worldly views of the lady's family. Not that he was mean and cowardly enough to recoil from the near and unclouded prospect of that felicity which he had left off his glasses to behold with unblinking, naked eyes,—no, there his mind was made up; but he had met in life with much that inclines a man towards misanthropy, and he was touched not only by the interest in his welfare testified by a heretical priest, but by the generosity with which he was admitted into a well-born and wealthy family, despite his notorious poverty and his foreign descent. He conceded the propriety of the only stipulation, which was conveyed to him by the parson with all the delicacy that became one long professionally habituated to deal with the subtler susceptibilities of mankind,—namely, that, amongst Riccabocca's friends or kindred, some person should be found whose report would confirm the persuasion of his respectability entertained by his neighbours,—he assented, I say, to the propriety of this condition; but it was not with alacrity and eagerness. His brow became clouded. The parson hastened to assure him that the squire was not a man qui stupet in titulis,—["Who was besotted with titles."]—that he neither expected nor desired to find an origin and rank for his brother-in-law above that decent mediocrity of condition to which it was evident from Riccabocca's breeding and accomplishments he could easily establish his claim. "And though," said he, smiling, "the squire is a warm politician in his own country, and would never see his sister again, I fear, if she married some convicted enemy of our happy constitution, yet for foreign politics he does not care a straw; so that if, as I suspect, your exile arises from some quarrel with your government,—which, being foreign, he takes for granted must be insupportable,—he would but consider you as he would a Saxon who fled from the iron hand of William the Conqueror, or a Lancastrian expelled by the Yorkists in our Wars of the Roses."
The Italian smiled. "Mr. Hazeldean shall be satisfied," said he, simply. "I see, by the squire's newspaper, that an English gentleman who knew me in my own country has just arrived in London. I will write to him for a testimonial, at least to my probity and character. Probably he may be known to you by name,—nay, he must be, for he was a distinguished officer in the late war. I allude to Lord L'Estrange."
The parson started.
"You know Lord L'Estrange?—profligate, bad man, I fear."
"Profligate! bad!" exclaimed Riccabocca. "Well, calumnious as the world is, I should never have thought that such expressions would be applied to one who, though I knew him but little,—knew him chiefly by the service he once rendered to me,—first taught me to love and revere the English name!"
"He may be changed since—" the parson paused.
"Since when?" asked Riccabocca, with evident curiosity. Mr. Dale seemed embarrassed. "Excuse me," said he, "it is many years ago; and in short the opinion I then formed of the nobleman you named was based upon circumstances which I cannot communicate."
The punctilious Italian bowed in silence, but he still looked as if he should have liked to prosecute inquiry.
After a pause he said, "Whatever your impression respecting Lord L'Estrange, there is nothing, I suppose, which would lead you to doubt his honour, or reject his testimonial in my favour?"
"According to fashionable morality," said Mr. Dale, rather precisely, "I know of nothing that could induce me to suppose that Lord L'Estrange would not, in this instance, speak the truth. And he has unquestionably a high reputation as a soldier, and a considerable position in the world." Therewith the parson took his leave. A few days afterwards, Dr. Riccabocca inclosed to the squire, in a blank envelope, a letter he had received from Harley L'Estrange. It was evidently intended for the squire's eye, and to serve as a voucher for the Italian's respectability; but this object was fulfilled, not in the coarse form of a direct testimonial, but with a tact and delicacy which seemed to show more than the fine breeding to be expected from one in Lord L'Estrange's station. It evinced that most exquisite of all politeness which comes from the heart; a certain tone of affectionate respect (which even the homely sense of the squire felt, intuitively, proved far more in favour of Riccabocca than the most elaborate certificate of his qualities and antecedents) pervaded the whole, and would have sufficed in itself to remove all scruples from a mind much more suspicious and exacting than that of the Squire of Hazeldean. But, to and behold! an obstacle now occurred to the parson, of which he ought to have thought long before,—namely, the Papistical religion of the Italian. Dr. Riccabocca was professedly a Roman Catholic. He so little obtruded that fact—and, indeed, had assented so readily to any animadversions upon the superstition and priestcraft which, according to Protestants, are the essential characteristics of Papistical communities—that it was not till the hymeneal torch, which brings all faults to light, was fairly illumined for the altar, that the remembrance of a faith so cast into the shade burst upon the conscience of the parson. The first idea that then occurred to him was the proper and professional one,—namely, the conversion of Dr. Riccabocca. He hastened to his study, took down from his shelves long neglected volumes of controversial divinity, armed himself with an arsenal of authorities, arguments, and texts; then, seizing the shovel-hat, posted off to the Casino.
The parson burst upon the philosopher like an avalanche! He was so full of his subject that he could not let it out in prudent driblets. No, he went souse upon the astounded Riccabocca—
"Tremendo Jupiter ipse rueus tumultu."
The sage—shrinking deeper into his armchair, and drawing his dressing-robe more closely round him—suffered the parson to talk for three quarters of an hour, till indeed he had thoroughly proved his case; and, like Brutus, "paused for a reply."
Then said Riccabocca mildly: "In much of what you have urged so ably, and so suddenly, I am inclined to agree. But base is the man who formally forswears the creed he has inherited from his fathers, and professed since the cradle up to years of maturity, when the change presents itself in the guise of a bribe; when, for such is human nature, he can hardly distinguish or disentangle the appeal to his reason from the lure to his interests,—here a text, and there a dowry!—here Protestantism, there Jemima! Own, my friend, that the soberest casuist would see double under the inebriating effects produced by so mixing his polemical liquors. Appeal, my good Mr. Dale, from Philip drunken to Philip sober!—from Riccabocca intoxicated with the assurance of your excellent lady, that he is about to be 'the happiest of men,' to Riccabocca accustomed to his happiness, and carrying it off with the seasoned equability of one grown familiar with stimulants,—in a word, appeal from Riccabocca the wooer to Riccabocca the spouse. I may be convertible, but conversion is a slow progress; courtship should be a quick one,—ask Miss Jemima. Finalmente, marry me first, and convert me afterwards!"