By Edward Bulwer-Lytton
—SHOWING HOW MY NOVEL CAME TO BE WRITTEN.
Scene, the hall in UNCLE ROLAND'S tower; time, night; season, winter.
MR. CAXTON is seated before a great geographical globe, which he is turning round leisurely, and "for his own recreation," as, according to Sir Thomas Browne, a philosopher should turn round the orb of which that globe professes to be the representation and effigies. My mother having just adorned a very small frock with a very smart braid, is holding it out at arm's length, the more to admire the effect. Blanche, though leaning both hands on my mother's shoulder, is not regarding the frock, but glances towards PISISTRATUS, who, seated near the fire, leaning back in the chair, and his head bent over his breast, seems in a very bad humour. Uncle Roland, who has become a great novel-reader, is deep in the mysteries of some fascinating Third Volume. Mr. Squills has brought the "Times" in his pocket for his own special profit and delectation, and is now bending his brows over "the state of the money market," in great doubt whether railway shares can possibly fall lower,—for Mr. Squills, happy man! has large savings, and does not know what to do with his money, or, to use his own phrase, "how to buy in at the cheapest in order to sell out at the dearest."
MR. CAXTON (musingly).—"It must have been a monstrous long journey. It would be somewhere hereabouts, I take it, that they would split off."
MY MOTHER (mechanically, and in order to show Austin that she paid him the compliment of attending to his remarks).—"Who split off, my dear?"
"Bless me, Kitty," said my father, in great admiration, "you ask just the question which it is most difficult to answer. An ingenious speculator on races contends that the Danes, whose descendants make the chief part of our northern population (and indeed, if his hypothesis could be correct, we must suppose all the ancient worshippers of Odin), are of the same origin as the Etrurians. And why, Kitty,—I just ask you, why?"
My mother shook her head thoughtfully, and turned the frock to the other side of the light.
"Because, forsooth," cried my father, exploding,—"because the Etrurians called their gods the 'AEsar,' and the Scandinavians called theirs the 'AEsir,' or 'Aser'! And where do you think this adventurous scholar puts their cradle?"
"Cradle!" said my mother, dreamily, "it must be in the nursery."
MR. CAXTON.—"Exactly,—in the nursery of the human race, just here," and my father pointed to the globe; "bounded, you see, by the river Halys, and in that region which, taking its name from Ees, or As (a word designating light or fire), has been immemorially called Asia. Now, Kitty, from Ees, or As, our ethnological speculator would derive not only Asia, the land, but AEsar, or Aser, its primitive inhabitants. Hence he supposes the origin of the Etrurians and the Scandinavians. But if we give him so much, we must give him more, and deduce from the same origin the Es of the Celt and the Ized of the Persian, and—what will be of more use to him, I dare say, poor man, than all the rest put together—the AEs of the Romans,—that is, the God of Copper-money—a very powerful household god he is to this day!"
My mother looked musingly at her frock, as if she were taking my father's proposition into serious consideration.
"So perhaps," resumed my father, "and not unconformably with sacred records, from one great parent horde came all those various tribes, carrying with them the name of their beloved Asia; and whether they wandered north, south, or west, exalting their own emphatic designation of 'Children of the Land of Light' into the title of gods. And to think" (added Mr. Caxton pathetically, gazing upon that speck on the globe on which his forefinger rested),—"to think how little they changed for the better when they got to the Don, or entangled their rafts amidst the icebergs of the Baltic,—so comfortably off as they were here, if they could but have stayed quiet."
"And why the deuce could not they?" asked Mr. Squills. "Pressure of population, and not enough to live upon, I suppose," said my father.
PISISTRATUS (sulkily).—"More probably they did away with the Corn Laws, sir."
"Papae!" quoth my father, "that throws a new light on the subject."
PISISTRATUS (full of his grievances, and not caring three straws about the origin of the Scandinavians).—"I know that if we are to lose L500 every year on a farm which we hold rent-free, and which the best judges allow to be a perfect model for the whole country, we had better make haste and turn AEsir, or Aser, or whatever you call them, and fix a settlement on the property of other nations, otherwise, I suspect, our probable settlement will be on the parish."
MR. SQUILLS (who, it must be remembered, is an enthusiastic Free-trader). "You have only got to put more capital on the land."
PISISTRATUS.—"Well, Mr. Squills, as you think so well of that investment, put your capital on it. I promise that you shall have every shilling of profit."
MR. SQUILLS (hastily retreating behind the "Times")—"I don't think the Great Western can fall any lower, though it is hazardous; I can but venture a few hundreds—"
PISISTRATUS.—"On our land, Squills?—Thank you."
MR. SQUILLS.—"No, no,—anything but that; on the Great Western."
Pisistratus relaxes into gloom. Blanche steals up coaxingly, and gets snubbed for her pains.
MR. CAXTON.—"There are two golden rules of life; one relates to the mind, and the other to the pockets. The first is, If our thoughts get into a low, nervous, aguish condition, we should make them change the air; the second is comprised in the proverb, 'It is good to have two strings to one's bow.' Therefore, Pisistratus, I tell you what you must do,—Write a book!"
PISISTRATUS.—"Write a book! Against the abolition of the Corn Laws? Faith, sir, the mischief's done! It takes a much better pen than mine to write down an act of parliament."
MR. CAXTON.—"I only said, 'Write a book.' All the rest is the addition of your own headlong imagination."
PISISTRATUS (with the recollection of The Great Book rising before him).—"Indeed, sir, I should think that that would just finish us!"
MR. CAXTON (not seeming to heed the interruption).—"A book that will sell; a book that will prop up the fall of prices; a book that will distract your mind from its dismal apprehensions, and restore your affection to your species and your hopes in the ultimate triumph of sound principles—by the sight of a favourable balance at the end of the yearly accounts. It is astonishing what a difference that little circumstance makes in our views of things in general. I remember when the bank in which Squills had incautiously left L1000 broke, one remarkably healthy year, that he became a great alarmist, and said that the country was on the verge of ruin; whereas you see now, when, thanks to a long succession of sickly seasons, he has a surplus capital to risk in the Great Western, he is firmly persuaded that England was never in so prosperous a condition."
MR. SQUILLS (rather sullenly).—"Pooh, pooh."
MR. CAXTON.—"Write a book, my son,—write a book. Need I tell you that Money or Moneta, according to Hyginus, was the mother of the Muses? Write a book."
BLANCHE and my MOTHER (in full chorus).—"O yes, Sisty, a book! a book! you must write a book."
"I am sure," quoth my Uncle Roland, slamming down the volume he had just concluded, "he could write a devilish deal better book than this; and how I come to read such trash night after night is more than I could possibly explain to the satisfaction of any intelligent jury, if I were put into a witness-box, and examined in the mildest manner by my own counsel."
MR. CAXTON.—"You see that Roland tells us exactly what sort of a book it shall be."
MR. CAXTON.—"No,—that is, not necessarily trash; but a book of that class which, whether trash or not, people can't help reading. Novels have become a necessity of the age. You must write a novel."
PISISTRATUS (flattered, but dubious).-"A novel! But every subject on which novels can be written is preoccupied. There are novels of low life, novels of high life, military novels, naval novels, novels philosophical, novels religious, novels historical, novels descriptive of India, the Colonies, Ancient Rome, and the Egyptian Pyramids. From what bird, wild eagle, or barn-door fowl, can I
"'Pluck one unwearied plume from Fancy's wing?'"
MR. CAXTON (after a little thought).—"You remember the story which Trevanion (I beg his pardon, Lord Ulswater) told us the other night? That gives you something of the romance of real life for your plot, puts you chiefly among scenes with which you are familiar, and furnishes you with characters which have been very sparingly dealt with since the time of Fielding. You can give us the country Squire, as you remember him in your youth; it is a specimen of a race worth preserving, the old idiosyncrasies of which are rapidly dying off, as the railways bring Norfolk and Yorkshire within easy reach of the manners of London. You can give us the old-fashioned Parson, as in all essentials he may yet be found—but before you had to drag him out of the great Tractarian bog; and, for the rest, I really think that while, as I am told, many popular writers are doing their best, especially in France, and perhaps a little in England, to set class against class, and pick up every stone in the kennel to shy at a gentleman with a good coat on his back, something useful might be done by a few good-humoured sketches of those innocent criminals a little better off than their neighbours, whom, however we dislike them, I take it for granted we shall have to endure, in one shape or another, as long as civilization exists; and they seem, on the whole, as good in their present shape as we are likely to get, shake the dice-box of society how we will."
PISISTRATUS.—"Very well said, sir; but this rural country gentleman life is not so new as you think. There's Washington Irving—"
MR. CAXTON.—"Charming; but rather the manners of the last century than this. You may as well cite Addison and Sir Roger de Coverley."
PISISTRATUS.—"'Tremaine' and 'De Vere.'"
MR. CAXTON.—"Nothing can be more graceful, nor more unlike what I mean. The Pales and Terminus I wish you to put up in the fields are familiar images, that you may cut out of an oak tree,—not beautiful marble statues, on porphyry pedestals, twenty feet high."
PISISTRATUS.—"Miss Austen; Mrs. Gore, in her masterpiece of 'Mrs. Armytage;' Mrs. Marsh, too; and then (for Scottish manners) Miss Ferrier!"
MR. CAXTON (growing cross).—"Oh, if you cannot treat on bucolics but what you must hear some Virgil or other cry 'Stop thief,' you deserve to be tossed by one of your own 'short-horns.'" (Still more contemptuously)—"I am sure I don't know why we spend so much money on sending our sons to school to learn Latin, when that Anachronism of yours, Mrs. Caxton, can't even construe a line and a half of Phaedrus,—Phaedrus, Mrs. Caxton, a book which is in Latin what Goody Two-Shoes is in the vernacular!"
MRS. CAXTON (alarmed and indignant).—"Fie! Austin I I am sure you can construe Phaedrus, dear!"
Pisistratus prudently preserves silence.
MR. CAXTON.—"I'll try him—
"'Sua cuique quum sit animi cogitatio Colurque proprius.'
"What does that mean?"
PISISTRATITS (smiling)—"That every man has some colouring matter within him, to give his own tinge to—"
"His own novel," interrupted my father. "Contentus peragis!"
During the latter part of this dialogue, Blanche had sewn together three quires of the best Bath paper, and she now placed them on a little table before me, with her own inkstand and steel pen.
My mother put her finger to her lip, and said, "Hush!" my father returned to the cradle of the AEsas; Captain Roland leaned his cheek on his hand, and gazed abstractedly on the fire; Mr. Squills fell into a placid doze; and, after three sighs that would have melted a heart of stone, I rushed into—MY NOVEL.
"There has never been occasion to use them since I've been in the parish," said Parson Dale.
"What does that prove?" quoth the squire, sharply, and looking the parson full in the face.
"Prove!" repeated Mr. Dale, with a smile of benign, yet too conscious superiority, "what does experience prove?"
"That your forefathers were great blockheads, and that their descendant is not a whit the wiser."
"Squire," replied the parson, "although that is a melancholy conclusion, yet if you mean it to apply universally, and not to the family of the Dales in particular; it is not one which my candour as a reasoner, and my humility as a mortal, will permit me to challenge."
"I defy you," said Mr. Hazeldean, triumphantly. "But to stick to the subject (which it is monstrous hard to do when one talks with a parson), I only just ask you to look yonder, and tell me on your conscience—I don't even say as a parson, but as a parishioner—whether you ever saw a more disreputable spectacle?"
While he spoke, the squire, leaning heavily on the parson's left shoulder, extended his cane in a line parallel with the right eye of that disputatious ecclesiastic, so that he might guide the organ of sight to the object he had thus unflatteringly described.
"I confess," said the parson, "that, regarded by the eye of the senses, it is a thing that in its best day had small pretensions to beauty, and is not elevated into the picturesque even by neglect and decay. But, my friend, regarded by the eye of the inner man,—of the rural philosopher and parochial legislator,—I say it is by neglect and decay that it is rendered a very pleasing feature in what I may call 'the moral topography of a parish.'"
The squire looked at the parson as if he could have beaten him; and, indeed, regarding the object in dispute not only with the eye of the outer man, but the eye of law and order, the eye of a country gentleman and a justice of the peace, the spectacle was scandalously disreputable. It was moss-grown; it was worm-eaten; it was broken right in the middle; through its four socketless eyes, neighboured by the nettle, peered the thistle,—the thistle! a forest of thistles!—and, to complete the degradation of the whole, those thistles had attracted the donkey of an itinerant tinker; and the irreverent animal was in the very act of taking his luncheon out of the eyes and jaws of—THE PARISH STOCKS.
The squire looked as if he could have beaten the parson; but as he was not without some slight command of temper, and a substitute was luckily at hand, he gulped down his resentment, and made a rush—at the donkey!
Now the donkey was hampered by a rope to its fore-feet, to the which was attached a billet of wood, called technically "a clog," so that it had no fair chance of escape from the assault its sacrilegious luncheon had justly provoked. But the ass turning round with unusual nimbleness at the first stroke of the cane, the squire caught his foot in the rope, and went head over heels among the thistles. The donkey gravely bent down, and thrice smelt or sniffed its prostrate foe; then, having convinced itself that it had nothing further to apprehend for the present, and very willing to make the best of the reprieve, according to the poetical admonition, "Gather your rosebuds while you may," it cropped a thistle in full bloom, close to the ear of the squire,—so close, indeed, that the parson thought the ear was gone; and with the more probability, inasmuch as the squire, feeling the warm breath of the creature, bellowed out with all the force of lungs accustomed to give a View-hallo!
"Bless me, is it gone?" said the parson, thrusting his person between the ass and the squire.
"Zounds and the devil!" cried the squire, rubbing himself, as he rose to his feet.
"Hush!" said the parson, gently. "What a horrible oath!"
"Horrible oath! If you had my nankeens on," said the squire, still rubbing himself, "and had fallen into a thicket of thistles, with a donkey's teeth within an inch of your ear—"
"It is not gone, then?" interrupted the parson.
"No,—that is, I think not," said the squire, dubiously; and he clapped his hand to the organ in question. "No! it is not gone!"
"Thank Heaven!" said the good clergyman, kindly. "Hum," growled the squire, who was now once more engaged in rubbing himself. "Thank Heaven indeed, when I am as full of thorns as a porcupine! I should just like to know what use thistles are in the world."
"For donkeys to eat, if you will let them, Squire," answered the parson.
"Ugh, you beast!" cried Mr. Hazeldean, all his wrath reawakened, whether by the reference to the donkey species, or his inability to reply to the parson, or perhaps by some sudden prick too sharp for humanity—especially humanity in nankeens—to endure without kicking. "Ugh, you beast!" he exclaimed, shaking his cane at the donkey, which, at the interposition of the parson, had respectfully recoiled a few paces, and now stood switching its thin tail, and trying vainly to lift one of its fore-legs—for the flies teased it.
"Poor thing!" said the parson, pityingly. "See, it has a raw place on the shoulder, and the flies have found out the sore."
"I am devilish glad to hear it," said the squire, vindictively.
"It is very well to say 'Fie, fie.' It was not you who fell among the thistles. What 's the man about now, I wonder?"
The parson had walked towards a chestnut-tree that stood on the village green; he broke off a bough, returned to the donkey, whisked away the flies, and then tenderly placed the broad leaves over the sore, as a protection from the swarms. The donkey turned round its head, and looked at him with mild wonder.
"I would bet a shilling," said the parson, softly, "that this is the first act of kindness thou hast met with this many a day. And slight enough it is, Heaven knows."
With that the parson put his hand into his pocket, and drew out an apple. It was a fine large rose-cheeked apple, one of the last winter's store from the celebrated tree in the parsonage garden, and he was taking it as a present to a little boy in the village who had notably distinguished himself in the Sunday-school. "Nay, in common justice, Lenny Fairfield should have the preference," muttered the parson. The ass pricked up one of its ears, and advanced its head timidly. "But Lenny Fairfield would be as much pleased with twopence; and what could twopence do to thee?" The ass's nose now touched the apple. "Take it, in the name of Charity," quoth the parson; "Justice is accustomed to be served last;" and the ass took the apple. "How had you the heart!" said the parson, pointing to the squire's cane.
The ass stopped munching, and looked askant at the squire. "Pooh! eat on; he'll not beat thee now."
"No," said the squire, apologetically. "But after all, he is not an ass of the parish; he is a vagrant, and he ought to be pounded. But the pound is in as bad a state as the stocks, thanks to your new-fashioned doctrines."
"New-fashioned!" cried the parson, almost indignantly, for he had a great disdain of new fashions. "They are as old as Christianity; nay, as old as Paradise, which you will observe is derived from a Greek, or rather a Persian word, and means something more than 'garden,' corresponding" (pursued the parson, rather pedantically) "with the Latin—vivarium,—namely, grove or park full of innocent dumb creatures. Depend on it, donkeys were allowed to eat thistles there."
"Very possibly," said the squire, dryly. "But Hazeldeau, though a very pretty village, is not Paradise. The stocks shall be mended to-morrow,—ay, and the pound too, and the next donkey found trespassing shall go into it, as sure as my name's Hazeldean."
"Then," said the parson, gravely, "I can only hope that the next parish may not follow your example; or that you and I may never be caught straying."
Parson Dale and Squire Hazeldean parted company; the latter to inspect his sheep, the former to visit some of his parishioners, including Lenny Fairfield, whom the donkey had defrauded of his apple.
Lenny Fairfield was sure to be in the way, for his mother rented a few acres of grass-land from the squire, and it was now hay-time. And Leonard, commonly called Lenny, was an only son, and his mother a widow. The cottage stood apart, and somewhat remote, in one of the many nooks of the long, green village lane. And a thoroughly English cottage it was, three centuries old at least; with walls of rubble let into oak frames, and duly whitewashed every summer, a thatched roof, small panes of glass, an old doorway raised from the ground by two steps. There was about this little dwelling all the homely rustic elegance which peasant life admits of; a honeysuckle was trained over the door; a few flower-pots were placed on the window-sills; the small plot of ground in front of the house was kept with great neatness, and even taste; some large rough stones on either side the little path having been formed into a sort of rockwork, with creepers that were now in flower; and the potato-ground was screened from the eye by sweet peas and lupine. Simple elegance, all this, it is true; but how well it speaks for peasant and landlord, when you see that the peasant is fond of his home, and has some spare time and heart to bestow upon mere embellishment! Such a peasant is sure to be a bad customer to the alehouse, and a safe neighbour to the squire's preserves. All honour and praise to him, except a small tax upon both, which is due to the landlord!
Such sights were as pleasant to the parson as the most beautiful landscapes of Italy can be to the dilettante. He paused a moment at the wicket to look around him, and distended his nostrils voluptuously to inhale the smell of the sweet peas, mixed with that of the new-mown hay in the fields behind, which a slight breeze bore to him. He then moved on, carefully scraped his shoes, clean and well-polished as they were,—for Mr. Dale was rather a beau in his own clerical way,—on the scraper without the door, and lifted the latch.
Your virtuoso looks with artistical delight on the figure of some nymph painted on an Etruscan vase, engaged in pouring out the juice of the grape from her classic urn. And the parson felt as harmless, if not as elegant a pleasure, in contemplating Widow Fairfield brimming high a glittering can, which she designed for the refreshment of the thirsty haymakers.
Mrs. Fairfield was a middle-aged, tidy woman, with that alert precision of movement which seems to come from an active, orderly mind; and as she now turned her head briskly at the sound of the parson's footstep, she showed a countenance prepossessing though not handsome,—a countenance from which a pleasant, hearty smile, breaking forth at that moment, effaced some lines that, in repose, spoke "of sorrows, but of sorrows past;" and her cheek, paler than is common to the complexions even of the fair sex, when born and bred amidst a rural population, might have favoured the guess that the earlier part of her life had been spent in the languid air and "within-doors" occupations of a town.
"Never mind me," said the parson, as Mrs. Fairfield dropped her quick courtesy, and smoothed her apron; "if you are going into the hayfield, I will go with you; I have something to say to Lenny,—an excellent boy."
WIDOW.—"Well, sir, and you are kind to say it,—but so he is."
PARSON.—"He reads uncommonly well, he writes tolerably; he is the best lad in the whole school at his Catechism and in the Bible lessons; and I assure you, when I see his face at church, looking up so attentively, I fancy that I shall read my sermon all the better for such a listener!"
WIDOW (wiping her eyes with the corner of her apron).—"'Deed, sir, when my poor Mark died, I never thought I could have lived on as I have done. But that boy is so kind and good, that when I look at him sitting there in dear Mark's chair, and remember how Mark loved him, and all he used to say to me about him, I feel somehow or other as if my good man smiled on me, and would rather I was not with him yet, till the lad had grown up, and did not want me any more."
PARSON (looking away, and after a pause).—"You never hear anything of the old folks at Lansmere?"
"'Deed, sir, sin' poor Mark died, they han't noticed me nor the boy; but," added the widow, with all a peasant's pride, "it isn't that I wants their money; only it's hard to feel strange like to one's own father and mother!"
PARSON.—"You must excuse them. Your father, Mr. Avenel, was never quite the same man after that sad event which—but you are weeping, my friend, pardon me; your mother is a little proud; but so are you, though in another way."
WIDOW.—"I proud! Lord love ye, sir, I have not a bit o' pride in me! and that's the reason they always looked down on me."
PARSON.—"Your parents must be well off; and I shall apply to them in a year or two on behalf of Lenny, for they promised me to provide for him when he grew up, as they ought."
WIDOW (with flashing eyes).—"I am sure, sir, I hope you will do no such thing; for I would not have Lenny beholden to them as has never given him a kind word sin' he was born!"
The parson smiled gravely, and shook his head at poor Mrs. Fairfield's hasty confutation of her own self-acquittal from the charge of pride; but he saw that it was not the time or moment for effectual peace-making in the most irritable of all rancours,—namely, that nourished against one's nearest relations. He therefore dropped the subject, and said, "Well, time enough to think of Lenny's future prospects; meanwhile we are forgetting the haymakers. Come."
The widow opened the back door, which led across a little apple orchard into the fields.
PARSON.—"You have a pleasant place here; and I see that my friend Lenny should be in no want of apples. I had brought him one, but I have given it away on the road."
WIDOW.—"Oh, sir, it is not the deed,—it is the will; as I felt when the squire, God bless him! took two pounds off the rent the year he—that is, Mark—died."
PARSON.—"If Lenny continues to be such a help to you, it will not be long before the squire may put the two pounds on again."
"Yes, sir," said the widow, simply; "I hope he will."
"Silly woman!" muttered the parson. "That's not exactly what the schoolmistress would have said. You don't read nor write, Mrs. Fairfield; yet you express yourself with great propriety."
"You know Mark was a schollard, sir, like my poor, poor sister; and though I was a sad stupid girl afore I married, I tried to take after him when we came together."
They were now in the hayfield, and a boy of about sixteen, but, like most country lads, to appearance much younger than he was, looked up from his rake, with lively blue eyes beaming forth under a profusion of brown curly hair.
Leonard Fairfield was indeed a very handsome boy,—not so stout nor so ruddy as one would choose for the ideal of rustic beauty, nor yet so delicate in limb and keen in expression as are those children of cities, in whom the mind is cultivated at the expense of the body; but still he had the health of the country in his cheeks, and was not without the grace of the city in his compact figure and easy movements. There was in his physiognomy something interesting from its peculiar character of innocence and simplicity. You could see that he had been brought up by a woman, and much apart from familiar contact with other children; and such intelligence as was yet developed in him was not ripened by the jokes and cuffs of his coevals, but fostered by decorous lecturings from his elders, and good-little-boy maxims in good-little-boy books.
PARSON.—"Come hither, Lenny. You know the benefit of school, I see: it can teach you nothing better than to be a support to your mother."
LENNY (looking down sheepishly, and with a heightened glow over his face).—"Please, sir, that may come one of these days."
PARSON.—"That's right, Lenny. Let me see! why, you must be nearly a man. How old are you?"
Lenny looks up inquiringly at his mother.
PARSON.—"You ought to know, Lenny: speak for yourself. Hold your tongue, Mrs. Fairfield."
LENNY (twirling his hat, and in great perplexity).—"Well, and there is Flop, neighbour Dutton's old sheep-dog. He be very old now."
PARSON.—"I am not asking Flop's age, but your own."
LENNY.—"'Deed, sir, I have heard say as how Flop and I were pups together. That is, I—I—"
For the parson is laughing, and so is Mrs. Fairfield; and the haymakers, who have stood still to listen, are laughing too. And poor Lenny has quite lost his head, and looks as if he would like to cry.
PARSON (patting the curly locks, encouragingly).—"Never mind; it is not so badly answered, after all. And how old is Flop?"
LENNY.—"Why, he must be fifteen year and more.."
PARSON.—"How old, then, are you?"
LENNY (looking up, with a beam of intelligence).—"Fifteen year and more."
Widow sighs and nods her head.
"That's what we call putting two and two together," said the parson. "Or, in other words," and here he raised his eyes majestically towards the haymakers—"in other words, thanks to his love for his book, simple as he stands here, Lenny Fairfield has shown himself capable of INDUCTIVE RATIOCINATION."
At those words, delivered ore rotundo, the haymakers ceased laughing; for even in lay matters they held the parson to be an oracle, and words so long must have a great deal in them. Lenny drew up his head proudly.
"You are very fond of Flop, I suppose?"
"'Deed he is," said the widow, "and of all poor dumb creatures."
"Very good. Suppose, my lad, that you had a fine apple, and that you met a friend who wanted it more than you, what would you do with it?"
"Please you, sir, I would give him half of it."
The parson's face fell. "Not the whole, Lenny?"
Lenny considered. "If he was a friend, sir, he would not like me to give him all."
"Upon my word, Master Leonard, you speak so well that I must e'en tell the truth. I brought you an apple, as a prize for good conduct in school. But I met by the way a poor donkey, and some one beat him for eating a thistle, so I thought I would make it up by giving him the apple. Ought I only to have given him the half?"
Lenny's innocent face became all smile; his interest was aroused. "And did the donkey like the apple?"
"Very much," said the parson, fumbling in his pocket; but thinking of Leonard Fairfield's years and understanding, and moreover observing, in the pride of his heart, that there were many spectators to his deed, he thought the meditated twopence not sufficient, and he generously produced a silver sixpence.
"There, my man, that will pay for the half apple which you would have kept for yourself." The parson again patted the curly locks, and after a hearty word or two with the other haymakers, and a friendly "Good-day" to Mrs. Fairfield, struck into a path that led towards his own glebe.
He had just crossed the stile, when he heard hasty but timorous feet behind him. He turned, and saw his friend Lenny.
LENNY (half-crying, and holding out the sixpence).—"Indeed, sir, I would rather not. I would have given all to the Neddy."
PARSON.—"Why, then, my man, you have a still greater right to the sixpence."
LENNY.—"No, sir; 'cause you only gave it to make up for the half apple. And if I had given the whole, as I ought to have done, why, I should have had no right to the sixpence. Please, sir, don't be offended; do take it back, will you?"
The parson hesitated. And the boy thrust the sixpence into his hand, as the ass had poked its nose there before in quest of the apple.
"I see," said Parson Dale, soliloquizing, "that if one don't give Justice the first place at the table, all the other Virtues eat up her share."
Indeed, the case was perplexing. Charity, like a forward, impudent baggage as she is, always thrusting herself in the way, and taking other people's apples to make her own little pie, had defrauded Lenny of his due; and now Susceptibility, who looks like a shy, blush-faced, awkward Virtue in her teens—but who, nevertheless, is always engaged in picking the pockets of her sisters—tried to filch from him his lawful recompense. The case was perplexing; for the parson held Susceptibility in great honour, despite her hypocritical tricks, and did not like to give her a slap in the face, which might frighten her away forever. So Mr. Dale stood irresolute, glancing from the sixpence to Lenny, and from Lenny to the sixpence.
"Buon giorno, Good-day to you," said a voice behind, in an accent slightly but unmistakably foreign, and a strange-looking figure presented itself at the stile.
Imagine a tall and exceedingly meagre man, dressed in a rusty suit of black,—the pantaloons tight at the calf and ankle, and there forming a loose gaiter over thick shoes, buckled high at the instep; an old cloak, lined with red, was thrown over one shoulder, though the day was sultry; a quaint, red, outlandish umbrella, with a carved brass handle, was thrust under one arm, though the sky was cloudless: a profusion of raven hair, in waving curls that seemed as fine as silk, escaped from the sides of a straw hat of prodigious brim; a complexion sallow and swarthy, and features which, though not without considerable beauty to the eye of the artist, were not only unlike what we fair, well-fed, neat-faced Englishmen are wont to consider comely, but exceedingly like what we are disposed to regard as awful and Satanic,—to wit, a long hooked nose, sunken cheeks, black eyes, whose piercing brilliancy took something wizard-like and mystical from the large spectacles through which they shone; a mouth round which played an ironical smile, and in which a physiognomist would have remarked singular shrewdness, and some closeness, complete the picture. Imagine this figure, grotesque, peregrinate, and to the eye of a peasant certainly diabolical; then perch it on the stile in the midst of those green English fields, and in sight of that primitive English village; there let it sit straddling, its long legs dangling down, a short German pipe emitting clouds from one corner of those sardonic lips, its dark eyes glaring through the spectacles full upon the parson, yet askant upon Lenny Fairfield. Lenny Fairfield looked exceedingly frightened.
"Upon my word, Dr. Riccabocca," said Mr. Dale, smiling, "you come in good time to solve a very nice question in casuistry;" and herewith the parson explained the case, and put the question, "Ought Lenny Fairfield to have the sixpence, or ought he not?"
"Cospetto!" said the doctor, "if the hen would but hold her tongue, nobody would know that she had laid an egg."
"Granted," said the parson; "but what follows? The saying is good, but I don't see the application."
"A thousand pardons!" replied Dr. Riccabocca, with all the urbanity of an Italian; "but it seems to me that if you had given the sixpence to the fanciullo, that is, to this good little boy, without telling him the story about the donkey, you would never have put him and yourself into this awkward dilemma."
"But, my dear sir," whispered the parson, mildly, as he inclined his lips to the doctor's ear, "I should then have lost the opportunity of inculcating a moral lesson—you understand?"
Dr. Riccabocca shrugged his shoulders, restored his pipe to his mouth, and took a long whiff. It was a whiff eloquent, though cynical,—a whiff peculiar to your philosophical smoker, a whiff that implied the most absolute but the most placid incredulity as to the effect of the parson's moral lesson.
"Still you have not given us your decision," said the parson, after a pause.
The doctor withdrew the pipe. "Cospetto!" said he,—"he who scrubs the head of an ass wastes his soap."
"If you scrubbed mine fifty times over with those enigmatical proverbs of yours," said the parson, testily, "you would not make it any the wiser."
"My good sir," said the doctor, bowing low from his perch on the stile, "I never presumed to say that there were more asses than one in the story; but I thought that I could not better explain my meaning, which is simply this,—you scrubbed the ass's head, and therefore you must lose the soap. Let the fanciullo have the sixpence; and a great sum it is, too, for a little boy, who may spend it all as pocketmoney!"
"There, Lenny, you hear?" said the parson, stretching out the sixpence. But Lenny retreated, and cast on the umpire a look of great aversion and disgust.
"Please, Master Dale," said he, obstinately, "I'd rather not.
"It is a matter of feeling, you see," said the parson, turning to the umpire; "and I believe the boy is right."
"If it be a matter of feeling," replied Dr. Riccabocca, "there is no more to be said on it. When Feeling comes in at the door, Reason has nothing to do but to jump out of the window."
"Go, my good boy," said the parson, pocketing the coin; "but, stop! give me your hand first. There—I understand you;—good-by!"
Lenny's eyes glistened as the parson shook him by the hand, and, not trusting himself to speak, he walked off sturdily. The parson wiped his forehead, and sat himself down on the stile beside the Italian. The view before them was lovely, and both enjoyed it (though not equally) enough to be silent for some moments. On the other side the lane, seen between gaps in the old oaks and chestnuts that hung over the mossgrown pales of Hazeldean Park, rose gentle, verdant slopes, dotted with sheep and herds of deer. A stately avenue stretched far away to the left, and ended at the right hand within a few yards of a ha-ha that divided the park from a level sward of tableland, gay with shrubs and flower-pots, relieved by the shade of two mighty cedars. And on this platform, only seen in part, stood the squire's old-fashioned house, red-brick, with stone mullions, gable-ends, and quaint chimney-pots. On this side the road, immediately facing the two gentlemen, cottage after cottage whitely emerged from the curves in the lane, while, beyond, the ground declining gave an extensive prospect of woods and cornfields, spires and farms. Behind, from a belt of lilacs and evergreens, you caught a peep of the parsonage-house, backed by woodlands, and a little noisy rill running in front. The birds were still in the hedgerows,—only (as if from the very heart of the most distant woods), there came now and then the mellow note of the cuckoo.
"Verily," said Mr. Dale, softly, "my lot has fallen on a goodly heritage."
The Italian twitched his cloak over him, and sighed almost inaudibly. Perhaps he thought of his own Summer Land, and felt that, amidst all that fresh verdure of the North, there was no heritage for the stranger.
However, before the parson could notice the sigh or conjecture the cause, Dr. Riccabocca's thin lips took an expression almost malignant.
"Per Bacco!" said he; "in every country I observe that the rooks settle where the trees are the finest. I am sure that, when Noah first landed on Ararat, he must have found some gentleman in black already settled in the pleasantest part of the mountain, and waiting for his tenth of the cattle as they came out of the Ark."
The parson fixed his meek eyes on the philosopher, and there was in them something so deprecating rather than reproachful that Dr. Riccabocca turned away his face, and refilled his pipe. Dr. Riccabocca abhorred priests; but though Parson Dale was emphatically a parson, he seemed at that moment so little of what Dr. Riccabocca understood by a priest that the Italian's heart smote him for his irreverent jest on the cloth. Luckily at this moment there was a diversion to that untoward commencement of conversation in the appearance of no less a personage than the donkey himself—I mean the donkey who ate the apple.
The tinker was a stout, swarthy fellow, jovial and musical withal, for he was singing a stave as he flourished his staff, and at the end of each refrain down came the staff on the quarters of the donkey. The tinker went behind and sang, the donkey went before and was thwacked.
"Yours is a droll country," quoth Dr. Riccabocca; "in mine, it is not the ass that walks first in the procession that gets the blows."
The parson jumped from the stile, and looking over the hedge that divided the field from the road—"Gently, gently," said he; "the sound of the stick spoils the singing! Oh, Mr. Sprott, Mr. Sprott! a good man is merciful to his beast."
The donkey seemed to recognize the voice of its friend, for it stopped short, pricked one ear wistfully, and looked up. The tinker touched his hat, and looked up too. "Lord bless your reverence! he does not mind it,—he likes it. I vould not hurt thee; would I, Neddy?"
The donkey shook his head and shivered; perhaps a fly had settled on the sore, which the chestnut leaves no longer protected.
"I am sure you did not mean to hurt him, Sprott," said the parson, more politely I fear than honestly,—for he had seen enough of that cross-grained thing called the human heart, even in the little world of a country parish, to know that it requires management and coaxing and flattering, to interfere successfully between a man and his own donkey,—"I am sure you did not mean to hurt him; but he has already got a sore on his shoulder as big as my hand, poor thing!"
"Lord love 'un! yes; that was done a playing with the manger the day I gave 'un oats!" said the tinker.
Dr. Riccabocca adjusted his spectacles, and surveyed the ass. The ass pricked up his other ear, and surveyed Dr. Riccabocca. In that mutual survey of physical qualifications, each being regarded according to the average symmetry of its species, it may be doubted whether the advantage was on the side of the philosopher.
The parson had a great notion of the wisdom of his friend in all matters not purely ecclesiastical.
"Say a good word for the donkey!" whispered he.
"Sir," said the doctor, addressing Mr. Sprott, with a respectful salutation, "there's a great kettle at my house—the Casino—which wants soldering: can you recommend me a tinker?"
"Why, that's all in my line," said Sprott; "and there ben't a tinker in the county that I vould recommend like myself, tho'f I say it."
"You jest, good sir," said the doctor, smiling pleasantly. "A man who can't mend a hole in his own donkey can never demean himself by patching up my great kettle."
"Lord, sir!" said the tinker, archly, "if I had known that poor Neddy had had two sitch friends in court, I'd have seen he vas a gintleman, and treated him as sitch."
"Corpo di Bacco!" quoth the doctor, "though that jest's not new, I think the tinker comes very well out of it."
"True; but the donkey!" said the parson; "I've a great mind to buy it."
"Permit me to tell you an anecdote in point," said Dr. Riccabocca.
"Well?" said the parson, interrogatively.
"Once on a time," pursued Riccabocca, "the Emperor Adrian, going to the public baths, saw an old soldier, who had served under him, rubbing his back against the marble wall. The emperor, who was a wise, and therefore a curious, inquisitive man, sent for the soldier, and asked him why he resorted to that sort of friction. 'Because,' answered the veteran, 'I am too poor to have slaves to rub me down.' The emperor was touched, and gave him slaves and money. The next day, when Adrian went to the baths, all the old men in the city were to be seen rubbing themselves against the marble as hard as they could. The emperor sent for them, and asked them the same question which he had put to the soldier; the cunning old rogues, of course, made the same answer. 'Friends,' said Adrian, 'since there are so many of you, you will just rub one another!' Mr. Dale, if you don't want to have all the donkeys in the county with holes in their shoulders, you had better not buy the tinker's!"
"It is the hardest thing in the world to do the least bit of good," groaned the parson, as he broke a twig off the hedge nervously, snapped it in two, and flung away the fragments: one of them hit the donkey on the nose. If the ass could have spoken Latin he would have said, "Et tu, Brute!" As it was, he hung down his ears, and walked on.
"Gee hup," said the tinker, and he followed the ass. Then stopping, he looked over his shoulder, and seeing that the parson's eyes were gazing mournfully on his protege, "Never fear, your reverence," cried the tinker, kindly, "I'll not spite 'un."
"Four, o'clock," cried the parson, looking at his watch; "half an hour after dinner-time, and Mrs. Dale particularly begged me to be punctual, because of the fine trout the squire sent us. Will you venture on what our homely language calls 'pot-luck,' Doctor?"
Now Riccabocca was a professed philosopher, and valued himself on his penetration into the motives of human conduct. And when the parson thus invited him to pot-luck, he smiled with a kind of lofty complacency; for Mrs. Dale enjoyed the reputation of having what her friends styled "her little tempers." And, as well-bred ladies rarely indulge "little tempers" in the presence of a third person not of the family, so Dr. Riccabocca instantly concluded that he was invited to stand between the pot and the luck! Nevertheless—as he was fond of trout, and a much more good-natured man than he ought to have been according to his principles—he accepted the hospitality; but he did so with a sly look from over his spectacles, which brought a blush into the guilty cheeks of the parson. Certainly Riccabocca had for once guessed right in his estimate of human motives.
The two walked on, crossed a little bridge that spanned the rill, and entered the parsonage lawn. Two dogs, that seemed to have sat on watch for their master, sprang towards him, barking; and the sound drew the notice of Mrs. Dale, who, with parasol in hand, sallied out from the sash window which opened on the lawn. Now, O reader! I know that, in thy secret heart, thou art chuckling over the want of knowledge in the sacred arcana of the domestic hearth betrayed by the author; thou art saying to thyself, "A pretty way to conciliate 'little tempers' indeed, to add to the offence of spoiling the fish the crime of bringing an unexpected friend to eat it. Pot-luck, quotha, when the pot 's boiled over this half hour!"
But, to thy utter shame and confusion, O reader! learn that both the author and Parson Dale knew very well what they were about.
Dr. Riccabocca was the special favourite of Mrs. Dale, and the only person in the whole county who never put her out, by dropping in. In fact, strange though it may seem at first glance, Dr. Riccabocca had that mysterious something about him, which we of his own sex can so little comprehend, but which always propitiates the other. He owed this, in part, to his own profound but hypocritical policy; for he looked upon woman as the natural enemy to man, against whom it was necessary to be always on the guard; whom it was prudent to disarm by every species of fawning servility and abject complaisance. He owed it also, in part, to the compassionate and heavenly nature of the angels whom his thoughts thus villanously traduced—for women like one whom they can pity without despising; and there was something in Signor Riccabocca's poverty, in his loneliness, in his exile, whether voluntary or compelled, that excited pity; while, despite his threadbare coat, the red umbrella, and the wild hair, he had, especially when addressing ladies, that air of gentleman and cavalier, which is or was more innate in an educated Italian, of whatever rank, than perhaps in the highest aristocracy of any other country in Europe. For, though I grant that nothing is more exquisite than the politeness of your French marquis of the old regime, nothing more frankly gracious than the cordial address of a high-bred English gentleman, nothing more kindly prepossessing than the genial good-nature of some patriarchal German, who will condescend to forget his sixteen quarterings in the pleasure of doing you a favour,—yet these specimens of the suavity of their several nations are rare; whereas blandness and polish are common attributes with your Italian. They seem to have been immemorially handed down to him, from ancestors emulating the urbanity of Caesar, and refined by the grace of Horace.
"Dr. Riccabocca consents to dine with us," cried the parson, hastily.
"If Madame permit?" said the Italian, bowing over the hand extended to him, which, however, he forbore to take, seeing it was already full of the watch.
"I am only sorry that the trout must be quite spoiled," began Mrs. Dale, plaintively.
"It is not the trout one thinks of when one dines with Mrs. Dale," said the infamous dissimulator.
"But I see James coming to say that dinner is ready," observed the parson.
"He said that three-quarters of an hour ago, Charles dear," retorted Mrs. Dale, taking the arm of Dr. Riccabocca.
While the parson and his wife are entertaining their guest, I propose to regale the reader with a small treatise a propos of that "Charles dear," murmured by Mrs. Dale,—a treatise expressly written for the benefit of The Domestic Circle.
It is an old jest that there is not a word in the language that conveys so little endearment as the word "dear." But though the saying itself, like most truths, be trite and hackneyed, no little novelty remains to the search of the inquirer into the varieties of inimical import comprehended in that malign monosyllable. For instance, I submit to the experienced that the degree of hostility it betrays is in much proportioned to its collocation in the sentence. When, gliding indirectly through the rest of the period, it takes its stand at the close, as in that "Charles dear" of Mrs. Dale, it has spilled so much of its natural bitterness by the way that it assumes even a smile, "amara lento temperet risu." Sometimes the smile is plaintive, sometimes arch. For example:—
(Plaintive.) "I know very well that whatever I do is wrong, Charles dear."
"Nay, I am very glad you amused yourself so much without me, Charles dear."
"Not quite so loud! If you had but my poor head, Charles dear," etc.
(Arch.) "If you could spill the ink anywhere but on the best tablecloth, Charles dear!"
"But though you must always have your own way, you are not quite faultless, own, Charles dear," etc.
When the enemy stops in the middle of the sentence, its venom is naturally less exhausted. For example:—
"Really, I must say, Charles dear, that you are the most fidgety person," etc.
"And if the house bills were so high last week, Charles dear, I should just like to know whose fault it was—that's all."
"But you know, Charles dear, that you care no more for me and the children than—" etc.
But if the fatal word spring up, in its primitive freshness, at the head of the sentence, bow your head to the storm. It then assumes the majesty of "my" before it; it is generally more than simple objurgation,—it prefaces a sermon. My candour obliges me to confess that this is the mode in which the hateful monosyllable is more usually employed by the marital part of the one flesh; and has something about it of the odious assumption of the Petruchian paterfamilias—the head of the family—boding, not perhaps "peace and love, and quiet life," but certainly "awful rule and right supremacy." For example:—
"My dear Jane, I wish you would just put by that everlasting crochet, and listen to me for a few moments," etc. "My dear Jane, I wish you would understand me for once; don't think I am angry,—no, but I am hurt! You must consider," etc.
"My dear Jane, I don't know if it is your intention to ruin me; but I only wish you would do as all other women do who care three straws for their husband's property," etc.
"My dear Jane, I wish you to understand that I am the last person in the world to be jealous; but I'll be d—-d if that puppy, Captain Prettyman," etc.
Now, few so carefully cultivate the connubial garden, as to feel much surprise at the occasional sting of a homely nettle or two; but who ever expected, before entering that garden, to find himself pricked and lacerated by an insidious exotical "dear," which he had been taught to believe only lived in a hothouse, along with myrtles and other tender and sensitive shrubs which poets appropriate to Venus? Nevertheless Parson Dale, being a patient man, and a pattern to all husbands, would have found no fault with his garden, though there had not been a single specimen of "dear,"—whether the dear humilis or the dear superba; the dear pallida, rubra, or nigra; the dear suavis or the dear horrida,—no, not a single "dear" in the whole horticulture of matrimony, which Mrs. Dale had not brought to perfection. But this was far from being the case; Mrs. Dale, living much in retirement, was unaware of the modern improvements, in variety of colour and sharpness of prickle, which have rewarded the persevering skill of our female florists.
In the cool of the evening Dr. Riccabocca walked home across the fields. Mr. and Mrs. Dale had accompanied him half-way, and as they now turned back to the parsonage, they looked behind to catch a glimpse of the tall, outlandish figure, winding slowly through the path amidst the waves of the green corn.
"Poor man!" said Mrs. Dale, feelingly; "and the button was off his wristband! What a pity he has nobody to take care of him! He seems very domestic. Don't you think, Charles, it would be a great blessing if we could get him a good wife?"
"Um," said the parson; "I doubt if he values the married state as he ought."
"What do you mean, Charles? I never saw a man more polite to ladies in my life."
"But what? You are always so mysterious, Charles dear."
"Mysterious! No, Carry; but if you could hear what the doctor says of the ladies sometimes."
"Ay, when you men get together, my dear. I know what that means—pretty things you say of us! But you are all alike; you know you are, love!"
"I am sure," said the parson, simply, "that I have good cause to speak well of the sex—when I think of you and my poor mother."
Mrs. Dale, who, with all her "tempers," was an excellent woman, and loved her husband with the whole of her quick little heart, was touched. She pressed his hand, and did not call him dear all the way home.
Meanwhile the Italian passed the fields, and came upon the high road about two miles from Hazeldean. On one side stood an old-fashioned solitary inn, such as English inns used to be before they became railway hotels,—square, solid, old-fashioned, looking so hospitable and comfortable, with their great signs swinging from some elm-tree in front, and the long row of stables standing a little back, with a chaise or two in the yard, and the jolly landlord talking of the crops to some stout farmer, whose rough pony halts of itself at the well-known door. Opposite this inn, on the other side of the road, stood the habitation of Dr. Riecabocca.
A few years before the date of these annals, the stage-coach on its way to London from a seaport town stopped at the inn, as was its wont, for a good hour, that its passengers might dine like Christian Englishmen—not gulp down a basin of scalding soup, like everlasting heathen Yankees, with that cursed railway-whistle shrieking like a fiend in their ears! It was the best dining-place on the whole road, for the trout in the neighbouring rill were famous, and so was the mutton which came from Hazeldean Park.
From the outside of the coach had descended two passengers, who, alone insensible to the attractions of mutton and trout, refused to dine,—two melancholy-looking foreigners, of whom one was Signor Riccabocca, much the same as we see him now, only that the black suit was less threadbare, the tall form less meagre, and he did not then wear spectacles; and the other was his servant. "They would walk about while the coach stopped." Now the Italian's eye had been caught by a mouldering, dismantled house on the other side the road, which nevertheless was well situated; half-way up a green hill, with its aspect due south, a little cascade falling down artificial rockwork, a terrace with a balustrade, and a few broken urns and statues before its Ionic portico, while on the roadside stood a board, with characters already half effaced, implying that the house was "To be let unfurnished, with or without land."
The abode that looked so cheerless, and which had so evidently hung long on hand, was the property of Squire Hazeldean. It had been built by his grandfather on the female side,—a country gentleman who had actually been in Italy (a journey rare enough to boast of in those days), and who, on his return home, had attempted a miniature imitation of an Italian villa. He left an only daughter and sole heiress, who married Squire Hazeldean's father; and since that time, the house, abandoned by its proprietors for the larger residence of the Hazeldeans, had been uninhabited and neglected. Several tenants, indeed, had offered themselves; but your true country squire is slow in admitting upon his own property a rival neighbour. Some wanted shooting. "That," said the Hazeldeans, who were great sportsmen and strict preservers, "was quite out of the question." Others were fine folks from London. "London servants," said the Hazeldeans, who were moral and prudent people, "would corrupt their own, and bring London prices." Others, again, were retired manufacturers, at whom the Hazeldeans turned up their agricultural noses. In short, some were too grand, and others too vulgar. Some were refused because they were known so well: "Friends were best at a distance," said the Hazeldeans; others because they were not known at all: "No good comes of strangers," said the Hazeldeans. And finally, as the house fell more and more into decay, no one would take it unless it was put into thorough repair: "As if one was made of money!" said the Hazeldeans. In short, there stood the house unoccupied and ruinous; and there, on its terrace, stood the two forlorn Italians, surveying it with a smile at each other, as for the first time since they set foot in England, they recognized, in dilapidated pilasters and broken statues, in a weed-grown terrace and the remains of an orangery, something that reminded them of the land they had left behind.
On returning to the inn, Dr. Riccabocca took the occasion to learn from the innkeeper (who was indeed a tenant of the squire) such particulars as he could collect; and a few days afterwards Mr. Hazeldean received a letter from a solicitor of repute in London, stating that a very respectable foreign gentleman had commissioned him to treat for Clump Lodge, otherwise called the "Casino;" that the said gentleman did not shoot, lived in great seclusion, and, having no family, did not care about the repairs of the place, provided only it were made weather-proof,—if the omission of more expensive reparations could render the rent suitable to his finances, which were very limited. The offer came at a fortunate moment, when the steward had just been representing to the squire the necessity of doing something to keep the Casino from falling into positive ruin, and the squire was cursing the fates which had put the Casino into an entail—so that he could not pull it down for the building materials. Mr. Hazeldean therefore caught at the proposal even as a fair lady, who has refused the best offers in the kingdom, catches, at last, at some battered old captain on half-pay, and replied that, as for rent, if the solicitor's client was a quiet, respectable man, he did not care for that, but that the gentleman might have it for the first year rent-free, on condition of paying the taxes, and putting the place a little in order. If they suited each other, they could then come to terms. Ten days subsequently to this gracious reply, Signor Riccabocca and his servant arrived; and, before the year's end, the squire was so contented with his tenant that he gave him a running lease of seven, fourteen, or twenty-one years, at a rent merely nominal, on condition that Signor Riccabocca would put and maintain the place in repair, barring the roof and fences, which the squire generously renewed at his own expense. It was astonishing, by little and little, what a pretty place the Italian had made of it, and, what is more astonishing, how little it had cost him. He had, indeed, painted the walls of the hall, staircase, and the rooms appropriated to himself, with his own hands. His servant had done the greater part of the upholstery. The two between them had got the garden into order.
The Italians seemed to have taken a joint love to the place, and to deck it as they would have done some favourite chapel to their Madonna.
It was long before the natives reconciled themselves to the odd ways of the foreign settlers. The first thing that offended them was the exceeding smallness of the household bills. Three days out of the seven, indeed, both man and master dined on nothing else but the vegetables in the garden, and the fishes in the neighbouring rill; when no trout could be caught they fried the minnows (and certainly, even in the best streams, minnows are more frequently caught than trout). The next thing which angered the natives quite as much, especially the female part of the neighbourhood, was the very sparing employment the two he creatures gave to the sex usually deemed so indispensable in household matters. At first, indeed, they had no woman-servant at all. But this created such horror that Parson Dale ventured a hint upon the matter, which Riccabocca took in very good part; and an old woman was forthwith engaged after some bargaining—at three shillings a week—to wash and scrub as much as she liked during the daytime. She always returned to her own cottage to sleep. The man-servant, who was styled in the neighbourhood "Jackeymo," did all else for his master,—smoothed his room, dusted his papers, prepared his coffee, cooked his dinner, brushed his clothes, and cleaned his pipes, of which Riccabocca had a large collection. But however close a man's character, it generally creeps out in driblets; and on many little occasions the Italian had shown acts of kindness, and, on some more rare occasions, even of generosity, which had served to silence his calumniators, and by degrees he had established a very fair reputation,—suspected, it is true, of being a little inclined to the Black Art, and of a strange inclination to starve Jackeymo and himself, in other respects harmless enough.
Signor Riccabocca had become very intimate, as we have seen, at the Parsonage. But not so at the Hall. For though the squire was inclined to be very friendly to all his neighbours, he was, like most country gentlemen, rather easily huffed. Riccabocca had, with great politeness, still with great obstinacy, refused Mr. Hazeldean's earlier invitations to dinner; and when the squire found that the Italian rarely declined to dine at the Parsonage, he was offended in one of his weak points,—namely, his pride in the hospitality of Hazeldean Hall,—and he ceased altogether invitations so churlishly rejected. Nevertheless, as it was impossible for the squire, however huffed, to bear malice, he now and then reminded Riccabocca of his existence by presents of game, and would have called on him more often than he did, but that Riccabocca received him with such excessive politeness that the blunt country gentleman felt shy and put out, and used to say that "to call on Rickeybockey was as bad as going to Court."
But we have left Dr. Riccabocca on the high road. By this time he has ascended a narrow path that winds by the side of the cascade, he has passed a trellis-work covered with vines, from which Jackeymo has positively succeeded in making what he calls wine,—a liquid, indeed, that if the cholera had been popularly known in those days, would have soured the mildest member of the Board of Health; for Squire Hazeldean, though a robust man who daily carried off his bottle of port with impunity, having once rashly tasted it, did not recover the effect till he had had a bill from the apothecary as long as his own arm. Passing this trellis, Dr. Riccabocca entered upon the terrace, with its stone pavement as smoothed and trimmed as hands could make it. Here, on neat stands, all his favourite flowers were arranged; here four orange trees were in full blossom; here a kind of summer-house, or belvidere, built by Jackeymo and himself, made his chosen morning room from May till October; and from this belvidere there was as beautiful an expanse of prospect as if our English Nature had hospitably spread on her green board all that she had to offer as a banquet to the exile.
A man without his coat, which was thrown over the balustrade, was employed in watering the flowers,—a man with movements so mechanical, with a face so rigidly grave in its tawny hues, that he seemed like an automaton made out of mahogany.
"Giacomo," said Dr. Riccabocca, softly.
The automaton stopped its hand, and turned its head.
"Put by the watering-pot, and come hither," continued Riccabocca, in Italian; and, moving towards the balustrade, he leaned over it. Mr. Mitford, the historian, calls Jean Jacques "John James." Following that illustrious example, Giacomo shall be Anglified into Jackeymo. Jackeymo came to the balustrade also, and stood a little behind his master. "Friend," said Riccabocca, "enterprises have not always succeeded with us. Don't you think, after all, it is tempting our evil star to rent those fields from the landlord?" Jackeymo crossed himself, and made some strange movement with a little coral charm which he wore set in a ring on his finger.
"If the Madonna send us luck, and we could hire a lad cheap?" said Jackeymo, doubtfully.
"Piu vale un presente che dui futuri,"—["A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."]—said Riccabocca.
"Chi non fa quando pub, non pub, fare quando vuole,"—["He who will not when he may, when he wills it shall have nay."]—answered Jackeymo, as sententiously as his master. "And the Padrone should think in time that he must lay by for the dower of the poor signorina."
Riccabocca sighed, and made no reply.
"She must be that high now!" said Jackeymo, putting his hand on some imaginary line a little above the balustrade. Riccabocca's eyes, raised over the spectacles, followed the hand.
"If the Padrone could but see her here—"
"I thought I did," muttered the Italian.
"He would never let her go from his side till she went to a husband's," continued Jackeymo.
"But this climate,—she could never stand it," said Riccabocca, drawing his cloak round him, as a north wind took him in the rear.
"The orange trees blossom even here with care," said Jackeymo, turning back to draw down an awning where the orange trees faced the north. "See!" he added, as he returned with a sprig in full bud.
Dr. Riccabocca bent over the blossom, and then placed it in his bosom.
"The other one should be there too," said Jackeymo.
"To die—as this does already!" answered Riccabocca. "Say no more."
Jackeymo shrugged his shoulders; and then, glancing at his master, drew his hand over his eyes.
There was a pause. Jackeymo was the first to break it. "But, whether here or there, beauty without money is the orange tree without shelter. If a lad could be got cheap, I would hire the land, and trust for the crop to the Madonna."
"I think I know of such a lad," said Riccabocca, recovering himself, and with his sardonic smile once more lurking about the corners of his mouth,—"a lad made for us."
"No, not the Diavolo! Friend, I have this day seen a boy who—refused sixpence!"
"Cosa stupenda!" exclaimed Jackeymo, opening his eyes, and letting fall the watering-pot.
"It is true, my friend."
"Take him, Padrone, in Heaven's name, and the fields will grow gold."
"I will think of it, for it must require management to catch such a boy," said Riccabocca. "Meanwhile, light a candle in the parlour, and bring from my bedroom that great folio of Machiavelli."
In my next chapter I shall present Squire Hazeldean in patriarchal state,—not exactly under the fig-tree he has planted, but before the stocks he has reconstructed,—Squire Hazeldean and his family on the village green! The canvas is all ready for the colours.
But in this chapter I must so far afford a glimpse into antecedents as to let the reader know that there is one member of the family whom he is not likely to meet at present, if ever, on the village green at Hazeldean.
Our squire lost his father two years after his birth; his mother was very handsome—and so was her jointure; she married again at the expiration of her year of mourning; the object of her second choice was Colonel Egerton.
In every generation of Englishmen (at least since the lively reign of Charles II.) there are a few whom some elegant Genius skims off from the milk of human nature, and reserves for the cream of society. Colonel Egerton was one of these terque quaterque beati, and dwelt apart on a top shelf in that delicate porcelain dish—not bestowed upon vulgar buttermilk—which persons of fashion call The Great World. Mighty was the marvel of Pall Mall, and profound was the pity of Park Lane, when this supereminent personage condescended to lower himself into a husband. But Colonel Egerton was not a mere gaudy butterfly; he had the provident instincts ascribed to the bee. Youth had passed from him, and carried off much solid property in its flight; he saw that a time was fast coming when a home, with a partner who could help to maintain it, would be conducive to his comforts, and an occasional hum-drum evening by the fireside beneficial to his health. In the midst of one season at Brighton, to which gay place he had accompanied the Prince of Wales, he saw a widow, who, though in the weeds of mourning, did not appear inconsolable. Her person pleased his taste; the accounts of her jointure satisfied his understanding; he contrived an introduction, and brought a brief wooing to a happy close. The late Mr. Hazeldean had so far anticipated the chance of the young widow's second espousals, that, in case of that event, he transferred, by his testamentary dispositions, the guardianship of his infant heir from the mother to two squires whom he had named his executors. This circumstance combined with her new ties somewhat to alienate Mrs. Hazeldean from the pledge of her former loves; and when she had borne a son to Colonel Egerton, it was upon that child that her maternal affections gradually concentrated.
William Hazeldean was sent by his guardians to a large provincial academy, at which his forefathers had received their education time out of mind. At first he spent his holidays with Mrs. Egerton; but as she now resided either in London, or followed her lord to Brighton, to partake of the gayeties at the Pavilion, so as he grew older, William, who had a hearty affection for country life, and of whose bluff manners and rural breeding Mrs. Egerton (having grown exceedingly refined) was openly ashamed, asked and obtained permission to spend his vacations either with his guardians or at the old Hall. He went late to a small college at Cambridge, endowed in the fifteenth century by some ancestral Hazeldean; and left it, on coming of age, without taking a degree. A few years afterwards he married a young lady, country born and bred like himself.
Meanwhile his half-brother, Audley Egerton, may be said to have begun his initiation into the beau monde before he had well cast aside his coral and bells; he had been fondled in the lap of duchesses, and had galloped across the room astride on the canes of ambassadors and princes. For Colonel Egerton was not only very highly connected, not only one of the Dii majores of fashion, but he had the still rarer good fortune to be an exceedingly popular man with all who knew him,—so popular, that even the fine ladies whom he had adored and abandoned forgave him for marrying out of "the set," and continued to be as friendly as if he had not married at all. People who were commonly called heartless were never weary of doing kind things to the Egertons. When the time came for Audley to leave the preparatory school at which his infancy budded forth amongst the stateliest of the little lilies of the field, and go to Eton, half the fifth and sixth forms had been canvassed to be exceedingly civil to young Egerton. The boy soon showed that he inherited his father's talent for acquiring popularity, and that to this talent he added those which put popularity to use. Without achieving any scholastic distinction, he yet contrived to establish at Eton the most desirable reputation which a boy can obtain,—namely, that among his own contemporaries, the reputation of a boy who was sure to do something when he grew to be a man. As a gentleman-commoner at Christ Church, Oxford, he continued to sustain this high expectation, though he won no prizes, and took but an ordinary degree; and at Oxford the future "something" became more defined,—it was "something in public life" that this young man was to do.
While he was yet at the University, both his parents died, within a few months of each other. And when Audley Egerton came of age, he succeeded to a paternal property which was supposed to be large, and indeed had once been so; but Colonel Egerton had been too lavish a man to enrich his heir, and about L1500 a year was all that sales and mortgages left of an estate that had formerly approached a rental of L10,000.
Still, Audley was considered to be opulent; and he did not dispel that favourable notion by any imprudent exhibition of parsimony. On entering the world of London, the Clubs flew open to receive him, and he woke one morning to find himself, not indeed famous—but the fashion. To this fashion he at once gave a certain gravity and value, he associated as much as possible with public men and political ladies, he succeeded in confirming the notion that he was "born to ruin or to rule the State."
The dearest and most intimate friend of Audley Egerton was Lord L'Estrange, from whom he had been inseparable at Eton, and who now, if Audley Egerton was the fashion, was absolutely the rage in London.
Harley, Lord L'Estrange, was the only son of the Earl of Lansmere, a nobleman of considerable wealth, and allied, by intermarriages, to the loftiest and most powerful families in England. Lord Lansmere, nevertheless, was but little known in the circles of London. He lived chiefly on his estates, occupying himself with the various duties of a great proprietor, and when he came to the metropolis, it was rather to save than to spend; so that he could afford to give his son a very ample allowance, when Harley, at the age of sixteen (having already attained to the sixth form at Eton), left school for one of the regiments of the Guards.
Few knew what to make of Harley L'Estrange,—and that was, perhaps, the reason why he was so much thought of. He had been by far the most brilliant boy of his time at Eton,—not only the boast of the cricket-ground, but the marvel of the schoolroom; yet so full of whims and oddities, and seeming to achieve his triumphs with so little aid from steadfast application, that he had not left behind him the same expectations of solid eminence which his friend and senior, Audley Egerton, had excited. His eccentricities, his quaint sayings, and out-of-the-way actions, became as notable in the great world as they had been in the small one of a public school. That he was very clever there was no doubt, and that the cleverness was of a high order might be surmised, not only from the originality but the independence of his character. He dazzled the world, without seeming to care for its praise or its censure,—dazzled it, as it were, because he could not help shining. He had some strange notions, whether political or social, which rather frightened his father. According to Southey, "A man should be no more ashamed of having been a republican than of having been young." Youth and extravagant opinions naturally go together. I don't know whether Harley L'Estrange was a republican at the age of eighteen; but there was no young man in London who seemed to care less for being heir to an illustrious name and some forty or fifty thousand pounds a year. It was a vulgar fashion in that day to play the exclusive, and cut persons who wore bad neckcloths, and called themselves Smith or Johnson. Lord L'Estrange never cut any one, and it was quite enough to slight some worthy man because of his neckcloth or his birth to insure to the offender the pointed civilities of this eccentric successor to the Belforts and the Wildairs.
It was the wish of his father that Harley, as soon as he came of age, should represent the borough of Lansmere (which said borough was the single plague of the earl's life). But this wish was never realized. Suddenly, when the young idol of London still wanted some two or three years of his majority, a new whim appeared to seize him. He withdrew entirely from society; he left unanswered the most pressing three-cornered notes of inquiry and invitation that ever strewed the table of a young Guardsman; he was rarely seen anywhere in his former haunts,—when seen, was either alone or with Egerton; and his gay spirits seemed wholly to have left him. A profound melancholy was written in his countenance, and breathed in the listless tones of his voice. About this time a vacancy happening to occur for the representation of Lansmere, Harley made it his special request to his father that the family interest might be given to Audley Egerton,—a request which was backed by all the influence of his lady mother, who shared in the esteem which her son felt for his friend. The earl yielded; and Egerton, accompanied by Harley, went down to Lansmere Park, which adjoined the borough, in order to be introduced to the electors. This visit made a notable epoch in the history of many personages who figure in my narrative; but at present I content myself with saying that circumstances arose which, just as the canvass for the new election commenced, caused both L'Estrange and Audley to absent themselves from the scene of action, and that the last even wrote to Lord Lansmere expressing his intention of declining to contest the borough.
Fortunately for the parliamentary career of Audley Egerton, the election had become to Lord Lansmere not only a matter of public importance, but of personal feeling. He resolved that the battle should be fought out, even in the absence of the candidate, and at his own expense. Hitherto the contest for this distinguished borough had been, to use the language of Lord Lansmere, "conducted in the spirit of gentlemen,"—that is to say, the only opponents to the Lansmere interest had been found in one or the other of the two rival families in the same county; and as the earl was a hospitable, courteous man, much respected and liked by the neighbouring gentry, so the hostile candidate had always interlarded his speeches with profuse compliments to his Lordship's high character, and civil expressions as to his Lordship's candidate. But, thanks to successive elections, one of these two families had come to an end, and its actual representative was now residing within the Rules of the Bench; the head of the other family was the sitting member, and, by an amicable agreement with the Lansinere interest, he remained as neutral as it is in the power of any sitting member to be amidst the passions of an intractable committee. Accordingly it had been hoped that Egerton would come in without opposition, when, the very day on which he had abruptly left the place, a handbill, signed "Haverill Dashmore, Captain R. N., Baker Street, Portman Square," announced, in very spirited language, the intention of that gentleman "to emancipate the borough from the unconstitutional domination of an oligarchical faction, not with a view to his own political aggrandizement,—indeed at great personal inconvenience,—but actuated solely by abhorrence to tyranny, and patriotic passion for the purity of election."
This announcement was followed, within two hours, by the arrival of Captain Dashmore himself, in a carriage and four, covered with yellow favours, and filled, inside and out, with harumscarum-looking friends, who had come down with him to share the canvass and partake the fun.
Captain Dashmore was a thorough sailor, who had, however, conceived a disgust to the profession from the date in which a minister's nephew had been appointed to the command of a ship to which the captain considered himself unquestionably entitled. It is just to the minister to add that Captain Dashmore had shown as little regard for orders from a distance as had immortalized Nelson himself; but then the disobedience had not achieved the same redeeming success as that of Nelson, and Captain Dashmore ought to have thought himself fortunate in escaping a severer treatment than the loss of promotion. But no man knows when he is well off; and retiring on half pay, just as he came into unexpected possession of some forty or fifty thousand pounds, bequeathed by a distant relation, Captain Dashmore was seized with a vindictive desire to enter parliament, and inflict oratorical chastisement on the Administration.
A very few hours sufficed to show the sea-captain to be a most capital electioneerer for a popular but not enlightened constituency. It is true that he talked the saddest nonsense ever heard from an open window; but then his jokes were so broad, his manner so hearty, his voice so big, that in those dark days, before the schoolmaster was abroad, he would have beaten your philosophical Radical and moralizing Democrat hollow. Moreover, he kissed all the women, old and young, with the zest of a sailor who has known what it is to be three years at sea without sight of a beardless lip; he threw open all the public-houses, asked a numerous committee every day to dinner, and, chucking his purse up in the air, declared "he would stick to his guns while there was a shot in the locker." Till then, there had been but little political difference between the candidate supported by Lord Lansmere's interest and the opposing parties; for country gentlemen, in those days, were pretty much of the same way of thinking, and the question had been really local,—namely, whether the Lansmere interest should or should not prevail over that of the two squire-archical families who had alone, hitherto, ventured to oppose it. But though Captain Dashmore was really a very loyal man, and much too old a sailor to think that the State (which, according to established metaphor, is a vessel par excellence) should admit Jack upon quarterdeck, yet, what with talking against lords and aristocracy, jobs and abuses, and searching through no very refined vocabulary for the strongest epithets to apply to those irritating nouns-substantive, his bile had got the better of his understanding, and he became fuddled, as it were, by his own eloquence. Thus, though as innocent of Jacobinical designs as he was incapable of setting the Thames on fire, you would have guessed him, by his speeches, to be one of the most determined incendiaries that ever applied a match to the combustible materials of a contested election; while, being by no means accustomed to respect his adversaries, he could not have treated the Earl of Lansmere with less ceremony if his Lordship had been a Frenchman. He usually designated that respectable nobleman, who was still in the prime of life, by the title of "Old Pompous;" and the mayor, who was never seen abroad but in top-boots, and the solicitor, who was of a large build, received from his irreverent wit the joint sobriquet of "Tops and Bottoms"! Hence the election had now become, as I said before, a personal matter with my Lord, and, indeed, with the great heads of the Lansmere interest. The earl seemed to consider his very coronet at stake in the question. "The Man from Baker Street," with his preternatural audacity, appeared to him a being ominous and awful—not so much to be regarded with resentment as with superstitious terror. He felt as felt the dignified Montezuma, when that ruffianly Cortez, with his handful of Spanish rapscallions, bearded him in his own capital, and in the midst of his Mexican splendour. The gods were menaced if man could be so insolent! wherefore, said my Lord tremulously, "The Constitution is gone if the Man from Baker Street comes in for Lansmere!"
But in the absence of Audley Egerton, the election looked extremely ugly, and Captain Dashmore gained ground hourly, when the Lansmere solicitor happily bethought him of a notable proxy for the missing candidate. The Squire of Hazeldean, with his young wife, had been invited by the earl in honour of Audley; and in the squire the solicitor beheld the only mortal who could cope with the sea-captain,—a man with a voice as burly and a face as bold; a man who, if permitted for the nonce by Mrs. Hazeldean, would kiss all the women no less heartily than the captain kissed them; and who was, moreover, a taller and a handsomer and a younger man,—all three great recommendations in the kissing department of a contested election. Yes, to canvass the borough, and to speak from the window, Squire Hazeldean would be even more popularly presentable than the London-bred and accomplished Audley Egerton himself.