Эдвард Джордж Бульвер-Литтон
"My Novel" — Volume 01


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.

CHAPTER II

"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.

"Fie, fie!"

"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."

CHAPTER III

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."