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

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."

CHAPTER V

"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."


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