THE FISHERMAN AND THE FIDDLER;
"DON'T SAY SO TILL YOU ARE SURE."
IT is a long day since Zed Marrowby and Phil Garrett
passed quietly away from this wilderness of confusion and wrong, and their
names are well-nigh forgotten. But they were, each of them, so
unlike other folk in their way of life, and in their old-fashioned habits
of thinking and talking, that there is no wonder they have slipped out of
the world's memory as well as out of the world itself. Two odd old
fellows they were deemed for many a year, albeit there are few happier old
fellows, upon the whole, than they were. And who were they?
Zed was an humble fisherman on the Trent, and never knew what it was to be
possessed, at once, of twenty shillings in his life. His father was called
Zedekiah, but the son never reached that long-name dignity. Zed was taught
the art and mystery of fishing with an angle, fishing with set lines and
hooks, fishing with nets—in brief, all kinds of fresh-water fishing, when
a boy, by his father,—whose father and grandfather before him were each
fishermen. Zed was a bachelor all his life long, and that means fourscore
and five; and Zed never had but one bosom-friend, and that was blind
Phil Garrett the fiddler.
Phil could not trace his ancestry in an uninterrupted line for several
generations like his friend Zed. In fact, it may seem
strange to a world so wise as the world is now-a-days, but Phil Garrett
never knew who was his own father! His earliest recollections were of hard
by all around him save his mother, who herself died of hard usage, and
left him to the ruthless world, a blind orphan at a tender age. There was
doubt about Phil's true Christian name as there was about his parentage:
some said it was Philip, and others said it ought to be Philander; here
one contended it must be Philibert, while his god-mother, Abigail,
inclined to believe it was Philemon, but even she could not justly
remember—for, as she
used to say, "the parson quite took away her recollection of it, by
hemming and hawing, and being so long about the trifling matter of
child—and all the while she was pretty sartain the christening—cake
would be burnt under the wood ashes, for she made it herself, and placed
it under the
dish at the last moment, in order that it might not be spoilt while they
were at church." However, Phil contrived to teach himself to play on the
when a boy, and thereby managed to win his own living, without ever seeing
the sun, or knowing, exactly, either his own name, or the name of his
Zed and Phil were nearly of an age, and became attached to each other when
they were in their teens; indeed, from that period of life they were
inseparable, except on special occasions. It was a singular companionship,
was that of Zed Marrowby, the fisherman, and blind Phil Garrett, the
soon as day broke, through spring, summer, and autumn, Zed might be seen
wending his way among the osiers, on the banks of Old Trent, towards his
small narrow boat; and blind Phil, with his fiddle-case under his arm,
might be seen leaning on Zed's left shoulder, and hurrying along with him. No
matter how heavily it rained, or strongly it blew, the two happy old
fellows were as constant in their time of rising, and of their
embarkation, as the sun was
in mounting above the east, unless Phil happened to be engaged for a
wedding or a wake, for the blind fiddler was in high request for all the
rejoicings around Torksey, where the singular companions lived—I mean, at Marton, and Sturton,
and Fenton, and Newton, on the Lincolnshire side of the Trent; and not
less at Laneham, and Dunham, and Drayton, and Rampton, and Leverton, on
side of merry Nottinghamshire.
Winter, you would say, would be but a dreary season for the two old
cronies, since it would put a stop to their voyaging, and, by confining
doors, would make them mopish and melancholy. But you are wrong, if you
say so. There were nets and lines to make and to mend, and the past to
recount, and the future to reckon upon; and Phil would play on his fiddle
while Zed would sing, and when Phil's arm was weary with scraping, and
throat was sore with piping, Zed would listen till he fell asleep with
Phil telling ghost stories and fairy-tales, and love-ditties and
which he had learned from his god-mother, old Abigail Cullsimple, at once
the most famous herbwoman, midwife, and tale teller, in her own day and
generation, for threescore miles round about ancient Torksey on the
Trent,—nay, it were perilous to assert that she ever had an equal in
combined qualifications, throughout the whole region of Lindsey.
It would take some thousands of pages to narrate half the adventures in
rain and fair weather, of the fisherman and fiddler, during their
threescore years of
friendship. Let it suffice to take up their life-story for some two or
three days of the last summer they spent together in this world,
commencing with a fine
morning in which they unmoored their little boat somewhat earlier than
usual, in order to reach Littleborough
for a wedding, before the turn of the tide. The morning was such a
delicious one, that, old as they were, the two old voyagers could not
their feeling of pleasure at the balmy and refreshing effect it had upon
their weather-beaten frames; and, blind as poor Phil was, you could not
had you seen his expressive face when under very pleasurable emotion, to
discern that it scarcely needs the language of eyes to demonstrate the
happiness. Their little skiff darted
like a fowl along the stream, so finely did opening nature seem to nerve
the old men's arms, and puff their little sail; the very fishes seemed
have time to take alarm while the oars plashed amid the liquid silver, but
darted and gambolled after each other,—the rapid dace and the delicate
the golden-finned perch,—every moment to the surface of the stream,
exulting, as it seemed, in the solar glory. It was a morning to fill with
human soul that has any music
in itself. The sweet matin lute of the lark thrilled through the heavens,
and the still sweeter voice of the blythe milkmaid, as she tripped it,
fresh and rosy,
over the lea, was heard waking
the echoes with her plaintive love-melody. Zed and Phil were too true
children of Nature to disobey her influences, and thus chanted their
hearts' sedate joy, as they bent at the oar:—
Merrily we go, my man—
Merrily with the tide!
Catch the breezes while you can—
Here we'll not abide!
Storm and calm will soon be o'er—
Spread the flowing sail!
Lift thy heart with sorrow sore—
Catch the fav'ring gale!
Wouldst thou weep till set of sun—
From the break of day?
This life's stream will soon he run—
Laugh, then, while you may!
Mariners in life's frail boat—
Sighs and tears are vain!
Cheerily let's onward float—
Soon the port we'll gain!
Merrily we go, my man—
Merrily with the tide!
Catch the breezes while you can—
Merrily onward glide!
Again and again they doubled the last verse, those brave old
voyagers! until many a milkmaid came up the banks of Trent, leaving her
cows on the lea, to listen more nearly to the merry song they had so often
before from the two quaint companions of the fishing-boat.
The little ferry of Littleborough was at length gained, and Zed leaped as
gaily on shore as if he were yet in his youth, and then handed Phil out,
fiddle-case under his arm; and when the skiff was moored, away they hasted
to the "Ferry-Boat Inn," as the humble public-house was loftily termed,
where the intended wedding and merry-making was about to be held. After
half-a-dozen hearty gripes of the hand, and as many congratulations on
good looks, the two old men were zealously pressed to "eat and drink, and
not spare," by the bluff landlord. And, nothing loth, Zed and Phil sat
down on the long-settle, and made free with a good hearty beef-steak pie,
tankard of ale; and the landlord was ready to fill again ere the latter
was fairly empty. "Don't ye be dainty about it, my hearties," said he,
"for the youngsters
will be downstairs soon: they've been dressing this I don't know how long;
and you'll ha' plenty to do, I warrant ye, when they happen to find that
come: so do justice to your fare!"
And anon the bride that was to be was brought downstairs by a crowd of
laughing lasses, and, blushing like the May, was placed in a chair
flowers; and soon the lads burst in with the bridegroom, all in best array
of plush and velveteen; and when he stepped up to the chaired beauty for
morning's buss [Ed.—'buss'—A caress with the lips], the lads pulled him away and said "nay"; and then all
clapped their hands with delight when they first saw Zed and Phil in the
all shouted, as if they were mad, for a good thumping ditty that would put
mettle in their heels. So Phil struck up first "Malbrook's gone to
battle," and then "Gee-ho, Dobbin," and then "Grist the Miller," and then "She will and she
won't," and then "Nelly is gone to be married"; and each lad took his
lass, and led
up or followed
the dance to the capers of Phil's bow, till "The parson's
come!" resounded through the kitchen; and the marriage-procession was
immediately formed, and the kitchen was deserted, for even Zed and Phil
off, the one to see, and the other to hear, lovely Polly of the Ferry-Boat
Inn given away to sprightly and honest young farmer Brown that morning, at
neighbouring parish church of Sturton-le-Steeple.
The ceremony over, and the kitchen regained, feasting, fun, and frolic,
were the order of the day. Phil's fiddle and Zed's throat were worked till
of them could scarcely work longer; and oh, the tales that Phil told, and
the songs that Zed sung, in the course of that merry wedding-day!—why,
the like of
'em could not be said or sung by man or maid, wife or widow, within all
Don't imagine, either, that the fun and frolic were partaken of merely by
the younkers: let me tell you, that even the fat landlord himself,
although verging on
fourscore, caught so much of the spirit of the time, that he jumped up,
all of a sudden, after watching the nodding head and smirking face of Dame
Brown, the grandmother of the bridegroom, and discerning how she began to
fidget, like himself,—I say he jumped up all of a sudden, and, seizing
hand, whirled her away, not in the least unwilling, to show the young lads
and lasses that they had not forgotten a quick step, and all that, as old
were. And, by jingo! how all-alive did Phil look, while he screwed up his
catgut for a new strain; and never was anything seen in mortal man more
wonderful than the ecstatic changes of his blind face, while he struck up
"Green leaves all grow sere!" as an accompaniment to the frisking feet of
Dinah and the fat old landlord. And then he changed the strain for one of
rich merriment, while his sightless and strangely expressive countenance
depicted every shade of wild and wilder glee, and vibrated throughout its
whole surface with every thrill of the melody and gambol of the bow;
that more than one youth forgot everything around, and stood gazing at
Phil's face, thinking they would never forget how it looked, if they lived
even to be as
old as Methusaleh.
On and on the aged dancers skipped, and "crossed" and "set," looking as
gleeful as if they had never known what it was to be grave, until,
sweat, and fairly wearied out with the mad employment they had been giving
their heels, and to which they had been strangers for many a long year,
were constrained to sit down, avowing, meanwhile, that "they only wished
they were young again, for then they would show the youngsters what a bit
dancing was in their time!"
When the sun had set, Zed began to feel some degree of uneasiness to be
gone. There was the Trent to voyage, for at, least three miles, in order
their home at Torksey, and Zed knew the stream would be somewhat swollen,
but much more he feared the state of his own upper story, since he had not
been able to resist the pressing invitations and challenges, first of one
and then of another, and, consequently, his potations
had been somewhat numerous. Having given Phil the hint, Phil began to
complain of exhaustion as to his tale-budget, and of the power of his
nerves to direct the bow; but it was long ere this would avail, and many a
roaring ditty was launched forth from the thunder of Phil's catgut, amid
thundering heels of the country lads and lasses, before the two aged
cronies could manage to obtain leave, once more, to launch their little
boat, and strike off for home. The farewell chords were at last struck,
the fiddle was boxed; and, accompanied to the water's edge by a merry
Zed and Phil pushed oft from shore amidst the hearty cheers of the
merry-makers. Then, each taking his oar, as usual, away they went with the
now swept up the river's course.
Much as they had sung that merry day, the two brave old fellows,
nevertheless, trolled forth more than one ditty before they reached
Torksey; and neither of
them suffered any depression of spirits or strength as they prosecuted
their homeward voyage. Zed Marrowby, especially—and, in good faith his
must be fairly confessed to have owed its greater intensity to his most
frequent potations—Zed, especially, sprang on
shore with the nimbleness of a lad of twenty, as soon as they arrived in
front of the ruins of old Torksey castle, which stands like a blighted,
beautiful thing of the past, beside the very brink of the noble stream.
"As sure as a gun, Phil," cried the mellow old fellow, stamping with
vehemence, as he was leading Phil under a propped fragment of the old
not go to bed to-night till we've seen whether there be any gold in these
vaults, as the story goes! I've heard you tell the tale about folks hiding
here, in the time of bloody Oliver, until my patience is worn out. I'm
determined, Phil, to know whether any money can be found here, or not!"
"Why, zowks, Zed!" exclaimed Phil Garrett, "you're not so mad with that
glass of rum they gave you before you pushed off as to have taken it into
"Don't bother me, Phil," said the fisherman in a pet: "I'm determined to
fish up the gold out of these old vaults before midnight, as late as it
is, and that's the
long and short on't!"
"'Don't say so till you're sure!'" cried Phil, uttering an old saying
that he was very fond of; "how will you dig up the gold, Zed?—you have
never a shovel nor a
pickaxe, you know."
"Then I'll soon have both," replied Zed; "you sit down here on this stone,
Phil, and I'll go and slive [Ed.—sneak] into the Talbot yard, and I'll warrant it I'll
soon have a
pickaxe and a shovel." And off Zed scampered as fast as his old heels,
impelled by his heated head, could carry him.
"Bring the dark lanthorn with you!" cried Phil, shouting after him as
loudly as he dared to shout ; and then, sitting down on the grass in lieu
of the hard
stone, began to think of the oddness and suddenness of Zed's resolution. "What a fool Zed always becomes when he gets a drop of rum!" thought
himself; "and, confound it! I feel queerish, somehow, myself. I wish I
had not drunk that tipler o' rum. It was very foolish of me, for I always
to stick to good old Sir John Barleycorn, and then no great harm can come
But what's the use of grumbling and growling at one's self when it's done? I'll e'en make the best on't, since it is so." And Phil was about to troll
another merry ditty, when he remembered that it was near midnight, that it
must be thereabouts pitch dark, and that he was among the ruins of Torksey
castle, where, according to a queer skin-freezing story he was wont to
tell himself, the lady without the head was often seen to walk at midnight! So
Phil, too muddled to remember that he could not have seen the headless
lady if she had appeared, held his peace, and thought it was better to
in such a queer place and at such a queer time of night.
Phil had not long to wait for the return of his eccentric companion. Zed
soon was at Phil's side, and grasping his hand, assured him they would
soon be as
rich as Jews with the buried gold.
"'Don't say so till you're sure!'" again cried Phil; but Zed took no
notice of it, and upheaving the pickaxe, without spending a moment in
whereabouts he ought to begin, struck at the ground with all his might,
assisted, not a little, at the first, by his invisible but potent friend,
"Have you begun so soon, Zed?" asked Phil.
"Ay, to be sure," replied Zed, "I'm in earnest, man, and mean to have this
gold, depend on't."
"I'faith, it seems as though you did," returned Phil, feeling disposed to
roast his old friend, as they say; "do you find aught yet?"
"Pooh!" answered Zed, "let me get another foot or so deeper, and then ask
"Oh, I'm in no hurry," said Phil; "only I thought I might as well be
knowing. But are you tired so soon, Zed?"
"I'm only just resting a moment," replied Zed; but he was up, and was
working away again with the pickaxe the next minute. Then he took the
began to clear away the loose earth, so as to be able to see, by the light
of the lanthorn, how deeply he had penetrated the ground.
"Do you see aught yet?" asked Phil with a slight titter which he
suppressed as well as he could.
"Don't be in such a confounded hurry! I didn't think a bit o' gold would
ha' made you so covetous to get at it!" answered Zed, throwing down the
and pretending to be in a pet, though, in reality, it was the tremendous
ache in his back that caused him to throw down an instrument of labour to
aged hands were quite unused.
"Nay, nay, I tell you, I'm in no hurry at all," again retorted Phil;
"only, as I, said before, I thought I might as well be knowing."
"All right, Phil!" cried Zed, in a twinkling of time, "here goes again!"
and struck more savagely at the ground this time than ever; for, in spite
affected coolness, the old fisherman began to feel very impatient. In the
course of a very few minutes, however, Zed was again unable, from sheer
weariness, to proceed, and, although he changed his implement again for
the spade, yet his back ached too violently for him to go on with his
so he sat down once more to rest, and wiped the streaming perspiration
from his aged face with a hand that trembled, as indeed he trembled all
an aspen leaf.
"Mercy on us!" cried Phil, "how you puff and blow, Zed! Do you begin to
feel ill with your hard work?"
"Pshaw! how old-womanish you talk!" retorted the fisherman, and started up
again, like a young blood of four-and-twenty. But, somehow or other, Zed
found it quite impossible to get on, the ache in his old back was so
"I say, Phil," he said, pausing suddenly, and looking very cunning at the
fiddler,—though the fiddler could not see either the sly wink of his eye
or any other
of the signs by which the old fisherman intended it to be understood that
a very shrewd thought had struck him,—"I say, Phil, what d'ye suppose I'm
now thinking about?"
"Can't tell exactly," replied Phil, though he had a somewhat knowing idea
of what was coming, for all that.
"Why, I was thinking——Oh!" said the poor old fisherman, feeling a twinge
in his back so dreadfully excruciating that it forced him to cry out
before he was aware—
"What! have you found the gold?" asked Phil, bursting into a titter; "have
you found it, Zed?"
"Found the devil!" exclaimed Zed, growing really ill-tempered at being
thus coolly roasted by his old companion. "For Heaven's sake, take care,
Zed; or we
may find him, with a witness, in this queer place, and at this queer time
o' night!" rejoined the fiddler; "but what may you be thinking about,
after all, Zed?"
"Why, I was thinking we might cover up this hole, so that no notice would
be taken of it, and then come and finish the job another time," replied
felt so much ashamed of what pain compelled him to say, that he could with
difficulty get through his speech.
"Come, now, sit you down a bit, Zed," said Phil, in a tone of hearty
kindness, that always came over Zed's more boisterous nature with the
power of a
sweet lull after a squall,—"sit you down a bit, and let's have a bit o'talk, while you rest yourself, for I'm sure your old bones must ache
with pain and
weariness. Now, I say, Zed, just tell me, will you, what would you do with
this gold if you found it?"
"Do with it! " exclaimed Zed, staring at the fiddler, though the fiddler
could not stare at him; "what would I do with it, Phil?"
"Ay, what would you do with it? Are you tired of the old boat, after we've
cruised in her so many long years?"
"Tired of her! God forbid!" answered Zed, with warmth rendered ludicrous
by his insobriety; "no, Phil! you and I will never forsake the old boat
until our own
poor old timbers fall fairly in pieces!"
"I thought you could not be thinking about that," said Phil; "but what,
then, I say, Zed,—what could you contrive to do with this gold, if you
"We could comfort the hearts of poor Dick Toller's motherless and fatherless children, and poor Bob Wilson's and Joe Martin's
widows with it, you know, Phil," answered the old fisherman.
"God bless your old heart, Zed!" cried Phil, grasping his old comrade's
hand, while his voice faltered with deep emotion, "that's spoken just
like you! But I
tell you, Zed, it is but a wild scheme to be killing yourself with trying
to find this gold."
"To speak truth," said Zed, interrupting the other, "I begin to think so,
too: only, you see, Phil, this old head o' mine always turns so wild when
I happen to
be such a fool as to take rum when they offer it me. As you always
say, Phil, if one could but have the resolution to stick to Sir John
Barleycorn instead of—
"Well, well, Zed, say no more about it," said Phil, remembering that the
transgression was not entirely confined to his friend; "shovel in the
moulds as soon
as you can, and let us be making our way home, for yon's twelve by the
church clock, and we musn't be after sunrise, you know, to-morrow; 'twill
luck if we be, depend on't."
So Zed shovelled in the earth as fast as his aches and pains would permit
him; and at length Phil threw the pickaxe over his shoulder, and Zed
fiddle-box, and shovel, and lanthorn, without spending more time in
talking, they hied them home as nimbly as they could, dropping the pickaxe
over the Talbot yard wall as they went by, and speedily throwing
themselves on a joint bed, when they had reached it, fell asleep almost in
Before the sun arose, however, they were up and in the open air; but Zed
groaned heavily, more than once, as they went along towards the Trent
his aged bones were very stiff at the joints, as he said, and he often
called himself a fool, inwardly, as he thought of his wild, money-digging
freak of the
preceding night. His melancholy, however, was but transitory. The
merry-hearted old men were soon on their favourite element; the sun began
to throw its
cheering beams once more upon the rippling waters; and, as the willows on
banks of the noble Trent waved in the gentle breeze, and the rich meadows
on the border of the river sent forth their reviving fragrance, Zed lifted
head, while his hand plied the oar, and in the fulness of a happy heart
thus opened the conversation for the day:—
"Well, I wouldn't change places with the king on his throne, Phil; I don't
believe there's a happier pair than you and I, Phil, in the wide world. And yet, now, as
wild a scheme as that was of mine last night, I cannot help wishing, this
morning, that we had some o' that gold at this moment. I could like to try
Phil, as old and inexperienced as it is in such work, at making some part
of the world happier."
"And so could I, Zed," said Phil; "and now don't you think that my
godmother's grandfather's plan of dividing the land would be a good one,
and tend to make
the world happier, if it were carried into effect?"
"The deuce is in you, Phil, for always bringing up that plan of your
godmother's grandfather!" said old Zed; "why, the plan may be good enough,
how can it be brought about?"
"How can you get the gold?" retorted Phil.
"Good!" said Zed, with a hearty laugh; "i'faith, Phil, one scheme is as
likely to be brought about as the other: but, take hold of that end o' the
net, Phil, for I
see a famous pike or two, darting about; and, you know, we must try to get
The net was thrown out, but failed; and, what was most unusual, the labour
of Zed and Phil was continued for several hours without the capture even
solitary eel. Phil often thought Zed threw out the net very wildly, and
imagined the liquor he took at the wedding had not yet spent its effects
on him; but the
blind man could not be sure, for Zed seemed resolutely taciturn. ,
'Twas about ten in the forenoon that Phil felt the little boat was
"brought up,"—he thought in an inlet, or small creek, on the Lindsey side
of the Trent, after
they had laboured with nets
and lines ever since a little after sunrise, and all without a single
instance of success.——
"Phil, d'ye know why I've pulled in here this morning?" said Zed, as he
was mooring the skiff.
"No, by'r leddy!" answered the old-fashioned fiddler, "I can't tell, for
the life of me! but it seems to me that you've pulled in at Burton Folly,
have you not,
Zed? and what's the meaning of it?"
"Look sharp, Phil!" said Zed, briskly helping Phil out of the boat, "we've had hard luck in the water this morning, but we'll try our luck on
land for once: we'll
have one or two of Squire Hutton's pheasants before we leave the holt."
"'Don't say so till you're sure!"' said Phil, for that was a common saying
with him, as I hinted before; "I wish I could look sharp, as you bid me,
Zed, for I'll
be hanged if you are not tearing my poor legs among the whins, like old
pork, as the saying goes."
"The deuce I am!" exclaimed Zed, slackening his pace; "I wouldn't hurt
you, for all the world, Phil: but you know it's worth while trying to
catch a pheasant
or two, they're such fine game."
"I don't know, Zed," rejoined Phil, "whether it be worth while or not: we
may get into a scrape by it, as old as we are, and—"
"Pshaw!" cried Zed, with an air of resolute contempt; "come along,
"O come along, ay!" said Phil; "I shall go with you, if you go to the very
deuce!—but then I don't see what's the use of going there, yet, as old Squire
Pimpleface used to say, when he gave up playing cards at Saturday
midnight, and refused, ever after to play on Sunday mornings,—"
"Hush!" said Zed, stopping short,—"my eyes! why, that must be the
gamekeeper! No, it isn't: but we had better lie down, Phil."
"Down be it then!" said Phil, prostrating himself among the long grass,
while the old fisherman followed his example.
"Now, tell me," continued the fiddler, in a whisper, as they lay among the
grass, and the fisherman was anxiously keeping the look-out,—"tell me how
intend to catch the pheasants, Zed: you know you've no gun; and you can't
catch 'em with a net in open day,—besides you haven't brought the net out
boat, have you?"
"Pooh!" replied Zed, "why, I've heard my father say that 'Squire Hutton's
pheasants used to be as tame as bantam cocks, even in his time. We
may catch 'em, bless your soul! ay, easily! And, if not, I'm sure I could
hit one and knock it down with my hat."
The blind fiddler burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter on hearing
this artless declaration from his ancient companion.
"Zowks, Zed!" he exclaimed at last, "thou hast got some wild maggots, for
sure, into thy head this morning! prythee look out again, and see if the
be clear; for the sooner we shove off in the boat again the better, I'm
"Confound that fellow! he's coming this way," said Zed, in a voice of
alarm. And, indeed, there now seemed to be cause for fear, seeing that a
with a gun on his shoulder, was hastening down the hill, apparently in a
direction towards the foolish hiding-place of the fiddler and the
"What shall we do, Phil?" asked Zed, in the next breath.
"Cut and run!" cried Phil, and sprang up as nimbly as a hare when you
stumble upon her seat.
"Come along, then!" said Zed; and, seizing his blind companion by the
hand, away they galloped, as fast as their old limbs would wag down the
declivity, to the boat.
Zed pushed Phil, head over heels, into the skiff, and jumping in himself,
scudded away out of the creek as fast as he could possibly "scull," or
turn the oar,
at the boat's stern, after the manner of a screw, in the water. The
gamekeeper came up the water-side, and approached within a few yards of
before the adventurers could make their way back into the broad Trent.
"You are two very old men," said he, lifting up his hand
in a warning manner, "or I would certainly detain you, and have you
indicted for trespass. Take care you are never found here again!"
Neither of the old men made a word of reply; and the gamekeeper walked
"Detained us!—would he?" said Zed, in a low, but contemptuous tone, as
soon as they had gained the breadth of the river, and the gamekeeper was
sufficiently out of hearing,—"how could he have done that, if he had
tried, think you, Phil?"
"Never mind talking about that, Zed,—let us be content with having got
out of a scrape," answered blind Phil: "but now tell me, Zed," he
an oar on one side of the boat, and taking his share of labour with as
easy naturalness as if he had possessed the most perfect eyesight," what
it could be
that put such a wild notion into your head as to lead you to think of
catching a pheasant with your hand, or of knocking it down with your
hat:—why didn't you
take a bit o' salt to throw on its tail, Zed?" concluded the fiddler, and
burst into another fit of helpless laughter.
"He—he—he!" said the fisherman, forcing a faint laugh, to conceal his
shame and vexation; "never mind,—never mind that, Phil!" he said,—"my
gets weak, or I might ha' been sure it would be a fool's errand. Was not
it a mighty piece of impudence in that thief of a gamekeeper, think you,
to tell us he
had a mind to indict us for 'trespass,' as the Jack-in-office called
it?—what harm could we do, Phil, by just trampling among the grass for a
"Poor folks are not allowed to tread upon rich folks' land, you know, Zed,
without their leave," said the fiddler.
"No; but isn't it hard that there should be such a law, Phil?" said the
"Why, as for that, Zed," replied Phil, "my godmother's grandfather,—who,
my godmother used to tell me, was a famous scholar in his day,—used to
that all the land belonged to everybody, and that nobody ought ever to
called an acre his own, in particular. If that had been the case, you see,
Zed, the gamekeeper could not have threatened to indict you and me for
trespass this morning."
"No more he could, Phil," rejoined Zed; "but, then, if the land belonged
to everybody,—in such a way that nobody could say an acre belonged to
only,—why, how would the land be ploughed and the grain sown,—for you
know the old saying, Phil, 'What's everybody's business is nobody's
"My godmother's grandfather used to say that people ought to join in
companies to do it," replied Phil: "it's a subject I am not master of to
the extent he
was, by all account; but I feel sure of one thing, Zed,—that the world
could not have been much worse divided than it is at present, since the
rich have so
much land among them, and the poor have none."
"You are right there, Phil, beyond a grain o' doubt," rejoined Zed.
"And my godmother's grandfather used to say besides," continued the
fiddler, "that God Almighty gave the world to everybody, and that the
rich had stolen
the poor's share of the land—for God Almighty never left them destitute."
"Then, in that case, Phil," said the fisherman, "there is a share, each,
belonging to you and to me: and then it seems doubly hard to be told,
when your own
share has been stolen from you, that you shall be indicted for trespassing
upon the land of one that has more than his share—doesn't it, Phil?"
"Right, Zed, right!" returned Phil; "I'm pleased to find you relish a bit
of sensible talk, now and then; and can you deny, now, that that plan of
godmother's grandfather would be a real good one, and tend to make
everybody happy? Place all the folks in the world on a level, Zed,—and
let every man
take his fair share in ploughing and tilling, you know, Zed,—and then let
every man share in cutting the corn,—and all would have a fair title to
eat it. You must
see this to be fair,—quite fair, Zed?"
"Fair enough, no doubt," replied the fisherman; "but then,
Phil,—as I always ask you, but you never answer me,—how can you contrive
to bring all this about?"
"Nay, now, you don't argue fair!" answered Phil; and it was the only
answer he had, like many more learned proposers of good theories.
"A plague on all such gibberish!" exclaimed Zed; "we shall want but a
small share of anything long, and if we don't get our fair six feet of
land when we have
done sailing, why, we can rest very well in Davy Jones's locker. Where's
the use of bothering our old brains with such crabbed matters?"
"Ods bobs and bodikins!" replied Phil, "but I think you are about right,
Zed: I must own it's only a simple sort of a thing for you and I to be
heads about great folks and their lands."
"I' faith, you talk sense, Phil! " said Zed; "confound the great folks!
let 'em take their land! We've managed to push along through threescore
and more, and we can manage to get through, I think, now. But, swape in,
Phil! for we're just alongside Littleborough again, and I'm so hungry that
inclined to step on shore, and ask for a bite of the wedding-cake this
morning: I'll warrant 'em they'll be keeping up the merriment yet."
"Promise me one thing though, Zed," said Phil,—"that you'll take no more
rum, if they offer it you, and that you won't stay longer than a couple of
"Don't think I shall play the fool twice over!" retorted Zed; "I'll
warrant it I'll come away as sober as a judge this time, and take no more
fool's tricks into my
head today. "
"'Don't say so till you're sure!"' observed Phil, in his usual sly way;
but Zed did not answer, for they were now at shore, and the fisherman had
and was once more mooring the little boat.
It is hardly necessary to relate that Zed found it impossible to keep his
hasty promise of a very short stay, seeing that the "Weddingers" were
"keeping it up"
in true old-fashioned
style, and Phil's fiddle became, right soon, the very soul of their
merriment. Phil, however, had made his mind up, and succeeded, though with
in getting his old companion once more fairly afloat and on the way home
about an hour before sunset. Although Zed had, indeed, the virtue to
the parting cup of rum, when it was offered, yet his old noddle was far
from being its own perfect master, by reason of his frequent revisitations
ale-pottle; and the first mile on the water was all music of the most
gleeful nature with the old voyagers. "Indeed," as Phil himself used to
talking about it,—we had each of us whetted our whistles till, will-ye,
nil-ye, we must pipe and couldn't help it !" They were trolling forth, for
the last time, their
old burthen of
Says I to myself, says I,
Though I can't laugh, I won't cry;
Let 'em kill us that dare; they're all fools that care:
We all shall live till we die!
when the report of a gun, and the sudden flight of a drooping heron across
the Trent, arrested their music.
"By jingo! she's a dead bird, in three minutes!" exclaimed Zed; "mark how
her right wing droops, Phil!"
"I wish I could mark it," said Phil; "but you always forget that my poor
old eyes are blanks, when you've—"
"There she goes, plop among the osiers!" cried Zed, in an ecstasy; "pull away to the larboard, Phil. I'll have her in a twink."
"'Don't say so till you're sure!"' observed Phil, but pulled away like a
dragon in the direction recommended by his companion, nevertheless.
Zed leaped out of the boat in a confounded hurry, when he thought it was
near enough for him to gain the shore; but he leaped out too soon, for he
on his face among the "warp," as the mud of the Trent is called in
Lincolnshire, and floundered like a flat fish when it has been left by the
water in a
situation where it cannot get away.
"Holloa! what, in the name o' bad luck, are you about?"
cried Phil, hearing poor Zed make a mighty scuffle among the mud.
Zed made no answer, but kept struggling on; for the fact was, that he was
so eager to secure the bird, that he had succeeded in laying hold of one
legs, and, keeping hold, prevented himself from rising. The heron and Zed
made a desperate flapping and floundering, insomuch that Phil roared out,
"What, in the name of heaven and earth, are you about, I say, Zed?"
"Keep the boat in shore," cried Zed, with his mouth half filled with mud;
"I shall have her in another minute."
"'Don't say so till you're sure!"' retorted Phil again; and just then the
sportsman who had shot the heron jumped out of his boat on a firmer part
strand, and, running along the bank, arrived at the spot where Zed was
struggling with the bird. He struck off Zed's hold of the fowl with a
slight blow from
his fowling-piece, and bore away the bird in triumph. Zed slipped into the
Trent, and went souse over head, but rose instantly, and clambered into
He vented his disappointment and vexation against the sportsman in no very
gentle terms, while the sportsman mocked him from the bank; and, when the
captor of the heron stepped into his boat, Zed urged Phil to pull away,
that they might capsize the fellow, and give him a ducking, as he said in
haste. But Phil was always Zed's better angel, though he was but a blind
old fiddler. "No, no, Zed," he cried, "you shall not go that way. Let
us make for home, that you may get to the fire-side. I say you shall not
go—and I mean it, too."
Nobody in the world could control Zed Marrowby but Phil Garrett, when old
Zed was in his fuddled freaks; and even Phil could not always succeed;
Zed's wet shirt helped to cool his choler in this instance.
"To old Nick with the fellow, and his heron-sue! " cried Zed, pulling in
the same direction with Phil; "I'll e'en let him take his live lumber:
what good will it do
"Just as the fox said of the grapes, when he couldn't reach 'em—'Hang 'em! they're as sour as crabs!'" rejoined Phil; "but that was what I said to
myself, when you were struggling so hard to get the useless fowl; and what
good would it have done you, Zed?"
"Hang me, if I know, exactly!" replied Zed, looking foolish, and wishing
himself in a corner.
"You wouldn't like to eat a heron-sue; for they're as rank as stinking
fish, I've heard say," continued Phil; "and what else you would have done
with it I'm
quite at a loss to guess: but never mind, Zed, you've got a cooler,
now,—and I think you won't be so hot again for some time to come."
"Well, well, it's all in our lifetime," said Zed, resolving to be
cheerful;" only pull away, and let us get to our own fire-side, that I may
dry my old skin, there's
a jolly fellow! "
"So I will, Zed," replied Phil, and doubled the force of his strokes at
the oar;" but I hope you'll promise me not to resume your gold-digging
when we land
under the old castlewalls."
"I will, I will, Phil,—and so don't banter me any more; I shall be a
cooler man for some time to come, after this, depend on't," answered Zed,
And Zed spoke as truly as ever a prophet spoke, and much more truly than
many; for, although he got well warmed ere he went to bed, yet his
participation of so much extra liquor at the wedding, his foolish freak at
money-digging the preceding night, and his cold bath to conclude,
together upon his aged frame, produced rheumatic effects which never left
Zed Marrowby and Phil Garrett left their voyaging at the close of that
summer. True, they made all fit and industrious preparation for the next
Zed's heart was gleefully bent on resuming their old cruises on their
beloved Trent, and in their beloved old boat; but Phil listened with a
foreboding heart to
the deep cough which shook Zed's old body through the winter, and often
interrupted his fervid utterances of what pleasure he expected when summer
should come again. And
when Zed Marrowby would exclaim, "We shall have another merry summer's
cruise yet, Phil!" Phil Garrett would answer with more solemnity, much
more than was his wont to put on,
"'Don't say so till you're sure.' I think, Zed, we shall cruise no more in
this world; and I hope our next port will be in a
better land." Zed poohed and pshawed, for sometime, at this "solemn way
o' talking," as he called it; but at length he began to feel that Phil was
right—he grew feebler as the spring drew nearer, and when it came,
feeling the expectation to be vain of ever stepping again into the beloved
old boat, he
took Phil's advice—for he said he always thought it worth more than the
parson's—and strove to fix his mind on reaching the happy port in the
Zed Marrowby's end was calm and peaceful; and so was that of Phil Garrett,
his faithful companion, who was also laid under the green sod in old
churchyard within six months after. The memory of their names and lives is well nigh lost in the rural locality where they lived; but there is not a
more common in old Lincolnshire to this day than that quaint caution so
often uttered by the blind fiddler to his less grave comrade, "Don't say
so till you
MASTER ZERUBBABEL, THE ANTIQUARY;
HOW HE FOUND OUT THE "NOOSE LARNING."
ANTIQUARIES are scarce now-a-days. Don't
mistake me, reader; I know that there is an abundance of writers on things
which are ancient—ay, and more, that certain pragmatical folk pretend now
to know more exactly how everything went on two thousand years ago, nay
four thousand years ago, than was known a few generations since by the
first scholars in Europe. But don't say I question the likelihood of
people knowing more about the ancients the farther time removes us from
them,—because that would be literary heresy, and would bring upon an
unlucky wight the hot persecution of the orthodox. But—I repeat
it—Antiquaries are scarce now-a-days. I mean, your real
thorough-bred ones, if I may say so—the fine old fellows who forgot their
breakfasts and dinners, walked out in their night-caps, went to bed in
their inexpressibles, in brief, did all manner of queer absent things by
reason that they were ever present, in mind, with the long bearded Druids,
or the starched Romans, or the waggish Athenians, or the broth-supping
Spartans, or some other of the peoples who have-been dead and buried
hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Talk of antiquaries!—where are
your lean, skeleton paragons of patience now, who can dwell seven years,
with ecstasy, on the contemplation of a nail proven to have been attached
to a horse-shoe of ten centuries old,—or who will write you, fasting,
twenty folio sheets on the discovery of an urn of Roman coins, or the
opening of a British tumulus? The race is now extinct: it has been
driven out of existence by the newer and more civilised race of the
gentlemen antiquaries,—just as the aborigines of New Holland and North
America are following where the Peruvians have already gone, into the
realm of nought, before the European grasp-alls.
One of the latest existing specimens of the genuine antiquary
was to be found in the little county-town of Oakham, in little Rutland,
some twenty years by-gone. Zerubbabel Dickinson was his name, and he was
proud of it;—and many an unwilling and loitering urchin had he whipt
through the nouns and verbs, and the "Propria quæ
maribus," into the "As in præsenti," in
his time, for he kept the best school in the town, during his best days;
and when his vigour declined, and his eyes and ears grew somewhat dim, he
still continued to exert his skill and intelligence in the induction of a
more contracted number of pupils into the porches of classic learning. But
then he no longer enjoyed the high gratification of being addressed in his
full, imposing name, alike by peasant, tradesman, or gentleman: Zerubbabel
sunk to "Hubby," as the fine old pedagogue's shoulders declined in their
stately height, and his slower sense rendered it less certain that he
heard distinctly every syllable which was uttered by his acquaintances.
Yet there was no acidity of motive, no ill-naturedness, in the use of this
familiar abbreviation, for Hubby Dickinson was as much beloved, if he were
not quite so stiffly respected, as "Master Zerubbabel" had been. And that
shows, almost beyond the necessity of telling, that the fine old antiquary
had contracted no rust of the heart among the rusty coins he had turned
over so oft and so ecstatically; but, rather, that his excellent nature
had mellowed and become more loveable with age, though it had shrunk from
its former somewhat pride-blown proportions.
Self-complacence Hubby Dickinson had felt, in his day,—and he must have
been a philosopher, indeed, could he have utterly subdued such a
feeling,—seeing that his learning was esteemed, by gentle and simple, a
thing so ponderous and vast, that everybody wondered how Master Zerubbabel's brain could hold it, or his shoulders bear the burthen of it. Certes, there was not even a clergyman in the neighbourhood, despite his
Oxford or Cambridge matriculation, but what resorted to the humble abode
of the great antiquarian schoolmaster for the interpretation of difficult
Greek or Hebrew texts; not an ancient will or parchment ever puzzled a
Rutland lawyer, but it was brought to Master Zerubbabel Dickinson to
decipher it; and not a ploughboy or a hedger or ditcher found a
rust-eaten coin, or an ancient key, or a mysterious-looking fragment of
pottery beneath the earth's surface, but they would forthwith journey to
the dwelling of the "high-larnt" Oakham schoolmaster to learn the meaning,
or the use, or the value of their discovery. Coins the illustrious Zerubbabel possessed of all ages, and almost all countries—at least, so
he believed,—and keys of the most ornate Saxon fashion; and spear-heads
and arrow-heads of the most primitive Keltic rudeness; beaking-bills of
the age of Alfred, and daggers of the reign of Canute; fragments of
steel-shirts that had been worn in the Crusades; and hilts and crosses of
swords which had done service in Cressy or Agincourt: and all these were
so learnedly arranged, that their order, itself, proclaimed the
antiquary's incomparable erudition; while the syllables he would utter in
illustration of their uses, and ages, and owners, and concomitants
innumerable, left you in a perfect whirl of wonder!
Now, of all these, the priceless contents of his precious museum,
Zerubbabel had written folio upon folio; and still continued to write
thereon, feeling that it behoved him to say all that possibly could be
said, on topics of such surpassing magnitude and importance, ere he
ventured to give his lucubrations to the world. Nevertheless, these were
minor labours, which, compared with one great and grand undertaking that
occupied nine-tenths of every leisure hour of his more advanced life, were
but as so many ant-hills to a pyramid.
Reader, hast thou ever seen the old castle of Oakham? If thou hast not,
and opportunity will serve, pr'ythee, go thither, and feast thy eyes with
the wondrous array—not of breathing sculptures, or matchless pictures;
not of antique folios or curiously carven cabinets; not of storied
tapestries or blazing heraldries—but of horse-shoes: ay, horse-shoes of
all sorts and sizes, that adorn the walls of that singular old English
hall,—supported by its "antique pillars massy proof,"—and stretching its
primitive roof overhead. A sight it is, pregnant with abundant reflection,
that curious monument of feudalism: and many and marvellous are the
stories they tell you about its origin : but, chiefly, they report that Ferrers—the Earl now, but simply, the
ferrier, or farrier, to the
victorious Norman—obtained, with this fief, authority to demand a
horse-shoe of any knight, baron, or earl, who rode for the first time
through his manor of Oakham. And many a veritable shoe taken from the foot
of the steed of proud baron, or chivalrous knight,—his name obliterated
by the rust of ages,—you behold on those walls; but therewith now mingle
the mock-shoes of the modern great: a semblance, merely, put up at a great
price, in some instances, they say. Gigantic shapes, some of these modern
things are: such are those bearing the inscriptions "H. R. H. the Prince
Regent," and "H. R. H. the Duchess of Kent," which latter hath a more
diminutive one beside it, inscribed
"the Princess Victoria." Of the judges, who here hold the courts of
assize, the modern monuments of this curious kind are the most numerous;
and if you listen to a sly Oakhamer he will not fail to tell you how often
that model of political consistency, of generosity, liberality, integrity,
impartiality, gentleness, and all the enlightened virtues—the
ever-to-be-commemorated Abinger—was dunned for his five pounds, and how
often he contrived to slip, like an eel, through the fingers of those
whose office or privilege it is to claim the shoe or the price of
it, before he was finally caught. Yet there is the shoe of the
stainless and exalted legal functionary on the wall,—so that he was
caught at last!
Pardon, reader, this most unseemly wandering from the illustrious subject
of our present biography, the erudite Zerubbabel Dickinson. Now it was in
the contemplation of this unique monument of baronial greatness,—it was
in the collection and collocation of manuscripts relative to the identity
of the several shoes,—it was in the array of the pedigrees of those in
whose names they were put up,—it was in brushing away the rust (not from
the shoes, for the discerning Dickinson would have adjudged him a pagan,
of a verity, and no Christian, who dared to disturb a grain of it!)—the
rust of uncertainty that hung about the names and memories of those to
whom the more ancient furniture of horses' feet belonged,—it was in this
mine profound of all that was important, and noble, and useful, and great,
and grand, about the countless catalogue of horse-shoes that were nailed
to the walls of the great hall in the castle of Oakham, that the learned
and laborious Zerubbabel dug and delved,—it was on these themes, I say
(and I scarcely know how to express myself worthily on so magnitudinous a
matter), that the indefatigable and magnanimous schoolmaster-antiquary
expended the choicest energies of his untiring intellect.
This, courteous reader, was the prime labour—the opus majus of Master
Zerubbabel Dickinson. The work was to have been entituled "Tallagium
illustrissimum; seu Catalogus solearum ferrearum"—with I know not how
many more ums and arums, besides. Was to have been? Yes; for let it not
be supposed that so stupendous a work was ever finished. It was the
opinion of the laborious Zerubbabel himself that it never could be
finished, so transcendent was the beau-idéal of such a work that he had
But enough of a subject which, in this degenerate age, will never be
placed at its right value. This slender fragment of a biographic memorial
was not commenced so much with the view of showing how truly great a man
was the erudite Zerubbabel,—since we would despair as deeply of doing justice to so immense a
subject as Zerubbabel himself despaired of completing the leviathan folios
of the mighty "Tallagium illustrissimum": we have a more philosophic
purpose in view—namely, the proof, by history, of the striking moral
truism, that the greatest men are very little men when you take them out
of their accustomed sphere: in other words, that the wisest men are fools
when you talk to them about things with which, in spite of their wisdom,
they are not conversant. But why
prove a truism? Ah, my friend, these same truisms, as the world calls
them, for the greater part, are just the very things that want proving.——
"Maister Hubby," said a jolly fat farmer who called, with his fat wife
and her egg-basket, at the schoolmaster's door, towards five of the clock
on a market afternoon, "we've browt ye a queer, odd-fashionedish sort on
a thing, here, that we f'un' i'th' home clooas tuther day; can ye tell us
what it is?" and the farmer produced an ancient fragment of ironwork of a
crooked form, but so unlike any modern utensil of any kind, that any one
but an antiquary might well be puzzled with it. Nay, the profoundly
erudite Zerubbabel himself was nonplussed for the moment! He turned it over
and over, and put on his spectacles, and then took them off again, and
wiped them, and re-adjusted them to the most perfect distance for his
natural optics—that is to say, he placed them as near to the very tip of
his nose as they would remain without falling off,—but all his delays for
consideration would not do; he was compelled to confess that he did not
know what it was!
"Why dooant ye, indeed?" cried the farmer with a stare.
"The Lord ha' marcy on us! you dooant say so, Maister Hubby, do ye?"
echoed the farmer's wife, perfectly electrified with the thought that
there was anything ancient which Hubby did not understand; and she set
down her basket of eggs, and drew out her spectacle case, and put on her
spectacles also, to gaze at Hubby in his.
And so there stood the odd trio at the learned schoolmaster's door; the
man of ancient learning barnacled to the nose-tip, and holding up the
curious crooked rusty piece of iron with a gaze of indescribable eagerness; and the farmer with open mouth, and hands buried in the profound pockets
of the plush waistcoat that enveloped the goodly rotundity of his person;
and the farmer's wife, with the basket at her feet, her arms a-kimbo, and
her eyes directed with intense earnestness through her spectacles on the
movements of the illustrious Zerubbabel's countenance.
There was a perfect silence of full three minutes, and still the trio
"Where found ye it?" asked Hubby at last, not knowing what other question
"At Hambleton on th' hill," replied the farmer; "and what think ye to't
then now, Maister Hubby?" he asked again. Zerubbabel shook his head, and
there was again a profound and perfect silence.
"You know, Davy," said the farmer's wife, at length, "young Bob Rakeabout
said he was somehow of a mind it was—— "
"Pooh, woman!" said the impatient farmer; "where's the use and sense
of telling what such a rattle-scallion as he thinks?"
"Nay, but, Davy," reiterated the spouse, "it may be of use, for they say
"Book-larnt! ay, mally good faith, I think as much: and noose-larnt,
too," replied the farmer; "and I wish, when his last noose is tied, he
may be allowed benefit o' clargy!" and he burst into a loud laugh at his
"Well, howsomever," said the wife, "young Bob said he could swear it was a
spur, and nowt else."
"Calcar equitis Romani, of a verity!" exclaimed Zerubbabel, and danced
with ecstasy, till the farmer and his wife stared harder than ever.
" Ha' ye f'un' it out?" cried the farmer's wife: "Lord! Maister Hubby,
do tell us what ye think it is."
"A spur, good neighbours, a spur it is, no doubt, and hath belonged to
some valorous Roman knight many ages ago," replied Hubby.
"Why, zowks, then, Bob was right," said the farmer; "and pray ye, Maister
Hubby, accept a dozen o' pullets' eggs with it, for it is not worth having
Zerubbabel was of a very different opinion, but very thankfully received
the eggs, notwithstanding; and his homely visitors bade him good
And now did the deeply learned man retire into the very penetralia of
reflection, and meditation, and thought, and consideration, and so forth;
yet the "vasty cavern" of his mind displayed other and more profound
concernments than admiration of the invaluable Roman spur. "Noose-larnt"—that was the singular word which riveted his thought. "Noose-larnt!"—what could it mean? That was the great question which the great Zerubbabel asked of himself—for he knew no higher authority on such high
matters—at least one hundred times before he went to bed; but he
slept—answerless! Again, on the succeeding day—ay, and on the day
succeeding that day—Hubby Dickinson pondered on the same profound
problem; and, on the third night, when he had extended his cogitations to
the stroke of twelve, and his sole remaining candle was reduced to one
inch of tallow, and four of black wick, curling through and through the
struggling bit of flame, and spreading gloom rather than light over
Hubby's little studium—then it was that Hubby Dickinson, feeling one
thought go through him like a flash of lightning, suddenly sprang up,
crying out, "Eureka—eureka!" and plucked an ancient volume from its shelf
to satisfy himself of the correctness of his thought.
The searcher for enlightenment snuffed the candle with a speed and
dexterity which few could equal,—performing the act with Nature's
snuffers, his fingers,—feeling that the vastitude and urgency of the
inquiry did not permit the delay of employing the aid of man's mechanic
invention,—and then, and then—opening the ancient volume, and turning to the name he contemplated, and
fixing his spectacles, once again, in the most advantageous position—the
ardent and delighted antiquary read out aloud to himself the following
passage from the said ancient tome:—
"Anaxagoras, the disciple of Anaximenes, was surnamed Nous, which
signifieth intelligence, by reason of his excelling quickness of parts,
and a certain, I know not what, of instant perception or discernment of
nice difficulties in a twinkling. For whereas other wise men went round
about to survey the questions to them proponed, on this side and that,
and, after much nice calculation and naming of postulates, drew from the
balance of probabilities what they affirmed to be a correct answer, this
philosopher manifested a strength and clearness of judgment, and swiftness
of reasoning, which might be said to partake of intuition,—a faculty which
the gods themselves only possess in its perfection: and thus it came to
pass that Anaxagoras was called, in the Hellenistic tongue, Nous, or
That was the passage he read; and when he had read it he closed the heavy
quarto with a noise like the report of a gun, and again cried out that "he
had found it" with all his power of lungs. And then, feeling
that he had done business enough for one night, in having made so
transcendentally-sagacious a discovery, he put out the small remnant of
candle, groped his way to his bed-side, and, while he performed the
prefatory work of unclothing, thus he soliloquised:—
"Yea, of a verity, this is the true interpretation of the mystery. This
'Noose-larnt' young man is some great natural genius—some miracle of
mother wit,—some second Anacharsis the Scythian, who would very likely
beat all the wise men of this time, although he never entered the pale of
the schools,—nay, perhaps, hath never passed beyond the limits of the
lordship of Hambleton-on-the-hill. I have no doubt of it; for none but such a
genius could have determined, without witchcraft, that this curiously-shapen
piece of ancient armour
pertained to the heel. It is strange that my friend, the parson of Hambleton,—who must have given the young man this expressive epithet,
seeing that the rural people understand no Greek,—it is strange that he
never told me of the existence of this youth. But I will essay to find him
out, if I be spared till the morning light! O Hubby Dickinson! though few
now call you Zerubbabel, yet you may have lived to this age for a high
purpose, even to bring to light the name and singular endowments of this 'Noose-larnt' youth! Why, the discovery may even ennoble you beyond the
composition of the grand Tallagium!" And then Hubby fell asleep, and
dreamt delightfully; but the delight itself, of this dream, awoke him, and
again he began to soliloquise amid the darkness:—
"Why, it is as clear and luminous as the sun at noon to my mind," he said
to himself: "nothing less than the possession of a high degree of the
faculty of intuition could have enabled this youth to announce such a
truth. Verily, there is no wonder the rude peasant people entertain
suspicions that he hath a familiar, or is a wizard: and that they do
entertain such ideas is evident from that strange exclamation, or rather optation, of Gaffer Davy—he wished when the youth's last noose was tied
he might find benefit o' clergy. There is an allusion to the ancient
privilege of escape from the halter by a neck-verse,
which I have illustrated in the Tallagium. Doubtless, the farmers and
ploughmen believe this singular youth to be one who deals in the black
art, and think his mal-practices may bring
him to the gallows. Ah, it is the way in which the lights of the
world have been treated in all ages! I will find out the abode of this
miracle of nature, that I will!" he said, and again fell asleep.
The morning broke, Hubby opened his eyes, and forthwith arose to renew his
self-congratulations. "Ah, Hubby," said he to himself, "you will live to
be called Master Zerubbabel again, by gentle and simple; for you are
destined, this day, to achieve
a great work!" And then he went over the roll of his reasonings again,
and, feeling more assured than ever of the certitude
of them, he again congratulated himself. "Ay, as old as I am, I have not
lost my power of penetrating a matter," he said; "tell me who, in the
whole county of Rutland, except myself, could have found this out from the
simple premises on which it was given me to erect my sagacious hypothesis?"
Reader,—was Hubby Dickinson a very silly old fellow to talk and think
thus? Ah, how many of your great philosophers have reared their
world-admired hypotheses from premises as slight; and yet how long it was
before the folly of many of them was found out!
Well, there was now but one step to be taken as a preliminary to the
commencement of Hubby's journey to Hambleton, which, he was sure, would be
memorable while the world lasted: it was—to give his scholars a holiday.
Reader,—talk of potentates by whatever name you will; but your
schoolmaster is your only emperor! Can he not make laws—break laws—bind
his subjects—set them free—and, in one word, do what he listeth? I tell
thee, reader, that his is the true imperium in imperio: his will is law,
and who can gainsay it? Thou knowest of no potentate so truly imperial as
the village schoolmaster.
And Hubby Dickinson—had he not power in himself, and of himself—to give
his boys a holiday? That he had; and when the word was given, ye powers! what a rush was there over benches, and what a scampering for hats; and
then the huzza! when the threshold was passed, and the plans for fun
throughout the live-long day that were formed! Woe worth the world! one
owes it a grudge, one is tempted to think, since it hath taken away from
our lips the nectared chalice of childhood, and giveth us now, from day to
day, no other draught but this unsavoury minglement, wherein one scarcely
knows whether the bitterness or the insipidity most prevails!
It was but three short miles from Oakham to Hambleton; and Hubby
Dickinson's eagerness of desire gave such strength and speed to his limbs
that he soon reached the village.
"Pray, my good friend," said he to a farmer on horseback,
as he entered the place, "can you say where I shall find the singularly
endowed youth who is familiarly called Bob Rakeabout, the Noose-larnt?"
Poor Hubby! how he stared, and how loftily indignant he felt, when the
farmer returned him a broad horse-laugh for an answer, and, setting spurs
to his horse, rode away! He was not to be driven from his purpose,
however, and put the same question to a pedestrian, next. The man, who was
a ditcher with a shovel on his shoulder, touched, or rather nipped, his
hat skirts, and asked what the gentleman said; and when he clearly
understood that Bob Rakeabout was wanted, his reply was, that he knew not
where he would be found, unless at the alehouse. Hubby thanked his
informant, but was sure within himself that there was some mistake arising
from the man's dulness, for it could not be that a genius of so
magnificent a grade as the human being he was seeking could be found
loitering in a vulgar alehouse. So on Hubby strode, looking at the ground,
and thinking, and thinking—till, at last, he was accosted by a very dark-visaged
and singularly-dressed man, who stood by a tent in a lane, on the other
side of the village—for the thinker had passed quite through it,
"Fine weather, sir," said the man; "you seem to be in a brown study."
"Pray, my friend," said Hubby, instantly, "know you one Bob Rakeabout, a
singularly gifted youth, who, I am informed, hath obtained the significant
epithet of the 'Noose-larnt'?"
The man took his short black pipe from his mouth, and stared agape for a
few seconds, and then said, with a smothered laugh,—
"Oh, Bob! Ay, I know him well: he's famous for noose-larning!"
Hubby Dickinson's heart leaped within him, and he bounded from the side of
the road into the centre of the lane, and, grasping the man's hand,
conjured him to lead him to the youth's presence. By this time, three or
four more dark faces had gathered at the entrance of the tent.
"Come in a bit," said the man to whom the antiquary had addressed
himself. And, winking at his companions, the gipsy led Hubby into the
Hubby was placed upon a sack that covered a clump of wood, and was invited
to partake some bread and cheese,—while a boy ran into the village to
fetch Rob Rakeabout. Having, in his eagerness, utterly forgot his
breakfast at home, Hubby felt nothing loth when he saw the food, and
accordingly accepted a "good farrantly piece," as the gipsies called it. A
humming horn of ale followed, and then another, and another. Indeed, the
contents of the huge black earthen bottle were passed about rather freely. Endless questions followed, and strange answers were given; and sometimes
the gipsies stared, and at others they smiled, and often they were in
danger of laughing outright.
At length the boy returned, and, behold! immediately afterwards Bob Rakeabout, the "Noose-larnt" himself, entered the tent! Hubby rose to
receive him, bareheaded; but, he knew not how it was, it was somewhat
difficult for him to stand, and so he sat down again. As for the great
natural phenomenon himself, he stretched his brawny hand to each of the
gipsies, and they shook it with remarkable good-humour. Then, seizing the
black earthen bottle, he applied it to his mouth, without either using the
horn or waiting for invitation to drink.
Hubby's thinkings were becoming somewhat confused; but he turned,
inwardly, to the fact that Diogenes threw away his dish when he saw the
boy drink out of his hand. "Of a verity, the youth is one of Nature's own
miracles!" said he to himself.
Forthwith, Bob Rakeabout rakishly laughed as he took out a large pouch,
composed of mole-skins, and filled with tobacco. He laid it open on the
floor of the tent, filled his own short pipe from it, and the gipsies
immediately followed his example. Hubby, as yet, had scarcely spoken to
Bob; but when the whole company began to smoke, and the antiquary was
pressed to drink, for more than one reason he quietly remarked that he
much wished to converse with this youth alone.
"Oh, ay," replied the gipsy whom Hubby had seen first, "Bob will have no
objection to that:—you can show this gentleman some noose-larning, can't
The gipsies tittered,—but Bob understood the question,—for much had been
said by himself and the gipsies in the peculiar slang of their tribe,
which Hubby had not comprehended.
"Take another horn, sir," said Bob; "and give us another ten minutes to
smoke our pipes out, and I'll show ye some noose-larning, in a twink."
Hubby's head swum partly with pleasure, but much more with the strong ale,
to which he was unused; but he drank off the other horn, in eager
expectation of such a mental feast to follow it as he had never yet
"Come along wi' me, sir!" cried Bob, springing up, suddenly, at the end of
less than ten minutes; "come along wi' me, and I'll show ye some
"Are ye really off, Bob?" asked the gipsies, all together.
"Ay, ay," he answered; "kick up a roaster, and set on iron-jack against I
Hubby thought this strange talk; but he had not time to think much about
it, for Bob seized him by the hand, and away they scampered together over
two or three fields, and then entered a wood. And here Bob took from his
pocket certain strange engines of wood and wire, and, showing Hubby the
noose attached to each, planted them severally in little openings of bush
or brake, while Hubby stared like one that was thunder-struck, for Bob
only uttered one word—"Noose-larning!" and then, seizing Hubby by the
arm, hurried him on again. At length, in the thickest part of the wood,
Bob began to take up engines instead of putting them down—but, lo! there
were dead hares attached to them.
And now poor Hubby Dickinson saw of what kind of mettle the "miracle of
mother-wit" was made and taking to his
heels, he ran from the poacher with as much haste as if a legion of fiends
were behind him. Did the poacher follow? Not he, indeed! He only burst
into hysterics of laughter, and then went on with his business.
And whither fled the antiquary? Indeed, he knew not; but, having emerged
from the wood, he ran as long as the fumes of the strong malt-liquor in
his brains permitted him to retain possession of the power of his feet;
and, when they failed him, he fell souse into a ditch, which happened
merely to contain mud instead of water, and remained there, insensible and
asleep for the greater part of the time, till late in the afternoon.
As luck would have it, the parson of Hambleton, who was an old
antiquarian crony of Hubby's, took his afternoon walk in that direction,
and, to his perfect amazement, found his erudite friend in the ditch.
"Noose-larning!" roared out Hubby, and shook and shuddered, when the
parson had poked him with his walking-stick until he waked him:—"Noose-larning!" he still uttered, beholding the poacher in the wood, in his bewildered condition. With much ado, Hubby was at length fully brought to the
remembrance of what he was about, and being by that time perfectly
sober,—but dreadfully cramped,—he clambered out of the ditch; and
though sorely ashamed of his bedaubed condition, and much more of his doating folly, he accompanied his friend to the parsonage-house at
Hambleton, and, after much entreaty, with all the simplicity of his soul,
recounted all he could remember of the whole adventure, commencing with
Gaffer Davy's visit and the present of the Roman spur.
Oft was the hearty laugh of the plain Oakhamers raised at Hubby
Dickinson's expense, during the remainder of his life; but the fine old
fellow's adventure never lessened their esteem for him. He was never
permitted to want, even when age had stiffened his limbs and almost
totally closed his eyes and ears. Town and country were alike proud of the
learning that he had possessed; and the villagers, especially, believed
that his like would never be seen in Rutland again, even to the day of judgment.
In the lapse of a few months, Hubby got over the shame and soreness of
mind created by his adventure so entirely, as to be able to relish a joke
about it; and, when his lamp of light was quivering and ready to sink,
nothing would so soon cause it to blaze up with a healthy and cheerful
light as a joke about the "noose-larning"—unless it were a grave and
respectful mention of the "Tallagium illustrissimum." But the lamp of that
life went out at last, though its exit from mortality was peaceful and
gentle as the sinking to sleep of a babe; and never yet as "the like"
been seen in little Rutland, for wondrous learning, of Master Zerubbabel
THE BEGGARED GENTLEMAN,
HIS CROOKED STICK.
THERE is not a sight in the world more distressful
to the bosom that retains any measure in it of "the milk of human
kindness" than that of an abject, poverty-stricken fellow-creature, who
once rolled in wealth and plenty. Even the born beggar, who has
lived a beggar all his life, feels an involuntary compassion for such a
man. And, if his fall be attributable to no avaricious spirit of
speculation, or proud and sensual excess—but is the effect of Fortune's
untoward frown, or the result of what the selfish world calls an imprudent
practice of relieving the distressed, the "beggared gentleman" is surely a
legitimate object of universal commiseration.
"Poor Mr. Clifford!" the most ragged and hungry inhabitant of
Kirton-in-Lindsey would exclaim, "how much he is to be pitied!—I never
thought to see him come to this!" And when the subject of this
general pity happened to let fall his curious crooked stick through
infirmity of age, there was not a poor man or woman in the little town but
would hasten to restore it to him who seemed to regard it as the most
prizeable possession he had left in the world. It was moving to see
the instant act of ceremonious courtesy to which the recipient of this
simple heart-kindness would resort. He would raise his hat, and
smile with the same polite expression of thankfulness as in his best days.
No one who saw him could forget that he had been a gentleman. And
yet the home of his old age was one of squalid misery!
Hugh Clifford's father was a descendant, by a younger branch,
of a noble family, and had gained a considerable fortune as a merchant in
the port of Hull. He died in the beginning of the reign of George
the Third, and left his accumulated wealth to his only son, who was then
at college. Hugh hastened home, on the sudden death of his father,
and, by the advice of a few friends, resolved to carry on his father's
mercantile concern. Twelve months, however, served to disgust him
with business. His wealth, instead of augmenting, began rapidly to
decrease under the peculations of clerks and managers, to whom the
business was necessarily entrusted, and he took the resolution, ere it was
too late, of retiring, after he had disposed of his "concern," to a pretty
little estate which had fallen to him, by his mother's right, at the
pleasant little rural town of Kirton-in-Lindsey, that, like "a city set on
a hill," delights the eye of the traveller for miles before he reaches it.
For many years Hugh Clifford's house was a general refuge for
the distressed. None ever knocked at his gate, and told a tale of
want, but they found instant relief. Hugh Clifford's heart was
expansive as Nature herself. He felt that all men were his brethren,
and that, if he merely tendered them lip-kindness when they were in
sorrow, it was but mockery. He pondered over the precepts and
history of the Great Exemplar, until, nature and reason combining to
stimulate him, his whole life became an effort to banish the misery of
human-kind. And yet the sphere in which he acted was comparatively
narrow; for his natural intelligence was not of that high order which
marks out for itself extended fields of enterprise in philanthropy.
Hugh Clifford could not be termed a planet, like Howard, that visited
widely distant climes in its great dispensing orbit of goodness; but he
was most veritably a star of benevolence, that cheered with a pure and
genial light all within its neighbourhood who partook of woe and
Living, by his charity, in the very core of poor men's
hearts, and respected for his true politeness and urbanity by his
wealthier neighbours, Hugh Clifford, while he rendered others happy, was
believed to be himself a very happy man. Nevertheless, for twenty
years after he had passed the prime of age, discomfort and distress were
gradually stealing upon him; and these, too, from a source which was
almost entirely unsuspected by the majority of his neighbours. True,
it was sometimes remarked that fox-eyed lawyer Merrick was often, very
often, at Clifford cottage,—and this was considered to be anomalous, since
Hugh Clifford's acquaintances had been uniformly chosen for some quality
which distinguished them in the little town and its neighbourhood as
benefactors, rather than oppressors of the poor: albeit lawyer Merrick was
notoriously of the latter description of character. A few shrewd,
hard-bargaining farmers also made a notch in their memories, now and then,
that lawyer Merrick's purchases of odd bits of land were becoming frequent
now he seemed to be so very oft a visitor at good Mr. Clifford's.
Notwithstanding these slight precurses of suspicion, it came,
at length, upon the ears of the Kirton people, poor and rich together,
like the shock of an earthquake, that "poor good old Mr. Clifford was
turned bodily out of doors, with nothing but the clothes on his back and
his favourite crooked stick in his hand, a complete pauper, for that he
had been getting into lawyer Merrick's debt for years and years, by
borrowing small sums upon his estate, whereby all he was worth was
mortgaged to the lawyer, who had now suddenly foreclosed, and pounced upon
house and land, pushing good old Mr. Clifford away, by the shoulders!"
"Poor Mr. Clifford!" was echoed by everybody;—but who helped
"poor Mr. Clifford"?
There lay the hardest fact in the good man's history.
The little tradesmen who had shared his daily orders for the relief of the
miserable had none of them more than five pounds in their books against
him; but each of them made out a bill of thrice the amount of their debt,
and so figured in the world's compassion as great losers by the "beggared
gentleman," instead of ingrates, when they shut their doors against him.
The farmers shook their heads, and buttoned up their fobs, saying, "It was
no wonder that all was over with Mr. Clifford: he ought to have remembered
that, 'Charity begins at home."' The parish parson, who was the
prime whip of the neighbourhood, and spent more days of the year with
'Squire Harrison's hounds than he spent in his pulpit and study, thrice
told, only struck his top-boots violently with his whip, and said, "God
bless me! I always thought the poor fellow was cracked in his upper
story! Why, he must have mean to end his days in an alms-house, or
he would not have undertaken to keep all the poor in my parish and the
surrounding parishes to boot!" and, springing into the stirrups, was out
of sight in a minute.
And into an alms-house poor Hugh Clifford went, but not until
he had wandered through the little town three or four times, leaning upon
his curious crooked stick, and looking as if unconscious of the crowd of
tearful poor men and women that followed him. At first, the parish
overseers waited, in the expectation that, as a matter of course, either
the parson or some of the "better sort of people" would invite the
"beggared gentleman" into their houses; but when it was seen that no such
invitation was given, while, all the time, the poor fallen man was
wandering in the street with derangement manifest in his looks, the
puzzled overseers laid their heads together, and agreed that one of the
alms-houses should be apportioned for Mr. Clifford's home, and that an old
deaf female pauper should be put under the same roof to wait upon him.
For many days the poor victim to his own goodness was silent
and helpless, and, by order of the parish surgeon, was disturbed, on the
rugged bed where he lay, no oftener than was necessary to arouse him in
order that he might be fed; for his mental powers seemed to have undergone
so complete a paralysis as to render him insensible to the calls of
nature. After the lapse of some weeks, during the latter half of
which he seemed to be absorbed in abstract devotion, poor Hugh Clifford's
mind rallied. And now the meekness with which he bore his adversity
was equally remarkable with the perfectness of that pity he had evermore
displayed for the wretched during the term of his prosperity. He
accepted the smallest act of kindness with gratitude; and the poor deaf
old female pauper never knew what it was to hear him utter a word of
The remnant of his life may be summed up in a few lines.
All who had the means of ameliorating his lot neglected him; and all who
wished for the means, and had hearts to have used them in his relief,
lacked them. He lived years in his beggared condition, and died
calmly and quietly, complaining of nothing in the world, nor of the world
itself, and leaving but one request,—that his curious crooked stick might
be placed by his right side, in his coffin, and buried with him!
The deaf old female pauper who had waited on him did not fail
to communicate this strange request to the parish overseers when they came
to look at Hugh Clifford's corpse, prior to giving orders for his burial.
It may be guessed that the singular request gave rise to much wonder and
some enquiry. But the old female could only answer that the good
gentleman would often place his odd-looking walking-stick in the corner,
and sit on his bedside looking very intently upon it; and that often he
would turn the other side of it to the wall, and, then sit and look at it
again; and several times she had seen him take a little note-book from his
coat pocket, at the breast, and write in it, looking, ever and anon, at
the curious crooked stick.
The latter part of the old female's communication of course
occasioned a search. The pocket-book was found, and in it a paper
covered with a close manuscript of a most curious character, but one that
served to display the anatomy of poor Hugh Clifford's heart under his
misfortunes more fully than it could have been laid open and read in
either deathbed confession, or funeral sermon. It ran as follows:—
"A Soliloquy on my only faithful and never-failing friend,—my
beloved and valued crooked stick.
"Ay, there thou art,—my own crooked stick!—My heart cleaves
to thee, in thy crookedness; and I love thus to look upon thee, more and
more, daily, as thou leanest by the wall in that corner,—remembering that
thou and I were not always tenants of an alms-house.
"I love to look upon thee, with a melancholy yet pleasureable
love, beholding that thou preservest thy crooked identity,—yea, remainest
as crooked as ever thou wert! I know not whether aught within me,
or, indeed, anything but thyself without me, be still the same as on that
beautiful summer eve when, more than fifty years ago, I cut thee from the
venerable crab-tree whereon thou didst grow, and we formed our inseparable
"The wise men of this age would tell me that not a particle
of the body I had then, at nineteen, is to be found in this old body of
threescore and ten,—but that blood, bones, brains, and all its other
youthful components, are changed. I know not, my dear crooked
crab-stick, how truly they may speak; but this I know,—that I then was
proud of a perfect and spotless array of teeth, while, now, my old gums
are tenantless; that then my eyes were sharp and strong, while now I see,
with the utmost difficulty, objects removed half a yard from my nose; that
then my ears were instruments of use, and porches for receiving the
brain's most precious visitants, the sounds of music,—while, now, they
only serve to plague me when I see people's lips moving, and think, like
other old fools, that folks are always talking about me; and, that I used
to have 'a handsome head of hair,' as my barber always called it, on
quarter-day when he expected his salary,—while, now, I behold a perpetual
winter above my brow, and on my brow itself!
"But, ah! my faithful friend, why should I lament the changes
which have come upon me? Fate or Fortune, or whatever power I might
fancifully charge with my evil day, cannot avenge herself of me so
bitterly as she might,—if I had teeth to be set on edge with inferior
food,—eyes to be offended with the rude shapes of this straw mattress and
rush-bottomed chair,—ears to be tormented with the jangling of earthen
porringers, as the poor deaf old woman knocks them against each other,—and
hair which I could not dress for lack of a mirror!
"And then, as to my inner man, good lack, my beloved crooked
crab-stick! though thou remainest the same, how is this my inner man
changed! ay, how hath it changed and changed again, since our first dear
friendship was formed! Yet I said in my heart, once, that my mind
could never change in its regard for what I was pleased to call 'certain
great principles!' Alack! I have lived to feel uncertain about
the certainty and greatness of almost all principles! and—
"But stop! how is this, that having taken thee into my hand,
I begin, just now, to question the reality of thy crookedness? Art
thou really so very, very crooked, my dearly beloved stick?
"There! I place thee again, in thy own corner, that so
thou may'st lean against thy own spot in the wall, and lo! thy crookedness
is made, once more, fully manifest! No, no, my friend—for Hugh
Clifford loves thee too well and sincerely to call himself thy 'master,'
and think of thee as of a slave!—no, no, it is too late in life for the
'beggared gentleman' to deceive himself—thou art crooked, crooked indeed!
"But ah! my beloved stick, it is for thy crookedness I love
thee, above all, though not for it alone. I avow to thee, as I have
often avowed, in times past, when no human ear heard me, that I thank
thee, my faithful, crooked, unfailing friend, for all thy service.
Twice, when wielded by my right arm, didst thou enable me to deliver a
weak fellow-creature from the stronger, who would have slain him because
he had not filthy gold or silver to satisfy the robber: ten times didst
thou empower me to wrest open the cottage doors of dying human beings
deserted by their kind, and unable to arise and welcome their deliverer:
nay, once didst thou enable me to preserve my own poor life when the
plunderer who now possesseth my house and land would have secretly and
bloodily taken it!
"What though it bringeth some sorrow to remember the angelic
face and form I saw, for the last time, but an hour before I cut thee from
thy parent tree? Ah! how well doth life assort the lot of its
inheritors, even when they most deeply repine! The sea devoured my
Mary—my beauty, my only love, and I repined that she was not spared to
share my riches and possessions; alas! would she not have had to share my
lot, also, in this alms-house? Indeed, my friend, I was blessed that
I gained thy friendship that night, when my love was taken from me, for
how great a comfort hast thou been to me!
"I tender thee these my heartfelt thanks, now our long and
interesting friendship is in the yellow leaf! Many a mile hast thou
travelled with me,—unfailingly hast thou supported my steps in manhood and
old age,—in all weathers,—and never shrunk from me, nor upbraided either
my haste or my tarrying, my speed or my slowness, my lavishness or my
poverty; but Hugh Clifford cannot expect, in the nature of things, to
remain with thee much longer. He loves thee so well, that he would
fain thou mightest be laid by his side in the grave: yet such a request
may be met churlishly by those who provide Hugh's coffin,—and thou mayst
become the support of another, who will, peradventure, proudly call thee
his 'property' instead of his 'companion!'
"Farewell, then, my dearly-beloved and highly-valued
friend—farewell! but not before I have more fully thanked thee:—
"Above all, my precious crooked stick, I return thee hearty
thanks that thou hast been to me a truthful mirror—yea, a bright and
glittering looking-glass,—although the eye of the undiscerning, and of
those who judge after the outward seeming and surface appearance, would
misreckon thee to be a dry, dull, opaque crooked crab-stick! Yea, a
mirror, I say, thou hast been to me,—reflecting upon my spiritual
retina,—the judgment,—that great fact, which, in my folly, I oft would
have hidden from myself,—that I resembled thee!
"Yet, thou pitiedst me in thy heart,—hard and unfeeling as
some would say that heart must be, the heart of a crooked crab-stick!—yea,
thou pitiedst me therein, and didst still from thy old corner regard me
with the same unflatteringly argumentative and admonitory
aspect,—penetrating my heart with the faithful language of thine;
'Hugh! look at me and know thyself.'
"And I have looked at thee, and I do now look
at thee, and in thy veritable crookedness I behold my own!
"Reader,—who wilt find this my solemn and earnest soliloquy,
when I am gone,—hast thou a crooked stick?
"'I, Mr. Clifford!' answers some young puppy of
one-and-twenty, who, perchance, may take my paper into his dainty fingers,
'I am not so vulgar as to carry a crooked stick: my cane is most
beautifully polished, and it is a perfectly straight one!'
"Pshaw! my brave lad! I sought not thy answer: do not be so
pert : think more, and talk less, for the next thirty years; and then
re-consider my question.
"'I understand your censorious query, Mr. Clifford,' says
another, some score of years older, and with less buckram but more gauze
in his composition—'I understand you: but the fact is, my stick is
not a crooked stick: it is perfectly straight, and hath always been
straight: 'tis the evil-disposed and calumnious world who call it crooked:
albeit, if they would only view it aright, they would perceive that all
the parts of it which they think crooked and perverse are direct as a
geometrical right line!'
"Alas, my reader with the pretended straight stick! thou
pratest in vain to Hugh Clifford, the 'beggared gentleman!' I tell
thee, plainly, thy stick is, like mine, a crooked one; nay, I tell thee,
that every man's stick is but a crooked stick. And, of all curses
under which this poor abused world groans, may it be speedily and
effectually delivered, I pray, in my old age and in an alms-house, from
the cant of the starched faces who assure their fellow-creatures with so
much show of sanctity that their crooked sticks are straight ones!
"Farewell, then, once again, my beloved but crooked friend,
and thanks for thy faithfulness! alas, that I neglected to use thy silent
admonitions as I ought to have used them, when the serpent who wrecked me
was wont to shed his false tears while I related my tales of the poor in
his ears! Fool that I was to take those tears, and the offers to
lend more money that followed, for proofs of his feeling heart! Ah,
my friend, had I to spend life again, I would attend more closely to thy
monitions, and would not credit a man's professions of humanity unless
they cost him something! But it is too late to repent at what I fear
I could not have avoided if I had even seen my error.
"Let it pass! Hugh Clifford's heart danceth for joy,
even amidst the squalor of an alms-house, that he can point to no
inconsiderable portion of his life, and say with truth regarding it, as
one said of old—'When the ear heard me, then it blessed me: and when the
eye saw me it gave witness to me: because I delivered the poor that cried,
and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him. The blessing
of him that was ready to perish came upon me: and I caused the widow's
heart to sing for joy.'
"Yet see I my image in thine, my dear faithful friend! my
stick is but a crooked one, though I have done some little good in my
life! Ostentation hath mixed itself, more or less, with my purest
charities,—anger hath too often burned in my bosom till the morning light:
I have not always 'done as I would be done by'; I have too often behaved
contemptuously to my fellow-creatures, forgetting that I was but a poor,
pitiful earthworm, like themselves. I am but a crooked stick,
like thee, my beloved friend, with all my imagined excellency.
"But, finally, I thank thee, that thou hast perseveringly
shown me that I was not perfect: thou hast preserved me from self-deceit,
or at least hast chased it away, when it hath led me into temporary
"Farewell, then, my beloved crooked stick!—and if he who,
first or last, readeth this my serious soliloquy feeleth inclined to laugh
thereat, let him answer my question, when I ask him if he be able to point
to one human thing that hath been to him what thou hast been to me—for
fifty years, an ever-faithful and never failing friend?"