In the exhaustless catalogue of Heaven’s mercies to mankind, the power we hav_f finding some germs of comfort in the hardest trials must ever occupy th_oremost place; not only because it supports and upholds us when we mos_equire to be sustained, but because in this source of consolation there i_omething, we have reason to believe, of the divine spirit; something of tha_oodness which detects amidst our own evil doings, a redeeming quality; something which, even in our fallen nature, we possess in common with th_ngels; which had its being in the old time when they trod the earth, an_ingers on it yet, in pity.
How often, on their journey, did the widow remember with a grateful heart, that out of his deprivation Barnaby’s cheerfulness and affection sprung! Ho_ften did she call to mind that but for that, he might have been sullen, morose, unkind, far removed from her——icious, perhaps, and cruel! How ofte_ad she cause for comfort, in his strength, and hope, and in his simpl_ature! Those feeble powers of mind which rendered him so soon forgetful o_he past, save in brief gleams and flashes,——ven they were a comfort now. Th_orld to him was full of happiness; in every tree, and plant, and flower, i_very bird, and beast, and tiny insect whom a breath of summer wind laid lo_pon the ground, he had delight. His delight was hers; and where many a wis_on would have made her sorrowful, this poor light-hearted idiot filled he_reast with thankfulness and love.
Their stock of money was low, but from the hoard she had told into the blin_an’s hand, the widow had withheld one guinea. This, with the few pence sh_ossessed besides, was to two persons of their frugal habits, a goodly sum i_ank. Moreover they had Grip in company; and when they must otherwise hav_hanged the guinea, it was but to make him exhibit outside an alehouse door, or in a village street, or in the grounds or gardens of a mansion of th_etter sort, and scores who would have given nothing in charity, were ready t_argain for more amusement from the talking bird.
One day——or they moved slowly, and although they had many rides in carts an_aggons, were on the road a week——arnaby, with Grip upon his shoulder and hi_other following, begged permission at a trim lodge to go up to the grea_ouse, at the other end of the avenue, and show his raven. The man within wa_nclined to give them admittance, and was indeed about to do so, when a stou_entleman with a long whip in his hand, and a flushed face which seemed t_ndicate that he had had his morning’s draught, rode up to the gate, an_alled in a loud voice and with more oaths than the occasion seemed to warran_o have it opened directly.
‘Who hast thou got here?’ said the gentleman angrily, as the man threw th_ate wide open, and pulled off his hat, ‘who are these? Eh? art a beggar, woman?’
The widow answered with a curtsey, that they were poor travellers.
‘Vagrants,’ said the gentleman, ‘vagrants and vagabonds. Thee wish to be mad_cquainted with the cage, dost thee——he cage, the stocks, and the whipping- post? Where dost come from?’
She told him in a timid manner,——or he was very loud, hoarse, and red- faced,——nd besought him not to be angry, for they meant no harm, and would g_pon their way that moment.
‘Don’t he too sure of that,’ replied the gentleman, ‘we don’t allow vagrant_o roam about this place. I know what thou want’st— stray linen drying o_edges, and stray poultry, eh? What hast got in that basket, lazy hound?’
‘Grip, Grip, Grip——rip the clever, Grip the wicked, Grip the knowing——rip, Grip, Grip,’ cried the raven, whom Barnaby had shut up on the approach of thi_tern personage. ‘I’m a devil I’m a devil I’m a devil, Never say die Hurra_ow wow wow, Polly put the kettle on we’ll all have tea.’
‘Take the vermin out, scoundrel,’ said the gentleman, ‘and let me see him.’
Barnaby, thus condescendingly addressed, produced his bird, but not withou_uch fear and trembling, and set him down upon the ground; which he had n_ooner done than Grip drew fifty corks at least, and then began to dance; a_he same time eyeing the gentleman with surprising insolence of manner, an_crewing his head so much on one side that he appeared desirous of screwing i_ff upon the spot.
The cork-drawing seemed to make a greater impression on the gentleman’s mind, than the raven’s power of speech, and was indeed particularly adapted to hi_abits and capacity. He desired to have that done again, but despite his bein_ery peremptory, and notwithstanding that Barnaby coaxed to the utmost, Gri_urned a deaf ear to the request, and preserved a dead silence.
‘Bring him along,’ said the gentleman, pointing to the house. But Grip, wh_ad watched the action, anticipated his master, by hopping on befor_hem;——onstantly flapping his wings, and screaming ‘cook!’ meanwhile, as _int perhaps that there was company coming, and a small collation would b_cceptable.
Barnaby and his mother walked on, on either side of the gentleman o_orseback, who surveyed each of them from time to time in a proud and coars_anner, and occasionally thundered out some question, the tone of whic_larmed Barnaby so much that he could find no answer, and, as a matter o_ourse, could make him no reply. On one of these occasions, when the gentlema_ppeared disposed to exercise his horsewhip, the widow ventured to inform hi_n a low voice and with tears in her eyes, that her son was of weak mind.
‘An idiot, eh?’ said the gentleman, looking at Barnaby as he spoke. ‘And ho_ong hast thou been an idiot?’
‘She knows,’ was Barnaby’s timid answer, pointing to his mother——‘I——lways, _elieve.’
‘From his birth,’ said the widow.
‘I don’t believe it,’ cried the gentleman, ‘not a bit of it. It’s an excus_ot to work. There’s nothing like flogging to cure that disorder. I’d make _ifference in him in ten minutes, I’ll be bound.’
‘Heaven has made none in more than twice ten years, sir,’ said the wido_ildly.
‘Then why don’t you shut him up? we pay enough for county institutions, damn ’em. But thou’d rather drag him about to excite charity——f course. Ay, I kno_hee.’
Now, this gentleman had various endearing appellations among his intimat_riends. By some he was called ‘a country gentleman of the true school,’ b_ome ‘a fine old country gentleman,’ by some ‘a sporting gentleman,’ by some ‘a thorough-bred Englishman,’ by some ‘a genuine John Bull;’ but they al_greed in one respect, and that was, that it was a pity there were not mor_ike him, and that because there were not, the country was going to rack an_uin every day. He was in the commission of the peace, and could write hi_ame almost legibly; but his greatest qualifications were, that he was mor_evere with poachers, was a better shot, a harder rider, had better horses, kept better dogs, could eat more solid food, drink more strong wine, go to be_very night more drunk and get up every morning more sober, than any man i_he county. In knowledge of horseflesh he was almost equal to a farrier, i_table learning he surpassed his own head groom, and in gluttony not a pig o_is estate was a match for him. He had no seat in Parliament himself, but h_as extremely patriotic, and usually drove his voters up to the poll with hi_wn hands. He was warmly attached to church and state, and never appointed t_he living in his gift any but a three-bottle man and a first-rate fox-hunter.
He mistrusted the honesty of all poor people who could read and write, and ha_ secret jealousy of his own wife (a young lady whom he had married for wha_is friends called ‘the good old English reason,’ that her father’s propert_djoined his own) for possessing those accomplishments in a greater degre_han himself. In short, Barnaby being an idiot, and Grip a creature of mer_rute instinct, it would be very hard to say what this gentleman was.
He rode up to the door of a handsome house approached by a great flight o_teps, where a man was waiting to take his horse, and led the way into a larg_all, which, spacious as it was, was tainted with the fumes of last night’_tale debauch. Greatcoats, riding- whips, bridles, top-boots, spurs, and suc_ear, were strewn about on all sides, and formed, with some huge stags’ antlers, and a few portraits of dogs and horses, its principal embellishments.
Throwing himself into a great chair (in which, by the bye, he often snore_way the night, when he had been, according to his admirers, a finer countr_entleman than usual) he bade the man to tell his mistress to come down: an_resently there appeared, a little flurried, as it seemed, by the unwonte_ummons, a lady much younger than himself, who had the appearance of being i_elicate health, and not too happy.
‘Here! Thou’st no delight in following the hounds as an Englishwoman shoul_ave,’ said the gentleman. ‘See to this here. That’ll please thee perhaps.’
The lady smiled, sat down at a little distance from him, and glanced a_arnaby with a look of pity.
‘He’s an idiot, the woman says,’ observed the gentleman, shaking his head; ‘_on’t believe it.’
‘Are you his mother?’ asked the lady.
She answered yes.
‘What’s the use of asking her?’ said the gentleman, thrusting his hands int_is breeches pockets. ‘She’ll tell thee so, of course. Most likely he’s hired, at so much a day. There. Get on. Make him do something.’
Grip having by this time recovered his urbanity, condescended, at Barnaby’_olicitation, to repeat his various phrases of speech, and to go through th_hole of his performances with the utmost success. The corks, and the neve_ay die, afforded the gentleman so much delight that he demanded th_epetition of this part of the entertainment, until Grip got into his basket, and positively refused to say another word, good or bad. The lady too, wa_uch amused with him; and the closing point of his obstinacy so delighted he_usband that he burst into a roar of laughter, and demanded his price.
Barnaby looked as though he didn’t understand his meaning. Probably he di_ot.
‘His price,’ said the gentleman, rattling the money in his pockets, ‘what dos_ant for him? How much?’
‘He’s not to be sold,’ replied Barnaby, shutting up the basket in a grea_urry, and throwing the strap over his shoulder. ‘Mother, come away.’
‘Thou seest how much of an idiot he is, book-learner,’ said the gentleman, looking scornfully at his wife. ‘He can make a bargain. What dost want fo_im, old woman?’
‘He is my son’s constant companion,’ said the widow. ‘He is not to be sold, sir, indeed.’
‘Not to be sold!’ cried the gentleman, growing ten times redder, hoarser, an_ouder than before. ‘Not to be sold!’
‘Indeed no,’ she answered. ‘We have never thought of parting with him, sir, _o assure you.’
He was evidently about to make a very passionate retort, when a few murmure_ords from his wife happening to catch his ear, he turned sharply round, an_aid, ‘Eh? What?’
‘We can hardly expect them to sell the bird, against their own desire,’ sh_altered. ‘If they prefer to keep him——rsquo;
‘Prefer to keep him!’ he echoed. ‘These people, who go tramping about th_ountry a-pilfering and vagabondising on all hands, prefer to keep a bird, when a landed proprietor and a justice asks his price! That old woman’s bee_o school. I know she has. Don’t tell me no,’ he roared to the widow, ‘I say, yes.’
Barnaby’s mother pleaded guilty to the accusation, and hoped there was no har_n it.
‘No harm!’ said the gentleman. ‘No. No harm. No harm, ye old rebel, not a bi_f harm. If my clerk was here, I’d set ye in the stocks, I would, or lay ye i_ail for prowling up and down, on the look-out for petty larcenies, ye limb o_ gipsy. Here, Simon, put these pilferers out, shove ’em into the road, ou_ith ’em! Ye don’t want to sell the bird, ye that come here to beg, don’t ye?
If they an’t out in double-quick, set the dogs upon ’em!’
They waited for no further dismissal, but fled precipitately, leaving th_entleman to storm away by himself (for the poor lady had already retreated), and making a great many vain attempts to silence Grip, who, excited by th_oise, drew corks enough for a city feast as they hurried down the avenue, an_ppeared to congratulate himself beyond measure on having been the cause o_he disturbance. When they had nearly reached the lodge, another servant, emerging from the shrubbery, feigned to be very active in ordering them off, but this man put a crown into the widow’s hand, and whispering that his lad_ent it, thrust them gently from the gate.
This incident only suggested to the widow’s mind, when they halted at a_lehouse some miles further on, and heard the justice’s character as given b_is friends, that perhaps something more than capacity of stomach and taste_or the kennel and the stable, were required to form either a perfect countr_entleman, a thoroughbred Englishman, or a genuine John Bull; and tha_ossibly the terms were sometimes misappropriated, not to say disgraced. Sh_ittle thought then, that a circumstance so slight would ever influence thei_uture fortunes; but time and experience enlightened her in this respect.
‘Mother,’ said Barnaby, as they were sitting next day in a waggon which was t_ake them within ten miles of the capital, ‘we’re going to London first, yo_aid. Shall we see that blind man there?’
She was about to answer ‘Heaven forbid!’ but checked herself, and told him No, she thought not; why did he ask?
‘He’s a wise man,’ said Barnaby, with a thoughtful countenance. ‘I wish tha_e may meet with him again. What was it that he said of crowds? That gold wa_o be found where people crowded, and not among the trees and in such quie_laces? He spoke as if he loved it; London is a crowded place; I think w_hall meet him there.’
‘But why do you desire to see him, love?’ she asked.
‘Because,’ said Barnaby, looking wistfully at her, ‘he talked to me abou_old, which is a rare thing, and say what you will, a thing you would like t_ave, I know. And because he came and went away so strangely——ust as white- headed old men come sometimes to my bed’s foot in the night, and say what _an’t remember when the bright day returns. He told me he’d come back. _onder why he broke his word!’
‘But you never thought of being rich or gay, before, dear Barnaby. You hav_lways been contented.’
He laughed and bade her say that again, then cried, ‘Ay ay——h yes,’ an_aughed once more. Then something passed that caught his fancy, and the topi_andered from his mind, and was succeeded by another just as fleeting.
But it was plain from what he had said, and from his returning to the poin_ore than once that day, and on the next, that the blind man’s visit, an_ndeed his words, had taken strong possession of his mind. Whether the idea o_ealth had occurred to him for the first time on looking at the golden cloud_hat evening——nd images were often presented to his thoughts by outwar_bjects quite as remote and distant; or whether their poor and humble way o_ife had suggested it, by contrast, long ago; or whether the accident (as h_ould deem it) of the blind man’s pursuing the current of his own remarks, ha_one so at the moment; or he had been impressed by the mere circumstance o_he man being blind, and, therefore, unlike any one with whom he had talke_efore; it was impossible to tell. She tried every means to discover, but i_ain; and the probability is that Barnaby himself was equally in the dark.
It filled her with uneasiness to find him harping on this string, but all tha_he could do, was to lead him quickly to some other subject, and to dismiss i_rom his brain. To caution him against their visitor, to show any fear o_uspicion in reference to him, would only be, she feared, to increase tha_nterest with which Barnaby regarded him, and to strengthen his desire to mee_im once again. She hoped, by plunging into the crowd, to rid herself of he_errible pursuer, and then, by journeying to a distance and observin_ncreased caution, if that were possible, to live again unknown, in secrec_nd peace.
They reached, in course of time, their halting-place within ten miles o_ondon, and lay there for the night, after bargaining to be carried on for _rifle next day, in a light van which was returning empty, and was to start a_ive o’clock in the morning. The driver was punctual, the road good——ave fo_he dust, the weather being very hot and dry——nd at seven in the forenoon o_riday the second of June, one thousand seven hundred and eighty, the_lighted at the foot of Westminster Bridge, bade their conductor farewell, an_tood alone, together, on the scorching pavement. For the freshness whic_ight sheds upon such busy thoroughfares had already departed, and the sun wa_hining with uncommon lustre.