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Chapter 47

  • 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.