J. C. (John Collis) Snaith.

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precarious, since the very boughs on which we sat swayed and cracked
and creaked in a truly alarming fashion, I determined to play a coup,
ere any melancholy thing should happen which would put it out of my
power to play one.

Divesting myself with much difficulty of my cloak, although Cynthia
rather audaciously, considering her own position at the time, lent me a
hand, I committed that garment to her charge, and proceeded to select
the most favourable moment for a speedy flight to the nearest hedge.
Keeping perfectly motionless in our unhappy posture, we presently
contrived to lull the unsuspecting bull into a state of quiescence
which I am sure he would have been the first to admit, had he but
known, the circumstances hardly warranted. For suddenly taking an
advantage of his sleeping vigilance, I made a leap off the tree as far
as possible from the spot on which he stood watching. It was then a
case of run devil, run baker. I'm sure no poor devil ever ran more
fleetly than I did then; whilst I am equally sure that there never was
a baker in this world that ran more swiftly than that roaring,
rampageous bullock. Luckily for my precious bones I had a fair good
start of the fellow, and the distance to the hedge was less than a
hundred yards. Had it been otherwise this history had never been
written else, for not for a moment do I think Cynthia would ever have
troubled to write it; nor between ourselves, do I think she would ever
have been capable of doing so, even had her ambition jumped in that
direction. Running pell-mell, my heart beating holes in my ribs, and
the clear tones of Mrs. Cynthia issuing from the topmost branches of
the tree in words of lusty encouragement such as: "Bravo, lad, bravo!
Mightily done!" I panted to the hedge with the bull ever at my heels,
and had just the strength to take a second leap at the green brambles,
and half jump, half scramble through their tenacious barriers, and so
into the neighbouring field, while the bull, foiled for the second
time, raged and vented his disappointment from the other side.

Meanwhile little Cynthia, with a delightful intrepidity, also took
advantage of our enemy. While Mr. Bull continued to thrust his head at
the hedge in his mighty rage, and roared forth his threats,
high-couraged little Cynthia, if you please, very simply and
dexterously dropped down my cloak out of the tree, neatly dropped down
after it, and then with the most gallant coolness gathered herself up
again, the cloak too, and even stayed to recover our late discarded
posies, which the bull had evidently thought too mean to be worthy of
his regard. With these articles tucked away in one hand, she gathered
her skirts in the other, and away scudded her dainty ankles through the
grass to the opposite fence. All this time the bull, foiled and
nonplussed as he was, continued to fume and rush at the fence that kept
him from me, but never for an instant did he guess that Cynthia was in
the act of cheating him too.

Convinced by this that my little one had made good her escape, I could
not restrain my joy. I began to jump and clap my hands, and bellow out
hearty encouragements and applause to her across the field. This
behaviour so surprised the bull, that he whisked angrily round to
discover the cause of it. He beheld Cynthia in the very height of her
rapid victorious transit. Away he dashed, head down, in pursuit of
her, but she was much too well advanced in her flight to have any fear
of him whatever. By the time he had come level with the tree, Cynthia
was calmly climbing into security over the stile; and when the
outwitted animal rushed up and thrust his nose over it, she tauntingly,
if a trifle vain-gloriously, shook the cloak and the posies at him.
Never, I think, did I see an act more neatly or more bravely performed.

When we came presently together again in the middle of an adjoining
field, a sort of half-way house from where the bull had respectively
left us, we were both in high feather and mightily pleased with
ourselves and one another.

"I declare," says I, "that hunting the fox becomes a tame and foolish
sport by comparison. In all my amusements, from cards to
cudgel-playing, I was never furnished, I'll swear, with so entertaining
an episode. Besides, I am vastly proud of your conduct this morning,
my prettiness. Come, let us waste not a moment; I am dying to get
married at once."

The deep crimson in Cynthia's cheeks, that her late eminent exertions
had induced, lent her even more of an adorable appearance than even I
had ever observed in her. And when she tossed me my cloak, and gravely
gave one of the posies into my hands, I think I never saw the eyes of a
woman beam with such mirth and high spirits. Flushed and breathless as
we were, no two human persons could possibly have been happier.
Already our haphazard, vagrant life had proved the antidote of that
weariness of the world, that fatigue of mind and body, the chains of
polite life had induced. Already we had come to take a fraternal
pride, as it were, in one another. We no longer had to apprehend how
we should get through the day without perishing of weariness, but
rather how to pass it without perishing of hunger and violence. And we
were revealing such unexpected qualities to ourselves and each other in
overcoming these calamities that we were falling in love anew with our
own heroic attributes, and were already prepared to vow to one another
that we were a monstrous well-assorted pair. Indeed, the foolish bull
had given us such a fine conceit of ourselves, that on the score of the
hour of high-wrought happiness he brought us, he must, I am sure, be
allowed after all to be our friend.

A good deal of walking through the blossoming fields brought us at last
on to a good broad highway, and a little later having climbed up a
hill, we saw from the top of it the thing we were seeking. A village
nestled below, and very properly the tallest roof among the collection
that clustered there together, and by far the most imposing object of
them all, was a sweet little country church, grey with age, surrounded
by a low stone wall whose crannies were filled with moss. Approaching
it we were overjoyed to find that a pretty little parsonage stood
beside it, which in every particular matched the quaint and venerable
appearance of the church itself. But no sooner had we come to the
latticed gate of the parson's house than our pleasure fled suddenly
away. We had been bold enough in the contemplation of the deed, and
had even been disposed to treat it airily. Yet when our fingers fell
on the parson's latch, we were suddenly confronted with its magnitude.
We were going to be married!

Now although I had started from town not twelve hours before as cynical
and desperate a character as any to be found, the humane influences
that had been brought to bear upon me, even in that short period, had
not been without their effect. I began to see things in their true
relation once again, and even to be sensible of feelings I had so long
outlived that I almost forgot that I had ever known them. For
instance, the emotion of timidity that overtook me at the parson's
gate, I could have sworn I had never met with before in my life. The
uncomfortable sense of the bashful business to follow caused me to
falter with my hand still at the latch, and to parley with Cynthia.

"I think you had better go first, my prettiness," says I seductively,
"I don't doubt that you will make a better hand of it than I, and you
will have a better knowledge of how to talk to the parson. I am so
devilish unused to talking to parsons, d'ye see."

"Oh, yes, I quite see that," says Cynthia significantly, "and I also
see that you are afraid."

"I dare say you might have shot wider of the truth," says I. "It is
the first time I have been called on to smell this kind of powder, and
burn me! if ever I want to be called on again."

"I hope you won't be," says Cynthia.

She herself, I must confess, was as cool as a cucumber. Her colour was
a little high perhaps, and the animation in her eyes was, I think, more
than usually fine. But take her altogether, she seemed to have all the
calmness and assurance of an old campaigner, whilst I was wincing and
starting like a raw recruit. They say that all women are alike in
this. They go to church as complacently as they go to Ranelagh, and
take as keen an enjoyment from the reading of the marriage service as
they do in the performance of the Italian dancers at the theatre in
Covent Garden. And it is said again that never a man of us all,
whatever his years, disposition and ideas, comes to this ceremony but
what he is beset with those same qualms that fastened upon me so
unexpectedly at the parson's gate.

When we walked up the pretty garden and came to the door of the
parson's house, it was Cynthia who unhesitatingly knocked upon it. But
the operation had to be repeated ere it was replied to. And when at
last the door was drawn back from within we were confronted by a stout,
red-faced woman in a gown of printed calico. Her sleeves were rolled
up above the elbow, her cap and apron were awry, and there was a look
of industrious ill-temper about her that contributed nothing to our
encouragement. She stuck her hands on her hips, filled the whole of
the doorway with her defiant presence, very like the dragon in the
fable that barred the way to the princess in the enchanted palace, and
surveyed us in a grimly critical fashion from top to toe.

"Is the parson at home?" says the audacious Cynthia.

"He be!" says the woman in a loud, harsh voice.

"We wish to see him then, if you please," says Cynthia.

"What might your business be?" says the woman, looking us all over with
a really disconcerting keenness.

"I think we must explain that to the parson himself," says Cynthia.

"Then I think you will not then," says the woman, mighty uncivilly.
"I've formed my own opinion of you. You shall not see the master, not
if I know it. He's got such a character for softness of heart all
about the countryside that you vagrant beggars come for miles to get
what you can out of him. It's mortal lucky he's got me to look after
him, or he would have given away the shirt off his back this many a
year ago."

It was impossible to deny that the good woman's estimate of our station
and business was shrewd enough. We were certainly a pair of vagrants,
if ever there was a pair in the world, and were certainly come to get
something of the parson that we had no means of requiting him for. And
I am sure neither of us, singly or together, would have stood a chance
of melting that adamantine bosom, since everything we said seemed more
clearly to reveal our humble not to say destitute condition; indeed we
had come to the point where this clergyman's uncompromising guardian
was about to bang the door in our faces, when the parson himself made a
very welcome intervention.

He came shuffling along the path from some remote part of the vicarage
garden, in a pair of old down-trodden carpet slippers, wearing over an
old-fashioned wig a beaver grotesquely battered and green with age.
His cassock hung in tatters at his heels, and he made about as unkempt
and disreputable a figure of a clergyman as it was possible to
conceive. Besides, he was a very small and insignificant rat of a
fellow, and had a strange odd way of peering through his horn
spectacles. But the moment he began to speak such a pleasant twinkle
of courtesy came into his ugly countenance - by itself it was plain to
the point of ugliness, although to this day Cynthia will never allow it
to be so - and his voice was so wondrous musical, that straightway we
forgot that he had such a singular appearance, and fell in love with

"A very good morning to you," says he. "I hope you are drinking in
this golden morning that God hath sent us. Hey, what a thing it is to
be a human being!"

As he came up and observed Cynthia more closely, he, bowed with a
wonderful grave dignity, and took off his hat with a flourish that
became him most inimitably well. Such courtesy from an appearance so
discourteous never was seen.

"La, master, what be you at?" says the woman, highly scandalized by so
polite a demeanour. "Do you not see these are an arrant pair of
vagrant beggars? I must get you more artful spectacles if you will
stay so close at your book-reading."

"Peace, my good Blodgett," says the parson. "Do you think I do not
know breeding when I see it? It is a rare possession that nothing can
disguise. There is sensibility here, in this fair countenance, and
pride and candour, and the features are almost highly classical in
their outline. A little too full in the lips perhaps, yes, I think a
little too full, or this would have been the countenance of Minerva
with the animation of Diana in it. I must remind you again, my good
Blodgett, that appearances are apt to deceive; _non semper ea sunt quæ
videntur_, as the excellent Phædrus has so wisely said. You will do me
the honour, I hope, my dear young lady, of entering my house and
partaking of a glass of my gooseberry-wine and of eating a piece of
Banbury cake. And you, sir, also, I hope and trust; although in your
case the credentials you bear in your countenance are nothing like so
noteworthy. But as Plautus very pertinently asks, _non soles respicere
te_, to look at oneself ere one abuses another, the less said the
sooner we shall mend it, _tulum silentii præmium_. Come this way, I
beg you."

During this peroration poor Blodgett wrung her hands and shook her
head, and kept repeating some such mystical phrase as:

"He is off at the top again! He is off at the top again!"

However, this strange old parson, all unconscious of the distress of
mind he was occasioning his handmaid or housekeeper, or whatever she
might call herself, flowed on and on in his extraordinary monologue,
and led us indoors into a spacious room full of a remarkable disorder
of books, which doubtless composed his library. Books open and shut,
piled up and overlaid, were on the table, and under the table, on the
chairs, and on the floor. Any square inch of space wherein a book
might insinuate itself, there was a book to be found. Dusty,
black-letter, grimy Aldine, foxed Elzevir, any folio, quarto, or
octavo, providing it was old enough and dirty enough, was assembled
there. Those that lay open seemed to be annotated and scored under,
and embellished with marginal notes in a delicate minute handwriting,
on every page. And among all these tomes there was never a one that
was in a new dress, or done in a reasonable easy print, nor one written
by a reasonably modern author. To observe the _Paradise Lost_, with
the imprint of Jacob Tonson upon it, was to be startled with that sense
of gratified surprise that one would experience at unexpectedly meeting
with a personal friend in a foreign country.

The parson was an odd match to his books. His conversation was as
musty, learned and interminable as themselves. He talked of all topics
but those that could have been of the least interest to anybody. He
never thought to ask who we were, or what business had brought us
thither, but having lured us into his library, he very vigorously began
to engage us with matters at least a thousand years old. We were very
polite at first, and nodded our heads in deep interest at the mention
of the first Punic war, and kept saying, "Ah, to be sure!" and
inserting "yes" and "oh yes" whenever we found half a chance to get in
so much in the middle of some animadversions he thought fit to make on
the behaviour of the Carthaginians generally. But when proceeding to
move with an air of great mystery and consequence to topics of the most
inconsequent character, and presently to prove to us that in his
opinion the battle of Cannæ, or it may have been Marathon, or the siege
of Troy for aught we knew or cared, was not so important and decisive
an affair as the historians of these times had represented, our
observance of a polite interest showed signs of giving out.

We might shuffle, however, and shift our stations, and cough, and take
our weight off our right leg and lean it on our left, but it never made
one bit of difference to this terrible monologue. The old parson, with
his eyes half closed and his hands spread forth, poured out the finest
prose in his mellifluous voice, with every period rounded to such a
perfection that had he been a historian and his speech a printed page
the world could never have sufficiently admired his attainments. And
every emphasis and quantity seemed so indubitably exact in the
classical tongues he so freely quoted, as must have made him the envy
of pedagogues and the paragon among them all. And all this time we
were striving to maintain our well-bred interest as best we might, and
inwardly cursed Rome and Greece and the whole race of poets, historians
and soldiers that ever sprang from them.

His mind was filled with a vast deal of knowledge of a recondite sort.
It could have been of no possible service to anybody, least of all to
himself. Yet he moved lightly and easily from one antediluvian topic
to others more antediluvian still. He was armed with a great array of
theories of no moment at all, and a matchless sheaf of facts that
proved and disproved and proved them over again. How weary we became!
How we fidgeted and looked at one another in our despair, for he grew
more minute as he proceeded, and called up, extempore, authority upon
authority to show that Lais was a woman of virtue, and that Virgil did
not write his own works. He split straws with Aristotle, and picked
holes in his Ethics. He said that Cicero was a windbag, and that Plato
was a dunce. He said that Herodotus was loose in his facts, and no
more worthy of credence than Plutarch, and that Plutarch was not a whit
better than Herodotus neither. He said that Homer was the biggest
impostor in history. He had nothing to do with the _Iliad_, whilst as
for the _Odyssey_, he had long come at the truth that it was by a
female hand, most probably one of the Hesperides, though to be sure he
had not quite satisfied himself as to which, just as the plays of the
poet Shakespeare would one day be allowed to be the handiwork of Lord
Bacon, the eminent lawyer and philosopher; and again, as the world,
purblind as it was, would one day discover that Mr. Fielding's
so-called novel of _Joseph Andrews_ had sprung from the fertile brain
of Mr. Colley Gibber. Indeed I was so fearful lest he should take
steps to disprove my grandfather's claims to have produced his
celebrated Commentary on the _Analects of Confucius_, that I became
quite desperate, and determined to put a stop to the unceasing current
of his talk, even at the risk of making a hole in my good manners.
Having reached a point in his discourse wherein he showed that Cæsar
did not cross the Rubicon, I slapped my hand on the table with a vigour
that knocked down half-a-score of tomes and startled everything and
everybody but the speaker himself; and, says I, at the top of my
heartiest voice:

"I quite agree with you there, sir; I do indeed."

"I presume, sir," says the parson, "you know the authorities there are
against us, and what adversaries of weight, Cæsar himself, Suetonius,
and Plutarch, to name only three, that we have to face."

"I care not if there are three thousand," says I valiantly, "in this
matter I am entirely of your mind."

The parson, whose simplicity was as great as his learning, grasped my
hand with the utmost fervour.

"My dear sir," says he, "I can never sufficiently extol your spirit.
It is excellently said, sir, excellently said. Would that there were
more persons like you in the world. I can but offer you some
gooseberry-wine and a piece of Banbury cake, but I am sure you are very
welcome. I do declare that Blodgett has forgotten them; I will go and
see about them myself."

At last in the very height of our sufferings we obtained in this truly
unexpected, not to say whimsical fashion, a brief instant of relief.
It was plain that this learned wight was possessed of a mind of the
most singular simplicity and inconsequence. Everything that was told
him he took for gospel. He had the faith of a child. Everything that
had the least interest for himself he felt that all men were
languishing to hear of. With him evidently to think was to act; he was
the slave of his own whims; no sooner did he mention a thing than he
went straightway and performed it.

The prospects of being united in the bonds of wedlock by so
extraordinary a gentleman were indeed remote; but armed with the
knowledge of his character we had already gained, we concluded that if
we beat about the bush at all, he would be quite content for his own
part to detain us a "month of Sundays" in his library, while he
unfolded his facts and propounded his theories. On his own initiative
he would not be in the least likely to surrender a single moment to our
affairs. We must be bold and decisive, and grapple firmly with him.

Therefore when the good parson returned, preceding the umbrageous
Blodgett, who bore the Banbury cakes and the gooseberry-wine on a tray,
before he had the chance to open his mouth to take up his discourse,
says I, in a truly dramatic manner:

"If it pleases you, sir, we are here, this lady and I, to ask you to
marry us."

"Marry you," says he, without a moment's reflection. "I shall be
delighted. Blodgett, have the goodness to set down the tray on the top
of the _De Imitatione_ there and go and find the clerk, and tell him to
open the church. And tut, tut! my good woman, how often must I beseech
you not to dust my books with your sacrilegious apron."

While Mrs. Blodgett flounced out to find the clerk, and the good parson
in the height of his courtesy poured out the gooseberry-wine and served
us with it, Cynthia and I fell to talking at the top of our voices
about nothing at all, since we were certain that as soon as the parson
got an opportunity he would furnish us with a criticism of Strabo's
geographies, which, however damaging to that worthy ancient, would be
even more so to us; or prove that it was a vulgar error to speak of
Castor as the twin of Pollux; and proceed to demonstrate that Achilles
was vulnerable in other places than his heel.



By the time the parson had served us solemnly with our refection, I
deemed it proper to give him some relation of our circumstances. I was
emboldened to do so because his simple, honest character made him easy
to talk to; it was also essential that he should be let some little way
into the state of our affairs, since we had but the sum of twelvepence
halfpenny with which to requite him for his services and to vail the
clerk. And again I talked to him the more readily because while he was
engaged with these matters, he was not so likely to revert to those
that concerned us less.

He received the confessions of our bankrupt condition with a breadth of
generosity that was truly noble in its magnitude.

"I am grieved that you should have thought fit to name that matter,"
says he. "What a world it is for pounds, shillings, and pence, to be
sure! One cannot come into it, nor go out of it, nor even enter into a
highly natural and commendable contract for its advantage, but what
somebody has to be feed. And I blush to say that that somebody is
generally some old rogue of a parson; but I hope, sir, you agree with
Tully when he says - - "

"Yes, sir," says I hastily, "I quite agree with Tully, I have ever been
of Tully's opinion. And, sir, let me say that we are overcome with
your generosity. But there is yet another matter that irks us; we have
no ring by which we can be wed into matrimony."

"An even more trivial thing," says the parson, "the good Blodgett,
honest widow that she is, shall lend you hers."

It was bravely resolved of the parson, but I dare swear we both
shuddered at the same instant, when we conceived of the courage
required to put it into practice. To think of us "vagrant beggars"
summoning that redoubtable dragon to deliver up her marriage ring! It
would be perilously like commanding an ogre to cut off his own head.
I'll vow that Cynthia trembled a little; whilst she goes even farther
and says I grew as pale as death.

"Do you think, sir," said Cynthia fearfully, "that good Mrs. Blodgett
will be so kind?"

"She will be delighted, my dear madam," says the parson. "She will be

We were still wrestling with our honest doubts on the score of Mrs.

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Collis) SnaithThe Wayfarers → online text (page 6 of 18)