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'I defy you,' said Mr Hazeldean, triumphantly. But to stick to the subject (which it is monstrous hard to do when one talks with a parson), I only just ask you to look yonder, and tell me on your conscience-I don't even say as a parson, but as a parishionerwhether you ever saw a more disreputable spectacle ?'
While he spoke, the Squire, leaning heavily on the Parson's left shoulder, extended his cane in a line parallel with the right eye of that disputatious ecclesiastic, so that he might guide the organ of sight to the object he had thus unflatteringly described.
'I confess,' said the Parson, that, regarded by the eye of the senses, it is a thing that in its best day had small pretensions to beauty, and is not elevated into the picturesque even by neglect and decay. But, my friend, regarded by the eye of the inner man -of the rural philosopher and parochial legislator-I say it is by neglect and decay that it is rendered a very pleasing feature in what I may call “the moral topography of a parish.”
The Squire looked at the Parson as if he could have beaten him; and, indeed, regarding the object in dispute not only with the eye of the outer man, but the eye of law and order, the eye of a country gentleman and a justice of the peace, the spectacle was scandalously disreputable. It was moss-grown; it was worm-eaten ; it was broken right in the middle ; through its four socketless eyes, neighboured by the nettle, peered the thistle :—the thistle !-a forest of thistles !—and, to complete the degradation of the whole, those thistles had attracted the donkey of an itinerant tinker; and the irreverent animal was in the very act of taking his luncheon out of the eyes and jaws of—THE PARISH STOCKS.
The Squire looked as if he could have beaten the Parson ; but as he was not without some slight command of temper, and a substitute was luckily at hand, he gulped down his resentment, and made a rush—at the donkey!
Now the donkey was hampered by a rope to its forefeet, to the which was attached a billet of wood, called technically 'a clog,' so that it had no fair chance of escape from the assault its sacrilegious luncheon had justly provoked. But, the ass turning round with unusual nimbleness at the first stroke of the cane, the Squire caught his foot in the rope, and went head over heels among the thistles. The donkey gravely bent down, and thrice smelt or sniffed its prostrate foe; then, having convinced itself that it had nothing further to apprehend for the present, and very willing to make the best of the reprieve, according to the poetical admonition,
'Gather your rosebuds while you may,' it cropped a thistle in full bloom, close to the ear of the Squire ;--so close, indeed, that the Parson thought the ear was gone ; and with the more probability, inasmuch as the Squire, feeling the warm breath of the creature, bellowed out with all the force of lungs accustomed to give a View-hallo!
Bless me, is it gone ?' said the Parson, thrusting his person between the ass and the Squire.
Zounds and the devil !' cried the Squire, rubbing himself as he rose to his feet.
‘Hush,' said the Parson, gently. What a horrible oath !'
‘Horrible oath! If you had my nankeens on, said the Squire, still rubbing himself, “and had fallen into a thicket of thistles with a donkey's teeth within an inch of your ear!'
'It is not gone-then ?' interrupted the Parson.
No—that is, I think not,' said the Squire, dubiously; and he clapped his hand to the organ in question. “No! it is not gone!'
Thank heaven !' said the good clergyman kindly.
'Hum, growled the Squire, who was now once more engaged in rubbing himself. Thank heaven, indeed, when I am as full of thorns as a porcupine! I should just like to know what use thistles are in the world.'
'For donkeys to eat, if you will let them, Squire,' answered the Parson.
Ugh, you beast ! cried Mr Hazeldean, all his wrath reawakened, whether by the refe ence to the donkey species, or his inability to reply to the Parson, or perhaps by some sudden prick too sharp for humanity—especially humanity in nankeens—to endure without kicking : 'Ugh, you beast !'he exclaimed, shaking his cane at the donkey, which, at the interposition of the Parson, had respectfully recoiled a few paces, and now stood switching its thin tail, and trying vainly to lift one of its forelegs—for the flies teazed it.
"Poor thing !' said the Parson, pityingly. "See, it has a raw place on the shoulder, and the flies have found out the sore.'
'I am devilish glad to hear it,' said the Squire, vindictively. 'Fie, fie!'
• It is very well to say “ Fie, fie.” It was not you who fell among the thistles. What's the man about now, I wonder ?'
The Parson had walked towards a chestnut-tree that stood on the village green-he broke off a bough-returned to the donkeywhisked
the flies, and then tenderly placed the broad leaves over the sore, as a protection from the swarms. The donkey turned round its head, and looked at him with mild wonder.
'I would bet a shilling,' said the Parson, softly, 'that this is the first act of kindness thou hast met with this many a day. And slight enough it is, Heaven knows.'
With that the Parson put his hand into his pocket, and drew out an apple. It was a fine large rose-cheeked apple ; one of the last winter's store, from the celebrated tree in the parsonage garden, and he was taking it as a present to a little boy in the village who had notably distinguished himself in the Sunday School. “Nay, in common justice, Lenny Fairfield should have the preference, muttered the Parson. The ass pricked up one of its ears, and advanced its head timidly. “But Lenny Fairfield would be as much pleased with twopence; and what could twopence do to thee ?' The ass's nose now touched the apple. "Take it in the name of Charity,' quoth the Parson ; “Justice is accustomed to be served last :' and the ass took the apple. "How had you the heart !' said the Parson, pointing to the Squire's cane.
The ass stopped munching, and looked askant at the Squire.
'No, said the Squire, apologetically. “But, after all, he is not an Ass of the Parish ; he is a vagrant, and he ought to be pounded. But the pound is in as bad a state as the stocks, thanks to your new-fashioned doctrines.'
New fashioned !' cried the Parson almost indignantly, for he had a great disdain of new fashions. They are as old as Christianity; nay, as old as Paradise, which you will observe is derived from a Greek, or rather a Persian word, and means something more than "garden," corresponding (pursued the Parson rather pedantically) with the Latin vivarium—viz., grove or park full of innocent dumb creatures. Depend on it, donkeys were allowed to eat thistles there.
Very possibly,' said the Squire, drily. But Hazeldean, though a very pretty village, is not Paradise. The stocks shall be mended to-morrow-ay, and the pound too-and the next donkey found trespassing shall go into it, as sure as my name's Hazeldean.
“Then,' said the Parson, gravely, “I can only hope that the next parish may not follow your example; or that you and I may never be caught straying.
CHARLES DICKENS: 1812Charles Dickens, the most popular novelist of his time, began life as a
parliamentary reporter. His first appearance as an author was as a contributor of sketches of character and city-life to The Morning Chronicle, to the staff of which he was attached. These were republished in 1836 under the title of Sketches by Boz. Next year he commenced The Pickwick Papers, a humorous work exhibiting the life and manners of the middle and lower classes, the publication of which at once placed him at the head of contemporary novelists. His next work, Nicholas Nickleby, was the first of those social novels which form so marked a feature in modern literature. His other works are The Old Curiosity Shop, Barnaby Rudge, David Copperfield; American Notes, and Martin Chuzzlewitt, the result of a visit to America ; Dombey and Son, Bleak House, Hard Times, Little Dorrit, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend, and a charming series of Christmas tales, among which are Christmas Carol, The Chimes, and The Cricket on the Hearth.
THE DEATH OF LITTLE NELL. From The Old Curiosity Shop,
She was dead. No sleep so beautiful and calm, so free from trace of pain, so fair to look upon. She seemed a creature fresh from the hand of God, and waiting for the breath of life ; not one who had lived and suffered death.
Her couch was dressed with here and there some winter berries and green leaves, gathered in a spot she had been used to favour. When I die, put near me something that has loved the light, and had the sky above it always. Those were her words.
She was dead. Dear, gentle, patient, noble Nell was dead. Her little bird—a poor slight thing the pressure of a finger would have crushed—was stirring nimbly in its cage ; and the strong heart of its child-mistress was mute and motionless for ever.
Where were the traces of her early cares, her sufferings, and fatigues ? All gone. Sorrow was dead indeed in her, but peace and perfect happiness were born ; imaged in her tranquil beauty and profound repose.
And still her former self lay there, unaltered in this change. Yes. The old fireside had smiled upon that same sweet face; it had passed like a dream through haunts of misery and care ; at the door of the poor schoolmaster on the summer evening, before the furnace fire upon the cold wet night, at the still bedside of the dying boy, there had been the same mild lovely look. So shall we know the angels in their majesty, after death.
The old man held one languid arm in his, and had the small hand tight folded to his breast, for warmth. It was the hand she had stretched out to him with her last smile--the hand that had led him on through all their wanderings. Ever and anon he pressed it to his lips; then hugged it to his breast again, murmuring that. it was warmer now; and as he said it he looked, in agony, to those who stood around, as if imploring them to help her.
She was dead, and past all help, or need of it. The ancient rooms she had seemed to fill with life, even while her own was waning fast-the garden she had tended—the eyes she had gladdened—the noiseless haunts of many a thoughtful hour—the paths she had trodden as it were but yesterday—could know her
• It is not,' said the schoolmaster, as he bent down to kiss her on the cheek, and gave his tears free vent, it is not on earth that Heaven's justice ends. Think what it is compared with the World to which her young spirit has winged its early flight, and say, if one deliberate wish expressed in solenin terms above this bed could call her back to life, which of us would utter it !'
When morning came, and they could speak more calmly on the subject of their grief, they heard how her life had closed.
She had been dead two days. They were all about her at the time, knowing that the end was drawing on. She died soon after daybreak. They had read and talked to her in the earlier portion of the night, but as the hours crept on, she sunk to sleep. They could tell, by what she faintly uttered in her dreams, that they were of her journeyings with the old man; they were of no painful scenes, but of those who had helped and used them kindly, for she often said 'God bless you!' with great fervour. Waking, she never wandered in her mind but once, and that was at beautiful music which she said was in the air. God knows. It may have been.
Opening her eyes at last, from a very quiet sleep, she begged that they would kiss her once again. That done, she turned to the old man with a lovely smile upon her face-such, they said, as they had never seen, and never could forget-and clung with both her arms about his neck. They did not know that she was dead, at first.
She had never murmured or complained ; but with a quiet mind, and manner quite unaltered-save that she every day became more earnest and more grateful to them-faded like the light upon a summer's evening.
The child who had been her little friend came there almost as