Page images




The school at Hereford had been selected for Reuben partly on account of the benefice which his grandfather had in the neighbourhood ; but of so little use to him was the circumstance, that he had now been nearly three years at Finchley without seeing his venerable relative scarcely the same number of times. Dean Wyndham appeared there occasionally, just as he did at Chichester and other places, arriving unexpectedly and departing abruptly, as comets were wont to do before the astronomers got their motions under proper control. When the Dean did show himself in this part of his orbit, he did not altogether neglect his grandchild, but his attentions were little more than a chuck under the chin at one visit, and a question in prosody or Roman antiquities at another. About the period of Winning's departure, however, the old gentleman was beginning to be seen at Hereford more frequently; the new squares and terraces were making rapid progress; and a report now began to prevail (greatly to the annoyance of the Dean's relatives) that he was not indisposed to marry for the third time, if he could induce one of the Barsac girls (the eldest, of course) to assist him in so extraordinary and promising an undertaking. Nobody gave this rumour so little credit as Reuben ; at the same time, he could not but observe that his grandfather was daily becoming more intimate and absolute in the Barsac family. He dictated their dinners, regulated their hours, selected their society, discountenanced their pleasant evening parties; in fact, he appeared to be turning their once agreeable house topsy-turvy. Reuben's special grievance was, of course, that he was no longer invited there himself as often as before. It was mostly by hearsay he was aware of the unexampled tyranny exercised by his despotic ancestor over the household of a freeborn British merchant. He saw, however, quite enough to make all accounts that reached him only too worthy of credit. On several occasions, for instance, he observed the Barsacs going about shopping, or walking of an evening, with the Dean; nor was it to Mrs. Barsac that the preposterous old dignitary seemed to be paying his attentions : he preferred the daughters to the mother, and generally had one upon each arm, though once or

twice it happened that but one of the girls was of the party, and this hard lot fell upon Blanche. Reuben marvelled that he had never heard her complain of being forced to perambulate the streets and precincts of Hereford, with so extraordinary an escort ; but when he recollected in what a near relation the Dean stood to himself

, he admired the delicacy that dictated her reserve. The only wonder, indeed, was that the design of the Dean upon one of the three sherries had not been suspected sooner, --he lived so much and so openly with the Barsacs, and was so notoriously connected in large speculations with the father of the family. It soon became current enough. The gossips of Hereford had not bad so rich a subject of discussion for a great many years. It set a great many heads shaking; tongues wagging, and eyes winking; caused infinite nodding, whispering, tittering, giggling; and if it did not occasion much wit, it had certainly a decided tendency to promote the consumption of tea. The boys of Finchley shared in the general excitement; and Reuben was exposed to so much annoyance on the subject, particularly among his school-fellows, that he was beginning to think his grandfather was destined to be the plague of his life, instead of being a comfort and a blessing to him, as a respectable grandfather ought surely to be.

The rumour of the Dean's matrimonial views was treated at the Vicarage as utterly unworthy of attention ; but Mrs. Medlicott was seriously displeased when she found that Mrs. Barsac was beginning to be so neglectful of Reuben's education for a man of the world. The Vicar, on the contrary, was gratified; for he thought the cricket-ground became boys better than the ball-room, and hoped Reuben would relax himself with a little regular study, now that he had a good spell of vacation from balls and parties. And indeed his son was not idle at this period, although the business of the school was by no means sufficient to occupy the time he now had on his hands. He stood in the same rank in point of scholarship with Hyacinth Primrose; they topped the school in the classics without the least drudgery, and had ample leisure for a course of the English poets, into whose distinguished society Primrose introduced Reuben, who found in their charming circle some little consolation for the exile to which he was doomed from the sweet bright eyes of Blanche. De Tabley, although his strongest tastes were for the table, discovered some taste for poetry also; and, having ceased to sneer at Reuben's accomplishments, he was occasionally the companion of him

and Primrose in their rambles on the banks of the Wye, when they repeated their favourite passages alternately, and discussed, with the rash criticism of boys, the beauties and the blemishes of the poets. Now and then, in these literary walks, De Tabley's ruling passion would come out amusingly in connection with some sublime or sentimental quotation. One day that some doves were heard plaining in a grove of trees hard by, Reuben repeated the hackneyed lines of Shenstone

“ I have found out a gift for my fair,

I have found where the wood-pigeons breed." De Tabley, after a few minutes' silence, diverted his friends ex ceedingly by gravely observing that he did not much fancy pigeons, except in a pie. It was a standing joke against him with Primrose all his life.

The tender verses of Shenstone, and amorous and elegiac verse generally, pleased Reuben most in these early days. He kad Prior's “ Henry and Emma,” no short poem of this class, every line by heart, and probably often wished the heroine had been a blonde like Blanche, instead of a brunette like her sister.

But the time came when Primrose followed Winning to col lege. De Tabley left school about the same time. Reuben was virtually left alone, for his only remaining friend was Vigors ; but Vigors had no more poetry in him than a Master in Chancery : his heart and soul were in gymnastic exercises ; he Wind a good fellow and a good boxer, but no companion for an intellectual and sentimental youth like Medlicott. This was a dreary, melanc!oly time. The golden days of our youth have many a leaden hour. Reuben, in fact, ought to have been removed from Hereford along with his friends whom he had kept pace with in his studies. The Barsacs were not designedly inattentive to him, but they had not recovered their hospitable habits. Even when the Dean was absent they lived in the quietest way. Barsac himself was said to be in London much of his time, and his wife and daughters were frequently from home whole weeks together on excursions or visits. Our poor Reuben had but two resources—the library of the Cathedral, where he moped a great deal among the old books, and his flageolet, which he continued to practise with the French shoemaker occasionally.

Suddenly, however, he was deprived of this resource also, though fortune soon made him handsome amends.

Dropping into Adolphe's little shop one evening, he observed a pink satin shoe lying on the counter, and taking it up he complimented the maker on its shape and workinanship.

" Al!” cried Adolphe, “ that is beautiful; but do not admire the shoe, although it is my chef d'auvre—that is nothing; admire the foot, it is the foot that is beautiful : it is the foot of a lady of your connaissance, Mademoiselle Blanche Barsac.”

Reuben acknowledged that he knew her, with a degree of confusion and a quantity of carmine that would have disclosed the foolish state of his mind, had Adolphe been the obtusest of human beings.

Ah! oui ; you know the foot itself. I am a judge of teet; it is my profession ; there is no foot so beautiful as hers in this town; it is perfection. I have a theory on feet, Monsieur Reuben: when the foot is pietty all is pretty. I reason from the foot up, up, up to the crown of the head : it is my philosophy of feet; I have studied, I have approfondi this subject. In the foot there is character, esprit, talent, heart, soul, genius, everything. When it walks, it is eloquence; when it dances it is poetry; when it stamps it is power. What do you think of my theory? Ah, that fout is the foot of an angel !" A few days elapsed.

Reuben heard a rumour in the school that, notwithstanding the custom it afforded Adolphe, he was not very flourishing in his trade, or likely long to find Hereford an eligible place for carrying it on. With a generous instinct Reuben flew to him directly this report reached his ears, resolving to raise money to assist him, either by the sale of his superfluous books, or the mortgage of his flageolet, for other sources of wealth were not very abundant with him. But it was too late; the little shop was shut up. Reuben knocked repeatedly, but there was no reply save the hollow echo of the sound he made with his knuckles, and when he applied at the cutler's, next door, for an explanation of these facts, he heard quite enough to satisfy anybody, whose mind had not been completely prepossessed with admiration and sympathy, that the French shoemaker had not been particularly attentive to his landlord's interests before he made up his mind to abandon Hereford.

Reuben went his way melancholy, his thoughts full of the poetry of bankruptcy; and, connecting the misfortunes of Adolphe with his talents and accomplishments—his genius shown even in his humble trade, his philosophy of feet asd his sister Louise—he formed a most romantic picture in his mind of the struggles and calamities of an ambitious French shoemaker.

The next day was a holiday; I think it was the martyrdom of Charles the First. While the rest of the scholars amused themselves with the soaring kite, the bounding ball, or the rolling marbles, Reuben recreated bimself with his pen, collecting all the cases and anecdotes he could find of laureate shoemakers and cobblers of immortal genius, such as Bunyan, Gifford, Hans Sachs, " the cobler-bard” of Nuremberg, and others, ending with a sketch of his friend Adolphe, whom his enthusiasm placed in the same memorable class. The poor artist's mysterious fate gave a melancholy interest to this part of the essay, and Reuben ended his speculations with suggesting suicide by charcoal, under most poetical circumstances, as the too probable close of his career.

The simple truth was, that Adolphe had not prospered in his trade because he did not mind his business. He was too fond of talking, theorising, and playing the flageolet. The very shoes upon which he had built his philosophy of feet had been returned to him by Miss Barsac as a misfit. In point of probity, however, he was not more unjust to his landlord than he had been to himself

, for he absconded without taking the trouble of collecting a number of small sums that were due to him. Mrs. Barsac, among others, owed him some money, and, thinking that Reuben might be able to inform her what had become of him, she wrote him a note requesting to see him one morning.

Wings could scarcely have borne him swifter than he flew in obedience to this summons. The nature of Mrs. Barsac's business with him was a sad disappointment, but that was forgotten before he left the house. Mrs. Barsac was particularly gracious, told him that his grandfather was to preach in the Cathedral the following Sunday, and offered him a seat in her pew, if he de sired to hear him.




The Barsacs, who were what is commonly called a fine family, never looked so fine as when they were assembled together in their spacious and prominent pew on a Sunday morning. The spectators had then an opportunity of seeing several junior mem

« PreviousContinue »