Page images
PDF
EPUB

in the matter, and he went down that night with the Dean to his place at Westbury.

CHAPTER X.

REUBEN GETS AN INSIGHT INTO THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HIS GRAND

FATHER.

While the following morning was yet grey, Reuben's sleep was broken by an infinity of discordant sounds, produced by carpenters, bricklayers, glaziers, and chimney-doctors, dispersed over all parts of the house, and all in turn occasionally drowned by the harsh thundering voice of his grandfather, dictating to the several tradesmen, and informing them all in rotation, that they were scandalously ignorant of their business; that he knew more of masonry himself than half the masons in England; that painters ought to know something of mixing colours, but he never saw a painter who did ; that it was more noise than work with the carpenters; and as to the chimney-doctors, they were a pack of charlatans. Reuben, after rubbing his eyes, stole out of bed, and peeped over a balustrade close to the door of his bed-room, from whence he obtained a view of the Dean in a loose old trailing dressing-gown, alternately lecturing and abusing the mechanics, some of whom were quietly going on with their work without taking much notice of their eccentric employer, while others were suspending their hammers, their brushes, or their diamonds, and receiving his observations with affected gratitude and respect. Reuben stole back again to his bed, for it was still early; but he had scarcely laid his head on his pillow, when his door was thrown open with a clatter, and in stalked the Dean, followed by a couple of glaziers, to whom he was giving a torrent of instruc tions, in compliance with the first of which the only window in the room was chucked in a trice out of the frame; so that Reuben might as well have had to make his toilet al fresco. He dressed himself in presence of his grandfather and the glaziers, while the former commenced ransacking an old bookcase, the contents of which he had quite forgotten, mixing up running commentaries on the books as he tumbled them out, with odds and ends of advice to Reuben on the subject of rabbit-shooting and other similar sports, which naturally led him to his own exploits with the gun, some of them not much less amazing than the exploits of Baron Munchausen. Then he held forth on the various breeds of rabbits and their extraordinary fecundity, and told anecdotes of rabbits that made the mechanics grin, and even Reuben laugh, who had not laughed for weeks. He told them Bacon's story of the simple schoolboy who was astounded when the rabbits scampered off on his shouting in Latin to his comrade, never dreaming that rabbits were acquainted with the dead languages; and how Hobbs, when he lived at Old Sarum, humorously concluded, that a burgess in the English language was synonymous with a cony, as the conies were the only constituency which even in his time that ancient borough had to boast of. The glaziers thought the Dean omniscient, particularly when he made some just remarks on matters connected with their own trade. However, as he went down to breakfast he forfeited their good opinion to a certain extent; for, taking a hammer out of the hand of one of the carpenters' apprentices, to show him how to drive a nail with precision, he missed his aim by a quarter of an inch, and gave himself a smart rap on the thumb. He pretended it was nothing, but the apprentice knew very well what a sore thing it was, and quoted a familiar adage as soon as the old gentleman was out of hearing.

The Dean only remained a day or two, passing the time between odd discussions with his workmen, and researches in his library, chiefly among the fathers, to support some, theological dogma or another which he was shortly about to propound to the world either in a sermon or a tract. Engaged in this latter occupation, he utterly forgot his engagement to Reuben to give bim the gun, and set him down to copy long passages from Eusebius and Bellarmine, which filled up the interval between a straggling breakfast and a dinner of the same character. The house being in such confusion, everything was done in the library, which was, of course, not much behind the other apartments in point of disorder. The books lay on the floor in heaps, for the shelves had been just painted, and the Dean sat at his breakfast amidst a chaos of classics and divinity, simultaneously eating and reading with equal voracity; now and then striding to the door to shout directions to the painters, and bellowing to Mrs. Reeves for hot water to shave. He always used his library or study as his dressing-room, wherever he resided. In the present state of his house, his toilet was in perfect keeping with the general discrder of the establishment. He shaved himself in a little shattered looking-glass, which he set upon the mantel-piece, not eren waiting until he had quite finished his meal, but travelling backwards and forwards between the breakfast-table and the hearth-stone, uttering all manner of strange noises and internal rumblings, to the consternation of his gentle grandson, who had never seen or heard so much of the private life of his maternal ancestor before.

Mingled, however, with the inarticulate sounds elicited partly by the difficulty of eating and shaving at the same time, partly by the embarrassment of seeing more chins than one in the mirror, came forth at intervals a multitude of sound, hard-headed maxims and receipts for success in life, intended for Reuben's use, and probably more likely to remain impressed on his memory, delivered as they were, than if they had been imparted with more dignity in any portico or academic shade.

“ Aim at being a great man; there is something great in even failing to become great. Encourage the passions that lead to greatness; there are three of them; love of business, love of reputation, and love of power. But if you would be a good man, which is better than being a great one, you must love two things besides, you must love truth and you must love mankind. I put truth foremost; God forbid I should give man the precedence; nine men out of ten are scoundrels, not that we ought not to love scoundrels, or try to love them; but it is a difficult thing to do,– the cutler who made this razor was an arrant scoundrel.” The Dean lad prepared Reuben for this last remark by a series of grunts with which he had interpolated the latter part of his speech. He gulped down some coffee, soaping the edge of the cup in doing so, and resumed in a new track of observation, while Reuben sat imbibing his counsels, and gazing almost with terror at he bloody harvest which the bad razor was reaping.

“ Preserve due order among the objects of your respect and veneration. Place them in your mind as you do pounds, shillings, and pence in your arithmetic. Respect piety and virtue first; genius and learning in the second place; rank and authority in the third, when they are not disgraced in the persons of their possessors--they often are.”

Here he finished his operations on one side of his face, and refreshed himself with some coffee and toast before he proceeded to the other moiety,

“ Wealth, and what is called blood, have no claims upon your reverence at all. Birth is an accident. Wealth is odious when it is acquired by sordid methods, and when it is obtained by talent and industry, the industry and talent command our homage, not the fortune obtained by them. Before good men be reverent; before the wise be diffident; before the great be discreet; but never bow your knee, or bait your breath in the presence of the mere millionnaire, or the mere patrician."

He cut himself again, interpolated another attack on the cutler, and resumed

“I never did. My learned pate' —if there is any learning in it-never ducked to the golden fool,' as Shakspeare has it. Hand me that towel.”

Reuben obeyed, and in doing so took courage to say that he recollected another passage in Shakspeare, breathing the spirit of his grandfather's observations.

“I held it ever,
Virtue and wisdom were endowments greater
Than nobleness and riches.”

pary work.

“Well said and well remembered: who is the speaker ?" asked the Dean, looking down with grim approbation upon his youthful companion, as he wiped his razor, having concluded his sangui

“ The Ephesian lord, sir, in the play of 'Pericles,'” said Reuben, blushing at his little success.

Shakspeare knew," said the Dean, “ that there are lords as well as commoners who understand in what true greatness consists, and who draw honour from its proper fountains. Men cannot help being lords; they are neither to be respected for it, nor despised for it. Hand me that coat on the back of the chair yonder.”

While Reuben was handing the coat, his grandfather was disembowelling the huge pockets of his dressing gown; and unquestionably it was a strange miscellany that he produced from those receptacles ; letters, invitations, soiled handkerchiefs, odd gloves, keys, memorandums, notes of sermons, builders' estimates, a heap of copper coins, with here and there a sixpence shining among them, a great many bills, and very few receipts. All these articles he now thrust into the pockets of the coat, in doing which he dropped one of the notes and nodded to Reuben to pick it up

Our poor Reuben ! in picking up the note he glanced at the writing, and recognised the hand of Blanche. Down it went, however, crushed among the other things, with no more ceremony or sentiment than if it had been a tavern reckoning. The heart of the susceptible boy felt crushed along with it, but, fortunately for him just at present, bis grandfather's society was perfectly incompatible with the indulgence of tender thoughts. The Dean was no sooner dressed than he took Reuben with him to inspect the stables and offices, thence hurried him through the garden, over the farm, and round about the neighbourhood for a couple of hours, after wbich he returned to a lusty luncheon, had another altercation with the contractor, and sitting down to Eusebius himself, set Reuben to copy pages of Bellarmine until dinner.

At dinner he was equally instructive, though perhaps more vainglorious.

"Keep doing, always doing, and whatever you do, do it with all your heart, soul, and strength. Wishing, dreaming, intending, murmuring, talking, sighing, and repining, are all idle and profitless employments. The only manly occupation is to keep doing. I have been often told by wiseacres thai building was a ruinous taste, but it is true of one kind of building, of castles in the air—a sort of castle that I never built. If I am a good example for anything, it is for energy; I study with energy, I exercise with energy, I sleep and I eat with energy."

Reuben had the proof of the latter ass rtion before his eyes, in the rapid consumption of the beef and mustard which his grandsire was making, while he had scarcely disposed of the first slice he had been helped to. The Dean at length observed his descendant's inefficiency with the knife and fork.

“ Dine like a man, sir,” he said, helping him a second time; “I don't approve of your dainty dastardly eaters; I don't like the man who does not like his dinner; that's one of my maxims; he may be honest but I am not sure of it. When I don't see a good appetite I am apt to suspect there is a bad digestion; and I cannot help connecting that with something amiss in the moral organisation. We are compound beings; we are not all body, neither are we all mind. The stomach and the conscience have a close affinity, take my word for it.” The Dean paused, took a glass of port, pushed the water to Reuben, and hoped he was careful in the choice of his friends.

Have you many ?” he inquired. “A good many, sir,” said Reuben. " You are a fortunate fellow," said his grandfather sneeringly;

« PreviousContinue »