Crotchet Castle, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter VIII: Science and Charity

Chi sta nel mondo un par d’ore contento,

Ne gli vien tolta, ovver contaminata,

Quella sua pace in veruno momento,

Puo dir che Giove drittamente il guata.

FORTEGUERRI.

The Reverend Doctor Folliott took his departure about ten o’clock, to walk home to his vicarage. There was no moon, but the night was bright and clear, and afforded him as much light as he needed. He paused a moment by the Roman camp to listen to the nightingale; repeated to himself a passage of Sophocles; proceeded through the park gate, and entered the narrow lane that led to the village. He walked on in a very pleasant mood of the state called reverie; in which fish and wine, Greek and political economy, the Sleeping Venus he had left behind, and poor dear Mrs. Folliott, to whose fond arms he was returning, passed, as in a camera obscura, over the tablets of his imagination. Presently the image of Mr. Eavesdrop, with a printed sketch of the Reverend Doctor F., presented itself before him, and he began mechanically to flourish his bamboo. The movement was prompted by his good genius, for the uplifted bamboo received the blow of a ponderous cudgel, which was intended for his head. The reverend gentleman recoiled two or three paces, and saw before him a couple of ruffians, who were preparing to renew the attack, but whom, with two swings of his bamboo, he laid with cracked sconces on the earth, where he proceeded to deal with them like corn beneath the flail of the thresher. One of them drew a pistol, which went off in the very act of being struck aside by the bamboo, and lodged a bullet in the brain of the other. There was then only one enemy, who vainly struggled to rise, every effort being attended with a new and more signal prostration. The fellow roared for mercy. “Mercy, rascal!” cried the divine; “what mercy were you going to show me, villain? What! I warrant me, you thought it would be an easy matter, and no sin, to rob and murder a parson on his way home from dinner. You said to yourself, doubtless, “We’ll waylay the fat parson (you irreverent knave), as he waddles home (you disparaging ruffian), half-seas-over, (you calumnious vagabond).” And with every dyslogistic term, which he supposed had been applied to himself, he inflicted a new bruise on his rolling and roaring antagonist. “Ah, rogue!” he proceeded, “you can roar now, marauder; you were silent enough when you devoted my brains to dispersion under your cudgel. But seeing that I cannot bind you, and that I intend you not to escape, and that it would be dangerous to let you rise, I will disable you in all your members. I will contund you as Thestylis did strong smelling herbs, in the quality whereof you do most gravely partake, as my nose beareth testimony, ill weed that you are. I will beat you to a jelly, and I will then roll you into the ditch, to lie till the constable comes for you, thief.”

“Hold! hold! reverend sir,” exclaimed the penitent culprit, “I am disabled already in every finger, and in every joint. I will roll myself into the ditch, reverend sir.”

“Stir not, rascal,” returned the divine, “stir not so much as the quietest leaf above you, or my bamboo rebounds on your body, like hail in a thunder-storm. Confess, speedily, villain; are you a simple thief, or would you have manufactured me into a subject for the benefit of science? Ay, miscreant caitiff, you would have made me a subject for science, would you? You are a school-master abroad, are you? You are marching with a detachment of the march of mind, are you? You are a member of the Steam Intellect Society, are you? You swear by the learned friend, do you?”

“Oh, no! reverend sir,” answered the criminal, “I am innocent of all these offences, whatever they are, reverend sir. The only friend I had in the world is lying dead beside me, reverend sir.”

The reverend gentleman paused a moment, and leaned on his bamboo. The culprit, bruised as he was, sprang on his legs, and went off in double quick time. The Doctor gave him chase, and had nearly brought him within arm’s length, when the fellow turned at right angles, and sprang clean over a deep dry ditch. The divine, following with equal ardour, and less dexterity, went down over head and ears into a thicket of nettles. Emerging with much discomposure, he proceeded to the village, and roused the constable; but the constable found, on reaching the scene of action, that the dead man was gone, as well as his living accomplice.

“Oh, the monster!” exclaimed the Reverend Doctor Folliott, “he has made a subject for science of the only friend he had in the world.” “Ay, my dear,” he resumed, the next morning at breakfast, “if my old reading, and my early gymnastics (for, as the great Hermann says, before I was demulced by the Muses, I was ferocis ingenii puer, et ad arma quam ad literas paratior), had not imbued me indelibly with some of the holy rage of Frere Jean des Entommeures, I should be, at this moment, lying on the table of some flinty-hearted anatomist, who would have sliced and disjointed me as unscrupulously as I do these remnants of the capon and chine, wherewith you consoled yourself yesterday for my absence at dinner. Phew! I have a noble thirst upon me, which I will quench with floods of tea.”

The reverend gentleman was interrupted by a messenger, who informed him that the Charity Commissioners requested his presence at the inn, where they were holding a sitting.

“The Charity Commissioners!” exclaimed the reverend gentleman, “who on earth are they?”

The messenger could not inform him, and the reverend gentleman took his hat and stick, and proceeded to the inn.

On entering the best parlour, he saw three well-dressed and bulky gentlemen sitting at a table, and a fourth officiating as clerk, with an open book before him, and a pen in his hand. The church-wardens, who had been also summoned, were already in attendance.

The chief commissioner politely requested the Reverend Doctor Folliott to be seated, and after the usual meteorological preliminaries had been settled by a resolution, nem. con., that it was a fine day but very hot, the chief commissioner stated, that in virtue of the commission of Parliament, which they had the honour to hold, they were now to inquire into the state of the public charities of this village.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. The state of the public charities, sir, is exceedingly simple. There are none. The charities here are all private, and so private, that I for one know nothing of them.

FIRST COMMISSIONER. We have been informed, sir, that there is an annual rent charged on the land of Hautbois, for the endowment and repair of an almshouse.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Hautbois! Hautbois!

FIRST COMMISSIONER. The manorial farm of Hautbois, now occupied by Farmer Seedling, is charged with the endowment and maintenance of an almshouse.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT (to the Churchwarden). How is this, Mr. Bluenose?

FIRST CHURCHWARDEN. I really do not know, sir. What say you, Mr. Appletwig?

MR. APPLETWIG (parish clerk and schoolmaster; an old man). I do remember, gentlemen, to have been informed, that there did stand, at the end of the village, a ruined cottage, which had once been an almshouse, which was endowed and maintained, by an annual revenue of a mark and a half, or one pound sterling, charged some centuries ago on the farm of Hautbois; but the means, by the progress of time, having become inadequate to the end, the almshouse tumbled to pieces.

FIRST COMMISSIONER. But this is a right which cannot be abrogated by desuetude, and the sum of one pound per annum is still chargeable for charitable purposes on the manorial farm of Hautbois.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Very well, sir.

MR. APPLETWIG. But, sir, the one pound per annum is still received by the parish, but was long ago, by an unanimous vote in open vestry, given to the minister.

THE THREE COMMISSIONERS (una voce). The minister!

FIRST COMMISSIONER. This is an unjustifiable proceeding.

SECOND COMMISSIONER. A misappropriation of a public fund.

THIRD COMMISSIONER. A flagrant perversion of a charitable donation.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. God bless my soul, gentlemen! I know nothing of this matter. How is this, Mr. Bluenose? Do I receive this one pound per annum?

FIRST CHURCHWARDEN. Really, sir, I know no more about it than you do.

MR. APPLETWIG. You certainly receive it, sir. It was voted to one of your predecessors. Farmer Seedling lumps it in with his tithes.

FIRST COMMISSIONER. Lumps it in, sir! Lump in a charitable donation!

SECOND AND THIRD COMMISSIONER. Oh-oh-oh-h-h!

FIRST COMMISSIONER. Reverend sir, and gentlemen, officers of this parish, we are under the necessity of admonishing you that this is a most improper proceeding: and you are hereby duly admonished accordingly. Make a record, Mr. Milky.

MR. MILKY (writing). The clergyman and church-wardens of the village of Hm-ra-m-m — gravely admonished. Hm-m-m-m.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Is that all, gentlemen?

THE COMMISSIONERS. That is all, sir; and we wish you a good morning.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. A very good morning to you, gentlemen.

“What in the name of all that is wonderful, Mr. Bluenose,” said the Reverend Doctor Folliott, as he walked out of the inn, “what in the name of all that is wonderful, can those fellows mean? They have come here in a chaise and four, to make a fuss about a pound per annum, which, after all, they leave as it was: I wonder who pays them for their trouble, and how much.”

MR. APPLETWIG. The public pay for it, sir. It is a job of the learned friend whom you admire so much. It makes away with public money in salaries, and private money in lawsuits, and does no particle of good to any living soul.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Ay, ay, Mr. Appletwig; that is just the sort of public service to be looked for from the learned friend. Oh, the learned friend! the learned friend! He is the evil genius of everything that falls in his way.

The Reverend Doctor walked off to Crotchet Castle, to narrate his misadventures, and exhale his budget of grievances on Mr. Mac Quedy, whom he considered a ringleader of the march of mind.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24