Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

partition of wood had hitched firmly into a sort of spring-clasp, which defied Lenny's unaided struggles, still it was not locked, (for, indeed, the padlock and key were snug in the justice-room of the Squire, who never dreamt that his orders would be executed so literally and summarily as to dispense with all formal appeal to himself.)

As soon as Dr. Riccabocca made that disccovery, it occurred to him that all the wisdom of all the schools that ever existed can't reconcile man or boy to a bad position, the moment there is a fair opportunity of letting him out of it. Accordingly, without more ado, he lifted up the creaking board, and Lenny Fairfield darted forth like a bird from a cage—halted a moment as if for breath, or in joy ; and then, taking at once to his heels, fled, as a hare to its form-fast to his mother's home. Dr. Riccabocca dropped the yawning wood into its place, picked up his handkerchief and restored it to his pocket; and, then with some curiosity, began to examine the nature of that place of duresse which had caused so much painful emotion to its rescued victim. "Man is a very irrational animal at best," quoth the sage, soliloquising, “and is frightened by strange buggabooes ! 'Tis but a piece of wood ! how little it really injures! And, after all, the holes are but rests to the legs, and keep the feet out of the dirt. And this green bank to sit upon-under the shade of the elm-tree-verily the position must be more pleasant than otherwise! I've a great mind”

-here the Doctor looked around, and, seeing the coast still clear, the oddest notion imaginable took

possession of him ; yet not indeed a notion so odd, considered philosophically-for all philosophy is based on practical experiment-and Dr. Riccobocca felt an irresistible desire practically to experience what manner of thing that punishment of the stocks really was. “I can but try! only for a moment,” said he, apologetically to his own expostulating sense of dignity. “I have time to do it before any one comes." He lifted up the partition again ; but stocks are built on the true principle of English law, and don't easily allow a man to criminate himself—it was hard to get into them without the help of a friend. However, as we before noticed, obstacles only whetted Dr. Riccobocca's invention. He looked round, and saw a withered bit of stick under the tree—this he inserted in the division of the stocks, somewhat in the manner in which boys place a stick under a sieve for the purpose of ensnaring sparrows. The fatal wood thus propped, Dr. Riccabocca sat gravely down on the bank, and thrust his feet through the apertures. “Nothing in it l” cried he, triumphantly, after a moment's deliberation. “The evil is only in idea. Such is the boasted reason of mortals !” With that reflection, nevertheless, he was about to withdraw his feet from their voluntary dilemma, when the crazy stick suddenly gave way, and the partition fell back into its clasp. Dr. Riccabocca was fairly caught.-Facilis descensus, - sed revocare gradum !True, his hands were at liberty, but his legs were so long that, being thus fixed, they kept the hands from the rescue ; and as Dr. Riccabocca's form was by no means supple, and the twin parts of the wood stuck together with that firmness of adhesion which things newlypainted possess, so after some vain twists and contortions, in which he succeeded at length (not without a stretch of the sinews that made them crack again) in finding the clasp and breaking his nails thereon, the victim of his own rash experiment resigned himself to his fate. Dr. Riccabocca was one of those men who never do things by halves.

When I say he resigned himself, I mean not only Christian-but philosophical resignation. The position was not quite so pleasant as, theoretically, he had deemed it; but he resolved to make himself as comfortable as he could. At first, as is natural in all troubles to men who have grown familiar with that oderiferous comforter which Sir Walter Raleigh is said first to have bestowed upon the Caucasian races, the doctor made use of his hands to extract from his pocket his pipe, match-box, and tobacco-pouch. After a few whiffs, he would have been quite reconciled to his situation, but for the discovery that the sun had shifted its place in the heavens, and was no longer shaded from his face by the elm tree. The doctor again looked round, and perceived that his red silk umbrella, which he had laid aside when he had seated himself by Lenny, was within arm's reach. Possessing himself of this treasure, he soon expanded its friendly folds. And thus, doubly fortified within and without, under shade of the umbrella, and his pipe composedly between his lips, Dr. Riccabocca

gazed on his own incarcerated legs, even with complacency. “He who can despise all things,” said he, in one of his native proverbs,“ possesses all things !'-if one despises freedom, one is free! This seat is as soft as a sofa! I am not sure,” he resumed, soliloquising, after a pause_“I am not sure that there is not something more witty than manly and philosophical in that national proverb of mine which I quoted to the fanciullo, 'that there are no handsome prisons !' Did not the son of that celebrated Frenchman, surnamed Bras de Fer, write a book not only to prove that adversities are more necessary than prosperities, but that among all adversities a prison is the most pleasant and profitable? But is not this condition of mine, voluntarily and experimentally incurred, a type of my life? Is it the first time that I have thrust myself into a hobble ?-and if in a hobble of mine own choosing, why should I blame the gods ?”—Upon this, Dr. Riccabocca fell into a train of musing so remote from time and place, that in a few minutes he no more remembered that he was in the parish stocks than a lover remembers that flesh is grass, a miser that mammon is perishable, a philosopher that wisdom is vanity. Dr. Riccabocca was in the clouds.

Bulwer Lytton.

LXI.

MY GARDEN ACQUAINTANCE. THE robins, by constant attacks and annoyances, have succeeded in driving off the blue jays who used to build in our pines, their gay colours and quaint noisy ways making them welcome and amusing neighbours. I once had the chance of doing a kindness to a household of them, which they received with very friendly condescension.

I had had my eye for some time upon a nest, and was puzzled by a constant fluttering of what seemed full-grown wings in it whenever I drew nigh. At last I climbed the tree, in spite of angry protests from the old birds against my intrusion. The mystery had a very simple solution. In building the nest, a long piece of packthread had been somewhat loosely woven in. Three of the young had contrived to entangle themselves in it, and had become full-grown without being able to launch themselves upon the air. One was unharmed ; another had so tightly twisted the cord about its shank that one foot was curled up and seemed paralyzed ; the third, in its struggles to escape, had sawn through the flesh of the thigh, and so much harmed itself that I thought it humane to put an end to its misery. When I took out my knife to cut their hempen bonds, the heads of the family seemed to divine my friendly intent. Suddenly

« AnteriorContinua »