My dog had made a point on a piece of fallow-ground, and led the curate and me two or three hundred yards over that and some stubble adjoining, in a breathless state of expectation, on a burning first of September.
It was a false point, and our labour was vain: yet, to do Rover justice (for he’s an excellent dog, though I have lost his pedigree), the fault was none of his, the birds were gone: the curate showed me the spot where they had lain basking, at the root of an old hedge.
I stopped and cried Hem! The curate is fatter than I; he wiped the sweat from his brow.
There is no state where one is apter to pause and look round one, than after such a disappointment. It is even so in life. When we have been hurrying on, impelled by some warm wish or other, looking neither to the right hand nor to the left - we find of a sudden that all our gay hopes are flown; and the only slender consolation that some friend can give us, is to point where they were once to be found. And lo! if we are not of that combustible race, who will rather beat their heads in spite, than wipe their brows with the curate, we look round and say, with the nauseated listlessness of the king of Israel, “All is vanity and vexation of spirit.”
I looked round with some such grave apophthegm in my mind when I discovered, for the first time, a venerable pile, to which the enclosure belonged. An air of melancholy hung about it. There was a languid stillness in the day, and a single crow, that perched on an old tree by the side of the gate, seemed to delight in the echo of its own croaking.
I leaned on my gun and looked; but I had not breath enough to ask the curate a question. I observed carving on the bark of some of the trees: ’twas indeed the only mark of human art about the place, except that some branches appeared to have been lopped, to give a view of the cascade, which was formed by a little rill at some distance.
Just at that instant I saw pass between the trees a young lady with a book in her hand. I stood upon a stone to observe her; but the curate sat him down on the grass, and leaning his back where I stood, told me, “That was the daughter of a neighbouring gentleman of the name of WALTON, whom he had seen walking there more than once.
“Some time ago,” he said, “one HARLEY lived there, a whimsical sort of man I am told, but I was not then in the cure; though, if I had a turn for those things, I might know a good deal of his history, for the greatest part of it is still in my possession.”
“His history!” said I. “Nay, you may call it what you please,” said the curate; for indeed it is no more a history than it is a sermon. The way I came by it was this: some time ago, a grave, oddish kind of a man boarded at a farmer’s in this parish: the country people called him The Ghost; and he was known by the slouch in his gait, and the length of his stride. I was but little acquainted with him, for he never frequented any of the clubs hereabouts. Yet for all he used to walk a-nights, he was as gentle as a lamb at times; for I have seen him playing at teetotum with the children, on the great stone at the door of our churchyard.
“Soon after I was made curate, he left the parish, and went nobody knows whither; and in his room was found a bundle of papers, which was brought to me by his landlord. I began to read them, but I soon grew weary of the task; for, besides that the hand is intolerably bad, I could never find the author in one strain for two chapters together; and I don’t believe there’s a single syllogism from beginning to end.”
“I should be glad to see this medley,” said I. “You shall see it now,” answered the curate, “for I always take it along with me a-shooting.” “How came it so torn?” “’Tis excellent wadding,” said the curate. - This was a plea of expediency I was not in a condition to answer; for I had actually in my pocket great part of an edition of one of the German Illustrissimi, for the very same purpose. We exchanged books; and by that means (for the curate was a strenuous logician) we probably saved both.
When I returned to town, I had leisure to peruse the acquisition I had made: I found it a bundle of little episodes, put together without art, and of no importance on the whole, with something of nature, and little else in them. I was a good deal affected with some very trifling passages in it; and had the name of Marmontel, or a Richardson, been on the title-page - ’tis odds that I should have wept: But
One is ashamed to be pleased with the works of one knows not whom.