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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMy Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 9
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My Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 9 Post by :Morningwing Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :3487

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My Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 9

BOOK SECOND CHAPTER IX

It was not many days since the resurrection of those ill-omened stocks, and it was evident already, to an ordinary observer, that something wrong had got into the village. The peasants wore a sullen expression of countenance; when the squire passed, they took off their hats with more than ordinary formality, but they did not return the same broad smile to his quick, hearty "Good-day, my man." The women peered at him from the threshold or the casement, but did not, as was their wont (as least the wont of the prettiest), take occasion to come out to catch his passing compliment on their own good looks, or their tidy cottages. And the children, who used to play after work on the site of the old stocks, now shunned the place, and, indeed, seemed to cease play altogether.

On the other hand, no man likes to build, or rebuild, a great public work for nothing. Now that the squire had resuscitated the stocks, and made them so exceedingly handsome, it was natural that he should wish to put somebody into them. Moreover, his pride and self-esteem had been wounded by the parson's opposition; and it would be a justification to his own forethought, and a triumph over the parson's understanding, if he could satisfactorily and practically establish a proof that the stocks had not been repaired before they were wanted.

Therefore, unconsciously to himself, there was something about the squire more burly and authoritative and menacing than heretofore. Old Gaffer Solomons observed, "that they had better moind well what they were about, for that the squire had a wicked look in the tail of his eye,--just as the dun bull had afore it tossed neighbour Barnes's little boy."

For two or three days these mute signs of something brewing in the atmosphere had been rather noticeable than noticed, without any positive overt act of tyranny on the one hand or rebellion on the other. But on the very Saturday night in which Dr. Riccabocca was installed in the four-posted bed in the chintz chamber, the threatened revolution commenced. In the dead of that night personal outrage was committed on the stocks. And on the Sunday morning, Mr. Stirn, who was the earliest riser in the parish, perceived, in going to the farmyard, that the knob of the column that flanked the board had been feloniously broken off; that the four holes were bunged up with mud; and that some jacobinical villain had carved, on the very centre of the flourish or scroll-work, "Dam the stocks!" Mr. Stirn was much too vigilant a right-hand man, much too zealous a friend of law and order, not to regard such proceedings with horror and alarm. And when the squire came into his dressing-room at half-past seven, his butler (who fulfilled also the duties of valet) informed him, with a mysterious air, that Mr. Stirn had something "very partikler to communicate about a most howdacious midnight 'spiracy and 'sault."

The squire stared, and bade Mr. Stirn be admitted.

"Well?" cried the squire, suspending the operation of stropping his razor.

Mr. Stirn groaned.

"Well, man, what now?"

"I never knowed such a thing in this here parish afore," began Mr. Stirn; "and I can only 'count for it by s'posing that them foreign Papishers have been semminating--"

"Been what?"

"Semminating--"

"Disseminating, you blockhead,--disseminating what?"

"Damn the stocks," began Mr. Stirn, plunging right in medias res, and by a fine use of one of the noblest figures in rhetoric.

"Mr. Stirn!" cried the squire, reddening, "did you say, 'Damn the stocks'?--damn my new handsome pair of stocks!"

"Lord forbid, sir; that's what they say: that's what they have digged on it with knives and daggers, and they have stuffed mud in its four holes, and broken the capital of the elewation."

The squire took the napkin off his shoulder, laid down strop and razor; he seated himself in his armchair majestically, crossed his legs, and, in a voice that affected tranquillity, said,--

"Compose yourself, Stirn; you have a deposition to make, touching an assault upon--can I trust my senses?--upon my new stocks. Compose yourself; be calm. Now! What the devil is come to the parish?"

"Ah, sir, what indeed?" replied Mr. Stirn: and then laying the forefinger of the right hand on the palm of the left he narrated the case.

"And whom do you suspect? Be calm now; don't speak in a passion. You are a witness, sir,--a dispassionate, unprejudiced witness. Zounds and fury! this is the most insolent, unprovoked, diabolical--but whom do you suspect, I say?" Stirn twirled his hat, elevated his eyebrows, jerked his thumb over his shoulder, and whispered, "I hear as how the two Papishers slept at your honour's last night."

"What, dolt! do you suppose Dr. Rickeybockey got out of his warm bed to bung up the holes in my new stocks?"

"Noa; he's too cunning to do it himself, but he may have been semminating. He's mighty thick with Parson Dale, and your honour knows as how the parson set his face agin the stocks. Wait a bit, sir,--don't fly at me yet. There be a boy in this here parish--"

"A boy! ah, fool, now you are nearer the mark. The parson write 'Damn the stocks,' indeed! What boy do you mean?"

"And that boy be cockered up much by Mr. Dale; and the Papisher went and sat with him and his mother a whole hour t' other day; and that boy is as deep as a well; and I seed him lurking about the place, and hiding hisself under the tree the day the stocks was put up,--and that 'ere boy is Lenny Fairfield."

"Whew," said the squire, whistling, "you have not your usual senses about you to-day, man. Lenny Fairfield,--pattern boy of the village. Hold your tongue. I dare say it is not done by any one in the parish, after all: some good-for-nothing vagrant--that cursed tinker, who goes about with a very vicious donkey,--a donkey that I caught picking thistles out of the very eyes of the old stocks! Shows how the tinker brings up his donkeys! Well, keep a sharp look-out. To-day is Sunday; worst day of the week, I'm sorry and ashamed to say, for rows and depredations. Between the services, and after evening church, there are always idle fellows from all the neighbouring country about, as you know too well. Depend on it, the real culprits will be found gathering round the stocks, and will betray themselves; have your eyes, ears, and wits about you, and I've no doubt we shall come to the rights of the matter before the day's out. And if we do," added the squire, "we'll make an example of the ruffian!"

"In course," said Stirn: "and if we don't find him we must make an example all the same. That's what it is, sir. That's why the stocks ben't respected; they has not had an example yet,--we wants an example."

"On my word I believe that's very true; and we'll clap in the first idle fellow you catch in anything wrong, and keep him there for two hours at least."

"With the biggest pleasure, your honour,--that's what it is."

And Mr. Stirn having now got what he considered a complete and unconditional authority over all the legs and wrists of Hazeldean parish, quoad the stocks, took his departure.

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