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song, in the lengthened faces of the greater part of the audience. Jack Palmer, however, laughed loud and long.
“ Bravo, bravo !” cried he, “ that suits my humour exactly. I can't abide the thoughts of a coffin. No deal box for me."
“A gibbet might, perhaps, serve your turn as well,” muttered the sexton ; adding aloud, “I am now entitled to call upon you ; - a song! -a song !”
Ay, a song, Mr. Palmer, a song," reiterated the hinds. “ Yours will the right kind of thing."
“ Say no more," replied Jack, “ I'll give you a chant composed upon Dick Turpin, the highwayman.
It's no great shakes to be sure, but it's the best I have ;” and, with a knowing wink at the sexton, he commenced in the true nasal whine the following strain :
ONE FOOT IN THE STIRRUP;
OR, TURPIN'S FIRST FLING.
“ Cum esset proposita fuga Turpi(n)s.” - Cicero.
Hilloah ! Uproarious applause followed Jack's song, when the joviality of the mourners was interrupted by a summons to attend in the state room. Silence was at once completely restored ; and, in the best order they could assume, they followed their leader, Peter Bradley. Jack Palmer was amongst the last to
remained a not incurious spectator of a by no means common scene.
Preparations had been made to give due solemnity to the ceremonial. The leaden coffin was fastened down, and inclosed in an outer case of oak, upon the lid of which stood a richly-chased, massive silver flagon, filled with burnt claret, called the grace-cup. All the lights were removed, save two lofty wax flambeaux, which were placed to the back, and threw a lurid glare upon the group immediately about the
body; consisting of Ranulph Rookwood and some other friends of the deceased. Doctor Small stood in front of the bier ; and, under the directions of Peter Bradley, the tenantry and household were formed into a wide half-moon across the chamber. There was
a hush of expectation, as Doctor Small looked gravely round; and even Jack Palmer, who was as little likely as any man to yield to an impression of the kind, felt himself moved by the scene. The very
orthodox Small, as is well known to our readers, held every thing savouring of the superstitions of the Scarlet Woman in supreme abomination; and, entertaining such opinions, it can scarcely be supposed that a funeral oration would find much favour in his eyes, accompanied, as it was, with the accessories of censer, candle, and cup; all evidently derived from that period when, under the three-crowned pontiff's sway, the shaven priest pronounced his benediction o'er the dead, and released the penitent's soul from purgatorial flames, while he heavily mulcted the price of his redemption from the possessions of his successor. Small resented the idea of treading in such steps, as an insult to himself and his cloth. Was he, the intolerant of papistry, to tolerate this ? Was he, who could not endure the odour of catholicism, to have his nostrils thus polluted— his garments thus defiledby actual contact with it? It was not to be thought of: and he had formally signified his declination to Mr. Coates, when a little conversation with that gentleman, and certain weighty considerations therein held forth (the advowson of the church of Rookwood residing with the family), and represented by him, as well as the placing in juxta-position of penalties to be incurred by refusal, that the scruples of Small gave way; and, with the best grace he could muster, very reluctantly promised compliance.
With these feelings, it will be readily conceived that the doctor was not in the best possible frame of mind for the delivery of his exhortation. His temper had been ruffled by a variety of petty annoyances, amongst the greatest of which was the condition to which the good cheer had reduced his clerk, Zachariah Trundletext, whose reeling eye, pendulous position, and open_mouth, proclaimed him absolutely incapable of office. Zachariah was, in consequence, dismissed, and Small commenced his discourse unsupported. But as our
recording it would not probably conduce to the amusement of our readers, whatever it might to their edification, we shall pass it over with very brief mention. Suffice it to say, that the oration was so thickly interstrewn with lengthy quotations from the fathers—Chrysostomus, Hieronimus, Ambrosius, Basilius, Bernardus, and the rest, with whose recondite latinity, notwithstanding the clashing of their opinions with his own, the doctor was intimately acquainted, and which he moreover delighted to quote, that his auditors were absolutely mystified and perplexed, and probably not without design. Countenances of such amazement were turned towards him, that Small, who had a keen sense of the ludicrous, could scarcely forbear smiling as he proceeded ; and if we could suspect so grave a personage of waggery, we should almost think that, by way of retaliation, he had palmed some abstruse monkish epicedium upon his astounded auditors.
The oration concluded, biscuits and confectionary were, according to old observance, handed to such of the tenantry as chose to partake of them. The serving of the grace cup, which ought to have formed part of the duties of Zachariah, had he been capable of office, fell to the share of the sexton. The bowl was kissed, first by Ranulph, with lips that trembled with emotion, and afterwards by his surrounding friends; but no drop was tasted, a circumstance which did not escape Peter's observation. Proceeding to the tenantry, the first in order happened to be farmer Toft. Peter presented the cup, and as Toft was about to drain a deep draught of the wine, Peter whispered in his ear, “ Take my advice, for once, friend Toft, and don't let a bubble of the liquid pass your lips. For every drop of the wine you drain, Sir Piers will have one sin the less, and you a load the heavier on your conscience. Didst never hear of sin-swallowing ? For what else was this custom adopted ? See'st thou not the cup's brim hath not yet been moistened ? Well, as you will — ha, ha !” and the sexton passed onwards.
His work being nearly completed, he looked around for Jack Palmer, whom he had remarked during the oration, but could no where discover him. Peter was about to place the flagon, now almost drained of its contents, upon its former resting place, when Small took it from his hands.
“ In poculi fundo residuum non relinque, admonisheth
Pythagoras," said he, returning the cup drained of its contents to the sexton.
“ My task here is ended,” muttered Peter, “ but not elsewhere. Foul weather or fine-thunder or rain, I must to the church.” Bequeathing his final instructions to certain of the household, who were to form part of the procession, in case it set out, he opened the hall door, and, the pelting shower dashing heavily in his face, took his way up the avenue, screaming, as he strode along, the following congenial rhymes:
To his couch I flit -
Astride! astride! astride!
Can scare me from his side!
Then mount! away!
To horse! astride! astride!
As through the air I glide! * In reference to this imaginary charm Sir Thomas Browne observes, in his “ Vulgar Errors,”. “ what natural effects can reasonably be expected, when to prevent the Ephialtes, or Night-Mare, we hang a hollow stone in our stables?" Grose also states, “ that a stone with a hole in it hung at the bed's head will prevent the Night-Mare; and is therefore called a hag-stone” The belief in this charm still lingers in some districts, and maintains, like the horse-shoe affixed to the barn door, a feeble stand against the superstition-destroying “march of intellect.”