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which case I am confident that one of our modern model juries would have brought in the popular verdict of justifiable insanity. But, being a peaceable man, I was averse to extreme measures. So I did the next best thing-consulted my wife, and retired to this village.
Then consider the shock to my feelings when I looked up that day and saw the enemy of our peace stalking into our little Paradise with his book under his arm and his carpetbag in his hand!-coming with his sermons and shirts, prepared to stay a week-that is to say a year-that is to say forever, if we would suffer him-and how was he to be hindered by any desperate measures short of burning the house down?
"My dear nephew!" says he, striding toward me with eager steps, as you perhaps remember, smiling his eternally dry, leathery smile-"Nephew Frederick!"-and he held out both hands to me, book in one and bag in t'other-"I am rejoiced! One would almost think you had tried to hide away from your old uncle, for I've been three days hunting you up. And how is Dolly? She ought to be glad to see me, after all the trouble I've had in finding you! And, Nephew Frederick-h'm!—can you lend me three dollars for the hackman? For I don't happen to have Thank you! I should have been saved this if you had only known I was stopping last night at a public house in the next village, for I know how delighted you would have been to drive over and fetch me!"
If you were not already out of hearing, you may have noticed that I made no reply to this affecting speech. The old gentleman has grown quite deaf of late years—an infirmity which was once a source of untold misery to his friends, to whom he was constantly appealing for their opinions, which they were obliged to shout in his ear. But now, happily, the
、 world has about ceased responding to him, and he has almost
ceased to expect responses from the world. He just catches your eye, and when he says, "Don't you think so, sir?" or "What is your opinion, sir?" an approving nod does your business.
The hackman paid, my dear uncle accompanied me to the house, unfolding the catalogue of his woes by the way. For he is one of those worthy, unoffending persons whom an ungrateful world jostles and tramples upon-whom unmerciful disaster follows fast and follows faster. In his younger days he was settled over I don't know how many different parishes; but secret enmity pursued him everywhere, poisoning the parochial mind against him, and driving him relentlessly from place to place. Then he relapsed into agencies, and went through a long list of them, each terminating in flat failure, to his ever-recurring surprise-the simple old soul never suspecting, to this day, who his one great tireless, terrible nemesis is!
I got him into the library, and went to talk over this unexpected visit-or visitation-with Dolly. She bore up under it more cheerfully than could have been expected-suppressed a sigh-and said she would go down and meet him. She received him with a hospitable smile (I verily believe that more of the world's hypocrisy proceeds from too much good-nature than from too little) and listened patiently to his explanations. "You will observe that I have brought my bag," says he, "for I knew you wouldn't let me off for a day or two-though I must positively leave in a week-in two weeks, at the latest. I have brought my volume, too, for I am contemplating a new edition" (he is always contemplating a new edition, making that a pretext for lugging the book about with him), "and I wish to enjoy the advantages of your and Frederick's criticism. I anticipate some good, comfortable, old-time talks over the old book, Frederick!"
We had invited some village friends to come in and eat strawberries and cream with us that afternoon; and the question arose, what should he done with the old gentleman? Harry, who is a lad of a rather lively fancy, coming in while we were taking advantage of his great-uncle's deafness to discuss the subject in his presence, proposed a pleasant expedient. "Trot him out into the cornfield, introduce him to the scarecrow, and let him talk to that," says he, grinning up into the visitor's face, who grinned down at him, no doubt thinking what a wonderfully charming boy he was! If he were as blind as he is deaf, he might have been disposed of very comfortably in some such ingenious way—the scarecrow, or any other lay figure, might have served to engage him in one of his immortal monologues. As it was, the suggestion bore fruit later, as you will see.
While we were consulting-keeping up our scattering fire of small-arms under the old talker's heavy guns-our parish minister called-old Doctor Wortleby, for whom we have a great liking and respect. Of course we had to introduce him to Uncle Popworth-for they met face to face; and of course Uncle Popworth fastened at once upon the brother clergyman. Being my guest, Wortleby could do no less than listen to Popworth, who is my uncle. He listened with interest and sympathy for the first half hour; and then continued listening for another half hour, after his interest and sympathy were exhausted. Then, attempting to go, he got his hat, and sat with it in his hand half an hour longer. Then he stood half an hour on his poor old gouty feet, desperately edging toward the door.
"Ah, certainly," says he, with a weary smile, repeatedly endeavoring to break the spell that bound him. "I shall be most happy to hear the conclusion of your remarks at some
future time" (even ministers can lie out of politeness); "but just now
"One word more, and I am done," cries my Uncle Popworth, for the fiftieth time; and Wortleby, in despair, sat down again Then our friends arrived.
Dolly and I, who had all the while been benevolently wishing Wortleby would go, and trying to help him off, now selfishly hoped he would remain and share our entertainment— and our Uncle Popworth.
"I ought to have gone two hours ago," he said, with a plaintive smile, in reply to our invitation; "but, really, I am feeling the need of a cup of tea" (and no wonder!) "and I think I will stay."
We cruelly wished that he might continue to engage my uncle in conversation; but that would have been too much to hope from the sublime endurance of a martyr-if ever there was one more patient than he. Seeing the Lintons and the Greggs arrive, he craftily awaited his opportunity, and slipped off, to give them a turn on the gridiron. First Linton was secured; and you should have seen him roll his mute, appealing orbs, as he settled helplessly down under the infliction. Suddenly he made a dash. "I am ignorant of these matters," said he; but Gregg understands them-Gregg will talk with you." But Gregg took refuge behind the ladies. The ladies, receiving a hint from poor distressed Dolly, scattered. But no artifice availed against the dreadful man. Piazza, parlor, garden-he ranged everywhere, and was sure to seize a victim.
At last tea was ready, and we all went in. The Lintons and Greggs were people of the world, who would hardly have cared to wait for a blessing on such lovely heaps of strawberries, in mugs of cream they saw before them; but, there being two clergymen at the table, the ceremony was evidently expected.
We were placidly seated; there was a hush, agreeably filled with the fragrance of the delicious fruit; even my Uncle Popworth, from long habit, turned off his talk at that suggestive moment; when I did what I thought a shrewd thing. I knew too well my relative's long-windedness at his devotions, as at everything else. (I wonder if Heaven itself isn't bored by such fellows!) I had suffered, I had seen my guests suffer, too much from him already to think of deliberately yielding him a fearful advantage over us; so I coolly passed him by, and gave an expressive nod to the old Doctor.
Wortleby began; and I was congratulating myself on my adroit management of a delicate matter, when-conceive my consternation!-Popworth-not to speak it profanely-followed suit! The reverend egotist couldn't take in the possibility of anybody but himself being invited to say grace at our table, he being present-he hadn't noticed my nod to the Doctor, and the Doctor's low, earnest voice didn't reach him—and there, with one blessing going on one side of the table, he, as I said, pitched in on the other! His eyes shut, his hands spread over his plate, his elbows on the board, his head bowed, he took care that grace should abound with us for once! His mill started, I knew there was no stopping it, and I hoped Wortleby would desist. But he didn't know his man. He seemed to feel that he had the stroke-oar, and he pulled away manfully. As Popworth lifted up his loud, nasal voice, the old Doctor raised his voice, in the vain hope, I suppose, of making himself heard by his lusty competitor. If you have never had two blessings running opposition at your table, in the presence of invited guests, you can never imagine how astounding, how killingly ludicrous it was! I felt that both Linton and Gregg were ready to tumble over, each in an apoplexy of suppressed emotions; while I had recourse to my handkerchief to hide