I have recently observed her holding long conferences in the church-yard, and up and down one of the lanes near the village, with Slingsby, the schoolmaster. I at first thought the pedagogue might be touched with the tender malady so prevalent in these parts of late; but I did him injustice. Honest Slingsby, it seems, was a friend and crony of her late father, the parish clerk; and is on intimate terms with the Tibbets family. Prompted, therefore, by his good-will towards all parties, and secretly instigated, perhaps, by the managing dame Tibbets, he has undertaken to talk with Phoebe upon the subject. He gives her, however, but little encouragement. Slingsby has a formidable opinion of the aristocratical feeling of old Ready-Money, and thinks, if Phoebe were even to make the matter up with the son, she would find the father totally hostile to the match. The poor damsel, therefore, is reduced almost to despair; and Slingsby, who is too good-natured not to sympathize in her distress, has advised her to give up all thoughts of young Jack, and has proposed as a substitute his learned coadjutor, the prodigal son. He has even, in the fullness of his heart, offered to give up the school-house to them; though it would leave him once more adrift in the wide world.
Hermione. Pray you sit
And tell’s a tale.
Mamilius. Merry or sad shall’t be?
Hermione. As merry as you will.
Mamilius. A sad tale’s
best for winter.
I have one of sprites and goblins.
Hermione. Let’s have that, sir.
As this is a story-telling age, I have been tempted occasionally to give the reader one of the many tales that are served up with supper at the Hall. I might, indeed, have furnished a series almost equal in number to the Arabian Nights; but some were rather hackneyed and tedious; others I did not feel warranted in betraying into print; and many more were of the old general’s relating, and turned principally upon tiger-hunting, elephant-riding, and Seringapatam; enlivened by the wonderful deeds of Tippoo Saib, and the excellent jokes of Major Pendergast.
I had all along maintained a quiet post at a corner of the table, where I had been able to indulge my humour undisturbed: listening attentively when the story was very good, and dozing a little when it was rather dull, which I consider the perfection of auditorship.
I was roused the other evening from a slight trance into which I had fallen during one of the general’s histories, by a sudden call from the Squire to furnish some entertainment of the kind in my turn. Having been so profound a listener to others, I could not in conscience refuse; but neither my memory nor invention being ready to answer so unexpected a demand, I begged leave to read a manuscript tale from the pen of my fellow-countryman, the late Mr. Diedrich Knickerbocker, the historian of New-York. As this ancient chronicler may not be better known to my readers than he was to the company at the Hall, a word or two concerning him may not be amiss, before proceeding to his manuscript.