And now, here is an opportunity for an accomplished writer to apostrophize calumny, to quote Virgil, and to show that he is acquainted with the most ingenious things which have been said on that subject in polite literature.
But what is opportunity to the man who can’t use it? An undefecundated egg, which the waves of time wash away into nonentity. So, as my memory is ill-furnished, and my notebook still worse, I am unable to show myself either erudite or eloquent apropos of the calumny whereof the Rev. Amos Barton was the victim. I can only ask my reader,—did you ever upset your ink-bottle, and watch, in helpless agony, the rapid spread of Stygian blackness over your fair manuscript or fairer table-cover? With a like inky swiftness did gossip now blacken the reputation of the Rev. Amos Barton, causing the unfriendly to scorn and even the friendly to stand aloof, at a time when difficulties of another kind were fast thickening around him.
One November morning, at least six months after the Countess Czerlaski had taken up her residence at the vicarage, Mrs. Hackit heard that her neighbour Mrs. Patten had an attack of her old complaint, vaguely called ‘the spasms’. Accordingly, about eleven o’clock, she put on her velvet bonnet and cloth cloak, with a long boa and muff large enough to stow a prize baby in; for Mrs. Hackit regulated her costume by the calendar, and brought out her furs on the first of November; whatever might be the temperature. She was not a woman weakly to accommodate herself to shilly-shally proceedings. If the season didn’t know what it ought to do, Mrs. Hackit did. In her best days, it was always sharp weather at ‘Gunpowder Plot’, and she didn’t like new fashions.
And this morning the weather was very rationally in accordance with her costume, for as she made her way through the fields to Cross Farm, the yellow leaves on the hedge-girt elms, which showed bright and golden against the long-hanging purple clouds, were being scattered across the grassy path by the coldest of November winds. ‘Ah,’ Mrs. Hackit thought to herself, ’I daresay we shall have a sharp pinch this winter, and if we do, I shouldn’t wonder if it takes the old lady off. They say a green Yule makes a fat churchyard; but so does a white Yule too, for that matter. When the stool’s rotten enough, no matter who sits on it.’
However, on her arrival at Cross Farm, the prospect of Mrs. Patten’s decease was again thrown into the dim distance in her imagination, for Miss Janet Gibbs met her with the news that Mrs. Patten was much better, and led her, without any preliminary announcement, to the old lady’s bedroom. Janet had scarcely reached the end of her circumstantial narrative how the attack came on and what were her aunt’s sensations—a narrative to which Mrs. Patten, in her neatly-plaited nightcap, seemed to listen with a contemptuous resignation