Bracebridge Hall, vol 2

Village Worthies

Washington Irving

Nay, I tell you, I am so well beloved in our town, that not the worst dog in the street will hurt my little finger.
Collier of Croydon.
AS the neighbouring village is one of those out-of-the-way, but gossiping, little places where a small matter makes a great stir, it is not to be supposed that the approach of a festival like that of May-day can be regarded with indifference, especially since it is made a matter of such moment by the great folks at the Hall. Master Simon, who is the faithful factotum of the worthy Squire, and jumps with his humour in every thing, is frequent just now in his visits to the village, to give directions for the impending fête; and as I have taken the liberty occasionally of accompanying him, I have been enabled to get some insight into the characters and internal politics of this very sagacious little community.

Master Simon is in fact the Cæsar of the village. It is true the Squire is the protecting power, but his factotum is the active and busy agent. He intermeddles in all its concerns, is acquainted with all the inhabitants and their domestic history, gives counsel to the old folks in their business matters, and the young folks in their love affairs, and enjoys the proud satisfaction of being a great man in a little world.

He is the dispenser, too, of the Squire’s charity, which is bounteous; and, to do Master Simon justice, he performs this part of his functions with great alacrity. Indeed, I have been entertained with the mixture of bustle, importance, and kind-heartedness which he displays. He is of too vivacious a temperament to comfort the afflicted by sitting down, moping and whining, and blowing noses in concert: but goes whisking about like a sparrow, chirping consolation into every hole and corner of the village. I have seen an old woman, in a red cloak, hold him for half an hour together with some long phthisical tale of distress, which Master Simon listened to with many a bob of the head, smack of his dog-whip, and other symptoms of impatience, though he afterwards made a most faithful and circumstantial report of the case to the Squire. I have watched him, too, during one of his pop visits into the cottage of a superannuated villager, who is a pensioner of the Squire, where he fidgeted about the room without sitting down, made many excellent off-hand reflections with the old invalid, who was propped up in his chair, about the shortness of life, the certainty of death, and the necessity of preparing for “that awful change;” quoted several texts of scripture very incorrectly, but much to the edification of the cottager’s wife; and on coming out, pinched the daughter’s rosy cheek, and wondered what was in the young men that such a pretty face did not get a husband.

He has also his cabinet counsellors in the village, with whom he is very busy just now, preparing for the May-day ceremonies. Among these is the village tailor, a pale-faced fellow, that plays the clarionet in the church choir; and; being a great musical genius, has frequent meetings of the band at his house, where they “make night hideous” by their concerts. He is, in consequence, high in favour with Master Simon; and, through his influence, has the making, or rather marring, of all the liveries of the Hall; which generally look as though they had been cut out by one of those scientific tailors of the Flying Island of Laputa, who took measure of their customers with a quadrant. The tailor, in fact, might rise to be one of the moneyed men of the village, were he not rather too prone to gossip, and keep holidays, and give concerts, and blow all his substance, real and personal, through his clarionet; which literally keeps him poor, both in body and estate. He has for the present thrown by all his regular work, and suffered the breeches of the village to go unmade and unmended, while he is occupied in making garlands of party-coloured rags, in imitation of flowers, for the decoration of the May-pole.

Another of Master Simon’s counsellors is the apothecary, a short and rather fat man, with a pair of prominent eyes, that diverge like those of a lobster. He is the village wise man; very sententious, and full of profound remarks on shallow subjects. Master Simon often quotes his sayings, and mentions him as rather an extraordinary man; and even consults him occasionally, in desperate cases of the dogs and horses. Indeed, he seems to have been overwhelmed by the apothecary’s philosophy, which is exactly one observation deep, consisting of indisputable maxims, such as may be gathered from the mottoes of tobacco-boxes. I had a specimen of his philosophy, in my very first conversation with him; in the course of which he observed, with great solemnity and emphasis, that “man is a compound of wisdom and folly;” upon which Master Simon, who had hold of my arm, pressed very hard upon it, and whispered in my ear “That’s a devilish shrewd remark!”

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