Page images

The bridle round his trembling arm was twined,
Slowly he stalk'd and dragg’d his ass behind.
Thus journeying on, it happend that his way
Through a dark forest wide and lonely lay.
There near a thicket, that so closely grew,
It quite conceald the spot from passing view,
Al fresco in the cool and shady wood,
Three minor brethren of St. Francis stood ;
Their hands upon their breast were meekly spread,
In sign of cross, and cowls were on their head,
With faces of so grave and sad a cast
As never portrait of a saint surpass’d.

Ye deem, fair ladies, that on things above These friars' thoughts were fix'd in holy love. But, the plain truth it pains me to declare, Three robbers the pretended brothers were ; And here they lurk'd beside the gloomy way, To make the unweeting traveller a prey. Before them with his ass that bore the oil The old man comes, and seems so worn with toil, In his behalf compassion might have spoke To any but a thief in friar's cloak. Even in these his faint and feeble age Had power to check the course of brutal rage. Straight they resolved to spare him needless fright, And rob him only by some happy slight. Then one, not more a rascal than a wit, With ready thought on an expedient hit. Sudden he quits his place, and softly steals With noiseless step behind the old man's heels. The rest on tiptoe follow, but no fear From one, who little saw and less could hear ; And, as to aid the project, a shrill blast Swept all the leaves and thro' the woodland past. Yet gently on the reins his hands were laid : Nor with adroiter skill the satin braid A beau e'er loosen'd from his fair one's side, Than he the halter from the brute untied, And to his nowl the loosen'd knot applied :

So trudged along, a paragon of rogues,
Clattering, like asses' hoofs, his clouted brogues,
His leader little dreaming of the case ;
But when the booty was removed a space,
He halted on the road and would not budge,
As if he had conceived some sudden grudge.
Gaffer, accustom’d to his wayward mind,
Turn’d not, but touch'd him with his staff behind ;
Next twitch'd the string, coax’d, threaten’d him : in vain ;
Then rated, coax’d, and pull’d the cord again.
When all sufficed not-see him turn and stand,
The uplifted bludgeon trembling in his hand.
Not in more blank amaze Apollo stood
By the smooth margin of Peneus flood,
When in his arms encircled he survey'd
A trunk of laurel for a blooming maid,
Than the old man, astounded at the change,
Marvelling at a miracle so strange.
At first he could not speak. The thief meanwhile
Scarcely refrain’d his features from a smile :
At last, the wonder and the fear to end,
“ I am,' quoth he, “ thou seest, a friar, friend ;
My fortune once was happily to dwell
Resign’d to meek devotion in my cell.
But oh! it chanced a porringer I broke :
Hastily the fatal word our Guardian spoke :
• An ass be thou ! transform’d the shape I wear,
I weep it as I tell, this many a year :
Thou know'st to what condemn'd, the blows, the kicks,
All I have borne from whips and spurs and sticks.
But why to thee should I recount my woe?
(And if not now, when use thy tears to flow ?)
The destin'd term of my affliction past,
To mine own limbs I am restored at last."

The old man yet was dumb. But in a while
After his burden ask'd : “ Where was the oil ?"
“ The oil !” he cried : “ a viewless hand, old man,
Bore that away to our good sacristan :

With that for one whole year at least will shine
The lamp that burns before St. Francis' shrine.
Know every drop that there shall waste away
Remits some trespass at thy judgment day ;
Never was flask so profitably given,
Its value shall be centupled in heaven.
Adieu : the bell I hear, and must not stay,
That calls me back to porridge from my hay."

That said, his nowl out of the noose he slipp'd, And from his quondam master nimbly tripp'd, Who, worthy man, regretted not his beast, O’erjoy’d to think so hard a fate released.

A few days after, as may well be thought,
The beast was by the thieves to market brought.
It chanced the old man came : and scarce look'd round,
When he once more his old companion found,
Friar or ass, I wot not which to say :
Behold him on all sides the beast survey.
And “ Troth,” he cries, “ I see it but too plain,
The Friar has broke a porringer again.”
Then, drawing nearer, whispers him to see
If 'twere indeed the same, the very he.
Straight, as in answer to the question made,
Dapple so long and lamentably bray'd,
The old man deem'd for certain in that note
He craved compassion of his luckless lot.
The suit prevail'd : for in his breast arose
Such tender yearning for the imagined woes,
That he resolved, whate'er the cost might be,
To set the miserable captive free ;
And home conducting him, as his own heir,
To cherish, and to keep him ever there.
The Guardian much he blamed : “Ill suits,” he said,
“ A fault so venial with a pain so dread.”
And felt the more; because himself in sooth
Devout, and half a friar in his youth,
Though he had never ta’en the sacred cord,
Had served as a noviciate at the board.

[ocr errors]

But “thou,” he added, “ till the day be come,
Appointed for reversal of thy doom,
Shalt want for nought my pitying care can give,
And blest, as in this shape thou canst, shalt live."

He promised ; and he did not fail his word, With thistles, herb and blade, the rack was stored : No more he felt the saddle or the pack, His friend would suffer none to mount his back. And not alone the body's good design’d, But cater'd for the palate of the mind. The stable walls the pictured hues adorn : And still he sleeks his coat both eve and morn. The neighbours wonder at such care and cost, And shake their heads and fear his senses lost; Till to a few more trusted he explains The cause of his profuseness and his pains. Some jeer him, others doubt, but most believe, Applaud his zeal, and for the prisoner grieve, Expecting still to see the ears retreat, The hide grown smooth, and arms instead of feet.

Year after year elapsed. “A weary time Awaits,” the old man cried, “ this second crime ; The fault, I fear, him doom’d to expiate By a life’s penance in this dismal state.”

Too true he guess’d. The soul could never stir, Nor moult for human hair its rougher fur : And when at length it yielded to the blow That lays all asses, in all vestures, low, His fate was mourn'd, as one who had been in Too strict a sentence for so slight a sin. Some tears the senior shed, but dried his eyes, « At least Saint Peter has him now,” he cries, Resolved as best he could to grace his obsequies.

The hide was stuff'd and in the stall-room kept; The crib replenish’d and th' apartment swept, The frequent lamp illumed the rafter'd roof; And every saint was pray'd in his behoof.

And the old man so constantly averr'd
To all the country all he'd seen and heard,
That still, not only with the meaner kind,
But e'en by those more cultured and refined,
'Tis doubtful held, as it has ever been,
Whether an ass or friar own'd the skin.

Having the before-mentioned numerous calls on his purse, my father was glad of the opportunity of increasing his income by again engaging in clerical duty. A fashionable chapel in London was not at all suited to his retiring habits, he therefore gladly availed himself of the offer of the curacy and lectureship of Chiswick, of which parish the Rev. Thomas Frere Bowerbank was vicar. This made his removal to the sphere of his duties requisite; he therefore purchased a house at Chiswick, which had been formerly the residence of Sir James Thornhill, and his son-in-law, Hogarth. Here he fixed his residence in the summer of the year

1814. Two or three letters to his friend Price, and one to Mr. Birch, being all that remain of this date, and his journal for this and the following year, must suffice to fill up this space of his uneventful life.

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »