Morley Court was a queer old buildingvery large and very irregular. The main part of the dwelling, and what appeared to be the original nucleus, upon which after-additions had grown like fantastic incrustations, was built of deep-red brick, with many recesses and projections and gables, and tall and grotesquely-shaped chimneys, and having broad, jutting, heavily-sashed windows, such as belonged to Henry the Eighth's time, to which period the origin of the building was, with sufficient probability, referred. The great avenue, which extended in a direct line to more than the long half of an Irish mile, led through double rows of splendid old lime trees, some thirty paces apart, and arching in a vast and shadowy groining overhead, to the front of the building. To the rearward extended the rambling additions which necessity or caprice had from time to time suggested, as the place, in the lapse of years, passed into the hands of different masters. One of these excrescences, a quaint little prominence, with a fanciful gable and chimney of its own, jutted pleasantly out upon the green sward, courting the friendly shelter of the wild and graceful trees, and from its casement commanding through the parting boughs no views but those of quiet fields, distant woodlands, and the far-off blue hills. This portion of the building contained in the upper story one small room, to the full as oddly shaped as the outer casing of fantastic masonry in which it was inclosedthe door opened upon a back staircase which led from the lower apartments to Sir Richard's dressing-room; and partly owing to this convenient arrangement, and partly perhaps to the comfort and seclusion of the chamber itself, it had been long appropriated to the exclusive occupation of Signor Jacopo Parucci, Sir Richard's valet and confidential servant. This man was, as his name would imply, an Italian. Sir Richard had picked him up, some thirty years before the period at which we have dated our story, in Naples, where it was said the baronet had received from him very important instructions in the inner mysteries
p.93of that golden science which converts chance into certaintya science in which Sir Richard was said to have become a masterly proficient; and indeed so loudly had fame begun to bruit his excellence therein, that he found it at last necessary, or at least highly advisable, to forego the fascinations of the gaming-table, and to bid to the worship of fortune an eternal farewell, just at the moment when the fickle goddess promised with golden profusion to reward his devotion.
Whatever his reason was, Sir Richard had been to this man a good master; he had, it was said, and not without reason, enriched him; and, moreover, it was a strange fact, that in all his capricious and savage moods, from whose consequences not only his servants but his own children had no exemption, he had never once treated this person otherwise than with the most marked civility. What the man's services had actually been, and to what secret influence he owed the close and confidential terms upon which he unquestionably stood with Sir Richard, these things were mysteries, and, of course, furnished inexhaustible matter of scandalous speculation among the baronet's dependents and most intimate friends.
The room of which we speak was Parucci's snuggery. It contained in a recess behind the door that gentleman's beda plain, low, uncurtained couch; and variously disposed about the apartment an abundance of furniture of much better kind; the recess of the window was filled by a kind of squat press, which was constructed in the lower part, and which contained, as certain adventurous chambermaids averred, having peeped into its dim recesses when some precious opportunity presented itself, among other shadowy shapes, the forms of certain flasks and bottles with long necks, and several tall glasses of different dimensions. Two or three tables of various sizes of dark shining wood, with legs after the fashion of the nether limbs of hippogriffs and fauns, seemed about to walk from their places, and to stamp and claw at random about the floor. A large, old press of polished oak, with spiral pillars of the same flanking it in front, contained the more precious articles of Signor Parucci's wardrobe. Close beside it, in a small recess, stood a set of shelves, on which were piled various matters, literary and otherwise, among which perhaps none were disturbed twice in the year, with the exception of six or eight packs of cards, with which, for old associations' sake, Signor Jacopo used to amuse himself now and again in his solitary hours.
On one of the tables stood two blocks supporting each a flowing black peruke, which it was almost the only duty of the tenant of this interesting sanctuary to tend, and trim, and curl. Upon the dusky tapestry were pinned several coloured prints, somewhat dimmed by time, but evidently of very
p.94equivocal morality. A birding-piece and a fragment of a fishing-rod covered with dust, neither of which Signor Parucci had ever touched for the last twenty years, were suspended over the mantelpiece; and upon the side of the recess, and fully lighted by the window, in attestation of his gentler and more refined pursuits, hung a dingy old guitar apparently still in use, for the strings, though a good deal cobbled and knotted, were perfect in number. A huge, high-backed, well-stuffed chair, in which a man might lie as snugly as a kernel in its shell, was placed at the window, and in it reclined the presiding genius of the place himself, with his legs elevated so as to rest upon the broad window-sill, formed by the roof of the mysterious press which we have already mentioned. The Italian was a little man, very slight, with long hair, a good deal grizzled, flowing upon his shoulders; he had a sallow complexion and thin hooked nose, piercing black eyes, lean cheeks, and sharp chinand altogether a lank, attenuated, and somewhat intellectual cast of face, with, however, a certain expression of malice and cunning about the leer of his eye, as well as in the character of his thin and colourless lip, which made him by no means a very pleasant object to look upon.
Fine weatheralmost Italy, said the little man, lazily pushing open the casement with his foot. I am surprise, good, dear, sweet Sir Richard, his bell is stop so long quiet. Why is it not go ding, ding, dingeri, dingeri, ding-a-ding, ding, as usual. Damnation! what do I care he ring de bell and I leesten. We are not always young, and I must be allow to be a leetle deaf when he is allow to be a leetle gouty. Gode blace my body, how hot is de sun. Come down here, leer of Apollocome to my arm, meestress of my heartOrpheus' leer, come queekly. This was addressed to the ancient instrument of music which we have already mentioned, and the invitation was accompanied by an appropriate elevation of his two little legs, which he raised until he gently closed his feet upon the sides of the leer of Apollo, which, with a good deal of dexterity, he unhung from its peg, and conveyed within reach of his hand. He cast a look of fond admiration at its dingy and time-dried face, and forthwith, his heels still resting upon the window-sill, he was soon thrumming a tinkling symphony, none of the most harmonious, and then, with uncommon zeal, he began, to his own accompaniment, to sing some ditty of Italian love. While engaged in this refined and touching employment, he espied, with unutterable indignation, a, young urchin, who, attracted by the sounds of his amorous minstrelsy, and with a view to torment the performer, who was an extremely unpopular personage, had stationed himself at a little distance before the casement, and accompanied the vocal performance of the Italian with the most
p.95hideous grimaces, and the most absurd and insulting gesticulations.
Signor Parucci would have given a good round sum to have had the engaging boy by the ears; but this he knew was out of the question; he therefore (for he was a philosopher) played and sung on without evincing the smallest consciousness of what was going forward. His plans of vengeance were, however, speedily devised and no less quickly executed. There lay upon the window-sill a fragment of biscuit, which in the course of an ecstatic flourish the little man kicked carelessly over. The bait had hardly touched the ground beneath the casement when Jacopo, continuing to play and sing the while, and apparently unconscious of anything but his own music, to his infinite delight beheld the boy first abate his exertions, and finally put an end to his affronting pantomime altogether, and begin to manoeuvre in the direction of the treacherous windfall. The youth gradually approached it, and just at the moment when it was within his grasp, Signor Parucci, with another careless touch of his foot, sent over a large bow-pot well stored with clay, which stood upon the window-block. The descent of this ponderous missile was followed by a most heart-stirring acclamation from below; and good Mr. Parucci, clambering along the window-sill, and gazing downward, was regaled by the spectacle of the gesticulating youth stamping about the grass among what appeared to be the fragments of a hundred flower-pots, writhing and bellowing in transports of indignation and bodily torment.
Povero ragazzoCarissimo figlio, exclaimed the valet, looking out with an expression of infinite sweetness, my dear child and charming boy, how 'av you broke my flower-pote, and when 'av you come here. Ah! per Bacco, I think I 'av see you before. Ah! yees, you are that sweetest leetel boy that was leestening at my musicso charming just now. How much clay is on your back! a cielo! amiable child, you might 'av keel yourself. Sacro numine, what an escape! Say your prayer, and thank heaven you are safe, my beautiful, sweetest, leetel boy. God blace you. Now rone away very fast, for fear you pool the other two flower-potes on your back, sweetest child. Gode bless you, amiable boythey are very large and very heavy.
The youth took the hint, and having had quite enough of Mr. Parucci's music for the evening, withdrew under the combined influences of fury and lumbago. The little man threw himself back in his chair, and hugged his shins in sheer delight, grinning and chattering like a delirious monkey, and rolling himself about, and laughing with the most exquisite relish. At length, after this had gone on for some time, with the air of a man who has had enough of trifling, and must now
p.96apply himself to matters of graver importance, he arose, hung up his guitar, sent his chair, which was upon casters, rolling to the far end of the room, and proceeded to arrange the curls of one of the two magnificent perukes, on which it was his privilege to operate. After having applied himself with uncommon attention to this labour of taste for some time in silence, he retired a few paces to contemplate the effect of his performancewhereupon he fell into a musing mood, and began after his fashion to soliloquize with a good deal of energy and volubility in that dialect which had become more easy to him than his mother tongue.
Corpo di Bacco! what thing is life! who would believe thirty years ago I should be here now in a barbaroose island to curl the wig of an old gouty blackguardbut what matter. I am a philosopherdamnationit is very well as it isper Bacco! I can go way when I like. I am reech leetle fellow, and with Sir Richard, good Sir Richard, I do always whatever I may choose. Good Sir Richard, he continued, addressing the block on which hung the object of his tasteful labours, as if it had been the baronet in persongood Sir Richard, why are you so kind to me, when you are so cross as the old devil in hell with all the rest of the world?why, why, why? Shall I say to you the reason, good, kind Sir Richard? Well, I weel. It is because you dare notdare notdare notda-a-a-are not vaix me. I am, you know, dear Sir Richard, a poor, leetle foreigner, who is depending on your goodness. I 'ave nothing but your great pity and good charityoh, no! I am nothing at all; but still you dare not vaix meyou moste not be angrynote at allbut very quietyou moste not go in a passionoh! neverweeth meeven if I was to make game of you, and to insult you, and to pool your nose.
Here the Italian seized, with the tongs which he had in his hand, upon that prominence in the wooden block which corresponded in position with the nose, which at other times the peruke overshadowed, and with a grin of infinite glee pinched and twisted the iron instrument until the requirements of his dramatic fancy were satisfied, when he delivered two or three sharp knocks on the smooth face of the block, and resumed his address.
No, noyou moste not be angry, fore it would be great misfortuneoh, it wouldif you and I should quarrel together; but tell me now, old truffatoretell me, I say, am I not very quiet, good-nature, merciful, peetying faylow? Ah, yeesvery, veryMadre di Dio very moche; and dear, good Sir Richard, shall I tell you why I am so very good-nature? It is because I love you joste as moche as you love meit is because, most charitable patron, it is my convenience to go on weeth you quietly and 'av no fighting yetbote you are
p.97going to get money. Oh! so coning you are, you think I know nothingyou think I am asleepbote I know itI know it quite well. You think I know nothing about the land you take from Miss Mary. Ah! you are very coningoh! very; but I 'av hear it all, and I tell youand I swear per sangue di D, when you get that money I shall, and will, and mostemo-ooste 'av a very large, comfortable, beeg handfuldo you hear me? Oh, you very coning old rascal; and if you weel not geeve it, oh, my dear Sir Richard, echellent master, I am so moche afaid we will 'av a fight between usa quarrelthat will spoil our love and friendship, and maybe, helas! horte your reputationshokingmake the gentlemen spit on you, and avoid you, and call you all the ogly namesoh! shoking.
Here he was interrupted by a loud ringing in Sir Richard's chamber.
There he is to pool his leetle belldamnation, what noise. I weel go up joste nowtime enough, dear, good, patient Sir Richardtime enoughoh, plainty, plainty.
The little man then leisurely fumbled in his pocket until he brought forth a bunch of keys, from which, having selected one, he applied it to the lock of the little press which we have already mentioned, whence he deliberately produced one of the flasks which we have hinted at, along with a tall glass with
p.98a spiral stem, and filling himself a bumper of the liquor therein contained, he coolly sipped it to the bottom, accompanied throughout the performance by the incessant tinkling of Sir Richard's hand-bell.
Ah, very good, most echellentthank you, Sir Richard, you 'av give me so moche time and so moche music, I 'av drunk your very good health.
So saying, he locked up the flask and glass again, and taking the block which had just represented Sir Richard in the imaginary colloquy in his hand, he left his own chamber, and ran upstairs to the baronet's dressing-room. He found his master alone.
Ah, Jacopo, exclaimed the baronet, looking somewhat flushed, but speaking, nevertheless, in a dulcet tone enough, I have been ringing for nearly ten minutes; but I suppose you did not hear me.
Joste so as you 'av say, replied the man. Your signoria is very seldom wrong. I was so charmed with my work I could not hear nothing.
Parucci, rejoined Sir Richard, after a slight pause, you know I keep no secrets from you.
Ah, you flatter me, Signoryou flatter meindeed you do, said the valet, with ironical humility.
His master well understood the tone in which the fellow spoke, but did not care to notice it.
The fact is, Jacopo, continued Sir Richard, you already know so many of my secrets, that I have now no motive in excluding you from any.
Goode, kindoh, very kind, ejaculated the valet.
In short, continued his master, who felt a little uneasy under the praises of his attendantin short, to speak plainly, I want your assistance. I know your talents well. You can imitate any handwriting you please to copy with perfect accuracy. You must copy, in the handwriting of this manuscript, the draft of a letter which I will hand you this evening. You require some little time to study the character; so take the letter with you, and be in my room at ten to-night. I will then hand you the draft of what I want written. You understand?
Understand! To be suremost certilly I weel do it, replied the Italian, so that the great devil himself will not tell the writing of the two, l'un dall' altro, one from the other. Never feargeeve me the letter. I must learn the writing. I weel be here to-night before you are arrive, and I weel do it very fast, and so likebote you know how well I can copy. Ah! yees; you know it, Signor. I need not tell.
No more at present, said the baronet, with a gesture of caution. Assist me to dress.
The Italian accordingly was soon deep in the mysteries of his elaborate functions, where we shall leave him and his master for the present.