Master Walter De Courcey, although an indefatigable man of business, was extremely punctual in his religious observances, and he made a point, both in winter and summer, of attending early mass in his parish church, St Botolph's, Bishopsgate. His departure for Windsor was very sudden, in fact hardly any one out of his own house was aware that he had left London. The officiating priest at the church was therefore much surprised at his non-appearance two days running; and as Master Walter did not appear on the third, nor in fact for a week, he began to fear he might be indisposed, and one morning, as soon as mass was over, he directed the sacristan to call at the merchant's house and enquire after his health. The sacristan was a certain Geoffrey Cole, a very tall thin man with a low forehead, deep sunk eyes, harsh features, and very large hands and feet. Although something of a miser, intensely selfish, and most uncharitable, both in the matter of giving alms, and in his feelings towards his neighbours, he was extremely punctilious in all the external forms and ceremonies of the Church, and he flattered himself he was not only very religious, but even a model of piety. The more he studied the subject, the more certain of his blissful state he became, till at last he believed himself to be so good that the saints alone were his equals. He would frequently draw comparisons between his life and some of the inferior saints, and he generally concluded he could compare with them most advantageously. On the morning when he was directed to call on Master Walter this train of thought especially occupied his mind, and by the time he had arrived at the house he was certain that in the whole city of London there was not another individual so good as himself.
person who received him was an old woman half imbecile from age, who had formerly
been Master Walter's nurse, and with her the sacristan had frequently
conversed on matters of what he called religion. When he had received from her
an explanation of the merchant's
absence from church, the pair commenced talking on subjects connected with
Church affairs, which consisted in fact of the sacristan's explaining to her
what a good and pious man he was, and her complimenting him thereon. Before he
left the house the nurse asked him if he would like to see the mirror, as she
would have much pleasure in showing it to him. He accepted the offer at once, at
the same time saying that vanities of the kind had but few attractions for him.
absence from church, the pair commenced talking on subjects connected with Church affairs, which consisted in fact of the sacristan's explaining to her what a good and pious man he was, and her complimenting him thereon. Before he left the house the nurse asked him if he would like to see the mirror, as she would have much pleasure in showing it to him. He accepted the offer at once, at the same time saying that vanities of the kind had but few attractions for him.
The nurse led the way to the chamber, and when they had arrived there, in spite of his mock ascetic manner, there was no difficulty in perceiving he admired the mirror greatly. Fearing, however, the real state of his mind might be detected by the old woman, he began to speak of it in terms of great disparagement, not indeed finding fault with its form and beauty, but dwelling on the absurdity of mortals setting their minds on such trifles, and neglecting subjects of far greater importance which concerned the welfare of their souls.
'But everybody cannot be so good as you are, Master Geoffrey,' said the old woman; 'and you ought to have a little feeling for those who are not.'
'I do not see that,' said the sacristan, taking the compliment without the slightest hesitation. 'I condemn all trifles of the kind. What would the blessed St Anthony have said to a vanity of this sort?'
'Ah!' said the old woman; 'but it would not be possible in the present day to find so good a man as he was.'
'It would be very difficult, I admit,' said the sacristan; 'but I am not sure it would be impossible. Do not think for a moment that I would attempt to compare myself with him; but I thought, while reflecting on his life as I came here this morning, that I should very much like to be subjected to the same temptations, to see if I could not resist them.'
'You surely do not mean that?' said the nurse; 'why, they were dreadful.'
'Indeed, I do,' said the sacristan, looking at himself in the mirror, 'I should like immensely to be subjected to them for a month, and then I could form an idea whether I was as good as I ought to be.'
'Well,' said the nurse, leaving the room with him, 'I trust you will never be subjected to anything of the kind.' After a little conversation of the same description the sacristan left the house.
After he had delivered his message to the priest and the functions of the day were over, he sought his own home in the rural district of Little Moorfields. He lived in a room on the top floor of a house occupied by a man and his wife who were employed at a merchant's house in the City. As the merchant and his family were absent, Geoffrey's landlord and his wife were requested to sleep at the house of business, and thus he had for the time the whole abode to himself.
His room, which was comfortably furnished, was the very picture of neatness and cleanliness, for he was very particular in his domestic arrangements; and his landlady, during her temporary absence at the house of business, called every day to put his room in order, and place his supper on the table.
Arrived at home he requested a neighbour's wife to light his lamp and fire for him, and that being done she left him. He then bolted the street door, went up to his own room, and after having a very comfortable and abundant meal went to bed, having, however, left ample food on the table for his breakfast the next morning. He was generally a very sound sleeper, and his slumbers that night formed no exception to the general rule; but, somehow or other, as morning advanced they were by no means so profound. He grew very restless, with a sense of oppression, and occasionally he heard a sound like the tinkling of a bell, which continued till daybreak, when the annoyance became intolerable. At last, when it was fully day, he aroused himself and sat up in his bed. What was his surprise and terror when he saw, stretched across the foot of it, outside the clothes, a large fat pig with a bell fastened round its neck with a leathern strap. His first attempt was to push the brute from the bed, but the only effect produced was that it placed itself in a still more comfortable position directly on his legs, and then went to sleep again. Enraged and in great pain, he immediately began to pommel the pig with his fist on the neck and head, but without other result than a few surly grunts. His passion increased to such an extent that he struck it still harder blows, when suddenly his attention was arrested by a loud peal of laughter, and he saw, sitting on his stool by the fireplace, an imp so intensely ugly that he was almost frightened to look at it. Somewhat recovering himself, he said, 'Who are you, and what are you doing here?'
'No matter who I am,' said the imp; 'but as to what I am doing, I am simply laughing at your ungrateful and absurd behaviour.'
'In what way,' said the sacristan; 'is my behaviour absurd?'
'In attacking in that violent manner your friend and pig.'
'My pig?' said the sacristan; 'I have no pig. It is none of mine.'