THERE was once upon a time a parson who was such a miser that he even begrudged the beggars a meal; and as for giving a poor fellow a shelter for the night, he would not hear of it.
But he was a great preacher; and when he had once begun he would shout and thunder and strike the pulpit with his fists so that every corner in the church rang with his words. And his parishioners had nothing to complain about in this respect; but they did not like his meanness, and they thought it was a shame they had to put up with such a parson.
The parson's wife suffered not a little in consequence; for she was a kind and good woman, but she could do nothing with her husband.
Just before Christmas, when the poor were most importunate, the parson used to dress himself up like a tramp and sit in the kitchen in the evenings; and when some poor fellow came and asked for shelter for the night, the parson's wife had to say that they already had one to find room for, and would then tell him to go to the clerk, who was their nearest neighbour. The clerk, as you may guess, would have been just as pleased if he had not been troubled with these guests; for he thought--as was only too true--that it was more the parson's duty than his to feed and shelter the poor. But the clerk was a sly dog and full of fun and mischief, as parish clerks generally are.
It would be a strange thing, he thought, if there were not a remedy for meanness as well as for other ailments; so one evening, shortly before Christmas, he dressed himself like a tramp, and went to the parsonage and asked for shelter for the night.
Yes, that he should have had with pleasure, but they already had a stranger in the house, said the parson's wife, pointing to the other tramp, who was sitting by the hearth--for, of course, she never said a word about him being the parson. As matters stood she thought he had better go to the clerk, for they were not likely to have any strangers over there.
"Haven't they?" said the clerk. "Why, they have their place so full they have scarcely any room for themselves; for I have just come from there," he said, "and I don't think you would like me to sleep in the fields and freeze to death, would you?"
Oh, dear no, it wasn't likely; she could not be so unchristian; but as she had no place to put him she could not very well do anything for him, she said.
"I think you can," said the clerk; "if you can shelter one you can shelter two, and I don't suppose that this mate of mine is going to sleep in the parson's bed, is he?" he asked, and slapped the parson so hard on his back that he nearly tumbled on the hearth.
"We must be content, and be thankful as well, whichever way the world treats us," said the parson.
"What you say is quite true," said the clerk; "and I'll be quite content, and share the bed with you, if the lady of the house allows it, and she will then shelter two men to-night instead of one. For there is no help for it, as far as I can see," he said.
The parson's wife resisted his importunities as long as she could, for she thought the tramp would not be a pleasant bedfellow for her husband; but the clerk would by no means listen to her, so she had to give in at last.
They were to sleep in the servant lad's room in the brew-house, as he was away at the mill--the parson in the settle-bed, and the clerk on the bench.
That was her order; but the clerk was not satisfied with the arrangement, and when he came into the room he threw himself into the settle-bed, and the parson had to content himself with the bench.
Before long the clerk stole out of the room, and when he came back he woke the parson and said:
"I have served out that miserly parson, I can tell you! I have made a hole in the loft of his wood-shed, so that all the corn he had stored in the room above is running down among his stacks of wood."
"Oh dear! oh dear!" wailed the parson.
"What's the matter with you?" said the clerk.
"I feel so bad, so bad!" said the parson, and off he ran to the wood-shed.
"I think I have given him something to do now, and why should I lie on this wretched straw? I shall find better quarters in the house," thought the clerk; and so he went into the house and sat down in the parlour by the fire. The door was open to the parson's bedroom, and in order that the wife should think it was her husband who had come in he imitated the parson's voice.
"I have been lying so uncomfortably," he said in a pitiful voice, "for that scamp of a tramp made me lie on the bench, so I thought I would come here and rest for a little while."
"Of course, of course, my dear," said the wife. "But why should you be so hard-hearted with people? It is a sin and a shame, that it is,--and it brings you no happiness either."
"Ah well, that may be," said the clerk, all the time imitating the parson. "I have been suffering so much to-night that I shall be better after this."
"God bless you for those words!" said the parson's wife.
In a little while the clerk said: "I must go now to that tramp, so that he does not find out where I am."
And off he went, and only just managed to lie down in time before the parson returned.
The parson had in the meantime been hard at work in the wood-shed trying to stop the hole in the loft, and had fallen head over heels many times among the logs and firewood, before he succeeded in doing so; but by that time nearly all the corn had found its way down into the wood-shed. He came back to the servant-lad's room puffing and groaning like a smith's bellows, and lay down on the bench. As soon as the clerk saw that he had settled down and got the blanket over his head, he stole out of the room again.
When he came back he woke the parson and said:
"I have now served the parson a still better trick. When I came outside and heard the wolves howling over the hills, I went into the cow-house and let out all the cattle."
"Oh dear! oh dear!" shouted the parson, and started as if he had been shot.
"What's the matter with you?" said the clerk.
"I feel so bad, so bad!" said the parson; and the next moment he was gone.
"I think you'll have enough to do for a long while now," said the clerk; and so he went back to the parlour.
"Are you there again?" asked the parson's wife from the bedroom.
"Yes, my dear," said the clerk, imitating the parson's voice. "I have sent that tramp on a fool's errand; and I have been suffering so much on the bench that I thought I would come here and rest again for a while."
"Yes, my dear, that you must," said the wife; and the clerk settled down in the chair by the fire.
In a while the clerk said; "I must go back to that tramp again, so that he does not find out where I am;" and then he went back to his bed.
In the meanwhile the parson had been running about the fields and the hills, and had fallen several times on his face, while he rushed about calling and driving in the cattle. He had a terrible struggle to get all the beasts back to the cow-house, for he had a large herd of cattle.
The clerk had not been long in bed when the parson came rushing into the room, puffing and groaning, so that one could not help pitying him; for he seemed to have lost his breath altogether.
"You were long away this time," said the clerk. "But in the meantime I have served out that miserly parson once more."
"What's that you say?" said the parson, who began to feel so ill at ease that he could scarcely keep on his legs.
"Yes," said the clerk; but this time he did not speak the truth. "I have been down in the cellar; and I have poured two buckets of ditch water in the beer barrel in the far off corner, for I thought the parson ought to have something to give his clerk at Christmas."
"Oh dear! oh dear!" shouted the parson.
"What's the matter with you?" asked the clerk.
"I feel so bad, so bad!" said the parson.
"Yes, I can imagine that," said the clerk; "and I pity you so much that now you may lie in my bed. It'll soon be morning, and I must be getting away. I don't expect I shall get any breakfast from this miserable parson, do you? Well, good-bye, then," he said; and off he went.
"Phew!" sighed the parson. He felt as if the whole parish had been lifted off his back; and no sooner was the clerk gone than he dragged himself in to his wife.
"Are you there again, husband?" she said.
"A-gain?" said the parson; it was with the greatest difficulty he was able to speak, so exhausted was he.
"Yes; you have been here twice before during the night," said his wife.
"Tw-ice?" groaned the parson.
"Yes, of course," said his wife.
"You have been dreaming!" said the parson.
"Oh dear, no; I don't dream when I don't sleep," said his wife. "But, my dear good husband, don't play such pranks another time!"
"No-o!" said the parson. "Better to give to the poor than to go through such misery as I have done to-night," he said, forcing the words out; and then he fell asleep.
All at once he started up and shouted to his wife: "My dear!"
"Well, my dear?" said his wife.
"The beer barrel in the furthest corner you must send to the clerk," he said.
"Bless my soul, but that's too much," said his wife.
"It's just--about right," moaned the parson; and then he fell asleep again.
Next morning the wife had the barrel of beer sent across to the clerk's house. He was much pleased to receive it, and sent back his thanks for it; for he knew the beer had not been tampered with. But the parson had the greatest trouble to sort out the corn from the splinters and rubbish in the wood-shed. But they kept on cleaning and shaking and sorting so long that at last they saved all the corn, with the exception of a few barrels.
But the parson never forgot that terrible night. He was cured of his meanness, and became quite a different person. He never refused any poor people either food or lodgings; and when the farmers came to pay their tithes in the autumn he gave them such a grand feast that his parishioners said they could never have wished for a better parson.
It was indeed worth a barrel of beer to have such a parish clerk!