Two Years Ago, by Charles Kingsley

Chapter v.

The Way to Win Them.

So, for a week or more, Tom went on thrivingly enough, and became a general favourite in the town. Heale had no reason to complain of boarding him; for he had dinner and supper thrust on him every day by one and another, who were glad enough to have him for the sake of his stories, and songs, and endless fun and good-humour. The Lieutenant, above all, took the new-comer under his especial patronage, and was paid for his services in some of Tom’s incomparable honey-dew. The old fellow soon found that the Doctor knew more than one old foreign station of his, and ended by pouring out to him his ancient wrongs, and the evil doings of the wicked admiral; all of which Tom heard with deepest sympathy, and surprise that so much naval talent had remained unappreciated by the unjust upper powers; and the Lieutenant, of course, reported of him accordingly to Heale.

“A very civil spoken and intelligent youngster, Mr. Heale, d’ye see, to my mind; and you can’t do better than accept his offer; for you’ll find him a great help, especially among the ladies, d’ye see. They like a good-looking chap, eh, Mrs. Jones?”

On the fourth day, by good fortune, what should come ashore but Tom’s own chest — moneyless, alas! but with many useful matters still unspoilt by salt water. So, all went well, and indeed somewhat too well (if Tom would have let it), in the case of Miss Anna Maria Heale, the Doctor’s daughter.

She was just such a girl as her father’s daughter was likely to be; a short, stout, rosy, pretty body of twenty, with loose red lips, thwart black eyebrows, and right naughty eyes under them; of which Tom took good heed: for Miss Heale was exceedingly inclined, he saw, to make use of them in his behoof. Let others who have experience in, and taste for such matters, declare how she set her cap at the dapper young surgeon; how she rushed into the shop with sweet abandon ten times a-day, to find her father; and, not finding him, giggled, and blushed, and shook her shoulders, and retired, to peep at Tom through the glass door which led into the parlour; how she discovered that the muslin curtain of the said door would get out of order every ten minutes; and at last called Mr. Thurnall to assist her in rearranging it; how, bolder grown, she came into the shop to help herself to various matters, inquiring tenderly for Tom’s health, and giggling vulgar sentiments about “absent friends, and hearts left behind;” in the hope of fishing out whether Tom had a sweetheart or not. How, at last, she was minded to confide her own health to Tom, and to instal him as her private physician; yea, and would have made him feel her pulse on the spot, had he not luckily found some assafoetida, and therewith so perfumed the shop, that her “nerves” (of which she was always talking, though she had nerves only in the sense wherein a sirloin of beef has them) forced her to beat a retreat.

But she returned again to the charge next day, and rushed bravely through that fearful smell, cleaver in hand, as the carrier set down at the door a huge box, carriage-paid, all the way from London, and directed to Thomas Thurnall, Esquire. She would help to open it: and so she did, while old Heale and his wife stood by curious — he with a maudlin wonder and awe (for he regarded Tom already as an altogether awful and incomprehensible “party”), and Mrs. Heale with a look of incredulous scorn, as if she expected the box to be a mere sham, filled probably with shavings. For (from reasons best known to herself) she had never looked pleasantly on the arrangement which entrusted to Tom the care of the bottles. She had given way from motives of worldly prudence, even of necessity; for Heale had been for the greater part of the week quite incapable of attending to his business: but black envy and spite were seething in her foolish heart, and seethed more and more fiercely when she saw that the box did not contain shavings, but valuables of every sort and kind — drugs, instruments, a large microscope (which Tom delivered out of Miss Heale’s fat clumsy fingers only by strong warnings that it would go off and shoot her), books full of prints of unspeakable monsters; and finally, a little packet, containing not one five-pound note, but four, and a letter which Tom, after perusing, put into Mr. Heale’s hands, with a look of honest pride.

The Mumpsimus men, it appeared, had “sent round the hat” for him, and here were the results; and they would send the hat round again every month, if he wanted it; or, if he would come up, board, lodge, and wash him gratis. The great Doctor Bellairs, House Physician, and Carver, the famous operator (names at which Heale bowed his head and worshipped), sent compliments, condolences, offers of employment — never was so triumphant a testimonial; and Heale, in his simplicity, thought himself (as indeed he was) the luckiest of country doctors; while Mrs. Heale, after swelling and choking for five minutes, tottered into the back room, and cast herself on the sofa in violent hysterics.

As she came round again, Tom could not but overhear a little that passed. And this he overheard among other matters:—

“Yes, Mr. Heale, I see, I see too well, which your natural blindness, sir, and that fatal easiness of temper, will bring you to a premature grave within the paupers’ precincts; and this young designing infidel, with his science and his magnifiers, and his callipers, and philosophy falsely so called, which in our true Protestant youth there was none, nor needed none, to supplant you in your old age, and take the bread out of your grey hairs, which he will bring with sorrow to the grave, and mine likewise, which am like my poor infant here, of only too sensitive sensibilities! Oh, Anna Maria, my child, my poor lost child! which I can feel for the tenderness of the inexperienced heart! My Virgin Eve, which the Serpent has entered into your youthful paradise, and you will find; alas! too late, that you have warmed an adder into your bosom!”

“Oh, Ma, how indelicate!” giggled Anna Maria, evidently not displeased. “If you don’t mind he will hear you, and I should never be able to look him in the face again.” And therewith she looked round to the glass door.

What more passed, Tom did not choose to hear; for he began making all the bustle he could in the shop, merely saying to himself —

“That flood of eloquence is symptomatic enough: I’ll lay my life the old dame knows her way to the laudanum bottle.”

Tom’s next business was to ingratiate himself with the young curate. He had found out already, cunning fellow, that any extreme intimacy with Headley would not increase his general popularity; and, as we have seen already, he bore no great affection to “the cloth” in general: but the curate was an educated gentleman, and Tom wished for some more rational conversation than that of the Lieutenant and Heale. Besides, he was one of those men, with whom the possession of power, sought at first from self-interest, has become a passion, a species of sporting, which he follows for its own sake, To whomsoever he met he must needs apply the moral stethoscope; sound him, lungs, heart, and liver; put his tissues under the microscope, and try conclusions on him to the uttermost. They might be useful hereafter; for knowledge was power: or they might not. What matter? Every fresh specimen of humanity which he examined was so much gained in general knowledge. Very true, Thomas Thurnall; provided the method of examination be the sound and the deep one, which will lead you down in each case to the real living heart of humanity: but what if your method be altogether a shallow and a cynical one, savouring much more of Gil Blas than of St. Paul, grounded not on faith and love for human beings, but on something very like suspicion and contempt? You will be but too likely, Doctor, to make the coarsest mistakes, when you fancy yourself most penetrating; to mistake the mere scurf and disease of the character for its healthy organic tissue, and to find out at last, somewhat to your confusion, that there are more things, not only in heaven, but in the earthiest of the earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. You have already set down Grace Harvey as a hypocrite, and Willis as a dotard. Will you make up your mind in the same foolishness of over-wisdom, that Frank Headley is a merely narrow-headed and hard-hearted pedant, quite unaware that he is living an inner life of doubts, struggles, prayers, self-reproaches, noble hunger after an ideal of moral excellence, such as you, friend Tom, never yet dreamed of, which would be to you as an unintelligible gibber of shadows out of dreamland, but which is to him the only reality, the life of life, for which everything is to be risked and suffered? You treat his opinions (though he never thrusts them on you) about “the Church,” and his duty, and the souls of his parishioners, with civil indifference, as much ado about nothing; and his rubrical eccentricities as puerilities. You have already made up your mind to “try and put a little common sense into him,” not because it is any concern of yours whether he has common sense or not, but because you think that it will be better for you to have the parish at peace; but has it ever occurred to you how noble the man is, even in his mistakes? How that one thought, that the finest thing in the world is to be utterly good, and to make others good also, puts him three heavens at least above you, you most unangelic terrier-dog, bemired all day long by grubbing after vermin! What if his idea of “the Church” be somewhat too narrow for the year of grace 1854, is it no honour to him that he has such an idea at all; that there has risen up before him the vision of a perfect polity, a “Divine and wonderful Order,” linking earth to heaven, and to the very throne of Him, who died for men; witnessing to each of its citizens what the world tries to make him forget, namely, that he is the child of God himself; and guiding and strengthening him, from the cradle to the grave, to do his Father’s work? Is it a shame to him that he has seen that such a polity must exist, that he believes that it does exist; or that he thinks he finds it in its highest, if not its perfect form, in the most ancient and august traditions of his native land? True, he has much to learn, and you may teach him something of it; but you will find some day, Thomas Thurnall, that, granting you to be at one pole of the English character, and Frank Headley at the other, he is as good an Englishman as you, and can teach you more than you can him.

The two soon began to pass almost every evening together, pleasantly enough; for the reckless and rattling manner which Tom assumed with the mob, he laid aside with the curate, and showed himself as agreeable a companion as man could need; while Tom in his turn found that Headley was a rational and sweet-tempered man, who, even where he had made up his mind to differ, could hear an adverse opinion, put sometimes in a startling shape, without falling into any of those male hysterics of sacred horror, which are the usual refuge of ignorance and stupidity, terrified by what it cannot refute. And soon Tom began to lay aside the reserve which he usually assumed to clergymen, and to tread on ground which Headley would gladly have avoided. For, to tell the truth, ever since Tom had heard of Grace’s intended dismissal, the curate’s opinions had assumed a practical importance in his eyes; and he had vowed in secret that, if his cunning failed him not, turned out of her school she should not be. Whether she had stolen his money or not, she had saved his life; and nobody should wrong her, if he could help it. Besides, perhaps she had not his money. The belt might have slipped off in the struggle; some one else might have taken it off in carrying him up; he might have mistaken the shame of innocence in her face for that of guilt. Be it as it might, he had not the heart to make the matter public, and contented himself with staying at Aberalva, and watching for every hint of his lost treasure.

By which it befell that he was thinking, the half of every day at least, about Grace Harvey; and her face was seldom out of his mind’s eye; and the more he looked at it, either in fancy or in fact, the more did it fascinate him. They met but rarely, and then interchanged the most simple and modest of salutations: but Tom liked to meet her, would have gladly stopped to chat with her; however, whether from modesty or from a guilty conscience, she always hurried on in silence.

And she? Tom’s request to her, through Willis, to say nothing about the matter, she had obeyed, as her mother also had done. That Tom suspected her was a thought which never crossed her mind; to suspect any one herself was in her eyes a sin; and if the fancy that this man or that, among the sailors who had carried Tom up to Heale’s, might have been capable of the baseness, she thrust the thought from her, and prayed to be forgiven for her uncharitable judgment.

But night and day there weighed on that strange and delicate spirit the shame of the deed, as heavily, if possible, as if she herself had been the doer. There was another soul in danger of perdition; another black spot of sin, making earth hideous to her. The village was disgraced; not in the public eyes, true: but in the eye of heaven, and in the eyes of that stranger for whom she was beginning to feel an interest more intense than she ever had done in any human being before. Her saintliness (for Grace was a saint in the truest sense of that word) had long since made her free of that “communion of saints” which consists not in Pharisaic isolation from “the world,” not in the mutual flatteries and congratulations of a self-conceited clique; but which bears the sins and carries the sorrows of all around: whose atmosphere is disappointed hopes and plans for good, and the indignation which hates the sin because it loves the sinner, and sacred fear and pity for the self-inflicted miseries of those who might be (so runs the dream, and will run till it becomes a waking reality) strong, and free, and safe, by being good and wise. To such a spirit this bold cunning man had come, stiff-necked and heaven-defiant, a “brand plucked from the burning:” and yet equally unconscious of his danger, and thankless for his respite. Given, too, as it were, into her hands; tossed at her feet out of the very mouth of the pit — why but that she might save him? A far duller heart, a far narrower imagination than Grace’s would have done what Grace’s did — concentrate themselves round the image of that man with all the love of woman. For, ere long, Grace found that she did love that man, as a woman loves but once in her life; perhaps in all time to come. She found that her heart throbbed, her cheek flushed, when his name was mentioned; that she watched, almost unawares to herself, for his passing; and she was not ashamed at the discovery. It was a sort of melancholy comfort to her that there was a great gulf fixed between them. His station, his acquirements, his great connections and friends in London (for all Tom’s matters were the gossip of the town, as, indeed, he took care that they should be), made it impossible that he should ever think of her; and therefore she held herself excused for thinking of him, without any fear of that “self-seeking,” and “inordinate affection,” and “unsanctified passions,” which her religious books had taught her to dread. Besides, he was not “a Christian.” That five minutes on the shore had told her that; and even if her station had been the same as his, she must not be “unequally yoked with an unbeliever.” And thus the very hopelessness of her love became its food and strength; the feeling which she would have checked with maidenly modesty, had it been connected even remotely with marriage, was allowed to take immediate and entire dominion; and she held herself permitted to keep him next her heart of hearts, because she could do nothing for him but pray for his conversion.

And pray for him she did, the noble, guileless girl, day and night, that he might be converted; that he might prosper, and become — perhaps rich, at least useful; a mighty instrument in some good work. And then she would build up one beautiful castle in the air after another, out of her fancies about what such a man, whom she had invested in her own mind with all the wisdom of Solomon, might do if his “talents were sanctified.” Then she prayed that he might recover his lost gold — when it was good for him; that he might discover the thief: no, that would only involve fresh shame and sorrow: that the thief, then, might be brought to repentance, and confession, and restitution. That was the solution of the dark problem, and for that she prayed; while her face grew sadder and sadder day by day.

For a while, over and above the pain which the theft caused her, there came — how could it be otherwise? — sudden pangs of regret that this same love was hopeless, at least upon this side of the grave. Inconsistent they were with the chivalrous unselfishness of her usual temper; and as such she dashed them from her, and conquered them, after a while, by a method which many a woman knows too well. It was but “one cross more;” a natural part of her destiny — the child of sorrow and heaviness of heart. Pleasure in joy she was never to find on earth; she would find it, then, in grief. And nursing her own melancholy, she went on her way, sad, sweet, and steadfast, and lavished more care and tenderness, and even gaiety, than ever upon her neighbours’ children, because she knew that she should never have a child of her own.

But there is a third damsel, to whom, whether more or less engaging than Grace Harvey or Miss Heale, my readers must needs be introduced. Let Miss Heale herself do it, with eyes full of jealous curiosity.

“There is a foreign letter for Mr. Thurnall, marked Montreal, and sent on here from Whitbury,” said she, one morning at breakfast, and in a significant tone; for the address was evidently in a woman’s hand.

“For me — ah, yes; I see,” said Tom, taking it carelessly, and thrusting it into his pocket.

“Won’t you read it at once, Mr. Thurnall? I’m sure you must be anxious to hear from friends abroad;” with an emphasis on the word friends.

“I have a good many acquaintances all over the world, but no friends that I am aware of,” said Tom, and went on with his breakfast.

“Ah — but some people are more than friends. Are the Montreal ladies pretty, Mr. Thurnall?”

“Don’t know; for I never was there.”

Miss Heale was silent, being mystified: and, moreover, not quite sure whether Montreal was in India or in Australia, and not willing to show her ignorance.

She watched Tom through the glass door all the morning to see if he read the letter, and betrayed any emotion at its contents: but Tom went about his business as usual, and, as far as she saw, never read it at all.

However, it was read in due time; for, finding himself in a lonely place that afternoon, Tom pulled it out with an anxious face, and read a letter written in a hasty ill-formed hand, underscored at every fifth word, and plentifully bedecked with notes of exclamation.

“What? my dearest friend, and fortune still frowns upon you? Your father blind and ruined! Ah, that I were there to comfort him for your sake! And ah, that I were anywhere, doing any drudgery, which might prevent my being still a burden to my benefactors. Not that they are unkind; not that they are not angels! I told them at once that you could send me no more money till you reached England, perhaps not then; and they answered that God would send it; that He who had sent me to them would send the means of supporting me; and ever since they have redoubled their kindness: but it is intolerable, this dependence, and on you, too, who have a father to support in his darkness. Oh, how I feel for you! But to tell you the truth, I pay a price for this dependence. I must needs be staid and sober; I must needs dress like any Quakeress; I must not read this book nor that; and my Shelley — taken from me, I suppose, because it spoke too much ‘Liberty,’ though, of course, the reason given was its infidel opinions — is replaced by ‘Law’s Serious Call.’ ’Tis all right and good, I doubt not: but it is very dreary; as dreary as these black fir-forests, and brown snake fences, and that dreadful, dreadful Canadian winter which is past, which went to my very heart, day after day, like a sword of ice. Another such winter, and I shall die, as one of my own humming-birds would die, did you cage him here, and prevent him from fleeing home to the sunny South when the first leaves begin to fall. Dear children of the sun! my heart goes forth to them; and the whir of their wings is music to me, for it tells me of the South, the glaring South, with its glorious flowers, and glorious woods, its luxuriance, life, fierce enjoyments — let fierce sorrows come with them, if it must be so! Let me take the evil with the good, and live my rich wild life through bliss and agony, like a true daughter of the sun, instead of crystallising slowly here into ice, amid countenances rigid with respectability, sharpened by the lust of gain; without taste, without emotion, without even sorrow! Let who will be the stagnant mill-head, crawling in its ugly spade-cut ditch to turn the mill. Let me be the wild mountain brook, which foams and flashes over the rocks — what if they tear it? — it leaps them nevertheless, and goes laughing on its way. Let me go thus, for weal or woe! And if I sleep awhile, let it be like the brook, beneath the shade of fragrant magnolias and luxuriant vines, and image, meanwhile, in my bosom nothing but the beauty around.

“Yes, my friend, I can live no longer this dull chrysalid life, in comparison with which, at times, even that past dark dream seems tolerable — for amid its lurid smoke were flashes of brightness. A slave? Well; I ask myself at times, and what were women meant for but to be slaves? Free them, and they enslave themselves again, or languish unsatisfied; for they must love. And what blame to them if they love a white man, tyrant though he be, rather than a fellow-slave? If the men of our own race will claim us, let them prove themselves worthy of us! Let them rise, exterminate their tyrants, or, failing that, show that they know how to die. Till then, those who are the masters of their bodies will be the masters of our hearts. If they crouch before the white like brutes, what wonder if we look up to him as to a god? Woman must worship, or be wretched. Do I not know it? Have I not had my dream — too beautiful for earth? Was there not one whom you knew, to hear whom call me slave would have been rapture; to whom I would have answered on my knees, Master, I have no will but yours! But that is past — past. One happiness alone was possible for a slave, and even that they tore from me; and now I have no thought, no purpose, save revenge.

“These good people bid me forgive my enemies. Easy enough for them, who have no enemies to forgive. Forgive? Forgive injustice, oppression, baseness, cruelty? Forgive the devil, and bid him go in peace, and work his wicked will? Why have they put into my hands, these last three years, books worthy of a free nation? — books which call patriotism divine; which tell me how in every age and clime men have been called heroes who rose against their conquerors; women martyrs who stabbed their tyrants, and then died? Hypocrites! Did their grandfathers meekly turn the other cheek when your English taxed them somewhat too heavily? Do they not now teach every school-child to glory in their own revolution, their own declaration of independence, and to flatter themselves into the conceit that they are the lords of creation, and the examples of the world, because they asserted that sacred right of resistance which is discovered to be unchristian in the African? They will free us, forsooth, in good time (is it to be in God’s good time, or in their own?) if we will but be patient, and endure the rice-swamp, the scourge, the slave-market, and shame unspeakable, a few years more, till all is ready and safe — for them. Dreamers as well as hypocrites! What nation was ever freed by others’ help? I have been reading history to see — you do not know how much I have been reading — and I find that freemen have always freed themselves, as we must do; and as they will never let us do, because they know that with freedom must come retribution; that our Southern tyrants have an account to render, which the cold Northerner has no heart to see him pay. For, after all, he loves the Southerner better than the slave; and fears him more also. What if the Southern aristocrat, who lords it over him as the panther does over the ox, should transfer (as he has threatened many a time) the cowhide from the negro’s loins to his? No; we must free ourselves! And there lives one woman, at least, who, having gained her freedom, knows how to use it in eternal war against all tyrants. Oh, I could go down, I think at moments, down to New Orleans itself, with a brain and lips of fire, and speak words — you know how I could speak them — which would bring me in a week to the scourge, perhaps to the stake. The scourge I could endure. Have I not felt it already? Do I not bear its scars even now, and glory in them; for they were won by speaking as a woman should speak? And even the fire? — Have not women been martyrs already? and could not I be one? Might not my torments madden a people into manhood, and my name become a war-cry in the sacred fight? And yet, oh my friend, life is sweet! — and my little day has been so dark and gloomy! — may I not have one hour’s sunshine, ere youth and vigour are gone, and my swift-vanishing Southern womanhood wrinkles itself up into despised old age? Oh, counsel me — help me, my friend, my preserver, my true master now, so brave, so wise, so all-knowing; under whose mask of cynicism lies hid (have I not cause to know it?) the heart of a hero.

“MARIE”

If Miss Heale could have watched Tom’s face as he read, much more could she have heard his words as he finished, all jealousy would have passed from her mind: for as he read, the cynical smile grew sharper and sharper, forming a fit prelude for the “Little fool!” which was his only comment.

“I thought you would have fallen in love with some honest farmer years ago: but a martyr you shan’t be, even if I have to send for you hither; though how to get you bread to eat I don’t know. However, you have been reading your book, it seems — clever enough you always were, and too clever; so you could go out as governess, or something. Why, here’s a postscript dated three months afterwards! Ah, I see; this letter was written last July, in answer to my Australian one. What’s the meaning of this?” And he began reading again.

“I wrote so far; but I had not the heart to send it: it was so full of repinings. And since then — must I tell the truth? — I have made a step; do not call it a desperate one; do not blame me, for your blame I cannot bear: but I have gone on the stage. There was no other means of independence open to me; and I had a dream, I have it still, that there, if anywhere, I might do my work. You told me that I might become a great actress: I have set my heart on becoming one; on learning to move the hearts of men, till the time comes when I can tell them, show them, in living flesh and blood, upon the stage, the secrets of a slave’s sorrows, and that slave a woman. The time has not come for that yet here: but I have had my success already, more than I could have expected; and not only in Canada, but in the States. I have been at New York, acting to crowded houses. Ah, when they applauded me, how I longed to speak! to pour out my whole soul to them, and call upon them, as men, to —. But that will come in time. I have found a friend, who has promised to write dramas especially for me. Merely republican ones at first; in which I can give full vent to my passion, and hurl forth the eternal laws of liberty, which their consciences may — must — at last, apply for themselves. But soon, he says, we shall be able to dare to approach the real subject, if not in America, still in Europe; and then, I trust, the coloured actress will stand forth as the championess of her race, of all who are oppressed, in every capital in Europe, save, alas! Italy and the Austria who crushes her. I have taken, I should tell you, an Italian name. It was better, I thought, to hide my African taint, forsooth, for awhile. So the wise New Yorkers have been feting, as Maria Cordifiamma, the white woman (for am I not fairer than many an Italian signora?), whom they would have looked upon as an inferior being under the name of Marie Lavington: though there is finer old English blood running in my veins, from your native Berkshire, they say, than in any a Down–Easter’s who hangs upon my lips. Address me henceforth, then, as La Signora Maria Cordifiamma. I am learning fast, by the by, to speak Italian. I shall be at Quebec till the end of the month. Then, I believe, I come to London; and we shall meet once more: and I shall thank you, thank you, thank you, once more, for all your marvellous kindness.”

“Humph!” said Tom, after a while. “Well, she is old enough to choose for herself. Five-and-twenty she must be by now. . . . As for the stage, I suppose it is the best place for her; better, at least, than turning governess, and going mad, as she would do, over her drudgery and her dreams. But who is this friend? Singing-master, scribbler, or political refugee? or perhaps all three together? A dark lot, those fellows. I must keep my eye on him; though it’s no concern of mine. I’ve done my duty by the poor thing; the devil himself can’t deny that. But, somehow, if this play-writing worthy plays her false, I feel very much as if I should be fool enough to try whether I have forgotten my pistol-shooting.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/kingsley/charles/two_years_ago/chapter5.html

Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:48