The building which was still called MARNEY ABBEY, though remote from the site of the ancient monastery, was an extensive structure raised at the latter end of the reign of James the First, and in the stately and picturesque style of that age. Placed on a noble elevation in the centre of an extensive and well wooded park, it presented a front with two projecting wings of equal dimensions with the centre, so that the form of the building was that of a quadrangle, less one of its sides. Its ancient lattices had been removed, and the present windows though convenient accorded little with the structure; the old entrance door in the centre of the building however still remained, a wondrous specimen of fantastic carving: Ionic columns of black oak, with a profusion of fruits and flowers, and heads of stags and sylvans. The whole of the building was crowned with a considerable pediment of what seemed at the first glance fanciful open work, but which examined more nearly offered in gigantic letters the motto of the house of Marney. The portal opened to a hall, such as is now rarely found; with the dais, the screen, the gallery, and the buttery-hatch all perfect, and all of carved black oak. Modern luxury, and the refined taste of the lady of the late lord, had made Marney Abbey as remarkable for its comfort and pleasantness of accommodation as for its ancient state and splendour. The apartments were in general furnished with all the cheerful ease and brilliancy of the modern mansion of a noble, but the grand gallery of the seventeenth century was still preserved, and was used on great occasions as the chief reception-room. You ascended the principal staircase to reach it through a long corridor. It occupied the whole length of one of the wings; was one hundred feet long, and forty-five feet broad, its walls hung with a collection of choice pictures rich in history; while the Axminster carpets, the cabinets, carved tables, and variety of easy chairs, ingeniously grouped, imparted even to this palatian chamber a lively and habitable air.
Lord Marney was several years the senior of Charles Egremont, yet still a young man. He was handsome; there was indeed a general resemblance between the brothers, though the expression of their countenances was entirely different; of the same height and air, and throughout the features a certain family cast; but here the likeness ceased. The countenance of Lord Marney bespoke the character of his mind; cynical, devoid of sentiment, arrogant, literal, hard. He had no imagination, had exhausted his slight native feeling, but he was acute, disputatious, and firm even to obstinacy. Though his early education had been very imperfect, he had subsequently read a good deal, especially in French literature. He had formed his mind by Helvetius, whose system he deemed irrefutable, and in whom alone he had faith. Armed with the principles of his great master, he believed he could pass through existence in adamantine armour, and always gave you in the business of life the idea of a man who was conscious you were trying to take him in, and rather respected you for it, but the working of whose cold, unkind, eye defied you.
There never had been excessive cordiality between the brothers even in their boyish days, and shortly after Egremont’s entrance into life, they had become estranged. They were to meet now for the first time since Egremont’s return from the continent. Their mother had arranged their reconciliation. They were to meet as if no misunderstanding had ever existed between them; it was specially stipulated by Lord Marney, that there was to be no “scene.” Apprised of Egremont’s impending arrival, Lord Marney was careful to be detained late that day at petty sessions, and entered the room only a few minutes before dinner was announced, where he found Egremont not only with the countess and a young lady who was staying with her, but with additional bail against any ebullition of sentiment in the shape of the Vicar of Marney, and a certain Captain Grouse, who was a kind of aide-decamp of the earl; killed birds and carved them; played billiards with him, and lost; had indeed every accomplishment that could please woman or ease man; could sing, dance, draw, make artificial flies, break horses, exercise a supervision over stewards and bailiffs, and make every body comfortable by taking everything on his own shoulders.
Lady Marney had received Egremont in a manner which expressed the extreme satisfaction she experienced at finding him once more beneath his brother’s roof. When he arrived indeed, he would have preferred to have been shown at once to his rooms, but a message immediately delivered expressed the wish of his sister-in-law at once to see him. She received him alone and with great warmth. She was beautiful, and soft as May; a glowing yet delicate face; rich brown hair, and large blue eyes; not yet a mother, but with something of the dignity of the matron blending with the lingering timidity of the girl.
Egremont was glad to join his sister-in-law again in the drawing-room before dinner. He seated himself by her side; and in answer to her enquiries was giving her some narrative of his travels; the Vicar who was very low church, was shaking his head at Lady Marney’s young friend, who was enlarging on the excellence of Mr Paget’s tales; while Captain Grouse, in a very stiff white neck-cloth, very tight pantaloons, to show his very celebrated legs, transparent stockings and polished shoes, was throwing himself into attitudes in the back ground, and with a zeal amounting almost to enthusiasm, teaching Lady Marney’s spaniel to beg; when the door opened, and Lord Marney entered, but as if to make security doubly sure, not alone. He was accompanied by a neighbour and brother magistrate, Sir Vavasour Firebrace, a baronet of the earliest batch, and a gentleman of great family and great estate.
“How are you George?”
And the brothers shook hands.
’Tis the English way; and if they had been inclined to fall into each other’s arms, they would not probably have done more.
In a few minutes it was announced that dinner was served, and so, secured from a scene, having a fair appetite, and surrounded by dishes that could agreeably satisfy it, a kind of vague fraternal sentiment began to stir the breast of Lord Marney: he really was glad to see his brother again; remembered the days when they rode their poneys and played cricket; his voice softened, his eyes sparkled, and he at length exclaimed, “Do you know, old fellow, it makes me quite happy to see you here again. Suppose we take a glass of wine.”
The softer heart and more susceptible spirit of Egremont were well calculated to respond to this ebullition of feeling, however slight; and truly it was for many reasons not without considerable emotion, that he found himself once more at Marney. He sate by the side of his gentle sister-in-law, who seemed pleased by the unwonted cordiality of her husband, and anxious by many kind offices to second every indication of good feeling on his part. Captain Grouse was extremely assiduous: the vicar was of the deferential breed, agreed with Lady Marney on the importance of infant schools, but recalled his opinion when Lord Marney expressed his imperious hope that no infant schools would ever be found in his neighbourhood. Sir Vavasour was more than middle aged, comely, very gentlemanlike, but with an air occasionally of absence which hardly agreed with his frank and somewhat hearty idiosyncracy; his clear brow, florid complexion, and blue eye. But Lord Marney talked a good deal, though chiefly dogmatical or argumentative. It was rather difficult for him to find a sufficient stock of opposition, but he laid in wait and seized every opening with wonderful alacrity. Even Captain Grouse could not escape him; if driven to extremity Lord Marney would even question his principles on fly-making. Captain Grouse gave up, but not too soon; he was well aware that his noble friend’s passion for controversy was equal to his love of conquest. As for Lady Marney, it was evident that with no inconsiderable talents, and with an intelligence richly cultivated, the controversial genius of her husband had completely cowed her conversational charms. She never advanced a proposition that he did not immediately bristle up, and she could only evade the encounter by a graceful submission. As for the vicar, a frequent guest, he would fain have taken refuge in silence, but the earl, especially when alone, would what he called “draw him out,” and the game once unearthed, with so skilled a pack there was but little fear of a bad run. When all were reduced to silence, Lord Marney relinquishing controversy, assumed the positive. He eulogized the new poor law, which he declared would be the salvation of the country, provided it was “carried out” in the spirit in which it was developed in the Marney Union; but then he would add that there was no district except their union in which it was properly observed. He was tremendously fierce against allotments and analysed the system with merciless sarcasm, Indeed he had no inconsiderable acquaintance with the doctrines of the economists, and was rather inclined to carry them into practice in every instance, except that of the landed proprietary, which he clearly proved “stood upon different grounds” to that of any other “interest.” There was nothing he hated so much as a poacher, except a lease; though perhaps in the catalogue of his aversions, we ought to give the preference to his anti-ecclesiastical prejudice: this amounted even to acrimony. Though there was no man breathing who was possessed with such a strong repugnance to subscriptions of any kind, it delighted Lord Marney to see his name among the contributors to all sectarian institutions. The vicar of Marney, who had been presented by himself, was his model of a priest: he left every body alone. Under the influence of Lady Marney, the worthy vicar had once warmed up into some ebullition of very low church zeal; there was some talk of an evening lecture, the schools were to be remodelled, certain tracts were actually distributed. But Lord Marney soon stopped all this. “No priestcraft at Marney,” said this gentle proprietor of abbey lands.
“I wanted very much to come and canvass for you,” said Lady Marney to Egremont, “but George did not like it.”
“The less the family interfered the better,” said Lord Marney; “and for my part, I was very much alarmed when I heard my mother had gone down.”
“Oh! my mother did wonders,” said Egremont: “we should have been beat without her. Indeed, to tell the truth, I quite gave up the thing the moment they started their man. Before that we were on velvet; but the instant he appeared everything was changed, and I found some of my warmest supporters, members of his committee.”
“You had a formidable opponent, Lord Marney told me,” said Sir Vavasour. “Who was he?”
“Oh! a dreadful man! A Scotchman, richer than Croesus, one McDruggy, fresh from Canton, with a million of opium in each pocket, denouncing corruption, and bellowing free trade.”
“But they do not care much for free trade in the old borough?” said Lord Marney.
“No, it was a mistake,” said Egremont, “and the cry was changed the moment my opponent was on the ground. Then all the town was placarded with ‘Vote for McDruggy and our young Queen,’ as if he had coalesced with her Majesty.”
“My mother must have been in despair,” said Lord Marney.
“We issued our placard instantly of ‘Vote for our young Queen and Egremont,’ which was at least more modest, and turned out more popular.”
“That I am sure was my mother,” said Lord Marney.
“No,” said Egremont; “it was the effusion of a far more experienced mind. My mother was in hourly communication with head quarters, and Mr Taper sent down the cry by express.”
“Peel, in or out, will support the Poor Law,” said Lord Marney, rather audaciously, as he reseated himself after the ladies had retired. “He must;” and he looked at his brother, whose return had in a great degree been secured by crying that Poor Law down.
“It is impossible,” said Charles, fresh from the hustings, and speaking from the card of Taper, for the condition of the people was a subject of which he knew nothing.
“He will carry it out,” said Lord Marney, “you’ll see, or the land will not support him.”
“I wish,” said Sir Vavasour, “we could manage some modification about out-door relief.”
“Modification!” said Lord Marney; “why there has been nothing but modification. What we want is stringency.”
“The people will never bear it,” said Egremont; “there must be some change.”
“You cannot go back to the abuses of the old system,” said Captain Grouse, making, as he thought, a safe observation.
“Better go back to the old system, than modify the new,” said Lord Marney.
“I wish the people would take to it a little more,” said Sir Vavasour; “they certainly do not like it in our parish.”
“The people are very contented here, eh Slimsey?” said Lord Marney.
“Very,” said the vicar.
Hereupon a conversation took place, principally sustained by the earl and the baronet, which developed all the resources of the great parochial mind. Dietaries, bastardy, gaol regulations, game laws, were amply discussed; and Lord Marney wound up with a declaration of the means by which the country might be saved, and which seemed principally to consist of high prices and low church.
“If the sovereign could only know her best friends,” said Sir Vavasour, with a sigh.
Lord Marney seemed to get uneasy.
“And avoid the fatal mistakes of her predecessor,” continued the baronet.
“Charles, another glass of claret,” said the earl.
“She might yet rally round the throne a body of men”—
“Then we will go to the ladies,” said the earl, abruptly disturbing his guest.
There was music as they reentered the drawing-room. Sir Vavasour attached himself to Egremont.
“It is a great pleasure for me to see you again, Mr Egremont;” said the worthy baronet. “Your father was my earliest and kindest friend. I remember you at Firebrace, a very little boy. Happy to see you again, Sir, in so eminent a position; a legislator — one of our legislators. It gave me a sincere satisfaction to observe your return.”
“You are very kind, Sir Vavasour.”
“But it is a responsible position,” continued the baronet. “Think you they’ll stand? A majority. I suppose, they have; but, I conclude, in time; Sir Robert will have it in time? We must not be in a hurry; ‘the more haste’— you know the rest. The country is decidedly conservative. All that we want now is a strong government, that will put all things to rights. If the poor king had lived —”
“He would have sent these men to the right-abouts;” said Egremont, a young politician, proud of his secret intelligence.
“Ah! the poor king!” said Sir Vavasour, shaking his head.
“He was entirely with us,” said Egremont.
“Poor man” said Sir Vavasour.
“You think it was too late, then?” said his companion.
“You are a young man entering political life,” said the baronet, taking Egremont kindly by the arm, and leading him to a sofa; “everything depends on the first step. You have a great opportunity. Nothing can be done by a mere individual. The most powerful body in this country wants a champion.”
“But you can depend on Peel?” said Egremont.
“He is one of us: we ought to be able to depend on him. But I have spoken to him for an hour, and could get nothing out of him.”
“He is cautious; but depend upon it, he will stand or fall by the land.”
“I am not thinking of the land,” said Sir Vavasour; “of something much more important; with all the influence of the land, and a great deal more besides; of an order of men who are ready to rally round the throne, and are, indeed, if justice were done to them, its natural and hereditary champions (Egremont looked perplexity); I am speaking,” added Sir Vavasour, in a solemn voice, “I am speaking of the baronets.”
“The baronets! And what do they want?”
“Their rights; their long withheld rights. The poor king was with us. He has frequently expressed to me and other deputies, his determination to do us justice; but he was not a strong-minded man,” said Sir Vavasour, with a sigh; “and in these revolutionary and levelling times, he had a hard task perhaps. And the peers, who are our brethren, they were, I fear, against us. But in spite of the ministers, and in spite of the peers, had the poor king lived, we should at least have had the badge,” added Sir Vavasour mournfully.
“It would have satisfied Sir Grosvenor le Draughte,” said Sir Vavasour; “and he had a strong party with him; he was for compromise, but d — him, his father was only an accoucheur.”
“And you wanted more?” inquired Egremont, with a demure look.
“All, or nothing,” said Sir Vavasour; “principle is ever my motto — no expediency. I made a speech to the order at the Clarendon; there were four hundred of us; the feeling was very strong.”
“A powerful party,” said Egremont.
“And a military order, sir, if properly understood. What could stand against us? The Reform Bill could never have passed if the baronets had been organized.”
“I have no doubt you could bring us in now,” said Egremont.
“That is exactly what I told Sir Robert. I want him to be brought in by his own order. It would be a grand thing.”
“There is nothing like esprit de corps,” said Egremont.
“And such a body!” exclaimed Sir Vavasour, with animation. “Picture us for a moment, to yourself going down in procession to Westminster for example to hold a chapter. Five or six hundred baronets in dark green costume — the appropriate dress of equites aurati; each not only with his badge, but with his collar of S.S.; belted and scarfed; his star glittering; his pennon flying; his hat white with a plume of white feathers; of course the sword and the gilt spurs. In our hand, the thumb ring and signet not forgotten, we hold our coronet of two balls!”
Egremont stared with irrepressible astonishment at the excited being, who unconsciously pressed his companion’s arm, as he drew this rapid sketch of the glories so unconstitutionally withheld from him.
“A magnificent spectacle!” said Egremont.
“Evidently the body destined to save this country,” eagerly continued Sir Vavasour. “Blending all sympathies: the crown of which they are the peculiar champions; the nobles of whom they are the popular branch; the people who recognize in them their natural leaders. But the picture is not complete. We should be accompanied by an equal number of gallant knights, our elder sons, who, the moment they come of age, have the right to claim knighthood of their sovereign, while their mothers and wives, no longer degraded to the nomenclature of a sheriff’s lady, but resuming their legal or analogical dignities, and styled the ‘honourable baronetess,’ with her coronet and robe, or the ‘honourable knightess,’ with her golden collar of S.S., and chaplet or cap of dignity, may either accompany the procession, or ranged in galleries in a becoming situation, rain influence from above.”
“I am all for their going in the procession,” said Egremont.
“The point is not so clear,” said Sir Vavasour solemnly; “and indeed, although we have been firm in defining our rightful claims in our petitions, as for ‘honorary epithets, secondary titles, personal decorations, and augmented heraldic bearings.’ I am not clear if the government evinced a disposition for a liberal settlement of the question, I would not urge a too stringent adherence to every point. For instance, I am prepared myself, great as would be the sacrifice, even to renounce the claim of secondary titles for our eldest sons, if for instance they would secure us our coronet.”
“Fie, fie, Sir Vavasour,” said Egremont very seriously, “remember principle: no expediency, no compromise.”
“You are right,” said the baronet, colouring a little; “and do you know, Mr Egremont, you are the only individual I have yet met out of the Order, who has taken a sensible view of this great question, which, after all, is the question of the day.”
The situation of the rural town of Marney was one of the most delightful easily to be imagined. In a spreading dale, contiguous to the margin of a clear and lively stream, surrounded by meadows and gardens, and backed by lofty hills, undulating and richly wooded, the traveller on the opposite heights of the dale would often stop to admire the merry prospect, that recalled to him the traditional epithet of his country.
Beautiful illusion! For behind that laughing landscape, penury and disease fed upon the vitals of a miserable population!
The contrast between the interior of the town and its external aspect, was as striking as it was full of pain. With the exception of the dull high street, which had the usual characteristics of a small agricultural market town, some sombre mansions, a dingy inn, and a petty bourse, Marney mainly consisted of a variety of narrow and crowded lanes formed by cottages built of rubble, or unhewn stones without cement, and from age, or badness of the material, looking as if they could scarcely hold together. The gaping chinks admitted every blast; the leaning chimneys had lost half their original height; the rotten rafters were evidently misplaced; while in many instances the thatch, yawning in some parts to admit the wind and wet, and in all utterly unfit for its original purpose of giving protection from the weather, looked more like the top of a dunghill than a cottage. Before the doors of these dwellings, and often surrounding them, ran open drains full of animal and vegetable refuse, decomposing into disease, or sometimes in their imperfect course filling foul pits or spreading into stagnant pools, while a concentrated solution of every species of dissolving filth was allowed to soak through and thoroughly impregnate the walls and ground adjoining.
These wretched tenements seldom consisted of more than two rooms, in one of which the whole family, however numerous, were obliged to sleep, without distinction of age, or sex, or suffering. With the water streaming down the walls, the light distinguished through the roof, with no hearth even in winter, the virtuous mother in the sacred pangs of childbirth, gives forth another victim to our thoughtless civilization; surrounded by three generations whose inevitable presence is more painful than her sufferings in that hour of travail; while the father of her coming child, in another corner of the sordid chamber, lies stricken by that typhus which his contaminating dwelling has breathed into his veins, and for whose next prey is perhaps destined, his new-born child. These swarming walls had neither windows nor doors sufficient to keep out the weather, or admit the sun or supply the means of ventilation; the humid and putrid roof of thatch exhaling malaria like all other decaying vegetable matter. The dwelling rooms were neither boarded nor paved; and whether it were that some were situate in low and damp places, occasionally flooded by the river, and usually much below the level of the road; or that the springs, as was often the case, would burst through the mud floor; the ground was at no time better than so much clay, while sometimes you might see little channels cut from the centre under the doorways to carry off the water, the door itself removed from its hinges: a resting place for infancy in its deluged home. These hovels were in many instances not provided with the commonest conveniences of the rudest police; contiguous to every door might be observed the dung-heap on which every kind of filth was accumulated, for the purpose of being disposed of for manure, so that, when the poor man opened his narrow habitation in the hope of refreshing it with the breeze of summer, he was met with a mixture of gases from reeking dunghills.
This town of Marney was a metropolis of agricultural labour, for the proprietors of the neighbourhood having for the last half century acted on the system of destroying the cottages on their estates, in order to become exempted from the maintenance of the population, the expelled people had flocked to Marney, where, during the war, a manufactory had afforded them some relief, though its wheels had long ceased to disturb the waters of the Mar.
Deprived of this resource, they had again gradually spread themselves over that land which had as it were rejected them; and obtained from its churlish breast a niggardly subsistence. Their reentrance into the surrounding parishes was viewed with great suspicion; their renewed settlement opposed by every ingenious contrivance; those who availed themselves of their labour were careful that they should not become dwellers on the soil; and though, from the excessive competition, there were few districts in the kingdom where the rate of wages was more depressed, those who were fortunate enough to obtain the scant remuneration, had, in addition to their toil, to endure each morn and even a weary journey before they could reach the scene of their labour, or return to the squalid hovel which profaned the name of home. To that home, over which Malaria hovered, and round whose shivering hearth were clustered other guests besides the exhausted family of toil — Fever, in every form, pale Consumption, exhausting Synochus, and trembling Ague — returned after cultivating the broad fields of merry England the bold British peasant, returned to encounter the worst of diseases with a frame the least qualified to oppose them; a frame that subdued by toil was never sustained by animal food; drenched by the tempest could not change its dripping rags; and was indebted for its scanty fuel to the windfalls of the woods.
The eyes of this unhappy race might have been raised to the solitary spire that sprang up in the midst of them, the bearer of present consolation, the harbinger of future equality; but Holy Church at Marney had forgotten her sacred mission. We have introduced the reader to the vicar, an orderly man who deemed he did his duty if he preached each week two sermons, and enforced humility on his congregation and gratitude for the blessings of this life. The high Street and some neighbouring gentry were the staple of his hearers. Lord and Lady Marney came, attended by Captain Grouse, every Sunday morning with commendable regularity, and were ushered into the invisible interior of a vast pew, that occupied half of the gallery, was lined with crimson damask, and furnished with easy chairs, and, for those who chose them, well-padded stools of prayer. The people of Marney took refuge in conventicles, which abounded; little plain buildings of pale brick with the names painted on them, of Sion, Bethel, Bethesda: names of a distant land, and the language of a persecuted and ancient race: yet, such is the mysterious power of their divine quality, breathing consolation in the nineteenth century to the harassed forms and the harrowed souls of a Saxon peasantry.
But however devoted to his flock might have been the Vicar of Marney, his exertions for their well being, under any circumstances, must have been mainly limited to spiritual consolation. Married and a father he received for his labours the small tithes of the parish, which secured to him an income by no means equal to that of a superior banker’s clerk, or the cook of a great loanmonger. The great tithes of Marney, which might be counted by thousands, swelled the vast rental which was drawn from this district by the fortunate earls that bore its name.
The morning after the arrival of Egremont at the Abbey, an unusual stir might have been observed in the high Street of the town. Round the portico of the Green Dragon hotel and commercial inn, a knot of principal personages, the chief lawyer, the brewer, the vicar himself, and several of those easy quidnuncs who abound in country towns, and who rank under the designation of retired gentlemen, were in close and very earnest converse. In a short time a servant on horseback in the Abbey livery galloped up to the portico, and delivered a letter to the vicar. The excitement apparently had now greatly increased. On the opposite side of the way to the important group, a knot, larger in numbers but very deficient in quality, had formed themselves, and remained transfixed with gaping mouths and a Curious not to say alarmed air. The head constable walked up to the door of the Green Dragon, and though he did not presume to join the principal group, was evidently in attendance, if required. The clock struck eleven; a cart had stopped to watch events, and a gentleman’s coachman riding home with a led horse.
“Here they are!” said the brewer.
“Lord Marney himself,” said the lawyer.
“And Sir Vavasour Firebrace, I declare. I wonder how he came here,” said a retired gentleman, who had been a tallow-chandler on Holborn Hill.
The vicar took off his hat, and all uncovered. Lord Marney and his brother magistrate rode briskly up to the inn and rapidly dismounted.
“Well, Snigford,” said his lordship, in a peremptory tone, “this is a pretty business; I’ll have this stopped directly.”
Fortunate man if he succeed in doing so! The torch of the incendiary had for the first time been introduced into the parish of Marney; and last night the primest stacks of the Abbey farm had blazed a beacon to the agitated neighbourhood.
“It is not so much the fire, sir,” said Mr Bingley of the Abbey farm to Egremont, “but the temper of the people that alarms me. Do you know, sir, there were two or three score of them here, and, except my own farm servants, not one of them would lend a helping hand to put out the flames, though, with water so near, they might have been of great service.”
“You told my brother, Lord Marney, this?”
“Oh! it’s Mr Charles I’m speaking to! My service to you, sir; I’m glad to see you in these parts again. It’s a long time that we have had that pleasure, sir. Travelling in foreign parts, as I have heard say?”
“Something of that; but very glad to find myself at home once more, Mr Bingley, though very sorry to have such a welcome as a blazing rick at the Abbey farm.”
“Well, do you know, Mr Charles, between ourselves,” and Mr Bingley lowered his tone, and looked around him, “Things is very bad here; I can’t make out, for my part, what has become of the country. Tayn’t the same land to live in as it was when you used to come to our moor coursing, with the old lord; you remember that, I be sure, Mr Charles?”
“’Tis not easy to forget good sport, Mr Bingley. With your permission, I will put my horse up here for half an hour. I have a fancy to stroll to the ruins.”
“You wunna find them much changed,” said the farmer, smiling. “They have seen a deal of different things in their time! But you will taste our ale, Mr Charles?”
“When I return.”
But the hospitable Bingley would take no denial, and as his companion waived on the present occasion entering his house, for the sun had been some time declining, the farmer, calling one of his labourers to take Egremont’s horse, hastened into the house to fill the brimming cup.
“And what do you think of this fire?” said Egremont to the hind.
“I think ’tis hard times for the poor, sir.”
“But rick-burning will not make the times easier, my good man.”
The man made no reply, but with a dogged look led away the horse to his stable.
About half a mile from Marney, the dale narrowed, and the river took a winding course. It ran through meads, soft and vivid with luxuriant vegetation, bounded on either side by rich hanging woods, save where occasionally a quarry broke the verdant bosom of the heights with its rugged and tawny form. Fair stone and plenteous timber, and the current of fresh waters, combined, with the silent and secluded scene screened from every harsh and angry wind, to form the sacred spot that in old days Holy Church loved to hallow with its beauteous and enduring structures. Even the stranger therefore when he had left the town about two miles behind him, and had heard the farm and mill which he had since passed, called the Abbey farm and the Abbey mill, might have been prepared for the grateful vision of some monastic remains. As for Egremont, he had been almost born amid the ruins of Marney Abbey; its solemn relics were associated with his first and freshest fancies; every footstep was as familiar to him as it could have been to one of the old monks; yet never without emotion could he behold these unrivalled remains of one of the greatest of the great religious houses of the North.
Over a space of not less than ten acres might still be observed the fragments of the great abbey: these were, towards their limit, in general moss-grown and mouldering memorials that told where once rose the offices and spread the terraced gardens of the old proprietors; here might still be traced the dwelling of the lord abbot; and there, still more distinctly, because built on a greater scale and of materials still more intended for perpetuity, the capacious hospital, a name that did not then denote the dwelling of disease, but a place where all the rights of hospitality were practised; where the traveller from the proud baron to the lonely pilgrim asked the shelter and the succour that never were denied, and at whose gate, called the Portal of the Poor, the peasants on the Abbey lands, if in want, might appeal each morn and night for raiment and for food.
But it was in the centre of this tract of ruins, occupying a space of not less than two acres, that, with a strength that had defied time, and with a beauty that had at last turned away the wrath of man, still rose if not in perfect, yet admirable, form and state, one of the noblest achievements of Christian art — the Abbey church. The summer vault was now its only roof, and all that remained of its gorgeous windows was the vastness of their arched symmetry, and some wreathed relics of their fantastic frame-work, but the rest was uninjured.
From the west window, looking over the transept chapel of the Virgin, still adorned with pillars of marble and alabaster, the eye wandered down the nave to the great orient light, a length of nearly three hundred feet, through a gorgeous avenue of unshaken walls and columns that clustered to the skies, On each side of the Lady’s chapel rose a tower. One which was of great antiquity, being of that style which is commonly called Norman, short and very thick and square, did not mount much above the height of the western front; but the other tower was of a character very different, It was tall and light, and of a Gothic style most pure and graceful; the stone of which it was built, of a bright and even sparkling colour, and looking as if it were hewn but yesterday. At first, its turretted crest seemed injured; but the truth is, it was unfinished; the workmen were busied on this very tower the day that old Baldwin Greymount came as the king’s commissioner to inquire into the conduct of this religious house. The abbots loved to memorise their reigns by some public work, which should add to the beauty of their buildings or the convenience of their subjects; and the last of the ecclesiastical lords of Marney, a man of fine taste and a skilful architect, was raising this new belfry for his brethren when the stern decree arrived that the bells should no more sound. And the hymn was no more to be chaunted in the Lady’s chapel; and the candles were no more to be lit on the high altar; and the gate of the poor was to be closed for ever; and the wanderer was no more to find a home.
The body of the church was in many parts overgrown with brambles and in all covered with a rank vegetation. It had been a very sultry day, and the blaze of the meridian heat still inflamed the air; the kine for shelter, rather than for sustenance, had wandered through some broken arches, and were lying in the shadow of the nave. This desecration of a spot, once sacred, still beautiful and solemn, jarred on the feelings of Egremont. He sighed and turning away, followed a path that after a few paces led him into the cloister garden. This was a considerable quadrangle; once surrounding the garden of the monks, but all that remained of that fair pleasaunce was a solitary yew in its centre, that seemed the oldest tree that could well live, and was, according to tradition, more ancient than the most venerable walls of the Abbey. Round this quadrangle was the refectory, the library and the kitchen, and above them the cells and dormitory of the brethren. An imperfect staircase, not without danger, led to these unroofed chambers; but Egremont familiar with the way did not hesitate to pursue it, so that he soon found himself on an elevation overlooking the garden, while further on extended the vast cloisters of the monks, and adjoining was a cemetery, that had once been enclosed, and communicated with the cloister garden.
It was one of those summer days that are so still, that they seem as it were a holiday of nature. The weary wind was sleeping in some grateful cavern, and the sunbeams basking on some fervent knoll; the river floated with a drowsy unconscious course: there was no wave in the grass, no stir in the branches.
A silence so profound amid these solemn ruins, offered the perfection of solitude; and there was that stirring in the mind of Egremont which rendered him far from indisposed for this loneliness.
The slight words that he had exchanged with the farmer and the hind had left him musing. Why was England not the same land as in the days of his light-hearted youth? Why were these hard times for the poor? He stood among the ruins that, as the farmer had well observed, had seen many changes: changes of creeds, of dynasties, of laws, of manners. New orders of men had arisen in the country, new sources of wealth had opened, new dispositions of power to which that wealth had necessarily led. His own house, his own order, had established themselves on the ruins of that great body, the emblems of whose ancient magnificence and strength surrounded him. And now his order was in turn menaced. And the People — the millions of Toil, on whose unconscious energies during these changeful centuries all rested — what changes had these centuries brought to them? Had their advance in the national scale borne a due relation to that progress of their rulers, which had accumulated in the treasuries of a limited class the riches of the world; and made their possessors boast that they were the first of nations; the most powerful and the most free, the most enlightened, the most moral, and the most religious? Were there any rick-burners in the times of the lord abbots? And if not, why not? And why should the stacks of the Earls of Marney be destroyed, and those of the Abbots of Marney spared?
Brooding over these suggestions, some voices disturbed him, and looking round, he observed in the cemetery two men: one was standing beside a tomb which his companion was apparently examining.
The first was of lofty stature, and though dressed with simplicity, had nothing sordid in his appearance. His garments gave no clue to his position in life: they might have been worn by a squire or by his gamekeeper; a dark velveteen dress and leathern gaiters. As Egremont caught his form, he threw his broad-brimmed country hat upon the ground and showed a frank and manly countenance. His complexion might in youth have been ruddy, but time and time’s attendants, thought and passion, had paled it: his chesnut hair, faded, but not grey, still clustered over a noble brow; his features were regular and handsome, a well-formed nose, the square mouth and its white teeth, and the clear grey eye which befitted such an idiosyncracy. His time of vigorous manhood, for he was much nearer forty than fifty years of age, perhaps better suited his athletic form, than the more supple and graceful season of youth.
Stretching his powerful arms in the air, and delivering himself of an exclamation which denoted his weariness, and which had broken the silence, he expressed to his companion his determination to rest himself under the shade of the yew in the contiguous garden, and inviting his friend to follow him, he took up his hat and moved away.
There was something in the appearance of the stranger that interested Egremont; and waiting till he had established himself in his pleasant resting place, Egremont descended into the cloister garden and determined to address him.
“You lean against an ancient trunk,” said Egremont, carelessly advancing to the stranger, who looked up at him without any expression of surprise, and then replied. “They say ’tis the trunk beneath whose branches the monks encamped when they came to this valley to raise their building. It was their house, till with the wood and stone around them, their labour and their fine art, they piled up their abbey. And then they were driven out of it, and it came to this. Poor men! poor men!”
“They would hardly have forfeited their resting-place had they deserved to retain it,” said Egremont.
“They were rich. I thought it was poverty that was a crime,” replied the stranger in a tone of simplicity.
“But they had committed other crimes.”
“It may be so; we are very frail. But their history has been written by their enemies; they were condemned without a hearing; the people rose oftentimes in their behalf; and their property was divided with those on whose reports it was forfeited.”
“At any rate, it was a forfeiture which gave life to the community,” said Egremont; “the lands are held by active men and not by drones.”
“A drone is one who does not labour,” said the stranger; “whether he wear a cowl or a coronet, ’tis the same to me. Somebody I suppose must own the land; though I have heard say that this individual tenure is not a necessity; but however this may be, I am not one who would object to the lord, provided he were a gentle one. All agree the Monastics were easy landlords; their rents were low; they granted leases in those days. Their tenants too might renew their term before their tenure ran out: so they were men of spirit and property. There were yeomen then, sir: the country was not divided into two classes, masters and slaves; there was some resting-place between luxury and misery. Comfort was an English habit then, not merely an English word.”
“And do you really think they were easier landlords than our present ones?” said Egremont, inquiringly.
“Human nature would tell us that, even if history did not confess it. The Monastics could possess no private property; they could save no money; they could bequeath nothing. They lived, received, and expended in common. The monastery too was a proprietor that never died and never wasted. The farmer had a deathless landlord then; not a harsh guardian, or a grinding mortgagee, or a dilatory master in chancery, all was certain; the manor had not to dread a change of lords, or the oaks to tremble at the axe of the squandering heir. How proud we are still in England of an old family, though, God knows, ’tis rare to see one now. Yet the people like to say, We held under him, and his father and his grandfather before him: they know that such a tenure is a benefit. The abbot was ever the same. The monks were in short in every district a point of refuge for all who needed succour, counsel, and protection; a body of individuals having no cares of their own, with wisdom to guide the inexperienced, with wealth to relieve the suffering, and often with power to protect the oppressed.”
“You plead their cause with feeling,” said Egremont, not unmoved.
“It is my own; they were the sons of the People, like myself.”
“I had thought rather these monasteries were the resort of the younger branches of the aristocracy?” said Egremont.
“Instead of the pension list;” replied his companion, smiling, but not with bitterness. “Well, if we must have an aristocracy, I would sooner that its younger branches should be monks and nuns, than colonels without regiments, or housekeepers of royal palaces that exist only in name. Besides see what advantage to a minister if the unendowed aristocracy were thus provided for now. He need not, like a minister in these days, entrust the conduct of public affairs to individuals notoriously incompetent, appoint to the command of expeditions generals who never saw a field, make governors of colonies out of men who never could govern themselves, or find an ambassador in a broken dandy or a blasted favourite. It is true that many of the monks and nuns were persons of noble birth. Why should they not have been? The aristocracy had their share; no more. They, like all other classes, were benefitted by the monasteries: but the list of the mitred abbots when they were suppressed, shows that the great majority of the heads of houses were of the people.”
“Well, whatever difference of opinion may exist on these points,” said Egremont, “there is one on which there can be no controversy: the monks were great architects.”
“Ah! there it is,” said the stranger, in a tone of plaintiveness; “if the world but only knew what they had lost! I am sure that not the faintest idea is generally prevalent of the appearance of England before and since the dissolution. Why, sir, in England and Wales alone, there were of these institutions of different sizes; I mean monasteries, and chantries and chapels, and great hospitals; considerably upwards of three thousand; all of them fair buildings, many of them of exquisite beauty. There were on an average in every shire at least twenty structures such as this was; in this great county double that number: establishments that were as vast and as magnificent and as beautiful as your Belvoirs and your Chatsworths, your Wentworths and your Stowes. Try to imagine the effect of thirty or forty Chatsworths in this county the proprietors of which were never absent. You complain enough now of absentees. The monks were never non-resident. They expended their revenue among those whose labour had produced it. These holy men too built and planted as they did everything else for posterity: their churches were cathedrals; their schools colleges; their halls and libraries the muniment rooms of kingdoms; their woods and waters, their farms and gardens, were laid out and disposed on a scale and in a spirit that are now extinct: they made the country beautiful, and the people proud of their country.”
“Yet if the monks were such public benefactors, why did not the people rise in their favour?”
“They did, but too late. They struggled for a century, but they struggled against property and they were beat. As long as the monks existed, the people, when aggrieved, had property on their side. And now ’tis all over,” said the stranger; “and travellers come and stare at these ruins, and think themselves very wise to moralize over time. They are the children of violence, not of time. It is war that created these ruins, civil war, of all our civil wars the most inhuman, for it was waged with the unresisting. The monasteries were taken by storm, they were sacked, gutted, battered with warlike instruments, blown up with gunpowder; you may see the marks of the blast against the new tower here. Never was such a plunder. The whole face of the country for a century was that of a land recently invaded by a ruthless enemy; it was worse than the Norman conquest; nor has England ever lost this character of ravage. I don’t know whether the union workhouses will remove it. They are building something for the people at last. After an experiment of three centuries, your gaols being full, and your treadmills losing something of their virtue, you have given us a substitute for the monasteries.”
“You lament the old faith,” said Egremont, in a tone of respect.
“I am not viewing the question as one of faith,” said the stranger. “It is not as a matter of religion, but as a matter of right, that I am considering it: as a matter, I should say, of private right and public happiness. You might have changed if you thought fit the religion of the abbots as you changed the religion of the bishops: but you had no right to deprive men of their property, and property moreover which under their administration so mainly contributed to the welfare of the community.”
“As for community,” said a voice which proceeded neither from Egremont nor the stranger, “with the monasteries expired the only type that we ever had in England of such an intercourse. There is no community in England; there is aggregation, but aggregation under circumstances which make it rather a dissociating, than an uniting, principle.”
It was a still voice that uttered these words, yet one of a peculiar character; one of those voices that instantly arrest attention: gentle and yet solemn, earnest yet unimpassioned. With a step as whispering as his tone, the man who had been kneeling by the tomb, had unobserved joined his associate and Egremont. He hardly reached the middle height; his form slender, but well proportioned; his pale countenance, slightly marked with the small pox, was redeemed from absolute ugliness by a highly-intellectual brow, and large dark eyes that indicated deep sensibility and great quickness of apprehension. Though young, he was already a little bald; he was dressed entirely in black; the fairness of his linen, the neatness of his beard, his gloves much worn, yet carefully mended, intimated that his very faded garments were the result of necessity rather than of negligence.
“You also lament the dissolution of these bodies,” said Egremont.
“There is so much to lament in the world in which we live,” said the younger of the strangers, “that I can spare no pang for the past.”
“Yet you approve of the principle of their society; you prefer it, you say, to our existing life.”
“Yes; I prefer association to gregariousness.”
“That is a distinction,” said Egremont, musingly.
“It is a community of purpose that constitutes society,” continued the younger stranger; “without that, men may be drawn into contiguity, but they still continue virtually isolated.”
“And is that their condition in cities?”
“It is their condition everywhere; but in cities that condition is aggravated. A density of population implies a severer struggle for existence, and a consequent repulsion of elements brought into too close contact. In great cities men are brought together by the desire of gain. They are not in a state of cooperation, but of isolation, as to the making of fortunes; and for all the rest they are careless of neighbours. Christianity teaches us to love our neighbour as ourself; modern society acknowledges no neighbour.”
“Well, we live in strange times,” said Egremont, struck by the observation of his companion, and relieving a perplexed spirit by an ordinary exclamation, which often denotes that the mind is more stirring than it cares to acknowledge, or at the moment is capable to express.
“When the infant begins to walk, it also thinks that it lives in strange times,” said his companion.
“Your inference?” asked Egremont.
“That society, still in its infancy, is beginning to feel its way.”
“This is a new reign,” said Egremont, “perhaps it is a new era.”
“I think so,” said the younger stranger.
“I hope so,” said the elder one.
“Well, society may be in its infancy,” said Egremont slightly smiling; “but, say what you like, our Queen reigns over the greatest nation that ever existed.”
“Which nation?” asked the younger stranger, “for she reigns over two.”
The stranger paused; Egremont was silent, but looked inquiringly.
“Yes,” resumed the younger stranger after a moment’s interval. “Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws.”
“You speak of —” said Egremont, hesitatingly.
“THE RICH AND THE POOR.”
At this moment a sudden flush of rosy light, suffusing the grey ruins, indicated that the sun had just fallen; and through a vacant arch that overlooked them, alone in the resplendent sky, glittered the twilight star. The hour, the scene, the solemn stillness and the softening beauty, repressed controversy, induced even silence. The last words of the stranger lingered in the ear of Egremont; his musing spirit was teeming with many thoughts, many emotions; when from the Lady Chapel there rose the evening hymn to the Virgin. A single voice; but tones of almost supernatural sweetness; tender and solemn, yet flexible and thrilling.
Egremont started from his reverie. He would have spoken, but he perceived that the elder of the strangers had risen from his resting-place, and with downcast eyes and crossed arms, was on his knees. The other remained standing in his former posture.
The divine melody ceased; the elder stranger rose; the words were on the lips of Egremont, that would have asked some explanation of this sweet and holy mystery, when in the vacant and star-lit arch on which his glance was fixed, he beheld a female form. She was apparently in the habit of a Religious, yet scarcely could be a nun, for her veil, if indeed it were a veil, had fallen on her shoulders, and revealed her thick tresses of long fair hair. The blush of deep emotion lingered on a countenance, which though extremely young, was impressed with a character of almost divine majesty; while her dark eyes and long dark lashes, contrasting with the brightness of her complexion and the luxuriance of her radiant locks, combined to produce a beauty as rare as it is choice; and so strange, that Egremont might for a moment have been pardoned for believing her a seraph, that had lighted on this sphere, or the fair phantom of some saint haunting the sacred ruins of her desecrated fane.
“I understand, then,” said Lord Marney to his brother, as on the evening of the same day they were seated together in the drawing-room, in close converse “I understand then, that you have in fact paid nothing, and that my mother will give you a thousand pounds. That won’t go very far.”
“It will hardly pay for the chairing,” said Egremont; “the restoration of the family influence was celebrated on so great a scale.”
“The family influence must be supported,” said Lord Marney, “and my mother will give you a thousand pounds; as I said, that will not do much for you, but I like her spirit. Contests are very expensive things, yet I quite approve of what you have done, especially as you won. It is a great thing in these ten pound days to win your first contest, and shows powers of calculation which I respect. Everything in this world is calculation; there is no such thing as luck, depend upon it; and if you go on calculating with equal exactness, you must succeed in life. Now the question is, what is to be done with your election bills?”
“You want to know what I will do for you, or rather what I can do for you; that is the point. My inclination of course is to do everything for you; but when I calculate my resources, I may find that they are not equal to my inclination.”
“I am sure, George, you will do everything, and more than everything you ought.”
“I am extremely pleased about this thousand pounds of my mother, Charles.”
“Most admirable of her! But she always is so generous!”
“Her jointure has been most regularly paid,” continued Lord Marney. “Always be exact in your payments, Charles. There is no end to the good it produces. Now if I had not been so regular in paying my mother her jointure, she would not in all probability have been able to have given you this thousand pounds; and, therefore, to a certain extent, you are indebted for this thousand pounds to me.”
Egremont drew up a little, but said nothing.
“I am obliged to pay my mother her jointure, whether ricks are burnt or not,” said Lord Marney. “It’s very hard, don’t you think so?”
“But these ricks were Bingley’s?”
“But he was not insured, and he will want some reduction in his rent, and if I do not see fit to allow it him, which I probably shall not, for he ought to have calculated on these things, I have ricks of my own, and they may be burnt any night.”
“But you, of course, are insured?”
“No, I am not; I calculate ’tis better to run the risk.”
“I wonder why ricks are burnt now, and were not in old days,” said Egremont.
“Because there is a surplus population in the kingdom,” said Lord Marney, “and no rural police in the county.”
“You were speaking of the election, George,” said Egremont, not without reluctance, yet anxious, as the ice had been broken, to bring the matter to a result. Lord Marney, before the election, had written, in reply to his mother consulting him on the step a letter with which she was delighted, but which Egremont at the time could have wished to have been more explicit. However in the excitement attendant on a first contest, and influenced by the person whose judgment always swayed, and, in the present case, was peculiarly entitled to sway him, he stifled his scruples, and persuaded himself that he was a candidate not only with the sanction, but at the instance, of his brother. “You were speaking of the election, George,” said Egremont.
“About the election, Charles. Well, the long and short of it is this: that I wish to see you comfortable. To be harassed about money is one of the most disagreeable incidents of life. It ruffles the temper, lowers the spirits, disturbs the rest, and finally breaks up one’s health. Always, if you possibly can, keep square. And if by any chance you do find yourself in a scrape, come to me. There is nothing under those circumstances like the advice of a cool-headed friend.”
“As valuable as the assistance of a cold-hearted one,” thought Egremont, who did not fancy too much the tone of this conversation.
“But there is one thing of which you must particularly beware,” continued Lord Marney, “there is one thing worse even than getting into difficulties — patching them up. The patching-up system is fatal; it is sure to break down; you never get clear. Now, what I want to do for you, Charles, is to put you right altogether. I want to see you square and more than square, in a position which will for ever guarantee you from any annoyance of this kind.”
“He is a good fellow after all,” thought Egremont.
“That thousand pounds of my mother was very a propos,” said Lord Marney; “I suppose it was a sop that will keep them all right till we have made our arrangements.”
“Oh! there is no pressure of that kind,” said Egremont; “if I see my way, and write to them, of course they will be quite satisfied.”
“Excellent,” said Lord Marney; “and nothing could be more convenient to me, for, between ourselves, my balances are very low at this moment. The awful expenditure of keeping up this place! And then such terrible incumbrances as I came to!”
“Incumbrances, George! Why, I thought you had not any. There was not a single mortgage.”
“No mortgages; they are nothing; you find them, you get used to them, and you calculate accordingly. You quite forget the portions for younger children.”
“Yes; but you had plenty of ready money for them.”
“I had to pay them though,” said Lord Marney. “Had I not, I might have bought Grimblethorpe with the money; such an opportunity will never occur again.”
“But you talked of incumbrances,” said Egremont.
“Ah! my dear fellow,” said Lord Marney, “you don’t know what it is to have to keep up an estate like this; and very lucky for you. It is not the easy life you dream of. There’s buildings — I am ruined in buildings — our poor dear father thought he left me Marney without an incumbrance; why, there was not a barn on the whole estate that was weather-proof; not a farm-house that was not half in ruins. What I have spent in buildings! And draining! Though I make my own tiles, draining, my dear fellow, is a something of which you have not the least idea!”
“Well,” said Egremont, anxious to bring his brother back to the point, “you think, then, I had better write to them and say —”
“Ah! now for your business,” said Lord Marney. “Now, I will tell you what I can do for you. I was speaking to Arabella about it last night; she quite approves my idea. You remember the De Mowbrays? Well, we are going to stay at Mowbray Castle, and you are to go with us. It is the first time they have received company since their great loss. Ah! you were abroad at the time, and so you are behind hand. Lord Mowbray’s only son, Fitz–Warene, you remember him, a deuced clever fellow, he died about a year ago, in Greece, of a fever. Never was such a blow! His two sisters, Lady Joan and Lady Maud, are looked upon as the greatest heiresses in the kingdom; but I know Mowbray well; he will make an eldest son of his eldest daughter. She will have it all; she is one of Arabella’s dearest friends; and you are to marry her.”
Egremont stared at his brother, who patted him on the back with an expression of unusual kindness, and adding, “You have no idea what a load this has taken off my mind, my dear Charles; so great has my anxiety always been about you, particularly of late. To see you lord of Mowbray Castle will realize my fondest hopes. That is a position fit for a man, and I know none more worthy of it than yourself, though I am your brother who say so. Now let us come and speak to Arabella about it.”
So saying, Lord Marney, followed somewhat reluctantly by his brother, advanced to the other end of the drawing-room, where his wife was employed with her embroidery-frame, and seated next to her young friend, Miss Poinsett, who was playing chess with Captain Grouse, a member of the chess club, and one of the most capital performers extant.
“Well, Arabella,” said Lord Marney, “it is all settled; Charles agrees with me about going to Mowbray Castle, and I think the sooner we go the better. What do you think of the day after tomorrow? That will suit me exactly, and therefore I think we had better fix on it. We will consider it settled.”
Lady Marney looked embarrassed, and a little distressed. Nothing could be more unexpected by her than this proposition; nothing more inconvenient than the arrangement. It was very true that Lady Joan Fitz–Warene had invited them to Mowbray, and she had some vague intention, some day or other, of deliberating whether they should avail themselves of this kindness; but to decide upon going, and upon going instantly, without the least consultation, the least inquiry as to the suitableness of the arrangement, the visit of Miss Poinsett abruptly and ungraciously terminated, for example — all this was vexatious, distressing: a mode of management which out of the simplest incidents of domestic life contrived to extract some degree of perplexity and annoyance.
“Do not you think, George,” said Lady Marney, “that we had better talk it over a little?”
“Not at all,” said Lord Marney: “Charles will go, and it quite suits me, and therefore what necessity for any consultation?”
“Oh! if you and Charles like to go, certainly.” said Lady Marney in a hesitating tone; “only I shall be very sorry to lose your society.”
“How do you mean lose our society Arabella? Of course you must go with us. I particularly want you to go. You are Lady Joan’s most intimate friend; I believe there is no one she likes so much.”
“I cannot go the day after tomorrow,” said Lady Marney, speaking in a whisper, and looking volumes of deprecation.
“I cannot help it,” said Lord Marney; “you should have told me this before. I wrote to Mowbray today, that we should be with him the day after tomorrow, and stay a week.”
“But you never mentioned it to me,” said Lady Marney, slightly blushing and speaking in a tone of gentle reproach.
“I should like to know when I am to find time to mention the contents of every letter I write,” said Lord Marney; “particularly with all the vexatious business I have had on my hands today. But so it is; the more one tries to save you trouble, the more discontented you get.”
“No, not discontented, George.”
“I do not know what you call discontented; but when a man has made every possible arrangement to please you and every body, and all his plans are to be set aside merely because the day he has fixed on does not exactly suit your fancy, if that be not discontent, I should like very much to know what is, Arabella.”
Lady Marney did not reply. Always sacrificed, always yielding, the moment she attempted to express an opinion, she ever seemed to assume the position not of the injured but the injurer.
Arabella was a woman of abilities, which she had cultivated. She had excellent sense, and possessed many admirable qualities; she was far from being devoid of sensibility; but her sweet temper shrank from controversy, and Nature had not endowed her with a spirit which could direct and control. She yielded without a struggle to the arbitrary will and unreasonable caprice of a husband, who was scarcely her equal in intellect, and far her inferior in all the genial qualities of our nature, but who governed her by his iron selfishness.
Lady Marney absolutely had no will of her own. A hard, exact, literal, bustling, acute being environed her existence; directed, planned, settled everything. Her life was a series of petty sacrifices and baulked enjoyments. If her carriage were at the door, she was never certain that she would not have to send it away; if she had asked some friends to her house, the chances were she would have to put them off; if she were reading a novel, Lord Marney asked her to copy a letter; if she were going to the opera, she found that Lord Marney had got seats for her and some friend in the House of Lords, and seemed expecting the strongest expressions of delight and gratitude from her for his unasked and inconvenient kindness. Lady Marney had struggled against this tyranny in the earlier days of their union. Innocent, inexperienced Lady Marney! As if it were possible for a wife to contend against a selfish husband, at once sharp-witted and blunt-hearted! She had appealed to him, she had even reproached him; she had wept, once she had knelt. But Lord Marney looked upon these demonstrations as the disordered sensibility of a girl unused to the marriage state, and ignorant of the wise authority of husbands, of which he deemed himself a model. And so, after a due course of initiation, Lady Marney invisible for days, plunged in remorseful reveries in the mysteries of her boudoir, and her lord dining at his club and going to the minor theatres; the countess was broken in, and became the perfect wife of a perfect husband.
Lord Marney, who was fond of chess, turned out Captain Grouse, and very gallantly proposed to finish his game with Miss Poinsett, which Miss Poinsett, who understood Lord Marney as well as he understood chess, took care speedily to lose, so that his lordship might encounter a champion worthy of him. Egremont seated by his sister-in-law, and anxious by kind words to soothe the irritation which he had observed with pain his brother create, entered into easy talk, and after some time, said, “I find you have been good enough to mould my destiny.”
Lady Marney looked a little surprised, and then said, “How so?”
“You have decided on I hear the most important step of my life.”
“Indeed you perplex me.”
“Lady Joan Fitz–Warene, your friend —”
The countess blushed; the name was a clue which she could follow, but Egremont nevertheless suspected that the idea had never previously occurred to her. Lady Joan she described as not beautiful; certainly not beautiful; nobody would consider her beautiful, many would indeed think her quite the reverse; and yet she had a look, one particular look when according to Lady Marney, she was more than beautiful. But she was very clever, very indeed, something quite extraordinary.
“Oh! far beyond that; I have heard even men say that no one knew so much.”
“A regular blue?”
“Oh! no; not at all a blue; not that kind of knowledge. But languages and learned books; Arabic, and Hebrew, and old manuscripts. And then she has an observatory, and was the first person who discovered the comet. Dr Buckland swears by her; and she corresponds with Arago.”
“And her sister, is she the same?”
“Lady Maud: she is very religious. I do not know her so well.”
“Is she pretty?”
“Some people admire her very much.”
“I never was at Mowbray. What sort of a place is it?”
“Oh! it is very grand,” said Lady Marney; “but like all places in the manufacturing districts, very disagreeable. You never have a clear sky. Your toilette table is covered with blacks; the deer in the park seem as if they had bathed in a lake of Indian ink; and as for the sheep, you expect to see chimney-sweeps for the shepherds.”
“And do you really mean to go on Thursday?” said Egremont: “I think we had better put it off.”
“We must go,” said Lady Marney, with a sort of sigh, and shaking her head.
“Let me speak to Marney.”
“Oh! no. We must go. I am annoyed about this dear little Poinsett: she has been to stay with me so very often, and she has only been here three days. When she comes in again, I wish you would ask her to sing, Charles.”
Soon the dear little Poinsett was singing, much gratified by being invited to the instrument by Mr Egremont, who for a few minutes hung over her, and then evidently under the influence of her tones, walked up and down the room, and only speaking to beg that she would continue her charming performances. Lady Marney was engrossed with her embroidery; her lord and the captain with their game.
And what was Egremont thinking of? Of Mowbray be you sure. And of Lady Joan or Lady Maud? Not exactly. Mowbray was the name of the town to which the strangers he had met with in the Abbey were bound. It was the only piece of information that he had been able to obtain of them; and that casually.
When the fair vision of the starlit arch, about to descend to her two companions, perceived that they were in conversation with a stranger, she hesitated, and in a moment withdrew. Then the elder of the travellers, exchanging a glance with his friend, bid good even to Egremont.
“Our way perhaps lies the same,” said Egremont.
“I should deem not,” said the stranger, “nor are we alone.”
“And we must be stirring, for we have far to go,” said he who was dressed in black.
“My journey is very brief,” said Egremont, making a desperate effort to invite communication; “and I am on horseback!”
“And we on foot,” said the elder; “nor shall we stop till we reach Mowbray;” and with a slight salute, they left Egremont alone. There was something in the manner of the elder stranger which repressed the possibility of Egremont following him. Leaving then the cloister garden in another direction, he speculated on meeting them outside the abbey. He passed through the Lady’s chapel. The beautiful Religious was not there. He gained the west front; no one was visible. He took a rapid survey of each side of the abbey; not a being to be recognized. He fancied they must have advanced towards the Abbey Farm; yet they might have proceeded further on in the dale. Perplexed, he lost time. Finally he proceeded towards the farm, but did not overtake them; reached it, but learned nothing of them; and arrived at his brother’s full of a strange yet sweet perplexity.
In a commercial country like England, every half century developes some new and vast source of public wealth, which brings into national notice a new and powerful class. A couple of centuries ago, a Turkey merchant was the great creator of wealth; the West Indian Planter followed him. In the middle of the last century appeared the Nabob. These characters in their zenith in turn merged in the land, and became English aristocrats; while the Levant decaying, the West Indies exhausted, and Hindostan plundered, the breeds died away, and now exist only in our English comedies from Wycherly and Congreve to Cumberland and Morton. The expenditure of the revolutionary war produced the Loanmonger, who succeeded the Nabob; and the application of science to industry developed the Manufacturer, who in turn aspires to be “large-acred,” and always will, as long as we have a territorial constitution; a better security for the preponderance of the landed interest than any corn law, fixed or fluctuating.
Of all these characters, the one that on the whole made the largest fortunes in the most rapid manner — and we do not forget the marvels of the Waterloo loan, or the miracles of Manchester during the continental blockade — was the Anglo–East Indian about the time that Hastings was first appointed to the great viceroyalty. It was not unusual for men in positions so obscure that their names had never reached the public in this country, and who yet had not been absent from their native land for a longer period than the siege of Troy, to return with their million.
One of the most fortunate of this class of obscure adventurers was a certain John Warren. A very few years before the breaking out of the American war, he was a waiter at a celebrated club in St James’s Street: a quick yet steady young fellow; assiduous, discreet, and very civil. In this capacity, he pleased a gentleman who was just appointed to the government of Madras, and who wanted a valet. Warren, though prudent, was adventurous; and accepted the opening which he believed fortune offered him. He was prescient. The voyage in those days was an affair of six months. During this period, Warren still more ingratiated himself with his master. He wrote a good hand, and his master a very bad one. He had a natural talent for accounts; a kind of information which was useful to his employer. He arrived at Madras, no longer a valet, but a private secretary.
His master went out to make a fortune; but he was indolent, and had indeed none of the qualities for success, except his great position. Warren had every quality but that. The basis of the confederacy therefore was intelligible; it was founded on mutual interests and cemented by reciprocal assistance. The governor granted monopolies to the secretary, who apportioned a due share to his sleeping partner. There appeared one of those dearths not unusual in Hindostan; the population of the famished province cried out for rice; the stores of which, diminished by nature, had for months mysteriously disappeared. A provident administration it seems had invested the public revenue in its benevolent purchase; the misery was so excessive that even pestilence was anticipated, when the great forestallers came to the rescue of the people over whose destinies they presided; and at the same time fed and pocketed millions.
This was the great stroke of the financial genius of Warren. He was satisfied. He longed once more to see St James’s Street, and to become a member of the club, where he had once been a waiter. But he was the spoiled child of fortune, who would not so easily spare him. The governor died, and had appointed his secretary his sole executor. Not that his excellency particularly trusted his agent, but he dared not confide the knowledge of his affairs to any other individual. The estate was so complicated, that Warren offered the heirs a good round sum for his quittance, and to take the settlement upon himself. India so distant, and Chancery so near — the heirs accepted the proposition. Winding up this estate, Warren avenged the cause of plundered provinces; and the House of Commons itself, with Burke and Francis at its head, could scarcely have mulcted the late governor more severely.
A Mr Warren, of whom no one had ever heard except that he was a nabob, had recently returned from India and purchased a large estate in the north of England, was returned to Parliament one of the representatives of a close borough which he had purchased: a quiet, gentlemanlike, middle-aged man, with no decided political opinions; and, as parties were then getting very equal, of course very much courted. The throes of Lord North’s administration were commencing. The minister asked the new member to dine with him, and found the new member singularly free from all party prejudices. Mr Warren was one of those members who announced their determination to listen to the debates and to be governed by the arguments. All complimented him, all spoke to him. Mr Fox declared that he was a most superior man; Mr Burke said that these were the men who could alone save the country. Mrs Crewe asked him to supper; he was caressed by the most brilliant of duchesses.
At length there arrived one of those fierce trials of strength, which precede the fall of a minister, but which sometimes from peculiar circumstances, as in the instances of Walpole and Lord North, are not immediate in their results. How would Warren vote? was the great question. He would listen to the arguments. Burke was full of confidence that he should catch Warren. The day before the debate there was a levee, which Mr Warren attended. The sovereign stopped him, spoke to him, smiled on him, asked him many questions: about himself, the House of Commons, how he liked it, how he liked England. There was a flutter in the circle; a new favourite at court.
The debate came off, the division took place. Mr Warren voted for the minister. Burke denounced him; the king made him a baronet.
Sir John Warren made a great alliance, at least for him; he married the daughter of an Irish earl; became one of the king’s friends; supported Lord Shelburne, threw over Lord Shelburne, had the tact early to discover that Mr Pitt was the man to stick to, stuck to him. Sir John Warren bought another estate, and picked up another borough. He was fast becoming a personage. Throughout the Indian debates he kept himself extremely quiet; once indeed in vindication of Mr Hastings, whom he greatly admired, he ventured to correct Mr Francis on a point of fact with which he was personally acquainted. He thought that it was safe, but he never spoke again. He knew not the resources of vindictive genius or the powers of a malignant imagination. Burke owed the Nabob a turn for the vote which had gained him a baronetcy. The orator seized the opportunity and alarmed the secret conscience of the Indian adventurer by his dark allusions, and his fatal familiarity with the subject.
Another estate however and another borough were some consolation for this little misadventure; and in time the French Revolution, to Sir John’s great relief, turned the public attention for ever from Indian affairs. The Nabob from the faithful adherent of Mr Pitt had become even his personal friend. The wits indeed had discovered that he had been a waiter; and endless were the epigrams of Fitzpatrick and the jokes of Hare; but Mr Pitt cared nothing about the origin of his supporters. On the contrary, Sir John was exactly the individual from whom the minister meant to carve out his plebeian aristocracy; and using his friend as a feeler before he ventured on his greater operations, the Nabob one morning was transformed into an Irish baron.
The new Baron figured in his patent as Lord Fitz–Warene, his Norman origin and descent from the old barons of this name having been discovered at Herald’s college. This was a rich harvest for Fitzpatrick and Hare; but the public gets accustomed to everything, and has an easy habit of faith. The new Baron cared nothing for ridicule, for he was working for posterity. He was compensated for every annoyance by the remembrance that the St James’s Street waiter was ennobled, and by his determination that his children should rank still higher in the proud peerage of his country. So he obtained the royal permission to resume the surname and arms of his ancestors, as well as their title.
There was an ill-natured story set afloat, that Sir John owed this promotion to having lent money to the minister; but this was a calumny. Mr Pitt never borrowed money of his friends. Once indeed, to save his library, he took a thousand pounds from an individual on whom he had conferred high rank and immense promotion: and this individual, who had the minister’s bond when Mr Pitt died, insisted on his right, and actually extracted the 1,000 l. from the insolvent estate of his magnificent patron. But Mr Pitt always preferred an usurer to a friend; and to the last day of his life borrowed money at fifty per cent.
The Nabob departed this life before the Minister, but he lived long enough to realize his most aspiring dream. Two years before his death the Irish baron was quietly converted into an English peer; and without exciting any attention, all the squibs of Fitzpatrick, all the jokes of Hare, quite forgotten, the waiter of the St James’s Street club took his seat in the most natural manner possible in the House of Lords.
The great estate of the late Lord Fitz–Warene was situated at Mowbray, a village which principally belonged to him, and near which he had raised a gothic castle, worthy of his Norman name and ancestry. Mowbray was one of those places which during the long war had expanded from an almost unknown village to a large and flourishing manufacturing town; a circumstance, which, as Lady Marney observed, might have somewhat deteriorated the atmosphere of the splendid castle, but which had nevertheless doubled the vast rental of its lord. He who had succeeded to his father was Altamont Belvidere (named after his mother’s family) Fitz–Warene, Lord Fitz–Warene. He was not deficient in abilities, though he had not his father’s talents, but he was over-educated for his intellect; a common misfortune. The new Lord Fitz–Warene was the most aristocratic of breathing beings. He most fully, entirely, and absolutely believed in his pedigree; his coat of arms was emblazoned on every window, embroidered on every chair, carved in every corner. Shortly after his father’s death he was united to the daughter of a ducal house, by whom he had a son and two daughters, chrisened by names which the ancient records of the Fitz–Warenes authorised. His son, who gave promise of abilities which might have rendered the family really distinguished, was Valence; his daughters, Joan and Maud. All that seemed wanting to the glory of the house was a great distinction of which a rich peer, with six seats in the House of Commons, could not ultimately despair. Lord Fitz–Warene aspired to rank among the earls of England. But the successors of Mr Pitt were strong; they thought the Fitz–Warenes had already been too rapidly advanced; it was whispered that the king did not like the new man; that his majesty thought him pompous, full of pretence, in short, a fool. But though the successors of Mr Pitt managed to govern the country for twenty years and were generally very strong, in such an interval of time however good their management or great their luck, there were inevitably occasions when they found themselves in difficulties, when it was necessary to conciliate the lukewarm or to reward the devoted. Lord Fitz–Warene well understood how to avail himself of these occasions; it was astonishing how conscientious and scrupulous he became during Walcheren expeditions, Manchester massacres, Queen’s trials. Every scrape of the government was a step in the ladder to the great borough-monger. The old king too had disappeared from the stage; and the tawdry grandeur of the great Norman peer rather suited George the Fourth. He was rather a favourite at the Cottage; they wanted his six votes for Canning; he made his terms; and one of the means by which we got a man of genius for a minister, was elevating Lord Fitz–Warene in the peerage, by the style and title of Earl de Mowbray of Mowbray Castle.
We must now for a while return to the strangers of the Abbey ruins. When the two men had joined the beautiful Religious, whose apparition had so startled Egremont, they all three quitted the Abbey by a way which led them by the back of the cloister garden, and so on by the bank of the river for about a hundred yards, when they turned up the winding glen of a dried-up tributary stream. At the head of the glen, at which they soon arrived, was a beer-shop, screened by some huge elms from the winds that blew over the vast moor, which, except in the direction of Mardale, now extended as far as the eye could reach. Here the companions stopped, the beautiful Religious seated herself on a stone bench beneath the trees, while the elder stranger calling out to the inmate of the house to apprise him of his return, himself proceeded to a neighbouring shed, whence he brought forth a very small rough pony with a rude saddle, but one evidently intended for a female rider.
“It is well,” said the taller of the men “that I am not a member of a temperance society like you, Stephen, or it would be difficult to reward this good man for his care of our steed. I will take a cup of the drink of Saxon kings.” Then leading up the pony to the Religious, he placed her on its back with gentleness and much natural grace, saying at the same time in a subdued tone, “And you — shall I bring you a glass of nature’s wine?”
“I have drank of the spring of the Holy Abbey,” said the Religious, “and none other must touch my lips this eve.”
“Come, our course must be brisk,” said the elder of the men as he gave up his glass to their host and led off the pony, Stephen walking on its other side.
Though the sun had fallen, the twilight was still glowing, and even on this wide expanse the air was still. The vast and undulating surface of the brown and purple moor, varied occasionally by some fantastic rocks, gleamed in the shifting light. Hesperus was the only star that yet was visible, and seemed to move before them and lead them on their journey.
“I hope,” said the Religious, turning to the elder stranger, “that if ever we regain our right, my father, and that we ever can save by the interposition of divine will seems to me clearly impossible, that you will never forget how bitter it is to be driven from the soil; and that you will bring back the people to the land.”
“I would pursue our right for no other cause,” said the father. “After centuries of sorrow and degradation, it should never be said, that we had no sympathy with the sad and the oppressed.”
“After centuries of sorrow and degradation,” said Stephen, “let it not be said that you acquired your right only to create a baron or a squire.”
“Nay, thou shalt have thy way, Stephen,” said his companion, smiling, “if ever the good hour come. As many acres as thou choosest for thy new Jerusalem.”
“Call it what you will, Walter,” replied Stephen; “but if I ever gain the opportunity of fully carrying the principle of association into practice, I will sing ‘Nunc me dimittas.’”
“‘Nunc me dimittas,’” burst forth the Religious in a voice of thrilling melody, and she pursued for some minutes the divine canticle. Her companions gazed on her with an air of affectionate reverence as she sang; each instant the stars becoming brighter, the wide moor assuming a darker hue.
“Now, tell me, Stephen,” said the Religious, turning her head and looking round with a smile, “think you not it would be a fairer lot to bide this night at some kind monastery, than to be hastening now to that least picturesque of all creations, a railway station.”
“The railways will do as much for mankind as the monasteries did,” said Stephen.
“Had it not been for the railway, we should never have made our visit to Marney Abbey,” said the elder of the travellers.
“Nor seen its last abbot’s tomb,” said the Religious. “When I marked your name upon the stone, my father; — woe is me, but I felt sad indeed, that it was reserved for our blood to surrender to ruthless men that holy trust.”
“He never surrendered,” said her father. “He was tortured and hanged.”
“He is with the communion of saints,” said the Religious.
“I would I could see a communion of Men,” said Stephen, “and then there would be no more violence, for there would be no more plunder.”
“You must regain our lands for us, Stephen,” said the Religious; “promise me my father that I shall raise a holy house for pious women, if that ever hap.”
“We will not forget our ancient faith,” said her father, “the only old thing that has not left us.”
“I cannot understand,” said Stephen, “why you should ever have lost sight of these papers, Walter.”
“You see, friend, they were never in my possession; they were never mine when I saw them. They were my father’s; and he was jealous of all interference. He was a small yeoman, who had risen in the war time, well to do in the world, but always hankering after the old tradition that the lands were ours. This Hatton got hold of him; he did his work well, I have heard; — certain it is my father spared nothing. It is twenty-five years come Martinmas since he brought his writ of right; and though baffled, he was not beaten. But then he died; his affairs were in great confusion; he had mortgaged his land for his writ, and the war prices were gone. There were debts that could not be paid. I had no capital for a farm. I would not sink to be a labourer on the soil that had once been our own. I had just married; it was needful to make a great exertion. I had heard much of the high wages of this new industry; I left the land.”
“And the papers?”
“I never thought of them, or thought of them with disgust, as the cause of my ruin. Then when you came the other day, and showed me in the book that the last abbot of Marney was a Walter Gerard, the old feeling stirred again; and I could not help telling you that my fathers fought at Azincourt, though I was only the overlooker at Mr Trafford’s mill.”
“A good old name of the good old faith,” said the Religious; “and a blessing be on it.”
“We have cause to bless it,” said Gerard. “I thought it then something to serve a gentleman; and as for my daughter, she, by their goodness, was brought up in holy walls, which have made her what she is.”
“Nature made her what she is,” said Stephen in a low voice, and speaking not without emotion. Then he continued, in a louder and brisker tone, “But this Hatton — you know nothing of his whereabouts?”
“Never heard of him since. I had indeed about a year after my father’s death, cause to enquire after him; but he had quitted Mowbray, and none could give me tidings of him. He had lived I believe on our law-suit, and vanished with our hopes.”
After this, there was silence; each was occupied with his thoughts, while the influence of the soft night and starry hour induced to contemplation.
“I hear the murmur of the train,” said the Religious.
“’Tis the up-train,” said her father. “We have yet a quarter of an hour; we shall be in good time.”
So saying, he guided the pony to where some lights indicated the station of the railway, which here crossed the moor. There was just time to return the pony to the person at the station from whom it had been borrowed, and obtain their tickets, when the bell of the down-train sounded, and in a few minutes the Religious and her companions were on their way to Mowbray, whither a course of two hours carried them.
It was two hours to midnight when they arrived at Mowbray station, which was about a quarter of a mile from the town. Labour had long ceased; a beautiful heaven, clear and serene, canopied the city of smoke and toil; in all directions rose the columns of the factories, dark and defined in the purple sky; a glittering star sometimes hovering by the crest of their tall and tapering forms.
The travellers proceeded in the direction of a suburb and approached the very high wall of an extensive garden. The moon rose as they reached it, tipped the trees with light, and revealed a lofty and centre portal, by the side of it a wicket at which Gerard rang. The wicket was quickly opened.
“I fear, holy sister,” said the Religious, “that I am even later than I promised.”
“Those that come in our lady’s name are ever welcome,” was the reply.
“Sister Marion,” said Gerard to the porteress, “we have been to visit a holy place.”
“All places are holy with holy thoughts, my brother.”
“Dear father, good night,” said the Religious; “the blessings of all the saints be on thee — and on thee, Stephen, though thou dost not kneel to them.”
“Good night, mine own child,” said Gerard.
“I could believe in saints when I am with thee,” murmured Stephen; “Good night — SYBIL.”
When Gerard and his friend quitted the convent they proceeded at a brisk pace, into the heart of the town. The streets were nearly empty; and with the exception of some occasional burst of brawl or merriment from a beer-shop, all was still. The chief street of Mowbray, called Castle Street after the ruins of the old baronial stronghold in its neighbourhood, was as significant of the present civilization of this community as the haughty keep had been of its ancient dependence. The dimensions of Castle Street were not unworthy of the metropolis: it traversed a great portion of the town, and was proportionately wide; its broad pavements and its blazing gas-lights indicated its modern order and prosperity; while on each side of the street rose huge warehouses, not as beautiful as the palaces of Venice, but in their way not less remarkable; magnificent shops; and here and there, though rarely, some ancient factory built among the fields in the infancy of Mowbray by some mill-owner not sufficiently prophetic of the future, or sufficiently confident in the energy and enterprise of his fellow-citizens, to foresee that the scene of his labours would be the future eye-sore of a flourishing posterity.
Pursuing their course along Castle Street for about a quarter of a mile, Gerard and Stephen turned down a street which intersected it, and so on, through a variety of ways and winding lanes, till they arrived at an open portion of the town, a district where streets and squares and even rows, disappeared, and where the tall chimneys and bulky barrack-looking buildings that rose in all directions, clustering yet isolated, announced that they were in the principal scene of the industry of Mowbray. Crossing this open ground they gained a suburb, but one of a very different description to that in which was situate the convent where they had parted with Sybil. This one was populous, noisy, and lighted. It was Saturday night; the streets were thronged; an infinite population kept swarming to and fro the close courts and pestilential cul-desacs that continually communicated with the streets by narrow archways, like the entrance of hives, so low that you were obliged to stoop for admission: while ascending to these same streets, from their dank and dismal dwellings by narrow flights of steps the subterraneous nation of the cellars poured forth to enjoy the coolness of the summer night, and market for the day of rest. The bright and lively shops were crowded; and groups of purchasers were gathered round the stalls, that by the aid of glaring lamps and flaunting lanthorns, displayed their wares.
“Come, come, it’s a prime piece,” said a jolly looking woman, who was presiding at a stall which, though considerably thinned by previous purchasers, still offered many temptations to many who could not purchase.
“And so it is widow,” said a little pale man, wistfully.
“Come, come, it’s getting late, and your wife’s ill; you’re a good soul, we’ll say fi’pence a pound, and I’ll throw you the scrag end in for love.”
“No butcher’s meat tomorrow for us, widow,” said the man.
“And why not, neighbour? With your wages, you ought to live like a prize-fighter, or the mayor of Mowbray at least.”
“Wages!” said the man, “I wish you may get ’em. Those villains, Shuffle and Screw, have sarved me with another bate ticket: and a pretty figure too.”
“Oh! the carnal monsters!” exclaimed the widow. “If their day don’t come, the bloody-minded knaves!”
“And for small cops, too! Small cops be hanged! Am I the man to send up a bad-bottomed cop, Widow Carey?”
“You sent up for snicks! I have known you man and boy John Hill these twenty summers, and never heard a word against you till you got into Shuffle and Screw’s mill. Oh! they are a bad yarn, John.”
“They do us all, widow. They pretends to give the same wages as the rest, and works it out in fines. You can’t come, and you can’t go, but there’s a fine; you’re never paid wages, but there’s a bate ticket. I’ve heard they keep their whole establishment on factory fines.”
“Soul alive, but those Shuffle and Screw are rotten, snickey, bad yarns,” said Mistress Carey. “Now ma’am, if you please; fi’pence ha’penny; no, ma’am, we’ve no weal left. Weal, indeed! you look very like a soul as feeds on weal,” continued Mrs Carey in an under tone as her declining customer moved away. “Well, it gets late,” said the widow, “and if you like to take this scrag end home to your wife neighbour Hill, we can talk of the rest next Saturday. And what’s your will, sir?” said the widow with a stern expression to a youth who now stopped at her stall.
He was about sixteen, with a lithe figure, and a handsome, faded, impudent face. His long, loose, white trousers gave him height; he had no waistcoat, but a pink silk handkerchief was twisted carelessly round his neck, and fastened with a very large pin, which, whatever were its materials, had unquestionably a very gorgeous appearance. A loose frock-coat of a coarse white cloth, and fastened by one button round his waist, completed his habiliments, with the addition of the covering to his head, a high-crowned dark-brown hat, which relieved his complexion, and heightened the effect of his mischievous blue eye.
“Well, you need not be so fierce, Mother Carey,” said the youth with an affected air of deprecation.
“Don’t mother me,” said the jolly widow with a kindling eye; “go to your own mother, who is dying in a back cellar without a winder, while you’ve got lodgings in a two pair.”
“Dying; she’s only drunk,” said the youth.
“And if she is only drunk,” rejoined Mrs Carey in a passion, “what makes her drink but toil; working from five o’clock in the morning to seven o’clock at night, and for the like of such as you.”
“That’s a good one,” said the youth; “I should like to know what my mother ever did for me, but give me treacle and laudanum when I was a babby to stop my tongue and fill my stomach; by the token of which, as my gal says, she stunted the growth of the prettiest figure in all Mowbray.” And here the youth drew himself up, and thrust his hands in the side pockets of his pea-jacket.
“Well, I never,” said Mrs Carey. “No; I never heard a thing like that!”
“What, not when you cut up the jackass and sold it for veal cutlets, mother.”
“Hold your tongue, Mr Imperence,” said the widow. “It’s very well known you’re no Christian, and who’ll believe what you say?”
“It’s very well known that I’m a man what pays his way,” said the boy, “and don’t keep a huckster’s stall to sell carrion by star-light; but live in a two pair, if you please, and has a wife and family, or as good.”
“O! you aggravating imp!” exclaimed the widow in despair, unable to wreak her vengeance on one who kept in a secure position, and whose movements were as nimble as his words.
“Why, Madam Carey, what has Dandy Mick done to thee?” said a good-humoured voice, it came from one of two factory girls who were passing her stall and stopped. They were gaily dressed, a light handkerchief tied under the chin, their hair scrupulously arranged; they wore coral neck-laces and earrings of gold.
“Ah! is it you, my child,” said the widow, who was a good-hearted creature. “The dandy has been giving me some of his imperence.”
“But I meant nothing, dame,” said Mick. “It was a joke — only a joke.”
“Well, let it pass,” said Mrs Carey. “And where have you been this long time, my child; and who’s your friend?” she added in a lower tone.
“Well, I have left Mr Trafford’s mill,” said the girl.
“That’s a bad job,” said Mrs Carey; “for those Traffords are kind to their people. It’s a great thing for a young person to be in their mill.”
“So it is,” said the girl, “but then it was so dull. I can’t stand a country life, Mrs Carey. I must have company.”
“Well, I do love a bit of gossip myself,” said Mrs Carey, with great frankness.
“And then I’m no scholar,” said the girl, “and never could take to learning. And those Traffords had so many schools.”
“Learning is better than house and land,” said Mrs Carey; “though I’m no scholar myself; but then, in my time, things was different. But young persons —”
“Yes,” said Mick; “I don’t think I could get through the day, if it wurno’ for our Institute.”
“And what’s that?” asked Mrs Carey with a sneer.
“The Shoddy–Court Literary and Scientific, to be sure,” said Mick; “we have got fifty members, and take in three London papers; one ‘Northern Star’ and two ‘Moral Worlds.’”
“And where are you now, child?” continued the widow to the girl.
“I am at Wiggins and Webster’s,” said the girl; “and this is my partner. We keep house together; we have a very nice room in Arbour Court, No. 7, high up; it’s very airy. If you will take a dish of tea with us tomorrow, we expect some friends.”
“I take it kindly,” said Mrs Carey; “and so you keep house together! All the children keep house in these days. Times is changed indeed!”
“And we shall be happy to see you, Mick; and Julia, if you are not engaged;” continued the girl; and she looked at her friend, a pretty demure girl, who immediately said, but in a somewhat faultering tone, “Oh! that we shall.”
“And what are you going to do now, Caroline?” said Mick.
“Well, we had no thoughts; but I said to Harriet, as it is a fine night, let us walk about as long as we can and then tomorrow we will lie in bed till afternoon.”
“That’s all well eno’ in winter time with plenty of baccy,” said Mick, “but at this season of the year I must have life. The moment I came out I bathed in the river, and then went home and dressed,” he added in a satisfied tone; “and now I am going to the Temple. I’ll tell you what, Julia has been pricked today with a shuttle, ’tis not much, but she can’t go out; I’ll stand treat, and take you and your friend to the Temple.”
“Well, that’s delight,” said Caroline. “There’s no one does the handsome thing like you, Dandy Mick, and I always say so. Oh! I love the Temple! ’Tis so genteel! I was speaking of it to Harriet last night; she never was there. I proposed to go with her — but two girls alone — you understand me. One does not like to be seen in these places, as if one kept no company.”
“Very true,” said Mick; “and now we’ll be off. Good night, widow.”
“You’ll remember us tomorrow evening,” said Caroline. “To-morrow evening! The Temple!” murmured Mrs Carey to herself. “I think the world is turned upside downwards in these parts. A brat like Mick Radley to live in a two pair, with a wife and family, or as good as he says; and this girl asks me to take a dish of tea with her and keeps house! Fathers and mothers goes for nothing,” continued Mrs Carey, as she took a very long pinch of snuff and deeply mused. “’tis the children gets the wages,” she added after a profound pause, “and there it is.”
In the meantime Gerard and Stephen stopped before a tall, thin, stuccoed house, ballustraded and friezed, very much lighted both within and without, and, from the sounds that issued from it, and the persons who retired and entered, evidently a locality of great resort and bustle. A sign, bearing the title of the Cat and Fiddle, indicated that it was a place of public entertainment, and kept by one who owned the legal name of John Trottman, though that was but a vulgar appellation, lost in his well-earned and far-famed title of Chaffing Jack.
The companions entered the spacious premises; and making their way to the crowded bar, Stephen, with a glance serious but which indicated intimacy, caught the eye of a comely lady, who presided over the mysteries, and said in a low voice, “Is he here?”
“In the Temple, Mr Morley, asking for you and your friend more than once. I think you had better go up. I know he wishes to see you.”
Stephen whispered to Gerard and after a moment’s pause, he asked the fair president for a couple of tickets for each of which he paid threepence; a sum however, according to the printed declaration of the voucher, convertible into potential liquid refreshments, no great compensation to a very strict member of the Temperance Society of Mowbray.
A handsome staircase with bright brass bannisters led them to an ample landing-place, on which opened a door, now closed and by which sate a boy who collected the tickets of those who would enter it. The portal was of considerable dimensions and of architectural pretension; it was painted of a bright green colour, the panels gilt. Within the pediment, described in letters of flaming gas, you read, “THE TEMPLE OF THE MUSES.”
Gerard and Morley entered an apartment very long and sufficiently lofty, though rather narrow for such proportions. The ceiling was even richly decorated; the walls were painted, and by a brush of considerable power. Each panel represented some well-known scene from Shakespeare, Byron, or Scott: King Richard, Mazeppa, the Lady of the Lake were easily recognized: in one panel, Hubert menaced Arthur; here Haidee rescued Juan; and there Jeanie Deans curtsied before the Queen. The room was very full; some three or four hundred persons were seated in different groups at different tables, eating, drinking, talking, laughing, and even smoking, for notwithstanding the pictures and the gilding it was found impossible to forbid, though there were efforts to discourage, this practice, in the Temple of the Muses. Nothing however could be more decorous than the general conduct of the company, though they consisted principally of factory people. The waiters flew about with as much agility as if they were serving nobles. In general the noise was great, though not disagreeable; sometimes a bell rang and there was comparative silence, while a curtain drew up at the further end of the room, opposite to the entrance, and where there was a theatre, the stage raised at a due elevation, and adorned with side scenes from which issued a lady in a fancy dress who sang a favourite ballad; or a gentleman elaborately habited in a farmer’s costume of the old comedy, a bob-wig, silver buttons and buckles, and blue stockings, and who favoured the company with that melancholy effusion called a comic song. Some nights there was music on the stage; a young lady in a white robe with a golden harp, and attended by a gentleman in black mustachios. This was when the principal harpiste of the King of Saxony and his first fiddler happened to be passing through Mowbray, merely by accident, or on a tour of pleasure and instruction, to witness the famous scenes of British industry. Otherwise the audience of the Cat and Fiddle, we mean the Temple of the Muses, were fain to be content with four Bohemian brothers, or an equal number of Swiss sisters. The most popular amusements however were the “Thespian recitations:” by amateurs, or novices who wished to become professional. They tried their metal on an audience which could be critical.
A sharp waiter, with a keen eye on the entering guests, immediately saluted Gerard and his friend, with profuse offers of hospitality: insisting that they wanted much refreshment; that they were both very hungry and very thirsty: that, if not hungry, they should order something to drink that would give them an appetite: if not inclined to quaff, something to eat that would make them athirst. In the midst of these embarrassing attentions, he was pushed aside by his master with, “There, go; hands wanted at the upper end; two American gentlemen from Lowell singing out for Sherry Cobler; don’t know what it is; give them our bar mixture; if they complain, say it’s the Mowbray slap-bang, and no mistake. Must have a name, Mr Morley; name’s everything; made the fortune of the Temple: if I had called it the Saloon, it never would have filled, and perhaps the magistrates never have granted a licence.”
The speaker was a very portly man who had passed the maturity of manhood, but active as Harlequin. He had a well-favoured countenance; fair, good-humoured, but very sly. He was dressed like the head butler of the London Tavern, and was particular as to his white waistcoats and black silk stockings, punctilious as to his knee-buckles, proud of his diamond pin; that is to say when he officiated at the Temple.
“Your mistress told us we should find you here,” said Stephen, “and that you wished to see us.
“Plenty to tell you,” said their host putting his finger to his nose. “If information is wanted in this part of the world, I flatter myself — Come, Master Gerard, here’s a table; what shall I call for? glass of the Mowbray slap-bang? No better; the receipt has been in our family these fifty years. Mr Morley I know won’t join us. Did you say a cup of tea, Mr Morley? Water, only water; well, that’s strange. Boy alive there, do you hear me call? Water wanted, glass of water for the Secretary of the Mowbray Temperance and Teatotal. Sing it out. I like titled company. Brush!”
“And so you can give us some information about this —”
“Be back directly.” exclaimed their host: and darting off with a swift precision, that carried him through a labyrinth of tables without the slightest inconvenience to their occupiers. “Beg pardon, Mr Morley,” he said, sliding again into his chair; “but saw one of the American gentlemen brandishing his bowie-knife against one of my waiters; called him Colonel; quieted him directly; a man of his rank brawling with a help; oh! no; not to be thought of; no squabbling here; licence in danger.”
“You were saying —” resumed Morley.
“Ah! yes, about that man Hatton; remember him perfectly well; a matter of twenty or it may be nineteen years since he bolted. Queer fellow; lived upon nothing; only drank water; no temperance and teetotal then, so no excuse. Beg pardon, Mr Morley; no offence I hope; can’t bear whims; but respectable societies, if they don’t drink, they make speeches, hire your rooms, leads to business.”
“And this Hatton —” said Gerard.
“Ah! a queer fellow; lent him a one-pound note — never saw it again — always remember it — last one-pound note I had. He offered me an old book instead; not in my way; took a china jar for my wife. He kept a curiosity shop; always prowling about the country, picking up old books and hunting after old monuments; called himself an antiquarian; queer fellow, that Hatton.”
“And you have heard of him since?” said Gerard rather impatiently.
“Not a word,” said their host; “never knew any one who had.”
“I thought you had something to tell us about him,” said Stephen.
“So I have; I can put you in the way of getting hold of him and anything else. I havn’t lived in Mowbray man and boy for fifty years; seen it a village, and now a great town full of first-rate institutions and establishments like this,” added their host surveying the Temple with a glance of admiring complacency; “I say I havn’t lived here all this time and talked to the people for nothing.”
“Well, we are all attention,” said Gerard with a smile.
“Hush!” said their host as a bell sounded, and he jumped up. “Now ladies, now gentlemen, if you please; silence if you please for a song from a Polish lady. The Signora sings English like a new-born babe;” and the curtain drew up amid the hushed voices of the company and the restrained clatter of their knives and forks and glasses.
The Polish lady sang “Cherry Ripe” to the infinite satisfaction of her audience. Young Mowbray indeed, in the shape of Dandy Mick and some of his followers and admirers, insisted on an encore. The lady as she retired curtseyed like a Prima Donna; but the host continued on his legs for some time, throwing open his coat and bowing to his guests, who expressed by their applause how much they approved his enterprise. At length he resumed his seat; “It’s almost too much.” he exclaimed; “the enthusiasm of these people. I believe they look upon me as a father.”
“And you think you have some clue to this Hatton?” resumed Stephen.
“They say he has no relations,” said their host.
“I have heard as much.”
“Another glass of the bar mixture, Master Gerard. What did we call it? Oh! the bricks and beans — the Mowbray bricks and beans; known by that name in the time of my grandfather. No more! No use asking Mr Morley I know. Water! well, I must say — and yet, in an official capacity, drinking water is not so unnatural.”
“And Hatton.” said Gerard; “they say he has no relations, eh?”
“They do, and they say wrong. He has a relation; he has a brother; and I can put you in the way of finding him.”
“Well, that looks like business,” said Gerard; “and where may he be?”
“Not here,” said their host; “he never put his foot in the Temple to my knowledge; and lives in a place where they have as much idea of popular institutions as any Turks or heathen you ever heard of.”
“And where might we find him?” said Stephen.
“What’s that?” said their host jumping up and looking around him. “Here boys, brush about. The American gentleman is a whittling his name on that new mahogany table. Take him the printed list of rules, stuck up in a public place, under a great coat, and fine him five shillings for damaging the furniture. If he resists (he has paid for his liquor), call in the police; X. Z. No. 5 is in the bar, taking tea with your mistress. Now brush.”
“And this place is —”
“In the land of mines and minerals,” said their host; “about ten miles from ——. He works in metals on his own account. You have heard of a place called Hell-house Yard; well, he lives there; and his name is Simon.”
“And does he keep up any communication with his brother, think you?” said Gerard.
“Nay, I know no more; at least at present,” said their host. “The secretary asked me about a person absent without leave for twenty years and who was said to have no relations, I found you one and a very near one. You are at the station and you have got your ticket. The American gentleman’s wiolent. Here’s the police. I must take a high tone.” And with these words Chaffing Jack quitted them.
In the meantime, we must not forget Dandy Mick and his two young friends whom he had so generously offered to treat to the Temple.
“Well, what do you think of it?” asked Caroline of Harriet in a whisper as they entered the splendid apartment.
“It’s just what I thought the Queen lived in,” said Harriet; “but indeed I’m all of a flutter.”
“Well, don’t look as if you were,” said her friend.
“Come along gals,” said Mick; “who’s afraid? Here, we’ll sit down at this table. Now, what shall we have? Here waiter; I say waiter!”
“Yes, sir, yes, sir.”
“Well, why don’t you come when I call,” said Mick with a consequential air. “I have been hallooing these ten minutes. Couple of glasses of bar mixture for these ladies and go of gin for myself. And I say waiter, stop, stop, don’t be in such a deuced hurry; do you think folks can drink without eating; — sausages for three; and damme, take care they are not burnt.”
“Yes, sir, directly, directly.”
“That’s the way to talk to these fellows,” said Mick with a self-satisfied air, and perfectly repaid by the admiring gaze of his companions.
“It’s pretty Miss Harriet,” said Mick looking up at the ceiling with a careless nil admirari glance.
“Oh! it is beautiful,” said Harriet.
“You never were here before; it’s the only place. That’s the Lady of the Lake,” he added, pointing to a picture; “I’ve seen her at the Circus, with real water.”
The hissing sausages crowning a pile of mashed potatoes were placed before them; the delicate rummers of the Mowbray slap-bang, for the girls; the more masculine pewter measure for their friend.
“Are the plates very hot?” said Mick;
“Hot plates half the battle,” said Mick.
“Now, Caroline; here, Miss Harriet; don’t take away your plate, wait for the mash; they mash their taters here very elegant.”
It was a very happy and very merry party. Mick delighted to help his guests, and to drink their healths.
“Well,” said he when the waiter had cleared away their plates, and left them to their less substantial luxuries. “Well,” said Mick, sipping a renewed glass of gin twist and leaning back in his chair, “say what they please, there’s nothing like life.”
“At the Traffords’,” said Caroline, “the greatest fun we ever had was a singing class.”
“I pity them poor devils in the country,” said Mick; “we got some of them at Collinson’s — come from Suffolk they say; what they call hagricultural labourers, a very queer lot, indeed.”
“Ah! them’s the himmigrants,” said Caroline; “they’re sold out of slavery, and sent down by Pickford’s van into the labour market to bring down our wages.”
“We’ll teach them a trick or two before they do that,” urged Mick. “Where are you, Miss Harriet?”
“I’m at Wiggins and Webster’s, sir.”
“Where they clean machinery during meal-time; that won’t do,” said Mick. “I see one of your partners coming in,” said Mick, making many signals to a person who very soon joined them. “Well, Devilsdust, how are you?”
This was the familiar appellation of a young gentleman, who really had no other, baptismal or patrimonial. About a fortnight after his mother had introduced him into the world, she returned to her factory and put her infant out to nurse, that is to say, paid threepence a week to an old woman who takes charge of these new-born babes for the day, and gives them back at night to their mothers as they hurriedly return from the scene of their labour to the dungeon or the den, which is still by courtesy called “home.” The expense is not great: laudanum and treacle, administered in the shape of some popular elixir, affords these innocents a brief taste of the sweets of existence, and keeping them quiet, prepares them for the silence of their impending grave. Infanticide is practised as extensively and as legally in England, as it is on the banks of the Ganges; a circumstance which apparently has not yet engaged the attention of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. But the vital principle is an impulse from an immortal artist, and sometimes baffles, even in its tenderest phasis, the machinations of society for its extinction. There are infants that will defy even starvation and poison, unnatural mothers and demon nurses. Such was the nameless one of whom we speak. We cannot say he thrived; but he would not die. So at two years of age, his mother being lost sight of, and the weekly payment having ceased, he was sent out in the street to “play,” in order to be run over. Even this expedient failed. The youngest and the feeblest of the band of victims, Juggernaut spared him to Moloch. All his companions were disposed of. Three months’ “play” in the streets got rid of this tender company — shoeless, half-naked, and uncombed — whose age varied from two to five years. Some were crushed, some were lost, some caught cold and fevers, crept back to their garret or their cellars, were dosed with Godfrey’s cordial, and died in peace. The nameless one would not disappear. He always got out of the way of the carts and horses, and never lost his own. They gave him no food: he foraged for himself, and shared with the dogs the garbage of the streets. But still he lived; stunted and pale, he defied even the fatal fever which was the only habitant of his cellar that never quitted it. And slumbering at night on a bed of mouldering straw, his only protection against the plashy surface of his den, with a dungheap at his head and a cesspool at his feet, he still clung to the only roof which shielded him from the tempest.
At length when the nameless one had completed his fifth year, the pest which never quitted the nest of cellars of which he was a citizen, raged in the quarter with such intensity, that the extinction of its swarming population was menaced. The haunt of this child was peculiarly visited. All the children gradually sickened except himself; and one night when he returned home he found the old woman herself dead, and surrounded only by corpses. The child before this had slept on the same bed of straw with a corpse, but then there were also breathing beings for his companions. A night passed only with corpses seemed to him in itself a kind of death. He stole out of the cellar, quitted the quarter of pestilence, and after much wandering laid down near the door of a factory. Fortune had guided him. Soon after break of day, he was woke by the sound of the factory bell, and found assembled a crowd of men, women, and children. The door opened, they entered, the child accompanied them. The roll was called; his unauthorized appearance noticed; he was questioned; his acuteness excited attention. A child was wanted in the Wadding Hole, a place for the manufacture of waste and damaged cotton, the refuse of the mills, which is here worked up into counterpanes and coverlids. The nameless one was prefered to the vacant post, received even a salary, more than that, a name; for as he had none, he was christened on the spot — DEVILSDUST.
Devilsdust had entered life so early that at seventeen he combined the experience of manhood with the divine energy of youth. He was a first-rate workman and received high wages; he had availed himself of the advantages of the factory school; he soon learnt to read and write with facility, and at the moment of our history, was the leading spirit of the Shoddy–Court Literary and Scientific Institute. His great friend, his only intimate, was Dandy Mick. The apparent contrariety of their qualities and structure perhaps led to this. It is indeed the most assured basis of friendship. Devilsdust was dark and melancholy; ambitious and discontented; full of thought, and with powers of patience and perseverance that alone amounted to genius. Mick was as brilliant as his complexion; gay, irritable, evanescent, and unstable. Mick enjoyed life; his friend only endured it; yet Mick was always complaining of the lowness of his wages and the greatness of his toil; while Devilsdust never murmured, but read and pondered on the rights of labour, and sighed to vindicate his order.
“I have some thoughts of joining the Total Abstinence,” said Devilsdust; “ever since I read Stephen Morley’s address it has been in my mind. We shall never get our rights till we leave off consuming exciseable articles; and the best thing to begin with is liquors.”
“Well, I could do without liquors myself,” said Caroline. “If I was a lady, I would never drink anything except fresh milk from the cow.”
“Tea for my money,” said Harriet; “I must say there’s nothing I grudge for good tea. Now I keep house, I mean always to drink the best.”
“Well, you have not yet taken the pledge, Dusty,” said Mick: “and so suppose we order a go of gin and talk this matter of temperance over.”
Devilsdust was manageable in little things, especially by Mick; he acceded, and seated himself at their table.
“I suppose you have heard this last dodge of Shuffle and Screw, Dusty,” said Mick.
“Every man had his key given him this evening — half-a-crown a week round deducted from wages for rent. Jim Plastow told them he lodged with his father and didn’t want a house; upon which they said he must let it.”
“Their day will come,” said Devilsdust, thoughtfully. “I really think that those Shuffle and Screws are worse even than Truck and Trett. You knew where you were with those fellows; it was five-and-twenty per cent, off wages and very bad stuff for your money. But as for Shuffle and Screw, what with their fines and their keys, a man never knows what he has to spend. Come,” he added filling his glass, “let’s have a toast — Confusion to Capital.”
“That’s your sort,” said Mick. “Come, Caroline; drink to your partner’s toast, Miss Harriet. Money’s the root of all evil, which nobody can deny. We’ll have the rights of labour yet; the ten-hour bill, no fines, and no individuals admitted to any work who have not completed their sixteenth year.”
“No, fifteen,” said Caroline eagerly.
“The people won’t bear their grievances much longer,” said Devilsdust.
“I think one of the greatest grievances the people have,” said Caroline, “is the beaks serving notice on Chaffing Jack to shut up the Temple on Sunday nights.”
“It is infamous,” said Mick; “aynt we to have no recreation? One might as well live in Suffolk, where the immigrants come from, and where they are obliged to burn ricks to pass the time.”
“As for the rights of labour,” said Harriet, “the people goes for nothing with this machinery.”
“And you have opened your mouth to say a very sensible thing Miss Harriet,” said Mick; “but if I were Lord Paramount for eight-and-forty hours, I’d soon settle that question. Wouldn’t I fire a broadside into their ‘double deckers?’ The battle of Navarino at Mowbray fair with fourteen squibs from the admiral’s ship going off at the same time, should be nothing to it.”
“Labour may be weak, but Capital is weaker,” said Devilsdust. “Their capital is all paper.”
“I tell you what,” said Mick, with a knowing look, and in a lowered tone, “The only thing, my hearties, that can save this here nation, is — a — good strike.”
“Your lordship’s dinner is served,” announced the groom of the chambers to Lord de Mowbray; and the noble lord led out Lady Marney. The rest followed. Egremont found himself seated next to Lady Maud Fitz–Warene, the younger daughter of the earl. Nearly opposite to him was Lady Joan.
The ladies Fitz–Warene were sandy girls, somewhat tall, with rather good figures and a grand air; the eldest very ugly, the second rather pretty; and yet both very much alike. They had both great conversational powers, though in different ways. Lady Joan was doctrinal; Lady Maud inquisitive: the first often imparted information which you did not previously possess; the other suggested ideas which were often before in your own mind, but lay tranquil and unobserved, till called into life and notice by her fanciful and vivacious tongue. Both of them were endowed with a very remarkable self-possession; but Lady Joan wanted softness, and Lady Maud repose.
This was the result of the rapid observation of Egremont, who was however experienced in the world and quick in his detection of manner and of character.
The dinner was stately, as becomes the high nobility. There were many guests, yet the table seemed only a gorgeous spot in the capacious chamber. The side tables were laden with silver vases and golden shields arranged on shelves of crimson velvet. The walls were covered with Fitz–Warenes, De Mowbrays, and De Veres. The attendants glided about without noise, and with the precision of military discipline. They watched your wants, they anticipated your wishes, and they supplied all you desired with a lofty air of pompous devotion.
“You came by the railroad?” enquired Lord de Mowbray mournfully, of Lady Marney.
“From Marham; about ten miles from us,” replied her ladyship.
“A great revolution!”
“I fear it has a very dangerous tendency to equality,” said his lordship shaking his head; “I suppose Lord Marney gives them all the opposition in his power.”
“There is nobody so violent against railroads as George,” said Lady Marney; “I cannot tell you what he does not do! He organized the whole of our division against the Marham line!”
“I rather counted on him,” said Lord de Mowbray, “to assist me in resisting this joint branch here; but I was surprised to learn he had consented.”
“Not until the compensation was settled,” innocently remarked Lady Marney; “George never opposes them after that. He gave up all opposition to the Marham line when they agreed to his terms.”
“And yet,” said Lord de Mowbray, “I think if Lord Marney would take a different view of the case and look to the moral consequences, he would hesitate. Equality, Lady Marney, equality is not our metier. If we nobles do not make a stand against the levelling spirit of the age, I am at a loss to know who will fight the battle. You many depend upon it that these railroads are very dangerous things.”
“I have no doubt of it. I suppose you have heard of Lady Vanilla’s trip from Birmingham? Have you not, indeed! She came up with Lady Laura, and two of the most gentlemanlike men sitting opposite her; never met, she says, two more intelligent men. She begged one of them at Wolverhampton to change seats with her, and he was most politely willing to comply with her wishes, only it was necessary that his companion should move at the same time, for they were chained together! Two of the swell mob, sent to town for picking a pocket at Shrewsbury races.”
“A countess and a felon! So much for public conveyances,” said Lord Mowbray. “But Lady Vanilla is one of those who will talk with everybody.”
“She is very amusing though,” said Lady Marney.
“I dare say she is,” said Lord de Mowbray; “but believe me, my dear Lady Marney, in these times especially, a countess has something else to do than be amusing.”
“You think as property has its duties as well as its rights, rank has its bores as well as its pleasures.”
Lord Mowbray mused.
“How do you do, Mr Jermyn?” said a lively little lady with sparkling beady black eyes, and a very yellow complexion, though with good features; “when did you arrive in the North? I have been fighting your battles finely since I saw you,” she added shaking her head, rather with an expression of admonition than of sympathy.
“You are always fighting one’s battles Lady Firebrace; it is very kind of you. If it were not for you, we should none of us know how much we are all abused,” replied Mr Jermyn, a young M.P.
“They say you gave the most radical pledges,” said Lady Firebrace eagerly, and not without malice. “I heard Lord Muddlebrains say that if he had had the least idea of your principles, you would not have had his influence.”
“Muddlebrains can’t command a single vote,” said Mr Jermyn. “He is a political humbug, the greatest of all humbugs; a man who swaggers about London clubs and consults solemnly about his influence, and in the country is a nonentity.”
“Well, that can’t be said of Lord Clarinel,” rejoined Lady Firebrace.
“And have you been defending me against Lord Clarinel’s attacks?” inquired Mr Jermyn.
“No; but I am going to Wemsbury, and then I have no doubt I shall have the opportunity.”
“I am going to Wemsbury myself,” said Mr Jermyn.
“And what does Lord Clarinel think of your pledge about the pension list?” said Lady Firebrace daunted but malignant.
“He never told me,” said Mr Jermyn.
“I believe you did not pledge yourself to the ballot?” inquired Lady Firebrace with an affected air of inquisitiveness.
“It is a subject that requires some reflection,” said Mr Jermyn. “I must consult some profound politician like Lady Firebrace. By the bye, you told my mother that the conservatives would have a majority of fifteen. Do you think they will have as much?” said Mr Jermyn with an innocent air, it now being notorious that the whig administration had a majority of double that amount.
“I said Mr Tadpole gave us a majority of fifteen,” said Lady Firebrace. “I knew he was in error; because I had happened to see Lord Melbourne’s own list, made up to the last hour; and which gave the government a majority of sixty. It was only shown to three members of the cabinet,” she added in a tone of triumphant mystery.
Lady Firebrace, a great stateswoman among the tories, was proud of an admirer who was a member of the whig cabinet. She was rather an agreeable guest in a country-house, with her extensive correspondence, and her bulletins from both sides. Tadpole flattered by her notice, and charmed with female society that talked his own slang, and entered with affected enthusiasm into all his dirty plots and barren machinations, was vigilant in his communications; while her whig cavalier, an easy individual who always made love by talking or writing politics, abandoned himself without reserve, and instructed Lady Firebrace regularly after every council. Taper looked grave at this connection between Tadpole and Lady Firebrace; and whenever an election was lost, or a division stuck in the mud, he gave the cue with a nod and a monosyllable, and the conservative pack that infests clubs, chattering on subjects of which it is impossible they can know anything, instantly began barking and yelping, denouncing traitors, and wondering how the leaders could be so led by the nose, and not see that which was flagrant to the whole world. If, on the other hand, the advantage seemed to go with the Canton Club, or the opposition benches, then it was the whig and liberal hounds who howled and moaned, explaining everything by the indiscretion, infatuation, treason, of Lord Viscount Masque, and appealing to the initiated world of idiots around them, whether any party could ever succeed, hampered by such men, and influenced by such means.
The best of the joke was, that all this time Lord Masque and Tadpole were two old foxes, neither of whom conveyed to Lady Firebrace a single circumstance but with the wish, intention, and malice aforethought, that it should be communicated to his rival.
“I must get you to interest Lord de Mowbray in our cause,” said Sir Vavasour Firebrace, in an insinuating voice to his neighbour, Lady Joan; “I have sent him a large packet of documents. You know, he is one of us; still one of us. Once a baronet, always a baronet. The dignity merges, but does not cease; and happy as I am to see one covered with high honours, who is in every way so worthy of them, still I confess to you it is not so much as Earl de Mowbray that your worthy father interests me, as in his undoubted character and capacity of Sir Altamont Fitz–Warene, baronet.”
“You have the data on which you move I suppose well digested,” said Lady Joan, attentive but not interested.
“The case is clear; as far as equity is concerned, irresistible; indeed the late king pledged himself to a certain point. But if you would do me the favour of reading our memorial.”
“The proposition is not one adapted to our present civilisation,” said Lady Joan. “A baronetcy has become the distinction of the middle class; a physician, our physician for example, is a baronet; and I dare say some of our tradesmen; brewers, of people of that class. An attempt to elevate them into an order of nobility, however inferior, would partake in some degree of the ridiculous.”
“And has the duke escaped his gout this year?” enquired Lord Marney of Lady de Mowbray.
“A very slight touch; I never knew my father so well. I expect you will meet him here. We look for him daily.”
“I shall be delighted; I hope he will come to Marney in October. I keep the blue ribbon cover for him.”
“What you suggest is very just,” said Egremont to Lady Maud. “If we only in our own spheres made the exertion, the general effect would be great. Marney Abbey, for instance, I believe one of the finest of our monastic remains — that indeed is not disputed — diminished yearly to repair barns; the cattle browsing in the nave; all this might be prevented, If my brother would not consent to preserve or to restore, still any member of the family, even I, without expense, only with a little zeal as you say, might prevent mischief, might stop at least demolition.”
“If this movement in the church had only revived a taste for Christian architecture,” said Lady Maud, “it would not have been barren, and it has done so much more! But I am surprised that old families can be so dead to our national art; so full of our ancestors, their exploits, their mind. Indeed you and I have no excuse for such indifference Mr Egremont.”
“And I do not think I shall ever again be justly accused of it,” replied Egremont, “you plead its cause so effectively. But to tell you the truth, I have been thinking of late about these things; monasteries and so on; the influence of the old church system on the happiness and comfort of the People.”
“And on the tone of the Nobles — do not you think so?” said Lady Maud. “I know it is the fashion to deride the crusades, but do not you think they had their origin in a great impulse, and in a certain sense, led to great results? Pardon me, if I speak with emphasis, but I never can forget I am a daughter of the first crusaders.”
“The tone of society is certainly lower than of yore,” said Egremont. “It is easy to say we view the past through a fallacious medium. We have however ample evidence that men feel less deeply than of old and act with less devotion. But how far is this occasioned by the modern position of our church? That is the question.”
“You must speak to Mr St Lys about that,” said Lady Maud. “Do you know him?” she added in a lowered tone.
“No; is he here?”
“Next to mamma.”
And looking in that direction, on the left hand of Lady Mowbray, Egremont beheld a gentleman in the last year of his youth, if youth according to the scale of Hippocrates cease at thirty-five. He was distinguished by that beauty of the noble English blood, of which in these days few types remain; the Norman tempered by the Saxon; the fire of conquest softened by integrity; and a serene, though inflexible habit of mind. The chains of convention, an external life grown out of all proportion with that of the heart and mind, have destroyed this dignified beauty. There is no longer in fact an aristocracy in England, for the superiority of the animal man is an essential quality of aristocracy. But that it once existed, any collection of portraits from the sixteenth century will show.
Aubrey St Lys was a younger son of the most ancient Norman family in England. The Conqueror had given them the moderate estate on which they now lived, and which, in spite of so many civil conflicts and religious changes, they had handed down to each other, from generation to generation, for eight centuries. Aubrey St Lys was the vicar of Mowbray. He had been the college tutor of the late Lord Fitz–Warene, whose mind he had formed, whose bright abilities he had cultivated, who adored him. To that connection he owed the slight preferment which he possessed, but which was all he desired. A bishopric would not have tempted him from his peculiar charge.
In the centre of the town of Mowbray teeming with its toiling thousands, there rose a building which might vie with many of the cathedrals of our land. Beautiful its solemn towers, its sculptured western front; beautiful its columned aisles and lofty nave; its sparkling shrine and delicate chantry; most beautiful the streaming glories of its vast orient light!
This magnificent temple, built by the monks of Mowbray, and once connected with their famous house of which not a trace now remained, had in time become the parish church of an obscure village, whose population could not have filled one of its side chapels. These strange vicissitudes of ecclesiastical buildings are not singular in the north of England.
Mowbray Church remained for centuries the wonder of passing peasants, and the glory of county histories. But there is a magic in beautiful buildings which exercises an irresistible influence over the mind of man. One of the reasons urged for the destruction of the monasteries after the dispersion of their inhabitants, was the pernicious influence of their solemn and stately forms on the memories and imagination of those that beheld them. It was impossible to connect systematic crime with the creators of such divine fabrics. And so it was with Mowbray Church. When manufactures were introduced into this district, which abounded with all the qualities which were necessary for their successful pursuit, Mowbray offering equal though not superior advantages to other positions, was accorded the preference, “because it possessed such a beautiful church.” The lingering genius of the monks of Mowbray hovered round the spot which they had adorned, and sanctified, and loved; and thus they had indirectly become the authors of its present greatness and prosperity.
Unhappily for a long season the vicars of Mowbray had been little conscious of their mission. An immense population gathered round the sacred citadel and gradually spread on all sides of it for miles. But the parish church for a long time remained the only one at Mowbray when the population of the town exceeded that of some European capitals. And even in the parish church the frigid spell of Erastian self-complacency fatally prevailed. A scanty congregation gathered together for form, and as much influenced by party as higher sentiments. Going to church was held more genteel than going to meeting. The principal tradesmen of the neighbouring great houses deemed it more “aristocratic;” using a favourite and hackneyed epithet which only expressed their own servility. About the time the Church Commission issued, the congregation of Mowbray was approaching zero. There was an idea afloat for a time of making it the seat of a new bishopric; the cathedral was ready; another instance of the influence of fine art. But there was no residence for the projected prelate, and a jobbing bishop on the commission was afraid that he might have to contribute to building one. So the idea died away; and the living having become vacant at this moment, instead of a bishop, Mowbray received a humble vicar in the shape of Aubrey St Lys, who came among a hundred thousand heathens to preach “the Unknown God.”
“And how do you find the people about you, Marney?” said Lord de Mowbray seating himself on a sofa by his guest.
“All very well, my lord,” replied the earl, who ever treated Lord de Mowbray with a certain degree of ceremony, especially when the descendant of the crusaders affected the familiar. There was something of a Puck-like malignity in the temperament of Lord Marney, which exhibited itself in a remarkable talent for mortifying persons in a small way; by a gesture, an expression, a look, cloaked too very often with all the character of profound deference. The old nobility of Spain delighted to address each other only by their names, when in the presence of a spick-and-span grandee; calling each other, “Infantado,” “Sidonia,” “Ossuna,” and then turning round with the most distinguished consideration, and appealing to the Most Noble Marquis of Ensenada.
“They begin to get a little uneasy here,” said Lord de Mowbray.
“We have nothing to complain of,” said Lord Marney. “We continue reducing the rates, and as long as we do that the country must improve. The workhouse test tells. We had the other day a case of incendiarism, which frightened some people: but I inquired into it, and am quite satisfied it originated in purely accidental circumstances; at least nothing to do with wages. I ought to be a judge, for it was on my own property.”
“And what is the rate of wages, in your part of the world, Lord Marney?” inquired Mr St Lys who was standing by.
“Oh! good enough: not like your manufacturing districts; but people who work in the open air, instead of a furnace, can’t expect, and don’t require such. They get their eight shillings a week; at least generally.”
“Eight shillings a week!” said Mr St Lys. “Can a labouring man with a family, perhaps of eight children, live on eight shillings a week!”
“Oh! as for that,” said Lord Marney; “they get more than that, because there is beer-money allowed, at least to a great extent among us, though I for one do not approve of the practice, and that makes nearly a shilling per week additional; and then some of them have potatoe grounds, though I am entirely opposed to that system.
“And yet,” said Mr St Lys, “how they contrive to live is to me marvellous.”
“Oh! as for that,” said Lord Marney, “I have generally found the higher the wages the worse the workman. They only spend their money in the beer-shops. They are the curse of this country.”
“But what is a poor man to do,” said Mr St Lys; “after his day’s work if he returns to his own roof and finds no home: his fire extinguished, his food unprepared; the partner of his life, wearied with labour in the field or the factory, still absent, or perhaps in bed from exhaustion, or because she has returned wet to the skin, and has no change of raiment for her relief. We have removed woman from her sphere; we may have reduced wages by her introduction into the market of labour; but under these circumstances what we call domestic life is a condition impossible to be realized for the people of this country; and we must not therefore be surprised that they seek solace or rather refuge in the beer-shop.”
Lord Marney looked up at Mr St Lys, with a stare of high-bred impertinence, and then carelessly observed, without directing his words to him, “They may say what they like, but it is all an affair of population.”
“I would rather believe that it is an affair of resources,” said Mr St Lys; “not what is the amount of our population, but what is the amount of our resources for their maintenance.
“It comes to the same thing,” said Lord Marney. “Nothing can put this country right but emigration on a great scale; and as the government do not choose to undertake it, I have commenced it for my own defence on a small scale. I will take care that the population of my parishes is not increased. I build no cottages and I destroy all I can; and I am not ashamed or afraid to say so.”
“You have declared war to the cottage, then,” said Mr St Lys, smiling. “It is not at the first sound so startling a cry as war to the castle.”
“But you think it may lead to it?” said Lord Mowbray.
“I love not to be a prophet of evil,” said Mr St Lys.
Lord Marney rose from his seat and addressed Lady Firebrace, whose husband in another part of the room had caught Mr Jermyn, and was opening his mind on “the question of the day;” Lady Maud, followed by Egremont, approached Mr St Lys, and said, “Mr Egremont has a great feeling for Christian architecture, Mr St Lys, and wishes particularly to visit our church of which we are so proud.” And in a few moments they were seated together and engaged in conversation.
Lord Mowbray placed himself by the side of Lady Marney, who was seated by his countess.
“Oh! how I envy you at Marney,” he exclaimed. “No manufactures, no smoke; living in the midst of a beautiful park and surrounded by a contented peasantry!”
“It is very delightful,” said Lady Marney, “but then we are so very dull; we have really no neighbourhood.”
“I think that such a great advantage,” said Lady Mowbray: “I must say I like my friends from London. I never know what to say to the people here. Excellent people, the very best people in the world; the way they behaved to poor dear Fitz–Warene, when they wanted him to stand for the county, I never can forget; but then they do not know the people we know, or do the things we do; and when you have gone through the routine of county questions, and exhausted the weather and all the winds, I am positively, my dear Lady Marney, aux abois, and then they think you are proud, when really one is only stupid.”
“I am very fond of work,” said Lady Marney, “and I talk to them always about it.”
“Ah! you are fortunate, I never could work; and Joan and Maud, they neither of them work. Maud did embroider a banner once for her brother; it is in the hail. I think it beautiful; but somehow or other she never cultivated her talent.”
“For all that has occurred or may occur,” said Mr St Lys to Egremont, “I blame only the Church. The church deserted the people; and from that moment the church has been in danger and the people degraded. Formerly religion undertook to satisfy the noble wants of human nature, and by its festivals relieved the painful weariness of toil. The day of rest was consecrated, if not always to elevated thought, at least to sweet and noble sentiments. The church convened to its solemnities under its splendid and almost celestial roofs amid the finest monuments of art that human hands have raised, the whole Christian population; for there, in the presence of God, all were brethren. It shared equally among all its prayer, its incense, and its music; its sacred instructions, and the highest enjoyments that the arts could afford.”
“You believe then in the efficacy of forms and ceremonies?”
“What you call forms and ceremonies represent the divinest instincts of our nature. Push your aversion to forms and ceremonies to a legitimate conclusion, and you would prefer kneeling in a barn rather than in a cathedral. Your tenets would strike at the very existence of all art, which is essentially spiritual.”
“I am not speaking abstractedly,” said Egremont, “but rather with reference to the indirect connection of these forms and ceremonies with another church. The people of this country associate them with an enthralling superstition and a foreign dominion.”
“With Rome,” said Mr St Lys; “yet forms and ceremonies existed before Rome.”
“But practically,” said Egremont, “has not their revival in our service at the present day a tendency to restore the Romish system in this country?”
“It is difficult to ascertain what may be the practical effect of certain circumstances among the uninformed,” said Mr St Lys. “The church of Rome is to be respected as the only Hebraeo-christian church extant; all other churches established by the Hebrew apostles have disappeared, but Rome remains; and we must never permit the exaggerated position which it assumed in the middle centuries to make us forget its early and apostolical character, when it was fresh from Palestine and as it were fragrant from Paradise. The church of Rome is sustained by apostolical succession; but apostolical succession is not an institution complete in itself; it is a part of a whole; if it be not part of a whole it has no foundation. The apostles succeeded the prophets. Our Master announced himself as the last of the prophets. They in their turn were the heirs of the patriarchs: men who were in direct communication with the Most High. To men not less favoured than the apostles, the revelation of the priestly character was made, and those forms and ceremonies ordained, which the church of Rome has never relinquished. But Rome did not invent them: upon their practice, the duty of all congregations, we cannot consent to her founding a claim to supremacy. For would you maintain then that the church did not exist in the time of the prophets? Was Moses then not a churchman? And Aaron, was he not a high priest? Ay! greater than any pope or prelate, whether he be at Rome or at Lambeth.
“In all these church discussions, we are apt to forget that the second Testament is avowedly only a supplement. Jehovah–Jesus came to complete the ‘law and the prophets.’ Christianity is completed Judaism, or it is nothing. Christianity is incomprehensible without Judaism, as Judaism is incomplete; without Christianity. What has Rome to do with its completion; what with its commencement? The law was not thundered forth from the Capitolian mount; the divine atonement was not fulfilled upon Mons Sacer. No; the order of our priesthood comes directly from Jehovah; and the forms and ceremonies of His church are the regulations of His supreme intelligence. Rome indeed boasts that the authenticity of the second Testament depends upon the recognition of her infallibility. The authenticity of the second Testament depends upon its congruity with the first. Did Rome preserve that? I recognize in the church an institution thoroughly, sincerely, catholic: adapted to all climes and to all ages. I do not bow to the necessity of a visible head in a defined locality; but were I to seek for such, it would not be at Rome. I cannot discover in its history however memorable any testimony of a mission so sublime. When Omnipotence deigned to be incarnate, the Ineffable Word did not select a Roman frame. The prophets were not Romans; the apostles were not Romans; she, who was blessed above all women, I never heard she was a Roman maiden. No, I should look to a land more distant than Italy, to a city more sacred even than Rome.”
It was a cloudy, glimmering dawn. A cold withering east wind blew through the silent streets of Mowbray. The sounds of the night had died away, the voices of the day had not commenced. There reigned a stillness complete and absorbing.
Suddenly there is a voice, there is movement. The first footstep of the new week of toil is heard. A man muffled up in a thick coat, and bearing in his hand what would seem at the first glance to be a shepherd’s crook, only its handle is much longer, appears upon the pavement. He touches a number of windows with great quickness as he moves rapidly along. A rattling noise sounds upon each pane. The use of the long handle of his instrument becomes apparent as he proceeds, enabling him as it does to reach the upper windows of the dwellings whose inmates he has to rouse. Those inmates are the factory girls, who subscribe in districts to engage these heralds of the dawn; and by a strict observance of whose citation they can alone escape the dreaded fine that awaits those who have not arrived at the door of the factory before the bell ceases to sound.
The sentry in question, quitting the streets, and stooping through one of the small archways that we have before noticed, entered a court. Here lodged a multitude of his employers; and the long crook as it were by some sleight of hand seemed sounding on both sides and at many windows at the same moment. Arrived at the end of the court, he was about to touch the window of the upper story of the last tenement, when that window opened, and a man, pale and care-worn and in a melancholy voice spoke to him.
“Simmons,” said the man, “you need not rouse this story any more; my daughter has left us.”
“Has she left Webster’s?”
“No; but she has left us. She has long murmured at her hard lot; working like a slave and not for herself. And she has gone, as they all go, to keep house for herself.”
“That’s a bad business,” said the watchman, in a tone not devoid of sympathy.
“Almost as bad as for parents to live on their childrens’ wages,” replied the man mournfully.
“And how is your good woman?”
“As poorly as needs be. Harriet has never been home since Friday night. She owes you nothing?”
“Not a halfpenny. She was as regular as a little bee and always paid every Monday morning. I am sorry she has left you, neighbour.”
“The Lord’s will be done. It’s hard times for such as us,” said the man; and leaving the window open, he retired into his room.
It was a single chamber of which he was the tenant. In the centre, placed so as to gain the best light which the gloomy situation could afford, was a loom. In two corners of the room were mattresses placed on the floor, a check curtain hung upon a string if necessary concealing them. In one was his sick wife; in the other, three young children: two girls, the eldest about eight years of age; between them their baby brother. An iron kettle was by the hearth, and on the mantel-piece, some candles, a few lucifer matches, two tin mugs, a paper of salt, and an iron spoon. In a farther part, close to the wall, was a heavy table or dresser; this was a fixture, as well as the form which was fastened by it.
The man seated himself at his loom; he commenced his daily task.
“Twelve hours of daily labour at the rate of one penny each hour; and even this labour is mortgaged! How is this to end? Is it rather not ended?” And he looked around him at his chamber without resources: no food, no fuel, no furniture, and four human beings dependent on him, and lying in their wretched beds because they had no clothes. “I cannot sell my loom,” he continued, “at the price of old firewood, and it cost me gold. It is not vice that has brought me to this, nor indolence, nor imprudence. I was born to labour, and I was ready to labour. I loved my loom and my loom loved me. It gave me a cottage in my native village, surrounded by a garden of whose claims on my solicitude it was not jealous. There was time for both. It gave me for a wife the maiden that I had ever loved; and it gathered my children round my hearth with plenteousness and peace. I was content: I sought no other lot. It is not adversity that makes me look back upon the past with tenderness.
“Then why am I here? Why am I, and six hundred thousand subjects of the Queen, honest, loyal, and industrious, why are we, after manfully struggling for years, and each year sinking lower in the scale, why are we driven from our innocent and happy homes, our country cottages that we loved, first to bide in close towns without comforts, and gradually to crouch into cellars, or find a squalid lair like this, without even the common necessaries of existence; first the ordinary conveniences of life, then raiment, and, at length, food, vanishing from us.
“It is that the Capitalist has found a slave that has supplanted the labour and ingenuity of man. Once he was an artizan: at the best, he now only watches machines; and even that occupation slips from his grasp, to the woman and the child. The capitalist flourishes, he amasses immense wealth; we sink, lower and lower; lower than the beasts of burthen; for they are fed better than we are, cared for more. And it is just, for according to the present system they are more precious. And yet they tell us that the interests of Capital and of Labour are identical.
“If a society that has been created by labour suddenly becomes independent of it, that society is bound to maintain the race whose only property is labour, from the proceeds of that property, which has not ceased to be productive.
“When the class of the Nobility were supplanted in France, they did not amount in number to one-third of us Hand–Loom weavers; yet all Europe went to war to avenge their wrongs, every state subscribed to maintain them in their adversity, and when they were restored to their own country, their own land supplied them with an immense indemnity. Who cares for us? Yet we have lost our estates. Who raises a voice for us? Yet we are at least as innocent as the nobility of France. We sink among no sighs except our own. And if they give us sympathy — what then? Sympathy is the solace of the Poor; but for the Rich, there is Compensation.”
“Is that Harriet?” said his wife moving in her bed.
The Hand–Loom weaver was recalled from his reverie to the urgent misery that surrounded him.
“No!” he replied in a quick hoarse voice, “it is not Harriet.”
“Why does not Harriet come?”
“She will come no more!” replied the weaver; “I told you so last night: she can bear this place no longer; and I am not surprised.”
“How are we to get food then?” rejoined his wife; “you ought not to have let her leave us. You do nothing, Warner. You get no wages yourself; and you have let the girl escape.”
“I will escape myself if you say that again,” said the weaver: “I have been up these three hours finishing this piece which ought to have been taken home on Saturday night.”
“But you have been paid for it beforehand. You get nothing for your work. A penny an hour! What sort of work is it, that brings a penny an hour?”
“Work that you have often admired, Mary; and has before this gained a prize. But if you don’t like the work,” said the man quitting his loom, “let it alone. There was enough yet owing on this piece to have allowed us to break our fast. However, no matter; we must starve sooner or later. Let us begin at once.”
“No, no, Philip! work. Let us break our fast come what may.”
“Twit me no more then,” said the weaver resuming his seat, “or I throw the shuttle for the last time.”
“I will not taunt you,” said his wife in a kinder tone. “I was wrong; I am sorry; but I am very ill. It is not for myself I speak; I want not to eat; I have no appetite; my lips are so very parched. But the children, the children went supperless to bed, and they will wake soon.”
“Mother, we ayn’t asleep,” said the elder girl.
“No, we aynt asleep, mother,” said her sister; “we heard all that you said to father.”
“He sleeps still.”
“I shiver very much!” said the mother. “It’s a cold day. Pray shut the window Warner. I see the drops upon the pane; it is raining. I wonder if the persons below would lend us one block of coal.”
“We have borrowed too often,” said Warner.
“I wish there were no such thing as coal in the land,” said his wife, “and then the engines would not be able to work; and we should have our rights again.”
“Amen!” said Warner.
“Don’t you think Warner,” said his wife, “that you could sell that piece to some other person, and owe Barber for the money he advanced?”
“No!” said her husband shaking his head. “I’ll go straight.”
“And let your children starve,” said his wife, “when you could get five or six shillings at once. But so it always was with you! Why did not you go to the machines years ago like other men and so get used to them?”
“I should have been supplanted by this time,” said Warner, “by a girl or a woman! It would have been just as bad!”
“Why there was your friend Walter Gerard; he was the same as you, and yet now he gets two pound a-week; at least I have often heard you say so.”
“Walter Gerard is a man of great parts,” said Warner, “and might have been a master himself by this time had he cared.”
“And why did he not?”
“He had no wife and children,” said Warner; “he was not so blessed.”
The baby woke and began to cry.
“Ah! my child!” exclaimed the mother. “That wicked Harriet! Here Amelia, I have a morsel of crust here. I saved it yesterday for baby; moisten it in water, and tie it up in this piece of calico: he will suck it; it will keep him quiet; I can bear anything but his cry.”
“I shall have finished my job by noon,” said Warner; “and then, please God, we shall break our fast.”
“It is yet two hours to noon,” said his wife. “And Barber always keeps you so long! I cannot bear that Barber: I dare say he will not advance you money again as you did not bring the job home on Saturday night. If I were you, Philip, I would go and sell the piece unfinished at once to one of the cheap shops.”
“I have gone straight all my life,” said Warner.
“And much good it has done you,” said his wife.
“My poor Amelia! How she shivers! I think the sun never touches this house. It is indeed a most wretched place!”
“It will not annoy you long, Mary,” said her husband: “I can pay no more rent; and I only wonder they have not been here already to take the week.”
“And where are we to go?” said the wife.
“To a place which certainly the sun never touches,” said her husband, with a kind of malice in his misery — “to a cellar!”
“Oh! why was I ever born!” exclaimed his wife. “And yet I was so happy once! And it is not our fault. I cannot make it out Warner, why you should not get two pounds a-week like Walter Gerard?”
“Bah!” said the husband.
“You said he had no family,” continued his wife. “I thought he had a daughter.”
“But she is no burthen to him. The sister of Mr Trafford is the Superior of the convent here, and she took Sybil when her mother died, and brought her up.”
“Oh! then she is a nun?”
“Not yet; but I dare say it will end in it.”
“Well, I think I would even sooner starve,” said his wife, “than my children should be nuns.”
At this moment there was a knocking at the door. Warner descended from his loom and opened it.
“Lives Philip Warner here?” enquired a clear voice of peculiar sweetness.
“My name is Warner.”
“I come from Walter Gerard,” continued the voice. “Your letter reached him only last night. The girl at whose house your daughter left it has quitted this week past Mr Trafford’s factory.”
And there entered SYBIL.
“Your wife is ill?” said Sybil.
“Very!” replied Warner’s wife. “Our daughter has behaved infamously to us. She has quitted us without saying by your leave or with your leave. And her wages were almost the only thing left to us; for Philip is not like Walter Gerard you see: he cannot earn two pounds a-week, though why he cannot I never could understand.”
“Hush, hush, wife!” said Warner. “I speak I apprehend to Gerard’s daughter?”
“Ah! this is good and kind; this is like old times, for Walter Gerard was my friend, when I was not exactly as I am now.”
“He tells me so: he sent a messenger to me last night to visit you this morning. Your letter reached him only yesterday.”
“Harriet was to give it to Caroline,” said the wife. “That’s the girl who has done all the mischief and inveigled her away. And she has left Trafford’s works, has she? Then I will be bound she and Harriet are keeping house together.”
“You suffer?” said Sybil, moving to the bed-side of the woman; “give me your hand,” she added in a soft sweet tone. “’Tis hot.”
“I feel very cold,” said the woman. “Warner would have the window open, till the rain came in.”
“And you, I fear, are wet,” said Warner, addressing Sybil, and interrupting his wife.
“Very slightly. And you have no fire. Ah! I have brought some things for you, but not fuel.”
“If he would only ask the person down stairs,” said his wife, “for a block of coal; I tell him, neighbours could hardly refuse; but he never will do anything; he says he has asked too often.”
“I will ask,” said Sybil. “But first, I have a companion without,” she added, “who bears a basket for you. Come in, Harold.”
The baby began to cry the moment a large dog entered the room; a young bloodhound of the ancient breed, such as are now found but in a few old halls and granges in the north of England. Sybil untied the basket, and gave a piece of sugar to the screaming infant. Her glance was sweeter even than her remedy; the infant stared at her with his large blue eyes; for an instant astonished, and then he smiled.
“Oh! beautiful child!” exclaimed Sybil; and she took the babe up from the mattress and embraced it.
“You are an angel from heaven,” exclaimed the mother, “and you may well say beautiful. And only to think of that infamous girl, Harriet, to desert us all in this way.”
Sybil drew forth the contents of the convent basket, and called Warner’s attention to them. “Now,” she said, “arrange all this as I tell you, and I will go down stairs and speak to them below as you wish, Harold rest there;” and the dog laid himself down in the remotest corner.
“And is that Gerard’s daughter?” said the weaver’s wife. “Only think what it is to gain two pounds a-week, and bring up your daughters in that way — instead of such shameless husseys as our Harriet! But with such wages one can do anything. What have you there, Warner? Is that tea? Oh! I should like some tea. I do think tea would do me some good. I have quite a longing for it. Run down, Warner, and ask them to let us have a kettle of hot water. It is better than all the fire in the world. Amelia, my dear, do you see what they have sent us. Plenty to eat. Tell Maria all about it. You are good girls; you will never be like that infamous Harriet. When you earn wages you will give them to your poor mother and baby, won’t you?”
“Yes, mother,” said Amelia.
“And father, too,” said Maria.
“And father, too,” said the wife. “He has been a very good father to you all; and I never can understand why one who works so hard should earn so little; but I believe it is the fault of those machines. The police ought to put them down, and then every body would be comfortable.”
Sybil and Warner reentered; the fire was lit, the tea made, the meal partaken. An air of comfort, even of enjoyment, was diffused over this chamber, but a few minutes back so desolate and unhappy.
“Well,” said the wife, raising herself a little up in her bed, “I feel as if that dish of tea had saved my life. Amelia, have you had any tea? And Maria? You see what it is to be good girls; the Lord will never desert you. The day is fast coming when that Harriet will know what the want of a dish of tea is, with all her fine wages. And I am sure,” she added, addressing Sybil, “what we all owe to you is not to be told. Your father well deserves his good fortune, with such a daughter.”
“My father’s fortunes are not much better than his neighbours,” said Sybil, “but his wants are few; and who should sympathise with the poor, but the poor? Alas! none else can. Besides, it is the Superior of our convent that has sent you this meal. What my father can do for you, I have told your husband. ’Tis little; but with the favour of heaven, it may avail. When the people support the people, the divine blessing will not be wanting.”
“I am sure the divine blessing will never be wanting to you,” said Warner in a voice of great emotion.
There was silence; the querulous spirit of the wife was subdued by the tone of Sybil; she revolved in her mind the present and the past; the children pursued their ungrudged and unusual meal; the daughter of Gerard, that she might not interfere with their occupation, walked to the window and surveyed the chink of troubled sky, which was visible in the court. The wind blew in gusts; the rain beat against the glass. Soon after this, there was another knock at the door. Harold started from his repose, and growled. Warner rose, and saying, “they have come for the rent. Thank God, I am ready,” advanced and opened the door. Two men offered with courtesy to enter.
“We are strangers,” said he who took the lead, “but would not be such. I speak to Warner?”
“And I am your spiritual pastor, if to be the vicar of Mowbray entitles me to that description.”
“Mr St Lys.”
“The same. One of the most valued of my flock, and the most influential person in this district, has been speaking much of you to me this morning. You are working for him. He did not hear of you on Saturday night; he feared you were ill. Mr Barber spoke to me of your distress, as well as of your good character. I came to express to you my respect and my sympathy, and to offer you my assistance.”
“You are most good, sir, and Mr Barber too, and indeed, an hour ago, we were in as great straits —.”
“And are now, sir,” exclaimed his wife interrupting him. “I have been in this bed a-week, and may never rise from it again; the children have no clothes; they are pawned; everything is pawned; this morning we had neither fuel, nor food. And we thought you had come for the rent which we cannot pay. If it had not been for a dish of tea which was charitably given me this morning by a person almost as poor as ourselves that is to say, they live by labour, though their wages are much higher, as high as two pounds a-week, though how that can be I never shall understand, when my husband is working twelve hours a day, and gaining only a penny an hour — if it had not been for this I should have been a corpse; and yet he says we were in straits, merely because Walter Gerard’s daughter, who I willingly grant is an angel from heaven for all the good she has done us, has stepped into our aid. But the poor supporting the poor, as she well says, what good can come from that!”
During this ebullition, Mr St Lys had surveyed the apartment and recognised Sybil.
“Sister,” he said when the wife of Warner had ceased, “this is not the first time we have met under the roof of sorrow.”
Sybil bent in silence, and moved as if she were about to retire: the wind and rain came dashing against the window. The companion of Mr St Lys, who was clad in a rough great coat, and was shaking the wet off an oilskin hat known by the name of a ‘south-wester,’ advanced and said to her, “It is but a squall, but a very severe one; I would recommend you to stay for a few minutes.”
She received this remark with courtesy but did not reply.
“I think,” continued the companion of Mr St Lys, “that this is not the first time also that we have met?”
“I cannot recall our meeting before,” said Sybil.
“And yet it was not many days past; though the sky was so very different, that it would almost make one believe it was in another land and another clime.”
Sybil looked at him as if for explanation.
“It was at Marney Abbey,” said the companion of Mr St Lys.
“I was there; and I remember, when about to rejoin my companions, they were not alone.”
“And you disappeared; very suddenly I thought: for I left the ruins almost at the same moment as your friends, yet I never saw any of you again.”
“We took our course; a very rugged one; you perhaps pursued a more even way.”
“Was it your first visit to Marney?”
“My first and my last. There was no place I more desired to see; no place of which the vision made me so sad.”
“The glory has departed,” said Egremont mournfully.
“It is not that,” said Sybil: “I was prepared for decay, but not for such absolute desecration. The Abbey seems a quarry for materials to repair farm-houses; and the nave a cattle gate. What people they must be-that family of sacrilege who hold these lands!”
“Hem!” said Egremont. “They certainly do not appear to have much feeling for ecclesiastical art.”
“And for little else, as we were told,” said Sybil. “There was a fire at the Abbey farm the day we were there, and from all that reached us, it would appear the people were as little tendered as the Abbey walls.”
“They have some difficulty perhaps in employing their population in those parts.”
“You know the country?”
“Not at all: I was travelling in the neighbourhood, and made a diversion for the sake of seeing an abbey of which I had heard so much.”
“Yes; it was the greatest of the Northern Houses. But they told me the people were most wretched round the Abbey; nor do I think there is any other cause for their misery, than the hard hearts of the family that have got the lands.”
“You feel deeply for the people!” said Egremont looking at her earnestly.
Sybil returned him a glance expressive of some astonishment, and then said, “And do not you? Your presence here assures me of it.”
“I humbly follow one who would comfort the unhappy.”
“The charity of Mr St Lys is known to all.”
“And you — you too are a ministering angel.”
“There is no merit in my conduct, for there is no sacrifice. When I remember what this English people once was; the truest, the freest, and the bravest, the best-natured and the best-looking, the happiest and most religious race upon the surface of this globe; and think of them now, with all their crimes and all their slavish sufferings, their soured spirits and their stunted forms; their lives without enjoyment and their deaths without hope; I may well feel for them, even if I were not the daughter of their blood.”
And that blood mantled to her cheek as she ceased to speak, and her dark eye gleamed with emotion, and an expression of pride and courage hovered on her brow. Egremont caught her glance and withdrew his own; his heart was troubled.
St Lys. who had been in conference with the weaver, left him and went to the bedside of his wife. Warner advanced to Sybil, and expressed his feelings for her father, his sense of her goodness. She, observing that the squall seemed to have ceased, bade him farewell, and calling Harold, quitted the chamber.
“Where have you been all the morning, Charles?” said Lord Marney coming into his brother’s dressing-room a few minutes before dinner; “Arabella had made the nicest little riding party for you and Lady Joan, and you were to be found nowhere. If you go on in this way, there is no use of having affectionate relations, or anything else.”
“I have been walking about Mowbray. One should see a factory once in one’s life.”
“I don’t see the necessity,” said Lord Marney; “I never saw one, and never intend. Though to be sure, when I hear the rents that Mowbray gets for his land in their neighbourhood, I must say I wish the worsted works had answered at Marney. And if it had not been for our poor dear father, they would.”
“Our family have always been against manufactories, railroads — everything,” said Egremont.
“Railroads are very good things, with high compensation,” said Lord Marney; “and manufactories not so bad, with high rents; but, after all, these are enterprises for the canaille, and I hate them in my heart.”
“But they employ the people, George.”
“The people do not want employment; it is the greatest mistake in the world; all this employment is a stimulus to population. Never mind that; what I came in for, is to tell you that both Arabella and myself think you talk too much to Lady Maud.”
“I like her the best.”
“What has that to do with it my dear fellow? Business is business. Old Mowbray will make an elder son out of his elder daughter. The affair is settled; I know it from the best authority. Talking to Lady Maud is insanity. It is all the same for her as if Fitz–Warene had never died. And then that great event, which ought to be the foundation of your fortune, would be perfectly thrown away. Lady Maud, at the best, is nothing more than twenty thousand pounds and a fat living. Besides, she is engaged to that parson fellow, St Lys.
“St Lys told me today that nothing would ever induce him to marry. He would practise celibacy, though he would not enjoin it.”
“Enjoin fiddle-stick! How came you to be talking to such a sanctified imposter; and, I believe, with all his fine phrases, a complete radical. I tell you what, Charles, you must really make way with Lady Joan. The grandfather has come today, the old Duke. Quite a family party. It looks so well. Never was such a golden opportunity. And you must be sharp too. That little Jermyn, with his brown eyes and his white hands, has not come down here, in the month of August, with no sport of any kind, for nothing.”
“I shall set Lady Firebrace at him.”
“She is quite your friend, and a very sensible woman too, Charles, and an ally not to be despised. Lady Joan has a very high opinion of her. There’s the bell. Well, I shall tell Arabella that you mean to put up the steam, and Lady Firebrace shall keep Jermyn off. And perhaps it is as well you did not seem too eager at first. Mowbray Castle, my dear fellow, in spite of its manufactories, is not to be despised. And with a little firmness, you could keep the people out of your park. Mowbray could do it, only he has no pluck. He is afraid people would say he was the son of a footman.”
The Duke, who was the father of the Countess de Mowbray, was also lord lieutenant of the county. Although advanced in years, he was still extremely handsome; with the most winning manners; full of amenity and grace. He had been a roue in his youth, but seemed now the perfect representative of a benignant and virtuous old age. He was universally popular; admired by young men, adored by young ladies. Lord de Mowbray paid him the most distinguished consideration. It was genuine. However maliciously the origin of his own father might be represented, nobody could deprive him of that great fact, his father-in-law; a duke, a duke of a great house who had intermarried for generations with great houses, one of the old nobility, and something even loftier.
The county of which his grace was Lord Lieutenant was very proud of its nobility; and certainly with Marney Abbey at one end, and Mowbray Castle at the other, it had just cause; but both these illustrious houses yielded in importance, though not in possessions, to the great peer who was the governor of the province.
A French actress, clever as French actresses always are, had persuaded, once upon a time, an easy-tempered monarch of this realm, that the paternity of her coming babe was a distinction of which his majesty might be proud. His majesty did not much believe her; but he was a sensible man, and never disputed a point with a woman; so when the babe was born, and proved a boy, he christened him with his name; and elevated him to the peerage in his cradle by the title of Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine and Marquis of Gascony.
An estate the royal father could not endow him with, for he had spent all his money, mortgaged all his resources, and was obliged to run in debt himself for the jewels of the rest of his mistresses; but he did his best for the young peer, as became an affectionate father or a fond lover. His majesty made him when he arrived at man’s estate the hereditary keeper of a palace which he possessed in the north of England; and this secured his grace a castle and a park. He could wave his flag and kill his deer; and if he had only possessed an estate, he would have been as well off as if he had helped conquer the realm with King William, or plundered the church for King Harry. A revenue must however be found for the Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine, and it was furnished without the interference of Parliament, but with a financial dexterity worthy of that assembly — to whom and not to our sovereigns we are obliged for the public debt. The king granted the duke and his heirs for ever, a pension on the post-office, a light tax upon coals shipped to London, and a tithe of all the shrimps caught on the southern coast. This last source of revenue became in time, with the development of watering-places, extremely prolific. And so, what with the foreign courts and colonies for the younger sons, it was thus contrived very respectably to maintain the hereditary dignity of this great peer.
The present Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine had supported the Reform Bill, but had been shocked by the Appropriation clause; very much admired Lord Stanley, and was apt to observe, that if that nobleman had been the leader of the conservative party, he hardly knew what he might not have done himself. But the duke was an old whig, had lived with old whigs all his life, feared revolution, but still more the necessity of taking his name out of Brookes’, where he had looked in every day or night since he came of age. So, not approving of what was going on, yet not caring to desert his friends, he withdrew, as the phrase runs, from public life; that is to say, was rarely in his seat; did not continue to Lord Melbourne the proxy that had been entrusted to Lord Grey; and made tory magistrates in his county though a whig lord lieutenant.
When forces were numbered, and speculations on the future indulged in by the Tadpoles and Tapers, the name of the Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine was mentioned with a knowing look and in a mysterious tone. Nothing more was necessary between Tadpole and Taper; but, if some hack in statu pupillari happened to be present at the conference, and the gentle novice greedy for party tattle, and full of admiring reverence for the two great hierophants of petty mysteries before him, ventured to intimate his anxiety for initiation, the secret was entrusted to him, “that all was right there; that his grace only watched his opportunity; that he was heartily sick of the present men; indeed, would have gone over with Lord Stanley in 1835, had he not had a fit of the gout, which prevented him from coming up from the north; and though to be sure his son and brother did vote against the speaker, still that was a mistake; if a letter had been sent, which was not written, they would have voted the other way, and perhaps Sir Robert might have been in at the present moment.”
The Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine was the great staple of Lady Firebrace’s correspondence with Mr Tadpole. “Woman’s mission” took the shape to her intelligence of getting over his grace to the conservatives. She was much assisted in these endeavours by the information which she so dexterously acquired from the innocent and incautious Lord Masque.
Egremont was seated at dinner today by the side of Lady Joan. Unconsciously to himself this had been arranged by Lady Marney. The action of woman on our destiny is unceasing. Egremont was scarcely in a happy mood for conversation. He was pensive, inclined to be absent; his thoughts indeed were of other things and persons than those around him. Lady Joan however only required a listener. She did not make enquiries like Lady Maud, or impart her own impressions by suggesting them as your own. Lady Joan gave Egremont an account of the Aztec cities, of which she had been reading that morning, and of the several historical theories which their discovery had suggested; then she imparted her own, which differed from all, but which seemed clearly the right one. Mexico led to Egypt. Lady Joan was as familiar with the Pharaohs as with the Caciques of the new world. The phonetic system was despatched by the way. Then came Champollion; then Paris; then all its celebrities, literary and especially scientific; then came the letter from Arago received that morning; and the letter from Dr Buckland expected tomorrow. She was delighted that one had written; wondered why the other had not. Finally before the ladies had retired, she had invited Egremont to join Lady Marney in a visit to her observatory, where they were to behold a comet which she had been the first to detect.
Lady Firebrace next to the duke indulged in mysterious fiddle-fadde as to the state of parties. She too had her correspondents, and her letters received or awaited. Tadpole said this; Lord Masque, on the contrary, said that: the truth lay perhaps between them; some result developed by the clear intelligence of Lady Firebrace acting on the data with which they supplied her. The duke listened with calm excitement to the transcendental revelations of his Egeria. Nothing appeared to be concealed from her; the inmost mind of the sovereign: there was not a royal prejudice that was not mapped in her secret inventory; the cabinets of the whigs and the clubs of the tories, she had the “open sesame” to all of them. Sir Somebody did not want office, though he pretended to; and Lord Nobody did want office, though he pretended he did not. One great man thought the pear was not ripe; another that it was quite rotten; but then the first was coming on the stage, and the other was going off. In estimating the accuracy of a political opinion, one should take into consideration the standing of the opinionist.
At the right moment, and when she was sure she was not overheard, Lady Firebrace played her trump card, the pack having been previously cut by Mr Tadpole.
“And who do you think Sir Robert would send to Ireland?” and she looked up in the face of the Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine.
“I suppose the person he sent before,” said his grace.
Lady Firebrace shook her head.
“Lord Haddington will not go to Ireland again,” replied her ladyship, mysteriously; “mark me. And Lord De Grey does not like to go; and if he did, there are objections. And the Duke of Northumberland, he will not go. And who else is there? We must have a nobleman of the highest rank for Ireland; one who has not mixed himself up with Irish questions; who has always been in old days for emancipation; a conservative, not an orangeman. You understand. That is the person Sir Robert will send, and whom Sir Robert wants.”
“He will have some difficulty in finding such a person,” said the duke. “If, indeed, the blundering affair of 1834 had not occurred, and things had taken their legitimate course, and we had seen a man like Lord Stanley for instance at the head of affairs, or leading a great party, why then indeed your friends the conservatives — for every sensible man must be a conservative, in the right sense of the word — would have stood in a very different position; but now — ” and his grace shook his head.
“Sir Robert will never consent to form a government again without Lord Stanley,” said Lady Firebrace.
“Perhaps not,” said the duke.
“Do you know whose name I have heard mentioned in a certain quarter as the person Sir Robert would wish to see in Ireland?” continued Lady Firebrace.
His grace leant his ear.
“The Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine,” said Lady Firebrace.
“Quite impossible,” said the duke. “I am no party man; if I be anything, I am a supporter of the government. True it is I do not like the way they are going on, and I disapprove of all their measures; but we must stand by our friends, Lady Firebrace. To be sure, if the country were in danger, and the Queen personally appealed to one, and the conservative party were really a conservative party, and not an old crazy faction vamped up and whitewashed into decency — one might pause and consider. But I am free to confess I must see things in a very different condition to what they are at present before I could be called upon to take that step. I must see men like Lord Stanley —”
“I know what you are going to say, my dear Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine. I tell you again Lord Stanley is with us, heart and soul; and before long I feel persuaded I shall see your grace in the Castle of Dublin.”
“I am too old; at least, I am afraid so,” said the Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine, with a relenting smile.
About three miles before it reaches the town, the river Mowe undulates through a plain. The scene, though not very picturesque, has a glad and sparkling character. A stone bridge unites the opposite banks by three arches of good proportion; the land about consists of meads of a vivid colour, or vegetable gardens to supply the neighbouring population, and whose various hues give life and lightness to the level ground. The immediate boundaries of the plain on either side are chiefly woods; above the crest of which in one direction expands the brown bosom of a moor. The few cottages which are sprinkled about this scene being built of stone, and on an ample scale, contribute to the idea of comfort and plenty which, with a serene sky and on a soft summer day, the traveller willingly associates with it.
Such was the sky and season in which Egremont emerged on this scene a few days after the incidents recorded in our last chapter. He had been fishing in the park of Mowbray, and had followed the rivulet through many windings until, quitting the enclosed domain it had forced its way through some craggy underwood at the bottom of the hilly moors we have noticed, and finally entering the plain, lost itself in the waters of the greater stream.
Good sport had not awaited Egremont. Truth to say, his rod had played in a very careless hand. He had taken it, though an adept in the craft when in the mood, rather as an excuse to be alone, than a means to be amused. There are seasons in life when solitude is a necessity; and such a one had now descended on the spirit of the brother of Lord Marney.
The form of Sybil Gerard was stamped upon his brain. It blended with all thoughts; it haunted every object. Who was this girl, unlike all women whom he had yet encountered, who spoke with such sweet seriousness of things of such vast import, but which had never crossed his mind, and with a kind of mournful majesty bewailed the degradation of her race? The daughter of the lowly, yet proud of her birth. Not a noble lady in the land who could boast a mien more complete, and none of them thus gifted, who possessed withal the fascinating simplicity that pervaded every gesture and accent of the daughter of Gerard.
Yes! the daughter of Gerard; the daughter of a workman at a manufactory. It had not been difficult, after the departure of Sybil, to extract this information from the garrulous wife of the weaver. And that father — he was not unknown to Egremont. His proud form and generous countenance were still fresh in the mind’s eye of our friend. Not less so his thoughtful speech; full of knowledge and meditation and earnest feeling! How much that he had spoken still echoed in the heart, and rung in the brooding ear of Egremont. And his friend, too, that pale man with those glittering eyes, who without affectation, without pedantry, with artlessness on the contrary and a degree of earnest singleness, had glanced like a master of philosophy at the loftiest principles of political science — was he too a workman? And are these then THE PEOPLE? If so, thought Egremont, would that I lived more among them! Compared with their converse, the tattle of our saloons has in it something humiliating. It is not merely that it is deficient in warmth, and depth, and breadth; that it is always discussing persons instead of principles, and cloaking its want of thought in mimetic dogmas and its want of feeling in superficial raillery; it is not merely that it has neither imagination, nor fancy, nor sentiment, nor feeling, nor knowledge to recommend it; but it appears to me, even as regards manner and expression, inferior in refinement and phraseology; in short, trivial, uninteresting, stupid, really vulgar.
It seemed to Egremont that, from the day he met these persons in the Abbey ruins, the horizon of his experience had insensibly expanded; more than that, there were streaks of light breaking in the distance, which already gave a new aspect to much that was known, and which perhaps was ultimately destined to reveal much that was now utterly obscure. He could not resist the conviction that from the time in question, his sympathies had become more lively and more extended; that a masculine impulse had been given to his mind; that he was inclined to view public questions in a tone very different to that in which he had surveyed them a few weeks back, when on the hustings of his borough.
Revolving these things, he emerged, as we have stated, into the plain of the Mowe, and guiding his path by the course of the river, he arrived at the bridge which a fancy tempted him to cross. In its centre, was a man gazing on the waters below and leaning over the parapet. His footstep roused the loiterer, who looked round; and Egremont saw that it was Walter Gerard.
Gerard returned his salute, and said, “Early hours on Saturday afternoon make us all saunterers;” and then, as their way was the same, they walked on together. It seemed that Gerard’s cottage was near at hand, and having inquired after Egremont’s sport, and receiving for a reply a present of a brace of trout — the only one, by the bye, that was in Egremont’s basket — he could scarcely do less than invite his companion to rest himself.
“There is my home,” said Gerard, pointing to a cottage recently built, and in a pleasing style. Its materials were of a fawn-coloured stone, common in the Mowbray quarries. A scarlet creeper clustered round one side of its ample porch; its windows were large, mullioned, and neatly latticed; it stood in the midst of a garden of no mean dimensions but every bed and nook of which teemed with cultivation; flowers and vegetables both abounded, while an orchard rich with promise of many fruits; ripe pears and famous pippins of the north and plums of every shape and hue; screened the dwelling from that wind against which the woods that formed its back-ground were no protection.
“And you are well lodged! Your garden does you honour.”
“I’ll be honest enough to own I have no claim to the credit,” said Gerard. “I am but a lazy chiel.”
They entered the cottage, where a hale old woman greeted them.
“She is too old to be my wife, and too young to be my mother,” said Gerard smiling; “but she is a good creature, and has looked after me many a long day. Come, dame,” he said, “thou’lt bring us a cup of tea; ’tis a good evening beverage,” he added, turning to Egremont. “and what I ever take at this time. And if you care to light a pipe, you will find a companion.”
“I have renounced tobacco,” said Egremont; “tobacco is the tomb of love,” and they entered a neatly-furnished chamber, that had that habitable look which the best room of a farmhouse too often wants. Instead of the cast-off furniture of other establishments, at the same time dingy and tawdry, mock rosewood chairs and tarnished mahogany tables, there was an oaken table, some cottage chairs made of beech wood, and a Dutch clock. But what surprised Egremont was the appearance of several shelves well lined with volumes. Their contents too on closer inspection were very remarkable. They indicated a student of a high order. Egremont read the titles of works which he only knew by fame, but which treated of the loftiest and most subtle questions of social and political philosophy. As he was throwing his eye over them, his companion said, “Ah! I see you think me as great a scholar as I am a gardener: but with as little justice; these hooks are not mine.”
“To whomsoever they belong,” said Egremont, “if we are to judge from his collection, he has a tolerably strong head.”
“Ay, ay,” said Gerard, “the world will hear of him yet, though he was only a workman, and the son of a workman. He has not been at your schools and your colleges, but he can write his mother tongue, as Shakespeare and Cobbett wrote it; and you must do that, if you wish to influence the people.”
“And might I ask his name,” said Egremont.
“Stephen Morley, my friend.”
“The person I saw with you at Marney Abbey?”
“And he lives with you?”
“Why, we kept house together, if you could call it so. Stephen does not give much trouble in that way. He only drinks water and only eats herbs and fruits. He is the gardener,” added Gerard, smiling. “I don’t know how we shall fare when he leaves me.”
“And is he going to leave you?”
“Why in a manner he has gone. He has taken a cottage about a quarter of a mile up the dale; and only left his books here, because he is going into — shire in a day or two, on some business, that may be will take him a week or so. The books are safer here you see for the present, for Stephen lives alone, and is a good deal away, for he edits a paper at Mowbray, and that must be looked after. He is to be my gardener still. I promised him that. Well done, dame,” said Gerard, as the old woman entered; “I hope for the honour of the house a good brew. Now comrade sit down: it will do you good after your long stroll. You should eat your own trout if you would wait?”
“By no means. You will miss your friend, I should think?”
“We shall see a good deal of him, I doubt not, what with the garden and neighbourhood and so on; besides, in a manner, he is master of his own time. His work is not like ours; and though the pull on the brain is sometimes great, I have often wished I had a talent that way. It’s a drear life to do the same thing every day at the same hour. But I never could express my ideas except with my tongue; and there I feel tolerably at home.”
“It will be a pity to see this room without these books,” said Egremont, encouraging conversation on domestic subjects.
“So it will,” said Gerard. “I have got very few of my own. But my daughter will be able to fill the shelves in time, I warrant.”
“Your daughter — she is coming to live with you?”
“Yes; that is the reason why Stephen quits us. He only remained here until Sybil could keep my house, and that happy day is at hand.”
“That is a great compensation for the loss of your friend,” said Egremont.
“And yet she talks of flitting,” said Gerard, in a rather melancholy tone. “She hankers after the cloister. She has passed a still, sweet life in the convent here; the Superior is the sister of my employer and a very saint on earth; and Sybil knows nothing of the real world except its sufferings. No matter,” he added more cheerfully; “I would not have her take the veil rashly, but if I lose her it may be for the best. For the married life of a woman of our class in the present condition of our country is a lease of woe,” he added shaking his head, “slaves, and the slaves of slaves? Even woman’s spirit cannot stand against it; and it can bear against more than we can, master.”
“Your daughter is not made for the common cares of life,” said Egremont.
“We’ll not talk of them,” said Gerard. “Sybil has an English heart, and that’s not easily broken. And you, comrade, you are a traveller in these parts, eh?”
“A kind of traveller; something in the way of your friend Morley — connected with the press.”
“Indeed! a reporter, eh? I thought you had something about you a little more knowing than we provincials.”
“Yes; a reporter; they want information in London as to the real state of the country, and this time of the year, Parliament not sitting — Ah; I understand, a flying commission and a summer tour. Well, I often wish I were a penman; but I never could do it. I’ll read any day as long as you like, but that writing, I could never manage. My friend Morley is a powerful hand at it. His journal circulates a good deal about here; and if as I often tell him he would only sink his high-flying philosophy and stick to old English politics, he might make a property of it. You’ll like to know him?”
“And what first took you to the press, if I may ask!”
“Why — my father was a gentleman —”, said Egremont in a hesitating tone, “and I was a younger son.”
“Ah!” said Gerard, “that is as bad as being a woman.”
“I had no patrimony,” continued Egremont, “and I was obliged to work; I had no head I believe for the law; the church was not exactly in my way; and as for the army, how was I to advance without money or connexions! I had had some education, and so I thought I would turn it to account.”
“Wisely done! you are one of the working classes, and will enlist I hope in the great struggle against the drones. The natural friends of the people are younger sons, though they are generally enlisted against us. The more fools they; to devote their energies to the maintenance of a system which is founded on selfishness and which leads to fraud; and of which they are the first victims. But every man thinks he will be an exception.”
“And yet,” said Egremont, “a great family rooted in the land, has been deemed to be an element of political strength.”
“I’ll tell you what,” said Gerard, “there is a great family in this country and rooted in it, of which we have heard much less than they deserved, but of which I suspect we shall hear very soon enough to make us all think a bit.”
“In this county?”
“Ay; in this county and every other one; I mean the PEOPLE.”
“Ah!” said Egremont, “that family has existed for a long time.”
“But it has taken to increase rapidly of late, my friend — how may I call you?”
“They call me, Franklin.”
“A good English name of a good English class that has disappeared. Well, Mr Franklin, be sure of this, that the Population Returns of this country are very instructive reading.”
“I can conceive so.”
“I became a man when the bad times were beginning,” said Gerard; “I have passed through many doleful years. I was a Franklin’s son myself, and we had lived on this island at least no worse for a longer time than I care to recollect as little as what I am now. But that’s nothing; I am not thinking of myself. I am prosperous in a fashion; it is the serfs I live among of whom I am thinking. Well, I have heard, in the course of years, of some specifics for this constant degradation of the people; some thing or some person that was to put all right; and for my part, I was not unready to support any proposal or follow any leader. There was reform, and there was paper money, and no machinery, and a thousand other remedies; and there were demagogues of all kinds, some as had as myself, and some with blood in their veins almost as costly as flows in those of our great neighbour here. Earl de Mowbray, and I have always heard that was very choice: but I will frankly own to you, I never had much faith in any of these proposals or proposers; but they were a change, and that is something. But I have been persuaded of late that there is something going on in this country of more efficacy; a remedial power, as I believe, and irresistible; but whether remedial or not, at any rate a power that will mar all or cure all. You apprehend me? I speak of the annual arrival of more than three hundred thousand strangers in this island. How will you feed them? How will you clothe them? How will you house them? They have given up butcher’s meat; must they give up bread? And as for raiment and shelter, the rags of the kingdom are exhausted and your sinks and cellars already swarm like rabbit warrens.
“’Tis an awful consideration,” said Egremont musing.
“Awful,” said Gerard; “’tis the most solemn thing since the deluge. What kingdom can stand against it? Why go to your history — you’re a scholar — and see the fall of the great Roman empire — what was that? Every now and then, there came two or three hundred thousand strangers out of the forests and crossed the mountains and rivers. They come to us every year and in greater numbers. What are your invasions of the barbarous nations, your Goths and Visigoths, your Lombards and Huns, to our Population Returns!”
END OF THE SECOND BOOK
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07